“There and Back Again, a hobbit’s tale by Bilbo Baggins and The Lord of the Rings by Frodo Baggins. You finally finished it.” – Sam
“Not quite. There’s room for a little more.” – Frodo
Completing the circuit
We just moved back this year from London to Chicago. We don’t actually live in Chicago – we’ve settled in a house in Glen Ellyn, a western suburb of Chicago.
It’s now more than 8 years ago that I flew to Shanghai on this crazy adventure around the world. Apparently I told people I’d be back after just two years. Here I am so many years later, married, and baby CJ is over a year old!
I never thought I’d be tired of flying…but half a million miles of flying later, I don’t mind staying put from time to time.
While based in:
- USA I’ve flown a mere 60k miles (white lines)
- China I flew 420k miles! (red lines)
- UK I flew 190k miles (blue lines)
I think it should go without saying that the Great Circle Mapper has been a good friend of mine along the way. I should really get in touch with the author and show my strange maps.
Our journey while in the UK
We moved in 2015 from Shanghai to London. That was an adventure. We moved into a little house in southeast London in a village called Ladywell and lived there for two years before moving to the opposite side of London to West Hampstead for another two years.
I’ll remember it as the place where we had the smallest garden patch I’ll ever call “home” in my life, with our cute little shed for bicycles to live and little grill that we had to give up when we moved again.
We settled into that house pretty quick, hanging photos just about everywhere:
The two places were very different to live in. London is an incredibly diverse city where you can easily get lost in exploring the culture of a specific area and then go to the next village over and find it a completely different place. There’s a funny little north-south divide (“You live south of the river? We don’t go there.”) to London that I can’t help but think is just due to what I’m going to call the Beck effect; the effect that London tube maps have on the psyche of the people living there. The Thames river is shown to help aide in navigation, but perhaps a side effect is that the Thames forms a mental barrier for transit users. It could also have something to do with the fact that many of the overground rail stations like Waterloo, Canon Street and Liverpool Street are terminal stations for huge long networks extending hundreds of miles to the north and the south, almost like the Thames river is some insurmountable depth of water to cross.
We traveled a lot within the UK: Bath, Stonehenge, Cambridge a few times, Bletchley which I can highly recommend, the South Downs, Norfolk, Dublin, Edinburgh, Loch Lomond, Liverpool, Monmouth to visit our friends Joan & Jeremy, the Isle of Wight (so easy to get to on national rail). My map of the UK is dotted with stars all over the place. Yet there’s a lot of space between those stars. Much more left to see.
For being an “old’ city London sure is well lit:
What I’ll miss
I miss the rolling, manicured patchwork fields that are distinctive of the UK. Granted, I only saw these while on a plane coming & going, or while reading the NPAS Redhill twitter feed trying to figure out why there’s a helicopter over my house, but nonetheless, I miss it.
Grocery stores in the UK are smaller than in the US, but the food quality is better – particularly the variety, quality and value of ready-to-eat meals. A godsend for young parents.
Tax is included. In the UK (and China to boot) tax was included in the list price for any item. £2 for a box of Cadbury chocolates cost you – wait for it – £2 out of your pocket. In the US it’s annoying listed as $2.49 and will cost you precisely $2.7698235 but don’t worry we’ll round it to the nearest lincoln and charge you a rounding fee as well.
Roundabouts. Seriously USA, just use them.
Trains & Buses
Living where we did in the UK, a car would have been a frivolous expense. We took public transit everywhere. If it wasn’t one train it was two; if it wasn’t two trains it was a bus and a train. If it was raining and we got the timing just right, we’d catch a cheeky bus ride up the street from our high street station to our flat which is only three stops away. It was just so damn easy. The Chicagoland transit system pales in comparison.
What I won’t miss
Narrow roads. Cycling in London scared me more than cycling in Shanghai, because the roads are narrow, bumpy, and have hard curbs which leave you no where to go when the lane inevitably ends 2.3 seconds after it just began. I didn’t cycle much in London while I was there, despite it being one of my main desires when I moved there.
2011 to 2019 – what’s different?
So many things. 8 years is a long time.
Politics continue to get better every year. *facepalm*
Google’s now blocked in China among a whole host of things, creating the largest fragmentation the Internet has ever seen. But few of us “see” it.
We crossed 512k routes in the Internet BGP table and we survived to tell the tale.
SpaceX “took off” and even brought rockets back down to earth.
Smart phones are commonplace.
What’s the same?
What’ll never be the same
Language. My view on language has changed. The English language is shit and requires constant interpretation unless you know the speaker rather enough. Chinese is a whole other complicated beast, but I can’t help but think just how much harder human existence with an imprecise language such as English being so essential.
Units of measure. I talk in centimeters and meters and it weirds people out. Unfortunately the legendary Luban Ruler was confiscated by airport security so most of my tape measures are in inches, and Menards does just about everything in inches anyway.
Food. The world is full of a wild variety of food; enough variety that you’ll never be bored of trying new things if you get out a bit. A friend of mine once told me that Indian curries are so flavourful that he “forgot” to eat meat for several months at a time instead preferring vegetarian curries. Another friend told me that food without spice cannot be enjoyed; I didn’t get what he meant at the time, but now I understand.
Picked up along the way
I learned about ham radio, as a result of developing an obsession with high-altitude ballooning. I ended up getting my “Advanced” license in the UK, which is the highest qualification of license you can get. So far I haven’t found a route for me to get a corresponding US license for free, so I’m probably going to have to take the exams here all over again. C’est la vie.
Celsius. I learned to talk weather temperatures in Celsius. It wasn’t hard really, you just have to try. I switched my locale on my mobile phone to show me things in Celsius. I wish more apps showed both because unfortunately I now live back in a place where Fahrenheit is the norm and Celsius is treated like communism.
Eddie Izzard. We saw Eddie so many times, I think four times in London. We saw him this summer while he was in Chicago too. He’s still keeping us laughing, but also trying to tell some real stories about his life and maybe change a few things in politics too.
Andrews & Arnold ISP. I can’t say enough other than that they might just be the best damn small ISP in the world. Is your ISP on IRC available to answer you questions? Do they give you bandwidth and latency graphs for your connection to help you diagnose usage of your line? Do they promise to never censor you? So far, A&A is the only ISP I’ve ever met with this level of service. Simply impeccable.
So what about all those numbers in the title?
If you know me, you know I like numbers.
NW6 1UE -> 60137… postcodes
51N -> 41N: GPS latitudes
2001:8b0:da4::/48 -> 2601:249:902:50a1::/64: yup, my IPv6 block that I had with AAISP in London, and my IPv6 block from Xfinity. Nerd.
Adjusting back to life in the USA?
I get asked this a lot. In short, it’s weird, on a daily basis. I think I’ll be settled by 2021.
As a form of protest, I continue to drive on the left. Maybe it’ll catch on.