October 12, 2012 – Friday
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!
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.
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.