After three years of mere thinking about it, I went up to London. There was no plan, not really. Secretly, I had an agenda but out of self-preservation and not wanting to be disappointed, I formed no particular plans. With a daily budget that was mainly centered around my coffee addition (sixteen coffee shops in four days), I spent my time in London the way I enjoy the most: on foot and with a flat white in my hand.
Piccadilly Circus saw me early in the morning on the first day. Filled with positive energy through the day, I walked for hours around London’s beating city center. It felt like coming back home. London is too much like Hong Kong with the crowds, busyness, and constant movement, but it’s Europe. The European feel. My exquisite Europe. The one I crave and love so much. I checked people’s faces on the street. I calculated that my chances of running into him, in a city of nine to fourteen million depending on how you look at it, were next to zero. I looked a little harder around the House of Nigeria, feeling incredibly imbecilic about it. Sherlock Holmes’ pub across the street took care of me for an hour afterward.
With what felt like a permanent knot in my stomach, I explored the beautiful sunny London. In four days, there was not a single drop of rain. National Gallery invited me in and its beauty dissolved all the feelings in my gut. At least for a short while. I found it hard to leave. Joachim Beuckelaer’s Four Elements drew me in and I struggled with the Air and Fire. Could not see the imagery, could not feel the theme. I returned to the four paintings a number of times before finally leaving. But there was nothing. I dropped some coins on my way out as an appreciative gesture.
Crossing over to the South Bank, The London Eye freaked me out and I couldn’t even fathom going up there. I am not particularly prone to phobias but being stuck in a glass bubble suspended in the air would be one of them. I hated the way to Hong Kong’s Ocean Park and Singapore’s Sentosa Island just the same. Giving up on that side of the Thames, I made my way through the Westminster’s Bridge. It was then that I realized my love for London planted itself with the first viewing of the Parent Trap almost two decades ago, and it has now solidified. It was a simple realization.
London is a classic city. London is love. London is where the love is.
With the architecture, the buildings, the streets of bricks, the black cabs, the couples of police riding on horses, the red phone booths, the double-deckers, the Tube signs, and the moody unpredictable weather. All of it. It all felt familiar and close. I had returned after a long time of separation. It had never occurred to me that I would like to live in London, but I am now playing with the idea. My mind races at the thought, unable to send it away. Ups and downs. Sometimes, I reject it in a heartbeat. Sometimes, I find myself mentally decorating my new London flat. My mindset changes daily and it is what is slowing me down. It always has.
One very early morning, when the sun wasn’t fully up yet, I wandered through the Camden Passage and walked away with 3 books for £3. I picked up my third copy of the Heart of Darkness, even though there is no longer any reason for me to be reading it. An old edition from fifty years ago. I held onto my phone, typing the message then deleting it, three or four times. Over and over. My thoughts were stuck at a certain point, but on the loop at the same time. I walked for as long as I could; jumping on a double-decker only when my legs could take no more. It felt important to wear myself out physically in order to match the emotional exhaustion.
Hong Kong taught me how to run up to the top deck of the bus without breaking any bones while the driver floors the pedal, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there was no need for any panic. The London drivers are typically British. Polite. You may actually comfortably sit down before the bus sets off again. The buses are nicer, too. Everything seemed nicer. It took a while to get used to.
Apart from finding closure, my trip to London was about coffee and reconnecting friendships. But mostly, coffee. As I explored the neighborhoods, I stopped for a flat white at Workshop Coffee, Soho Grind, Monocle Cafe, Department of Coffee and Social Affairs, The Breakfast Club, The Good Egg (an accident discovery as I boarded a bus in the opposite direction into north-east of London), Benugo, Tom’s Kitchen, the famous Prufrock. I sampled the coffee from the guys over at TOMS shoes, Full Stop, Nude Espresso, and Wild & Wood. And a few more.
I hung out with a friend of mine from high school in Chelsea one afternoon; spent some time at the V&A Musem. Walked around the Royal Albert Hall, through Hyde Park to Portobello Markets. The only thing I purchased was an “S”-shaped London keychain to accompany the one I have from NYC. Then we took a bus up to Baker Street. I had to see Sherlock’s 221B, that was for sure. Such a pretty city London is, I thought. Then Soho. It was a love affair for an afternoon that I indulged in by myself. With its streets and colorful buildings, storefronts and coffee shops. I took a flat white at the Soho Radio while they were on air. At lunch time, I caught a street food market on Ruppert Street, where Radical Roots offered the most delicious salad I’ve had in a while. If I could, I would fly across the channel just for that box of freshness. There are many things in London I would fly across for on a whim. And I did.
London was everything I thought it would be, and then some.