PSA – I’ve created a TripsAdvisor Trips Itinerary for London, which I spent a lot of time in last year. It has all my favorite spots for culture, arts, food, etc. You can view it in map or list view here. Hope it’s helpful! x
I was in london for a week in May, chasing certain ideas and chancing instead upon other things that make you go, well, life, whatddaya know? A good trip, in other words. I recognize how blessed I am to be able to say: it’s my fifth time in london now, so i felt no compulsion to rush around aggressively sightseeing. (You should have seen me my first time in london, i hung around chinatown, wept at imitation laksa, hyperventilated during phantom of the opera, was dazzled by leicester square and pronounced it lei-ches-ter the way all tourists do, a sure sign of naivete: the assumption that england is bound to the phonetic rules the rest of the world holds. I was publicly embarrassing, in other words.) No, no. This time I crashed on a friend’s couch, read compulsively, crossed lengths of london alone, caught up with old friends. It was so great.
Life has been rushing ahead without any consideration for the part of me that struggles to catch my breath, and I was afraid that if I left it too long I’d never get around to documenting my london trip. Already it’s June, and I have so much i still want to say from my trips to helsinki (jan), chiang mai (march), and so on.. Hell, I have thoughts backlogged all the way from when I was in san francisco last october. So I’d better get started now. Here we go..
trishna: come stay with me, offering my couch because friendship
me: are you sure
me: because im not going to say no to free accomodation
me: do you want anything from sg
trishna: salted egg fish skin chips
Donald, this is the art of the deal.
Perhaps it is because i rarely have pasta (my noodle cravings are mostly of the asian variety), but i was so easily – too easily, even – blown away by how fresh and straight up yum this was.
19 Ganton St, Soho, London W1F 9BN, UK
Fresh pasta followed by a very girly night at home, painting our nails, trying on outfits together for each other to rate, googling (and then trishna actually succeeding at) ‘how to make scented candles’, me picking out the copy of Americanah i gave her a year ago lying untouched on her shelf and going WHY THE HELL HAVENT YOU FINISHED THIS YET? Bahaha. More or less an early night, I was exhausted from the flight.
day two and beyond: things i did alone
Opened Forgotten Country on the tube and promptly cancelled all my morning appointments, found a cafe, and sat down to finish it. Forced myself not to cry in public – a feat of pure discipline. Raved about it while also being aware of how flawed the technical aspects of the book were, thought about the ways we weigh up emotional impact vs skill when it comes to books, film, art, et al. Decided that i still liked the book very much but it may not hold up to a second re reading.
Ran in the rain to catch a bus, not by choice.
Read Elena Ferrante’s The Lost Daughter on my phone’s NLB app in between the two shows and it was so amazing, i finished the book feeling this small sorrow at having been privy to such a compact form of perfection, having had accessed the interior life of this lonely italian mother. It was very strange, fluctuating between the two extremes, laughing till i had to pee, then feeling this immense gravity within me from starting and completing the book (it’s pretty short, and i’m a fast reader), then immediately transitioning to side-stitch laughter again. I texted my friend: how’s the party? I went to a comedy show instead and he replied: i didnt know london HAD comedy shows. He lives in london.
The Top Secret Comedy Club
170 Drury Ln, London WC2B 5PD, UK
The next day was the only morning in my 2 week trip to europe that i had specifically dedicated to taking photos on my instagram, or had you forgotten that i live out a large part of my life participating as a cog in the commercial capitalist system? I spent two hours in the morning shooting with a photographer from sweet escape, then met trish for brunch at the built-for-instagram elan cafe. After that she went home to study (omg, i said, student life!!! And she rolled her eyes on me because i had graduated less than a year before hahaha and there i was talking like an old person) and i went to daunt books, another independent bookseller, and took photos of all the books i knew i wanted to read. I purchased han kang’s the white book and ayobami adebayo’s stay with me, i would have purchased more, but i was trying to be conscious of my luggage restrictions. Turns out my estimation skills suck and i was stopped at the airline counter anyway, they made me take out all my books and hand carry them to singapore. Ah well. A small price to pay.
I really liked daunt books – i tend to really like all independent booksellers, to be honest – because they organized their fiction by region, so a shelf for Southeast Asia, Middle East, America, Italy, India, etcetera. Obviously they had more space dedicated to european fiction but still there were a good number of books from the rest of the world, and this made it easy to locate them. Idea!
Then I bought day-of tickets to The Comedy about a Bank Robbery and it was not my kind of funny but still very enjoyable. The main female lead was so talented and assured in her role, and i googled her after and it turned out this was her first gig out of school??? Then I felt sorry for myself for a bit because i was intimidated and jealous, i suppose. But i only indulged for a short moment, then told myself what kind of unhelpful reaction to any sort of talent is that you goon, and got over myself soon after. My seat was in the second row and it only cost me 10 pounds fifty on lastminute.com, the moral of the story is it’s easy to get cheap seats when youre travelling alone and your plans are very flexible.
I went to The Ordinary and bought a ton of their caffeine solution 5% + EGCG as gifts for my friends in singapore because i knew they wouldnt take offense at my extremely accurate diagnosis of the state of the standard singapore working professional’s eyebags. I was right.
I read Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng on the Libby app, it was much better than her first book, Everything I Never Told You. I have a funny story about Everything I Never Told You actually, i had gone to Kinokuniya in Singapore two years back looking for singaporean writers and their works, wanting to familiarise myself with the local literary canon. Celeste Ng was stashed under Singaporean Literature so i bought it and started reading it immediately. I remember thinking wow she writes the asian american immigrant experience so clearly, how did she know and i even wanted to email her to ask her about her writing and research process. Then I googled her and turns out she has NO AFFILIATION WITH SINGAPORE and the moral of the story is kinokuniya can really be freakin country-ist sometimes, surname Ng means singaporean ah. The end.
I also bought last minute tickets to Everybody’s Talking about Jamie which was SUCH a great show!! I got super lucky with the tickets too, i got dress circle box tickets for 20 pounds, and the other two people in my box had bought them for 50, LOL. The man in my box asked me how i got them so cheap and i said: have you heard of the broke student’s guide on jemmawei.com? It was more suave in my head than when i said it, he just went, er, no. Then I chickened out and said: ha ha er yea well you can book it for good prices on last minute.com if you want to buy on the day of or day before and just shrunk back into myself in utter mortification. Anyway, good show. I’m glad it was good because it was between that and Phantom for the 6th time and if it wasnt good i would have wanted to die even more than i already did from that whole thing with the man in my box.
I was momentarily torn between making the most of my last few hours in london and reading, but in the end reading won out. I went back to the apartment early and sat at the cafe opposite, had banana cake and a coffee, marvelling at how all coffee is good in the uk, and finished Stay with me by Ayobami Adebayo.
Then, draining the last of my cortado, i stood, packed my bags and left.