You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘London’ category.

“Really, you don’t look 42?” This used to be music to my ears until I realised it was a backhanded compliment. “Really? That fucking old. Wow.”

In less than two weeks I will reach another milestone–they’re all milestones after forty as far as I’m concerned–43. You know that phrase Black Don’t Crack? Well, Brown Don’t Frown. Yeah I know, it doesn’t have the same ring to it.

As a cafe au lait skinned person, I’m immune to the cracks, wrinkles and blemishes that beset my white partner. Sure, not all we beaners are so lucky. Many of us have to toil away on some godforsaken farm keeping the price of produce low, our skin crackling under the blazing sun. But not this beaner. I just came back from a visit to my local Gail bakery where I was beset with a cappuccino and a dark chocolate scone.

But like it or not, I’m turning 43. And like it or not, my body is beginning to rebel.

First it was my cholesterol. High. That’s right, gym-going vegetarians who watch their diet can have high cholesterol. You know why? It’s hereditary. Thanks Dad! Guess who will shortly be put on statins? Guess who now has to monitor (even more) his intake of dairy, liquor and fried foods? Yours truly.

Gone are the nightly glasses of red wine with dinner. Gone are the gelato cones that thrust themselves into my hand whenever I walk by a park on a sunny day. Gone are the frites that I occasionally allow myself to inhale. Gone are the days of being under 40 and medical problem free.

Second to go was my groin. Now stay with me here. After turning 40 I got myself a trainer because it was becoming harder to see results at the gym. She taught me all sorts of new things, some of it very Abu Ghraib. And closet masochist that I am, I liked it. Well, guess whose boys (balls) started to feel achy and sore? Guess who timidly googled ‘testicular cancer’ in the middle of the night? Guess who is recovering from an abdominal tear? It turns out all those great Abu Ghraib type exercises my trainer taught me contributed to my guts nearly spilling out into my scrotum.

Truth be told, the other contributing factor to my ‘groin tear’ was me playing with my nieces. I’m an adult who enjoys playing with kids because I am a kid at heart. I know people toss this phrase around like a football at a suburban BBQ but it’s true. Other adults monitor play while I’m there in the trenches throwing children around a pool or jumping wildly on a seesaw. To me, playing with children is like a roller coaster or a scary movie. You don’t get that many opportunities as an adult to shout, scream and let loose. You might as well take them.

My groin tear doctor said to me, “I don’t want to be rude, but someone your age (this is when I saw red) cannot be exercising in this manner and expect to be okay.”

He then went on to lecture me about muscle tissue when you are young versus muscle tissue when you are nearly 43, at death’s door, with clogged arteries, your scrotum on the floor.

I kept imagining myself leaping across his desk and slapping him with his stapler. But instead I nodded and said, “Thank you doctor. I agree. I’ll stop all those abdominal and core exercises so that my partner will divorce me and I’ll end up having to pick grapes under the blazing California sun while my skin crackles in the heat.”

Have you stopped blogging? Are you dead? Abducted by aliens? Held prisoner by a deranged Londoner with chronic halitosis and a peg leg? No. I’m just lazy.

London life is easy. I hate admitting this, but almost too easy. Yes, I loved to complain about life in Tokyo, and to a far lesser extent, Hong Kong, but life in the English capital is pretty smooth. Are there things to complain about? Sure. Pull up a chair. The class thing is alive and well here. It’s almost like Japan, you know, where they sniff each other’s butts to determine rank before they open their mouths to speak. And don’t let me get started on the public drunkenness and resulting debauchery. Christ. Your ideas of the English and their manners would disappear faster than a drug lord in a Mexican prison.

But my partner and I love living here. We love our neighbourhood–I now type the u in neighbourhood because I hate red squiggly lines. Those red squiggly lines make me see, well, red. It’s the computer’s way of telling you that you fucked up. “Hey asshole, red squiggly lines. Learn how to spell you stupid fuck.” My computer has such a foul mouth.

But I digress.

Due to a royal mistake which will be discussed at a later time, we are now fugitives from the law. Okay, not really. I just wanted to type that. Due to an enormous error, my partner and I must leave the country within the next two years for a, I shit you not, “cooling off period.” You see, we were given the wrong visa upon entry into the UK. And now it appears this horrible, horrible mistake can only be fixed by leaving the UK for a year. And moving to Paris makes the most sense.

Given the proximity of Paris to London and thus my partner’s job, Paris is ideal. We only live one station away from San Pancras International, the Eurostar terminus. We know how easy it is to have breakfast in London and lunch in Paris. Should my partner require face to face time in the London office, he could board the train for England and be back again in time for dinner with me in France.

So why not move back to Asia you say? Why not stop this expat adventure altogether and move back to New York? Well because my partner’s job is easier done from London, or this approximate timezone. A move to Asia or the US would be challenging to say the least. He was working London hours right before we moved here from Hong Kong. That was no fun. We were having dinner at midnight. No joke. And me, the perfect mate, would cook as always and wait to eat with him. Me. Gold star. Here.

While I try to look on the bright, the shadows loom. I mean, twist my arm. Most people would say, “Hey, it’s Paris. It’s not Mogadishu or Bagdad. You are moving to a city most people could only dream of calling home.” And of course, yes, it’s Paris. But true story, the second to the last time I was there, I turned to my parter and said, “I love visiting Paris but I would never want to live here.”

And wouldn’t you know it? God or Yoda or Joan Rivers was listening and just like that, moving to Paris became a possible reality.

London is home though. We never expected to love it as much as we do but we do. Our plan is to live here longterm, to move back after a year in Paris and settle down more permanently. I never thought I’d want to live anywhere longterm other than New York. I was wrong. I only hope we can fix it to where we don’t have to move. Paris is fine but London is London.

My partner and I boarded a flight to Tokyo at JFK ten years ago last month. And for ten years, we’ve been expats. The plan was always to move back to New York after a few years, settle down, buy an apartment, get a dog, grow organic shit on the balcony, run along the Hudson, pretend not to notice our favourite actor as she walks past us in the Village, you know, settle into a respectable middle-age New York life. But now I’m not so sure.

It bothers me that I prefer London to New York. I feel like I’m cheating on New York as I type this, like I’m turning my back on the city that opened her arms to me as I ran fleeing conservative Texas. “That’s right my little beaner, come running to Mama. She’ll love you. She’ll shelter you. She’ll nurture you.” And she did. I never knew what home felt like until I moved to New York. I remember riding alone in a taxi one evening thinking about this feeling I had. I couldn’t put my finger on it and then I realised it was contentedness. I felt content, and for the first time.

All our friends who have moved back to their respective countries miss living abroad. They’ll reminisce about the good old days wandering Shibuya’s neon maze of alleyways and pedestrian-choked street crossings; or the private junk boat day trips spent downing beers in Hong Kong Harbour, the stretch of skyscrapers and lush mountains as far as the eye can see. It’s real but it’s not. You go to work but you’re on vacation. It jolts you at first and then seeps into you slowly. The formerly exotic becomes mundane. The once imitating outdoor market becomes scouted and explored, the vendor who sells you mixed nuts and dried fruit begins to recognise you, starts to give you a better price because of your loyalty. And with each bit of acceptance and moment of familiarity, you become your adopted home’s citizen.

And then you move. Restart.

We have English friends living in Bangkok who’ve been away from the UK for nearly twenty years. They’ve lived in West Africa, Japan and Singapore among other places. And they have no intention of returning to the UK, planning instead to retire to their home in the South of France.

Most of our friends here in London are expats themselves. Don’t get me wrong, we have English friends too but this is one of the most diverse cities in the world. You’d have to go out of your way not to be friends with someone from another country.

 

In fact, my partner and I hosted a party this past weekend and the majority of our guests were not English, they were Finnish, Indian, Polish, Canadian, Israeli, Swedish, German, Jamaican, Italian and yes, American. And all of them call London home. Some have the desire to return to their home countries one day, others do not. I increasingly put myself in that latter bunch.

I’ve done this three times now. And though I’d like to stay put for the foreseeable future, if the right opportunity presented itself, I would gladly move and start again. That’s the thing about being an expat. You begin to crave the adventure.

 

First, I want to say, announce, declare, hell shout that I enjoy being an expat. Love it actually. Ever since my partner and I started on our adventure nearly nine ago, I’ve had the privilege of travel and all the opportunity and experience that allows. I’ve been places I never thought I’d see. Sure, many people would travel around the world to visit Sydney or Beijing but Kuala Lumpur and Seoul? Living in Asia for over seven years meant all these cities were relatively easy to get to. And I can assure you, all those places are worth a visit.

Now that we’re in London, I’ve been able to easily revisit Rome, Genoa and Nice and explore new places like Lisbon an Istanbul. It’s a dream come true really. So what’s the problem you ask? Every home is no home.

There is no such thing as a citizen of the world (Who came up with such a pretentious phrase anyway?). In the end, you have to live somewhere. Maybe it’s a hotel room in Singapore or a serviced apartment in Buenos Aires, but you collet your mail somewhere. And if you are lucky enough to have several homes, you consider one of them your primary residence.

I used to think of New York as my adopted home town. I still do somewhat. Mostly. OK, maybe not really anymore. But that’s not true. I feel like I’m losing my identity. I envy my friends back in states. They’re New Yorkers or Chicagoans or San Franciscans. Friends I met while living in Tokyo or Hong Kong are back in their original cities whether that’s Sydney, Cape Town or elsewhere. They bought property, built homes or returned to old ones.

And maybe this is the problem. We don’t yet own a home. I don’t have a primary residence. Sure I live in a flat in London but it’s rented. And I didn’t grow up in the UK. I always felt like a drifter in Tokyo and Hong Kong because I knew my time there was limited. Now that we’re in London and loving it…well maybe it’s time to put down roots.

I feel like I’m cheating on my hairstylist here in London if I’m back in New York and get my haircut elsewhere. I feel the same way about New York. Even admitting that I love London and in some ways more than New York makes me feel guilty. As if New York would shake me and cry, “Is that mushy peas on your collar? Do I smell vinegar!? How could you goddamn you!!! How could you!?”

Christ, I make New York sound like an overacting suburban woman from a bad 1970s melodrama. And she most certainly is not. New York was the city that called when I was a gay kid and living in nowhere Texas. I longed for big city life, to dance and party with all those people I saw on TV. Crime? Yes. Trash on the streets? Please. Time Square hookers? I’ll take a dozen. The New York I longed for when I was a kid, was the New York of the 1970s. My parents would ask me why on earth I’d want to live there and I’d answer “Because it’s not here.”

And now nowhere is here. I’m lost. A gym bunny gone mad. A house spouse whose primary responsibility is to cook, decorate, shop, run errands and plan trips. I even have a housekeeper for God’s sake–a Russian with animal print bras. She doesn’t speak English and smiles a lot. We’re constantly smiling at each other, like we’re high on Zoloft together.

But I digress.

I’ve played Lady MacBeth for too long. Not that I don’t enjoy strategizing with my partner, helping him with his career. He always thanks me for my “vindictive, conniving, calculating Mexican advice”. Believe me, we take that as a compliment. But maybe I need more than a thank you. I don’t want to work right now because I enjoy tagging along with him when he travels for work. I’m thinking about volunteering again. I love the roaming but I need a rudder, my own rudder. My partner always steers while I look ahead and point. Maybe I need to do some of my own steering for a while. Take command of this boat. Hell command of this goddamn metaphor before I run it into an iceberg (ground).

And maybe write more in this blog that was so important to me when I was losing my mind in Japan.

OK, I’m tired of waiting for that bloody phone repairman! Yes, I said bloody. Where the hell is he? Has he got his knickers in a bunch? I’ve been in my gym clothes for three hours now, waiting for his ass. I need to get to the gym. And it’s sunny! Finally. I need to go to Whole Foods. And as if on cue. Wow. Love when stuff like that happens. Must buzz him in.

After nine and a half years of committed, monogamous bliss and servitude, guess who finally got hitched? After eight years of living abroad, guess who finally took care of some loose ends on a recent trip back to New York and finally got married? That’s right. Me. Us. We. Just don’t call it gay marriage.

My partner and I have been married in our minds for years now. He has had to endure my near breakdown when we were living in Tokyo. I’ve had to endure the way he eats his cereal. He has had to endure my strict adherence to time and obsessive compulsive nature. I’ve had to endure his being late for everything and sloppiness. This is marriage. And there is nothing gay about it–except the couple.

You see, I’ve come to really dislike the term gay marriage. Hate is too strong a word here. For example, I hate Rush Limbaugh, the Ace of Base and reality TV shows (don’t get me started on Toddlers and Tiaras) but I dislike the term gay marriage. Do we say straight marriage? No. It’s marriage.

Adding gay in front of marriage, simply and unfairly classifies it as something other than a traditional marriage. I’m typing this on the sofa, half watching the Metropolitan Opera’s production of La Traviata on cable. I’m sick but I still managed to get my ass out of bed to make it to the supermarket and the dry cleaner. I’ll have dinner on the table when my partner gets back from work. Tea lights will be lit. Jazz will be playing. Wine will be opened. If there is anything gay about this marriage, it’s that every night is like this. I make coming home a production, a low-key production of a relaxing evening at home. Hell, if I made the bacon and he played pampered expat housewife, you’d better believe I’d expect nothing less of him.

I told my partner that I wanted to wait until New York state legalized marriage equality. Growing up in South Texas, I always knew I wanted to leave my home state and move to the big city. New York City has meant a lot to me. It was the first place I ever really felt at home–and I moved there when I was 24. Screw Vermont and Connecticut, I was going to get married in New York.

The recent presidential election, however, sped the process along in a big way. My partner has been following Nate Silver for months now so I knew Obama was ahead in the key swing states. But still, I was worried. What if Mittens pulled it off? What if an amendment to the constitution was passed denying me of my legal right to marry my partner? What if we had had all this time to close the deal in New York state and blew it. Our relationship would not be valid in the eyes of the law. We wouldn’t even be in a legal gray area, married in one state, overruled by our government. And so on my partner’s recent business trip back to New York, I followed as I often do, but with a goal in mind.

The day of the ceremony, one of our best friends (and our witness) arrived with boutonnieres and a camera. As always, she went above and beyond what was expected of her. I wanted her signature and a pair of eyes, she brought a mini party. My partner, as always, was constantly checking his Blackberry. He had arranged a meeting with colleagues after the ceremony. This annoyed me and I made a joke of it but I got it. We were already married in our head. This was just a formality. Years from now, we could laugh that he went to a meeting directly after our wedding ceremony.

When the city clerk who would marry us called us into the east chapel, I smiled. When she had us stand before the podium, I giggled. When she had us face one another, I thought I’d break out laughing. It was all so formal, this ceremony. I get church giggles so anything formal or ceremonial always puts me over the edge. But then something happened. My eyes started to tear. Here, in front of me, was the man I was about to commit to, officially, for the rest of my life. I recently turned 40. If I’m lucky, I’ll have another 40 years, and with this man in front of me. I said I do. He said I do. We kissed. He ditched the meeting and the three of us took a cab to the Algonquin Hotel for a drink. He even got us a last minute reservation at one of our favorite New York restaurants, Union Square Cafe.

We surprised most everyone on facebook when we posted a picture of us in front of the podium. We kept our plans under wraps, surprising both family and friends. I’ve never received so many warm electronic messages. People cheered us from Switzerland to India, Japan to the UK. People wrote that they had teared up, been caught off guard, completely surprised. Pictures of champagne glasses in our honor appeared. I received an email from his mom welcoming me to the family. But wasn’t I already family? Weren’t we already married? No. We weren’t.

So that’s what marriage is all about in the end. Maybe you know you are married in your mind. Maybe you don’t care for the government to acknowledge your relationship, certify it, validate it. Maybe on principal you think it’s wrong for the state to get involved in what is very much a highly intimate and personal relationship between two people. And maybe you’re right. I just know that after I said “I do” I’ve had a newfound appreciation for our union. It’s official. We’re official. Our friends and family, strangers, see it as official. Hell, it’s a political act for some people. But for me, it’s time to start dinner.

Yesterday afternoon while shopping for linens and bathroom accents I held up a soap dish and said, “Ten pounds for this? It’s a small fucking piece of metal.”

The other day at my local Waitrose supermarket I announced, “Do we really need more salad onions? And they’re scallions. Salad onions.”

I talk to myself when I’m alone. It’s a bad habit I developed when we were living in Tokyo. I’m not sure how it developed, I only know that is was soothing and reassuring to hear the sound of someone speaking English, even if that someone was me.

Tokyo was all neon signs, moving billboards, bicycle rings, happy commercial jingles and background chatter. That relentless background chatter. Even with the Japanese I learned, I couldn’t process it. It was a sea of murmuring that threatened to overcome me as I shopped for tofu.

This bad habit was like having a wing man back in Japan, a friend. It was a sarcastic traveling companion, the honest inner voice, my sassy sidekick. The token gay male friend for white women, or straight black woman for gay men. “Girl you know you know nothin’ about cookin’ them Japanese mushrooms. Martha Stewart you ain’t. Best put them back”.

I did as the voice instructed but eventually learned how to prepare maitake mushrooms.

My bad habit died down a bit in Hong Kong. If I were in a large expat supermarket or upscale international shopping center, my sassy friend usually kept quiet. But if I ventured outside central Hong Kong, especially into Kowloon and the New Territories, Sassy would return.

“Where the hell is this bus going?”

“Where the fuck am I?”

“Oh my God I need a drink”.

“Do we need more tomatoes. I should get more tomatoes”.

“HA! It’s Captain Crunch!”

Now that we’re in London, it’s time for Sassy to go home. She’ll be there in my head of course, but it’s time for her to shut her mouth.

Since November I’ve spent more time in London than I have in Hong Kong. So although I’ve been living in London for two weeks, I’ve actually spent a total of about three or four months here (give or take a couple of weeks). My life a blur of airport lounges, martinis and mummified mornings.

I’m doing all the things you do when you move to a new country. I’m just doing them by killing more trees. My God do they love to push paper here. If I’m not completing one form, I’m opening up another.  It took four tries and one small forrest to open up a joint account with my partner. And I’m learning that securing a new place to live is the mental equivalent of an obstacle course. This would be so much faster in New York or Hong Kong. Cities where real estate agents and landlords play fast and loose with contracts. London is more like Tokyo. Every little “i” must be dotted, every detail fretted over.

So as first impressions are lasting impressions, I’ve already formed some opinions that will now be hard to shake, both good and bad. The good far outweighing the bad. Thank God.

First, they love their pubs here. And I love that they love their pubs here. I’m not much of a beer drinker but I’m on board with any society that believes in a pint or two at lunch and several more after work. As in Japan, the locals bond with colleagues over drinks. Yes, I know most people do this the world over do but believe me, the British and the Japanese have perfected it. When the weather turns warm and the clouds clear, you’ll see people cut out of work early just to enjoy a beer with their mates. Everyone is laughing and drinking and you can’t help but want to join in on all the fun.

Of course the flip side of this is that some people can’t hold their liquor and/or don’t know when to call it a night. Vomiting, shouting, fighting, smashing glass, that fleeting warm afternoon can lead to a night of drunken, mean-ass zombies looking for a fight and a fag. And by “fag” I mean cigarette.

This leads me to observation number two. People love smoking here. Like most big cities in the industrialized West, they can’t smoke in their office buildings so they do it outside. Same for pub crawlers, restaurant goers and club kids. Everyone is outside lighting up. I like their defiance. In New York, smokers are banished to the outdoors in an attempt to help make them stop. In London, you get the feeling that it’s more a way of life than a bad habit. They smoke, so they go outside. Not, Mayor Bloomberg’s frowning Dear Leader shaming everyone into behaving the way he wants them to.

And if I’m going to include, drinking and smoking, I might as well include eating. Hong Kong was a sea of mostly mediocre restaurants. Yes, there were good ones too, but then you’d have to pay up. Tokyo was the land of excellent restaurants that were all mostly expensive. You pay for what you get. New York is and was New York, a mishmash. And that’s what it’s like here. I’m surprised by how many gastropubs there are in London. I’m not talking about places back in the US that claim to be gastropubs but are really just bars that serve bad food. I’m talking real gastropubs. That whole movement to elevate British food with locally sourced ingredients is now a way of life. That and you have a bunch of gastropubs that experiment a bit or take standard dishes from other countries and just do them right. I highly recommend The Eagle on Farringdon Road. Great local place with excellent food. And there are always vegetarian options.

A good friend of mine back in Hong Kong said that most people gain about 15 pounds when they first move to London because of all the cakes, pies and pastries. She’s from Pakistan, married a funny English guy and used to live here. I didn’t really believe her at first but she’s right. If you have a sweet tooth, the UK is the place to be. I find myself staring into bakery windows, wiping the drool off my chin. If I could, I’d place my hands behind my back and plunge my face into a gooey chocolate cake, the icing like heroin, the chunky bits of chocolate like crack, an orgasm for the palate.

But thanks to an iron will and a determination to lose a couple of pounds before my birthday, I’ve actually lost weight. My resolve actually scares me. I basically eat very little if anything during the day and have a sensible meal at dinner. Sensible as in mostly fat-free and usually vegan. Of course, my iron will implodes when a bottle of vodka or red wine is opened. Hell, I’m sipping Cotes du Rhone right now. But I digress.

The thing I most appreciate about London right now is the weather. I’m wearing a sweater and it’s July. Now, I know most people would disagree with me, but I love sweater weather. Even in summer. Does it get old? No. What gets old is not being able to walk a few blocks without turning into a pile of sweaty goo, your shirt clinging to your back, your underwear a moist snack cake, your face dripping of moisturizer and that shit you use to make the bags under your eyes disappear. That’s what gets old. Hong Kong summers were a long nightmare of embarrassment and rage. London summers are like winter days in south Texas. And there is light in the sky until about 10pm. The joy.

Aside from paper pushing, form completing and forrest destroying, my only real gripe so far is the service industry. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad. I’ve had some great experiences at shops. restaurants, bars, museums, supermarkets. But I’ve also had some really bad ones. This one bitch had the never to glare at my partner after he failed to follow protocol at our local Waitrose supermarket. I smiled but I wanted to smack the ugly right off her face. I explained later to my partner what he did wrong. I had to learn it the hard way. Something about how you put the groceries on the shortest conveyor belt in the history of the world. I’ve decided not to lose my temper or tell anyone off until I’ve lived here at least six months. That way, I’ll know more or less what I’m talking about.

They might speak English in London but if you are an American, you must understand that the UK is a different country full of different ways of doing things. It’s a different flow, a different rhythm. And right now, this American is loving it.