There is this saying by Samuel Johnson – the English writer, not to be mistaken with Samuel Jackson the badass actor – which goes along something like this:
… when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.
Surely London does not need another city guide, so I am going to call this “List of Things I Have Learned After Living in London”.
My first photo ever taken in London.
A friend once told me before I left for the city that, “you will be cold, but you will never run out of things to do in London”. Despite living in Uxbridge in Zone 6 (refer to the zones here) and it takes about an hour to get to the Central London by tube, I always try to find the time to go out. There are always museums to go, cute cafes for me to sit down with a cup of coffee and a book to unwind after long hours of walking.
Rain Room exhibition at The Barbican Centre
Look for the opportunity
London taught me about strategising and to be alert. Being a (somehow) petite Asian helps as well to navigate through the rush hour in the tube station – or if you have to play a tourist guide for a friend in the ever bustling Piccadilly Circus area. There is always that little breathing space over in the corner of your eyes where you could strategise to get there by jostling and zigzagging your way through the crowd to get there safely in one piece. That being said, being a leading global city, London is a great place for you to form a network especially for your career. I have met and been inspired by so many interesting and ambitious people over 7 months I have lived here.
London is popular for its quirkiness. There is always the first time to every thing, like being greeted As-salam alaykum by a guy in full body tattoo and highly adorned body piercings in Camden Market (and you reply with Wa ‘alaykum al-salaam with no partiality at all, of course) or singing along to On My Own with complete strangers after watching Les Miserables in Queen’s Theatre. There are colourful balloons stuck in one of the trees in Hyde Park. There is a busker playing violin along the subway of South Kensington tube station to Yuna’s Terukir Di Bintang. Things like these make London unique in my eyes.
London is an easy city to navigate despite the fact that Greater London itself covers an area of 1,583 square kilometres. My rule is easy: if you get lost, find the nearest tube station and you can always find your way home from there. London’s public transportations, although can be a bit costly, are highly reliable. There is always a journey planner and disruption schedule to check before you go out of the house. My friend jokingly said that you can never be a Malaysian in London because public transportations always arrive on time, so if you are late, that’s on you!
To the underground!
A British friend once showed me a painting in one of the churches where the sinners queued up to go to Hell and jokingly said, “See? I can definitely tell those sinners are British. No other people would queue that diligently for anything.” There is a system to queueing in London in general. If there are two counters, you form only one line and whichever counter is open first, you go to that counter instead of forming two separate lines for the two counters. And then he added, “if someone cuts a queue at Nando’s, there is a high chance they are tourists. So be empathetic. Please retract your claws.”
We say ‘please’ to everything. We call everyone ‘love’ or ‘darling’. Some people may find it awkward or offensive at first, but really, who would be offended when a stranger addresses you so fondly and without being creepy?
Take your time
Despite London is always buzzing with life and people are always walking at a pace you swear if you trip them down they would land 4 metres ahead of you (no do not do this), there is always time to slow down. Listen to the underground jazz, feed the pigeons and squirrels. In autumn, spring or summer (basically the days when the weather is great) there are benches lying around the parks where you can sit down, sunbathe and people-watch.
The pigeons at Hyde Park
In the course of 7 months, I have been to approximately 10 cities. London stays at the top of my most favourite cities for the reasons it has been kind and accepting to me, someone who had never been too well-traveled. Even when the time comes that I have to leave this city, I will find a way to be back. Do you have a favourite city that you have lived in? Which one is it, please?