Monthly Archives: April 2009

Reflecting on the week

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I’m staying at a place around 2000m elevation in the mountains in western USA. As you can see, it’s cold. Since I got here on Sunday I haven’t been out, except for the 5-minute walk from my room to the main conference centre. The conference finished yesterday and nearly everyone has gone on a field trip today. I am feeling no better with my flu thing – in fact last night I even felt feverish again – and so I decided that spending all day on a bus on remote mountain roads and eating a picnic lunch by a freezing lake was more than I could cope with. It seemed much more appealing to stay in the warm and now quiet conference centre and relax.

So after feeling drained of life on Monday, the fever thankfully lifted in the early hours of Tuesday and I also managed to get through my talk without having a coughing fit. I think I had done just enough preparation, so that as I spoke it felt natural and smooth. I had reached a level of comfort with what I’m presenting that allowed me to almost have fun with it, to tell my story more freely and expressively than is normally possible for me. That felt pretty good actually.

I have had quite a lot of people come and speak to me about it, including the professors that know my supervisor. Even this morning a nice lady who missed my talk came to ask about it. I’m doing OK at explaining my work on that level as well and dealing with questions that are about clarifying or expanding on aspects of it. Where I fall down is in shying away from any sort of conflict. I just have this compulsion to agree with everyone, even when they’re criticising me. Totally non-assertive. But I’ll let myself off the hook for that, considering how happy I am with how it’s all gone in general. 🙂

I dipped my hand in the Pacific ocean…

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…and here is proof!


Here are a few random comments/observations along with some of my pics. No real point to any of it, just noting down things that interested me.

I concur with my brother that American chocolate tastes like vomit. It had to be tried to be believed! Reese’s pieces are good though.

Religion is really in your face here. There are churches everywhere, which seem mostly to be independent. Even on the radio there are religious advertisements and Christian rock songs interspersed with heavy metal! It’s very strange to me.

The other day I was walking to the conference along this cycle/pedestrian trail and coming the other way was a huge party of cyclists. The funny thing was they were all having conversations as they went along, and so from afar there was the sound of chatter but as they went past I got tiny snippets of conversations, all in the same loud, lilting tone one after the other… it was quite surreal. And amusing.

The other thing was that the day I went on the field trip I had to go quite early in the morning and nearly everyone I passed on the trail said good morning to me. I thought that only happens in small villages. Love it.

On the way to the next conference, we stopped for lunch at a Mexican restaurant and popped into the supermarket next to it, which had everything in Spanish, and really interesting produce such as bits of cactus (middle shelf, on the left) and dozens of types of dried chillis.

Ugh :-(

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My sore throat and cough has developed into a cold, fever, aches and pains, and even upset stomach. I am “bummed” as they say in America. It has been a day where ordinarily I would have been at home in bed upon feeling like this, but I’ve forced myself out to all the talks. I didn’t come all this way just to miss them all.

I am particularly concerned about giving my own talk tomorrow and I can only hope the fever will have passed.

I have been taking some pretty powerful sudafed stuff which helps with the cold and cough symptoms. But I fear it may be responsible for the dodgy stomach, so I’m back to plain paracetamol. I’ve managed to eat though so it can’t be that bad.

Other than that, what a relief it is to have my own room at last. I didn’t really realise how much I’d missed that.

Last night when we arrived I got talking with some people over dinner about work. The nice thing about being at a small, specialised meeting is that you don’t have to work too hard to understand each other. Today I have barely spoken to anyone since I am feeling so rotten. Talking to people was one of my main objectives in coming here so I am pretty gutted about it.

California here we come

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It’s 7:30am here in California. I don’t know how long I’ve been awake but it seemed as if the morning would never break. It is 3:30pm back home, so my body was obviously wondering what it was doing still in bed. I’m surprised I haven’t felt hungry since it’s been way more than 12 hours since I had a meal. My chest hurts and my heart beat feels uncomfortably strong in my chest and abdomen. My facial skin is irritated and itchy. I’m wondering how I’ll fare as the day goes on, and how long it’ll be before I can sleep through the night.

I felt pretty confident up until the plane took off from London, at which point I started to go into a panic. There really wasn’t much room around the seat, and the thought of 11 hours like that was terrifying. Plus I was worried I had forgotten something important, or for some reason would be refused entry and turned back when we got there. I think it’s just because I’ve never done this before. The reality of it is, funnily enough, it’s just like going a short distance, only longer. The time went by pretty fast, with going over my talk, watching Slumdog Millionaire and various TV shows on the in-flight entertainment, and doing some Arabic revision.


I saw mountains poking their noses up out of blankets of cloud, I saw glaciers, I saw icebergs that looked like two-dimensional boulders, and I think I may have seen the Canadian ice roads (of Ice Road Truckers fame) – or what’s left of them at this time of year. And circling over California, I saw big houses nestled in greenery, their turquoise swimming pools staring up at the sky like unblinking eyes.

It didn’t seem hard to believe that it was only late afternoon by the time we arrived. Maybe because of the sunlight, which had been constant, giving the impression of time standing still. Stepping out of the airport, the warmth in the sunlight was beautifully welcoming.


I missed my bus and waited more than an hour for the next one. During this time, the drivers of the other buses that showed up would talk to me, ask where I was going. They would voluntarily tell me what the bus I was waiting for looked like. One of them welcomed me to California. Another lent me his cell phone to call the bus company and check it was coming. This was a total culture shock, considering how grumpy bus drivers are in Scotland. I was very impressed.

Eventually the minibus came and I was off on the 2-hour journey to the town I’m staying in. Lush trees and modern buildings whizzed past against a backdrop of mountains in the setting sun. I love it here already.

I had a shower and got to bed by 10pm, which of course should have felt like 6am, but I wasn’t that tired. I got to sleep OK but woke at God knows what time; it’s probably good that I don’t know exactly how little sleep I’ve had.

And now it’s nearly 8am, so I think I’ll go and investigate breakfast options. The conference doesn’t start until tomorrow so I have today to look around town. I will try really hard to enjoy it and not worry about the state my body’s in.