Settling Down in Cambridge

(This is going to be a long post. So don’t say I didn’t warn you! 😉 )

It’s been more than a month since we arrived in the UK! You know, from Day One I’ve been itching to blog, to write down everything and anything I’ve experienced so far. But the first few weeks were really hectic. We were so busy with settling down and all, trying our best to make our lives here as manageable as possible and make the transition as smooth-sailing as possible.

Tried to, anyway. 😉 For one, we didn’t get our telephone line connected right away, because guess what, we actually need a telephone to call the telephone company to arrange for them to connect our line. Sort of like a chicken and egg problem. Duh. So at first I tried calling from the phone available from our university. The number I had to call was a toll-free one so I didn’t have to worry about it. After arranging everything with the company person on BT (British Telephone), I finally thought that was it. He said that they would just make a return call later during the day for further arrangements. He never made the return call. Desperate, the following day, from our house I used our Japan-based cellphone on international roaming and made another call. This time I had to pay the calling fee, plus international calling fee. Ouch. Fortunately, the second guy who took my call apparently knew what he was doing, because before our conversation ended he had given me our telephone’s temporary number, and the day the line will be officially connected. We got our telephone line after three days.

Then there’s the problem of internet connection. Broadband, as they call it. Well, as it turned out, there are lots of internet service providers around and it was just matter of deciding which ISP to use. For some reason, the persons I asked had different recommendations on which ISP would be best. My cousin, for instance, was initially on BT Broadband but later changed to AOL because apparently there were several connection problems with the former. Someone also recommended trying the wireless service package that is offered by mobile companies, like Orange. But someone also told me that they’re actually changing from Orange because the connection wasn’t good enough, so they’re making a move to TalkTalk. So as you can guess, all of these information didn’t do me much help, and only made me more confused than ever. I decided to just close my eyes, point my fingers and let serendipity take its course. LOL. Well, I didn’t actually do that. In the end I decided to just go with the BT Broadband package, for the simple reason that I’m also using BT telephone. Unfortunately, I thought that it would be a simple matter to call them and have my internet connection set up, and that it wouldn’t take so much time. I was wrong. I still had to wait for another week for our internet connection to be activated, and for our wireless router to be delivered. Nevertheless, everything was delivered as promised. So far I’ve no complains about my choice of ISP.

Anyway, as soon as I’ve taken care of the telephone/internet matter, I then turned to the setting up of my accounts with the utility companies. To my surprise, it turns out that meter readings here are optional, and that water, gas, and electricity are rated according to an average consumption per household! How they do this is still a mystery to me. I’m confused enough as it is. You can request for a meter for your water, though, and this you can get for free. Some say that you can actually save some money if you get a metered reading instead of an estimate. I don’t really know.

Another really surprising thing to me is that the utility companies allow you to choose a quarterly, six-month, or annual payment of your bills! For instance, I chose the six-month billing for my water. When my water bill came, the period covered by the bill is from September to March! I’ve never heard of paying in advance for utilities until now. Of course, in Japan everything is metered, and bills are paid monthly.

There’s also such a thing as "choosing" your gas and electricity provider. Hey, I didn’t know that you can switch providers just like that (because in Japan there are fixed companies servicing a particular area, so you don’t really have a choice). But here, apparently you can. Someone advised me that I would save some money if I had both gas and electricity provided by the same company. So I followed that advice and asked a company to set it up for me. During my conversation with the service personnel of the company, she asked me if I would be interested in having a fixed rate until 2010, which would protect me from any price increases in the future. Hmm. So apparently they have these schemes of protecting the consumer from price increases and inflation. I shrugged, and said, why not? I mean, I don’t really care because I’d be outta here by then, so it doesn’t really make a difference. But it is sort of confusing for someone like me because I’m unfamiliar with such schemes.

As for the other aspects of our life here, well, so far everything else is smooth-sailing. Aya has started attending a primary school nearby. And guess what, she LOVES it here! She loves the food, the school activities, her classmates and teachers, the whole caboodle. Her teachers are quite impressed with the fact that she settled in so well, even starting with the very first days she spent in class. I could imagine how it would have been if it were me – as a little girl in a new class I’d have been frightened to bits! Thankfully, Aya seems to have a much higher EQ than her mom, so she copes rather well with changes.

The people in school were also amazed that she can speak English so well, given that she never went to any English-based class in Japan and that English is not our language at home. I guess all those hours watching Cartoon Network and the Disney Channel have somehow paid off, hahaha. Anyway, after a month I’ve observed that she has begun using "alright" instead of "okay" and there’s already the hint of British accent which she has clearly picked up from talking to her classmates and teachers. Wow, she is like a sponge absorbing everything in.

As for me? For the first couple of weeks, I felt bugbog (bruised) in every inch of my body. Why? Because if I ever want to get anywhere, I’d have to either cycle or walk! And since I didn’t own a bicycle during my first few weeks, my only recourse is to walk. I’m not fond of walking, actually. I know, walking is healthy for me, blah blah blah. All this time I’ve been living the rosy, sedentary life in Tsukuba where I had the option of hopping onto a car at the slightest whim. No such privilege here, unless I would be willing to spend an arm and a leg purchasing a car which I would most likely not use anyway because parking is darn difficult within the city, and there are only limited roads that one can use within the city center.

So the first few weeks I was walking, walking, and walking. It felt horrible, like going back to physical training after years of inactivity. Withdrawal symptoms from changing an inactive lifestyle to an semi-active one.

Well, soon I got myself a bicycle, so in a way life has become a bit easier for me. Still, I realized how out of shape I was when I had to cycle for about half an hour to get to one part of the university – and I was so out of breath at the end! Sheez. I hate to admit it, but I’m soo out of shape.

Cambridge is such a lovely, very academic town. Lots of greens and English lawns. And because we live so close to the city center, practically everything else is within walking distance. We have made some new friends as well, amazing people who are very friendly and hospitable. The people at the university are also very accommodating and helpful, which has made my induction into the group much more comfortable that I had initially imagined. Progress in work is a bit slow, which is probably expected for the initial months, but hopefully it will pick up soon enough. I’m crossing my fingers.

An interesting anecdote here: One Saturday, we were waiting for the bus right outside the John Lewis store, when all of a sudden, Baggy exclaimed, "Si Stephen Hawking dumating!" "Wha–?" I replied in disbelief. I thought he was joking. I mean, we had only been in Cambridge for a week and we would actually get to see him? How lucky could we get? But I followed his gaze and saw the familiar figure which, until that time, I had only seen on the internet and magazines. It was really him! On a Saturday morning, down the road in Cambridge! We were awestricken.

Much as we would like to run to him and perhaps even have our photo taken with him (as diehard fans would do), we just let our eyes feast on him as he passed by. Tried to absorb his aura or something. 😉 I can’t forget what Baggy said after that chance encounter, "Puede na akong bumalik sa Japan, kasi nakita ko na si Hawking." (I can now go back to Japan, because I’ve already seen Hawking.) I think it is right there that I realized that oh boy, I really am in Cambridge, home to the greatest minds in the world. How does that make one feel? Like standing on the shoulders of giants and feeling big even if you’re just an ant.

Before I end this incredibly long post, here are some photos I’ve taken so far. I better take photos this early before I feel too much of a resident and would lose that tourist-y feeling.

Family picnic!
This park is located opposite our flat. First weekend in Cambridge, and we were blessed with lotsa sunshine!
Near the flats
Located near our flat.
End of River Cam
One end of River Cam
Punting at River Cam
This is off Mill Lane. Lots of punting boats are docked here and can be rented. I call this place Scudamore because of the name of one of the companies who own the boats. On a good day such as this one, you can see people lining up to rent the boats. Punting in Cambridge is a must!
Near Mill Lane
This gives one a bit of a countryside feeling. But it is a very relaxed atmosphere, and on a good day you can often find people lying on the grass, playing, or drinking. Some people also do fishing here.
Aya at King's College
Here’s Aya outside King’s College. Visitors aren’t normally allowed inside, but during chapel services the public can freely enter.
Inside King's College
Inside King’s College. Guess what we did in order to get in? Yeah, we attended a choral service! It was worth it. 😉
Pembroke College at Pembroke Street. This is my usual route when I go to the department.

More Cambridge adventures in forthcoming posts. Stay tuned! 😀

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12 Responses to Settling Down in Cambridge

  1. Sexy Mom says:

    you are really really lucky! am glad you are finally settling down, though i was amazed with the many options you have to decide on, like dsl, gas, etc. Aya seems to be very happy in your new place. good luck, and God bless!

  2. mitsuru says:

    welcome back kathy. anyway, that was so cool, seeing stephen hawking in person. i always watch his videos on the internet. got/ read his book, “a brief history of time” in high school. :)

  3. Belle says:

    missed you Kathy! you have come a long way. am so proud of you. Aya has grown since the last time i saw her. and good to know she is adjusting quite well to her new like in UK.

  4. ligaya says:

    welcome to Europe Kats! Do visit us in Germany.
    Joy, Rolf and Sinta

  5. Karmi says:

    Hi Kathy! I’m very glad to hear that Aya is coping so well. When I hear people express their doubts and concerns about parents raising their very young children in different countries I remember Aya and the other kids I met in Japan. I mean, they’re just wonder kids so obviously being in a foreign country has served them so well. I’d like to start a family soon so I collect anecdotes from those ahead but I just don’t believe in fearful people. You’ve made Aya to be such a brave kid.

  6. Gypsy says:

    Hahaha! I felt like I was re-living my arrival to the UK! Have you decided whether to get a TV or not? That will be another “hurdle” when you do…great to know you were able to have lots of sunshine–soak it all up! After being in the Uk for a year, i have learned to never take it for the way, have you had your cream tea and scones? :)

  7. kathy says:

    Sexy Mom, thanks a lot! Yeah, it was quite overwhelming to be faced with so many options. But thankfully things are more or less sorted out now.

    Bill, wow, so you also have A Brief History of Time? I do, too! 😀 Not only the pocketbook but also the hardbound illustrated one. Geeks! Heheh.

  8. kathy says:

    Belle, thanks! Aya does really enjoy it here – it’s just amazing. It’s quite a relief for me, too, because at least I don’t have to worry about her being “homesick” and all. She’s taking everything in a stride.

    Ligaya: Will do! Hope to see you soon. 😉

    Raqx: Yep, Aya’s one of the coolest kids I’ve ever met. It just so happens that I’m her mummy (could you believe that? Here they actually spell “mommy” as “mummy.”)

  9. kathy says:

    Gypsy – you’re absolutely right. It’s getting cold nowadays, so much for soaking up the sun heheh. But it still amazes me how it could be sunny during the morning, raining in the afternoon, and hailing in the evening – all in one day! I mean, I never thought that could be possible. Only in Britain! Yeah, I did get a TV (after much fussing!). Paid the TV license in one go, so I won’t have to think about it anymore. Sobra, TV lang ang dami na fuss. Welcome to the UK indeed!

  10. kathy says:

    Karmi, I’m happy to know that my daughter is inspiring you! 😀 I think it is both very challenging and rewarding to raise one’s kid/s in a foreign country. It’s also a matter of weighing the pros and cons and always making it a point to choose what’s best for one’s kid, not because of what other people think might be bad or best for them. I mean, how does anyone know, anyway? You’ll just have to try it to see.

    Parenting is a huge but fulfilling task – you’ll love it, believe me!

  11. bw says:

    Glad to know you and the family are settling well :) Great that your daughter is having fun in her new school environment . Seeing Stephen Hawking in person albeit the man is wheelchair-doomed for the rest of his life is like seeing Einstein hehe :) It does stimulate anyone who knows how great this man is.

    Well, all the best to you in your new home. Not bad eh? You can live there forever if you choose I guess :)

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