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Archive for July, 2009

On a long, long night

Thunder rumbled. The familiar sound of rainwater hitting the clay roof tiles and the polycarbonate skylight soon started to reach my ears. It’s been a long time since I last heard that sound. I remember only one thunderstorm in Europe; that was last year, in Ghent, and the smell of the damp wood in Johannes’ ancient and creaking house where I lived in reminded me of my grandma’s old shophouse more than ever.

The days leading to my flight back home was long and tiring, and I was physically drained from all the heavy lifting, packing, moving, lack of sleep and unpacking. It was exacerbated by a slight asthma problem that appeared out of nowhere. I didn’t get much rest and was looking forward to being able to recuperating when I arrived.  On the day of the flight itself, and on the plane I hardly slept at all. Thus I was hoping that like two years ago, the effects of jet lag would be minimal.

It wasn’t.

I went to bed at 3am, but fell asleep around 4 and woke up at 4:30. The rain started at 6:30. In the two hours between me waking up and the rain starting I tried a variety of things; walking about my room, reading old comic books, playing games on my mobile, reading a book. In the end I picked up my Ipod and started listening to some Spitz. The last time I listened to the Japanese band was during my last days in the office, and hearing the familiar songs created a weird temporal link to dates, places, events and people halfway across the world. How strange.

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Everything Flows

My favourite-est food in the world has to be fresh fish steamed with soy sauce and all the variety of vegetables etc that goes into the dish. A huge freshwater catfish (Ikan Baung or Pak Sou Kong) was the main dish of my first dinner in KL after 2 years, and it was lovely, to say the least. ;D

I just love garlic and cili padi as well and have slowly eaten less and less of them in the UK because I could hardly finish them before they became un-fresh and consequently crappy and I had to throw them away. In the end I just kinda stopped eating them. Yesterday the garlic and cilipadi were extremely fresh, and I was happy.

Everything looks the same and works the same, but distinctly different at the same time. Many metal and wooden objects have taken on a faint patina of age, plastic and paper products have yellowed, the walls are weathered, framed photographs discolored, faces aged, voices filled-out.

I am reminded of Heraclitus, who lived 2500 years ago and said that “Everything is in constant flux and movement, nothing is abiding. Therefore, we cannot step into the same river twice. When I step into the river for the second time, neither I nor the river are the same.”

OK, so that wasn’t exactly what he said (it was actually “On those stepping into rivers the same, other and other waters flow”, which is too deep for me to understand….), and not nearly what he meant, but it is close enough.

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Add-On

The last post was meant to have some accompanying pictures; I wrote it last week and scheduled it to post at a later date, intending to put pictures in at one point. Well, I procrastinated and didn’t, and forgot about it until Tristyn wrote a fast comment and then I realised it was already published. So in the midst of a packing fervour…

choice

There really is no reason to pack 3 magazines and 2 books for a 10 hour return trip other than having a variety to choose from. ;) All of these were in various stages of completion. What can I say, I am fickle. What’s ironic is that I left them all in Glasgow and instead borrowed one of Charlie’s books to read on the way back.sunsetsmall

skiessmall

Taking the train is by far my favourite mode of transport. Among all of the countries me and Flora have taken the train together in, she thinks UK’s scenery is the most beautiful. While I personally think that what little I saw of Norway was stunning as well, I have no reason to argue with her.

From the cultivated farmland of the south to the (relative) wilderness of the Lake District to the Scottish Lowlands, looking out of the window on a Glasgow-London trip is never boring. Unfortunately traveling at 125 mph doesn’t make for great picture-taking, so clouds are the easiest.

towerssmall

towers2small

These pictures were actually taken on the London Paddington- Bristol route, but I saw similar cooling towers on the London-Glasgow route. I had no idea what these were the first time I saw them.

I guessed they were cooling towers of some kind, and 5 minutes on wikipedia showed that they were “natural draft wet cooling hyperbolic cooling towers” belonging to Didcot Power Plant, a coal and gas fired plant near Didcot Parkway, one of the stations en route.

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On an extremely hectic day in late July 2008, we rushed to Glasgow Central train station late at night and took the Caledonian Sleeper to London Euston. We arrived in the morning, dazed, tired, and with too many suitcases and bags. Fogged with sleep, we made our way to Nicholas’ place in Belsize Park where we crashed for a few days on his hospitality and figured out what to do next. A few days later we found a temporary flat in Camden Town, and we moved in immediately. Later, I found a placement in the nick of time and in November we moved to Hertfordshire, to a small town in Enid Blyton land.

In September 2008 I went to Heathrow airport with Flora (detouring first to have a good look at the then recently launched T5) to pick up my Manchester-bound sister and holidaying parents. The next day, we took a Virgin Pendolino up to Glasgow Central and spent nearly two weeks travelling about in Scotland. Later, me and my parents drove down to London in a rented MPV via Manchester, dropping my sister off at her uni on the way.

Two weeks ago I left work early on a balmy Thursday afternoon, took the FCC plying the Great Northern Route down to King’s Cross like we always do, walked to Euston and repeated my earlier journey up to Glasgow Central, this time alone. I met Charlie at the station just as the sun set, about 11pm, and spent the weekend finding a flat. I chose the best one available  (not many) and returned to London, feeling sick for most of the train ride.

And on Monday, I repeated the whole process again, this time with Flora, and again with a large number of suitcases and bags. We signed the lease for the new place, moved some of our stuff in, and returned all the way down south.

And next Monday late July 2009, it will be one last, conclusive journey (for the foreseeable future anyway), this time with a dude in a van, and with all our tons of stuff we have.

All told, it’s been exactly a year of travelling up, down, and up again, and what a year has it been!

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Leaving #4 Language

The first time someone asked me if I was “alright”, I answered yes and wondered if extreme distress was plastered all over my face.

After fifty repeats, I finally accepted that it was just the local way of greeting. It was disconcerting, and until now I must say I still feel strange when I use it (out of necessity). Yeah yea, it’s probably the same all over the UK, but I didn’t spend too long here before gallivanting off to Belgium, so I wasn’t used to it.

I find it faintly ironic that the English, having invented the english language, find it rather difficult to understand it in any other accent. Though, you could argue that having invented the language, it follows that however they speak it must be the “proper” way to do so. As far as my inconclusive experiences shows, it’s best necessary to speak in something that is at least faintly similar to the accent they use, or else be prepared to repeat countless times and then see your attempt at establishing communication dissolve into helpless despair.

The “you alright?” greeting is sacrosanct. Every single conversation in almost every possible situation is first preceded by an automatic and natural inquiry if someone is “alright”. It’s more perfunctory then the “lahs” that Malaysians use. But I suppose that is probably a more civilised starter to a phone conversation then “Ei, where are you??!?!?@#!@” as Malaysians are wont to do…

The most annoying thing is after finally getting to grips with the quirks of the language here, I now have to re-learn everything when I head back up north!

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Leaving #3 Badminton

When I was in Belgium, I used to sample Ghent’s nightlife quite a fair bit, mainly due to the influence of my housemates and classmates. With the help of alcohol, meeting people was easy. Because of the massive language barrier, conversation in badly-broken English rarely went beyond who I was, where I was from, what I was doing in Ghent, and vice versa for the other party. I usually saw them only once. Even if I did see them again I could hardly ever recognise them. Meeting new friends was easy – so was leaving them.

It is/was different here. It was sad that I only got to know a few colleagues pretty well (a minuscule percentage) but I managed to make a few friends out of the local badminton club, a group made interesting by its disparity. With my relative ease with the English language (as compared to Dutch), I was able to have quite a few conversations in between games. It’s surprising how much information can go back and forth during those few minutes……

Anyway, with my total lack of social life here, I attended these badminton nights religiously, and I like it alot. Long story short, the whole point of this post is to say that I’m gonna miss it!

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Now that the academic year has ended, the capoeira classes of the University of Hertfordshire’s Hatfield campuses has closed for the summer. Some weeks ago I went for the more adultish class at St Albans, which is even further away.

St Albans is an old, old city, complete with Roman baths and stuff. It was once known as Verulamium – the third largest city in Roman Britain. In fact, it’s one of the first settlements in Britain with a name. That’s quite an old age for a normal, everyday big town in the UK.

History is evident in its streets, but as far as I can see, modern development has gone on relatively unconstricted by its historic past, especially if you compare it with say, Bath. It’s  interesting to see how an ancient city evolves to suit the times, taking on a weird character with old, new, and faux-old stuff plonked together side by side. It’s like the old blankets in my grandma’s home,  old blankets patched up repeatedly over the years with different types of fabrics and patterns.

Verulam, the name later chosen by Francis Bacon when he took over the barony, has been similarly adopted as names for local clubs,  societies, small businesses, etc. Is this motley pastiche a better fate compared to being museumified and fossilized, stuck  in an environment suffocated by tourist hordes and tough building regulations? I don’t know.

Disclaimer: My knowledge of St Albans is limited to about half an hour of walking around trying to find the correct bus stop, long waits for buses, 4 bus rides and Wikipedia. That’s a rather limited scope, to say the least.

Anyway, I was talking about capoeira. This group is filled with serious, tough girls and strong and buff guys, and I feel out of place.

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