I don’t know why I always end up going to them. During my first month or so in London, I even had a museum-and-cake buddy – we made a pact to visit a new museum every weekend and have a cake afterwards. I secretly only looked forward to the cake, but I didn’t know my friend too well back then to admit that most museums bored me to no end.
(I suspected he realised that pretty soon, and our museum-and-cake meetups transformed into anything-but-museum meetups after a few weeks. Which suited me very well and we became much better friends after that.)
I think it boils down to the fact that I don’t understand much of art and history. Later on, I realised that having the right company – one who appreciated the artefacts way more than I did and were willing to explain the history patiently to me, would make all the difference to these museum visits.
I have been to the British Museum several times, but I remember enjoying my last visit the most. During the first few visits, I mostly just admired the structure of the building and the immensity of the place.
Summer was in its full force the past few weeks in London. The temperature went up to a whopping 31C, and the East Asian roots in me would soon take out my purple and flowery anti-UV umbrella out of fear of getting tanned (and wrinkles).
I took advantage of the rare glorious weather to do a lot of walks all over. I explored the streets of the City of London, from St Paul’s churchyard to little alleys filled with bars and cafes often overflowing with lawyers and bankers in their work dresses and suits, beer in hand. I also ventured further into my neighbourhood, up to my favourite Primrose Hill and then went as far as the Parliament Hill at Hampstead Heath (finally).
The world is a terrible place at the moment, and most of the time I feel helpless about it.
When there is nothing that I can do about a situation, I normally turn to my good old trustworthy friend – food. During my thesis writing period where I felt mostly helpless about not panicking as much as other people thought I should, I consumed some scary amount of chocolate that could make anyone rethink their friendship with me for fear of contracting diabetes by proximity.
But now that I have no more excuse to lead a sugar-clad lifestyle, I stopped doing irrational eating and started consuming healthy stuff again. As I’m writing this, a tray of grilled courgettes are in the making in the oven, drizzled with some conservative amount of olive oil and salt plus a generous dash of black pepper and cayenne pepper.
I know, I almost can’t recognise my own reflection in the oven glass sometimes.
(Nevermind that I gobbled down a big cup of frozen yoghurt after lunch earlier today because that is COMPLETELY IRRELEVANT to this story.)
So what I’m trying to say is, because I can’t consume irresponsible food for the time being to pacify myself about the world crumbling down, I try to do the next best thing, i.e. recalling some of the delicious food that I had and writing about them. The first guilty pleasure that comes to mind is the pork belly muffin from the Muffin Man & Co. at the Primrose Hill Market.
During my second visit to the market, I vowed not to have breakfast before visiting so I could taste one or two of the stalls piled with delicious looking delicacy.
I was recently introduced to a friend of a friend who went backpacking around South East Asia last year. When I spoke to her, I felt a familiar feeling of shame creeping into me, the same one that always appeared whenever I spoke to travellers like her.
She, after a few weeks in my side of the world, has visited more places than I have the twenty six years I was living in the region.
Usually, a few minutes into the conversation, the name Cambodia would come up and I would have to reluctantly admit that I haven’t stepped on that country’s soil even once.
“I have been to Myanmar though,” I normally added in a bid to present myself as a more appreciative South East Asian.
I attribute this shameful phenomenon to what I call proximity ungratefulness. When a place is so close to where you live, you will naturally find it less exciting and will not go out of your way to visit.
I am thus careful of not letting the same thing happen to me here in London. I try to appreciate things around me, even stuff that is within walking distance from my flat.
One of my most recent finds was the Primrose Hill Market.
Primrose Hill is world-famous, and I have been there countless times. It has a beautiful unobstructed view of London and is equally charming during the day and night.
But today I’m not here to talk about the Hill. I’m here for something that happens at the foot of the hill every Saturday, unbeknownst to many: the Primrose Hill Market.
At the start of this year I ambitiously declared that I have found a magical way to slow down the time.
Yet 2017 has simply been ramming itself like a charging bull on steroid, and I’m at loss once again on how to make the time stop. With a blink of an eye, it is already March. The weather got a lot warmer, the daylight stayed for a couple of minutes longer each day, and flowers start to blossom; spring is just around the corner.
It is strange to think that just a couple of weeks ago I was trying to ease back into the chilly weather in London, having spent December and January back home in the tropics. And on one of the coldest days of February, we visited the Hackney City Farm.
Being surrounded by friends who grew up close to the nature, I have often behaved like an ignorant city girl in comparison. I remember asking someone, to both his bemusement and amusement, whether the flowers on the flowerbed we walked past were real (they clearly were).
Don’t get me wrong; I love the nature. I really do (except for those crawling insects that come with the nature in the tropics, and maybe snakes. And a couple more weird looking animals). And I have a weakness for cows – I think they are one of the cutest creatures alive. I am just never exposed to them very much.
So imagine my excitement when my friend told me about Hackney City Farm, which was set up for people like me: so I don’t have to drive (not that I can) for hours to see cows and horses and donkeys, and I get to immerse myself in the earthy smell of manure right at the heart of the city.
We agreed to meet right around lunch time so our first stop was brunch at Cafe Frizzante, which was located inside the complex. It being located inside the farm added a nice touch to the location.
It sounds barbaric now that I think about it, but the first animals that we encountered at the farm were this.
While I am very grateful for my part-time job here in London, I often complained that being confined in Camden Market for 7 hours a day for the greater part of December meant that I completely missed out on the Christmas atmosphere that has been going on all over the city.
Before I knew it, the last month of this year has flown by – it’s Christmas Eve and it is time for me to pack for my trip back home.
As I was backing up my pictures to my hard drive and looked through some of the photos that I took over the past few weeks, I realised that I have actually visited a number of Christmas-themed landmarks in the city.
The good thing about London is that it is crazy about Christmas. The festivity has started since early November, practically right after Halloween. While some people including me find it slightly off seeing Christmas baubles being sold everywhere so early, it actually came as a saving grace this time round since that meant that I still managed to enjoy some of the beautiful Christmas lights sprinkled throughout the city.
Although I do have to admit, sometimes London did take the whole Christmas thing a bit too far. They had a full-blown event for the Oxford Street Christmas light-up, which was basically when tourists flooded the street – I am ashamed to admit that I was one of them – in the rain and freezing cold waiting for two hours for Craig David to flick a switch, with a prelude by some substandard band blasting their songs through crappy sound systems.
But other than that, the rest of the Christmas atmosphere was wonderful.
The alleyways right next to the busy Oxford Street was very charming for example.
When a Londoner friend once told me that he would avoid Oxford Street at all cost, I remember looking at him slightly perplexed.
I was a tourist then, and while I wouldn’t describe Oxford Street as my favourite place in London, I didn’t detest it. After all, the area is practically a one-stop shop/street of every brand imaginable. Whenever I travelled to London, I could delay all my shopping until the last minute (as I do with everything else in life) and just head there to buy everything that I don’t need and shop for souvenirs for friends.
But now that I have lived in the city for two months, I began to understand why Londoners have such negative sentiments towards Oxford Street. The place is always overcrowded, big brands seem to be haphazardly put next to each other and in between them tacky cafes try to rip you off with their substandard food – a tourist trap in short, which is why you can hardly find a single local person shopping there.
Perhaps it is some kind of a rite of passage for living in London, but I find myself disliking Oxford Street more with every visit (plus it always rained whenever I was there).
But in the midst of this chaos, there is a gem hidden just 5-minute walk away from the main street. At Manchester Square stood the Hertford House, a beautiful mansion which houses the national museum for the Wallace Collection, an art collection by the Wallace family.
The art collectors of the Wallace family consist of four Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, the son of the 4th Marquess. I don’t mean this to be rude, but after visiting the museum, I concluded that art collectors are practically hoarders with a lot of money.
(I hoard things too, but I don’t have that much money. You should have seen the thrash that I accumulated when I was moving house.)
These five guys, for example, have accumulated a whole mansion of art, paintings, sculpture, china, armoury, arms and everything else you can think of that can be classified as art work. It was only when Richard Wallace had the sense to realise that their family’s collection could be a museum that he decided to work on leaving the collections to the Nation. The administrative process was so long that after he died, his widow Lady Wallace had to finish off the job and eventually made ‘the single biggest bequest of art treasures to a Nation.’
My friend and I visited the place spontaneously on a rainy Sunday afternoon, and it was quiet, a stark contrast to the bustle and elbowing at Oxford Street. It was as if I was magically transported to a different era of civilisation, to the time when women’s fashion was about covering your body with as many layers as possible and there were literal knights in shining armour.
It hasn’t been an easy week, one marred with lingering uncertainties, crushing self-doubt and sinking disappointment of an invitation that never came. The cold wind and autumn rain have crept in through the colourful fallen leaves. On top of these, I fell ill right at start of the week, which had not helped to lighten my mood.
It has been such a crappy week that my lovely flat mate decided that we needed this for dinner last Friday.
Don’t even ask why we were stuffing fat into our body at home on a Friday night instead of going out like normal young people do.
In our defence, I did feel instantly better after the first bite of our dinner. The crispy tortilla chip/crisp covered in greasy cheese dipped into guacamole was exactly what I would call the recipe for the perfect comfort food.
But then I started eating too much and not long after, I fell into a state of stupor and increasing regret that all the sugar-free days and exercises I did for the past week just went down the clogged artery drain.
In summary, it has indeed been an emotional roller-coaster of a week, although admittedly some of the miseries were self-inflicted.
Good thing I have Primrose Hill at my backyard that I could simply take a walk to and clear my head (while desperately try to increase my metabolism rate after the said food). It is such an understated luxury to live within walking distance to one of the best places where you can get a vantage view of London.
When I like something, I have the habit of going back for it many times it’s borderline ridiculous.
I have visited Copenhagen, London and Stockholm countless times, when I could have spent my money and time exploring new cities and countries. I always went for the same super spicy noodle at the same small Thai restaurant in Berkeley. I go for the same hoisin duck wrap every time I visit any Pret-A-Manger chain for lunch. I would have gone for the same chocolate chunk cookies too every time I’m there, but they always tend to run out of that particular flavour it breaks my heart.
And there is something else that I realised recently have made it to the list of things I will never get tired of doing: strolling along the River Thames at South Bank.
I have seriously lost count on how many times I have done the walk over the past few times I have been in London. It is very touristy, yes, but somehow the charm is never lost even when thousands of other people are flocking the place at the same time.
For those of you not in the know, South Bank is a riverside walkway that stretches along the south side of the River Thames. It is London’s biggest cultural hub where you can walk through it while getting a magnificent view of many of London’s world-famous landmarks, including the Houses of Parliament.
Previously, I have always visited the South Bank from Waterloo station, starting from the most touristy bit where the London Eye is and down towards Blackfriars Bridge. But due to London’s infamous tube suspension last Tuesday, I was forced to go to South Bank through a different route, starting from London Bridge and walking towards Waterloo Station. I have to clarify that I did not discover this route by myself, but I was lucky to be in the company of someone with a much better sense of direction than me.
I like the new route so much that I decided to retrace it last night. Also, because I was too stuffed from a Diwali dinner that I just had to take a post-dinner walk to prevent myself from exploding.
It was only when I started walking down the route that I realised how much detail I had missed because I was so absorbed in the conversation that I was having the first time I was there.
I vaguely remember this, but I did not realise it was so beautifully gothic.
But I completely did not realise that I walked past this LED tunnel.
Just around the corner from there, the magnificent river view started for about 2 miles.
It has been one whirlwind of a time ever since I arrived in London a few weeks ago. In a style that is truly mine, I arrived at a new city having no place to live and was ready to push my luck once more in order to find a roof over my head in one of the most expensive cities in the world with the following criteria:
No mould in the bathroom
No hole in the wall
No funny smell in the flat
Window in the room for some fresh air
Not be penniless after payment of the rental deposit
These apparently were too much to ask. While most of the flats that I saw fulfilled one or two of these criteria, one of them actually failed all five. And I would like to think my requests were reasonable, something basic that you would expect in a livable living condition in a first-world country.
Clearly, I was mistaken. Save for the first day, I spent most of my time gasping for air in the harsh realm of London property market – all while trying to adjust to a new city (again) and being enrolled in a new university (which was a different nightmare on its own).
Then with a stroke of luck, things suddenly fell into place. Or to be more precise, things suddenly trickled into place, bit by bit. My friend and I found a flat when we were only half-jokingly looking at the listing, decided to contact the person and it was love at first sight. Not only was there no hole in the wall, the flat was brand new – it wasn’t even done when we viewed it, but we knew right away that we had to get it. Then came the nerve-wrecking waiting period for the draft of the contract to be sent, the negotiation phase and finally the signing of the contract, where I had to literally run to meet my landlady. I swear I must have grown some grey hair in the process, but as if by magic, everything worked out really well. What was more miraculous was that we managed to get the place and figured out a way to still have some money left for actually living in London.
To cut the story short, here I am, writing this post on the first Saturday I don’t have to spend flat hunting, using the house WiFi that is finally working.
After three weeks of sieving through Spareroom listings and saying no to various social activities, I felt that I had to make up for all the lost time. This was why I decided to book myself for a slot at the Sky Garden, a modern ‘garden’ at the peak of the Walkie Talkie building (or 20 Fenchurch Street, the building’s less known official alias), and began catching up with the past few weeks that I had missed out on London.
It turned out to be an excellent starting point. Standing 155 metres tall, you get an unrivalled vantage view of the whole City and beyond.