I had my first day of lectures at LSE today!

I had lectures for two classes: Cost-Effectiveness Analysis in the morning, and Health Economics in the afternoon.

One of my all time favourite concepts in health economics (in general - not referring to the course) is the comparison of a health care market to a perfect market. I was first exposed to this comparison in 3rd year, in my Health Policy course, with Dr. John Lavis who explained how health care differs from traditional goods and services (and it does). As Professor Kossarova was reviewing the comparison in our introductory Cost-Effectiveness Analysis class, I had a strong urge … to share this concept with everyone and anyone so that they could appreciate it as well.

The reason: As citizens of Capitalist societies, I find that most of us have a sound understanding of the characteristics of a perfect market. We could explain how goods and services are exchanged, what characterizes buyers and sellers, etc. But I find that most of us do not grasp how the health care market significantly differs from a perfect market. And isn’t that odd? We will ALL need (or have needed) access to health care at some point, and yet most of us probably could not explain the market in which it exists.

So, in order to dispel ignorance in the world in regards to the comparison of a perfect market to a health care market, I am posting a picture of my notes from this morning.

And I send this picture out not just to the few friends or family members who will read this, but especially to American conservatives.

In light of current events, I find that almost any news article related to American health care has a plethora of American cons writing about health care in economic terms. But these ideas are presented without any recognition that health care IS different. And to those individuals, I say … in every and any health economics class, there is a recognition of this difference and there is a recognition for government involvement in health care markets. Now is not a time to hold fast to small government … it’s just not possible for health care markets. (But if you really do want ‘small government’, then how about we minimize government involvement in women’s/maternal health, eh?)

[EDIT: I recognize that the above paragraph is an over-simplification of the issues presented by American cons. But it is a rebuttal for the numerous attempts to use ‘small govt’ as reasons not to interfere in health care markets. That argument does not hold.]

There is simplicity in these concepts: health care is different than traditional goods and services; a health care market is different than a perfect market. And I think that simplicity (and the profound effects of that simplicity) is the very quality that makes this concept so beautiful to me.

Ok. That’s my nerd post of the day. Thanks for listening and learning.

  1. Camera: Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS
  2. Aperture: f/2.8
  3. Exposure: 1/160th
  4. Focal Length: 35mm

Lunch in London’s China Town on a Sunday afternoon. 

  1. Camera: Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS
  2. Aperture: f/2.8
  3. Exposure: 1/320th
  4. Focal Length: 35mm

Who is this man?

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Hint: yes, he is Indian. He was born in 1856, and passed away in 1926.

… Take some time. Try to think of an answer. Meanwhile, I’ll tell you a story …

This week is Orientation Week at LSE. And today, I had my induction for the LSE Social Policy Department. 

In North America, I only heard the word “induction” being used when a famous artist/sports celebrity was being “inducted” (i.e. admitted) into one of the “Hall of Fames” (Music, Hockey, etc).

In the UK, “inductions” refers to the introductory sessions for many occasions, like new school programs or residence halls. (Which makes sense if you consider that “induction” means “formally introducing” someone into something). Thus, most students attend many ‘inductions’ for their programs during Orientation Week.

As such, I had my induction (i.e. introductory welcome session) for the International Health Policy (IHP) program yesterday (on Monday), and since the IHP program falls under the department of Social Policy, I attended today’s induction session for the LSE Social Policy Department. 

Our first presenter, Dr. David Lewis, the head of the Social Policy Department, began his presentation by asking us who was the man in the picture on his slide. The picture, of course, is the one that I included above. 

So who is he?

The man in the picture is Mr. Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata, or RD Tata, the second son of Jamsetji Tata (Founder of India’s Tata Group, and a pioneer in Indian industries). Ratanji was responsible for the growth of Tata Group in the beginning of the 20th century, but moreover, he is important to our narrative because of his social consciousness.

In 1912, Ratanji donated approximately £1,400 (or £135,000 in today’s GBP) to begin the department of Social Policy at LSE. Although brought up in a well off family, Ratanji was concerned about poverty in India, and felt that scientific studies in poverty were necessary. The grant continued for another 19 years until his death, equaling a sum of £26,600 (or over £9 million). The first lecturer of the Dept, Clement Attlee, became the British PM under whom India received its independence and UK received the National Health Service (NHS). 

After this first slide, Dr. Lewis continued to speak about the significance of and research at LSE regarding social policy, but for me, that beginning was inspiring. A first generation Canadian from generations of Indian descent is studying at an institution that began with the vision of helping the destitute in India… and many other students of Indian descent filled that lecture hall. I wonder if Ratanji Tata ever imagined what his legacy would be… it’s truly remarkable at the moment.

The induction talk by Dr. Lewis was followed by Professor John Hills who said some words that stuck with me as well. Now, I can’t quote him verbatim, but this is a close paraphrasing of his words:

When I walk around campus, I see posters for the Business and Finance students to get a job at Deloitte or Ernst & Young, but I think as Social Policy students, there is more to your time here besides getting a job.

The LSE motto is ‘to understand the causes of things’. As students of the Social Policy department, I hope you see your role as attempting to understand the issues facing society, from health, social security to criminal justice.

Of course, my liberal-leaning self was absolutely thrilled with this induction. Yes, I think I am going to be very comfortable in this school and this learning environment. And here’s hoping that I will be part of the remarkable legacy of the Social Policy Department at LSE.

“I’ve always felt there is something sacred in a piece of paper that travels the earth from hand to hand, head to head, heart to heart.” 
― Robert Michael Pyle

Had a chance to mail some post cards to loved ones today! Look out for one of these to wind up in your mailbox some time next week! :)

In my experience, when someone is a new visitor or tourist to a city/country/environment, they often pick up on little things that are considered ‘normal’ to local residents. (After all, isn’t ‘normal’ relative?)

For the past 3 and a half weeks, I’ve been observing all the little things that have made me very aware of the fact that I am living in the UK! For me, these little things have been adding to the ‘British’ experience.

I realize that in a few weeks, the novelty of these ‘little things’ will wear away. So I decided to make a list of all the distinctly British things I’ve been encountering in a typical day…. maybe it’ll help you experience/imagine my immersion in all things British.

My list of British things:

- Capital FM station playing on my alarm clock radio to wake me up (it’s the London radio channel playing the latest pop songs; currently overplaying Ellie Goulding, Olly Murs and Jessie J)

- Two taps in the bathroom: one for hot water, one for cold water

- 220 V outlets

- Ground floor (not 1st floor) … apparently the British like to count their floors as “G, 1, 2, 3” instead of “1, 2, 3” (much easier … not)

- Rain (it rains at least once a day. at least.) Except for the two days a month when it is sunny all day … those are the best two days of the month.

- Left-hand traffic

- Queues (not lines)

- Lifts (not elevators)

- Free weights measured in kg at the gym

- “Mind the gap” on the London Underground

- The eerie rumble of the London Underground subways, which I can hear from the basement, ground, 1st and 2nd floor of Commonwealth Hall. And let’s face it, when standing on the massive escalators at some Tube stations, I think one realizes that the entirety of London’s underground is pretty much hollow.

- British accents. And I’ve learned there’s no such thing as a “British accent”. People from different areas of Britain have different remarkably different accents. Someone from the north will have a very different accent than someone from the south of England. So when I say “British accent”, I mean not just British accents, but the cumulative mix of accents, both national and international. This city truly is the capital of the world. 

- The bells chiming at St Pancras International station. There is a clock tower at St. Pancras station, which is a five minute walk from my residence hall. Just before bed, if my windows are open, I can hear the chiming of the bells in the clock tower.

- The weight of British coinage in a purse. It’s heavy!

- Substituting American brands/shops with British brands/shops. Sure, there are multi-national corporations and brands that can be found all over the world (I’m looking at you Starbucks lol). But familiar brands/shops for me include Metro, Sears, the Bay, Shoppers Drug Mart, Walmart.. or the infamous Tim Hortons. Now, there’s a different set of brands/shops to remember. Waitrose substitutes Metro, Marks & Spencer for Sears/Bay, Boots or Superdrug for Shoppers, Asda for Walmart… and nothing substitutes Timmys <3 (haha) 

… I’m sure there are more examples. But that’s all I can pick up on. May be these will all feel common place by the end of the year; for now, I’m happy to make these idiosyncrasies a part of my daily life.

I live at Commonwealth Hall in London, UK.

It just so happens that this University of London residence hall is a 5 minute walk from King’s Cross/St. Pancras International railway station.

I’ve often seen travelers walking down Marchmont Street on the way to the railway station … sometimes the travelers are visible tourists (with cameras dangling around their neck), sometimes the travelers blend in with the locals. But mostly, you can pick out the travelers because they look lost and confused as they cross the street, unsure if they need to take a turn to get to Euston Rd. 

I made this observation about the travelers when I was stopped one day by two tourists who asked me the directions to St. Pancras. Once I realized that the individuals walking by me with luggage are mostly headed to the railway station, it gave me a greater appreciation for the concern of people. 

A couple days later, as I was crossing the street to head to the University of London campus, I was standing beside a young couple who was speaking a foreign language as they crossed the street. As the three of us reached the other side of the intersection, I realized that they seemed to be lost and confused. So I approached them and asked “Excuse me, are you looking for directions to somewhere?” .. and the woman, a little taken aback, said “No, we’re just looking for a pub”.

The funny part of this story is that the woman said “p-oh-b”, and my (slowly acclimatizing) brain couldn’t comprehend the word ‘pohb’. I requested her too repeat the word three times before I understood that she meant “p-uh-b”.

But the even funnier bit is that when I was sharing this story with a colleague, she said, “Wait, so you actually stopped and asked this couple if they needed help? How Canadian of you!”

How Canadian of me.

In a city burdened with tourists, maybe it’s understandable that Londoners are not the friendliest of hosts. I’ve been told that British hospitality and kindness is well and alive in the rest of the country, but it is often hard to find in the heart of this city. So for me, to be recognized as a polite Canadian in London was a moment of Canadian national pride, eh?

And I think this particular story stuck me because it happened at a time when “world news” included stories about the racist backlash to the selection of the new Miss America.

I was astounded by the racist remarks of Americans to the selection of Nina Davuluri as Miss America … primarily because a number of the racists claimed that she was not “American”. That’s right … some Americans thought that a woman who was born in New York, and brought up in Oklahoma is not ‘American’. 

Which is the kind of story that makes me reflect on my own identity … what am I? 

I am Canadian.

Some may say I’m a first generation Canadian or an Indo-Canadian. But those would be descriptive modifiers of one constant: I’m Canadian.

Canada is the only place I’ve called ‘home’ since I’ve been old enough to know what ‘home’ is. I’ve lived in Canada since I was 6 years old. I identify with other Canadians, Canadian culture and most importantly, I uphold Canadian values. (and I know I uphold Canadian values not because I ask lost travelers in London if they need help, but because right now, I feel like placing a pot over Pauline Marois’ head and banging it until she cries and changes the new Quebec Values Charter)

I realize this post has been a bit of a rant … some of it is funny, but I think most of it is layered with a deeper connection to nationalism and personal identity. And the only real way that I can conclude this post is to say that in today’s day and age, in an age where technology ties us so closely together both electronically/virtually and physically (i.e. a 20-something who was born in India, raised in Canada and living in the UK for the year), we must treat one another like citizens of the world - not citizens of a city or a country - but citizens of the world. We all belong here. And we are all ‘from here’ … that’s all I know to be the truth and that’s the one way I know how to treat others … as equals, as companions, as fellow citizens.

So, good morning/afternoon/evening to you  … this Canadian in London is thinking about you. Much love <3

Many of my friends and family began the month of September heading back to school or cheering in their respective Frosh Weeks. Fortunately, among the universities and colleges in London, school does not begin until mid-September or late September (for ex. I don’t begin classes at LSE until Oct. 2nd)! And most students will not be moving into the residence halls until the weekend of Sept. 15th or Sept. 22nd. So, this week, from Monday to Thursday, 9 am to 5 pm, I had training for my role as Senior Member at Commonwealth Hall.

Now, a little background for those that don’t know: the University of London has a number of constituent colleges (like LSE, UCL, Kings, Queen Mary, etc). And while the colleges have their own residence halls, the University of London also has 8 intercollegiate residence halls that are home to students from all UofL constituent colleges. These 8 halls include: College, Connaught, International, Lillian Penson, Nutford, and the three Garden Halls (Hughes Perry, Canterbury, and Commonwealth). Each hall has a management team and a wardenial team. The wardenial team lives in the respective hall and is reponsible for student health and safety. The wardenial team includes 5 Senior Members (International has 7 because it is significantly bigger), and 1 Warden that leads the team. During the training, all 40+ Senior Members gathered for workshops that included Mental Health Awareness, Drug Awareness, Fire Training, Environmental Sustainability, Equality and Diversity Training, Conflict Resolution and Emergency First Aid Training. The week was exhausting to say the least given the amount of knowledge and skills that were presented and practiced.

But the absolute best part was the each evening included a social night… bowling on Monday night, comedy club on Tuesday night, a British Military Fitness session on Wednesday night and a BBQ on Thursday night. In four short days, I’ve had the opportunity to meet some wonderful individuals who will be my fellow colleagues in the upcoming year. It is truly exciting to be part of such a fun, talented and enthusiastic team. Can’t wait to see what the year has in store for all of us!

It was a week of many firsts for me as I began to settle into a new city.

Ideally, it would have been nice to stay in London for the weekend, but I had to leave the UK, and re-enter on Sept 1st for immigration purposes. Because of this technicality, I traveled to Dublin, Ireland for the weekend! (Let’s see, last weekend, I was in Switerland… this weekend, I’m in Ireland… I can’t complain!)

Dublin … how can I describe this city? To those back home in Canada, I would say that if you can imagine a city that is a cross of Ottawa and Niagara Falls, then you would have a little idea of what Dublin feels like. Like Ottawa, Dublin is a capital city, with historic buildings like Leinster House (the parliament building), Custom House (now home to Department of Environment), Trinity College and Dublin Castle (among many others). And I mention Niagara Falls because out of all the big Canadian cities, Niagara Falls is probably the most recognizable city for tourism and entertainment. People come from all over the world to see the Falls, to enjoy the wineries, casinos, etc. So like Niagara Falls, Dublin has that distinctive entertainment and tourism pull. (I realize this description might be a long stretch for those that have been to Ottawa, Niagara Falls and Dublin, but I’m trying to create some context .. hope it’s not too much of a stretch)

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^Trinity College.

And I think the best description for Dublin is ‘lively’. Walking around the streets of Dublin for two days, I realized it would be hard to be an unhappy visitor in this city. There is Irish music playing in most restaurants and pubs (go ahead, click on that link and listen to the music as you read the rest of this post). Sounds of the fiddle, accordion, guitar, flute, and bodhran (a type of Irish drum) not only create an upbeat atmosphere, but compel one to tap their feet or even get up and dance. (I may have skipped through the streets of Dublin at some point … much to the chagrin of my cousin and aunt who were traveling with me). 

My first exposure to the Irish music was on Friday night, as we walked around Temple Bar, a bustling entertainment district of Dublin city. The area is characterized by its narrow cobblestone streets and is popular for its nightlife … which was evident from the numerous groups of ‘hen parties’ (aka bachelorette parties).

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We did not stay too late in the Temple Bar area, but we had a great Irish dinner at The Old Mill Restaurant. The restaurant itself was very well decorated with Irish symbols and what not.

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The next day we walked around Dublin some more … walked through St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin Castle, and visited the National Museum of Ireland.

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^In St. Stephen’s Green with my aunt.

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^Dublin Castle.

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^Inside the National Museum of Ireland.

Of course, every museum hosts the typical exhibitions, like Ancient Egypt or the Roman Empire. But I think every national museum attempts to capture the essence of their nation, and more importantly, the historical events that are vital to the nation’s identity. In the National Museum of Ireland, the exhibits on Prehistoric Ireland, Viking Ireland and Medieval Ireland were fascinating.

One of my favourite displays included this 4500 year old longboat found in Lurgan, over 15 m long!

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We had afternoon tea next to Ha’Penny Bridge along the Liffey River.image

^In front of Ha’Penny Bridge.

And ended the evening in the city centre, which features this massive spire, known as Spire of Dublin, or Monument of Light. The spire was constructed in the place of Nelson’s Pillar (commemorating Horatio Nelson, a British Naval officer), which was bombed in 1966 by the Irish Republican Army. 

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^Monument of Light

All in all, a wonderful two days in Dublin immersing in Irish culture.

Now, looking forward to this week … where I will be spending four days in training for the Senior Member position at Commonwealth Hall.

Among basic concepts in the neurosciences, we learn that there are billions of specialized cells (or functional units) in the brain known as neurons. These cells transmit information by an electro-chemical process, using certain messenger molecules that stimulate or inhibit activity. When one neuron communicates with another neuron, the messenger molecule passes through a synapse — a channel between neurons. Different neurons connect with other neurons creating a multitude of synapses. Now, without getting into too many nitty-gritty details, the most important thing to note from this concept of neuroscience is “Neurons form new synapses or strengthen synaptic connections in response to life experiences”.

In other words, the more we see and do, the more our brain has to work to contextualize those experiences (well, duh, eh?) .. but, seriously, meditate on that thought for a second.

"The more we see and do, the more our brain has to work to contextualize those experiences."

The reason I point out this fact is because … for the first time in my life, I am realizing how much of my daily life is instinctive, and now, how much is new, and somewhat disorienting. 

What do I mean? For example, I know we all have certain patterns in our daily lives. We might get up in the morning, brush our teeth, wash our face/take a shower, eat breakfast, head to school/work, come home, unwind, dinner, sleep, etc. And at some point, we begin to complete these tasks in an autopilot mode … as in, we could probably undertake our morning routine with our eyes closed (and I’m sure, some non-morning people - like myself - probably do! lol)

But what happens when the tasks remain the same but the environment changes? What happens when we try to go on with our ‘normal’ lives, yet the setting is quite different than ‘normal’?

Then, I think one finds themselves having … (what I shall wittily name as) … a strangely familiar experience.

And, presently, I find myself having a strangely familiar experience in London. As in, I’ve attempted to do ‘normal’ and instinctive tasks, but I’ve found myself feeling a strange, (a little) lost feeling. 

On Monday, after flying back to London from Zurich, I moved into residence at Commonwealth Hall. I will be a Senior Member (aka a residence don) at Commonwealth Hall for the 2013-2014 school year, so I am moving into the hall weeks before the school year begins for other students (late Sept/early Oct). Although I’ve moved into and out of a residence hall many times, the experience of unpacking at Commonwealth Hall was a little different. One quick story .. while unpacking, I took out an extension cord, a universal adapter and my laptop to charge. When I connected the adapter, the extension cord and my laptop, I didn’t realize that the extension cord was rated for only 125 V, and I tripped the circuit breaker for my room (thank God it wasn’t anything worse!). I was left with a smoking extension cord in one hand and the blackened end of my laptop charger in my other hand. So that was the first experience in realizing that while things were familiar, it wasn’t quite the same.

That afternoon, I attempted to go to the eletronics store to pick up an extra universal adapter. While crossing the street, I forgot to look right and then left, and I nearly got myself hit by a car. (fyi London drivers are not friendly!) Again, crossing the street is not a new experience, yet, it’s not a task I can do on autopilot.

And later that night, as I went to wash my face before bed, I realized sinks in the UK tend to have one tap for hot water and one tap for cold water .. (seriously UK, what is up with that?)

In some ways, I suppose this strange familiarity that I’m experiencing is part of the process of settling into this beautiful city. Although I’ve had the privilege of visiting London twice in my life, this is the first time that I am seeing it from the eyes of a resident. As a tourist, I remember checking off all the main attractions from my checklist: Big Ben, London Eye, Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Westminster Abbey, Madame Tussauds, etc etc. But as a resident, I see these sights from a completely different angle. 

As a tourist, I’ve crossed Tower Bridge and Westminster Bridge many times, but as a resident, I went exploring in the city yesterday, and I crossed Waterloo Bridge for the first time. 

To the west, the London Eye and Big Ben:

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And to the east, St. Paul’s, the Gherkin, the Shard:

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A city in progress. 

A city that is changing.

A city that may have some streets, some buildings one day and some new streets, some new buildings the next day.

A city … that even to its most native residents … is strangely familiar. 

And maybe that’s the life lesson here: we know change is the only constant, and so, maybe things will always be strangely familiar. We adapt, we learn and we move forward.

Last, but not least, amid the change, I think there will be some constants, some signs of home. Which is what I proved to myself as I walked back to Commonwealth Hall from Waterloo Bridge yesterday afternoon. As I crossed through Covent Garden, I found this beautiful sight:

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The Maple Leaf Bar in Covent Garden … I wonder if they have specials for hockey game nights hmm

So, that’s all for now. I’ll continue letting these strangely familiar experiences form/strengthen more neuronal synapses. Wherever you are in the world today, I hope you do the same.

Fun fact for my Indian/Bollywood-fan readers: while we were traveling on the Jungfrau train, my aunt happened to notice a plaque on one of the train cars that said “Yash Chopra”. For those that don’t know, the late Yash Chopra was a prolific Indian film director, producer, and script writer. He was the first Indian director to film his movies in Switzerland, and as such, the Jungfrau Railways honoured him.

I’m sure Yash Chopra is single-handedly responsible for the significant influx of Indian tourists to Switzerland lol