Zero Tolerance

The following is a weekly “journal entry” for my COMM 486U Business Communications class. I wrote this a week ago, and the task was to “write a very succinct and compelling story about an intercultural experience”, with the introduction following a certain format. I thought it’d make for an interesting story to share with others as well.

I am a 20 year old Chinese-Canadian female, and I would like to tell you about an embarrassing intercultural incident that happened to me in London over this past summer. I was visiting England for my annual August family vacation, and on that particular day, we went to go see the famous Natural History Museum.

While I was browsing an exhibit on the third floor, and my family and I had somewhat scattered about in the museum, I noticed a guy peering at the same display that I was looking at. He was Caucasian, had a tall build, and looked to be around my age. I glanced over at him in passing, and he smiled at me.

“Great exhibit, huh?” he said, with a heavy British accent.

“Yeah, it’s spectacular!” I replied.

“So where are you from?” he asked.

“Vancouver, Canada. And I assume you’re a local?” I countered.

“I live about an hour away in Romford, but yes, I’m definitely a local.”

And the banter continued on for quite some time. He seemed charming, funny, and genuine, and I enjoyed talking to him. Soon after, I glanced at my watch and realized that I needed to go meet my family in the museum’s cafeteria for lunch. So I said, “It’s been really nice talking to you, but I think I have to head off soon.”

“Aw, that’s a shame,” he said. “Well, before you go, I just wanted to tell you that you’re very pretty for an Asian.”

“Wait. What?” I was shocked. Did he really just say that?

He looked at me, puzzled. “Is something wrong? I just said you were pretty.”

“For an Asian?” I said. “Are you insinuating that Asians are uglier than other races?”

“No, I didn’t mean to offend you, it’s just that-“ he breaks off.

“It’s just what?”

“I usually don’t think Asians are attractive.” He doesn’t look me in the eye.

“Goodbye.” I had nothing more to say. I turned on my heel and walked away.

London Travels: Wimbledon, Ladurée, & Reflections

After flying for 10 hours and sleeping for 13, I’m back safe and sound in Canada! I thought I might take this time to blog about my last couple of days in beautiful London.

August 24: My mom is a big tennis fan, and so we paid a visit to Wimbledon as per her request. There was an outdoor tour of the park and a museum, and (of course) we opted for both. Most unfortunately for us, it was raining really hard, which soon turned into a full out thunderstorm. Our tour group was quite large, and everyone was soaked. One guy didn’t have an umbrella or raincoat and each time after we went outdoors, he would take his shirt off and wring it out. It was that bad.

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But despite the torrential rain, it was completely worth it because I got to visit the press interview room, where I got the chance to sit in the chairs where tennis greats such as Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, among others all sit to give their post-match interviews. We learned a lot of about the whole process at Wimbledon, from the checking in to after the match interview requirements to reimbursements to leaving.

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Fun fact: ALL players are required to present their I.D. at the front desk upon checking in. It doesn’t matter who you are, you must do so or you will not be permitted entry. The tour guide (who was a total champ and who I really liked) told us a story about how Federer was scrambling to find his I.D. upon getting to the front of the line and Andy Murray was behind him, laughing.

Afterwards, we dried off at the cafe with hot soup, and toured the museum.

The next day, we visited the London Museum. I haven’t got much to say about it, because at this point I was really sick of museums (my family is really big on them), but it was free like most others, and it was decently engaging even for a jaded ol’ soul like me.

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I found this cute tin at the gift shop. So it’s not just a stereotype after all 🙂

Afterwards, we left the museum around 4:15pm and I really, REALLY wanted to go to Ladurée, home of the world’s most famous macarons, but it closed at 5:00pm on Sundays. I had been yearning to the entire vacation and this was the day to do it, as the next day (and coincidentally our last day) was Bank Holiday in London, and I had no doubt the streets and tube would be packed full of people. More on that later.

We rushed and rushed, and Google maps took me through a much longer than necessary walking route, but I finally found it at Burlington Gardens.

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They were very pricey, at £1.70 each, or almost $3.00 CAD. I ended up buying a box of 8, but in retrospect that was probably a mistake because I only had 2 on the day of, 3 the day after, and the last 2 when I got home- which by then just weren’t as fresh and tasty as the ones I ate right away. A word of caution to anyone who plans to bring them home: they have a 3-day quality decay, so buy it on the last day(s) of your stay.

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It was a very tiny store, and according to Yelp, typically has a long wait time because you can fit max 3-4 people in the store at once. But since I went at almost closing, I didn’t have to wait at all.

The very last day, we visited the Science Museum, which is located very close to the famous Natural History Museum. This is probably the most engaging museum I’ve been to, containing 5 floors of interactive exhibits and displays (I like science a lot more than history), and a lovely sit-down restaurant called Deep Blue Café with a dark electric-blue ambiance and brightly-lit tables.

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For our last dinner in London, we went to the Gourmet Burger Kitchen in Westfield, or gbk. I was overjoyed because some of my friends had recommended this place to me. I ordered the Cheese & Bacon burger, along with a side of Skinny Fries to share.

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The burger is made with 100% Angus Beef and I had mine done medium-well. It was very rich and I could barely finish mine. And let’s just say, I won’t be sharing the skinny fries next time- they’re delicious!

On our way back to the hotel (and honestly throughout the day), we were stunned by the amount of shenanigans that occurred on Bank Holiday (Monday August 26). Every street corner was littered with glass alcohol bottles, wrappers, and other garbage, and the air reeked of cigarette smoke.

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This is what my neighbourhood (Kensington/Chelsea) normally looks like: now imagine it trashed.

People were loud, drunk, and barely clothed on the streets and on transit (I almost witnessed a fight on the tube when a drunk guy tried to steal another guy’s keys out of his jeans pocket).  The amount of litter: it looked like a tornado had ripped through the streets of London. It was so different from the idyllic, calm (well only in Kensington/Chelsea), pleasant London that I had gotten so accustomed to. My brother and I both said, “Stop! This is ruining our image of London!”

It went on all throughout the day and into the night, the air filled with sounds of sirens and shouting. As we returned to the hotel after a long day, my brother and I were stopped by a large security guard at the door, asking us whether we lived there. After we answered both yes and with our room number, he continued to press us further. I was surprised because a) clearly I am a tourist- I have a North American accent, b) my face doesn’t exactly look intimidating, I wasn’t under the influence of anything, and I was wearing proper clothing, c) I am not used to security not believing me. After he saw our parents walk in through the revolving door, he gave us a sheepish smile and let us go.

Our guess was that Hilton hired extra security on that day in case people came in to cause trouble, use the restroom extensively, etc. It was eye-opening to see another side of London, but by the next day, people had to go to work and things were restored to normal.

We woke up at 6am the next morning, ate our last English breakfast at the hotel, and left for the airport.

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My favourite thing about my trip was visiting the River Thames/Westminster Bridge/Big Ben. It was just so breathtakingly beautiful, despite the hordes of people, peddlers, and birds. And developing an unhealthy obsession with red telephone boxes and red double-decker buses.

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London, you were a really good time. I can’t imagine living here for the long-term as I’d miss delicious Asian food, quality tap water, and driving on the right side too much, but I am most definitely in love with you and would like to return someday.

London Travels: Breathtaking Views & Landmarks

So I’m sort of behind in my blogging, but I’ve been out until decently late in the evening and have not had time to sit down and write. Takes me around an hour to create a post, especially if they have photos, so it’s been difficult to find the time.

August 22: I visited the Buckingham Palace, which was a lot more grand than Kensington Palace. Queen Elizabeth II lives here (but she is away for the summer, hence why it is open for visitors right now), and it was just really grand and posh.

We had to buy our tickets 2 days in advance, we had to go through airport-esque security, scanning bags in those plastic bins and going through metal detectors and such, and we weren’t allowed to take any photos inside. I personally thought it was a ton of hassle, but I guess I can’t go to London and not go to Buckingham Palace.

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As I didn’t have any photos of the inside, I can only describe it as over-the-top and lavish. Yes, it was a sight to behold, each room decorated with priceless art, gold, red velvet, jewels, and beautiful architecture. But it was to the point that every room began to look the same. I honestly can’t imagine living in that palace, it’s just too much. Still, definitely a must-see in London.

Afterwards, we found yet more Asian food, this time Chinese, in a bustling place not far from the Palace and from Victoria Station:

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It looks better than it tasted. I think I’ll stick to non-Asian foods from now on in London. It’s just not the same as home. Although that Korean food I had the other day was amazing.

We headed over to the Natural History Museum, which was actually more interesting than the British Museum. It talked a lot of about how the Earth came to be, its natural processes and minerals, and was basically Geography 12 all over again but in a more interesting and interactive manner.

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Is that not the coolest escalator you’ve ever seen? Definitely the best part of this museum.

After the museum, we wanted to head back to the hotel, but upon arriving at the underground station:

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Yeah… there’s no way we’d be able to get home. Rush hour in London makes rush hour in Vancouver seem tame. People flooded the station as far as the eye could see. So we went to eat dinner instead.

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We went to Pret A Manger, which is this cafe chain in London that I’d been dying to try ever since coming across the name in Sophie Kinsella’s books when I was younger. It was (most unfortunately) too late to have coffee, so we had some sparking juice and a chicken and pasta salad instead.

The next day, we visited Big Ben tower and the London Parliament buildings, aka the Palace of Westminster. Again, airport-like security and no photos inside, so I don’t have photos of the inside. But the place used to be a palace, so I think that kind of gives you an idea of its grandiose architecture and design. I noticed that the way that the government works here is very similar to Canada’s. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and I actually managed to pay attention the whole time.

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Unfortunately, we couldn’t tour the inside of Big Ben, as it is only open to residents of the Westminster area. Not even residents of London, just Westminster. But admiring it from the outside is just as great. It looks beautiful in photos.

Afterwards, we walked over the Westminster Bridge overlooking the River Thames, and honestly that is probably the highlight of my vacation thus far. I got to eat lunch right next to the River and it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. It looked like the opening scene of a movie, or a photo on a postcard, or something… and I couldn’t believe that I got to see it with my own eyes. I was blown away. Such breathtaking views.

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Afterwards, we briefly visited the Westminster Abbey, the famous cathedral. Fun fact: Will and Kate got married here!

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Later that night, my family and I tried Jamie Oliver, an Italian restaurant that was apparently big in London (according to my friend). However, we were very disappointed by the quality of the food.

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My pasta was very watered down, plain, and bland, even after sprinkling on parmesan and pepper. And the portions were tiny for their price- it looks decent here, but we were still hungry after eating our entrees.

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I believe that this was a “Strawberry refresher” of some sort- but it was terrible. It was expensive, sour, and comprised mostly of ice. It was rather pricey for a non-alcoholic beverage as well.

More to come later! It’s almost midnight here and I must get to bed. May not have the chance to blog until I get home- tomorrow is my last full day here!

Transit observations:

Observation #5: The transit system here is so efficient, I love it. There is even 24-hour transit in Central London, with some buses coming every half hour in the middle of the night. What I would do to have 24-hour transit in Vancouver.

Observation #6: The tube is really, really hot. Both in the trains and in the stations. May be due to the sheer amount of people in the stations/trains (see photo above), but I sweat up a storm every time I enter an underground station.

Observation #7: Unlike Vancouver, there is a plastic box around bus operators (for safety), and you are not allowed to speak to them when the bus is in motion. Buses in central London are all double-decker (I love it). I also noticed that there are no homeless people on any transit systems, which there is a lot of in Vancouver.

London Travels: Grand Museums & Friends

The past couple of days were still tumultuous, but have been really fun.

On Tuesday during the daytime, things did not go according to plan… to say the least. I won’t go into detail, but at least the evening made up for it. I got to meet my friend Matt, who lives in the UK and who I’ve known for 3.5 years now. The blogging community back in the day blessed me with a few long-standing good friends, and he was one of them. So it was really cool to meet up in person.

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My friend Matt and I!

We met up at Westfield, the nearby sprawling complex of a mall. We walked around for ages, chatting and deciding where to eat. I was really craving Asian food after days of burgers and pizzas, so finally we settled for Penang.

They had a good selection of Malaysian appies and entrees for decent prices, but drinks were on the steeper side. I ordered the Char Kway Teow, which cost £8.25, and a Banana smoothie that was nearly £4.00.

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I don’t have a photo of my actual meal, but the drink was presented very nicely!

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Derp friends

Afterwards, we walked all around Westfield again, buying candy from Waitrose, laughing at silly cards at Paperchase, and (obviously) strutting our stuff at H&M.

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I bought this skirt that I ended up wearing all of the next day

We had a lot of fun and it was really cool to have someone to hang out with halfway across the world. We spoke as if no time had passed at all. It was especially cool because he had a pretty strong British accent, but sounded just like me the moment he spoke Cantonese. Wish I could have that.

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Thanks for hanging with me, Matt! 🙂

Observation #4 (may be a bit TMI): London toilets are really, really difficult to flush for some reason. Takes 3-4 tries at times. And my brother tells me that men’s urinals all do not have flushing capabilities, which makes the men’s room always reek.

The next day, my family and I headed to the world-famous British Museum. It was really beautiful, but didn’t feel much like a museum because it was unusually packed with people. PACKED. It felt like a shopping mall on Boxing Day. Why?

Because admission was free.

I don’t really understand why it’s free when they could charge a small price and solve the evident problem of overcrowding, while still making a profit. This seems to be the case with most museums here in London.

But despite that, it was a very cultured day. I got to see the Rosetta Stone and Cleopatra’s mummy in real life. They had an excellent Egypt exhibit, and the architecture of the building was breathtaking.

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Cleopatra’s mummy

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The Rosetta Stone!

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For lunch, I got to have Korean food. Real, authentic Korean food in London. As I said before, I was really sick of Western food (I live off of Asian food and I miss it every time I leave Vancouver) so I was overjoyed. I ordered a Bibimbap with sides of Kimchi, Bean Sprouts, and Miso Soup, and it was the most delicious thing I ever had.

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And for dinner, we ate a cozy restaurant near our hotel for the second time, called Giraffe. I had the Parmesan Chicken Schnitzel Kiev, which was Parmesan crumbed chicken breast with garlic and herb butter, served with mash, a side salad, and roasted lemon.

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And to top it off, I got my photo with an iconic red telephone booth!

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(I should really get another that is less blurry before I leave.)

And that concludes my adventures for now! I can really only post two days at a time, or it’ll be too much to read in one sitting. More to come soon!

London Travels: Beginnings

I don’t usually blog about my personal life, but I felt it would be a good thing for me to write about my first time traveling in Europe. So far, it’s been quite tumultuous and I thought I’d share my experiences and thoughts with the world.

So a lot of things have been happening lately: I finished up my summer internship at Energy Aware, I’ve started to get paid for my writing (!!!), and currently I’m blogging from my hotel in London. LONDON. Life is a little crazy.

I departed on August 17th, and I first flew to Toronto, rushed really hard to catch my connecting flight to London, which ended up being delayed anyways. Weary and exhausted having already traveled a good 13-14 hours, my family and I were eager to grab our belongings and head to the hotel to crash upon landing in London.

HOWEVER, Air Canada most disappointingly lost my luggage. I have never had my luggage lost in transit before, and I was dismayed that I couldn’t have my belongings when I needed them most. They told us they’d most likely ship it within the day, so we begrudgingly headed to the hotel.

Observation #1: Everything in London is REALLY EXPENSIVE.

Proof: A burger and fries cost 18 pounds, which is around $30 CAD. What. Also, my cab fare from the airport to the hotel cost 55 pounds +tax, which equals $91 CAD. That is mind-blowingly expensive. That’s more than a day’s work at my part time job…

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The cabs here look so old-school, I love it.

Observation #2: Drivers drive on the right side (so the passenger side in North America), and they keep to the left lane instead of the right (which you can see in the photo below). Reminds me immensely of Hong Kong, which would make sense since HK was a British Colony.

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When we arrived at the hotel, it was around 10:30am, and we were told that we wouldn’t be able to get a room until 2:30pm. We were thoroughly exhausted almost to the point of delusion and we were not pleased… we basically stayed up all night until 8am in Vancouver time. Didn’t sleep for a full 24 hours.

I hadn’t pulled an all-nighter since 11th grade and needless to say, the sleepiness combined with the exhaustion from traveling, and annoyance from losing my luggage really turned things sour. We struggled to keep it together until 2:30, where then we passed out for 5 hours.

Later that night, we called it an night at 11pm, but it sort of backfired as it resulted in my brother and I waking up at 4am and not being able to go back to sleep. Since the luggage did NOT arrive within the day, I was forced to wear the clothes I had spent the entire day before traveling in, I had no toiletries at all, and I couldn’t even borrow anything from my mother as only the men in the family received the luggage. BUT, despite everything, after sleeping my mood improved and I felt better, especially after I came downstairs to this:

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This, my friends, is a gourmet English breakfast buffet that I’ll get to enjoy every single morning for the next 9 days. How can one not cheer up upon discovering this? I’ve never seen such a full-service hotel breakfast before. Everything was so posh and fancy, I loved it.

We decided to go to the Kensington Palace for the day (today), and took public transit to get there. The public transit system is so much better here in London! We purchased our Oyster cards, depicted below, and I was excited because I love the Octopus cards in HK.

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Kensington Palace is the home of Will and Kate, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. The surrounding park was enormous, and really beautiful.

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And of course the inside was gorgeous as well:

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We ended off our day with a trip to Westfield, which is the most gigantic mall I have ever seen in my life. Seriously. We got through maybe 1/5th and we were tired already. Full of posh, designer shops and hot new restaurants.

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Air Canada had told us that our luggage would be delivered by 1pm, but of course, it wasn’t. We waited till 6pm when FINALLY I spotted my luggage being rolled in and squealed in delight (no shame). It could have easily been the happiest moment of my trip thus far.

3rd and final observation of the day: Brits refer to the washroom as the “toilet”. It’s kind of awkward to say, “I’m going to the toilet!” in North America, but it’s very commonplace here. Also: “crisps” = chips, “chips” = fries, “macchiato” = a shot of espresso with a tiny drop of steamed milk, “cuppa” = cup of tea, “bollocks” (pretty self explanatory).