Tag Archives: travel

2 + 2 = 2?

I’m a graduate student in mathematics.

So, I’d like to think that means I know a thing or two when it comes to numbers.

And I do.

But apparently, my knowledge doesn’t apply in the U.K.

While driving today, I encountered an interesting traffic feature: there was a two-lane on-ramp merging with a two-lane highway and resulting in a total of two lanes of traffic.

The basic laws of mathematics prove that’s a bad idea. And so did my experience.

The congestion at this interchange was horrible! The outside lane of the on-ramp was forced to merge with the inside lane of the on-ramp, or to zoom up and try to cut into the main traffic flow farther ahead, while the inside lane of the on-ramp was trying to nose into the main traffic flow, sometimes trying to cut across both lanes in order to avoid just getting plugged up again in the first lane due to the other people trying to merge in!

The whole planet knows that 2 + 2 cannot equal 2…but the British highway engineers figured they’d give it a try anyway.

It’s interesting to me to consider: we can all be guilty of forcing the issue at times, can’t we? Regardless of the dictates of common sense, the experience of others, or general wisdom, sometimes we think that we can, by sheer will, make something work out.

Can you picture the conversation? At some point, someone likely said, “I know it sounds like a bad idea to combine 4 lanes of traffic into only 2, but I think we can make it work if we just give it a try….” And then someone else agreed and signed off on it.

But no amount of good intentions, sincerity, or willpower will enable us to overcome such untenable situations.

I suppose if I had been really wise, I could’ve used those minutes while I was stuck in traffic to contemplate the areas of my own life where I willy-nilly defy logic and sound advice just because I think that I can force my way through a particular situation since I desperately want my way to work out.

But I didn’t do that, so I suppose I’ve got some food for thought while I carry on with my well-ordered, sensible, mathematical life.

I did learn one thing, however: the next time I carry out a calculation, I’ll be sure to take into account the British factor.

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Posted by on October 1, 2012 in Life


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Passports & Sour Cream

I’m a foreigner here.

It’s really quite evident. I sound different. I walk different. I have a different passport.

And apparently, so does my sour cream.

A hundred years ago, an American cooking Mexican food in the United Kingdom would have been quite an astounding thought, but in our global world, it hardly raises an eyebrow.

British Soured Cream

To complement our planned dinner, I purchased some sour cream. Except that here it’s called “British Soured Cream.”

Apparently, it’s significant that the souring process of this cream is complete (soured), but what made a more dramatic impact on me was the fact that it is specifically British soured cream.

I don’t know that I want British soured cream. I’m not even so sure that I want Mexican crema agria. I want familiar, American sour cream.

Yes, the dividing wall of nationality extends even to dinner condiments. There is really no escaping the fact that I am not a native here. Perhaps for locals, the idea of purchasing British soured cream is one of national pride; they don’t want someone else’s sour cream, even if it’s quite similar. They want theirs, manufactured in their country.

I can understand that. Americans have plenty of push to look for the “Made in the USA” tag on various products. I even saw some of that here. A grocery store featured “American-style hot dogs”—they came in a jar, filled with water, looking like 8 well-preserved lab specimens. I never saw anything like that in the U.S.

Needless to say, I didn’t buy the hot dogs. I did buy the soured cream.

And it was good; it wasn’t so different after all. Mostly, all of the oddity was in the name and on the printed label. Where there appeared to be a difference—potentially significant—there turned out to be just a superficial semantic issue.

I am a foreigner here. I do have my differences. But at the core of it, I’m just another person.

I have traveled to many different places (about 20 countries or so), and have often encountered my companions remarking, “This place is a whole other world!”

But they’re wrong. It’s not.

Although some people, places, customs, and languages are very different from what might be familiar to the average American, for all of these differences, it’s not another world. We’re still on the same planet. We still have much in common. After all, we’re still people.

Some differences in life (even between people of the same nationality) are indeed significant, while some are only superficial. But when it comes down to it, we’re still made of the same stuff, whether foreign or local.

Just like soured cream.

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Posted by on July 2, 2012 in Life


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Completion Celebration

Today is my birthday.

It is interesting to look back. Over the last 4 years, I’ve been in four different countries at this time of celebration.

In 2009, I was in the Middle East, and moved to East Asia the day after my birthday, which is where I celebrated in 2010. Last year, I was in Japan in the wake of the earthquake/tsunami disaster, serving as part of a relief team. And this year I’m in the USA.

It’s turned out that birthdays have often marked transitions for me. It’s a reminder that life moves on, that though some things (and people) will remain the same, each year brings new opportunities and experiences.

I can barely imagine what the remaining 8 months of 2012 will bring, let alone the entirety of my 33rd year of life.

It’s interesting to me that we mark our age by celebrating completed years of life. We turn 1 at the end of our first year after emerging from the womb; we mark the successful conclusion to a year of life. Turning 32 means that I have completed 32 years of life, and that I am now heading into my 33rd year.

In some Asian countries, they adopt this perspective in their age scheme; while some people may prefer to remain as young as possible for as long as possible, I wouldn’t mind saying that I’m 33 because I am indeed looking ahead to my 33rd year of life, the possibilities and blessings and experiences. I celebrate that I’ve been carried through thus far, but I’m anticipating many more transitions to come.

What will happen for my next birthday? Not suprisingly, it is likely that I will be in yet another country. Beyond that, I cannot say. I’ll have to wait until next year’s completion celebration and let you know.


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Posted by on April 4, 2012 in Life



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