Saturday, January 31, 2009

10:52 AM: Small joys...

Since I've been here, I've been asked one question by many of my family and friends. Though worded a bit differently according to each person, the question holds one similar, underlying thought: "Do you like it there in London?" Each time a friend writes and asks, I think about it a little bit more as I sit at my desk, fingers poised to rap out a response. Do I like it here? Am I enjoying my time? As I walked down Tottenham Court Road the other day in cold, gleaming sunlight, my nose pink from the brisk wind, I found myself thinking about it. And I came up with an answer, the one I've been giving everyone who's asked.

Yes, I like it here. I love it here.

That doesn't mean I'm ready to pack everything I own into big cardboard boxes and cram it all into an expensive London apartment. I couldn't ever live here for a long period of time. Four months will do it. And if you add up all the traveling I'm going to do, I won't even be in London for one of those four months. But that's beside the point. Yes, I like it here. Very, very much.

Why do I like it here, you ask? I'll tell you!

Thursday was one of the most fun days I've had here so far, and it was one of the simplest. After lunch, Caris, Kristen, and I went in search of film for Caris' camera that the two of them are sharing for their photography class. We walked all the way from Baker's Street to Tottenham Court Road. The wind was brutal. We talked and laughed and haphazardly navigated our way towards this tiny slip of a camera equipment shop, where they purchased batteries and film for Caris' manual Canon. It was still early, so we jumped on the tube at Tottenham Court, headed to Waterloo Station. Destination (by my persistent urging, I must admit): Borough Market. We figured we could walk from Waterloo to Southwark. Yeah, it was a LOT farther than we thought, but I'm gad we did. We walked along the Thames, which was much colder than walking a bit further inland. We saw a three-man band performing some catchy folk music on a drum, an accordian, and a... trumpet? I think. We found a colorful skatepark right next to and under the Tate Modern. We stopped for bit for Kristen to experiment on the camera while Caris patiently taught her how to use it. I plopped on a nearby bench and wrote down shutter speeds and aperture numbers for them while they fiddled. And I people-watched.

Probably the first thing you'll notice is people's sense of fashion. Europeans--Londoners, specifically and especially--have a strong sense of fashion. Everyone is dressed nicely, or according to the trends. Everyone, even the elderly, looks hip. Every woman and girl wears boots, usually with a significant heel. Guys wear nice pants and jackets. They're not "dressed up" in that fancy sense, but they don't look sloppy. At all.

If you look at their faces, they'll look at you. It's like they know you're looking at them, even if you're not directly in their line of vision. They'll look up and see you, and look right back. If you smile, most of them won't smile back. But some do. Mostly they just look surprised, but some manage to tilt just one corner of their mouth before they brush past. I don't stare at them, or at least not intentionally. I just look, and when they look back, I smile, and wait, and look away again. I like to people-watch. The tube is probably the worst place to people-watch because it's so amazingly awkward. Most people bring something--anything--to read, even if it's the most boring piece of writing in the world. It saves them from having to look at you. I'm appreciative. I don't want to be stared at awkwardly.

Moving on... we finally made it to Borough Market, which is semi-outdoors but not as cold. It was an hour until it closed, and not many people were there. Actually, hardly anyone was there. We strolled around at our leisure, chatted with the vendors, and sampled some of the interesting-looking cuisine. An old man who owned a bread stand did his best through flattery and artful conversation to get us to buy something, but we didn't. Instead, we went to the Turkish sweets stand (different from the one I saw before), and there we were urged to try everything. And we did. They had all kinds of chocolate-covered this, and cinnamon-coated that, and all types of dried fruit dipped in white chocolate, with a hint of mint, and honeyed nuts and spicy nuts... everything. It was amazing. For 250g or one large scoop of anything you wanted: £4.25. Pretty good. A little man ran around scooping into the baskets, repeatedly chorusing "Try! Try! Try!" Caris bought about a half scoop of large, pink, white-chocolate covered raspberries, and I bought a full scoop of milk chocolate-covered coffee beans (I'm eating one now, actually). I could have stayed another hour tasting the olives and cheeses and everything else, but it was soon to be closing time. We vowed to return... many, many times.

We went to the London Bridge tube station across the street and handed Kristen the map. She's been wanting to learn how to navigate the tube, just in case she gets left somewhere. She plotted out our ride to Picadilly Circus, with a few prompts in the right direction. When we came out of the Picadilly station, it had gotten dark, and all the lights had been turned on in the busy center of town. It was truly beautiful and exciting. We found Haymarket Street, which we had been told housed a cinema that gave students a discount on film tickets: only £5:90. We checked the times for the film, "Slumdog Millionaire" (which is up for several Oscars this year), and decided to have dinner. Just down the street was a small, modern-designed restaurant called "Miso," which served a variety of Oriental food and was fairly inexpensive. We had quite a bit of time to kill before the movie, so we ordered, ate, and talked for a long time. I learned a lot about Kristen and Caris and their lives--little bits and pieces, obviously, as the telling of one's life story can take a while. We simply enjoyed each other's company. It was nice. 'Snice.

About 30 minutes before the movie, we hop-skipped to the cinema to grab our tickets and climb the labyrinth of stairs into the theatre. From the outside, the theatre didn't look that amazing, but, inside, the design resembled that of a nice, actual theatre. It was beautiful! The movie was even better--I now completely understand and agree with its being nominated for several Oscars. Ten, in fact, two of which are in the category of Best Original Song. I was thrilled. It was one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time.

The night ended with the three of us cheerfully walking back to the college. It was such a fun night! The next day, we—Caris, Kristen, Julia, Emily, and I—got on a bus to Bluewater Shopping CenterKent, following the advice of one of the Reid Hall support desk workers, William. He said that if we liked to shop, especially if the prices were cheap, we’d like Bluewater. Yeah, he was wrong, or his perception of “cheap” was completely different from ours. Still, we had fun walking around the mall all day, sifting through the sales racks, laughing at the prices, admiring each other in the dressing rooms, and sampling the faire in the food court. We grabbed ice cream—yes, ice cream, to eat in England’s freezing weather; I got “raspberry swirl twist”—before we boarded the bus home. It was a good day.

So far, most every day since I’ve been here has been a good day.

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