London Calling

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I hated your crowds. I hated your undergrounds. And I absolutely hated your prices.

It is a hate that has grown out of many, many days spent with you.

It is a hate that reminds me of how much I love you and just how quickly I fell for you.

It is a hate in a twisted, intangible mess of emotions that I have about you.

It’s complicated, as it will always be with you.

I loved you London.

You were my emancipation, my freedom, my youth. I gave you some of the best years of my life. You gave me a lifetime’s worth of memories, friendships and romance.

What more is there to say then what I have already said. Countless words, filled with everything from adoration to anger. I shouted at you. You ignored me. I prayed at your alter. You took my money. I hugged your streets and buildings. You stood tall and taller still. I left you. You pulled me back. Our relationship was always going to be fire and ice. You promised me an unparalleled experience, and you kept it.

I still remember the first time I met you. Late August. You greeted me with that beautiful, late summer sun. How mischievously deceiving you were. I didn’t even bother fully unpacking–very unlike me–I just wanted to go out and explore you. I walked and walked and walked, through your centers and high streets, under the shadow of St. Paul’s, through the school I was going to spend the next two and a half years with, beyond the bustling noises of Piccadilly and Oxford Street, past the flocks of swans at Hyde Park and to the top of Primrose Hill where I witnessed your majestic silhouette. I sat beneath your Waterloo Bridge, admiring the evening glow of your lights and the face of the boy who would define my life more than you have.

Despite blistering wounds on my feet, that first day was pure magic.

So can anyone blame me for struggling against the tide of bureaucracy and borders? I don’t want to leave. I don’t want to leave. I don’t want to leave you.

I am not done with your fireworks, our fights and our highs. I have not even seen half of you yet. There is still so much more to hate and to love. There will always be so much more of you that I have yet to get tired of.

But London, I have to go. The government you hold at the palm of your hand doesn’t want me here. It’s a system I have little power to change. I’m tired of being an immigrant in a country where half of the population do not understand the trials and pains of those who fought to be one.

I don’t hold you at fault though, London. You wanted me and I love you too much. I love your people, your neighbourhoods, your restaurants, your everything.

I hope you will stand strong and proud against the tide of xenophobia and racism. Don’t let it bring you down, London.

This one will be rooting for you from across the pond.

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Hello 2018.

THyAQbmXTuqQzDNnN67tdg_thumb_17f0Faster than the years before it, 2017 ended in half a blink of an eye.

There should be a preceding post looking back at all the trials and errors and wonderful things about last year, but I’m not up for it at the moment. Last year was too beautiful and the coming year too rough to be compared side-by-side without heartache. It’s a kind of ache I’ve already been through many times these past couple of weeks. I rather just look ahead and be prepared.

2018 will be a rough ride.

I know, I know. It’s not your usual, cheerful start to a new year.

I’m not being a total pessimist here. I’m being a realist, although, the two does share a rather large overlap. Hear me out, and you’ll see I’m really trying not to be a downer.

The city I have called home for the past 3 years, I now am forced to abandon it. The life I have built in London, I now am forced to break it. The love I have found here, I now am forced to leave it.

Not that I am forced to return to a terrible place. I’m going home, to my family, to a splendid city, to a previous life.

These have their own merits. I love my family, and I miss them heartily. I’ve not been a good daughter these past couple of years and have not spent nearly enough time with them. I love my home city of Vancouver. Its majestic mountains, vast blue ocean, curving coastlines and cosy cafes is a safe harbour to dock myself in. I loved my previous life. It had the comfort and laughter of close friends and a carefreeness that I long to have back.

I don’t doubt for a second that these’ll all be worth it.

But I can’t help but mourn for the loss of my complete and utter autonomy. Family is a wonderful privilege, but it comes with its own weights and fierce clashes of ideas. It comes with a loss, however small, of independence, that sweet taste of freedom which I cannot un-experience.

I mourn for the distance that’ll be put into my relationships. That distance will mean the destruction of friendships, the fading away of others, and the daily struggle of keeping the most important things from falling apart. 4706 miles of ocean and continent, a burden I and my relationships now have to bear.

To those with the wisdom of the ages, they may chuckle at the insignificance of this small blip in a life. I know its dismalness in comparison to the grand scheme of a lifetime. But like it or not, life is built on blocks of small blips. This blip could make-or-break human connections that will determine whom I spend the rest of my life with. This blip will change the course of my life–the geography of it alone will forge separate paths. This blip is important in the bird’s-eye-view of it all.

So I do despair. I mourn.

But I also have faith. I will hold my ground against this cruel turn of fate. I will thrive again like I did in this crazy, brilliant town. I will let the human resilience that is in all of us, guide me through rough seas and high tides.

2018 may be a hot mess, but I will not come out of it as one.

I’m ready for you. I’ve got my sparkly, pink boxing gloves and even sparklier helmet on.

Middle finger to you, 2018.

It’s a student, it’s an expat, it’s a move to London!

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This post might be rather untimely. With Brexit and the fact that I moved to London nearly three years ago, it’s a strange time to be writing about moving here. Nonetheless, if it helps a newcomer or two, or even if it is a purely reminiscent exercise for myself, it’ll have served some purpose.

I moved to London at the end of summer 2014 to finish off a Master’s degree at the London School of Economics. I then got a job at the LSE and stayed ever since. So my experience in London may just be a little bit biased. I’ve also only ever lived in Zone 1, so my bubble is just that small. While we’re at it, I’m a Chinese-Candian liberal spiritualist with a dash of conservatism.

Despite these limitations, these three years have taught me a thing or two about this town and the country at large. Before I leave, I thought I’d jot some of these down. These range from the practical to lifestyle to food recommendations, so bare with me. As the listomanic that I am, this will come in a form of a nice little list, but not as neat as my lists otherwise are…

19 Things You Should Know About Living in London:

  1. Water Taps: The separate hot and cold taps are real. This is not a rumour. Prepare to do the hot ‘n cold sink dance (Katy Perry as delightful accompaniment). Your hands will lose a layer of skin, but it will make them tougher and more durable
  2. Public WCs: My fellow North Americans, welcome to the land of no toilet door gaps! Finally, you can do your business in peace and total privacy.
  3. Surveillance: But public privacy is not a thing because CCTVs are everywhere. And I mean, EVERYWHERE. London is not named the most-surveillanced city for giggles.
  4. Food (British): British food may be notoriously bland, but the English breakfast is actually quite a treat. Except for the baked beans. I can’t do the beans. I just can’t.
  5. Food (the better version): And if that’s not your cup of tea, London has all the world’s food to offer. So have no fear, because authentic cuisines are here! You’ll find all the world’s food here, an assortment of different combinations of them, and whatever else your palate desires. The restaurants range from dirt cheap to Michelin-stared. Every bite as euphoric as the last one. It’s a big town. Go out and explore!
  6. Money: But do beware that your wallet and bank account will bruise terribly. London is one of the most expensive cities to live in. Budget smartly, spend wisely and be prepared.
  7. Weather: Of course we have to talk about the weather. It’s only THE British thing to do. Rain is not as common as you are led to believe. Some years it is terrible, but most years are fine. Or maybe that’s because I’m from Vancouver, and I’m used to constant rain. Do carry an umbrella with you at all times. Just because it doesn’t rain as often, doesn’t mean the rain is predictable. Cloudy days are a real struggle here though. You may suffer from vitamin D deficiency if you are from the sunny side of the world.
  8. Housing: Unless you are a student and your school will take care of accommodation for you, here are some real useful websites for the dreadful “flat” hunt: spareroom.co.uk (my all-time favourite), rightmove.co.uk, zoopla.co.uk, and gumtree.com. Good luck my fellow expats.
  9. Museums: Go to all the museums. They are free. No joke. This is one of the best things about being in London. My favourite is the Tate Modern, mainly because of its newest extension which leads me to my next point…
  10. Aerial Views: The Tate’s new extension offers a brilliant view over the Thames. Take your date here for a hell of a sunset and that may just make you lucky. One of my other favour places to take dates and visiting friends is the top of the Walkie-Talkie building. (Delightfully, London has nicknames for all its skyscrapers. You’ve got the famed Gherkin, the Cheese Grater, the Shard, the Razor, the Aerosol Can). Although you can pay to go to the top of the Shard, or sneak in by saying you are headed for a drink on the 32rd floor Aqua Shard Bar, I’d recommend you either book a free ticket to the Sky Garden on the Walkie-Talkie or do a walk-in at 6PM. Do dress up a little. They have a firm line against khakis and flip-flips. The reason it’s my favourite out of all the sky scraping goodness in London, is because it not long offers a 360 degree view, but it also has an actual garden (not in name only) and gives you a great view into the Cheese Grater. If you are up for spending, cocktails at the Sky Pod Bar are 12 a pop; if you are loaded, try the Darwin Brasserie. If you are a millionaire or someone else is paying, go for the Frenchurch Restaurant. Although, the Guardian has said that “the more you pay, the worse your view”. So you are warned. Otherwise, the Sky Garden also hosts a bunch of early-morning yoga and HIIT classes, if getting up at 6 and putting your body through the torture are what floats your boat.
  11. Transport: If you are from North America, walking to and from places may be a foreign (and probably uncomfortable) concept for you. Give it a chance, London is a wonderfully walkable city. Even though Google may tell you it’ll be a 45-minute walk, it’s a completely different experience here. Put on those comfy trainers and get with the rhythm of this city! If you really are desperate for an alternative, Boris Bikes is the solution! I hate the tube. It’s cramped, dusty, polluted (you can see the dirty air on the platform), horribly hot in the summer, and full of miserable-looking people, so I avoid it as best I can. I also don’t like the buses, as they are notoriously unreliable. Not so much in terms of wait time, but more in terms of unexpected diversions, bus driver changes, and other delightful little surprises along the way. If you are a stickler to public transport, make sure to download CityMapper onto your phone.
  12. Friends: No matter your background, native language, interests, quirks, or personality, you will find your crowd here. You’ve got 8.8 million colourful souls to pick from. So swallow that introvert, even for a few minutes, bring hand sanitizer (if you are a germaphobe), and talk about the weather.
  13. Drinking: Every weekday at 6PM, the outdoor spaces of pubs roar to life with workers drinking away the long day. I’m not one for the pub scene but it’s got its jolly merits. So go for drinks, for pub food (hit and miss, that one), or for company. Or, grab cheaper drinks at your local grocer and sit on the Southbank until the stars come out. You can drink in public here! Also, make sure you attend a pub quiz night or two. It’s a load of fun despite you not being able to answer more than two questions correctly. If you are in the know, you might just win a prize or two!
  14. Events: One day can be completely different from the next if you choose to have it that way. There is always something new happening in this ever-changing, kaleidoscopic town. To keep up with great events, new store openings, and other funsies, I’d suggest following these guys on Facebook: the Londonist, TimeOut London, and TheatreMonkey (For North Americans, theatre here is not referring to the movies but to musicals, plays, and other live-action wonders).
  15. Bookstores: Unlike Canada, bookstores are not a dying breed here. For bibliophiles, tsundokus (Japanese word for someone who loves to hoard books), or those of us simply brought to life by a large collection of books, London is THE place to be. Besides the staple big vendors of Waterstones and Foyles, this town is littered with independent booksellers. Some of them may be small but they’ve all got big personalities. For specific recommendations, Google it. My favourite is Blackstone at the Wellcome Centre (The Wellcome Centre is its own marvel).
  16. Movies: I am a heavy movie-goer. London is great in terms of offering a variety of prices, cinemas (yes, North Americans, it’s called cinemas, not theatres!) and experiences. For the ultimate IMAX experience: BFI Southbank. You’ll see it. It’s the reason the roundabout on the Southbank-side of Waterloo Bridge exists. Big cinema chains include ODEON, Empire, and Vue. I frequent these the most. Smaller (and usually more expensive) ones include Pictureworld, Curzon, Everyman, and Cineworld. Cheapest locations I’ve come across are: Peckham Picturehouse (6 pounds a pop) and ODEON Covent Garden (10 a pop). If you want to experience unusual movie-going, London is full of open-air cinemas (in parks and on rooftops) and watch & dine luxuries. You can also do celebrity-spotting. It’s a good place to practice that sport if that’s your thing.
  17. Geography: As if there isn’t enough wonderful things about London already, another absolutely delightful characteristic is the dynamic areas. From Stratford to Wimbledon, from Hampstead to Crystal Palace, every area has developed its own personality. If you are up for walking, there will be countless places where you turn a corner and hipster town turns into 1960s bunker-style enclosures, where on one end of the street stands elegant half-moons of white townhouses and the other end is full of corner shops and raw ruggedness. So study a map of London for a bit, and then go out for a long stroll. The longer the better (I’ve done 5-hour walks myself).
  18. Travel: Trains are expensive. Ridiculously expensive. Travel anyway. Go north to meet the great Scots, gawk at JK Rowling-writing spots, find the Loch Ness, and admire majestic nature in the Lake and Peak Districts. Go west to see ancient roman remains, drink Irish coffees, and breathe in all the beauty of the Cornish coast. Go east to stand under the shadows of the cathedrals and atop iconic, rolling white cliffs. Go south to dig your toes into the sand and dip your feet into the great English Channel. Or simply stay in London and spend lazy weekends on the many greens. Have picnics, with drinks. Observe city wildlife and the tourists that try to take a selfie with them.
  19. Love: 8.8 million people. There is no better place to find that him or her. And if you don’t succeed, you’ll have met some incredible people along the way. Have some fun!

This may only be a morsel of what it is like to live in this dazzling town, but hopefully, it’ll help settle you into an insane rollercoaster ride, or a tranquil boat ride, whichever you prefer to have your life be here. London is vastly accommodating to every sort of lifestyle.

Take it all in. You are in one of the most fabulous, dynamic, and fearless cities in the world.

Eat. Watch. Laugh. Love.

Enjoy.

 

 

 

Yangon: Shwedagon

After two days here, I figured it was time to make a trip to the Shwedagon Pagoda, the central attraction of this city.

I arrived at the West Gate. There was a separate entrance for foreigners, as we were the tourists and needed to be examined and charged so we don’t offend the gods.

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After my wallet was 8,000 Chaks lighter, the slit on my long dress was clipped together, my shoes were in my backpack, and I had a sticker on my chest identifying me as a foreign visitor, I was on my way up to the golden temple. Past the golden pillars that held up, what looked like a wooden ceiling, up a flight of stairs, suddenly, two escalators stretched upward to the security.

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There were temples, small and large, placed in circles around the main golden conglomerate of temples, reaching a crescendo with the main dome. Temples that housed Buddhas and monks, temples of shimmering, beautifully-detailed pillars bursting with gold, red, turquoise, and silver. Temples that provided a welcomed relief from the scorching sun, with wooden floors and ceiling fans, for rest, food and chatter.

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There were people paying their respects to the gods, on their knees praying, splashing water on the designated statue, and giving to the gods. But the bigger thing I noticed was that the locals used it as a space to stroll through, to rest under the vast swaths of shade, to picnic with family and friends, to spend time with each other. It was a communal, safe space to congregate and connect.

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As my bare feet burnt on the sun-brazen tiles, I snapped up photos and discovered back spaces full of trees and lovers, monks taking a break and quenching their empty stomaches, groups of children running around, drinking stations filled with more than a dozen taps to collect water from.

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Despite the intense midday sun, most of the 2-hour walk around the pagoda grounds were peaceful and spiritual. Well, as spiritual as it can get for someone who isn’t religious or spiritual in any thoughtful manner.

Yangon: Cityscape

The first thing my body registers is the spike in heat. It presses lightly on my skin like a gentle hug. As the day wore on, it slowly seeps through to rejuvenate my cold and miserable bones.

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Then comes the chaotic, but surprisingly orderly traffic. Cars stay on their side of the lane, and does not swerve into oncoming traffic to get ahead. One or two cars cut in horizontally but otherwise, everyone generally obeys the rules of the road. There are curious faces poking out of un-air-conditioned taxis at us, and I stare back with the same level of fascination. Sometimes we both look away shyly after making unintended direct eye contact.

From beyond the windows of my comfortably chilled car, there is an onslaught of sounds. Car horns, motors, bus brakes, people shouting out services that they offer, all swirling and dancing around the metal and glass of my taxi and conglomerating at boulevard intersections.

After a quick lunch of Shan noodles at a scantily decorated roadside shop and a cup of latte at a hipster Singaporean-run establishment, I napped away my afternoon until the evening glow of Yangon flittered through my hotel window.

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Walking in the night-side of the city, the buildings that stood silent and pale during the day, come to life. They put on their neon suits and billboard bracelets, giant light towers lining the streets. Honking cars and packed buses flash their headlights and boom by in red and yellow. The Sule Pagoda stands in all its golden glory at the centre of the world.

Despite all the activity and electricity, the city is distinctively dark. Stars in the sky can be easily spotted, even as I stood next to the shining Sule Pagoda. In a city of 5.21 million lives, being able to look up and see the universe glimmer is a rarity among big cities.

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It hurts, everywhere.

“later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere.”

-Warsan Shire

This is in light of the deaths in Baghdad, that just climbed to a horrific 281.

This is in light of the 3 suicide bombings in the Saudi cities of Qatif, Medina and Jeddah.

This is in light of the careless decision made by Blair to follow the US into Iraq in 2003, casting aside considerations of the human and moral costs in order to preserve the UK-US ‘special’ relationship.

This is in light of Charlie Hebdo, November 2015, 7/7, 2004 Madrid train bombings, 9/11, June 4th, and all of the heinous crimes and senseless killings perpetrated on humans by humans. Too many to count. Too many for anyone to hold in their memories without breaking down in despair and hopelessness.

I’m obligated to say that my thoughts are with the families and loved ones of the victims of these attacks. But these words mean nothing. They cannot bring back the dead. They cannot rewind time. They offer little, if any, comfort to the families and friends of the victims. They are empty echoes in a world filled with violence and hate.

I’m sorry we couldn’t do better. I’m sorry we are still fumbling around in the dark and stabbing at each other. I’m sorry we are such selfish, foolish creatures who can’t simply value and love one another.

I’m sorry I don’t have the words.

I’m sorry I couldn’t do more.

I’m sorry this is all too late.

I will not. Be.

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I will not be quiet.

That is not who I am.

I speak my thoughts with a conviction that may be too loud on the subway.

But I will not speak softly,

Because you are embarrassed by it.

I will not be “lady-like”.

I stride with a confidence that may be too overwhelming for some streets.

But I will not be demure,

Because you think it’s too much.

I will not be “chill”.

I embrace my feelings in all their splendour, that may be too emotional for some men.

But I will not be “cool”,

Because you can’t handle it.

I will not change for you,

Or for anyone who refuses to accept me as I am.

I will sing at the top of my lungs, all of the hits of the day,

And Tay-Tay.

I will enjoy every minute of what you consider “rom-com”, “chick-flick” trash.

I will cosy up in my onesie at home on Friday evenings and dance away your “FOMO”.

If you can’t take me on,

That is your problem,

Not mine.

I have no obligation to hold to your standards,

To what you think is right and proper.

Your labels do not define me.

Your words do not affect me.

You cannot change me.