Tuesday, September 16, 2008

B-dot T-dot

A couple of Saturdays ago, Dave and I took a trip to Birmingham, which is apparently England's "second city". Considering it's so close, only 1.5 hours on the train, I have no excuse for waiting until 2 weeks before we move to visit this lovely city. By all accounts, the shopping in Birmingham is to die for. Since I've been following a strict budget for the last few months, I didn't get to actually buy any of the copius amounts of eye candy that were on display, but I did get frissons from swimming in the oceans of capitalism once again. We visited a huge, stunning mall officially known as The Bullring. Now, I must preface what I'm about to say by disclosing that I don't actually like shopping or malls. Perhaps it's because I don't have the kind of money that would make buying loads of THINGS actually fun and maybe it's because I don't like the crowds, the noise and the bright lights. But The Bullring, oh, The Bullring. It was bee-yoo-tee-full. It was bright, had a beautiful glass ceiling and was huge and open. It seemed very North American, if you know what I mean. There were even three trampolines with bungee cords on the ground floor (I sat that out due to my rapidly swelling ankle - I hurt it badly the day before). But this mall wasn't just a paragon of shops and cash, but it was also a work of art. It houses Selfridges, the second biggest department store in the UK, after Harrods, and is only one of four in the country. This was my first time at Selfridges, and since I was with the boy and we actually had a purpose for coming to Birmingham, I didn't actually get to explore the store as much as I should have, but from what I saw, it was exceptional.

Now, what do you think this is? An art installation? A futuristic climbing wall? It's actually the side of the building. According to Wiki, "the store is clad in 15,000 shiny aluminium discs and was inspired by a Paco Rabanne sequinned dress." I thought it was awesome. I'm not a huge fan of new-fangled art but I was definitely digging the post-post modernity of it.

The Bullring also featured a 7 ft long bronze of bull (first pic) that was pretty cool, and nice, clean and bright washrooms. Actually, these washrooms had won awards and I was duly impressed.

Perhaps the thing that floored Dave and I the most was the food court on the ground floor of Selfridges. Forget about those antiquated cafeteria like food courts of the past. Now picture an open concept floor with Krispy Kreme (a HUGE novelty in Britain), a gelato stall, an alchohol emporium where you bottle you're own, a curry takeaway stand, a cheese counter, another 7 ft long bull but covered in jelly beans and loads of other delectable things.
But what made Dave and I actually stop and stand with our mouths agape was the Asahi robot. Asahi is a Japanese beer that Dave was quite intimate with during our time in Japan. They were giving away free samples that were poured by the freaking robot!!! I think we both squealed (or maybe it was just me). So cool.

But alas, we did not travel all the way to Birmingham to revel in the delights of The Bullring. No, we were on a much more important shopping expedition. We were on the hunt for our wedding rings. Birmingham is also home to the Jewellery Quarter, "the area [that] is said to contain the highest concentration of dedicated jewellers in Europe with about one third of the jewellery manufactured in the UK being made within one mile of Birmingham city centre." (Thanks Wiki.) There are hundreds upon hundreds of stores selling high quality jewellery usually cheaper or much cheaper that the stuff you'd find on the high street (high street - equals shopping areas). This is where Dave bought my engagement ring and I was seriously impressed that my honey did his homework when shopping for my ring. Plus the fact that he got a high quality product at a low price made me swoon!

Anyway, we knew we had a full day of looking at pretty shiny things ahead of us and we set off on our mission. The first shop we went to was incredibly helpful but more expensive than other shops (the price discrepency between shops is wild), but the proprietor was honest and forthright about what would work for me. I originally wanted a band with a little bling, but since I wanted something incredibly thin, diamonds just wouldn't have worked. He talked about stones popping out and having to be replaced and I didn't want that. I also didn't want something that was thicker but more safe to accomodate stones. With my ideas totally blitzed out of the water, I had to adjust my thinking. I lost track of how many rings I tried on, but we went to about 7 stores. I realized that the best thing for me would be to get a plain, platinum band at the thickness I wanted (2mm). It's timeless, classic, goes with my engagement ring and didn't cost the earth. Dave opted for a palladium ring that we thought would be less hassle than a white ring (you need to get it re-cast every so often) and cheaper than platinum while having most of its properties. We got a quote and were so impressed by the price. We originally thought that we'd put down a deposit and have them shipped to us when we could pay the balance, but the offer was too good to pass up and luckily we had the cash to buy them right away! We went to Subway for a tea and a cookie while we waited for the shop to decrease the thickness of my ring and size up Dave's ring. Forty minutes later, we went to pick them back and actually paid less for what we were quoted. Bloody brilliant. We were high-fiving and terrorist-bumping and it was fantastic. Even though the rain was relentless, parts of England were flooded, my ankle was killing me and I was limping like a lame dog, we were so happy.

We celebrated our victory by having a couple of pints of Peroni (now my favourite beer after experiencing it in Rome) and a pub dinner in an incredibly beautiful establishment. The pub was an old bank and kept a lot of the original features. I especially loved the domed ceiling and pillars. After we finished our very nice meal, we caught the train back to Nottingham. It was late (due to the flooding), but it didn't damper our spirits. We were the champions.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


I’ve been away for a while, apologies. Does anyone even read this thing anymore? I’m not sure. I kinda lost the will to blog due to several factors:

1) I’ve been ODing on wedding porn. Since getting engaged, Dave and I have been through the highs and lows of wedding planning. For about three weeks, we were planning a wedding in Mexico. I found a fantastic place and made inquiries on packages and prices. Unfortunately, we really only had a couple of times in the year to do it – either Easter or Summer. Easter would have been great, but tickets double in price. Summer may have worked, but getting married in a hurricane would not have worked out for us. Also, trying to coordinate everything between four countries (England, Scotland (same country, different countries, dig?), Canada and Mexico) just proved to be too vomit-inducing. Destination wedding – scratch that.

2) We made a decision about where to have the wedding and we’ll be getting married in Scotland next summer. Not one to rest on my laurels, I jumped straight into finding a venue, a photographer and a celebrant. After weeks of searching, we went up to Scotland and met with our first choices (ok, there were no other choices) and luckily fell in like with each of them. Contracts have been signed, deposits sent away and a feeling of contentment over crossing the major things off our list is being enjoyed. Sure, we have to figure out entertainment, flowers, favours, apparel (for the boys and girls - I've already ordered my dress!), gifts, invitations (they have all been selected), and various other bits and bobs, but I’m determined to be a chilled-out bride. Also, I’ve cut down on the wedding porn.

3) Shortly after getting engaged, we went to Rome and I managed to blog about that. Then we had guests come stay with us. First, there were the lovely Atendido sisters who stayed with us twice during their whirlwind tour of Europe. Shortly after that, another set of funny Filipinas (Cheryl C , Carezza, Cheryl A and Arleen) crashed with us for a few days before we jetted to Barcelona to celebrate my 30th, which was fantastic, by the way. And oh, did I mention I started a new job at the same time???

4) I fell into a bit of a funk, read: depression. I’m not even going to lie about it. I was upset about everything – our apartment, not having a proper job, the uncertainty of our lives, worrying too much, missing everyone, lack of friends. It would grab hold of me and not let me go. Luckily, I had David to help bring me back to life and phone calls home really helped. I joined a gym in June and that has also helped tremendously. I now have a couple of tools that really help when I feel the darkness coming: a wonderful email from Shiloh that I printed out and keep in my purse, and my camera with pics that make me happy.

5) I’m just trying to have a life. Dave finished his classes a few weeks ago and we’ve just been hanging like a couple, which has been great. One of the cool things we did was go see Paddy Considine and watch his short film and hear him talk. It was a surprise for Dave and we both really enjoyed it. We love stuff like that. We also recently got back from a weekend in London. We had such an amazing time. I saw Jill Scott in concert again and absolutely loved it. I’ve done two things at a concert that I’ve never done before: I screamed “I love you Jill!!!” and I cried. And others cried. And she cried. Actually, when I think about it, I cried the last time I saw her, but that doesn’t matter. She ended the night on such an emotional high and I was so happy to be in her presence.

Dave and I also got together with some friends from Japan who live in London. It was so great seeing Jeremy, Ros, Craig and Ed again and reminiscing about J-land. We went to a Japanese restaurant and I had tempura and sushi, then grabbed some Japanese and Korean snacks and alcohol, went back to the place Ed has been squatting in (ok, that’s an exaggeration because this house was amazing and HUGE. Squatting connotes that you’re living in squalor, which is simply not the case at this crazy joint), and proceeded to talk the night away. We went to sleep when the sun came up which is something I haven’t done for a very long time. It was fantastic.

So that’s what been up with me.

I wasn't sure about what the future of this blog should be. Facebook definitely helps me keep in touch with everyone while this is an outlet for my feelings. It served its purpose of updating everyone about my life in Japan and now I’m just trying to get some permanence for the next few years (does that make sense? It definitely does to me). I’d like to turn this blog into a Blurb book and keep it on a shelf, pull it out from time to time and just remember. But after thinking about it, I've decided to continue writing. Not so much about travel as the trips will be fewer until after the wedding, but I have so many thought sabout the UK, culture, society, living and doing stuff that I think I should keep going. For the time being, anyway. So I'm back.