Thursday, October 30, 2008

Life is busy

Becky (and maybe Jody): beware scary picture below


Just checked my time schedule: hot professor again on Friday! This one's a lab, though, so less of a risk of not being able to concentrate (also, more chance of actually interacting with him...)

So, turns out I'm a busy, busy girl. Will write more on the weekend? Lame, I know. Tomorrow night is a group trip to Ikea (yay for measuring cups!), and Friday is Halloween. I will be attending no less than three parties! Woohoo! My classmate, Carina, gave me a costume suggestion that I can totally do. I was thinking I would have to resort to being a witch, which I've never been before and I was sort of not thrilled about. I don't know, must be residual religious conservatism from our family's cult-church days, when we were discouraged from even celebrating Halloween. Yes, I was a deprived child. Anyway, what I'm gonna be instead will probably look an awful lot like what I would have looked like as a witch, but minus the pointy hat and plus a scythe. What am I gonna be? The grim reaper? No, silly! Black Death (aka the Bubonic Plague). Have to give it an infectious disease spin.

I was thinking about adding a Plague doctor mask to really round out the outfit, but a) that would be hard to make, and b) those things seriously creep me out, and will probably creep others out as well. But if I did do it, I would fill it with garlic just to be really authentic.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Llamas for Obama

No time to write much, as I'm actually attempting to study (i.e. read all required readings the night before class because I didn't study at all this past week).

Just wanted to mention that I went to a talk yesterday during lunch called "Shrinking the Malaria Map." At one point, while talking about the financial crisis and plans for a bailout, the speaker said, "that should be approved February or March of next year, under President Obama." Pause for cheers and applause.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Oh yeah, I also went to the Tower of London yesterday. I guess I'll talk about that tomorrow.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

My crazy night

Last night was so odd. My classmate, C (names have been shortened to protect the not innocent), invited me out with a group of her friends. We went to a club that none of our group had ever been to before, but about which they'd heard great things.

List of oddities:
1. The club is directly opposite from London Bridge tube station. There is a completely innocuous-looking door somewhere between two vending machines that is opened somewhere around 8 or 9pm in the evening.
2. The club opens at 8 or 9pm. What kind of club opens that early?
3. The line for the club starts at about the same time and runs all the way along the wall back into the London Bridge train station area. In other words, lots of people want to get into this club. We arrive at about 9:30 and are quite a ways back, but things move along fairly quickly. This is because other groups in the line have decided it isn't worth the wait, and leave.
4. After they've let in an initial number of people (say, 50?) the bouncers only let in one person at a time as people leave. One in, one out. Standing in line for 1.5 hours, you get the impression that it's a very small club.
5. We wait 1 hour 30 minutes to get to the front of the line. While there, some people leave the club. One of the people is very obviously a child. What kind of club is this that people are willing to queue an hour for, yet they let in children?
6. Also while in line, my classmate, C, demonstrates on her friends her ability to find peoples nipples through their shirts on the first try. Apparently, it's her party trick (she has only ever missed once.) I make it clear that I am not amenable to having my nipples located.
7. While at the front of the line, we witness several different people harassing, flirting with, shouting at, and attempting to trick the bouncers. One girl offers to pay double in order to be allowed to queue-jump. The bouncers are having none of it.
8. Due to the one in, one out policy, our group of 10 is allowed into the club in groups of two. I go in with C. This is where things get really weird.
9. The club is called "Shunt," which means that the word, "shunt" is now stamped on my wrist. I feel even classier than when I was sporting a "barfly" stamp.
10. We are now in the bowels of a train station. Imagine walking through a sewer, minus the sewage. We walk down a poorly lit tunnel with arches leading off to the right and left. In some of the archways, there are modern art exhibitions taking place. In one archway, a boring video is being projected onto the wall. No one is watching. In another archway, two men shuffle their feet in scraps of paper. The piece of wood they're standing on is outfitted with microphones underneath, so every movement, every scratch of paper, is amplified for the viewers. Apparently, earlier in the evening, there are theater troupes doing bizarro performances.
11. The place is absolutely HUGE. The one in, one out policy makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, as neither of the dance floors (yes, two) are anywhere near capacity. In addition to the two dance floors, there is a large room with a bar and tables, an even larger room with comfy chairs and fall leaves scattered all over the floor, a game room with pinball machines and video arcades from the 80s, and at least two pianos in random places. None of these are full of people.
12. The music is electro-trance, so is a bit hard to dance to and lends the place a rave vibe. I haven't taken any E, so it's a bit lost on me.
13. At one point, a few of us are standing in a corner, and water drips on me. We are basically in an underground cave, after all. The wall behind me is soaked, but the adjoining wall looks dry, so I touch it. I immediately pull my hand away, but it's too late. I have been slimed.
14. A guy named "Ferg" (Fergus, who is not Scottish), starts chatting with C and I. She does her party trick. They then turn to me to see if I can locate his nipples through his t-shirt. I learn that I am incapable of reaching out and touching a total stranger's nipples. Who knew?
15. The music gets a bit better, meaning that it acquires an actual beat, so we go to dance. I must have been a bit tipsy, because I hugged no less than three different previously-unknown men (though not at the same time).
16. As I'm dancing, minding my own business, a guy reaches out for my hand, spins me, and starts to dance ballroom-style with me. Not well, I mean, but just his left hand and my right hand clasped and pointing outwards, our other arms around each other's waists, our feet tripping over each other as we spin in circles. He continues to do this throughout the evening. At no point does he try to grind with me or sneak up and dance sexually behind me. I probably should have asked for his number, just because he was such a sweetie. And he wasn't ugly, either. Oh well!

After a while, I get tired and start worrying about when I'll be able to rest my head on a pillow. I think the club stays open all night and morning, so it could potentially be many more hours. As I'm worrying about this, C motions that she wants to leave. Yes!! Relief! I am still dancing with ballroom guy, so she says, "You can stay and come home with the others." Ha! You underestimate my love for my pillow.
17. To leave, we head back the way we came in, but the way is blocked with a gate. Through the gate, you can see the long, dark, now-empty hallway. It's like being in a medieval prison. The London Dungeons actually are just around the corner from the club. I think it's also where you get the Jack the Ripper tour.
18. As we leave the club, I check the time. It's just before 1am. Pathetic! Though you do have to consider that we got there at 9:30.

The weirdness pretty much ends once we leave the club, but while we're waiting for the bus, a couple guys start talking to us about it. They arrived at 11, when there was no line at all, then tried to leave at 11:30, but the bouncer wouldn't let them. As we're talking, I notice that one of them is wearing an Obama t-shirt. Awesome! They are both British, as is C (sort of), and they start talking about how funny it is that they know more about American politicians than they do about British ones. Everyone here wishes they could vote in this election. The other day in the mail I received my voter registration card for Renton, WA. Thanks, King County. That'll come in real handy over here in the UK. Glad you splurged on the 94 cent stamp! I was with Scottish Laura at the time, and she was saying how she wished she could vote in this election, so I offered her my registration card. All she would have to do is fly to Seattle and commit fraud by forging my signature on the ballot. Oh wait, I already voted. Right, guess it's a faulty plan after all.

It's now 1:22pm and I'm still in my pyjamas, so I'm starting to feel a bit funny. I've been up since 10am, so it's not an issue of sleeping too late. It's more an issue of having wasted the better part of the day. Whatever I do today, if indeed I do anything at all, the day will be over before I'm ready for it to be done. Hm, I bet people are ready for this blog post to be done, eh? Getting a bit long in the tooth. Does that expression apply here? Whatever. Have a good Sunday! Don't waste it like I've done.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Working hard at hardly working

An eventful couple of days. By my standards, at least.

First, Thursday morning, I was a teensy bit late for class (like, one minute), so I quickly walked in and found a seat. Almost immediately after settling in, I noticed the lecturer. Ohmygoshsogorgeous!!! The guy was seriously a dreamier version of Peter Petrelli from Heroes. I'm ashamed to admit that I actually had some trouble concentrating throughout the lecture. Normally, my eyes transfer between three different places: the slides onscreen, my notes, and the lecturer. In this lecture (on diarrheal diseases again), everytime my eyes focused on the lecturer, I lost all ability to concentrate. Wow, he is pretty, would course through my brain repeatedly. I wonder if he notices me over here. Maybe I should ask an insightful question. He's gorgeous, etc.

There are a little over 40 people in our class, and only 4 of them are men, so I knew someone would agree with me about his extreme hotness. When he was done, we took a break. A group of 6 of us made it all the way to the elevators before someone said, "Man, he was fit!" ("Fit" in England means "hot.") Before long, it was 20 of us gushing about him. But then someone had to ruin it. "Did you notice the wedding ring?" Sigh...all the gorgeous ones are taken, even when they study poop for a living.

Yesterday evening was the school's first pubquiz of the year. Four of us from my course formed a group, and we were pretty much awful, but we didn't get last place! Yay, us! It was jolly good fun! Afterwards, this guy from a different course was talking to us, and somehow we got on the subject of age. Scottish Laura is the same age as me, and she was saying how she felt kind of old. The guy we were talking to is studying to be a doctor (actually, he's the guy I was talking to a couple weeks ago about narcolepsy). At first, he said, "You're not old." But then he sort of changed his mind, and made some comment about how, unlike men, who have forever and ever to reproduce, women really need to stay on the ball and not let too much time pass, because they really shouldn't have kids past 40. Obviously, that did not sit well with us women, and we raised quite a stink. But he kept defending himself, saying it was his job as a doctor to warn us about significant health problems. Um, being 26 and not having children is now a significant health risk? He was such a moron. The debate went on for at least 45 minutes, I'm not even exaggerating. Laura and I would not let him get away with it. Finally, she told him he needed to apologize, which he did, then she told him he needed to buy us drinks. He wouldn't buy me a drink, though, because I wanted something other than beer, but whatever. The three of us stayed around for a while longer, but every topic of conversation devolved into an absurd debate. It was pretty funny.

Afterward, Laura and I went to a "chip shop" near our hall, but the fries were awful. I thought England was famous for their "chips," but I haven't had a good fry since I got here! What's up with that? Izzi, if you're reading, where can I get some decent chips?

Today being Friday, we all went to a bar after class. Well, when I say "all," I mean about 25% of us. I talked two classmates into going to the Tower of London with me tomorrow, but I feel a bit bad, because it's really freaking expensive! 14 pounds for students! What a ripoff. That's exactly why Jody and I didn't go in when we were here (though we did go into the gift shop). Ridiculous. Still, I have to go sometime, so even if no one will go with me, I'm going tomorrow. That's that.

At the second bar of the night, I was talking to some friends from another course, and they invited me to Ireland for a week during spring break and Amsterdam for four days during reading week. Sweet! I'm so there! Now I just have to figure out what to do during Christmas...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Still not sick!

I forgot to mention yesterday that I got a PRESENT from Becky (and John, but not really.) Yay! She made me a set of scarves! I tried to take a picture of myself wearing them, but it didn't work out, so here's a picture of them on a chair. I actually think I might use them as decoration for my room, cuz I have no personal touches in my room. No picture frames or anything.

Thanks, Becky!

Do you want to know why the British drink so much tea? It's because the water here is gross. Maybe not as bad as Southern California water, but nowhere near as tasty (or tasteless?) as Seattle water. That's my theory, anyway.

Well, after doing yoga, I'm am very sore and very tired. But I am not sick! Or I was sick, but with the mildest sickness ever. A bit of swollen glands, a touch of sore throat, nothing worse. It's all sort of fading now, and I hope that doesn't mean it'll suddenly hit me full force tomorrow or the day after.

Today was epidemiology and Health Policy: Process and Power. I'm annoyed with this class. It's the one I'm least interested in, but it requires the most work, particularly reading. We have an hour of lecture, then 1.5 hours of practical groups. Every week, we have required reading for the lecture, usually a chapter or two from the textbook. Then we also have required reading for the practical, and we also have to read and discuss some case studies. There are five case studies for the course, and we basically have to read all of them in the first few weeks. Today's lecture could have been skipped, as the slides are posted online, and the lecturer simply read off the slides. He didn't add any further information or examples. The practical could have been skipped as well, as all we did was discuss in groups how people or groups exert power. One question we discusses was what resources you can use to exert power. Off the top of my head, I'd say money, psychological manipulation, expert knowledge, etc. I could have that discussion with any of you, and you would be able to offer the same insight as people in the class! But I'd still rather take this class than Health Economics (it was a choice between those two).

Everyone is assigned a "tutor." I put that in quotes because they don't "tutor" you in the traditional American sense of the word. They're really advisers. Anyway, I met with my adviser today. He wants me to be deciding now, after three weeks, what classes I'll be taking next term (after Christmas). He also wants me to do an oral presentation, with Powerpoint slides, in two weeks. None of my classmates have had to do these things. I suppose I should consider myself lucky, though, that I have a tutor who's keeping me on track and making sure I have the skills necessary for the future (i.e. presenting information). But now I have to come up with a presentation! And on what? Why, whatever I want, of course! He said I could use a past presentation, but I don't remember enough about my cyanobacteria project to present that. Blech.

Anyway, that's school. Thursday and Friday are Control of Infectious Diseases all day, so are a bit thick, but are actually sort of easy because we don't have to memorize minutae (or mathematical formulas). We just need to absorb broader concepts, which is alright with me. It's just a slow glide into the weekend...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Yoga sucks!

Oh, Lord help me! None of my muscles are working properly now! On the way out of the yoga hall, I almost smacked Laura in the face with the door cuz I couldn't control my arms. I'm not looking forward to tomorrow morning.

Laura and Holly want to know if I want to go out for a drink. Right. Lack of control over muscles + alcohol = FUN TIMEZ!

Poopy lectures

Still not sick, but feeling like I'm getting sick. I'm really hoping this is the worst of it, cuz I can totally handle this. I'm even going to try yoga for the first time tonight. My classmate, Laura, who lives in my building, wouldn't take my excuse of "Well, I sort of feel nauseous off and on."

We had two lectures this afternoon, both dealing with enteric pathogens. You know, the bugs that give you the squirts. There were lots of pictures of poop and damaged colons. One lecturer kindly shared this chart with us to illustrate that it's hard to define "diarrhea":

Lovely descriptions, non? He was a microbiologist, and he kept making jokes about virologists and cell biologists. His lecture totally reminded me of my medical micro professor back in college, who liked to say, "Poop is my bread and butter."

The great thing about this school is that we don't have the same lecturers every day, because they have experts in each topic come and share their knowledge. We hear from some of the world's leading experts on things like influenza, tuberculosis, and acute respiratory infections, to name a few. I guess that's why I'm paying so much money!

Oh man, almost time for yoga. I'm not sure this is such a good idea. Tomorrow, I may be sick and sore!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

More dreams, and school

Last night, I dreamt I was headed down SE 148th, trying to decide between Target and Fred Meyer. In my dream, I thought to myself, "Why am I banging my head against a wall trying to find stores that sell measuring cups when I can have these two stores to choose from?" Life is convenient in the States. Boring maybe, but convenient.

Measuring cups. You wouldn't think they'd be that hard to find! Looks like I'll be making another trip to IKEA. I need a full-length mirror anyway. How hard would it be for the residence hall to put a really cheap full-length in every room? No one in their right mind is going to mind having a full-length mirror in their room. Is there a suggestion box here?

I still feel like I'm getting sick, but it hasn't hit yet. I went to statistics today. Luckily, Mondays are short days for me. I'm worried about tomorrow, though. I have a full day, and I don't want to miss anything, so I'm hoping my illness will just remain kind of low-level like it is now.

Reading Sarah's blog about baby names, I was reminded of something someone told me on Friday. Some hospitals here have a policy of not revealing the gender of your baby, because on the NHS, you only get two ultrasounds during the course of your pregnancy. (Sarah, how many will you have?) With only one ultrasound later in the pregnancy, it's possible to misinterpret the photo and get the gender wrong. If the family then goes out and buys a bunch of pink stuff and it turns out to be a boy, they could get pretty upset with the hospital.

I'm really enjoying my course so far, especially the lectures that are specific to my group. Last week, we did an activity where we were all split into different groups representing different policy-making groups during a smallpox outbreak. You may be aware, smallpox is one of the few infectious disease that humankind has managed to completely eradicate. There are small amounts of smallpox samples kept in refrigerators at the CDC, as well as some samples kept in Russia. During the Cold War, the USSR split their smallpox supplies among many of their satellite nations, and it is suspected that some vials are unaccounted for. Our class was divided into groups representing the UK government, the opposition government (the other party in their two-party system), the UK health administration, a UK pharmaceutical company, the media, the US government, and the Russian government. Guess which group I was in? US government! A representative from each group was selected to sit on a panel deciding how to handle the problem. As the US government, our policy was written for us based on the US government's actual policy in case of a smallpox outbreak.

See, the US government is paranoid about an outbreak, so we've bought up all the smallpox vaccine stocks, and we've generated several of our own. The World Health Organization's plan in case of an outbreak is to contain it using a ring-vaccination scheme, where you vaccinate only the people who have come into contact with the infected person/people. All nations are supposed to contribute vaccines to the nation dealing with the outbreak. But unofficial US policy, supposedly until 6 mos ago, was to vaccinate every single American, regardless of where the outbreak happened, and donate any remaining vaccine. But we don't have enough vaccine to vaccinate everyone, so the UK wouldn't get a thing from us. As the US representative, I got to sit on the panel and inform everyone that we would not be giving them any vaccine to control their epidemic. I was also sitting next to the Russian rep, and I got to accuse Russia of starting the outbreak. It was really fun, but my heart was racing and my hands were shaking. Everyone did a really good job of representing their contingencies. The opposition party kept accusing the government of doing a bad job, and saying things like, "If we'd been in power, we never would have let this happen."

So my courses are fun and interesting, but I am getting muddled up with formulas. There are the standard error, confidence interval, and statistical significance formulas in statistics class, then the rate ratios, rate differences, population attributable risk fraction, etc in epidemiology class. Guh. Can't keep it all straight. What measures what? It probably doesn't help that I haven't been studying much. Should work on that.

Monday, October 20, 2008


Oh, photos I've been taking for a while but keep forgetting to post: random London photos. And photos of my neighborhood. None of these photos are all that great, so I apologize. I'll try to work on that.

Notting Hill and Sussex

Sussex was AMAZING! But first, Notting Hill.

Yesterday morning, I met my classmate, Alex, at the Portabello Road market in Notting Hill. She lives in the Notting Hill area, which is really a chic neighborhood (aren't they all, though, in London?) She said she goes to the Portabello Rd market every Saturday. I went there when Jody and I came to London, and both times, I've been slightly disappointed with how quickly you get to the end. I mean, it's a mile-long market, so it's nothing to sneeze at, but it just seems to go really quickly.

I noticed one stall with an inordinately large number of women scrambling to grab fabrics. The owner of the stall called out periodically, "Everything on this table, 1 pound!" So I had a look. It was mostly ugly print shirts, but I did find two pretty, thin cotton skirts. At only a pound each, I couldn't resist! At home, I would normally say, "Don't buy skirts! It's almost winter!" But everyone wears skirst and dresses all the time here. You just pair them with some colorful tights, boots, and a sweater. Tres chic!

Before going to the market, I had that nursery rhyme stuck in my head: "To market, to market, to buy a fat pig." So I was highly amused when we decided to have roast pig sandwiches for lunch, and this welcomed us in front of the stall:

That is (was) a whole pig, on a spit. Mmm, mmm good.

Just before 3pm, I met up with Holly and we headed out for her home.

We took the train from Victoria station to East Grinstead, in the county of Sussex (technically, West Sussex). It's about an hour south of London. Doesn't East Grinstead sound like a name out of Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings? A sign in front of the station there said L. Ron Hubbard lived there at one point. Apparently, East Grinstead is the UK headquarters of the Church of Scientology. It's also located at the convergence of ley lines (whatever that means), so all sorts of "non-traditional" religions are based in or near there.

Holly's mom picked us up from the station. They live about 15 miles away, in a town called Hartfield. The whole area was gorgeous countryside, especially with the leaves changing color. As we pulled up their driveway, driving through their front field, I saw a deer near a stream. I was all proud of myself for spotting it, until Holly's mom said, "There are the deer in the upper field." When I looked up at the upper field, there were at least twenty of them, including a stag or two.

Her house was absolutely gorgeous and completely charming. It's a real farmhouse, and her mom has it decorated with lots of Cath Kidston. It's like a house straight out of Country Living magazine. Shabby chic reigns supreme. The family has owned it for 30 years, and Holly's dad has done quite a bit of restructuring over the years. The house was heated only by wood stoves, so the main rooms downstairs were broiling hot, and the upper rooms were freezing. Nothing warm blankets couldn't solve, though! I had a guestroom to myself and it was adorable! Right up my alley. I was too chicken to take pictures of the house, but I snapped a couple of my room, and the bathroom. (Sorry they're so dark. I suppose I could have turned on a light.)

The bathroom was massive. This picture doesn't do it justice. Also, the floor was heated. Whoever invented heated floors deserves a Nobel Prize.

Holly's mom has a huge garden, kind of wild on one side of the house, then more ordered in planters on the back side of the house. Their property contains several buildings: the main house, three smaller houses which are rented out, a barn that will eventually be converted to a living space, and a large garage. Behind their back field, there is a fishing pond, but there's no real road up to the pond, so people drive up Holly's driveway, then drive across their back field. Pretty funny! They used to have animals like sheep, but now they just have two house cats, a brother and sister that sort of reminded me of Leon and Mathilda. Only sort of, though, because these cats actually liked to be pet.

Holly's family were all really nice and friendly. Her sister lives in one of the other houses on the property, so we went over there after dinner to hang out and chat. We were gonna head out to the pub, but her sister and I were both pretty tired, so we called it an early night. This morning at breakfast, Holly asked if I'd heard of "Pooh-bear." It turns out, A.A. Milne and Christopher Robin lived in Hartfield, a 15-min walk from Holly's house! We went for a 20-min walk through beautiful scenery to "Pooh Bridge," where the famous Pooh-sticks game was played.

As you might be able to read on the sign, you're not supposed to rip sticks from the trees. You're supposed to bring Pooh-sticks with you, or find twigs on the ground. We were only able to find one twig, so Holly broke it in half and we dropped them upstream. Mine won. There were no Eeyore sightings, unfortunately.

In the English countryside, houses are no longer assigned numbers. They all get names, and that becomes part of your address. You can change the name of your house/property if you want. So instead of living at Number 7, Country Lane, you could live at Briarwood Farm, Country Lane. Makes it hard to find a house you've never been to before, but isn't it charming?

Along the road to the bridge, there were many lovely estates. One was called Cotchford Farm, which I thought was kind of a funny name. Probably because it sounds like "crotch." According to Wikipedia, Cotchford Farm is where A.A. Milne lived. Wikipedia also tells me it was owned at some point by the founder of the Rolling Stones, who was later found dead in the pool. Anyway, all of the significant places listed in the Winnie-the-Pooh books are real places where the real Christopher Robin Milne played. You can visit them all; Roo's sandy pit, Piglets home, the 100-Acre Wood. According to the Pooh Country website, Christopher Robin would go playing, accompanied by his nanny. His nanny would relate his adventures to his mother, who told them to his father, who wrote them all down.

So yeah, I had fun. No, I didn't meet any eligible bachelors who would follow me back to London. Sorry to disappoint all you romantics out there. We came back this afternoon via London Bridge train station. Just as we turned onto our street to get back home, I discovered a 5 pound note lying on the ground! What a great weekend! Unfortunately, it's not all sunshine and rainbows, as I suspect that I'm coming down with something. My glands and head feel swollen today, and now I'm feeling rather warm. All of my classmates have been sick, and my number is finally up. I've been drinking lots of cranberry juice! (and vodka) Isn't that supposed to fortify the immune system? Oh well. I was determined to make it through the fall without getting sick, but as I've learned in epidemiology, when prevalence and attack rates are this high, there's no escaping disease. I guess I'll just give in and hope that it passes quickly and uneventfully.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Where exactly is Sussex?

I'm so excited! I managed to get myself invited to an English home in Sussex!

As it's Friday, the class met up after lecture at the bar in the building our lecture took place in (there is seriously a bar in every building here! On campus!) Drinks for buy one, get one free, so a classmate and I each got a vodka and cranberry--yummy! My new favorite drink. It seems to be a relatively weak drink, because I can drink three without feeling much of anything. Anyway, I only had one. Then another classmate wanted a drink, but she could only pay with a card, and you have to buy 5 pounds worth of stuff to be able to use a card, so she bought a double gin and tonic for herself, the same for me, two beers for other people, and a "packet of crisps." (I feel silly saying "crisps.") I was going along just fine with the double G&T, not feeling tipsy, and then suddenly BOOM. I was drunk. Like, earth-spinning-too-quickly drunk. I did not feel good! Man, I am not a fan of the gin. No more of that for me. Apparently, it's known to make people depressed and weepy. Women, mostly. How bizarre is that? This really chipper girl in my class was saying if she has just one gin and tonic, she'll be actually depressed the next day.

Anyway, on to the real story: one of my classmates, Holly, who lives in my building, mentioned that she was going home for the weekend, and then she invited me to come along. Yay!! I'm absurdly excited. She said her family has a big farm (52 acres?), but even if they lived in a townhouse, I'd be ecstatic. I can't really explain why. It's just, I came to the UK to experience life here, and I can't really do that in a school residence hall. Walking down the street, I hear American accents almost as often as British accents. So I want to meet a British family, even if they're exactly like any American family. Anyway, we won't be there long, just spending the night, really, but I'm thrilled. "Chuffed," if you will.

I got to see me Pops on video last night. That was really nice. I haven't been sleeping well for the last three nights. Really shallow sleep, with lots of dreams, mostly about home and family. I don't otherwise feel homesick, but the dreams get to me. They make me sad. So it was nice to see and hear Pops, and see the house. It was not so nice to see the horrendous mess I left in the spare room. I feel awful about leaving it in such a state. But what's done is done, and I can't go back and clean it (as much as I'd like to fly home for a quick weekend of organizing.) Oh well. Thanks to Pops for going through all my boxes and finding everything! I really appreciate it!

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Ooooooohh! I received my absentee ballot in the mail today! Yay! Now I can vote for...well, whoever the hell I want! What do people think about the Nader/Gonzalez ticket? Cuz I was thinking of spicing it up a bit.

Just kidding.

...Wow, this is taking longer than I thought it would. I guess that's the problem when you wait until the last minute to educate yourself. State auditor? Who cares? Insurance commissioner? What does that office even do?

...Hm, upon further research, apparently insurance commissioner does exactly the sort of thing I'm studying in school at the moment. Yay, public health!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Money matters

I feel so dumb. I just did a couple loads of laundry, and the three white shirts that I bought just one week ago are now a very pale blue-green. Pooh. I've been washing my own laundry for ages and have never done that before. Oh well, I don't think they look bad (I hope).

I recently paid rent for September. Guess how much. Yep, that's right, $1473. One. Month. That's close to twice what I paid for my Capitol Hill studio, but it does include all the bills and internet connection. Alas, it's the price you pay to live in London.

I decided yesterday to return to budgeting myself money per week. I used to do this at home based on my monthly salary minus all the bills I paid, minus groceries, gas, etc. I was left with $50 per week for whatever I wanted. In the month that I've been here, I haven't budgeted at all. I've just spent willy-nilly, which kind of makes sense because I need to buy pretty much all new stuff. But now that I'm more settled, I think I should return to budgeting. I picked an almost arbitrary number of 50 pounds, and in two days, I've already spent 40 pounds. I realized today that when I used to give myself $50 per week, that money wasn't used for groceries, whereas at the moment, I'm using the 50 pounds for groceries as well as everything else. Oh well, I'll figure out something that works for me. I found out today that the British bank account I applied for was approved, so now as soon as my school gets around to giving me my freaking money, I'll be able to start figuring out how much I can spend each month. Exciting times!

Monday, October 13, 2008


The other day, when I was talking to that med student in the pub about narcolepsy, we discussed seeing a neurologist here. As a student, I qualify for the NHS, which means mostly free health care, but with the drawbacks that entails. I've registered with a local doctor here, and to get treatment for narcolepsy, I'll have to get a referral to a specialist from my GP. The thing about the NHS, though, is that there aren't enough specialists on the NHS to meet the demand of patients on the NHS. How long you have to wait to see a specialist depends on the severity of your condition. As my condition isn't severe at all, who knows how long I'll have to wait.

I was just browsing the recent TV listings on Channel 4 on Demand, and saw that there was a special played a few nights ago about narcolepsy. It follows three people from the UK who have severe narcolepsy, who go to a Narcolepsy Network conference in New York. One of the people is a 14-year-old boy who can't stay awake in school. He has to have a care provider wheel him around in a wheelchair at school because he's so prone to cataplexy attacks. At the New York conference, he meets other teenagers struggling with the disease, and almost all of them recommend he take Xyrem, the newest and most promising drug to treat the cataplexy aspect of the disease. This is the drug my doctor recommended I try, before I stopped seeing him. I never did try it, nor did I try anything at all in the nine months before coming to the UK. So anyway, this 14-year-old kid decides to try Xyrem. The narrator says, "In the end, Tony decides to add his name to the waiting list for Xyrem." Hold up there a second. Did you say, "waiting list?" If a 14-year-old kid who has to be wheeled around in a wheelchair with a buckle across his chest so he won't fall out, a clever kid who can't stay awake in class long enough to learn anything, if he has to go on a waiting list to try Xyrem, what chance do I have of getting my hands on it? Guess I'll have to make it through this next year of hard-core studying without it. At least I'm not that bad off. I think I can handle it. I've made it this far without any effective treatment.

Lessons learned:
1) When you have access to treatment, use it. Don't sit around on your hands for nine months feeling sorry for yourself.
2) Universal healthcare is far from perfect.
3) Modern medicine tells us far less than doctors want you to believe.
4) Staying up until 4am, then sleeping until noon, makes Kusems cranky and emotional. And it screws with my sleep cycle, so now I don't want to go to sleep even though it's 10:30.

Also, I suck, because I forgot to wish Katy and Geoff congratulations on my blog for tying the knot! I hope it was lovely! (Someone please give me details of the wedding.)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

It's almost daylight's 4am. I just got home from a place called Barfly. Classy, huh? Actually, it was great. It wasn't too posh or trendy. Kind of just a relaxed atmosphere, as much as a completely packed club with loud music can be relaxed.

We started out at the U of L Union bar, where all drinks were 1.80 pounds. Not bad! I had three vodka and cranberries, but still wasn't drunk. It was me, three Irish girls, and a Canadian guy. At some point, he started reading everyone's palms. Apparently, I'm going to marry someone unattractive, and die a tragic and early death. I would expect no better from Lady Destiny. Then we headed to Camden for clubbing. The guy didn't want to come, but we forced him to. Poor thing. Then we played the "wander around the city looking for good places" game. I've played this game several times, in various cities, and I've never succeeded at finding much. We seriously walked up and down Camden high street, stopped for food twice, almost went to an outdoor hookah bar, but then didn't, stood around on the sidewalk for ages debating, then finally found Barfly. The guy was gonna charge us 8 GBP each to get in, until he saw that there were five of us, and he let us in for 5 pounds each. Sweet! It was a fun place, but the music could have been a bit better. There were good moments, though. At one point, I was sitting it out cuz I was tired and the music sucked, and then "Intergalactic Planetary" came on, so of course I jumped up and started dancing like a fool. This is mostly in tribute to John, but also because I love the song, and also in tribute to my old lab buddies. This guy I used to work with, Sam, loved the Beastie Boys, and I supported said love, so whenever a Beastie Boys song came on the radio (most often "Intergalactic Planetary"), I would turn it up really loud. If I didn't do it quick enough, Sam would call my name warningly from across the lab. So this one goes out to my homies in the lab!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Lunch break

Lunchtime blogging. Have I mentioned that I get a 1.5 hour lunch break every day (as long as there's no lunchtime seminar)? Just one of the perks.

Yesterday was a full day of tuberculosis. I think I'm more interested in TB than in HIV these days. Though currently, the big problem with HIV is that (poor) people infected with it are more likely to contract TB as well. So TB/HIV coinfection is a huge problem in the poorer parts of the world. There were three lecturers yesterday, and two of them stated multiple times that the real, underlying problem of TB is poverty. We can't eradicate TB until we eradicate poverty. They said there is too much focus on prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of TB, and not enough work being done on the poverty. They then went on to say that eradicating poverty isn't our (public health people) job, so we should focus on prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. Grrr...And what if I think it is my job to eradicate poverty? Clearly, they're not prepared to equip me with the tools to do so.

Anyhoo, after class, some of us CIDers went to a pub. I didn't want beer, but it was too early for harder liquor (it was only 4pm) so I had a glass of wine and a bag of chips, er crisps (though not quite the combination that Izzi suggested. Was it chardonnay and chili-flavored chips?) Tres chic. There was a guy there who's doing a course at my school part-time while also finishing up a medical degree at Northwestern (overachiever?) I ended up going on and on about narcolepsy to him and his conclusion, not knowing anything about narcolepsy was a) exercise and eat healthy, and b) perhaps I don't have narcolepsy. So it turns out, even if you haven't finished medical school and you have no experience with narcolepsy, your medical advice is exactly the same as someone with years of experience! Good to know! When I mentioned that I don't eat healthy because I hate cooking, my (slightly inebriated) classmate, Scottish Laura, exclaimed that she loved cooking and would cook for me/teach me to cook. Suh-weet! I'll definitely have to hold her to that.

Laura lives in the same hall as me, and she mentioned that there was a post-graduate social event in the evening. Our residence hall is made up of both undergrads and post-grads. There are even flats available so you can live here with your spouse and children. It's make for a weird mix of the mature and immature. At this event, they promised free drinks (wine and OJ) and free food (biggest bowl of peanuts you've ever seen in your life), so after the pub, we headed over. I mostly just talked to people I already knew from school, but towards the end of the evening, I met a girl from L.A. who lives almost directly across the hallway from me. She and my schoolmate, Patricia, and I went on a mini-tour of each other's rooms, just to compare. I'm a neat-freak, so my room is pretty spartan, and I noticed the difference that can make in the apparent size of the room. I feel like my room is very spacious, but when I walked into the exact same room across the hall, it felt much smaller because there was more stuff in the room. I guess it pays to be anal-retentive!

Today is a short day. We had a one-hour lecture at 11, then we'll have a 1.5 hour lecture at 2pm. Afterwards, of course, we're all going to the pub, supposedly as a group (there are about 42 of us). And I'm supposed to hang out with "the boy" tonight (my date from last week). I'll have to come up with a nick-name for him, if this is going to continue (and I'm not sure it will).

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Yay for mail!

YAAYYY!!!! My very first mails! Thanks Sarah, John, and Becky! You guys made my day.

Today was pretty packed. Extended epi in the morning, a seminar on rodents and the Plague during lunch (bad idea?), Health Policy, Process, and Power in the afternoon, and my first meeting with my tutor in the evening.

I wasn't sure how much I'd like Health Policy, Process, and Power (HPPP), but the course description sounded promising. After attending the first lecture, I'm really not sure I'll like this class. It's a lot of theory, and a lot of looking at health policies of different countries and figuring out why and how they came up with that policy. Not really my area of interest, but the choice was between HPPP and Health Economics. I'm pretty sure I would hate econ, so I'll stick with this. We'll see if it gets any better.

Meeting with my tutor was a'ight. Everyone is assigned a tutor, and the tutor is supposed to help the student figure out what topic he or she wants to focus on for future classes and for the final dissertation project. So he should be very helpful to me, since I have a hard time prioritising my interests.

After meeting with him, I went to go buy milk...and got distracted by CLOTHES! I bought four shirts from a store called New Look and I feel me a little bit bad, but not much. I need shirts. I have exactly seven shirts that I brought from home. Plus, I only spent 22 GBP! They were originally 28 GBP, but I got a 20% student discount. Now, you're not supposed to convert that to dollars, because prices here aren't the same as at home, but even if you do, that still averages out to about $11 a shirt. Not bad, right? I don't think so. Of course, it does highlight the fact that I'm a little bit obsessed with shopping right now, which could be dangerous. I need to make sure my money lasts through the year. Earlier today, I also bought a toaster, hair dryer, and pink polka dot dishes. But these are all necessary, so I shouldn't feel bad. I would take pictures for you, but my camera battery is dying. Alas!

Okay, I'm off to make dinner and watch "Skins," er, I mean, study.

P.S. Becky, of course, by "bucks," I mean "pounds," or as the English more commonly say, "quid." I think they use "bucks" on occasion.

P.P.S. Did you know the British pronounce the letter "h" as "haytch" with a heavy "h?" Cuz they do. It always catches my attention. It gets a bit annoying when you hear the word "HIV" several times a day.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

IKEA!!! and school

Oh, man, I'm on a high. I just got back from IKEA, and even though it was at least an hour away, this trip totally makes up for all the frustrating trips I've made to Argos, Primark, Woolworth's, and Sainsbury's.

Here's me, happy to finally be at IKEA.

Here's the luggage I brought with me so I would be able to carry all my loot home (looks pretty disheveled).

Here's me with my new items. Success!

Here's the take. So much stuff! I only had 65 GBP, and I was worried it would be more than that, but it was only 43 GBP! Yay! Money left over for the pub!

As you can see, I bought two trash cans, 32 hangers, 3 utensil cups, a dish drain, a reusable shopping bag (which came in very handy for carrying stuff home), a bath mat (my shower leaks water all over the floor), some drawer organizers, two dish cloths, two potholders, a pen cup, a shelf organizer, 12 glasses, a potted plant, and two plant pots. All for 43 bucks! And I managed to fit it all in my luggage, backpack, and the pictured bag. On the way back, a friendly Italian guy named Vincenzo ("Mamma!" "Vincenzo!" "Mamma!") chatted me up. He seemed very nice.

Today, ULU (University of London Union) was having a houseplant sale, so I went to check it out. They were selling that exact same plant for 3.99. I decided that was too much, and it turns out I was right! IKEA was selling it for 1.99. I plan to split it into two pots (hope that works!)

Tomorrow, I'm headed back to Argos to buy some pink polka-dot dishes. They are supposedly in stock, so wish me luck!

Oh yeah, then there's this school thing. I had my first real class today, and it was the one I'm the least thrilled about: statistics. Still, today was sort of introductory, so it wasn't bad at all. Plus, the class is for people who are interested in public health, not math, so the professors seem very understanding of the fact that everyone is starting at page 1. We had an hour of lecture, than an hour of "practical," which is like quiz section, where we split up into smaller groups and go over things more slowly. For the rest of the term, the practical will be first, followed by the lecture, which seems backwards to me. I always think of the practical as being like damage control for the lecture. But maybe this system will be good for reviewing last week's material right before we move on to new material. Anyway, Monday's are my "easy" day because I don't have class in the afternoon. Every other day of the week, I'm booked all day. Blech. So tomorrow, actually, I don't know what tomorrow is. Oh yeah, epidemiology in the morning, and Introduction to Disease Agents and Their Control in the afternoon. A light day, really.

Wow, going back to school is harder than I thought. I keep forgetting to check my school email, print up lectures, and figure out when and where classes are. Enough blogging! I've got studying to do!

Monday, October 06, 2008

I heart TV

The greatest thing about living in England is that I can download something called 4oD for free, and it gives me access to some of the best British television ever made, as well as some American shows. All for free, on demand, and all completely legal. Last night, I watched the first episode of "Spaced." For free! Then I watched the Daily Show, and tonight I watched the first episode of "Skins." So awesome!!! I may never leave my room again. (I know Sara will probably be the only person who has even heard of these shows, but so far, they're GREAT!) This is truly why I came over here.

So, today I had a bit of a date. I don't want to go into too much detail here, but if you want more, you can email me (there isn't really all that much to say at this point). When I left the hostel, we exchanged infos and decided to meet up. We went to the British museum today. It turns out, neither of us could really care less about most of the stuff at the British museum, but we both wanted to see the more modern stuff contained in the Europe section. Of course, that particular section was inexplicably closed. Whatevs. We had been there for a while when I remembered that the Rosetta Stone is housed there. Oh yeah! So I had to go check that out, just for the sake of it. I was amazed at how even and regular the lines were chiseled into the stone. That takes talent.

Anyway, as for my date, he's not Scottish, so it's hard to say where this will go. ;-)

Have I mentioned that I love my schoolmates? They're all fantastic! If the rest of the year continues like the last week and a half, it's going to be an amazing year. I've been out to pubs the last three nights in a row. Doctor says it's really unhealthy to have more than two units per week (since when?) so I better slow down! Actually, I didn't end up drinking at all last night, depsite going to two different pubs. The money lasts longer that way.

I've given up on shopping for housewares in English stores. Tomorrow after my first class (!!), I'm going to IKEA. In fact, I'll probably have to go multiple times, because there's only so much I can carry. There are four IKEAs in the greater London area. But much like the "Seattle" IKEA is in Kent, none of the "London" IKEAs are all that close to London. There is one that can be reached more-or-less by tube, so I plan to check that one out. We'll see how much I can carry. I have quite a long list.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Quit worrying

I finally did it. It was a bit complicated, but it's done.

"A ballot will be mailed to the address you indicated approximately 18 days prior to the election date you selected."

I'm still registered at Pops' address, but the ballot will be sent directly to me in London. That was the only way I could do it all online. To register as an overseas citizen, I would have had to print up an application and mail it in. And I'm only registered for an absentee ballot for this one election, but that's fine cuz I don't know where I'll be for the next election round anyway.

I met a guy at school the other day from Nigeria, and when I told him I hadn't yet watched the debates, but planned to, he said, "I care more about your politics than you do." Yeah, well, pooh on you! So what if I hate politics? Does that make me a bad person, because I get annoyed at all the bull-shit? I don't think so. And I'm making an effort!

Today between class presentations, I went to the University of London "Freshers Fayre." It's an event for freshman or anyone new to the school, where all the clubs and groups at the school set up booths and hand out shiny pieces of paper. There was a Harry Potter Society. There was apparently no one interested in their table. The two people at the booth looked very lonely, but hopeful. All sorts of stores and restaurants were giving out discount cards. I took quite a lot of stuff home, including dark chocolate flavored deodorant spray. "With the effect of chocolate," whatever that means. What effect does chocolate usually have on your armpits? Are they trying to say that if you use this product, menstruating women will devour you? I was also handed lots of condoms, but seeing as how I haven't met a single Scottish man yet, I doubt I'll be needing those any time soon.

Oh gosh, it's 1am! Good night!!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Need thicker walls

Today, I applied for a bank account and shopped for a cell phone plan. I can't get a monthly cell phone plan until I have a bank card, but I think I've figured out which one I want. One company offers a Skype phone, but it won't be worth it if no one else downloads Skype. If I get that one, you can call my cell from your Skype accounts (on your computers) or I can call your Skype accounts from my cell for free. The phone is also MSN Messenger-enabled, so we could chat for free (I think). Of course, you would all be tied to your computers, but I would be able to talk to you from wherever.

This afternoon, after we looked at malaria-infected blood and a stool sample under the microscope, I bought a "kitchen starter kit" from Argos. It comes with pots, a pan, a stir-fry pan, silverware, steak knives, real knives, a cutting board, some tupperware, and all the basic kitchen utensils like a can opener and slotted spoon and all that. All for 30 GBP. I also bought a digital voice recorder because I'm worried I'll space out in lectures. I'm not sure it's very high quality, though. We'll see.

I feel really dull right now. I think it's because I've had a couple drinks. I didn't get my act together in time to cook myself dinner (what else is new?) so I decided to check out the prices at the dorm cafeteria. Not too bad! I bought some dinner, than tried to find a place to sit. There was a girl sitting at a two-person table not far from me, and an empty table on the other side of the room, so I decided to be social and sit with the girl. We started chatting, then she asked what the thing on my phone was. I explained it was from "Doctor Who" and my friend got it for me from ComiCon. She confessed that she was an uber-geek and loved sci-fi! Nice, huh? It totally made me think of Sara. I added her on Facebook, so maybe we can geek out together sometime.

Which reminds me, Izzi apparently does still love me because she called me on Skype tonight. Yay! We talked about "Doctor Who" (among other things) and how David Tennant's hair is awesome.

Anyway, after dinner, two of my classmates who live in my hall came and found me, and we went pub-hopping. I've been craving "chips" (fries) since I got here, and after two drinks, I felt like I had a solid justification for having some fries. Mmmm. Happy.

...And the shine has just worn off of my new home. I just heard my neighbors having sex. Well, I heard the woman's side of it. Ick.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Bedding and a home

Becky, no, they won't be marrying any guys any time soon. Sara, there will be no shadenfreude here. The two girls were lesbians (though not partnered with each other).

And no, John, they weren't hot.

I'm tempted to make some comment about how them being lesbians negates their opinion on marriage and babies, but of course homosexual people can be committed, monogamous lovers and doting parents just like heterosexual people can. Anyway, I'm in no hurry whatsoever to tie myself down and start poppin' 'em out, which is good, I suppose, seeing as how there are no worthy candidates.

Although, there are quite a few hotties in this here city. I should have left Seattle years ago!

Today at school, we got our ID cards. Yay! These are necessary to get into the school building. Oh yes, this be a srios biznis school. School IDs are also necessary for the plethora of student discounts available pretty much everywhere in the city. No more full-price fares for me at the Houses of Parliament! I also got my school email address today. I know, totally boring, right?

After an hour-long library session, in which we learned how to search for things in the library (surprisingly much harder than it sounds, because this particular library is ABSURD!), my classmate, Tanya, and I went to shop around for bank accounts. We hit most of the so-called "high street" banks looking for the best deal. A UK bank account is necessary for depositing loan money left over after tuition is paid, and also for paying rent with direct debit. Once I have money in pounds, my U.S. bank can stop charging me foreign transaction fees, those bastards.

After the banks closed at 5pm, I headed out solo to find the Primark on Oxford Street. I needed to find a duvet, pillows, and sheet/pillowcases/duvet cover (that's right: no 85 GBP Zara blanket for me). Without these things, I would be spending tonight on a bare mattress with only my dirty laundry to cushion my little head. I was going to buy all this at Argos, a cheap store not far from my school, but they were completely sold out of duvets.

Primark is another very cheap store. I bought my extra large towel there for 5 GBP (pretend that's $5). But I bought it at a different Primark, and I didn't know the exact location of the one on Oxford Street. The stores on Oxford Street go all the up to Hyde Park, which is probably more than a mile from where I started. Surely, Primark would be long before Hyde Park, right? No, not in this cruel universe. Primark was almost all the way to Hyde Park. Meaning I walked really far with my wonky ankle and heavy backpack. Did I mention I have a wonky ankle? It appears to be caused by my tennis shoes, because when I wear flip-flops, there's no pain. Anyway, it was far, but I finally found it and bought myself all the necessary bedding. The store was a mad-house, though. It felt like the day after Thanksgiving. I don't even know why. I don't think there was a sale on. Anyway, I took the Tube back to Russell Square, and moved into my LOVELY NEW HOME!!!! YAAAAAYYYYY!!!!! I have a home! Of my own! With internet! Life is good.

Look at pictures of my place here. Yay! Have I mentioned that I love Russell Square? Like, seriously. When Jody and I came to London, we stayed at a hostel near Russell Square, so it feels familiar and homely. I remember walking past this one apartment complex, and wondering if I could ever afford to live there because it looked cool. Now I live kitty-corner to those apartments. I love it! This is the place I dreamed about when I dreamed about living in London. It's not hip like Capitol Hill or Camden Town, but it's still lively and it's nice. I'm very pleased. I'll take pictures of the neighborhood soon.

It's midnight now, so I'll skedaddle. Tomorrow, I must remember to blog about my youth hostel experience. Here's a teaster: late-night fire alarm and co-ed bathrooms. Fun timez!