[UK] I’M IN LONDON!

Sorry for the drastic update on the blog and for not having mentioned this earlier, but I have moved to London and will be here for the next year to undertake my postgrad degree. My apologies to you guys, to whom I haven’t been able to bid farewell properly, in my hectic chase to get things done in time for my flight. 

cloud bed flying into the UK
Duong Tran © 2012

So after a 14-hour flight with a technical layover in Paris, I arrived in Gatwick on Friday. The flight in was in the early morning, taking us through layers of clouds, with streaks of sunrays just dashing through, absolutely ethereal (pictured above). After some layers of fog, the first image of the UK land came into sight, of endless fields – nowhere near London yet, but quite the first impression.

Fields outside Gatwick
Duong Tran © 2012

The immigration/passport area was packed and with the planes not handing out the landing cards on board, there were hoards of people in a chaotic mess trying to get a form and find some ground to stand and fill it out. On top of that, the queue looked no more promising, with the rows dedicated to the UK/EU passports tripling, if not, quadrupling those of the “All other passports” section (indecent welcome, I find), making everything just all the more sluggish. But I must say, there isn’t the eery feeling of intimidation you get arriving in say the immigration services of JFK in NYC (or maybe that’s just me).

When I finally got out and really stood on UK soil, all I could think to myself was: “I’m freezing my butt off!”. I was expecting summer, and I really underestimated the gush of wind, and how off-sun temperatures could drop so dramatically here…not pleasant for the hair, or single cardigan, mind you. And here I thought I was so “resistant” being a Massachusetts resident for so long.

The ride back to the city is equivalent, I guess, to the distance between Noi Bai and Hanoi, perhaps a bit longer. During this time, I had my first encounter with British media through the BBC radio – throughout the 2 hours, they were just relentlessly going on, near to a political debate, about the recent French published “topless” photos of the Duchess of Cambridge – Kate. It was not looking like it was going to go onto other news either, with some people calling in, infuriated and macro-ing out to some kind of anti-British movement from the French. Nevertheless, it was all very entertaining, speech much more lax and conversational than your everyday BBC world kinda-monotonous presentations.

We took a highway that encompassed the outer suburbs of London – where there are many, in my opinion, ugly box houses and skyscrapers – which then began to appear more of architectural pariahs further in amidst the beautiful townhouse neighborhoods. I squeaked (yes, squeaked) as the first double decker passed by. Deeper in, some of the neighborhoods lined with trees, and evenly cut out houses, dotted with a variety of colorful doors, remind me of some of my favorite old towns in the US like Alexandria, VA. Of course, this is London and everything is taken to a whole different scale in both size and finesse.

The rest of the ride in was a blur of glamor and this seemingly very vibrant cosmopolitan life. I remember feeling a puff of relief inside me – that this time around I was going to be living in an actual city, and a gorgeous/lively one to boot. I miss Mount Holyoke and its serene campus but having lived in the remote Western Mass areas for nearly 4 years, remembering the desperation rumbling in my stomach and laziness lagging down on my feet, each time I needed to go out for a meal, or the apathetic eyes of friends, 2 semesters in, not knowing what to do other than college parties on a Friday night, I am reminded of how I have a passion at heart to live in big cities and to pour myself into all of the activities and life they have to offer. Hills, streams, serenity will only always be more a form of retreat than settlement.

So, for the first few days in London, I’m currently staying in Camden Town with a childhood friend, who was gracious enough to put me up and help me drag my set of 3 suitcases up her 3 flights of stairs. The entrance to her place is a horticultural art piece, fascinating in color and fragrance, and I shamefully had to trample on some of it with my huge-arse suitcase, hopefully no one saw.

The rest of the afternoon was spent on campus registering, which I got to by the tube. The tube system here, I find is impeccably clean and nice, not as spacious as DC’s but definitely a beauty queen compared to the likes of NYC’s or Paris’.  The only weird thing is that on weekends, they do this cancelling of whole line thing that can really put you off, especially if you’ve walked 20’ to get to the station and find it closed.

The campus is in zone 4 of London, far off from the center so it’s the best of both worlds, very spacious, with lots of greens and my fav up to date, an awesome series of huge iMacs in the library. My first meal in the UK was near campus at a place called Kebab Land. I stuffed my face with this plate and had to bring home half, and it was only a size medium and I’m a certified renowned meat-eater, mind you (J) …can’t imagine the ginormous carnivorous monstrosity that is size large.

this looks American, but tastes like nothing I’ve had before, very delish, just too huge
Duong Tran © 2012

Yesterday – Saturday was reserved for discovery. Camden Town, where my friend lives, is such a vibrant place to be. We walked around the Camden Town market and all I can say is that I love it. It’s one those atmospheres, where you can just walk around and simply people-watch (yah, I’m a creep K) and feel exhilarating. So many shops, and a diverse bunch of different types of cuisine. The street fashion is unbeatable and such candy to the eye, with some of its own eccentricities, like a 5-feet woman  wearing 2-feet commander boots. The weather was also lovely yesterday, sunny the whole day through. I’ve been told I should enjoy it while it lasted, seeing that this is the land of fog and crappy rainy weather.

In other great news, yesterday, I was able to secure and lock down on housing for the year. I was fortunate enough to get support from my London friend who currently resides in Hanoi. He put me in contact with an acquaintance of his here in London and so I was off to see the flat yesterday. It’s smack-dabbed in Notting Hill – a beautiful quiet residential area, but just a walk from the apparently famous Portobello market and 2 minutes to the station. It should take me around 20’ to commute to campus when needed. The flat itself is a small but cozy and adorably decorated abode. The landlord is a Portuguese woman who was born and raised in Angola but has settled in London for the past 27 years. She seems very relaxed and an interesting person to get to know more about. So I’m uber-thrilled to have found housing on my 2nd day and will be moving in this afternoon!

To much embarrassment, my feet were trembling at the end of the day yesterday after all of the walking to and fro. In my 3 years back home from the States, Hanoi has rendered me as immobile as I can be, I hardly walked…like ever. And so, after a few blocks of cobble stoned paths and a couple of tube changes yesterday, I felt exhausted. This morning, I woke up, and of course, started my rant on my aching legs (so grizzled, aren’t I).  In other health-related issues, I suffered nil jetlag and did my 11 pm to 9 am snooze my first night here.

That’s all for the update for now, wish me luck for my London journey! Orientation starts tomorrow, much love, miss Hanoi and miss yous!

Cheerios!

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