Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Spontaneous Memories

Have you ever had an old memory suddenly pop up? Usually the thought is triggered by an activity or circumstance, and I had one such incident tonight.

I walk back and forth primarily between three buildings for classes: the Department of Chemical Engineering, the Department of Engineering, and the Judge Business School. From my house, it takes me about 15 minutes to walk to engineering, 12 to walk to the JBS, and about 8  to get to chemical engineering. Normally the walks are decently enjoyable (have iPod, will travel), but occasionally they become tiresome (particularly in cold weather). On the way home tonight, I mindlessly began counting my footsteps.

**Memory strikes!!!**

Many years ago, my sister and I came up with a pattern for counting while walking. Actually, I believe we were running at the time, but that's beside the point. As I recall, the counting rhythm went like this:

(Begin on the left foot, step once for every number)

(then, add a quick "and" between "seven" and "eight," stepping on both the "and" and "eight")

(You should now be ready to step with your right foot)

(Now, you should theoretically step with your left foot on "eight," but the whole pattern starts on the left foot, so you have to correct for this imbalance. Thus, you step left and HOP...)
...aaaannndddd!!!! (whilst flying through the air if you are running at high speeds)

(Land on left foot and repeat the pattern)
ONE!!-two-three-four-five-six-seven...etc etc etc

The main parameter that determines your enjoyment of the pattern is your traveling speed. If you are walking, you cannot hop high enough to stay within the natural rhythm of your walking speed - you will end up landing early and then the tempo disruption is simply annoying. If, however, you are running pell-mell down a park green, your momentum will cause your hop to be rather uncontrolled and you run the risk of an unstable landing. Therefore, a casual jog would probably suffice as a good speed. Although, I do seem to recall that my sister and I tended to run faster rather than slower...

Our "ingenious pattern" (or so we thought at the time) seems incredibly simple now. In fact, I almost hesitated to post this because it is just an example of the sort of nonsensical games that children often come up with. However, I had to chuckle at our attempt at creativity, and the spontaneous reminder of my childhood days made me smile.

What about you, internet? Have you ever had a memory come flying to the forefront of your mind out of nowhere?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Russian Culture

I live in a flat with five other people: four girls and one guy. It's okay - the guy lives in the basement room and I'm pretty sure that he has more of a social network than any of us girls do... One of my flatmates is named Teresa, and she and I have really hit it off, or "get on well," as the English would say. Her family is originally from Russia, but she has lived most of her life in America. Her extended family is still in Russia, so that heritage brings quite a unique flavor to our friendship. I've learned all sorts of tidbits about Russian culture, so I thought that I would share some with you.

- For instance, did you know that orthodox Russians celebrate Christmas on January 7th? According to the old Julian calendar, that's when Christmas is. Easter, on the other hand, falls on the same day as the new calendar. I'm not entirely sure why the date was changed to December 25th in the Gregorian calendar, but I'll leave that to you to find out if you wish. We when returned from break with presents for each other, we happened to exchange on the 7th, so it was marvelously appropriate.

- When Russians display flowers, they place an odd number of flowers in a vase if the flowers are attached to someone living and an odd number if they symbolize death. So, for example, sympathy flowers sent after a death are displayed in even numbers. Flowers sent for pretty much any other reason are displayed in odd numbers. Thus, if you send a Russian woman a dozen roses, she will split them up into two vases.

- If a man who is pursuing a women gives her flowers and she preserves the stems in water, then if the stems rot it means he didn't really love her, and if they do not rot that means his love is true. When Teresa was dating, she kept the stems from one of her boyfriend's bouquet. While we were chatting in her room, she pointed them out to me. They were rot-free!

- Russian women wear their engagement ring on their left hands, but they wear their wedding ring on their right hand. Teresa is recently married, so her wedding band and ring are on her right hand. I'm not sure where this tradition came from, but I think that the idiosyncrasy is cute.

Teresa also has extensive international connections through her many friends, so I am constantly picking up culture bits here and there. She recently knocked on my door to excitedly show me her new shoes, which were given to her by a friend from Khazakhstan. They looked somewhat like moccasins without heels, were primarily white with green swirly designs, and had pointed, curled-up toes like an elf shoe. What a far cry from the sneakers I had sitting by my door... 

Here's to cultivating an ever-widening global perspective!

Of the British and their views on tea

One of the things that you quickly notice when living among the British is that they very much enjoy their tea. In fact, drinking tea is almost always a necessary part of the day. Lectures are scheduled around morning tea, long meetings include a tea break at the halfway point, seminars are preceded by "tea and cakes," Bible study hosts offer tea, coffee, and water as the main options, and the list continues. However, I eventually realized that the Brits only drink ONE kind of tea. One of my English friends said, "no, we drink other kinds too! Just not very often...I think there's maybe a box of green tea way back in the cupboard with some dust on it...." I told him that did not count. English Breakfast tea is so much the standard that some people do not even realize that their tea HAS a specific name. Several of my friends used to think that the difference between white and black tea was whether or not you added milk.

Therefore, I decided to bring back many different varieties of tea from America as Christmas presents. I thought my friends might enjoy white tea or flavored teas as a change of pace. The list of teas that I brought back included:

White Tea (Vanilla Blend) - by Good Earth (my personal favorite! I cleared the store shelves of this kind so that I could have some left for myself)
White Tea with Peach - by Celestial Seasonings
White Tea with Mint - by Stash (entirely to give away - I hate mint in anything but toothpaste and gum)
Vanilla Almond Black Tea - by Republic of Tea
Cinnamon Plum Black Tea - by Republic of Tea
Red Chai - by Republic of Tea
Coconut Mango Oolong Tea - by Stash
White Peach Oolong Tea - by Stash
African Red Bush Tea (also known as rooibos tea) - by Tazo

I bought gift baskets, packed them with a mixture of teas, and then gave them to friends. However, I first had to get across the concept that drinking other kinds of tea might be as enjoyable or *gasp* even more enjoyable than drinking their standard black tea. I have yet to hear back from most of them, but one of them was over at my house when she tried white tea for the first time. I made the tea, put a dash of sugar in it, and handed it to her to try. After her first sip, her eyes went wide and she said, "oh my! This is absolutely gorgeous!" In British, that phrase means that something tastes really, really good. She then admitted, "you were going on about teas before you left for America, but I honestly didn't understand what all the fuss was about!" In addition, she informed me that she had been drinking quite a bit of tea at home, but it was the cheapest kind and didn't even have a proper name - the box just said, "black tea."

Needless to say, I loaded her up with a whole assortment of teas before she went home. The next time I saw her, she said, "I've really enjoyed your teas. I've been telling everyone about them! My friends, my family..." Welcome to the wonderful world of tea, my dear. :)

Score one for the American who taught the British something about tea! I'm working on converting them all, but it's slow going...