Kak Teh is considered a veteran blogger, having kept a weblog since December 2004. She resides in London and her posts about life in that city and the UK in general are very interesting.
I've stayed in London before, as a student of course, but only for a short period of six months. But what a memorable six months it was. It was supposed to be the first year of my A-levels but I practically didn't study anything during that period. Not a good example, you might say, but that's just me... no need to hide it.
I first arrived in London sometime in January of 1980. Bloody freezing cold. I was part of a large group of students sent to the UK before our MCE results were out. While most of the students were sent to established colleges all over the UK (where other Malaysian students have studied before), a group of 13 including yours truly, were enrolled at a private college in Greenwich, London for the first time. The Malaysian Students Department (MSD) was sort of testing to see if this college was up to the mark. As I mentioned earlier, there wasn't much studying done, and after a few months, we reported back to MSD and asked to be transferred to a better college for the next term.
Upon arriving in London, this group of 13 naive boys were first housed in an old boarding house called Blackheath Hall in the south-eastern suburb of the city. Although the hall had central heating, it was still drab and dreary. The walk from the hall to our college was about 20 minutes, past open public fields. The stay at Blackheath was temporary, only for about 2 weeks, if I recall correctly. In that period, we were tasked to find permanent accomodation on our own. Since there were no Malaysian seniors at the college, you can imagine how difficult it was because we had no-one we could refer to for advice. Nonetheless, we were told by other foreign students to search the advertisements in the evening papers.
After Blackheath, I stayed at two different places in an area called New Cross. It was a bit far from college but the rent was cheap and we had many other foreign students as neighbours. The daily journey from rented flat to college was a single bus ride for about half-an-hour. While the particular college we went to was nothing to brag about, the sub-district of Greenwich is actually a beautiful and historical place. There are many places of interests within walking distance of each other but the most memorable one that I went to was the Royal Observatory. This is the origin of the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and the Prime Meridian or Zero Longitude that divides the globe into east and west.
Gabriel on the right is standing in the west, Khairul in the middle straddles Zero longitude while Silla is standing in the east. Pic taken at Greenwich Royal observatory in 1980.
The GMT has now been replaced by the Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), but to me Malaysia is and will always be +8 hours GMT.
The financial allowance that we got from MSD at that time was not particularly lavish, especially if you consider the relatively high cost of living in the city of London. Most weekends were therefore spent at home or at most, browsing around the shopping areas of south-eastern districts such as Lewisham and Brockley. Occasionally, we would take the bus or underground train to go to central London. The first stop would of course be the Malaysian Hall at Bryanston Square near Marble Arch for the subsidised lunch at only 50 pence. After lunch, we would walk the length of the famous shopping road of Oxford Street, not actually buying anything. Some years back, I read that Malaysian Hall was going to close down because the lease was up. I wonder if it's still there.
One evening, during early spring, my two friends and I, decided to explore the West End area of London. Although called `west', the area is actually located in central London and is famous for its many tourist attractions such as museums, theatres, cinemas, restaurants and nightclubs. In short, it's the entertainment centre of London. We spent the earlier part of the evening strolling the area of Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, and later decided to catch a late night movie at one of the cinemas. I can't recall the title of the movie but most probably it was one with an adult rating. After the movie, we walked around trying to find a place to buy fish and chips. It was after finishing the meal sitting on a park bench, that we realised that the buses and trains have stopped for the night. Crap! How were we going to get home? Taking a taxi would be too expensive and we weren't sure we had enough money left anyway.
The only other option was to walk back home. Since I was fairly confident of the route (as traveled by bus earlier in the day), we decided to take the walk although we were not sure how far we actually had to travel. And so that night, three young Malaysian chaps braved the unknown to walk from central London to the south-east district of New Cross. After all these years, I can still retrace the route that we took. From Leicester Square, we walked past The Strand, crossed the River Thames on Waterloo Bridge to get to South Bank, down Waterloo Road to The Elephant & Castle roundabout, down New Kent Road that led to Old Kent Road (also known as the A2), on to New Cross Road before finally turning to Pepys Road where our flat was located.
The route took us through tough working-class neighbourhoods. I re-traced the path we took using Google Earth and measured it at 8.3km. On hindsight, it was probably a crazy thing we did that night.
I haven't had the opportunity to visit London again since I finished university. Sure hope that someday I would be able to do so.