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Oh the weather outside is…

30 Nov

…delightful? Yes, I think that is the right word. There is snow. Everywhere. It’s been snowing off-and-on since Friday night, and it is really delightful. Here, see for yourself:

The Bell Tower With Snow:

Snow on Campus:

Snow in the West Quad:

Kelvingrove Museum:

In other news, I’m almost finished with the semester. In fact, I should be working on some final projects right now, but instead I am doing a much needed update to my blog. Things have been going swimmingly well here recently. I got to have not just one, but two Thanksgiving parties while I was here, one in Glasgow and one in Edinburgh. They were really neat because a lot of my friends who are not American came, most of whom had never tasted pumpkin pie! I used Paula Dean’s the Secret Kent Family Pumpkin Pie Recipe. SPOILER ALERT: the secret ingredient is pumpkin. We even went around the table and said what we are all thankful for, which the New Zealanders thought was a bit silly but participated in anyways.

I had a stall at my church’s Christmas fair last weekend, trying to hawk some  of my photographs to unsuspecting strangers. I even surpassed my expectations and sold one! You can see it here. There was actually a lot of very complimentary interest in my work, just not many buyers. The Christmas craft fair circuit is probably not the best market for moody B&W prints of western Scotland, especially since my main competition at these fairs are things like this. That only leaves me with about $200 worth of unsold stock to get rid of before my return to the US next year. Did I mention that I ship internationally [suggestive clearing of the throat]? I think I will try to do a few more Christmas fairs here in Glasgow and see if I can sell a few more.

It is 4:11 PM as I am writing this sentence, and the sun is almost set. I am counting down the days (24, to be exact) until my family and my super-awesome-girlfriend arrive. They are all pretty much amazing, I love them all very much, and am pretty excited about seeing them. Not sure how to end this post, so I’m just going to end it…here.

Three Anecdotes

28 Sep

First off, let me preface this post by saying that British people are nice. They are. Really. Now let me also say this: when at work, Brits seems to derive some kind of pleasure by making things as difficult as possible for the customer, e.g., me. It’s as if they have never heard of the concept of customer service, much less the radical notion that the customer is right. Three examples:

1. The Mobile Phone: I brought my iPhone here with the intention of setting up a 12-month contract on O2, one of the local mobile networks. I went in to the store, and they ran me through the application process, but got an error message when their computer was checking out my bank details. They politely told me that I needed to confirm with my bank that my address was correct. I said “no problem,” and headed down to my bank, who confirmed with me that my bank details were indeed correct. I trotted back up the street, and tried again with O2. Again, same problem, but this time the O2 attendant suggests that there may be a problem with my UK credit history, and tells me to consult my bank. I ask if she can provide me with any details, and she replies that I would have to email their company headquarters to get more details. I ask about a phone number to call, and she says there isn’t one.

So, I gamely trot back down the street to my bank to check one more time. The teller at the bank gives me a deadpan expression and says, “I’m sorry, but we really can’t help unless we have more details from O2 about the specific nature of the problem.” I am starting to get irritated. I decide to go downtown to O2’s main location, and see if they can help. I go through the application process yet again, and again the same problem. As politely as I can, I tell the O2 saleswoman “I am trying to spend my money with you. There has got to be some way around this! Is there anything you can do?” Very sincerely, she tells me that I could visit the O2 headquarters…in Leeds. That’s right, Leeds! That’s over 200 miles away! I can hardly believe my ears. The ridiculousness of her suggestion slowly washes over her, and she then says, “Er, well, you could write them a letter if you wanted.” A letter?! What year is this, 1952?! She finally gives me an email address for customer complaints. I practically beg her for a phone number to call, but she says that their office only responds to letters and email (and probably carrier pigeons too), but not phone calls. It’s not like they are a phone company or anything…

2. “Do you have a _____?” British workers take questions very literally. If you are at a restaurant and ask the waiter, “Do you have a bathroom?” they will simply reply “Yes,” and look at you expectantly, and then wander away unless you ask the necessary follow-up questions, “Where is said bathroom, and may I use it?” My first week in Glasgow, I was in a local café ordering lunch and had a paper bag I wished to dispose of. I approached the counter and asked the waitress, “Do you have a trashcan?” to which she replied “Yes” in her best no-DUH-voice while pointing behind her to something beneath the counter which I can only assume was the rubbish bin. I held my fistful of garbage a bit closer to her face and quietly asked, “May I throw this away in it?” It dawned on her what I was asking, and we both shared an embarrassed  laugh. It’s like they don’t get implied questions, or like getting wishes granted by a genie—you have to be very specific with what you want!

3. The Battle of the Youth Rail Pass: This is perhaps the most egregious case of how the British completely disregard customer satisfaction. The National Rail sells a discount card to students that grants them the right to purchase train tickets at a lower price, typically 1/3 off. The card costs £26, but in my case it paid for itself in my first trip. The trick is that you have to present your student rail card along with the tickets while on board. I ordered my rail card and tickets about a little over a week before I was planning on traveling to Oxford. As my travel day got closer, I still hadn’t received my rail card yet in the mail, and without the rail card my discount tickets would be no good and I would have to purchase a full-price ticket. I called National Rail, and they told me that there was nothing they could do, and that I would have to purchase a second rail card from the station directly. I could not believe my ears. I asked, “So, you are telling me that I need to purchase the rail card twice so that I can use it once?”

I went to the station, and after speaking with four different people it became clear to me that there was no winning. Everyone kept saying that it was out of their hands, their computer systems were different from the National Rail system and they couldn’t access my records, that I should talk to National Rail directly, blah, blah, blah. Since I didn’t want to re-purchase my very expensive ticket at the regular rate, I had no choice but to purchase a second rail card. As of yet, my first rail card still has not arrived in the mail. I am now doing battle with the National Rail customer service team via email (surpise! they also DO NOT HAVE A PHONE), politely requesting a refund for one of the two cards that I have now purchased from them. We have only fired our opening salvos, with me requesting a refund, and them saying that it is not their policy to issue refunds, but the battle has only just begun. Mark my words, I will emerge victorious from this with my £26, even if it kills me.

It’s common to see posters in train stations, banks, the underground, warning that  “this company has a zero tolerance policy for verbal or physical abuse of our staff.” I mean, when it seems like every employee is out to make you the customer’s experience with their business as difficult as possible, it’s no surprise that people lose their tempers. I bet that companies would have a lot less problems with customers assaulting their staff if they trained their staff in how to look after the customer’s needs.

Here’s thing I just don’t get: how do the British live like this? How can they stand it? In America, if customers were routinely treated like this, then that company would simply go under. And when I tell people over here these stories, they understand my frustration yet show no idea that there could be a better way. I want to take them all to America, to the promised land of the empty “How can I help you?” and “Please listen carefully as our choices have changed. Press one for….”

We Are Headed North

20 Aug

Load the car and write the note
Grab your bag and grab your coat
Tell the ones that need to know
We are headed north

–  The Avett Brothers, “I and Love and You”

So. Two days. I am getting excited. And I am getting sad. Probably too many good-byes/listening to too much moody music. I’ve left for long trips before plenty of times before, but this is probably the toughest that I can remember, just because I’ll be gone for so long. And the Atlantic Ocean is pretty daunting too.

I have to keep reminding myself though that the world is much smaller than it once was. I was hanging out with my grandparents this afternoon, and we got to looking through some of their old scrap books from the war years. My grandmother saved every postcard, letter, telegram, and newspaper clipping Daddy Keith sent her from his six months in England. No email, no skype, hardly even telephone calls. That’s pretty amazing.

Last fall, my friend Josh Carney over at UBC gave this great sermon on the Parable of the Talents. He talked about how the master had entrusted each of his slaves with talents, and how one of the slaves simply buried his talent out of fear of his master’s wrath if he were to lose it. And although he was able to return to the master what was his, the master was still angry because he had wasted the opportunity to make something more of them. God sometimes puts things in our laps, like a year abroad, and he wants us to make the most of those opportunities. He doesn’t want us to turn our back on these moments because we are afraid to try. These opportunities are not gifts, but investments for which He demands repayment with interest. I hope that I am up to the task.

A Few Notes

17 May

There is just a lot going on in my life right now and I can not really formulate it into a cohesive post, so I am just going to put it all down in a list. Enjoy.

1. I just grajitated graduated this morning. This is exciting, but also really sad. Which is how I want to feel. If I was only sad, then it would mean I have nothing to look forward to. And if I was only happy about graduating, then it would mean that I didn’t like college. So feeling excited/sad is just the best way to feel, even if it leaves me in a lot of tension.

2. I said goodbye to most of my friends over the past week. This was mainly just sad, not very exciting. I know that I am going to meet new people and have great friends in the future, but these friends are just so nice, and I like the features they come with, and I don’t want to learn how to get along with new people when I am just so comfortable here. We’ve been busy partying/camping/tubing/talking/hugging/crying/swimming/etc., trying to wring every bit of joy out of our last few days together. It’s exhausting, but worth it. To all of my friends, I say I love you dearly and will miss you greatly and hope to see you all very soon! The Baylor Studs better have a Christmas Party this year.

3. Bear attacks? See below.

4. Yes, I have read Into the Wild. No, I have not seen Deliverence. Whenever I tell people about hiking the AT, they invariably mention these two books/movies, and I make the same lame joke about not dying in the wilderness at the hands of inbred psychopaths or poison berries. Stop worrying everyone, I’m going to be fine. I am a College Graduate.

5. No I will not carry a gun (ahem, Ryan). The AT is considerably safer than the rest of America.

6. People keep asking me, “How will you eat on the trail?” Answer 1: “I’m going to forage for nuts and berries, and supplement my diet with the occasional bear or two. Answer 2: “I am carrying six months worth of Cliff Bars.” Answer 3 (the real answer): I am going to premake about two-thirds of my meals, box them up, and have them mailed to me a week’s worth at a time. I will purchase the other third along the way.

7. I might be going to grad school abroad in 2010 through a Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholarship. I won’t find out if I got it until August, but it would be pretty great if I did!

That’s all I got. But I leave you with this video to think upon: