I lived in England for a year in 2003, went to school here and have been coming back every two years since. This is now my fifth visit after leaving and deciding no other place could replace the Philippines as home. But that’s not to say I don’t like it here. I love England and the different things it represents every time I come visit.
The most amazing thing about it is the train system. There is nothing more efficient in this world than the London Underground. 15 different lines in the tube that meet somewhere, somehow.
Every time I take it I feel that there is no place I cannot go to and every sliding door I either miss or make is another possibility. If I take the Jubilee line, I may pass upon a street musician singing Elton John, in a way that would stop you no matter how busy the tube is.
If you take Picadilly, you could meet a blonde little girl shouting “Freddie! Freddie! Freddie” which I thought was her brother who turned out to be a playmate and obviously her crush:
“Freddieeee! You could take the seat next to mine, I don’t mind.”
I watched them squeeze their little bodies into a chair, their skinny legs entangling and I just knew that in the complex definition of love, the moment unfolding in front of me fit in there somehow.
Or take Victoria to get to Oxford Circus just in time for a guy who looks like he’s Middle Eastern to be chancing for a free seat at a coffee shop just as you are.
“It’s a good day!”
“It really is.”
“I’m meeting my friend and he’s the worst person to meet, I don’t even know where I am!”
“I dont know where we are, too.”
He turned out to be from Manchester and while we seem to be lost, London is never a place to be lost in. There are infinite opportunities to find your way.
Guides come in many forms. It can be the London Eye, visible no matter where you look up in the sky at the Blackfriars. Or the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral that peeps in every turn of the corner, serving as a reminder that you could walk and wander to your heart’s desire but you will never go too far to be lost.
It could also come in the form of the River Thames; just follow the path and stop by the magnificent places along its way.
For example, the Tate Modern Museum that’s free of charge. There is no cost to see Henri Matisse, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso face to face and other pieces that speak to the furthest corners of your heart.
Who knew that in the four sprawling rooms of the museum, it’s the installation of climbing shoes, protective barrier and a colorful sculpture that evoked emotions? I stood there for two minutes looking at it, not really sure if I quite get it but that in my own sense and experience, I do.
Outside are the street entertainers, a man bathing under the sun with a typewriter and a sign that says “Poet for Hire.” I wanted to give it a go but how could I let a stranger compose my poetry for me? I wanted the privilege for myself.
Further along is the Globe Theatre built in 1599 where William Shakespeare first staged Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Hamlet and King Lear.
And if you walk a little bit more, you would reach the Borough Market that smells of the World, if you could imagine that. Spices from India, cheese from Scotland, and everything from everywhere.
I have been going here since 2006 but it was my first time to see The Camden Lock, the ukay ukay of London, marked by the familiar clothes I’m sure came from Thailand.
Artists bring their work there to sell, wooden wall markers that say “Hogwarts,” or reinvention of Banksy’s street art, fit for the room I have pegged for a personal gallery. It is a melting pot of the world too, vendors there come from all over: France, Morocco, China, India, Mexico, converging at the Camden Lock like they were born to end up there. It seems there is no other place in the world for all that stuff but there.
It was the same vibe at the Portobello Market, the famous market where the bookshop of Hugh Grant’s character in Notting Hill is located. The Notting Hill shop was still there, too, albeit missing the “g.” My sister was able to score cheap finds such as a hat and a wound up film camera she haggled for £13 from an old Armenian man.
I was just a girl, standing in the middle of Portobello, not asking a boy for anything. I was experiencing this amazing bite of the world; you do not ask for love here, you find it, take it, or better yet, create it.
Poets from Europe all the way to Asia created love and immortalized it forever and for always in Cambridge — inspired by the captivating river Cam and its enchanting bridges, surrounded by architectural masterpieces of its world famous University.
Just so a girl like me from the South East can come here decades later and listen to a strikingly handsome half-British, half-Italian man tell the story of Xu Zhimo and the fusion of English and Chinese poetry. Poetry he created while at the legendary King’s College founded by Henry VI.
The handsome guy told the story in English accent too, while operating the stick to move the boat they call a punt. During the ride, I abused my barely tolerant lungs with beer while I watched my sister flirt.
My friends have instructed me to flirt too and it looked like the perfect opportunity. But how could you do anything else when the view demanded more attention than I can give?
I could see why Cambridge has inspired some of the world’s greatest literature and history’s most magnificent tales. The rivalry of St. John’s College and Trinity bred a culture that schools all over the word followed until today.
In the past, I had thought of England as a somber place. Houses made up of bricks and stones provide a darker hue to a place already covered by a sullen sky, a sky that always looks ready to let rain fall out.
Except during God-given sunny days, England is still that. Its colors are always saturated three levels too high and unlike almost all countries in Asia especially the Philippines, there is a demand for silence.
Almost like being a fortress of solitude, it’s something I used to despise but now love. I find it comfortable even.
Not to undermine our local county of Hertfordshire. Given, there’s not much to see here but vast fields of green, but that’s not to say it’s not as equally captivating. It wouldn’t be the setting of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice if it’s not. It’s also the setting of the first pages of a Nick Hornby novel that I’ve now gotten rid of.
To find the countryside peaceful and healing tells me I’ve grown so much in the last 11 years. Every corner I turn to, there’s my 11 year old self with whatever pain she’s bearing — the roundabout near my house I ran away to one forsaken night at home, the bus stop near the local hospital where I froze waiting for a bus one day during the winter because I didn’t want to be fetched — all of them disappear as we drive by. I am so much better now and I like how I turned out.
I just needed some time to detach.
England is detached, too, geographically. It is separated by a body of water from the rest of Europe. I’d like to think of it as the world letting England be, to decide and discern all by itself.
It’s probably what helped the great writers like Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Barrett Browning and the Brontes to create the literature that would defy time and distance.
And the most amazing thing of all in England — the English trifle. Layers of thick custard, sponge cake soaked in wine, fruits and cream coming together perfectly as if it’s the only thing in the world that do!
The ways to enjoy England are endless. It makes up for whatever wrong it did to you and to dwell on its misgivings would be betraying all the good things it has to offer. You just have to choose to look around, move on and know that it always, always gets better.
[Entry 12, The SubSelfie Blog]
About the Author:
Lian Nami Buan is the Associate Editor of SubSelfie.com. She leads the #SubStory and #TanawMindanao segments of the website. She also produces special reports for State of the Nation with Jessica Soho. She wants to shift focus to human rights, particularly indigenous people, women and migration. Whenever she has money, she travels to collect feelings for writing material. Journalism 2010, UST. Read more of her articles here.