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.
I just met a good friend for dinner, and we realised something.
The last time we met more than a year ago, life could not have been more different for both of us. Especially for her.
The last time we saw each other was in October last year in Copenhagen. At the time, I was wide-eyed with fascination after moving 10,000 km up north, while she had felt trapped living in Singapore and wanted to move somewhere else. That was what compelled her to go on a solo trip to Europe, and I was lucky enough to have her visit me while I was still studying in Denmark.
Fast forward a year later, she is living half a world away in San Francisco, a whole new world of opportunities right in front of her. While what brought her there might not be a job like how she had planned, she did break free in the end and is in the midst of her own kind of adventures.
Whereas for me, I am situated slightly less up north than last year. While I knew that I had signed up for a life of uncertainties when I decided to drop everything back home and enroll into my Master’s programme, it still did not prepare me for just how different and unexpected things could be in a year’s time.
Exactly this day last year, my sister would be arriving at the Central Station in Aarhus and we were about to embark on an exciting adventure in Norway. I would have broken down the night before because my computer had crashed 10 minutes before my exam deadline, forcing me to submit an incomplete paper without the bibliography. I would have feared that I might get expelled for accidental plagiarism and might have called my programme coordinator crying and begging her to still allow me to go to Berkeley even if I were to fail that exam (I passed). I would also have barely recovered from the shock of having my room broken into in the midst of my exam period.
This year, I am having a quiet night in my cosy room in London (theft-free, hopefully) on a Saturday, my legs sore from standing for 7 hours a day for the past 5 days working in a shop in Camden Market. Instead of going further up north for my winter break, I am flying home to see my family and friends again after having been away for only 4 months.
And as I am sitting on my bed overlooking the misty night pondering about this, I realised something else about myself.
That I truly am a procastinator.
It has been exactly a year ago since I went to Tromsø. Whilst I did manage to scrape something up about my successful Northern Lights chase, I have completely ignored writing about another major nature wonder that we did in the lovely city (and had spent equally a lot of money on): the whale watching.
Being a great travel planner that I am, I did not even know that whale watching is a highly recommended activity in Tromsø. It was not until a random guy who came to teach us fishing in the freezing cold on our first night there told us about it that we came to know about such expeditions.
At first we brushed the idea aside as some kind of tours that tourists get cheated into. However, when we failed to see the Northern Lights on our first attempt, my sister and I resolved that we would not leave Tromsø until we saw something else other than some snow and the all-day darkness.
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.