Monday, September 3, 2012

It's Harder to do Basic Things...

though at least when it's harder to do basic stuff that I would take for granted in the US, I'm doing it in a place that looks like this:

The first two are the top and bottom of High Street (which becomes Queen St. at the top-- it changes names a lot actually... at other times it was also London Road and Headington Rd.). The third picture is Magdalen University (pronounced maudlin-- so, not the way it looks.  And not necessarily the best name for a college...).

So, it's nice scenery as a backdrop to trying to do things like change the SIM card in my cell phone (which I should be calling a mobile)-- something which seemed basic but I'm honestly still not sure I understand how the plan I bought works.  I'm pretty sure I bought a basic month-to-month plan that allows me minutes, texts and data in a pre-set quantity.  And, that when they run out, I'm out of them until the end of the month when I can renew the plan.  However, there are many ways to "top off" a mobile around here-- minutes, etc. can be added at ATMs, for example.  So, I'm not sure if I can "top off" my mobile or not-- especially since the term seemed to be applied to both adding and to renewing.  (I'm pretty sure that the plan I bought assumes I won't want to add to's not a pay-as-you-go plan and the girl helping me said once I run out, I have to wait until I renew. Then again, it seems to me that it would be silly of Vodaphone to keep me from topping off if I really wanted to-- why wouldn't they want to make more money?) 

It's also a lovely scenery to have around while fumbling to figure out how to pay for the bus-- I was given a pass that was supposed to let me ride as much as I wanted, but when I tried to use it, it turned out it was expired (I think it was probably good in August, but I tried to use it on September 2).  But, that this card was given to me when I arrived and that I was assured it worked and that I've only been in Oxford for a little more than 24 hours and I'm really sorry that I didn't know (and, apparently the university people who gave me the card didn't know) that the card could expire or that is was expired felt like a lot to explain to the bus driver who seemed annoyed with me, especially when there was a line-- or rather, queue-- behind me waiting to get on, so I just how much it was to ride.  Of course, that's not an easy question either-- it depends on where you're getting off.  Fortunately, I seemed to get the answer to that question correct-- though I'm wondering if those who regularly ride the bus know the prices.  I'm guessing those who regularly ride have pre-paid seems like everyone does because paying for individual, one-way destinations would get really expensive.  (I will say, the bus driver was the first person I've come across who seemed annoyed with me... maybe he was just having a bad day.)

It's also lovely scenery being blocked by the setting up of some kind of fair:

I was told that this is the leftover nod to the old job fairs that used to be held in fall and spring-- seasonal workers used to have to look for indoor and then outdoor work respectively and there were fairs every year to help them.  It's no longer a job fair though-- now it's just rides and games and what looked like typical amusement park food (like giant bags of cotton candy). It took asking several people to figure this out though-- even though this is being set up right off the main walking/shopping area in the City Center (a couple blocks away from this, an incredibly crowded pedestrian area where there are several musicians and street acts like fire eaters)

many people seemed unaware that it's happening at all. I didn't feel quite like a silly tourist asking since, suddenly, I knew about something that the people who live here didn't.  The fact that I have to focus really hard when crossing the street so that I look the right way (which is, of course, the wrong way to me) puts me right back in silly tourist mode.  (It also made the pedestrian area a nice moment of relief.  It is a strange feeling to have to concentrate so hard just to walk without getting hit by a car.

What I had really dreamed of was "living" in Oxford-- feeling like this really is my home, if only for a little while, and sort of establishing a routine and a familiarity that makes it feel like I'm living here rather than having an extended touristy stay.  But, the first couple of days have made me wonder if that's realistic-- I'm managing to do things like buy groceries and get a mobile (and, use the word mobile) but it is surprisingly more difficult than I would have expected in a country where I do speak the language, sort of.  And, it's an absolutely gorgeous city to wander around in in a touristy manner (pulling out my camera every few feet probably screams tourist, too-- though I'm generally terrible about taking pictures, so I'm quite proud that I thought to take them yesterday.), so if that is the next four months of my life, that's still a really great way to spend my time.  But, is four months enough time for a feeling of disorientation to end-- is it even enough time to start reflexively looking the "right" way when I cross the street?  (I think the answer to that might be yes-- I was getting the hang of it a bit by the end of the day yesterday.  Though, I got in a car last night and started to get in what I think of as the passenger's side, which is the driver's side here.  It may take a while for the whole reverse direction thing to translate in my brain.)  I'm wondering now if it's even enough time to be able to stop consulting a map every day before I leave my flat.  (There's free WiFi just about everywhere-- having my iPad, and thus Google maps, with me was really helpful.  It assured I got on the right bus-- so at least I didn't get lost. And it might save me from looking really touristy, pulling out a paper map everywhere I one really knows what I'm looking at on an iPad. I'm hoping the data on my mobile doesn't run out before the end of the month-- I'm think GPS could be really useful too. And, maybe with headphones on, I'll just look like another person listening to music on my walk... to my next tourist destination.)

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