London Revisited; The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

on Monday, December 28, 2009

I am back in Malaysia and already in the real world of work, bills and responsibilities. My break in London was a good one though and i come back well rested and recharged.

As promised, I will be posting about this adventure. To start with, I thought I would give you an introduction and a general review which I will call the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of London today compared to the London I knew 25 years ago.

The Good
There were quite a few pleasant surprises. I arrived at Heathrow Airport at a terminal that I had never been before and was pleasantly surprised at the ease and efficiency of the place. This was quite different from the chaos that I remember from 13 years ago and given the increase of security procedures since 9/11, quite impressive. It was rather a long walk to the Underground train station but then the train whisked me effortlessly through the early morning right to Piccadilly Circus. I walked out into the crisp cold morning air and into a city that was just awakening to the rhythm of a new day. It was a good start.

Just a short 200 m walk and I reached the hotel and had a great reunion with my wife who had been traveling separately for the last fortnight on work assignment. I don't like it when we are apart so the re-union was very good.

Eros at Piccadilly Circus in the early morning (LGS)

I spent the first few days in and around Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, Soho Chinatown and Covent Garden. Generally, all of these experiences were good. I was particularly impressed with Trafalgar Square. It used to be pigeon and dove infested and felt very cold and unfriendly. Visitors spent their time avoiding the stale bird droppings on the ground and on the statues and ducking the aerial bombardment with the hot and fresh variety. Well, the birds are mostly gone and the space is very people friendly now. It feels more like a space that belongs to the people and to be used by the people.

I got a similar impression about the museums and the parks. They have begun to lose their stiff institutional demeanor and become more of a place to serve the public needs. Hence there were Christmas fairs in the park and open air ice rinks outside the august Natural History Museum. London has become less stuffy and more alive. Covent Garden too has become more organic and brimming with innovation and spirit. This new London is more fun and youthful.

Trafalgar Square (LGS)

Covent Garden (LGS)

Reindeer, both artificial and real at Covent Garden (LGS)

Carnival rides (Leicester Square) (LGS)

Skating rink outside the Natural History Museum (LGS)

Outdoor Ice Rinks - grooming future Torvil and Dean's (LGS)

The food scene has also improved tremendously but that still doesn't mean that London is where you would go for a culinary experience. The improvement is in the fact there are more reasonably priced variety available with an increased emphasis on fresh ingredients. For example, the chain, Pret a Manger, offers exciting variety of sandwiches which are a world apart from the traditional fried foods of yesteryear.

The Bad
As time has marched on, London has also lost some of its traditional charm. The traditional fish and chips shop has become a rarity. Most have either closed down or have morphed into a more up-market establishment (meaning costlier). I finally did find one traditional chippie way out in Fulham Broadway that served it just the way I remembered it. You are more likely to find Indian food round the corner.

I had hoped that the quaint but functioning fresh produce market that I used to shop at near Fulham Broadway would still be there with its individualistic and colorful stalls scattered along a narrow lane. A form of the market can still be found but it no longer lies within the atmospheric side lane but on the pavement of the main road itself. The supermarkets also seem to stock less of fresh produce and more of ready meals.

I went to visit my alta mater and had mixed feelings seeing the old student's residence (which was a dump) converted now to choice apartments along the swanky King's Road in Chelsea. Good to see the fire station which was the scene of many student-firemen water fights during orientation week is still there though.

The Ugly
And finally, there was the ugly. Well, there wasn't really a lot of that. I guess the ugliest thing was the cold, wet rainy weather that I had to had to contend with for most of my stay and which resulted in me having a bad cough. But then again, cold wet rainy and miserable weather is part of the quintessential London winter experience so one really can't complain, can one?

Carols from Trafalgar Square

on Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Carolling at Trafalgar Square, 2009

The Christmas Tree from Oslo

One of the highlights of my current re-visit of London is Trafalgar Square. This historical square at one point used to be filthy and pigeon and dove infested. This has all changed and it has been transformed into a truly people friendly spot worthy of being a focal point for travelers and Londoners alike in the very heart of the city.

For many years, the people of Oslo send a tree as a gift to the people of London and it is erected at Trafalgar Square. There, under the watchful eye of Nelson's statue and just across the way from the St. Martin's in the Field church, the tree is often the spot from which choirs and carolers sing and celebrate Christmas, the birth of Christ. It is a wonderful location and passer-bys get to sit on the steps leading from the National Gallery into the Square while enjoying the performances and singing along.

My wife and I were fortunate to be there on such an evening recently. The video below is of the same event in 2008. I have also included a video of Josh Groban singing one of my favorite carols, "O Holy Night", which he is singing from Rockerfeller Center, the New York City equivalent of Trafalgar Square.

And so, dear friends, may I wish you a blessed Christmas from Trafalgar Square. May the light of love and hope that shone in Bethlehem's streets, shine also in your life. God bless.

Cold Day in Copenhagen / A Critically Warm Earth

on Sunday, December 20, 2009

Villager in Navua, Fiji, at his ancestral burial ground,
which is now covered by the sea at high tide due to rising sealevels.

I was forced to interrupt the planned regular program of posts which would have been on the on-going series about my trip to London to bring to you this important message:


It was a cold, cold day in Copenhagen when the recent Conference of Parties on Climate Change ended with no binding agreement on how to reduce the global levels of greenhouse gases. Leaders from some 190 countries met but failed to put the needs of the world first before selfish individual nationalistic aspirations.

There was no binding agreement to reduce levels of greenhouse gases effectively and there was no agreement to provide the USD 300 billion already believed to be needed to counter the effect of climate change and to equip the poorer countries to be part of the solution.

Cosmologist and mathematician Stephen W. Hawking said global warming has eclipsed other threats to the planet, such as terrorism. "Terror only kills hundreds or thousands of people," Hawking said. "Global warming could kill millions. We should have a war on global warming rather than the war on terror."

But it seems all the world leaders are unable to play fair and work together to solve the climate change problems. Several images come to mind.

Image 1: "All the world's leaders and all the kings couldn't put the world back together again" (with apologies to Humpty Dumpty )

Image 2: "Our leaders fiddled with numbers while the world burned" (with no apologies to Nero)

Image 3: "Let's not scare the people and ruin our economy" (with no apologies to all the villainous, bureaucrats/mayors/leaders from Hollywood disaster movies like Jaws and others where they ignore the warning of scientists).

Let's tell our leaders that we don't want this sort of "business as usual" leadership. We truly need someone to come and rise up to this emergency and we all need to support them.

Climate Change is already going to cause death, suffering and economic lost. We need action and not more hot air from self serving politicians.

London Revisited: Omens

on Thursday, December 17, 2009

Dear friends,

Here I am with my first post of several about my trip to London. I studied there and graduated some 25 years ago and as one dear friend quipped, "Why, that's longer than the sentence that most people get sentenced for man-slaughter." Great. Such a sweet comparison.

As I mentioned in my last post, this trip was my first real opportunity to visit London and to meet some friends since then. Many of you would have perceived that I had mixed feelings about this trip; a mixture of excitement and apprehension about what changes I would find.

Interestingly, if you believe in omens, there were two signs that did in fact represent my experience and reinforced my mixed feelings. For the first part of my trip, I stayed at a hotel and then in the second part of the trip, in a self-service apartment.

The first omen, was this sign that greeted me as I stepped out of the lift before reaching my hotel room. It had a very foreboding message and reminded me of that famous phrase, "abandon all hope, all ye who enter here".

Indeed I had a few bad experiences and disappointments in the first part of my trip but things did improve and I began to really enjoy myself in the second part. I was not surprised because I was uplifted by what I saw when I entered the lift at my self service apartment. The second omen was one of hope.


Lift - List. Get it? Schindler's Lift? Get it?

Now I don't believe in omens but I do believe in a God with a sense of humour leaving little messages for me. :)

Related Posts Widget for Blogs by LinkWithin