Sunday, April 16, 2017

Adventures Of A Tester: Cardiff, Wales, UK (Part 1 of 3)

 "CREU GWIR
FEL GWYDR
O FFWRNAIS AWEN"

"IN THESE STONES
HORIZONS
SING"

- The Welsh and English inscription on the Millennium Building in Cardiff, Wales, UK



 This is a three part series on my recent trip to the UK. Some of it was written during the trip and a lot was written afterwards. I decided not to change the continuity of the writing and publish each part as they were written editing only for spelling or grammar. Enjoy!


The past two days I’ve spent a lot of time walking around. I like walking. It gives you the sense of a place. I like walking by myself most times because it lets you take things in at your own pace.

I’m not particularly fond of crowds, or being squeezed into small spaces. I’m not a small person, and that’s part of it. The other part is not feeling like I’m trapped. I’ve never particularly liked that feeling whether it was a manifestation of a mental state or a physical reality.

I mentioned to a few folks back home that Cardiff seemed a lot like Austin. I was wrong. It has some characteristics, but it’s a wholly different place. Futbol is important here. Very important. Wales vs France was today and there wasn’t any pub with a seat. I walked into one and it was wall-to-wall people, all watching the game. I wanted a beer, but I stopped for a moment and watched everyone watching the match.

As I watched, people didn’t really speak to each other, they were watching. Focused. There wasn’t any particular action on the screen that seemed to cause this intense focus. Everyone was paying attention to what they were there to see. I equate it to watching a movie. If someone did speak it was quick and quiet. No loud conversations. They were all a mass of one. You could feel the energy and support of their team as they watched. It was impressive to experience it and to realize I was very much the outsider in this experience.

I had a lot of that kind of experience today. The moment of being the outsider. Not in a bad way really, but in the way of not understanding immediately how something works. I think that tickles me in a lot of ways. There are some ways I don’t like being made to feel uncomfortable, much like I mentioned earlier, but this experience of discovery clicks with me. I enjoy the moments when I’ve figured out how to do something people take for granted, like using the self serve at the grocery, paying for a bus fare, or buying a sandwich at a local shop with ingredients I’ve never heard of but don’t mind trying. Even though there isn’t a huge language barrier, and there is a sameness to some things, there are differences as well.

For an example, people walk like they drive. That sounds strange but I realized I stuck out immediately because I was walking on the right of a sidewalk and when someone would walk towards me, they would also be on the right. A few times of this, and I realized that I should be walking on the left of the sidewalk in the direction I was going. I tried to do this, but often, my pattern of walking on the right came back until I noticed it and corrected.

It amused me to continue to correct which side I walked on. On the one hand, I probably stuck out anyway, but sometimes I would see people’s faces and realize that they had a reaction to me walking on the wrong side. An annoyance of sorts. Me being unaware of the issue looked at faces and wondered what I was doing to cause this annoyance on their face. It became a puzzle to solve.
Using different words like “Take-away” and “Sit-in”, realizing that cream and whip topping are two different things used the same way and preferring the cream over the whip. Having to share a bathroom toilet with four other folks staying on the same floor is odd, but manageable.

I’m only slightly out of my comfort zone here. I have to ask folks to repeat things sometimes, but mostly I understand the first time. My requests are understood, even if I sound stupid using terms I think people want to hear like “water closet.”

Honestly, I have no idea why I said “water closet.” I could have said “bathroom” but the word wouldn’t come out of my mouth for some very odd reason. The lady I asked said, “Toilets are over in the snack area.” “Toilet” would have worked too. I couldn’t think of the right word at that moment. I think there was some part of my brain that wanted to say “baño” but I knew that was wrong too, and toilet sounds brash to my American ears.

I had a couple of conversations where I was made uncomfortable only in having to explain the political farce going on back home right now.

The first of the day was a wonderful lady waiting for the same bus as me. She commented on the weather, and I said it was nicer than where I had been. She still thought the weather was “shit” but she could see that snow would be worse. She asked why I was in Cardiff, and I said it was for a vacation. She thought I was crazy, though she did say that she had lived here her whole life and thought the place was “shit” to begin with. She guessed that I liked it because it was quieter, slower than what I was used to.

When she was younger, she said she used to fly back and forth from New York and import things to sell. She made a lot of money doing this. Items from the states were very popular.

We started talking about vacations and she was stunned that I was only here for a week. They don’t do short vacations here. Their employers ask them often when they are going on holiday. They can be off work for weeks as long as they have a replacement for their shift. We talked about prejudice coming back in the UK and in America. She said it was always there, but it’s gotten worse. She said even though she’s lived here her whole life people were yelling at her to “go home.” She said they would be disappointed to find out that this is her home. She was on her way to her second job. She asked me where I was going and I said the Millennium building. She said she thought it looked like “shit” but it’s something to see anyway. She told me what stop to get off at and we wished each other a good day. It’s only now that I realized I never asked her for her name, and she never asked for mine. She seemed like an old acquaintance to me, a mother figure of sorts. I still wish I had asked her name.

I did a few more hours of tourist like things wandering around Cardiff Bay taking pictures and seeing the sights. After walking over five miles ( ~8 km), according to my step counter, I decided I could take a cab back to my room. It wasn’t that far away, but I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t clock another five miles trying to find my way back in the process.

The cab driver said “hello lovely” as I walked up to his cab. He asked where I wanted to go and I explained the best I could from memory. I got half the street name wrong. But based on the name of the place and my odd directions about Cowbridge and it being near Cardiff Castle, he figured out what I meant.

Sometimes it’s not a blessing to speak the same language as your taxi driver. He had a lot of questions about health care in the states, taxes, and my pay of all things. He asked about equality and mentioned that he thought it was illegal for a woman to be paid less than a man. I said it is, but people get around it. Employers don’t like people talking about salaries, I said, and they can punish people for talking even though that’s technically illegal too. I said I was lucky with most of my jobs. I don’t think I’ve had those issues for the most part.

I explained how the US healthcare system works as best I could. I told him that I paid for my own healthcare and what happens if I go to the doctor. He was surprised. He didn’t understand why a rich country would be so against making sure everyone was taken care of. I said I wasn’t sure why either. I would prefer to pay taxes and have a decent health care system for everyone like much of the rest of the world. 

The conversation also made me realize exactly how much I was paying for health insurance though most of the premium is covered through my employer. I still pay additional amounts for office visits and tests depending on what they are. While my insurance doesn’t require me to have a referral, some physicians require it, so I would have to visit my doctor to get a referral to visit another doctor. This means I have to pay twice to see or get to the one person I think will help me. I didn’t even mention the fact that technically I have several kinds of insurance all dealing with different aspects of the industry. He asked, ‘What about cancer, wouldn’t I be covered?’ I said that I think I would be, but I know people who weren’t. 

I know a friend who left the states because her options for treatment were better in Canada. (I realize now, that happened before ACA and I forgot to mention that.) I know there are some people that can’t afford insurance that will cover cancer because it has a higher premium so they go without and hope they don’t get it. (I realized while I was writing this that what I said might not be completely right. I did find a story about insurance exclusions but it’s not the same as I was thinking. This article has more detailed information about exclusions and loopholes, but my version of the facts seem a bit skewed, unfortunately. Or at the very best, not as precise as they could be.)

I have to admit, I’ve worked in the health industry, and I’ve dealt with different aspects of the industry for the better part of my career as a tester. I know more about medicare and medicaid coverage than I ever wanted to know. I’ve learned about pharmacy practices. I’ve learned about, home health, hospice, dental, and how different insurances cover different things. Yet I feel like we’ve made it all too confusing on purpose. We’ve turned our health system into something like our tax code. Even with all the experience and some knowledge, admit that I’m not a deep expert on our healthcare system. I didn’t mention to him that some people don’t go to the doctor even if they do have health insurance. I have a feeling he would have been surprised. He wished me a good evening and I wished him the same. I didn’t ask his name either. I need to get better at that.

How This Might Relate To Testing


Well, it could be a few things.

I could be the defect in the system, a self-correcting defect, as a person that sticks out from the normal day-to-day. I haven’t heard other Americans in my general walking around which seems unusual to me. Last time I was in London, I couldn’t turn a corner without running into an American either there for school or a vacation. From various conversations, people don’t seem to get many tourists in the winter. Most of the other tourists I have seen with suitcases were large groups of women who were at least UK residents as they spoke with the typical accent.
I am testing a new “system.” New to me anyway. I’m learning about it. Learning about myself as I go. Learning about the environment, and the habits. Learning about the city, and culture. Working out different kinds of tests to see what happens. Granted, I’m not doing anything completely outrageous, but I did try to walk into a venue without a ticket. I tried to walk into a pub completely unaware of a game that had the whole city at mostly a stand-still. I’ve tried to stay up after 6p and thus far have failed and ended up waking up around midnight local time and staying awake a few more hours. I like milk and sugar in my tea, but I don’t seem to get the exact combination right myself. Spent hours walking through “arcades”, or long halls of shops which have covered walkways, that will start on one street and land you somewhere completely different than you were expecting.

Personally, I think I might be a little of both. Tomorrow is a travel day. I head to Scotland for a few days. I wonder what it will be like. I have to admit, it’s a place I’ve long held in my imagination. I’m sure it will have a few surprises for me and I’ll be navigating slightly different cultural notions than I have the last few days. Though I’m certain I’ll be faced with explaining US politics no matter what.