Saturday, September 15, 2012

Hiya Oxford!: Debenhams, Ocado, Culture Shock & Setting Up Life in Marston, Oxford

Pond with autumn colour
Photo Credit: University of Oxford (Parks)
Fourteen years ago, in September 1998, my eighth grade teacher asked us to write our first paper of the year on where we'd be when we were "old" (ie: 25). Having just had an amazing summer visiting my family in Kent, England, I remember the paper vividly--it detailed that I lived in a house that looked like grandmother's, with patterned hotel style carpet and a garden with a fish pond. I was a published, famous author (my long term dream) who was married to a gorgeous man with a British accent; we did not have kids. We did, however, have a beautiful golden retriever dog named Goldie (c'mon, I was 12). Well, I'm 27, living in a house in Oxford and have a beautiful black lab --I'd say I got pretty close!

 Seven days ago to the hour, my Labrador cross Kiara and I left my hometown, Edmonton, to drive to  Calgary, take an eight hour plane ride, wait two hours at pet customs and drive 2 hours with the pet agent to Oxford, Oxfordshire, England for our new adventure.

While I was hoping my first post here would be a vibrant tour of the city of Oxford, the truth is, I've spent my entire week turning a unfurnished, dusty (but cute) house into a clean, cozy, comfortable home for Kiara and I. (Did someone really live here a week ago with that much dust?!) If I owned this house, the first thing I'd do would be to rip out this dishevelled carpet and put in hardwood, but I do have to say it's a very cute, old house. Furniture is on the way, so pictures coming soon! I'm also really lucky that there is a dog two doors down that is WAY louder than Kiara and barks all the time, so hopefully we won't get kicked out of here!

Kiara enjoying a bone in our "garden". I took this picture from our "conservatory", which is like a sunroom/laundry room (unheated, though). I can't wait to furnish the "conservatory" with wicker furniture if I eventually find a Home Depot type place

Setting up here has been an adventure in itself and here are the week's top cultural realizations:

  • Cell phone & internet addiction- thank goodness I booked an appointment to setup Virgin Media six weeks ago. It is very lonely when you can't communicate and don't have information at your fingertips! Luckily, their internet here is even faster than home, and the wireless router is built right into the modem, so no setup worries!
  • I desperately need a new wardrobe -- everyone here looks FABULOUS and fashionable. Of course, I knew London was a fashion capital, but wow, I will be investing in leggings, boots, casual fall skirts (which apparently work with skinny jeans?), scarves and more earrings. Good thing my luggage allowance was so little. Fashionistas, I'm on a budget-- please respond to this post with ideas and help!
  • "Righty-tighty, lefty loosey" does not work here to open locks; they turn the opposite way! Also, every door has two key locks; you have to unlock it to open it from inside! I'm a bit afraid I'll forget my key and get locked out
  • Apparently you can ride to work in a full business suit, on a bike (sans helmet?!)
  • People here are usually very nice; people like bus drivers and sales associates whose job it is to help you, aren't usually
  • Nobody, even people walking with dogs, can tell you where the pet store is. It's in a residential area and there doesn't appear to be a Petsmart equivalent
  • Stores close at 5pm. Or 6pm. Or, if you're really lucky, 7pm. Every day. No more 60 hour work week or full time weekend work, I guess! More frustrating than I would have thought.
  • You can't hire a plumber! -- I made the mistake of asking the landlord to send a plumber since the kitchen sink is leaking. They thought it was an emergency flood. Apparently, handymen come first, THEN plumbers come to replace your sink. Plus side - I get a brand new stainless steel sink to replace this plastic one from the 60's! That is, whenever the plumber is available.
  • Everything takes longer than you think --much  longer (especially without a car)
  • Off lead parks -- So, I asked someone where the off-lead (off-leash) parks are, and apparently every park is off-leash! The only rule is that you use your poop bags :) Yay!
  • See below on groceries, banks and phones!

Ocado - Groceries, Delivered! 

  At first, I was disappointed at the highly expensive, convenience store sub-brands of Tesco available in the city centre (the ASDA, aka Walmart Superstore is a 40 minute bus ride away). Then, once the internet was installed, I realized --you can get groceries delivered to your door within 24 hours! Ocado is exclusively online and they have all the vegetarian, organic products I want (including Quorn, a very yummy veggie burger brand I used to eat during the summer I was an au pair in Switzerland --2004, before my blogging debut). If you pick an unpopular time of day, it's free, too! Best of all, NO screaming kids, long queues and unhappy cashiers.

Barclays & Vodafone --A Long, Intense Process

Barclay's bank was my bank of choice, with their new NO FEE per month student account (yay!) Wow, I did NOT realize how complicated opening an account here is. When I moved to Singapore in 2006 for an internship, I literally had a bank account and cell phone set up within a day, IKEA for my dorm room was set up the next day, and we were good to go. Vodaphone, the only company that will let international students get a contract in Oxford, requires a bank card to get a cell phone contract. 

"No problem," I tell the sales guy, "I got my signed and stamped college letter yesterday, student visa, passport (all prepared, I thought)...I'll just go across the street to the bank and be right back"

"You'll have to wait a week or so for the card", he tells me, "Come in next week." 

 Nah, I think. Can't be THAT long.  Oh, yes, it can.  You need an appointment first (2 day's notice). Then, they send you two letters (one with your account number, one with a passcode). Then, they send you two more letters (still waiting for the last one. First one arrived a few minutes ago --apparently mail comes on Saturday?). The third letter has the bank card, and the fourth one has a Pin SENTRY machine, which apparently hooks to your computer and reads your card and is the only way to login to fully access online banking. When I get them on Monday, I have a second bank appointment on Tuesday next week, to activate it. Then, I should have a bank, and hopefully, the phone the same day. Wow, can we say process???

Oxford Paraphernalia --Okay, now I'm stoked!

My new uni hoodie!                                    Lady Margaret Hall scarf - warm for winter!

For those of you who don't know, Oxford runs on a collegiate system. I had no idea what this was until I applied last November (think: Harry Potter, scarves, colours and team spirit). I belong to a "house", if you will, a college called Lady Margaret Hall. I chose this college (well, asked for it and got it), because it was the first college to accept women into Oxford University, and for some reason, they celebrate Canada Day. It now has both male and female students, about 400 undergrads, 180 postgrads (masters and PhD), and is situated about a 10 minute walk from the centre, in the heart of the Parks area--absolutely beautiful. Not to mention, I've received the college schedule and it looks like "induction week (October 1st to 8th)" is going to be jam packed with social events!

So, once my household items have been delivered from Sainsbury's  (grocery store) any minute now, and my free Graze (healthy snack box company) box trial has been delivered, I'll be off to find myself a new wardrobe at Debenham's and then explore the city.

Vibrant city and its history post ---coming up soon, I hope!  


Anonymous said...

Sapna - what an awesome post! Glad you are settling in. Sounds like quite an adventure. Looking forward to the next post!


Unknown said...

Your internet, furniture, clothing, bank and phone issues sound very similar to what I had to go through! The phone process was not as involved, but I can definitely relate to feeling cut off from the rest of the world, and not having any furniture at the same time :)
Keep up the blog - I'm sure you'll feel great once you're all settled in!

Unknown said...

Glad to hear you girls are settling in! Cant wait to read your next post!

Sapna said...

Thanks for reading and commenting everyone - yes, I will definitely keep blogging :)