I woke up early this morning and took a walk around the hotel’s neighborhood. I went down Euston, around the British Library, along Camden High Street, and eventually made it all the way to Camden Town tube station before turning around. On the way back, I looped around Euston railway station and wondered if it might be a better option than King’s Cross for taking the Tube. Later on we gave it a try, and for the rest of our time in London, we used Euston as our go-to Tube station. It seemed to be less crowded and a better walk to and from the hotel.
At the beginning of Camden High Street I saw a statue of a man named Richard Cobden. Although I had no idea who Mr. Cobden was, I was still awestruck by the age of the statue, 144 years old at the time I saw it. The street itself was a pleasant walk and reminded me of Mission Street in my own neighborhood in SF, with all sorts of shops and eateries bunched up together. There was a vibe in the air, sort of like how it is when you’re at a show and everyone’s waiting for it to start. I think I got a feel of what it might be like to be a Londoner starting off my Saturday morning.
Back at the hotel, JC was now up so we enjoyed a breakfast of supermarket food purchased the night before. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a microwave in our room and I ate the Scotch egg cold. I liked it, but it probably would have been even better if it was warm.
The rest of the afternoon was spent resting and relaxing. After being on our feet so much the past few days, we needed it. I used the time to research and reserve a rental car for Scotland, as well as airfare to New York City, our destination after the UK.
In the evening, we had a relatively fancy dinner with steak, wine, and dessert at the hotel restaurant before making our way to Westminster again so that we could see nighttime versions of the famous sites. It was freezing cold but we couldn’t pass up on taking a few photos:
We crossed Westminster Bridge and headed for Waterloo station to check out this Bourne Ultimatum filming location for ourselves. Maybe it was at night and not as crowded, but I couldn’t recognize anything. We did use the 30p toilet and I bought a computer magazine from WHSmith, so it wasn’t a total loss.
Across the street from Waterloo station was another Sainsbury’s (our new favorite supermarket?). After having paid so much for alcohol from the hotel bar, I figured I’d save some money and buy an entire bottle instead. They had Laphroaig 10 for 33 pounds, so that’s what I got. One curiosity I noticed is that the “regular” size of Scotch in the UK is 70cl, or 700ml. In the US, the regular size is 750ml. I guess what they say about everything being bigger in America applies to Scotch, too.
We took the 59 back to the hotel and I spent the rest of the evening reading my new magazine and sipping my new Scotch, a nice way to end a regular day in London.
This was a special day for me. After 15 years, I finally visited the British Museum.
I first wanted to go after I read Peter Hopkirk’s Foreign Devils on the Silk Road for Asian Studies class in college. I was fascinated by the stories of ancient towns along the Silk Road and the race to uncover and excavate them, and over the years the book has become one of my favorites of all time. There were many references to the British Museum in the book, and I knew that someday I had to go there to see for myself the artifacts that were uncovered during those expeditions.
As I wrote earlier, we ended Day 6 researching and reserving for Scotland. We started off Day 7 going to King’s Cross railway station to pick up the tickets. It was a beautiful day, and knowing that we were going to the museum, there was no way I was leaving my camera this time.
In the same immediate vicinity, there are three distinct railway stations: St. Pancras International, King’s Cross railway station, and King’s Cross St. Pancras tube station. It can get confusing, but of course clear and useful signs instruct you on which way to go. To get to King’s Cross, we walked past the magnificent St. Pancras International (the leftmost photo is of the hotel which sits atop the station where we took the Eurostar). A tunnel connects the two stations, but it was too nice of a day for that.
Once we got to the station and were in line for the ticket dispenser, I saw a woman drop her wallet as she walked away from the machine. Normally, I wouldn’t hesitate to point out to someone that they had dropped something, but in this instance I noticed that someone else had also seen it happen, and for a second I hesitated while I waited for the other person to say something. The woman walked out into the crowd and someone else picked up the wallet and went after her. I couldn’t see if he caught up with her or not, I hope he did. I told myself that I was a tourist in a foreign country and that it was probably for the best that I minded my own business, but in a similar situation in the future I think I would probably feel better if I acted.
Anyhow, we now had our tickets to Scotland. We made our way to the Tube station to once again take the Piccadilly line to Chinatown. With my camera ready and able this time, I snapped a photo of the 1973 Metro Cammell stock running on this line. Nice!
Since Piccadilly Circus was just one station away from Leicester Square and Chinatown, we decided to take the Tube one additional stop so that we could see the famous landmark.
We made our way up Shaftesbury Avenue and saw a huge 18-wheeler try to squeeze itself out of a tiny alley. I’m not sure whether the truck was supposed to be in that alley (Denman Street). It actually brushed up against the traffic pole!
The rest of the walk was uneventful, and soon we were back in Chinatown. It didn’t occur to me at the time, but perhaps travel fatigue really did get to us and we needed comfort food, because that was the third day in a row that we had Chinese food for lunch.
We noticed that in London, the equivalent of the American “all you can eat” is “eat as much as you like”. I got a kick out of that. Similarly, we noticed a lot of “off-licence” signs outside of liquor stores. When I first saw these signs, I imagined that the liquor store must have violated some alcohol-related law and so had their license revoked. Looking it up reveals that it’s actually the complete opposite: if a store has this license, it means they’re allowed to sell alcohol to people to consume off the premises. For the Vietnamese Restaurant above, “fully licensed” means they’re allowed to serve all kinds of alcohol as opposed to just wine and beer. Fascinating.
With our bellies full, we resumed walking on Shaftesbury Avenue towards the British Museum. We passed by the Palace Theatre, and also saw a prototype Routemaster:
Finally, we made it to Great Russell Street, and there it was: the British Museum. I want to get all melodramatic and say it’s like a dream come true to be able to travel halfway across the world to visit a place that I’ve only read about in a book, yet in another respect, after having done it, it doesn’t seem so difficult, either monetarily or temporally. Anyone can go if they really wanted to. Maybe sometimes we limit ourselves more than we realize.
Once inside, I headed straight for the China, South Asia, and Southeast Asia gallery. I decided to take it slow and start from the end of the hall and make my way back towards the center. There were so many things to see that after a couple of hours, I had barely progressed past Imperial China. One of my favorites was a poem written by Su Shi displayed with the “Wine from porcelain cups” exhibit, pictured below:
Many a time I have asked myself the same questions. Many a post on this site have been written while under the intoxicating potion. It is comforting and reassuring to know that some of the things I contemplate about life have been contemplated for hundreds, if not thousands, of years before I ever existed. How many more in the future will do the same?
At this time JC had made her way to where I was and we decided to take a coffee break at one of the cafes in the Great Court. We enjoyed some much-needed beverages and snacks before heading our separate ways again, with me of course heading back to Room 33.
I picked up where I left off and soon after, found what I had come for. Exhibits from the Silk Road, brought back to England by Sir Aurel Stein, one of the main characters in the book. I was giddy. I wanted to grab the person nearest to me and tell them how excited I was, tell them how long I had wanted to be where I was now. So many events had to take place in order for me to be in that moment. It was unbelievable (you’ll forgive me if I’m a bit melodramatic now).
After I viewed all of the Silk Road exhibits, I sat down on a bench beside them and opened up Foreign Devils on the Silk Road on my smartphone and re-read chapter 5, “Aurel Stein – Treasure-Seeker Extraordinary” (yes, I know, would have been even better if I had my original book with me). To read this chapter with the stuff described in it right next to me was so freakin’ cool! It is an experience that I will remember for a long, long time.
We chose Friday to go to the British Museum because Friday is the only day that it is open late, so I still had time to see the other exhibits on my wishlist: the history of money, Lindow man, the Rosetta Stone, and the Mummy of Katebet. Seeing Lindow man, I tried to imagine (with difficulty) what it must have been like to be killed in such a manner. What could compel one human being to cause such physical harm to another? What thoughts run through one’s mind as one is being killed? Our minds are capable of such darkness.
You might notice that I don’t really have any photos of the exhibits – I didn’t take any because I didn’t want to take away from actually experiencing and viewing the exhibits with my own eyes. I have found that sometimes I can get carried away with taking pictures, so concerned with cataloging everything that I end up seeing everything through a viewfinder and forgetting to just enjoy the moment. Well, I didn’t allow that to happen here.
We stayed at the British Museum until closing. Afterwards, we walked back to Tottenham Court Road to take the bus home, but not before stopping by Sainsbury’s to buy some dinner. You know what they say, never go to a grocery store when you’re hungry. Well, we did and we bought a whole bunch of stuff, but fortunately since it was the supermarket it was relatively inexpensive, all under 30 pounds. I bought something called a Scotch egg. As we walked to the bus stop, we walked past a new sushi restaurant that was doing a 2-for-1 promotion. We figured we could take advantage of this offer and eat the food that we had just bought later. We ended up getting two really delicious sushi boxes and free miso soup for under 10 pounds. Wow!
We ended the night eating our delicious dinner while watching a couple of our favorite TV shows on my laptop connected to the hotel TV. If there is such a thing as a perfect day, then this day was close to being it.
We were definitely settling into London – on this day, we woke up around noon after a night of Macallans and martinis. After seeing the aquariums in Tokyo and Paris, I wanted to check out the aquarium in London, so I went online and booked some tickets. Then, we tried to decide where to eat. That night when we went walking after Pizza Express, we walked past a Chinese restaurant called Chop Chop Noodle Bar that looked interesting. After checking online to make sure it wasn’t completely shitty, we decided to go and give it a try.
I’m used to Americanized Chinese food, but this was anglicized Chinese food, and it was pretty good, IMO (JC would beg to differ). It’s great eating greasy Chinese food after a night of drinking. After the meal, we made our way back to Euston Road and waited to take the 59 again to get to County Hall and the aquarium.
Turns out that this was a pretty good aquarium in its own right. My favorite exhibit had to be the Ray Lagoon, an open pool where various rays (and some complementary fish) swam up to you in search of food. I stayed at this exhibit for quite some time, watching the fish and majestic rays swim about.
There were also a few freshwater displays, but I was disappointed that some of them used artificial plants. The main message was one of environmental conservation, so maybe the use of such plants was appropriate.
Conveniently, right across the exit to the aquarium was a McDonald’s. After being on our feet for a few hours, we stopped here for a quick rest and a bite to eat. There was some banter going on between the cashier and her coworker, and then she turned to me and asked me in a really strong British accent if I agreed; I had no idea what she was saying, so I just smiled and nodded.
After a long day of doing touristy stuff, we winded down with a nice, quiet dinner at a sushi restaurant in a residential area near our hotel. That night, I researched and booked everything for our next stop, Scotland.
October 10, 2012 (Wednesday) – on this day we woke up craving some HK-style breakfast, so I fired up the laptop and did some searches to see what was good. There were a couple of places in London Chinatown with decent reviews; after figuring out how to get there, we walked over to King’s Cross to take the Piccadilly line to Leicester Square.
As this was effectively our first real day as tourists in London, I was pretty excited about everything, making sure to take in as much as I could. I picked up a free Metro newspaper and flipped through it on the Tube, all the while observing my fellow passengers. I noticed some people using Kindle devices, some reading real books. On that first day I didn’t think it, but now I can safely say that nowhere have I seen more Kindles in use at the same time than on the London Tube.
It was only a few stops so we quickly arrived at Leicester Square station. It was around 11 AM and really crowded, and when we got back up to street level I noticed some people lining up, perhaps for a midday show or something. Maybe that’s why it was so crowded. We made our way up Charing Cross Road and quickly found the restaurant.
I don’t know why I didn’t check earlier, but the restaurant was closed until noon and the few right next to it were the same. No matter, we figured we’d use up the time walking around Chinatown and Leicester Square, and maybe find an alternative place to eat. We walked through the entire Chinatown and found that most of the restaurants there didn’t open until 12:00. I guess there aren’t many people getting early-morning congee in London Chinatown.
After the meal, we walked all the way back to the hotel, along Charing Cross Road, through to Tottenham Court Road, and then back on Euston Road. It was a super long walk, but it was also a great way to see London. Along the way, we stopped at Heal’s to use the bathroom, and bought a Tesco Mobile top-up voucher from Tesco (yes, I was obsessed with Tesco Mobile). Heal’s was really nice; I browsed and fantasized about buying and owning their furniture while waiting for JC to come out from the bathroom. On Euston Road, we passed by the Wellcome Collection.
The rest of the afternoon was spent in the hotel room recovering from the walk and playing with my new SIM card, setting it up to work with my phone. It was great having mobile internet again!
The highlight of the day had to be the pub dinner. Believe it or not, I’d never been to a pub before, so even the ordering process was new and interesting to me: go up to the front, order your food and drinks, pay, and then bring the number sign (and your drinks) back to your table. The food was brought to you when ready. Dang! Who would’ve thought?
(Another thing that we learned at the pub: a “jacket” is a baked potato.)
I decided to go all out with the Ultimate Mixed Grill, which included BBQ pork ribs, Cumberland sausage, rump steak, gammon steak, chicken fillet, 2 fried eggs, and beer battered onion rings. Washed it all down with a pint of Staropramen, recommended by the barman. JC had a leek and potato soup, a slice of steak and ale pie, and of course, a cup of tea, with milk. What a meal!
It was still a bit early after the meal so we headed to a bus stop to do one of our famous “get on the first bus that comes” tours. As luck would have it, tonight we got the 59 to Streatham Hill, Telford Avenue. It was a nice ride at first (we saw Big Ben for the first time!) but it turned out that this was a commuter bus heading back to the suburbs, so the second half of the ride was just views of dark, residential neighborhoods. I did get a kick out of the computerized announcer announcing the name of the line after every stop, though. When the bus got to Brixton Station, we got off and stopped by Sainsbury’s before taking the Victoria line back to the hotel.
We finished off the night with another round of drinks from the hotel bar. Having chatted with the bartender the night before, I knew that it was his last night at work before going to Scotland on holiday. Actually, I had thought about going to Scotland as well, but at that point I was starting to feel unsure. I kind of had an “OK, you’ve had enough, you’ve spent a lot of money, maybe it’s time to go back to the States” feeling. We were also starting to feel some travel fatigue (notice the lack of photos in this post due to my not wanting to lug my camera around). It is possible that talking with the bartender was the impetus I needed to push forward and seize the opportunity that was just a few hundred miles away. If so, the hotel-priced whisky I drank over those two nights was worth every penny.
I finally took the time to make the site look like I’ve always wanted it to look, the way it looked before I switched to WordPress. If I knew it would only take me a day, I would have done it a long time ago. Previously, I had already created a child theme, using the WordPress Twenty Eleven theme. I messed with the CSS a bit and got the site to somewhat look like my old one, but there were some issues such as the sidebar not appearing on individual posts, some fonts being too large, etc. Well, it turns out that there have been plenty of other people with the same sidebar issue, so I was able to find a solution pretty quickly. After that, I used Firefox’s Inspector feature (under Tools->Web Developer) to look at individual elements to see which part of the style.css file I should edit.
The site is a better reflection of me now, and I am happy.
October 9, 2012 (Tuesday) – we pulled into St. Pancras International just before 6 PM and spent some time taking some photos at the station. There is a sculpture there called The Meeting Place. We messed around trying to emulate the embrace of the couple portrayed in the sculpture.
Afterwards, we wheeled our luggage a short distance to the hotel. It was a good thing I had already practiced the route the other day. The hotel had a completely automated check-in system. All I had to do was provide some identifying information about myself and tap a few buttons before the machine issued the key cards. Very convenient and fast, just the way I like it.
Alas, there was no way around having to deal with a real person – our room had a problem with a window that wouldn’t close, not to mention it was on the side of the hotel that faced the main road, which meant it would be even noisier. We headed back downstairs and requested a change, and were told that no more rooms were available. Upon pressing the issue, the clerk offered us a disabled-access room on the quiet, residential side of the hotel, with the caveat that we would need to vacate the room if a disabled person needed it. At first, I wasn’t too hot on the idea of an accessible room, but I figured we could just take it now, and change later if necessary. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
First, being a room for the disabled, it was close to the elevator. Second, it was HUGE compared with our first room, likely for accommodating guests with wheelchairs. I loved having all the space to spread out. And, we got to keep the room for the duration of our entire stay. Nice!
With the room matter settled, we took a quick rest and then headed out for dinner. Since we hadn’t really eaten anything since breakfast in Paris, we were pretty hungry and decided to just go to the Pizza Express across the street from the hotel. For a chain pizza restaurant, it was really good. I don’t know, maybe I was just glad that I could order my food in English for a change. Either way, it was a nice meal in a pleasant environment.
We walked off the meal exploring the area around the hotel. There was a real Tesco this time so we stocked up on some supplies, and I was able to buy a SIM card as well (I used up the Vodafone one in France). We finished the night imbibing on various selections from the hotel bar. Though it was expensive, I required a much-needed release after traveling to Hong Kong, Japan and France – the frustration had been building up from not being able to articulate myself properly, from struggling to speak and understand the local languages, from knowing that others didn’t understand me. I was happy just being able to small-talk with the bartender, to understand the subtleties in his tone-of-voice, for him to understand mine. Yes, it was nice being in an English-speaking environment again.
Just like that, it has been six months since we left America and moved to Hong Kong. The biggest change between now and the last update is that we are very much used to living here now, having to adapt to less and less. When we walk on the street, the roar of traffic doesn’t seem as loud, the temperature doesn’t seem as hot. When we eat out in restaurants, we take our sweet time looking at the menu, knowing that the servers expect us to summon them when we are ready. I’ve stopped listening to rap music. 😉
For me personally, I’m a lot more comfortable with myself than I was three months ago. I am no longer overly concerned with what time I wake up (there was a period in July when “morning” for me was 6 PM!). I am less worried about having to find work, or the type of work that I will do if and when I decide to look. I am more forgiving and accepting of people and society, and my position in it. For example, I am not a big fan of people judging other people by their appearance, something which seems to happen a lot more in Hong Kong. In the past, it would bother me a lot if I went to a place wearing shorts and a t-shirt and people glared at me. Now, the question I ask myself is, “What do you expect?” There are certain rules (whether written or not) in society that people follow, and if I decide to live my life without following those rules, then I should expect some sort of push-back. That’s just the way it is. Just as it is my prerogative to live my life not following certain rules, it is the prerogative of others to toe the social-norm line.
One question I asked six months ago was “Have we thrived?” I attempted to answer it three months ago, and looking at my answer now, it seems overly melodramatic, especially the parts about “living on borrowed time” and “living an unsustainable lifestyle”. Too complicated. I tried to answer this question using money as the yardstick. But, as I wrote earlier this month, money isn’t all that. If we are happy, healthy, and probably will be in the foreseeable future, then yes, we are thriving.
So, I guess it is true what they say, that no news is good news. I will keep this update short and sweet. I have been steadily posting here as well as tweeting, so it’s not hard to see what we’ve been up to. See you in three months!
Today’s museum post will be of my pride and joy, my original Sega Genesis system. The original console was offered to me as a bribe from my mother to get me to study hard in order to get into a prestigious high school (I think that was the last time I ever got straight 4.0s in my academic career). I don’t remember the circumstances of my Sega CD acquisition, but I do remember bringing it home, unboxing it, and then setting it up. It was in the evening and my cousin was with us. I think we bought it from Macy’s in Serramonte.
After the first half-hour it was kind of a “is that it after begging and pleading with my parents to spend $299?!?!” sort of moment. It was one of the first times I ever felt disappointed with a gaming system, but at the time I didn’t know how to process such a feeling, so I tried really hard to enjoy it more. Sol-Feace and Golden Axe with CD music? Wow! Hardware scaling and rotation? Woo! At that age I was much more easily swayed by marketing hype, unaware that it was gameplay that was most instrumental in making a game fun. So, even though Golden Axe is fun, by that time it was a 4-year-old game, and after having played it so many times in the past 3 years, new music (and actually, it was pretty crappy music) didn’t suddenly make it fun again.
Still, I fondly remember many a rainy afternoon playing Sherlock Holmes in our little tiny apartment, the little tiny and grainy video of scenes from cold, foggy Victorian London making a fine accompaniment to the cold, wet San Francisco winter outside. Ah, memories from adolescence.
We woke up this morning at a more normal time and hung out in the hotel room for a bit before heading out for breakfast. It was a pretty nice morning, slightly cold but still very pleasant:
Today we were adventurous and went to a cafe about a block away from the hotel. There, we had scrumptious full English breakfasts (we both agreed they were better than the ones from the day before), and the coffee that came with my breakfast was once again the white variant. I find it very interesting how different people can refer to different things with the same name. We are all used to our own lives in our own geographical locations, thinking that ours is the standard. There’s a sort of pride to it, like growing up Cantonese vs. Mandarin. In our family when we say “speak Chinese” we mean “speak Cantonese”. In our cousin’s family “speak Chinese” means “speak Mandarin”. I will admit, sometimes I think being Cantonese is better than being Mandarin. 😉
(Astute readers may notice that I’ve posted these breakfasts before, back when I was torturing myself. No matter, you can never get enough good food.)
The entire breakfast at the cafe was under 10 pounds, less than half of what we paid at Garfunkel’s the day before. Ouch. Maybe because the Garfunkel’s was attached to the hotel, it had hotel prices. I don’t know, are mom and pop places always cheaper than chains? Maybe not, but this one certainly was, and the food was better, too.
Although we still had a few hours before our Eurostar boarding, we like taking it slow so after breakfast we went back to the hotel. Snapped a couple of photos on the short way back:
A couple of hours later, we were all packed and ready to go:
Checkout was a breeze, and once again I noticed that the people serving us (this time, the hotel staff) were immigrants as opposed to native Londoners. I’d wanted to go to England all my life, so perhaps in my mind it had reached a fantastical status, where white English people roamed the streets and greeted you in their British accents. This might be the case in a smaller and more remote area of England, but not London, a major international city that attracts its share of immigrants. Again, I thought it was a lot like San Francisco, except it was Eastern Europeans instead of Latin Americans.
We made our way back onto Praed Street towards the Underground station. it was turning out to be quite a beautiful autumn day:
After having practiced riding on the Underground the day before, I was smart this time and took the Hammersmith and City line. As we got on the train, I was very excited to see that the train was also a Metropolitan Cammell train, just like the original stock of Hong Kong’s MTR. I’ve always been fascinated with buses and trains and planes, so it was a particular treat for me to ride on this train.
A few stops later, we were at our destination. We had about an hour and a half until departure, so we used the time to explore the station and to buy food for the train ride.
Something that JC and I both like to do when we visit a new place is to browse the aisles of a grocery store. You can learn a lot about people from the foods that they eat. In this case, it was at a Marks and Spencer’s M&S Simply Food, the supermarket offshoot of the famous department store. For example, I would venture to guess that British people love their sandwiches (perhaps because a British lord invented it?). At first, I thought that because the supermarket was inside a train station, it had a lot of pre-packed meals and sandwiches. Later, I found that it wasn’t just the store inside the station, but supermarkets everywhere that sold pre-packed sandwiches. There were so many varieties, including the traditional cucumber sandwich. For the ride to Paris, I picked roast beef, horseradish, and mayo (Wow! Yum!), and JC had roast chicken salad. So much fun!
It was great being able to bring food (and liquids) into the customs/security area (to facilitate easy deboarding in Paris, passengers go through customs in London, similar to flights from Canada to the U.S.). Now, it was just a matter of waiting for our departure.
As the train left the station, I couldn’t help but think of Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown. Like Charlie Brown, I asked myself if what we were experiencing was real. Could it be that we were actually in London, and now headed for Paris? Surely these were places that just existed on TV and in picture books? As we emerged from the tunnel and sped through the French countryside, I thought it looked rather similar to how it did in the movie. I couldn’t believe it was actually happening. Sometimes, when looking back on it now, I still can’t believe it.