Joe Choi's Stories and Advice on Writing, Health, and Living a Happier Life

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The Best College Class I Ever Took

I was afraid I’d lose it somehow. $300 was the most I’d ever carried in my wallet as a 20-year old college student. 

I twisted the waist on my pants to the left so that my wallet would be snug against my leg and it would make it harder for a pickpocket to come snatch it. It wasn’t most flattering look, but I didn’t care. I was about to hit the streets of London on my own. It was the first international trip I ever took alone.

Before I took the underground from Heathrow to Piccadilly Circus, I exchanged the $300 cash at a foreign exchange booth. I took the stack of bills the teller gave me and shoved it into my wallet. Then I took the change and dropped them into my right pocket along with my wallet. I twisted the waist on my pants again to secure it against my leg.

Then I was off to roam the streets of London.

I checked into the Regent Palace Hotel and left my stuff there. The first stop after that was Burger King. I was hungry after the 5-hour flight. I ordered an original chicken sandwich combo meal. 7 pounds.

When I got my tray I felt like I got ripped off on the fries and drink. In the US, medium means large and large means fucking large. But in the UK everything seemed to be as advertised. There was no concept of extra value.

After I scarfed down the Burger King, I bought a ticket for one of those double decker buses that stops at all the major tourist attractions in the city. 25 pounds.

The tour guide told us about the London School of Economics and made a joke about how Mick Jagger studied at LSE before he did LSD. I would hear that joke a few more times as I hopped on and off the bus throughout the day.

I got off at all the major stops like Buckingham Palace, London Bridge and Westminster Abbey. Then I ended up back at the Regent Palace Hotel near Piccadilly. I saw a sign for a tour of Stonehenge and the town of Bath outside the hotel, so I went in and inquired about it.

The guy told me it left the next morning. So I went ahead and bought it. 50 pounds.

It was getting late by that time, so I walked the streets looking for a place to eat. I heard Indian food in London was a thing so I walked into the first Indian place that wasn’t too crowded and didn’t look too expensive. I got a table in the corner by myself. I had some chicken with sauce. Isn’t that all Indian food? 25 pounds including tip. Do they tip in the UK? I didn’t know.

I went back to the Regent Palace Hotel to retire for the night. I washed up and got ready for bed. I fell asleep right away. I was dead tired with the time zone change, but all the stimuli from the new experience kept me going throughout the day. That and the Burger King original chicken sandwich and the real medium fries and drink along with the Indian chicken with sauce. 

The next morning I got up bright and early for Stonehenge and Bath. They were both magnificent. This was still early February, and the weather was gray and damp, so neither of them were packed with tourists. The tour guide told me that the parking lot is packed during the busy months. But for now, there were only a few other buses.

I had fish and chips for lunch in Bath. 8 pounds.

After the tour, we passed by a small English village with thatched roofs. In between the villages was green forest that resembled scenery from Robin Hood. I dozed off on the tour bus.

When I awoke, we were back in the streets of London and crawling through traffic. I hopped off the bus and went back to the hotel to get dressed. I had Burger King for dinner. I got the medium-sized original chicken sandwich combo meal again. 7 pounds.

Then I wandered the streets until I came to a movie theater. I decided I would see “Big Fish.” A friend of mine told me I would like it. So I bought a ticket. 8 pounds.

After the movie, it was just after 10pm. I walked through Leicester Square and asked some blonde British Girls where the hot spot was for the night. They told me a few clubs nearby. In reality I wanted them to come with me. I wanted someone to hangout with. Why couldn’t I just have asked them?! 

I walked into the club alone. It looked and sounded like more was happening than there was actually going on. A few girls were scattered throughout. I talked to some of them. I lied and told them I was from New York City and was just passing through London on my way to play professional hockey in Europe. Who cares? I was passing through London and you can be whoever you want if you won’t see somebody ever again.

I ordered a Corona. What kind of chap orders Coronas in London? I was an Arizonan at the time though. 6 pounds.

I talked to another girl and told her my fake story. We chatted and I told her I’d be right back. I went to order another Corona. 6 pounds.

When I came back the girl I was talking to was gone. Nobody else was around. Music was blaring in the background and lights were flashing, but the place was empty. I was dead tired so I finished my Corona and walked back to my room at the Regent Palace Hotel. 

I couldn’t sleep because the wind was howling and this piece of tin outside my window would flap against the outside wall.

The next morning I was groggy. Tired. I packed up my things and put my wallet in my right pant pocket and twisted the waist to the left to secure it against my leg. It was my pickpocket prevention system. 

I rode took the Stanstead Express to get to the Stanstead where my flight to the Czech Republic was leaving from. I checked in and checked my bags.

I went to grab a sandwich from the airport convenience store. “8 pounds,” the cashier told me. 

I looked in my wallet and didn’t have enough. “Never mind,” I said, and walked away.

The entire $300 I had in my pocket days earlier was all gone. How did I blow through that much money in such a short amount of time? I wondered.

A year later, I sat in economics class. The professor went on and on about foreign exchange rates, the law of one price, reserve currency, purchasing power, and so on.

I packed up my stuff and walked out of that lecture to go sit out in the sun and read.

Why did I need to be in a classroom learning about this stuff?

I already knew it.

I lived it.

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