Sunday, July 25, 2010

Driving Me Crazy

So I’m waiting at a traffic light this morning, strumming my fingers on my steering wheel in time to the music and somewhat singing along … the light turns green and I press on the accelerator. Just as I start to move forward, a car from the opposite side of the road zooms through his red light, missing me by just a hair … I shudder. Take a deep breath. Cautiously look around and continue.

How can it be that even after ten years of living in Kuwait, the one thing I just cannot get used to is the way people drive here? The crazy speeding is the least of my worries – in fact, I find it much easier to handle than the ones who are barely moving on the major highways. (Seriously! – doing 50 km/hr on a major highway – come on!)

Regardless, the speed issue is not my main concern. My biggest concern is related to what happened to me this morning – drivers crossing through red lights. I’m not talking crossing through a light just as its turning red. No. I’m talking about crossing through a red light after it’s been red for a while. Of course, even that is not as insane as when I’ve stopped at a red light and the car behind me actually swerves past me to go ahead and cross it. Do they not see that the light is red? Do they not know that it’s wrong? Do they not care? Where are they going in such a hurry? Why is it that they think it’s ok to do such a dangerous thing?

Then of course there’s the lack of signaling … and when someone does turn his indicator on, he either forgets and doesn’t move, or goes the wrong way.

What about those people who don’t even turn their lights on at night. Why wouldn’t they turn on their lights? Are they really that lazy? Did their car not come with lights? Do they not know that it actually helps other drivers spot their black car zooming down the road at night? Ya, they don’t care.

And what’s with the reversing on major highways just because you missed an exit? You’d think that the traffic cops would do something about it, but heaven forbid they have to move and actually get out of their car. It’s just an exit. Either pay attention and turn when you’re supposed to, or drive on until you can make the next exit … legally!

How about those drivers who are waiting to make a u-turn or turn onto a road and they’ve stuck the front of their car halfway into the lane of oncoming traffic … do they not care that they’re causing a disruption because now the oncoming car has to adjust the way he’s driving to accommodate this *astard.

And don’t even get me started on the people who just pull into the parking lot only to take up 3 spots instead of one. Do they care? No. I mean, why would they? They’re the only ones that exist in this world … and what happens when you roll down your window and say ‘Excuse me, but you’re taking up three spots.’ They usually glare, ignore you, shrug, or comment with a ‘Park somewhere else.’ *astards!

I know that the ban on using cell phones while driving wouldn’t last, but I have to say I am completely shocked at how many people do not wear their seatbelt. It’s a seatbelt. It’s right there. Put it on! Okay, so you don’t care if you get into an accident … but surely, if you’ve gone through all the trouble to bring a child into this world you’d put him in the back seat, oh, no, you don’t want to do that? Okay, at least have your child wear a seatbelt in the front seat … Hmmmm, that won’t fly either. Ah I see, you insist that your 6 month old sit on your lap in the driver seat as you drive like a maniac, without a seatbelt, while smoking a cigarette, and talking on your cell phone.
Are we really the most intellectually evolved species?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain

On September 3rd 1973, at 6:28pm and 32 seconds, a bluebottle fly capable of 14,670 wing beats a minute landed on Rue St Vincent, Montmartre. At the same moment, on a restaurant terrace nearby, the wind magically made two glasses dance unseen on a tablecloth. Meanwhile, in a 5th-floor flat, 28 Avenue Trudaine, Paris 9, returning from his best friend's funeral, Eugène Colère erased his name from his address book. At the same moment, a sperm with one X chromosome, belonging to Raphaël Poulain, made a dash for an egg in his wife Amandine. Nine months later, Amélie Poulain was born. [André Dussollier – Narrator]

What better way to start off my summer movies than by rewatching my favorite one – La Fabuleux Destin d’ Amélie Poulain?

There is something truly enchanting about this movie. Audrey Tautou, who plays Amélie, does a superb job of drawing you into her world in which you see her progress from living a sheltered, lonely life to being intimately involved in practically everyone’s life around her. I found my heartbeat quickening as hers did when her heartbeat was being checked by her father; I held my breath, just as she did, as she waited to see Bretodeau’s reaction to ‘stumbling upon’ a long-lost childhood treasure. I silently cheered for her as she sought revenge on behalf of Lucien. I was enamored by her relationship with Dufayel … and of course, I was completely wrapped up in her photo booth, photo album adventure to find Nino.

Whenever I watch this movie I am completely mesmerized – from the mischievous glimmer in Amélie’s eyes, to the voice of the narrator, to the music, to the beautiful cinematography – presenting a truly romantic and whimsical image of Paris.

Magical. Mesmerizing. My favorite movie for sure.

Ma petite Amélie, vous n'avez pas des os en verre. Vous pouvez vous cogner à la vraie vie. Si vous laissez passer cette chance, alors avec le temps, c'est votre coeur qui va devenir aussi sec et cassant que mon squelette. Alors, allez-y, nom d'un chien!" (l'homme de verre)

Loose translation of Raymond Dufayel’s words:
So, my little Amélie, you don't have bones of glass. You can take life's knocks. If you let this chance pass, eventually, your heart will become as dry and brittle as my skeleton. So, go get him, for Pete's sake!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Inconsistencies. Quirks. Normalcy?

So I reach up with my left hand to grab something from the top shelf of my gym locker. After getting it down, I reached up to that same shelf with my right hand … of course there was nothing else for me to bring down, but I did the action anyway. My friend who was in the locker room with me noticed and had to ask – what did you do that for? And I replied – “To even myself out. I stretched up with my left hand, so I had to stretch with my right as well, otherwise I feel lopsided.”

Yes, yes, I know – she burst out laughing (as is the usual reaction I get when people hear about this) … but it’s just one of those things …

Or should I say one of those many things … apparently, as I’ve recently been told, I’ve got more ‘quirks’ than usual … I think the strangest one that has eluded many of my friends and family members for years is the issue I have with people smelling my food – or smelling food that’s being cooked or served. Now, I’m not talking about taking a whiff of the aroma that’s circling in the air and saying ‘Mmm that smells good.’ I don’t have a problem with that. I do, however, have an issue with someone putting their face close to the food and inhaling (or, as one of my friends does, puts his food up close to his face and deeply inhales!). And no, it’s not the boogers thing as people have speculated. I don’t know what it is, but there’s some psychological switch that once someone smells the food, I won’t be able to eat it … and it’s happened to me many times. It’s just one of those things.

Something else that’s kinda strange is that I can’t have any of my limbs hanging off the side of the bed. It gives me major anxiety … I feel like somebody (or something, like the monster under the bed) is going to pull my hand and drag me who knows where. I think this is because there were two occasions in which I had my hand on the escalator rail while going up and a man aggressively grabbed my hand from the escalator that was going down. It just really freaked me out – and I haven’t been able to shake that feeling. I never, ever hold the rail of an escalator on the side that’s near the one going in the opposite direction!

There are other habits I have which I’ve been told are weird, but honestly, I just see those actions as normal. I mean, doesn’t everyone alphabetize their DVDs by title or their books by author? Wouldn’t you also categorize your clothes by type (ok, I also do it by color, which may seem excessive, but it makes life easier!)?

I don’t know if my phobias should also be included as quirks. I mean, I guess my main phobia is that of dogs. My heart starts racing, I start hyperventilating, and often I just can’t controlled the panicked reaction with major screaming and tears streaming down my face, as a dog approaches me. However, I do have to say that a few months ago I decided that I would try and overcome this fear. I think I’ve done a good job so far. I mean, there have been a few instances where a dog has come near me and I have not reacted … now, actually approaching one and touching it is a different story … but who knows.

I guess my fear of sharks is understandable … though I guess the fact that I have to continuously repeat ‘there are no sharks in the water, there are no sharks in the water’ to myself as I swim … in the swimming pool … is a bit silly. But hey, whatever I need to do to get a few laps done, right?

The fear of birds, well, you can’t blame me for getting a bit freaked out when a bird flies overhead – anything that flies and poops at the same time should be feared!

Oh ... and I have issues about eating a banana in public.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Summer 2010 - Phase II

It seems weird to entitle a blog entry as Part II when I never really wrote a Phase I … but with my expert skills at procrastination I don’t think it’s really that big of a surprise.
Phase I of my summer basically involved me getting ready to present at a conference at Canterbury Christ Church University (on creativity and language learning) and meet with my PhD advisor about my research. I’m pleased to say it all went very well.

I ended my ‘part I’ with a few days in London, hanging out with some very good friends of mine. Lots of walking, talking, and laughing. It was the much needed break before returning home and starting on Phase II.

I’ve got four basic tasks that I want to get through during my second phase of summer.

The first one has to do with my PhD. I’ve got my 3rd annual review in September, and I’ve got to get a lot of writing done before then. The good thing is that I actually feel like I can see the finish line. The bad thing is that it’s pretty much an obstacle course that I need to get through in order to get from where I am to that finish line!

My second task is to continue my gym routine. I had hit a good stride and was making some progress before heading to London … now I’ve got to get back to my training. I just hope that my 2 week break from the gym hasn’t set me back too far.

The third task has to do with getting organized. I’ve got piles and piles of papers to get through. As a teacher and a student, the number of papers that I’ve accumulated over the past year is unbelievable. Add to that the papers from previous years that I never sifted through and I’ve got a major task on my hands! In addition to the papers, I’ve got a huge box of odds and ends that I’ve been meaning to sort through for over a year … I think it’s time I get it done and get rid of that box! Plus, of course, I’ve got to go through my wardrobe, my accessories, my computer files, and all the other bits and pieces around the house. The key thing is that I need to get it done without compromising the time that I need to spend doing tasks 1 & 2. Getting organized is important, but (believe it or not) I have kinda been known to use it as a way to procrastinate. Not this time. Now it’s about being more efficient. [So I hope.]

Finally – and this will seem like a strange task – but after all, I am on vacation … my fourth task is to make some headway into my movie collection. I’ve got a few hundred DVDs, and there are quite a few that I haven’t watched. By quite a few I mean around 150 (and I think that’s a conservative estimate). So, before I can justify buying anymore DVDs (though I did recently purchase a few more in London), I’ve really got to get through the ones I’ve got. At least it’ll be a more enjoyable ‘chore.’
That’s it! These are my four main tasks for the next 6 weeks of summer. I probably should have added prep time for next semester’s class, but I think I’ll wait to tackle that after I accomplish these.
It’ll be a busy summer for sure!

Friday, July 09, 2010

Smart Travel

I have always loved to travel. Every since I was young I’d get excited planning for the trip, figuring out what sites to go and see, packing for the journey – especially my carry on – and boarding that plane.

Over the years, that excitement still remains, though a few things have become a bit more tedious. First of all, it took me ages to figure out how to pack ‘light.’ It’s something that my father always told me to do, but something I never quite managed. My suitcases (2 @ 32 kg each) were always packed to capacity, and my carry on that truly tested my muscle strength. Over the years, I got better. As I started to travel more frequently and as many of my journeys involved hopping on and off (in and out of) planes, trains, and automobiles, I had to cut down on my luggage in order to cope without utterly exhausting myself. I’ve definitely improved (though I know there are some people who think I still have a long way to go before traveling lightly)!

Even if my suitcase is still on the heavy side, the one thing I have managed to improve on is my carry on. I used to carry a complete change of clothes, enough material to entertain me – books, puzzles, music (and in those days it would be various CDs and a discman), and more – for an endless journey. Plus of course there are the cosmetics and toiletries, a notebook and pencil case, a case of toiletries, and of course my camera, wallet, and travel documents. You’re easily looking at a 12-15 kg bag right there! Now, things are much simpler. I’ve got my laptop, iPod, a notebook and pen, flash drive, plus my camera, wallet, and travel documents.

My iPod has truly been a lifesaver. Not only does it have all my music, but it’s also got a few audiobooks in case I want to ‘read’ instead of listen to music and games – Sudoku, Scrabble, Tetris – to entertain me. Now if I had an iPhone I could even leave my camera out … but until then, it stays with me.

I must say that lightening up my carry on has made traveling so much easier. Aside from providing my shoulder with some much needed relief, it also helps when going through airport security.

Airport security can truly be a pain, but it’s something we’ve all got to go through, whether we like it or not. I understand that because of heightened security, further, more intensive checks have been implemented, and while this can be irritating and time-consuming, it’s inescapable.

What I don’t understand is how there are passengers that refuse (whether knowingly or unknowingly) to abide by the rules. By now, you should know the drill. Wear shoes that are easy to slip off, take off your belt, and for goodness sake, empty your pockets! I get infuriated at men who leave their keys, coins, and wallet in their pocket as they pass security. Hello?! Morons! Empty your bloody pockets. Moreover, these are the people who get exasperated with the security guards when they are told to empty their pockets. They scowl, they moan, they complain … when in fact they are the ones to blame. They are the ones who are causing the delays!

I was traveling out of Heathrow airport a few days ago. I didn’t think passing through security would take too long since there were only 10 people in front of me. However, when I saw the family of 5, I knew I had made a mistake. It’s like they had a plan to do whatever they could to cause a delay. Their belts were on, one of the kids was still in the stroller, they had several bottles of liquids on them, they were still wearing their jackets, their laptop was still in the bag … I mean seriously, you’re standing in line. Even if you can’t read English, you can watch the animated screens and get an idea as to what you’re supposed to do! Plus, I have to ask – did these people not travel anywhere in the past 2 years? Or for some reason, did they think that today, at this airport, at this time, security would make an exception and let them just go through? I mean, the ban to take liquids onto the plane (no matter how ridiculous it may seem) has been in effect for over 2 years now. It should be obvious that you can’t take that 600mL bottle of water/Coke/juice through security.

I know that it’s frustrating and irritating and some of the rules seem ridiculous (like what type of damaging material can you really get into the thin, rubber sole of a sandal?). But this moment in time, just before you are about to travel, is not the time to ‘test the system’ or engage in a conversation about how ridiculous the rules are. These are the rules. Follow them. You’d be amazed at how easy travel becomes when you’ve got your allocated 10 bottles of no more than 100mL of liquid already in a transparent zip lock bag, your laptop is out of its case, you’ve taken off your belt, and your pockets are empty … You sail through security, put everything back in your bag, and you’re off … see, it’s not so difficult! Travel Safe!