Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Inimitable Stimulation of the Foreign

There's nothing quite as exciting as being in a foreign country. A thousand quotidian details of ones life (how showers work; the direction doorknobs turn; the side of the street on which one drives; the convention about which direction light switches flip) suddenly require conscious effort. The sharp relief thrown on all these details makes one realize just how peculiar any one place's customs are, and fills the mind with the possibilities of the ways things could be, but perhaps just haven't gotten around to being so yet. There's nothing like it.

Being in a foreign country where I actually speak the language is completely new to me. I must have almost killed myself five times this morning stepping off the curb after looking the wrong way. And yet, I can somewhat effortlessly communicate complex, even technical thoughts to the locals, albeit not without betraying my identity as a yank tourist (as if pulling out my camera every 30 seonds to shoot nothing in particular hadn't already given me away).

This morning was a beautifully crisp, see-your-breath-but-still-sweater-without-a-jacket autumn morning, which I whiled away taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of Brighton, the gorgeous seaside vacation destination for wealthy Londoners which is hosting SOSP 2005. My incredibly shallow research, and the incredibly tacky website linked above, had led me to expect a somewhat small town, but my morning walk around revealed a profoundly cosmopolitan retail economy, to the point of mild yuppification. Lots of world food restaurants, continental-style cafes, FCUK storefronts, etc. Before I really knew what had happened, I'd walked for about three hours in this beautiful burg.

I could complain about the usual travel headaches, (e.g., the Brit who got off our plane after getting on in SFO, leading to a typically post-9/11 security freakout that saw us departing an hour late) etc., but what's the point? I'm here now. So far, copious amounts of the delicious espresso is keeping jet lag, and what ought to be a substantial Old Speckled Hen hangover, at bay. We'll see how long that lasts.

I'm off to wander the streets some more. I could do that whole "blogger" thing and tote this poor laptop to a coffee shop, but it seems like it just isn't done here. We'll see if I can scare up the courage to break this convention...


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