Archive for June, 2010
It’s early morning in Central London. I’m not sleeping well, so I decide to let insomnia win this battle as I get up and make my way to the posh hotel gym for their steam room. Now wide awake and smelling of eucalyptus, I get dressed and head to a corner café and sit outside as the first light slowly peeks over the rooftops and fills the narrow alleyway with a dramatic contrast of light and shadow.
As I finish my bacon and egg sandwich on a sesame seed bagel, I take a long walk around the city and eavesdrop on a handful of morning vignettes as the slumbering city awakes.
A long line of people stand outside a building adorned with a humongous Brazilian flag, waiting for their consulate to open.
A woman emerges from a hotel, lost in thought as she slowly makes a sign of the cross and promptly snaps out of her trance.
Person after person on Oxford Street seems to have no idea where they are going; most of their faces are buried in computer printouts of internet maps, their faces frozen in expressions of befuddlement.
Young mothers and nannies push strollers around the city at a breakneck pace, walking their babies as they work out.
In the minutes before the Marks & Spencer’s, John Lewis’, Primark and other large retail shops open to the public, the employees knock on the locked doors to be let inside by their managers.
Pedestrians take a page from New Yorkers as they jaywalk at every passing opportunity. I try and follow along only to find myself nearly flattened by a fast-moving moped.
Peddlers throw imitation handbags, English flags and tacky souvenirs on card tables as they ready themselves for the tourist crunch.
I revel in pretending I’m a local, observing the rituals of an awakening city. But today I feel a unique detachment from these Londoners. Today, after seven and a half months of being away from home, I return. Today, I depart from London Heathrow Airport for Minneapolis to absorb two and a half weeks of friends, family, food, “not so much the heat as the humidity” weather, a bachelor party, a wedding, an outdoor concert, a homecoming party, baseball and hopefully a whole lot more.
Today I go home, but only temporarily. Upon my return, I’ll dive right back into all things in Cardiff, becoming one of the people I saw this morning: A local.
“Here you go,” she said with a reticent smile, handing me an envelope.
It was at my going away party last November, and the turnout had been far better than I’d envisioned. Friends from a variety of walks of life had turned out, from old high school theater friends to co-workers. One of those people was Sara, a girl I had studied abroad with in Ireland three years previous. Sara had a similar itch for adventure and travel. After graduating, she decided to uproot herself and volunteer at a monastery in Tanzania. It wasn’t through a formal program; she just rang up one of the nuns and asked if she could volunteer. I’ve been amazed at her gumption ever since. She’d since returned from Tanzania and was living at home with her parents in order to financially recover from her African adventure.
But despite my respect and admiration for her, we hadn’t kept in close touch since graduating. So I was particularly surprised and pleased to see her at the party. What I found in the envelope floored me: Five crisp twenty-dollar bills with five Post-Its attached including a little inscription on each one, so it read like a flip-book letter.
You are inspiring (I’ll be joining you in less than 2 years)
I have faith in you
(I bet you’ll still be in Ireland when I get there)
And I hate you
(because you’re going right now and I’m not)
So, Have a few drinks on me
And a few more for me. Best of luck!
I stood there, flummoxed to receive such a generous gift from someone I hadn’t done a great job of keeping in touch with, someone who financially was just getting back on her own feet. I tried to give it back, but she insisted I keep the money. It took me a while to digest this act of altruism.
Just a few nights later I laid wide awake in bed, my first night in Ireland. Doubts filled my mind. I was terrified I’d bitten off more than I could chew with this grand adventure. Panicked, I had already begun to think about throwing in the towel, flying back home just a few weeks after I’d moved. I think some of my early blog entries here reflect that unrest. One of the things that stopped that train of thought was Sara. A thank you note doesn’t seem like enough to explain how grateful I am. I think of Sara every time I get an email from a stranger who has found my blog and asks for advice about moving abroad. I can’t wait until she makes good on her pledge to “join me in less than 2 years” so I can pay her back with support of my own.
It’s match day: Wales verses South Africa. Since it’s one of the Six Nations rugby match-ups, it’s cause for one of the busier days of the year at the pub. We’re just across the river from the 75,000-seat, retractable roof arena, and guests have poured in from across Britain, Ireland and South Africa. The day seems as much devoted to drinking as it is to watching the match, so by the time I arrive to start my shift at 9pm, most people have either gone home or are beyond inebriated. It makes for an easier job for me, since all I have to do is clean instead of dealing with the drunk patrons.
As my co-workers end their shift at 2 and 4 in the morning, they decide to stick around for a few drinks. I serve them and we alternate answering the door as the hostel guests return from their wild nights out. All in all, it’s a pretty relaxed night, until about five in the morning, when my coworker runs back from answering the front door.
“Shit,” he mutters as he grabs the phone. “I need an ambulance right away,” he says into the receiver.
I run to the door and look outside to find a man slouched over on the ground outside our hostel, unconscious. He’s surrounded by three drunk Samaritans who rang our doorbell to alert us of the man. He’s lying on his side, face toward the ground. Not wanting to move him, I feel his back to check for breathing. I’m relieved to feel it rise and fall, but the relief is only temporary as I notice a pool of blood on the pavement beneath his head.
“Uh, guys,” I yell back to my coworkers, who are inside because the phone’s reception doesn’t reach to the spot where the man is laying. What follows is a game of telephone where my coworker relays what the person on the line is telling him to do.
“Turn him on his back!”
“But what if he vomits? I don’t want him to asphyxiate.”
“The woman on the phone said you need to make sure his airway is open. Turn him on his back, push back on his forehead and pull up on his chin.”
He’s a heavy bloke, but I manage to turn him around to find the side of his face covered in superficial but bloody wounds. His eyelids start to flutter as he regains consciousness. By this point my coworker has gotten off the phone and comes over wearing sanitary gloves. The ambulance is on its way, he says. We try to get some information from the guy, but his slurring is so bad he can’t convey anything. I notice his fly is down and surmise that he fell while attempting to relieve himself on the sidewalk.
We sit with him for 45 minutes waiting for the ambulance to arrive. Finally, it gets there and two guys in their fifties emerge and traipse over to us. They wear the expressions of men who have seen this many times before, men who know there’s nothing urgent about this situation, just a guy who drank too much and will have a nasty headache in the morning. No hospital bill though, thanks to Britain’s national health care. They put him on a gurney and wheel him into the ambulance. The guy wasn’t staying at our hostel and he wasn’t drinking in our bar, so I haven’t heard anything about it since.
The experience served as a good reminder – working in a bar can be a lot of fun, but it requires dealing with some serious situations too. I’m just glad I had my coworkers there to help me out.
At my last job in Galway we would call them zombies — the customers you always seem to get stuck behind, shuffling aimlessly through the main aisle, while you were struggling to carry the heaviest box of your life to the other end of the shop.
I had no idea the zombies would follow me to Cardiff.
After I finish cleaning up the bar at night, the main task my job requires is answering the door. We don’t have a curfew for our hostel guests, so they’re free to return at any hour of the night. They take advantage of that right and return all the way through breakfast time. In the early twilight hours, when the sky is just hinting at a lighter shade of blue, I’ll often answer the doorbell, check the guest’s room key to make sure they’re staying here, then peer down the long road to see a staggering figure heading my way.
Sometimes he’s alone, sometimes he has a lady in tow, staggering in discord from one another from one end of the sidewalk to the other. Sometimes, in the early hours of the morning, I swear I hear a faint moan, “Braaaaaaiiiiins.”
When they reach the door, they’ll spend a good few minutes fumbling through their pockets for their room key as they slur the requisite “Is the bar open?” Once they get inside the zombies will often approach the bar in a vain attempt to bribe me into serving them, so I craft a zombie defense:
The sun rises and I survey the damage done at the hand of the zombies. Rubbish strewn about, fences torn apart and bile throughout the streets. It’s not hard to see why we keep a club behind the bar.
Moving to a new country is an exercise in discomfort. Everything that was familiar becomes unfamiliar. Simple things like going to the grocery store, finding a bank or even just ordering a pizza become challenges. Which grocery store is closest? Which bank will accept my job offer letter as proof of residence? What is my UK postcode?
Moving to a new country for the second time in seven months, though? It’s a lot of déjà vu all over again. Open a bank account, apply for a National Insurance number*, get a library card, get a young persons’ rail card, register for the rewards club at the grocery store, set up my direct deposit, request holiday time at work…the list goes on and on. Three weeks since moving here and I finally feel like I’m back on my feet, just learning to be a local. (Again.)
One problem with working at a hostel is that I meet lots of cool people, but they’re always only visiting for a few days. So, to try and meet some local folks, I headed to the Cardiff Blogger Meet-Up last week and stood leaning awkwardly against a pillar until I got the nerve up to introduce myself. Boy did it pay off. I met a handful of Cardiff’s most tech-savvy; Journalists, PR specialists, food bloggers and the like. I shouldn’t have been a surprised when just a few days later at the Apple Store I ran into a guy I’d met at the meet-up. We were both checking out the just-released-in-the-UK iPad, of course.
So now that I’ve overcome the initial hurdles of once again moving to a new country, it’s time to get involved in some community programs. Some guys at the bar tried to get me to join their Aussie Rules Football team the other day. But I like my ribs unfractured, thankyouverymuch. Guess this means I’ll have to keep looking. Suggestions from my new Cardiff readers are more than welcome.