Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Stuff That's Good About the US # 5 - Huge Portions

Obviously this one has negative aspects (i.e. obesity), but hell, it saves a fortune. When I order food, I can order an American meal's worth (and it's cheap, see previous post), and it'll feed me for two days - or three if I'm lucky. As below, I think this is pretty much the only reason I'm still alive!

Stuff That's Good About the US # 4 - Cheap Takeout

Takeout (UK English: takeaway), is super cheap here - similar prices in dollars to what you would pay in pounds in the UK. And they deliver. And the burrito place down the hill lets you order in advance (e.g. can I get a burrito in 3 hours. Great study motivation). Given lack of nearby corner stores, I'm pretty sure the takeout (and Hall of Flags food*) is the only reason I'm still alive.

* they leave out leftover food from events in the front hall and if you're quick, you get to eat.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Culture Shock Diary #9 - 'ways to save power... using your drier'

Been saving this one, but doing laundry today so time to bust it out...

On the back of each toilet door in Blakeley, my residence hall, there is a list of 'ways to save electricity in Blakeley'. It includes no less than four ways to save electricity using your tumble-drier: turn it off as soon as your clothes are dry, dry full loads, dry one load right after another so it's still hot, and clean the fluff out of the filter'. However, they're missing what to me seems like the most obvious way to reduce energy expenditure on drying clothes - stop using the drier and get a bloody clothes rack! Better for the environment AND it doesn't shrink your clothes! Full Disclosure: I'm being hyprocitical here as I don't actually have a laundry rack - but in my defence I've tried not once, but twice to find them in Target and failed, and there's only so much I can do!

While I'm at it on the laundry, the washing machines here drive me insane. They have four options - wash whites, colours, delicates or woolens. I'm guessing that those are in decreasing temperature order, but hard to be sure, and reduces the possibility for what seems like another obvious way to reduce energy - wash clothes on the lowest temperature necessary.

Seriously, no wonder the Americans have such high carbon usage!

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

I Don't Have TB

Like most Europeans of my generation, I have had the BCG, the very effective vaccine against Tuberculosis. So imagine my surprise at being ordered to take a TB test in order to register for class. Just to go into that a bit further, it’s not an immunity test to check that the BCG worked, it’s a test to check that I have TB antibodies. For those of you unfamiliar with theories of vaccines and immunology, the way they work, more or less, is that they give you antibodies to enable you to fight a particular disease. So if you have had a TB vaccine, you’re pretty likely to have TB antibodies. So a positive result to the ‘TB test’ to test if you have TB in fact means that you EITHER have TB OR you’re immune. Perhaps I’ve been spending too much time on my DME project, but this doesn’t seem like a very effective indicator to me.

So, under extreme duress, I got the test done. Within two days it hurt like hell and was red and swollen – I didn’t need a doctor to tell that it was a positive result. Getting to health services today, they took one look at my arm and escorted me into a private room to break the news that I had TB. My response – don’t you think it might be because I’ve had the BCG – elicited an admission that false positives were very common with people who’d had the BCG. Well, duh! Next exchange went something like this:

Doctor: you now have to get a chest x-ray to show that you don’t have TB. This will cost you at least $40 (20% of the total) and you have to go to a hospital that’s 40 minutes away on a bus.
Me: why? That’s silly – I don’t have any symptoms and I’ve had the BCG so I clearly don’t have TB. Why can’t you do an immunity test?
Doctor: That’s not our policy; we require a chest x-ray
Me: aren’t chest x-rays bad for you and expensive. Isn’t there an easier and cheaper way of doing this that won’t give me cancer later in life?
Doctor: There is a blood test option but it’s more expensive as it isn’t covered by insurance
[aside: why on earth not? Surely getting someone to look in a microscope is cheaper than an x-ray? And why would my insurance cover x-rays but not lab fees?]
Me: what about the immunity test
Doctor: we don’t consider the BCG in our policy
Me: why on earth not? Surely that just makes it a crap policy that needs to be reviewed]

This ping-pong went on for some time until they let me speak to a different doctor. She asked me what my issue with it was:
- Unnecessary expenditure of money and more importantly time
- X-rays aren’t good for you and I want to avoid an unnecessary one
- The whole policy is stupid and almost all the international students have been affected by this – don’t you think you should consider adapting the policy to allow immunity tests?
- I’m an exchange student anyway so by the time I get all this done I’ll only have about 2 weeks left at the school so it seems like a waste of time.

The new doctor was awesome and gave me some advice: go and see a particular doctor involved with the policy-making process in 10 days time and explain my concerns. In the mean time – play it long and if we get into December they’ll leave me alone.

So I now have a strategy to evade having to haul to the hospital and get the pointless x-ray, but this is still driving me crazy and at the risk of overblowing it, it does highlight what is rubbish about American healthcare: I’m paying for it so they have no conscience about making me get unnecessary procedures. In the NHS, there is an incentive for doctors to consider whether treatment is actually useful, since it’s the government paying for it there is therefore a limit on resources.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Culture Shock Diary #8 - Wellington Boots

Yes, they keep your feet dry, no they don't keep them warm, and no they don't look good. There are plenty of types of shoe that simultaneously keep your feet dry and warm, without looking stupid. It's like crocs - why do it?

Possibly I'm being unfair and they're in fashion in the UK as well. Can anyone comment?

Friday, 2 October 2009

Joining the Red Sox Nation

Tonight I went to my first baseball game, at Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox. To people that don’t know Boston or baseball, this is a Big Deal. The Red Sox are massively popular – they’re known for their obsessive fan base, the Red Sox Nation, every other person in Boston is wearing a Red Sox hat, and the games are always booked out. I was desperate to go, and luckily, tonight they were playing the Cleveland Indians, who aren’t very good, so we were able to get some tickets for $20, and off we went – six foreigners and a token American to explain the rules (see summary at the bottom).

My first impressions of the stadium was that it seemed like a cross between a stadium and a fairground. Seriously. The stadium part was normal, but on the ground there was every type of food you can imagine – hot dogs, burgers, chips, pretzels, clam chowder, pizza, toffee apples (haven't seen one of those in years!), popcorn, candy floss, and heaven knows what else. And it didn’t stop when we got to our seats – people running up and down the aisles selling all sorts of food and drink, passing money along the rows and food back – it was crazy and didn’t let up through the game. Like with cricket, there isn’t really a break between when it’s on and when it’s not – there’s no half time, but there is a lot of stopping and starting, and no-one seems to be paying attention for more than half the time. There was a lot of music as well, which heightened the fairground thing – between each player batting, they’d play a song, busting out the cheesy Euroclassics, before turning to country later in the game. Very Twenty20.

The game was enjoyable and interesting, but possibly the slowest sport ever – after a 3 hour game, the score was 3-0. The trouble is, that half the time they don’t hit it, they just miss a bunch of times, then one guy gets to first base or gets caught, then they swap innings, which can get a bit tedious – at least in cricket they mostly hit the thing! And there are long periods of standing around for no apparent reason. And when they swap pitchers, they spend about 15 minutes with the new pitcher warming up – can’t they be warmed up already?! Again, not to draw unfair comparisons, but cricket players manage it! The funniest part though, and the most bizarrely, quintessentially American thing ever (possible exception: the turducken), is that they have advertisment breaks. In a sports match. Seriously. They stop the action, so they can show adverts on the TVs around the grounds.

Having said that, it was a great experience, and it was great to see Fenway, painted green all over, with old-style signposts and with its famous wall, the Green Monster. On top of that, this was a nothing game, a walkover, but the stadium was still pretty full and the atmosphere was great, especially in the second half, when people started singing between innings – everyone knew the words so I’m guessing these were team theme songs. There were also bits of excitement – the Red Sox getting two Indians out at once by running out one at second base, then stumping the second at first; a big collision at third base between a running Red Sox player and a fielding Indian; and the Indians’ pitcher getting hit by a returned ball and having to limp off the field. And even in the in-betweens, I did find myself strangely gripped – I guess the same part of me that enjoys watching online snooker! Or possibly the former rounders player and cricket fan. I also think that in a tense game it might be more exciting, and that, like cricket, it may be one of those sports where knowing a lot about it might make it more interesting and, like cricket, it might be one of those things you’re not really supposed to sit down and watch, you’re supposed to have a grand day out and some beers with your friends.

Long story short, although thinking about the components, it should have been just wierd and dull, it was actually awesome and I can’t wait to go again! Guess it’s time to buy me a Red Sox cap... and get excited about owning an actual factual baseball baseball cap.

*For the non-Americans, it goes something like this (cricket terminology in brackets to help explain):

- Team A pitches (bowls) to Team B

- Team B’s batsman has three goes at hitting it, which each failure called a ‘strike’ (3 strikes and you’re out... always wondered where that phrase came from). If you hit it behind you, that counts as a strike. You can also get out if the ball is caught by one of the fielders. This is easier than in cricket as they have gloves and the ball just drops in. People can also get out by getting run out, or being stumped at first base before they can make it.

- If Team B’s batsman manages to hit it, he can run to first base, or beyond if he’s feeling lucky.
The next batsman then comes up to bat. If he hits it, any teammates further around the diamond can run for the next base. If they get all the way round they get one point. But they can only run once the ball has been caught by the other team... or something. I’m hazy on this rule – anyone care to clarify?

- If three players from the batting team (Team B) get out, the innings is over and you swap roles.

- Repeat as above.

- There are 9 innings, plus some tie break innings if they’re even.

- The winner is the one with the most points. Since the innings are very short, there often aren't many points. Tonight it was 3-0 to the Red Sox