52. Big Red Double-Deckers

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From my student hall to school, the most convenient and leisurely method of transportation is the double-deckers snaking through the streets of London narrow and grand.

After more than a month of being a daily bus-taker, I’ve come to understand one very important issue: the drivers are one of the worst things about this city.

Perhaps the worst, because at least I like the rain at times.

The buses are tall, big and sways.

They are daunting and monstrous.

With the hundreds of cyclists zigzag around in this city’s narrow roads, and hundreds more buses, no wonder it is one of the most dangerous city for bicyclists. Most days, I can reach out of the window and smack a cyclist on the head if I wanted to (which I don’t) because the buses drive so close to them it’s a wonder anyone except daredevils bike here.

It is not the fault of the cyclists. They have no space to be free. Worse still, bus drivers don’t seem to respect bike lanes, nor do they care if they crush one or two. They drive as if the road is free of any moving obstacles. This is perhaps due to their immense size and height. Or maybe drivers just taught to act like they are the kings of the road.

This includes their attitude toward passengers.

If you are not at the bus stop to flag one down, they ain’t stopping for you. This is true even if you completely humiliate yourself by running after the bus and they see you. They clearly see you and yet they zoom pass and leave you in the dust.

And even if you manage to get on one, they will willy-nilly change the terminus stop, so instead of arriving on time at school, you are 15 minutes late because you had to switch buses mid-route.

They don’t smile. They don’t drive in a stable manner, so you are tumbling and falling all over yourself when trying to get down the steps and out the doors.

I wonder if anyone has ever fallen or tripped down those narrow stairs…

Thank god for the abundance of royal red and yellow handlebars or we would all end up face-first on the ground.

Thank you dear bus drivers, for the rush of adrenalin and buckets of perspiration I get every morning when trying to catch, get on, and get off the bus.

Bookworm Guide: The Any Amount of Books Bookstore

Bookstore: Any Amount of Books

Location: 56 Charing Cross Rd, London WC2H 0QA

Experience:

Two weekends ago, a friend and I arrived at the doorstep of Any Amount of Books bookstore on Charing Cross Road. It was a fine autumn day, and I was more than happy to forsake the sunshine to acquaint myself with some new books that I could potential house.

As I came upon the shop, its store front was covered by book stands luring passerbys with its one-pound book or five for four pounds deals.

After browsing through old Spanish dictionaries and Beijing guidebooks, I decided it was time to hit up the real deal caged inside.

There were not more than a dozen or so bookshelves, each filled and spilled over the brim with books ranging from contemporary fiction to cookbooks, with philosophy, history by regions and time periods, and niched books in between.

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It was while I looked through the WWI, WWII and general history section that I saw it: all books downstairs for one pound each.

All I had to do was hand my bag over the counter to ensure I wouldn’t thieve away some.

So I proceeded down the steps, and into a chaos of books lying every way but upright.

There were three rooms of half-full half-empty shelves. I could not find one book which I have heard of. That either speaks volumes about my extremely limited exposure to books and authors, or these were books on such concentrated, specialized subjects that I could never get around to actually read them.

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Whatever the case, I took a quick peek and returned upstairs to more familiar stacks.

The store is small in comparison to some of the second-book shops I’ve visited back in Canada. Its collection is likewise not very expansive. But it had enough range that I ended up purchasing two new books, both of which were of the contemporary fiction kind.

Despite its size, it is worth a visit due to its adequately-stocked shelves and lack of a crowd of visitors. Plus, once you’ve acquired a book, there are a great assortment of cafes and restaurants around to sit down and dig in.

I ended up at a charming coffee shop called Timberyard (7 Upper St Martin’s Lane, London WC2H), where the tea is served with an elaborate set of pots, cups, timers, and water jugs, and where the door slams hard to make itself known.

So I give Any Amount of Books 3/5 overflowing shelves!

Happy visiting!

51. This Most Autumn of Days

This past weekend I had the privilege of being a complete tourist in London town.

One of my friends from my old university came for a visit and as host, I was obliged to take up the role of guide, which has always been my cue to put on my best tourist outfit.

Saturday presented a grey but surprisingly dry day. We walked round and round through Borough Market, Southbank, Trafalgar Square, Saint James Park, Buckingham Palace, Parliament, the Eye, and back at Aldwych for her much-needed Vancouver throwback dinner at Nando’s.

Sunday, however, impressed upon us (or at least me), a completely different picture. It was sunny.

Do you know how rare that is?

It was an absolutely incredible Autumn day.

It hit me hard on my way back from Victoria Station where I had waved goodbye to my friend.

The bus was trudging along to the traffic, one of its window was pushed open, the chill Fall breeze blew through the vehicle and I caught a glimpse of one of the most magical aspects of this city: gardens.

Or squares, or parks, or whatever you’d like to call them.

I had no clue which garden this was, but it was a very small square, with a quaint fountain as its centrepiece.

The afternoon light was just right that it shone through the green-to-gold leaves of the four trees standing guard at each corner. They were shedding for the winter and the wind picked up the drifters, swirling them into the light and transforming them into sparkling dancers that floated gently down onto the benches, onto the stones, into the water, and passed the pedestrians.

It was only for a second, but the image of that quiet, undisturbed garden will stand as one of the most beautiful glimmers of Autumn I have ever witnessed.

Nimrod by Elgar helped frame all of this into a splendid piece of art.

What a wonderful place to be.

50. Drinking Culture

They drink early, and they drink often.

This is the great country of the drinkers.

I first noticed the drinking culture when they served up wine at our orientation reception. Then, I started to notice the pubs around the corners and down the streets of the LSE campus. Then came the strange flood of people who all crowded around the entrances of these pubs, with beers in hand, at lunchtime.

Then one friday night, we couldn’t squeeze our way into a pub down by the Strand because there was a massive load of people. It happened again one saturday night, and again, and again.

So now, I expect wine and even a corona or two at any school event with the words “refreshments provided” on their advertisement posters. I expect to see students and non-students alike, holding a jug of beer or two at noon. I expect to see people drunk and stumbling about on the streets as early as 9pm. I expect to hear insane stories of pub crawls and I-barely-made-it-home-this-morning madness in the middle of the week.

They definitely don’t like to stay sober. And I’m not the only one taking notice: The Telegraph, The Guardian and the WHO.

This is definitely not a place to start a dry-term regiment, but I am stubborn and defiant. This semester, I am determined to stay as far away from alcohol as I mentally and humanly can.

Cheers to that!

49. The Queueing Phenomenon

I’ve seen good line up. I’ve seen horrible line up. I’ve stood in lines. I’ve crammed into lines. I know about lining up.

But I have never seen line-ups quite like the Queue.

LSE’s space-to-student-population ratio demonstrates complete overcapacity. Its buildings, rooms, hallways, cafes are much too small for its large student body. This problem becomes especially acute when the school hosts conferences, events, and fairs.

I was at a fair last week, that saw more than 700 students pass through a space that can only hold 200 or so comfortably. The school has devised a system to divvy up attendees whereby limited amount of tickets are opened at three slots of time. For this event, students can go for the 5:30, 6:30 or 7:30 time slots, or they can try their luck and come without a booking.

The event was on the sixth floor. At several points, the line-up, or Queue extended all the way round the stairs down to the ground floor lobby.

Students were turned away if they came too early for their time slot or if they did not have a ticket. Some of these students have waited over an hour in the long snaking Queue. But instead of becoming overwhelmingly irritated when turned away, they simply accepted the fact and gracefully stood to the side to wait some more.

With the exception of one or two students who got frustrated with the long line, most came in with a cheerful face and at the ready for more Queues inside the venue. I was blown away by the extraordinary patience of every one of them, not to mention the persistence. I see a long line, and I am immediately turned off from whatever the line is for. I usually don’t even bother with it no matter how much I wanted what’s at the end of it all.

But this year, I will learn because at LSE, there are Queues everywhere. At the library, in the school stores, outside classrooms, inside classrooms, into theatres, into coffee and snack shops. If your day did not involve a Queue of some sort, then it must have been a sunny bright day because both are tremendously rare.

Happy Queueing!

P.S.: I am well aware that Queue is not usually written with a capitalized ‘Q’.

48. Wannabe Londonist

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Driving on the right side of the car and the right side of the road. The queue, the loo, a quid or two. Double deckers. British accents. Talfargar Square. Red, all over the place.

Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore!

London town has greatly impressed me so far. Except for the fact that you cannot just get on the bus with your backward, old-notion coins and paper money, the grey dreary days of rain, and being nearly run over by cars because you were looking in the wrong direction and because pedestrians are not almighty here, this city has definitely got a hold on me.

This has been the fastest I have ever adjusted to a foreign place. Mostly due to the fact that I really had no alone time to dwell on homesickness. I dived right into the busy lifestyle this city loves and demands. Culture shock came and went in the blink of an eye. I did come from a Commonwealth country after all, there really weren’t much grand differences to shock my system. My room was rather dingy when I first arrived, but post-IKEA, it is now very liveable.

My fantastic flatmates put the final nail in the coffin that housed all those horrible feelings of homesickness and loneliness. There are seven of them, and one free pizza night bounded all of us together in a common cleaning schedule and condiment-sharing scheme. If nothing else, at least I won’t have to eat dinner by my lonesome again. As the Italians would say, it’s unhealthy to eat alone. And of all the coincidences one of my flatmates is even a Vancouver native!

Plus, this city is littered with museums, walkways, the Thames, Harry Potter sites, gorgeous tall British gentlemen, and tea. What more does a girl need? There really is no time or space to be dwelling in homesickness.

I have been here for just over a week now, and every day I come home drenched in that good kind of exhaustion. I have some warm lavender tea, chat with some of my flatmates, and I fall right off to sleep the second my head hits the pillows. Every morning starts early, with a full breakfast, lunch preparations and then I take the red double-deckers to school for the day.

What a most fantastic start to my final year as a Masters.

Cheers!

47. In Transition, Again

In less than 12 hours, I will have achieved the first goal on my 30 before 30 list: live in five different countries.

A part of me is flipping off the walls in so much excitement I can harder keep to this seat and write this post. China, Canada, France, Japan, and now the imminent UK. It has been a journey, a long, expensive, frustrating, brilliant, extraordinary, life-changing journey.

Every place has held something unique.

China is my birthplace. It is in my blood, in my appearance, in my heritage, and in my ethnicity. It is home to the people who loves me most. It is the foundation on which I am building my life.

Canada is the promised land. It is where my future blossomed into a hundred thousand potentials, beyond the confines of the Great Walls that humble and intimidate its Chinese citizens. It is the second half of my identity.

France is the first step out. It held my debutant ball. It is where I began to pen my own story, instead of letting my parents write it for me.

Japan is maturity. It housed my full independence. I got a taste of the adult life and the delicious freedom that comes with my own purse of change.

What will the UK be?

It will be my branching out, completed.

As saddened as I am, I know I am not coming home after this year. I don’t know where in the world I will land. All I know is, I will be on a crazy job-hunt, the results of which will determine the rest of my young adult life. I will have my own bank account which will contain a dismal amount of personal wealth. I will be living in some dingy basement with five other roommates just to afford the rent. I will be emerging from that academic bubble and into society, once and for all.

And I will be utterly, wholly alone.

As if that isn’t heart-pounding enough, for the first time in my life, I cannot see five years down the road. I cannot even see a year ahead. It is deeply unsettling, the unknown.

I am an organizer. I organize everything down to its most minute detail. And here I am, marching forward into a foreign country with not even a shadow of a plan. I am out of my element and I am scared out of my mind.

But the daredevil side of me breathes in the thrill. It does not see pitch blackness ahead, but rather a never-ending firework of possibilities, exploding in a kaleidoscope of colours and shapes. It sees the world as its playground. Armed with an education, some languages, and the confidence I have gained through my travels in my ability to survive and thrive, this time next year, I could be anywhere.

It’s only natural to be afraid of the mysterious. It’s human instinct to experience fear when stepping outside of one’s comfort zone. I know there will be hardship, a thousand petty humiliations, and even more tears. It will be treacherous, laborious and immensely challenging. I can vaguely see the warning signs staked out along the side of the road. I see three choices here: let fear immobilize me, destroy me, or strengthen me.

The world is too big and I have too many aspirations to choose the first two.

There is nowhere to go but forward.

So what will the UK be?

A dazzling world of possibilities for a young 20-something to build her life with.

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