Friday, October 26, 2007

Un-American, not Deep, and Un-Buddhist!?

Some mundane aspects of life in London:

(from 19/10/2007)

Here in the UK I really have no desire to meet, talk with, stand near, or otherwise relate to other Americans. So much so that I sometimes try not to talk when I know Americans are around, for fear of being ‘found out.’ So far, the plan is working brilliantly.

There was a close call once, at a lecture given by some famous Russian guy now teaching in California. My housemate Sjors (from Holland) pointed out two American men and said, “Oh, Justin, there are some other Americans, actually real Americans I could introduce you to.”

After some inquiry I learned that my lack of ketchup consumption and use of the word ‘cool’ have rendered me ‘un-American.’
As any of my faithful readers (and you both know who you are) know, I kind of think of myself as a rather ‘deep’ thinker. So it came with great sadness one day when Sjors (the very same) described to me his hair-brain theory (look that one up in your Dutch-English dictionary) that all thought consists on a sort of ‘bubble’ – and that when someone thinks they’re having a ‘deep’ thought, it’s really just another superficial thought, only somewhere else on the bubble by itself. In effect, his theory describes all of my philosophizing as: “not deep, just different.”

Right. So now I’m un-American and shallow.
Most recently, I took a walk around central London with Lenart, a Slovenian paparazzi journalist. My American geography, based on cold-war era high school textbooks, doesn’t include ‘Slovenia.’ So, out of embarrassment I checked out a children’s guide to new EU countries from the college library. It tells me Slovenia is a new country, emerging from the collapse of Yugoslavia, with sunny beaches, mountain lakes, and pretty girls; also that it is quite small. Lenart supports this by telling me, “you can ski by day and have drinks on the beach by evening.” (drinks with a pretty girl, no doubt)

Lenart and I were walking in London and entered Soho, famous for its theatres, just a few blocks from Piccadilly circus (which, for my fellow Americans, is not really a “circus” in the Ringling Bros sense). And not long after we passed two girls, scantily clad and just standing there staring at everyone including us as we pass, Lenart informed me, “Ah, yes. And in case you ever have an Un-Buddhist thought… This is the place to find street girls.”

HmmmUn-American, not deep, and now I’m given pointers on where to purchase sexual favors (favours) in case I turn out also to be Un-Buddhist. Not bad for just four weeks.

Update (23/10/07)

Tonight, after 5 or so minutes of chatting, one of the ladies in the room below mine said, in a normal voice, “Hi Justin, can you hear us?”

“Hi Sana, yep” I answered back.

A brief conversation ensued - at basically normal speaking voice, through my floor and into Shahnaz’s room - after which the ladies decided to move to another part of the flat.

Last night we (Lenart, Sana, Shahnaz and I) discussed the merits of living where we do (Batavia Mews, aka Batavia mouse). Sure it's
  • mouse infested - I recently had one walk into my room (under the door) look up at me and leave,
  • noisy - traffic out front with police/ambulance sirens passing directly below every 15 minutes, a major nightclub, Venue, a half-block away, and each other through thin walls and floors.
  • poorly maintained - broken showers, clogged sinks, failed heating/hot water have all been faced and some actually fixed in the last month; bathroom hooks and towel racks, broken who knows when, remain unfixed.
  • in an unsafe neighborhood - one gang/drug related murder down the street last month, a couple mugging stories, broken car windows....
  • anything left out?...
But, at least:
  1. It's cheap (by London standards). Rent is a mere £86/week, roughly $175, or $700/month per room for 20 of us... I guess in central London a tiny flat can cost £800-1500, or $1600-3000/month. Even the other student housing around here is an extra £15-25/week, which ads up pretty fast.


  2. We'll have great stories to tell our kids/grand kids. As Lenart pointed out, great stories are usually based on experiences that aren't really fun when they're happening. Those people in fancy places are surely bored with it. Yay.


catnapping said...


as long as the toilets are working...

Gary said...

Sounds like good life experience, there, Justin. Nowhere better to practice some good old-fashioned Buddhist mindfulness, too!

I once stayed in a bedsit in a town called Slough, which is just outside Greater London. I shared this house with an alcoholic couple, a few drug users, another alcoholic, and a burgler (he never burgled in our house, to my knowledge!). There were fights, wild parties, a visiting hairdresser who declared to me that he'd reached 'God-consciousness' which he said is the highest spiritual attainment (I had my doubts about this, however!).

I was even stared at one summer's day by lots of men as I sunbathed in my shorts in the nearby park - it turned out to be a hangout for gays to make a pickup! Although I've nothing against gays, and some of my best friends are gay, I did feel somewhat uncomfortable at being leered at so much. (A good lesson in how women must feel when it's men staring at them.)

So, enjoy your home, Justin. Things could get really interesting!

Be well,

Carla said...

First I have to comment...'A Town Called Slough'. I think there's a sitcom in that title. Or at least a sequel to Betjeman's poem.

Anyway, Justin, sorry your accommodation is so rubbish. I used to live in Leytonstone, but as a lodger in a rather good area. My flat here in Nuneaton is lovely. I've never seen so much as a bug, if you don't count the daddy longlegs that occasionally fly in the open windows. (Can't get used to the no-screens concept, even after five years).

I don't hang around with other Americans, either, but that is mostly because there aren't any here to speak of. I'm something of a novelty. When I was in London, no one cared where I was from and no one noticed my accent. (That is, if they could even speak English!) Here I get all sorts of people who go from, 'Where's that accent from?' into a gushing, 'Oh, I love America, we went to Florida...'

If you want to expand your experiences, get out of London! It's a hole if you aren't a millionaire! ;)

Buddhist_philosopher said...

Yep Cat - the toilets are a-okay :)

Gary - I love the story about the park. It definitely sounds like an easy mistake. Once, in Atlanta, a friend of mine and I were 'kindly' directed by one gentleman to a bar 'we'd love' (called 'Kyle's' I think). It took us about two minutes (and luckily zero drink orders) to know we were in a gay bar :) Like you, it was a bit of an uncomfortable feeling.

And the other day a British girl told me about the gay district here and kindly noted, 'you'd do real well there, yes, real well.' hmm...

Carla - Nuneaton sounds great. In fact, yes, any place outside of London sounds better by the day. If I'm living here next year with my wife we'll have to get out of the city at least once a month. Luckily there are some parks here that at least mimic non-city life a bit... 'till then I must remember that I'm here to study, learn a bunch, write a phd thesis, and get enlightened so as to free the world of suffering :)

Saint27 said...

Sounds like quite the experience there Justin. From what it sounds like I might be able to fly under the radar over ther as well. not much of a ketchup guy myself. LOL.