Let it snow

Snow! Here in the UK, who would have guessed it? Naturally, no one (despite the fact that it usually occurs at some point during any twelve month period). Therefore, hundreds of people are stranded at airports, in their cars, department stores and, possibly most oddly, the channel tunnel which you would naively think would be unaffected by the weather.

Since living in NYC and now Canada, it's fairly hilarious watching the country dissolve in chaos from a few inches of frozen water. That said, it'd doubtless be rather less entertaining if I weren't safely at home with a hot mug of tea. The problem I guess comes from the rarity of such conditions making it impractical for the Government to purchase serious snow equipment for a single use a year, although the BBC have now printed an article on how to grit a road, in case anyone was up for a change of career. Given the STFC's science proposal for the next five years funding, it's not without appeal.

Meanwhile, I'm attempting to demonstrate the benefits of gluttony to our ailing family cat who, at twenty, has decided food is for "them young things". It's not quite as I would have it, but I suspect when I reach the equivalent age in human years, I won't give a damn either.


Melt a pile of Swiss cheese, pour it over new potatoes with added pickles, gherkins, tomatoes and bacon, have a baby wave a bread roll at you and you have a great Swiss meal! It is possible that the small child is not strictly necessary for raclette, but with only a single data point it's hard to be sure.

Regardless of the necessary trimmings, I ate too much cheese. I don't even regret it and it'll set off the too-much-chocolate I intend to eat next week at home. I did, however, almost miss out on the entire experience by struggling to find my cousin at Zurich station. Damn those giant Christmas trees and pretty market stalls that were set up in my line of sight! Outrageous.

In other news, apparently the UK has stopped funding Astronomy. Sad but ... OK, not totally true ... but the STFC (Science & Technology Facilities Council) announced a pile of project cuts in their five year outline. Fortunately, I'm totally into being a Hobo, so I'm just going to continue my plan to use Astronomy to work in every country that'll have me and pretend it's because of the economic situation. Yes.

Where are you from?

It's a standard question that pretty much everyone asks, especially in academia where people move around a great deal:

Where are you from?

Yet, because young researchers do indeed change jobs frequently, it's not a question with an easy answer. For instance, do they mean "where are you from ..?" as in your current main residence when not visiting this institute? Or "where are you from ..?" as in the institute you were at before starting your current job? Or "where are you from..?"; the city your parents now live in and where you might refer to as home? Or "where are you from..?"; the place you spent most of your childhood and where you accumulated your accent?

For me, the answers span three continents which makes is a tad hard to produce a single all-purpose answer unless I was to say "Earth" and I'd rather hope that much was obvious (though don't always bank on it - I do work in Physics).

Of course, I ask this question myself as often as I receive it and while having this debate with someone in the same position (who I had indeed just addressed the question to) I came to the conclusion that what I was really asking him was:

Where would you be deported to if the government discovered astronomy was actually a cover for drug smuggling?

(You see X-rays from space do you? I think it's time to you sobered up, young man!)

I would hasten to add however, that it is purely coincidental that my answer to the above question is also where I am going for Christmas. Not deported, folks, not deported. There really is a universe in my computer that I built from cubes resembling virtual Lego bricks. (I think I win for being paid to believe that.)

Swiss complex

There is something about Zurich that makes me feel slightly inferior to the Swiss. Perhaps it is the perfectly clean and efficient tram service or the way that everyone, from professors to shop keepers, speaks accentless English. Maybe it is the beautiful buildings, the mountains or the giant metal cowbells that hang around bovine necks just like in the picture postcards. It could be the sparkling clear lakes or the fact that the Astronomy department has both foosball and ping pong tables that have never been stolen in a drunken student revelry.

Not that the nation does not have its idiosyncrasies. Many citizens extol the virtues of mountain air, good cheese and fresh bread and then proceed to smoke like a chimney. It is an eye opener and a mouth (and nose) closer.

I am currently sitting in the newly renovated apartment I have rented for two weeks. Aimed at visiting academics, it is opposite the University of Zurich's campus and comes with everything you need; bed, TV, stove ... and an incredibly complex coffee machine. Like the rice cooker in my apartment in Japan, the Swiss seem to have clear opinions of what is absolutely essential for survival.

Amusingly, I was repeatedly taken aback to be addressed in German as I mooched around the town centre. Ah, that's right! It's a foreign country with buttons on objects you would rather were kept simple, but it's not Japan and all Europeans look the same.

Licensed to drive

I have an Ontario driving license!

[Extended intermission for lengthy, if disappointingly choreographed, dance routine to be performed]

To my amazement, the response to my desperate inquiry revealed that while no road tests were being performed during the strike, a few select centres in Ontario were doing license exchanges. I was pointed towards a website which declared my nearest open test centre was about an hour's drive away and to be prepared for a very long wait, no guarantee of service and maybe swine 'flu. So, armed with a book, a laptop and a box of tissues, I headed off to the town next door to discover the queue ... was outside. Was it really so long that the whole waiting room had filled up before 10:30 am? Actually no... it transpired that this was a rather bizarre way of punishing people who were been served during the strike. We will see you .... but you have to stand outside in the Canadian early-winter looking through the windows at our heated, empty waiting room. Maybe the union found it upsetting they could not see all the frustration they were causing so decided to design an exhibit.

The wait was about an hour; allegedly I had picked a good day since I was told inside that the previous week had seen lines four to five hours long. Oddly, I did not have to sit a drive test (which is fortunate given the strike) or even a written one; I just had to relinquish one of my driving licenses (I hold both USA and UK). Since my US one was expired, I thought this was a good swap. Admittedly, it might have been better to offer up my British license since it had more years on it, but I also doubted the promise that I could switch my Canadian license back to a UK one when I left. "Mutual exchange" or not, I would not put it past my own country to make me sit their notoriously difficult drive test again just for the dry laughs that define my culture.

I left with a piece of dot-matrix paper in my wallet and a photo-card in the mail. Hurray!

I still need insurance. I called a few places and the results were ugly. Perhaps I could hire a good looking Chippendale driver instead.

Incidentally, my new phone can send photos it takes directly to an online scrap book attached to my account. I find that kinda clever.

Ice, ice baby

So my moving boxes are now largely empty. The resulting horizontal filing system has been upgraded in almost every room and a clear path to the door is visible in the remaining areas. It was time to get down to the real reason I came to Canada; the ice hockey.

Thursday night I joined my department's twice weekly pick-up game. That's right; the Physics department has a hockey team. I swear they also do research in my field.

This week, we were somewhat short on players. In fact, we had no bench[*]. So my first time back on the ice after almost a year resulted in some body complaints: "You're doing this again?! .... And ... you're not getting off the ice ... at all .... seriously?!"

By the end of the hour, I had remembered how to skate and even regained the use of my legs just in time for Saturday's match with my new city-based hockey league.

Ironically, I was put on a team called "the Canadians" (named after the NHL Montreal team) and was told upon arriving at the rink that I would be in changing room 5. This is changing room 5 .... out of 24.

The "Mohawk 4 Pad Arena" is something out of a Florida hockey player's dreams. Yep, you heard me, "4 pad"; four NHL sized ice rinks sitting side by side like quadruplets with multi-coloured fleas. The fleas in question were the hockey players who were in full swing on each rink when I arrived... and when I left at 1 am after eating in the bar that sits upstairs overlooking the games.

From what I could see, there was no mention of figure skating or family sessions. This was a rink with a single purpose .... x 4. Did I mention the Walmart here is packed full of hockey equipment? Or that I was planning on giving up my apartment and moving to the rink? 

[*] For non-hockey enthusiasts, the bench is where the players not currently on the ice sit. You rotate in shifts, with each player usually being on the ice for a couple of minutes hard skating before changing.

There's a moment you know ... you're fucked.

There are really only so many 0C morning starts you can take before the "Sunshine state" number plate on your car (complete with a large picture of an orange) starts to grind. It also served as a fruity reminder that at the end of the month I would no longer be covered by my American insurance policy and the car had to be registered in Ontario. I therefore gathered together all the scribbly scraps of paper Customs had given me and scooted to the licenses office.

A cheerful woman greeted me at the counter, told me I had all the paper work I needed and I just had to get Ontario car insurance. Well, that sounded very easy and reasonable! Man, I love Canada.

I then called my bank, who I knew also did auto insurance, and explained what I wanted. No problem! They could definitely insure me providing I had an Ontario driving license. I always appreciate how helpful everyone is here.

So I called the driving license authority who told me ...

Screw you. We're on strike.

.... Huh?

Yep. Since August. This automated message will now come to an end.

Okay, I admit it was actually a web page and it did not in fact read "screw you", but the paraphrasing is nevertheless accurate. You know the fuzzy warm feeling you get when you just know everything will work out? Not feeling it, people. Not feeling it at all.

Excuse me, I need to go and buy bus tickets.

The problem with agreeing with yourself

Ha Ha Ha

Laughter ... did someone just tell me a joke? Maybe I heard an a particular piece of music? Or perhaps I am an insane screwed up individual who is on a rollercoaster?

The origins of why people laugh was discussed in a lecture I attended today. The speaker proposed that we laugh when there is a contrast between what two parts of our brain are telling us. He offered this joke as an example:

Two fish are in a tank ... one says "so how do you drive this thing?"

Initially, a part of your brain called the amygdala acts first. It controls emotional reactions and produces confusion, a negative sensation. There is a tiny delay and then cortex reacts, understands the pun, and cancels out the bad sensation the amygdala produces. As a result of this delay and contrast, we laugh.

In the case of humorous music, a tune will deviate from what we expect causing a negative emotion from the amygdala (since the brain's job is to predict the future correctly) but then the cortex kicks in to remind us it's just music, there is no threat, so again we laugh.

Finally, we were offered the comparison of two people on a rollercoaster, one of whom is enjoying it and another sane person who is not. As the foolish idiots who embarked on this ride of doom riders go up and down and upside down, both their amygdala produce an emotion akin to "Holy crap, we're going to die". In the case of the person who loves the ride, the cortex cancels this out a moment later, knowing rashly and with very little evidence that there is no real danger. The person bursts out laughing. For the second individual (a.k.a. yours truly), the amygdala says:

"Holy crap, we're going to die"

and then the cortex follows it with:

"Damn right."

This person is not laughing. No.

A letter to your future self

Due to luggage weight limits on my flight back from Japan, I sent two large boxes and a poster tube to my work address in Canada via sea mail. At first, this seemed liked a great plan. I placed all the heavy books and CDs in the boxes, keeping the lighter clothes in the suitcases with breakable objects wrapped snugly within them. It was only after I'd dropped the parcels off at the post office did it occur to me that, if they were lost, I would be missing almost all the manga I had bought in Japan which was fairly irreplaceable (from this side of the world at least).

At this point, one of my friends decided to post about how she had lost half her sea mail items.

I started plotting ways in which I could return to Japan.

This week though, amazingly, incredibly both boxes and the poster arrived! I was expecting it to take about three months but it has only taken one. In fact it was perfectly timed, since I only arrived in Canada last week. Oddly, the new box I bought gained a split down the side whereas the slightly damp box I rescued from outside a 7/11 supermarket near my apartment is just fine. Even more oddly, a post office somewhere along its journey mended the split box by putting straps around it. I am filled with love for the human race.

Now I have an office full of pornographic doujinshi manga and all my text books are still at home. I'm trying to decide if this is a problem.


Overheard conversation between two graduate students before the start of journal club this week:

Student 1: I've been asked to give a show with the planetarium and to make it romantic.

Student 2: Romantic?!

Student 1: Yeah ... they said they didn't want any of that dry academic stuff but something fun and romantic.

Student 2: Oh...

Student 1: .... it's for two people.

Student 2: ... that could get awkward.

Hello, can you make me look like this anime character?

"Well, aren't you the most exciting thing I've seen all week, no all month?"

Complimentary, yes. The first thing you'd like to hear coming out of your hair dresser's mouth? Not so much.

I had been wanting to cut my hair short for quite some time. The prospect of spending four months in Japan stayed my hand (or rather my scissors) since none of my imaginings of how that salon experience would go with my Japanese language skills ended well. So, aflush with the excitement of being able to talk to every street vendor in town (except my new phone voice message system that inexplicably came up in French, but that's another story), I headed to the nearest hair dressers and made an appointment for this weekend.

When you desire a fairly drastic cut, it is always a good idea to give your hair stylist a picture, rather than a few random arm waves. Digging through old photos, I found one of myself from a number of years back with the cut I wished to revert to. The picture was a clear, face-on shot but I couldn't find an accompanying image of the back of my head. Hunting through magazines in the local supermarket only offered me Angelina Jolie (hair too long) or Brad Pitt (facial hair too long) and I was on the brink of giving up (generally; such magazines have that effect), when I glanced down at my key chain. Attached to the bunch of shiny new keys I'd accumulated in the last week, was a small model of one of my favourite Japanese anime characters (Eiji from Tenipuri) and a picture of another (Atobe, from the same series). Both were sporting basically the same hair-do I required. Well ... it was a bit unconventional, but hey if it works ... So along with the photo, I presented both Atobe and Eiji for inspection and preyed to the heavens above that the stylist wasn't a secret Japanese manga fan.

At that point, said stylist started to have far too much fun. We went through a whole range of different styles simply because she wanted to "try things out" as we went down in length. It was during this that the topmost comment made an appearance and I hoped she would remember to stop before we got too carried away.

Fortunately, she did. I now have a funky short hair do .... just in time for the winter. But hey, it's easier to cram under a woolly hat.

Balls of ice

This morning's walk to work was bright and clear. Blue skies and warm in a 2-sweaters-and-a-jacket kind of way. As I approached campus, the skies suddenly darkened and it started to pour.

Ha! You think you've got me, Mother Nature, but I am prepared! After all, I have just been living in Florida where no summer day is complete without a spontaneous twenty minute tidal wave.

I pulled up the hood of my coat and looked heavenwards .... to receive a face full of icy hail stones.

Oh right. That would be the difference from Florida.

A few minutes later and the skies cleared to an innocent blue again and I limped off towards my department. While not particularly wet, I was covered with ice chips and my nose hurt from its shrapnel bombardment.  

Okay fine. I admit it. I wasn't prepared for this.

Just me

There is an episode in "Sex in the City" where one of the main characters, Miranda, buys her own apartment on Manhattan. No one can believe that she is buying and living there alone and she is persistently asked about the boyfriend who is bound to be moving in there with her. Such was the situation with the movers today:

Mover: "Are you living here alone?"

Me: "Yep, just me."

Mover: "You've not got a boyfriend up here?"

Steady on, buddy, I just moved here on Friday!

Me: "No, just me."

Mover: "Well, I thought you might have a girlfriend or something."

Me: "No, just me."

Well, you know, at this point I gave him credit for open mindedness so I embellished:

Me: "I move jobs every few years, often with an associated continent change so ... a serious boyfriend would completely cramp my style"

I resisted saying the striked comment to the husband & wife moving team since it might be deemed a little harsh and they were in fact doing a great job.

However, despite the fact my cat was not judged a worthy apartment companion (they were deeply underestimating the space she can take up on the bed), I do now have furniture! And boxes! Distributed completely randomly throughout my house ... Evidently though, I have found my wireless router so all the really important stuff is in place.

Lug holes

The Ministry of Health office in Hamilton is located on the 10th floor of a downtown office building. It is here that people can renew their health card, record a change of address or, in my case, register as a new resident to Canada.

[Short interlude to allow one big cheer for socialised health care \o/]

I entered the building and headed to the elevator with a gentleman who had obviously made this journey many many times before:

Man: These people are hopeless! If you were born here, they'll do nothing for you. Nothing.

Me: I wasn't.

Man: .... Oh. Then you'll probably be fine.

As indeed, I was.

Sim life

As any "The Sims" fanatic will tell you, it's not easy starting a house. Your initial 20,000 simonians are significantly depleted by the purchase of your two room abode, leaving you forced to choose between a bed and a sofa. Many of you will have chosen the sofa with the idea that your Sim can both kip (albeit poorly) and study on said device, enabling him or her to get a job. So you send your Sim off to work as a dustbin man and eventually have enough money to buy a table. Everyone claps.

This is SO my apartment at the moment. Most of my possessions are enroute in a large moving van somewhere between the alligator infested south and the bear patrolled north. I'm fortunately convinced that a desk with bite marks is artistic. With me are the two suitcases I brought to Japan and an inflatable air mattress and small duvet I had the surprising foresight to put aside before I left for the East. Sadly, said foresight did not stretch to the pump so the first night was rather ... deflated.

The cat is frankly appalled by the lack of items in the flat. She walks from one empty room to the other before climbing on the only available item (a.k.a. yours truly) and voicing her distaste. We so used to have more stuff than this...

Yesterday, I visited Ikea in the hunt for some curtain rods my landlord still needed to put up (oh yes, the neighbours are getting to know me very well!). I returned with a large multicoloured rug for the main room and a pump for my bed. If cats had hands there would have been applause.

I want to marry a Canadian

I love Canadian bureaucracy, or rather the lack of it. I am sitting in my new apartment with my newly installed internet connection (from my newly installed phone line) in possession of a work visa, bank account and social insurance number with my car imported and parked outside and my cat imported and parked on my knee. I arrived last night.

Admittedly, I did sort the visa, cat and apartment on my last visit a couple of weeks ago, but the paper work (if not the cat pee) was bogglingly simple.

The Canadians' controversial technique seems to involve informing you in advance that you need to provide easily accessible documents (e.g. passport, car title etc) and then requiring those same documents upon your arrival at border / government office. If they are in order, these crazy people let you in. Don't they know that a real immigration and import process involves premium rate telephone calls, month long appointment scheduling, three documents that could not possibly apply to you, a forth that has not existed since 1776 and queues that aim to define eternity? How are you supposed to feel loyalty to a country where the prospect of reentering if you leave is bearable? Don't they realise that such a lack of stress could make you live a long and fruitful life, therefore adding to the heavy strain in providing social security for elderly people? Are the winters so bad that most people die that way instead?

There was an issue with one broken fax machine, otherwise I might believe I was dreaming. Except that I suspect my subconscious isn't kind enough to give me only a ten minute wait at the social security office.

So on that note, I've decided to marry a Canadian. I see our wedding ceremony going as follows:

"Do you wish to marry?"


And then a everyone gets down to the drinking. Or maybe the ice hockey.

A letter to the I-95

It is said that to get to know a person, you should walk a mile in his shoes. We travelled many hundreds of times that you and I, and yes, I-95, I did indeed feel I knew you well. Perhaps ... too well.

You ran straight and true, taking me from Florida up to North Carolina, and I know you would have carried me still further, all through the greater part of my journey. The problem is, I-95, that although you were swift and simple, I grew bored of your never ending concrete view with only gas stations adding colour to life with you. Additionally, my friends do not live close to your sides which perhaps tells you something deep about your life.

It's not me. It's you.

So I left you, I-95, to go with other, more exciting roads. I moved through many streets, admiring fall leaves and pretty towns. I cannot say I was ashamed of my behaviour.

It is true though, that such indulgences came at a price. I felt that you laughed as my gas meter bleeped red with no garage in sight. Perhaps I took your point. Perhaps you knew as well as I that minor roads north of Washington DC were not for people who wished to get somewhere. Perhaps you just hoped.

Whatever the reason, I-95, I did return to your cement embrace after the capital. I trust you, you see. You were able to guide me, and the eight million other people who flocked to your surface around Baltimore, along the East Coast and up to New York. I noticed your care in doing so; you were indeed painstakingly slow.

Despite the success of our reunion, I confess I-95, that we must shortly be parted again. I want to reassure you that my reasons are different. It is not that I am bored with your appearance. In fact, the entertainment of regularly crossing four lanes of heavy traffic to reach different exits is enough to sate any girl's desires. Rather, it is because you go up to Providence and really, who wants to go there?

I cannot stand long goodbyes, I-95, so I'm going to make this one quick exit as I turn towards the border. This time there is no turning back.

To the irritable man with the rollerboard suitcase ...

As with this post, it is sometimes necessary to write to people you have only encountered in passing. Such "missed connections" form a popular column in the website craigslist. It is in this style that I offer the following to a fellow passenger at Toronto airport last night:

"To the irritable man with the rollerboard suitcase,

I know you were irritated that night at Toronto airport. I know this because I had been just behind you in the queue, also being told I would have to wait for a seat assignment. I was also just behind you when you shoved your rollerboard backwards, causing me to trip and you ... you to look still more irritated that someone had the audacity to touch your luggage.

It is possible that your day had been harder than mine. Perhaps so much so that it explained why I was innocently heading to find a soda while you were embarking on a departure room rule of terror. If you had decided to ask, rather than ABH, I would have explained that my day had been one of trials and triumphs and I was thinking of selling the plot for a remake of Groundhog Day.

I had headed out that morning at 6 am to meet a potential landlord before he went to work. The apartment was nice and, after a brief consideration, I decided I wished to sign the lease.

Yay! Apartment!

Such an event would have been marginally easier if my future landlord had not lost his phone three days earlier, rendering him incommunicable until his return at 3:30 pm. Coincidentally, this particular time was also that for the last departure of the airport shuttle bus.

Nevertheless, I had happily wiled away the hours by trying to reach one of the three professional pet sitting services who had been ignoring my existence all weekend. They persisted until mid-afternoon when one of them finally broke. After scuttling between Waterloo and Hamilton (~ 1hr drive) to ensure bags were packed and cat briefed for good behaviour over the following weeks, I reached my landlord and agreed to meet him at a coffee shop ... that proved to be closed. A chilled twenty minutes later finally saw me signing a lease in a KFC.

At this stage, it was too late to contemplate public transport to the airport, so I had driven the rental car and dropped it off at the terminal. In their confusion at seeing a vehicle they expected to be in Waterloo, I was ushered into the help desk area. This left me at the back of a long line of customers (did I mention to anyone I'd driven the car because I was late?) who were being personally shown to their rentals by individuals who had mastered speaking English at one tenth normal speed. Finally, I was presented with the bill and ...

".... I'm sorry, you've overcharged me."

"No Ma'am, a large fee is charged if you drop the car off at a different location from your rental branch."

".... Even so, my original bill was $400 .... it is now $1450."

Okay, so perhaps, just perhaps, there was a slight slip. After some consultation, I received a new bill for $800.

"... This is still rather high."

"Well, you have the fee for being an underage driver."

".... I'm 29."

"We have your date of birth as 1985."

"That is incorrect."
(As you could see from my official Government issued driving license that is in your hand.)

"Oh right. Why is that?"

Know what? Not my problem. The fact my flight leaves in less than an hour, that is my problem.

Now running, I had leaped up to departures, sacrificed my toothpaste to avoid checking luggage and made up the blandest version of my life to date so the USA border control would be too bored to prolong our interaction.

So you can imagine, good sir, that I also was not thrilled to discover I was not guaranteed on this flight. However, unlike you, I did not resort to beating up other passengers although I note that, had I been so inclined, I would have at least picked someone with a seat.

Regardless, both you and I made the flight that day. You probably rolled off home without a care in the world. I, meanwhile, had to deal with yet another car rental desk.

"We only have a minivan."

I hate you."

Ain't never seen a pussy cat fly

Possibly one of the most daunting tasks involved with moving to Canada was the mechanics of shifting the cat from the hot tropics of Florida to the frozen north. Despite her strong interest in the idea, I dismissed the idea of adding her to my boxed belongings to be stored and shipped. This left me two possible options:

(1) Buckle her into the backseat when I road-trip it up the country in my beetle (a.k.a bad option #1).

(2) Fly up earlier with her when I go looking for apartments (a.k.a. bad option #2).

Since her views on the forty minutes drive to the vets seem akin to the torture of the Spanish Inquisition, neither of these were going to go down well. I opted for (2) on the merit that is was at least shorter.

Fortunately (or so I thought at the time), flights to Canada from the USA allow pets in the cabin, so I scooted to the stores to buy a soft carrier that would slide under my seat. I tried to make the whole situation as easy as possible: I found a direct flight out of Orlando, asked a friend to drive us to the airport so I could hold the carrier on my knee and asked another friend to look after Tallis Canada-side so she would not have to go into a cattery. I then layered the pet carrier with a puppy pad, a tee-shirt I had been wearing for a couple of nights, catnip and love.

Exactly what Tallis thought of this arrangement was made clear by her urinating all over said tee-shirt, catnip and strongly pushing the "love" factor before we were even out the driveway. Gritting my teeth, I changed the liner, shook out the tee-shirt and pushed kitty back into her carrier ..... did I mention she could get out of this? Actually, if it's zipped right to its limit and all the Velcro pushed down, we're good. Any tiny gap, however, and the furry Houdini can insert a paw and pull open the top. But hey, don't you just hate getting bored on flights?

To be fair, after the initial defacing of the carrier, things went as well as could be expected. Cat was not happy and scrunched up her fresh puppy liner and shoved it into a corner but failed to complete her wicked plan by not having the required bowel or bladder content. Cat owner was even less happy and, without a puppy liner to exploit, almost offered said cat to fellow passengers who cooed through the cage. That said, we finally tumbled off the plane in Toronto and headed to customs to present the required paper work to a lady who inquired:

"Is this all?"

Now, I had read the website information on pet transport to Canada (under "Food Inspection Agency") and called the airline to confirm absolutely and utterly that the only paperwork needed was proof of rabies vaccination, which the woman was now holding. Fortunately, I had not believed a word of it and was also carrying a health certificate from the vets and a medical history. I passed these over, which did not exactly seem to be required but satisfied the customs guard's desire to hold more paper and we were waved through.

Cat is now completely recovered and zooms around her new home with her tail held high. I am still in shock and need to sleep for a week. Next time, we're using drugs. And no, I'm not talking about the cat.

What ... is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?

My Mum once told me about a PR video she saw at work. It showed a foreign client talking to a receptionist. At the end of the piece, people were asked for their thoughts and they all agreed that the man had been very rude and brusque. It turned out that if you translated his words directly into his native tongue, he was actually being incredibly polite. This was put forward as an example to not take everyone at face value.

I decided to apply this principal when I went through USA border control this afternoon after my return flight from Tokyo. For the questions posed to me, I simply translated their words into those I am sure they meant.

Your J1 visa has expired. What are you doing here?
Welcome back to America; the country in which you have paid taxes and made your home for the previous five years. We are delighted to see you again. What brings you back to us?

When will you leave?
For how long will we have the pleasure of your presence during this visit?

[Muttered] Welcome to America.
Welcome to America!

To which I replied:

[Brightly] Thank you!
I don't like you either.

The process was short though, and not nearly as bad as I thought it might be. You are not supposed to enter the USA as a tourist without a return plane ticket and of course, this was my return plane ticket from when I left Florida four months ago. Since I ultimately drive to Canada, I had brought a pile of paper work including my new job contract to prove my intention to leave, but this was only checked once at the Tokyo end and not at the border.

So hello from the flip side, people! Now everyone has to prey for that bottle I bought in the Tokyo duty-free and had to stuff into my checked luggage at Dallas to be transferred to Florida. If it cracks, my poor Totoro will get soused. That's completely inappropriate for a sweet anime character.