Leaving your home country to pursue greater things comes with the sad fact that you will also leave behind a lot of things you love. From childhood friends to your favourite “kanto” breakfast to the endless support of your family – all of which accessible only via Skype and foodporn Instagram posts. Letting go of one’s comfort zone is terrifying and the separation anxiety may be enough to make someone turn around and take the easy way out. But then I told myself to suck it up and pack my bags because my hardwork was finally paying off and this was an opportunity to change my life. Despite my fears, I know that the blanket of comfort that comes with familiarity creates an illusion that everything is okay and that maybe, things are better off this way – but that is all crap. And of this I am sure because moving to London has widened my horizons so much that I did not even know what I was missing until I began my life here. My Dad would be so proud.
Living in a foreign land is not easy and at one point I found myself hammering a wardrobe together just to have somewhere to put my clothes in, but I slowly settled myself in. After all the culture shock and initial stressors of moving in a new city wore off (i.e. Omg I have no “tabo”, what the hell is an oyster card, where do I buy rice here? Etc.), I found myself thriving in London’s strange ways. There are days when I pause, smile and recall the times when I prayed to be where I am now and there are moments where everything still feels surreal. Today, I can say that as the months roll by and the seasons change before my eyes (too quickly I must say), I have learned to love this place as a second home. I don’t feel like a lost puppy anymore, and London has anchored its way into me in its own bizarre way. So, here are a few things about the city that has definitely worked its way into my Filipino heart:
1. The London Eye and Big Ben.
It may come as cliche to some, but even I find it hard to believe at times. Everytime my bus passes by the River Thames, I always linger to stare at Big Ben and The London Eye. I supress a small smile when they become smaller and smaller as the bus zooms away. These London icons are just divine to look at no matter how long you stare at them.
2. Londoners know how appreciate the beauty of small things.
I have acquired the habit of giving value to small things such as a breeze on a warm day, flowers during spring and even direct sunlight on a really hot weather. The fact that London experiences seasons makes you treasure sunlight when you see it, because you know that come winter all these are gone. You learn to notice how lush the green greens are because when Autumn comes, they all turn yellow and wilt to make way for the cold winter days. Because of this, I find myself appreciating simple things in life more from blossoming flowers to random acts of kindness. Things I would have missed had I chosen to bury my face in my phone.
3. The city is home to cute and well behaved dogs.
Just this morning I saw the cutest pug happily rolling on the grass – today’s reminder of what real happiness is all about. The dogs are so cute that you actually feel bad you don’t own one. Big dogs are around as well but I have never seen them be of any kind of nuisance. On a warm summer day, it is common to see people hanging around the park with their canine friends jumping and running around.
4. Hot Dads.
It’s hard not to notice how good looking some dads are in this busy city. And I am talking about responsible men too. A guy once walked past me in his business suit, case in one hand and a baby in the other arm; it must have been bring your baby to work day. They say husband material men are hard to find nowadays, but they are quite abundant in this part of the world. I’ve seen dads pushing baby buggies around the grocery store shopping for dinner, changing diapers and dads bringing their kids to parks (Even without the mom!) I don’t know if I’m the only person impressed with this but a man that can babysit and do groceries is what a happy wife’s dreams are made of.
5. Couples grow old together. (I think)
I am basing this on the fact that it is not unusual to see old couples walk together hand in hand while strolling around. I always try my hardest not to stare but it is a challenge when they are just sweet and makes you go aaaaw. Coming home from my trip to Scotland we sat across another couple in their 70’s and it is a privilege to witness how love still prevails in a generation where marriage seems meaningless.
6. It is a foodie’s paradise.
You can order anything you can imagine online or via telephone or collection. Needless to say, nothing is too weird in London and all sorts of pubs and restaurants can be found. From the zingy dishes of India to Spanish tapas to a fresh steaming bowl of Pho. London is a melting pot of race and culture and it would not be a surprise to find a Ristorante boasting of family recipes that have been handed down for generations. Search Zomato or Just Eat.
Even the grocery store seems to surprise me each time. I was on the pudding section one day when I saw a pot labeled “Spotted Dick”.
7. People are apparently health conscious although the NHS might disagree with me.
It can be as cold as 6 degrees but someone will be outside for a jog or an intense run. Whenever I am headed somewhere, 80% of the time I will come across someone out for a quick run – even around Central London. A horde of Asians could be taking a selfie with Big Ben and I bet you somewhere in the crowd would be a local in the middle of a sprint. The most unbelievable level of determination I have seen was a man in very short shorts jogging outside when it was 3 degrees.
8. People don’t care.
You can wear whatever the hell you want and chances are, nobody will mind. Londoners are a bit of a snob (In a good way if you ask me), and they don’t really care much for small talk. The general populace is not aggressively rude but as a rule of thumb: they don’t want to hear about it. Just stay out of their way and keep in mind that people in London walk on the left. If you dare stand on the left side of the escalator you will be hurled into the vortex of doom.
9. The Tube.
Now the Tube is something I love and hate at the same time. Everyone owns a certain degree of hatred for the tube because of their incessant habit of going on strike. However, I truly believe that the filthy alleyways of the Underground are a source of nostalgia for most locals. People hate it, it is always a little bit filthy, crowded, too hot, smells weird etc. but they love that they hate it. Personally, I think it’s a great place to people – watch aside from the obvious that it makes manoeuvring around the city fast and easier.
10. Reading is a culture and the television is something half the population can’t care less about.
I see it on the streets, on the train, on the bus, everywhere! England is a great reading nation and I have happily picked the habit. They make you realize how much time you waste in front of the telly and how much of your brain has died as a direct result of watching too much of it. It’s a shame really, all those years I spent not reading this much.
11. Tea Breaks.
I cannot call most Londoners laidback, however, proper rest and work life balance is quite important here. At work, aside from efficiency, tea breaks are important too and employees have resources to turn to such as a “stress pack.” (I am not kidding I have the leaflets and booklets with a helpline and all.) Some days my work is busy as hell, and I cannot afford a tea break but on quiet days, it’s nice to know that I can look forward to a few minutes of tea time. The variations of how this tea can be prepared is quite interesting and would merit a discussion on its own.
You’ve probably heard of the phrase “When one is tired of London, one is tired of life”. And in ways I cannot even begin to explain, that is so true. If you’ve never been to London, then I strongly advise you visit for a while and see for yourself; and you will believe me when I say that it is not so hard to fall in love with the sweet chaos this city so beautifully thrives in. My list is not in any way exhaustive and I may have forgotten a nugget or two, but it’s a list that’s bound to grow anyway. All I know is if my life were a book right now, this would surely be one of my favourite chapters.