#2064 | things i did in london

Hey guys,

I was in london for a week in May, chasing certain ideas and chancing instead upon other things that make you go, well, life, whatddaya know? A good trip, in other words. I recognize how blessed I am to be able to say: it’s my fifth time in london now, so i felt no compulsion to rush around aggressively sightseeing. (You should have seen me my first time in london, i hung around chinatown, wept at imitation laksa, hyperventilated during phantom of the opera, was dazzled by leicester square and pronounced it lei-ches-ter the way all tourists do, a sure sign of naivete: the assumption that england is bound to the phonetic rules the rest of the world holds. I was publicly embarrassing, in other words.) No, no. This time I crashed on a friend’s couch, read compulsively, crossed lengths of london alone, caught up with old friends. It was so great.

Life has been rushing ahead without any consideration for the part of me that struggles to catch my breath, and I was afraid that if I left it too long I’d never get around to documenting my london trip. Already it’s June, and I have so much i still want to say from my trips to helsinki (jan), chiang mai (march), and so on.. Hell, I have thoughts backlogged all the way from when I was in san francisco last october. So I’d better get started now. Here we go..

backstory

trishna: come stay with me, offering my couch because friendship
me: are you sure
me: because im not going to say no to free accomodation
trishna: yes
me: do you want anything from sg
trishna: salted egg fish skin chips
me: shake

Donald, this is the art of the deal.

Untitled

day one

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fresh pasta, burrata, wine.

Perhaps it is because i rarely have pasta (my noodle cravings are mostly of the asian variety), but i was so easily – too easily, even – blown away by how fresh and straight up yum this was.

Pastaio London
19 Ganton St, Soho, London W1F 9BN, UK
(Carnaby, Soho)

Fresh pasta followed by a very girly night at home, painting our nails, trying on outfits together for each other to rate, googling (and then trishna actually succeeding at) ‘how to make scented candles’, me picking out the copy of Americanah i gave her a year ago lying untouched on her shelf and going WHY THE HELL HAVENT YOU FINISHED THIS YET? Bahaha. More or less an early night, I was exhausted from the flight.

day two and beyond: things i did alone

Opened Forgotten Country on the tube and promptly cancelled all my morning appointments, found a cafe, and sat down to finish it. Forced myself not to cry in public – a feat of pure discipline. Raved about it while also being aware of how flawed the technical aspects of the book were, thought about the ways we weigh up emotional impact vs skill when it comes to books, film, art, et al. Decided that i still liked the book very much but it may not hold up to a second re reading.

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nude espresso makes very good coffee, for anyone wondering.

Read Octavia Butler’s Kindred in three hours while sitting in a nook in Libreria, then purchased Ponti by Sharlene Teo to go. Bought tickets to The Writer at Almedia Theater over the phone, was very nervous, it was like my first time buying something over the phone and i am very paranoid in general of things like that. I suppose this means i will be obsessively checking my credit card bill for strange purchases over the next six months or something. The nice girl at the counter told me i like your coat and I just stammered. Shame on me, I make a living talking nonstop and i cannot even reply to something like that. To be honest, at that moment i had thought of saying thanks but then also thought: but i didn’t make the coat, i shouldn’t take credit for it. Of course that is a stupid thing to think, but anyway, by the time those thoughts had passed through my head it would have been awkward to say anything because too much time had passed so i just smiled (i hope), bought myself a glass of red wine and hid inside the theater.

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at 39 pounds this was probably the most lavish thing i did in london

The play was very good. I thought to myself at multiple points in the play that there was something truly wrong with me because i was literally brimming the entire time, threatening to cry. I thought: why the heck am i being so emotional, i nearly cried on the tube reading forgotten country, i nearly cried in libreria reading kindred, and now im going to cry in this theater where im sitting all alone and give the old woman next to me a heart attack, she’s already glanced at me four times suspiciously. But then after the play ended I thought, well, probably it was just really good and that is my response to performances that i feel are good. Major callback to phantom of the opera 2014. As we were walking out, the guy behind me said: what a pretentious play, seriously, this whole feminism thing has gone totally bonkers.

Ran in the rain to catch a bus, not by choice.

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you always think getting caught in torrential rain is the kind of thing that happens to other people, not you

Wanted to go to church the next day but it was cancelled (who cancels church?!) so i went to catch a comedy show instead at top secret comedy club. My friend had actually asked me to go to a housewarming party with him and i briefly considered it but it was freaking 50 minutes from london and when i heard that i just laughed at him and said i’d do my own thing instead. So, the comedy show. Because i was being cheap, i bought tickets to a work-in-progress show, and it turned out to be super interesting – the comics tested out new material for upcoming performances, and there was a lot of live audience feedback. I watched two shows, one was free, one was 7pounds, I drank cheap beer, I laughed like a crazy person.

Read Elena Ferrante’s The Lost Daughter on my phone’s NLB app in between the two shows and it was so amazing, i finished the book feeling this small sorrow at having been privy to such a compact form of perfection, having had accessed the interior life of this lonely italian mother. It was very strange, fluctuating between the two extremes, laughing till i had to pee, then feeling this immense gravity within me from starting and completing the book (it’s pretty short, and i’m a fast reader), then immediately transitioning to side-stitch laughter again. I texted my friend: how’s the party? I went to a comedy show instead and he replied: i didnt know london HAD comedy shows. He lives in london.

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I took an overwhelming number of mirror selfies this trip

The Top Secret Comedy Club
170 Drury Ln, London WC2B 5PD, UK
http://thetopsecretcomedyclub.co.uk/

The next day was the only morning in my 2 week trip to europe that i had specifically dedicated to taking photos on my instagram, or had you forgotten that i live out a large part of my life participating as a cog in the commercial capitalist system? I spent two hours in the morning shooting with a photographer from sweet escape, then met trish for brunch at the built-for-instagram elan cafe. After that she went home to study (omg, i said, student life!!! And she rolled her eyes on me because i had graduated less than a year before hahaha and there i was talking like an old person) and i went to daunt books, another independent bookseller, and took photos of all the books i knew i wanted to read. I purchased han kang’s the white book and ayobami adebayo’s stay with me, i would have purchased more, but i was trying to be conscious of my luggage restrictions. Turns out my estimation skills suck and i was stopped at the airline counter anyway, they made me take out all my books and hand carry them to singapore. Ah well. A small price to pay.

I really liked daunt books – i tend to really like all independent booksellers, to be honest – because they organized their fiction by region, so a shelf for Southeast Asia, Middle East, America, Italy, India, etcetera. Obviously they had more space dedicated to european fiction but still there were a good number of books from the rest of the world, and this made it easy to locate them. Idea!

Then I bought day-of tickets to The Comedy about a Bank Robbery and it was not my kind of funny but still very enjoyable. The main female lead was so talented and assured in her role, and i googled her after and it turned out this was her first gig out of school??? Then I felt sorry for myself for a bit because i was intimidated and jealous, i suppose. But i only indulged for a short moment, then told myself what kind of unhelpful reaction to any sort of talent is that you goon, and got over myself soon after. My seat was in the second row and it only cost me 10 pounds fifty on lastminute.com, the moral of the story is it’s easy to get cheap seats when youre travelling alone and your plans are very flexible.

I went to The Ordinary and bought a ton of their caffeine solution 5% + EGCG as gifts for my friends in singapore because i knew they wouldnt take offense at my extremely accurate diagnosis of the state of the standard singapore working professional’s eyebags. I was right.

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I read Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng on the Libby app, it was much better than her first book, Everything I Never Told You. I have a funny story about Everything I Never Told You actually, i had gone to Kinokuniya in Singapore two years back looking for singaporean writers and their works, wanting to familiarise myself with the local literary canon. Celeste Ng was stashed under Singaporean Literature so i bought it and started reading it immediately. I remember thinking wow she writes the asian american immigrant experience so clearly, how did she know and i even wanted to email her to ask her about her writing and research process. Then I googled her and turns out she has NO AFFILIATION WITH SINGAPORE and the moral of the story is kinokuniya can really be freakin country-ist sometimes, surname Ng means singaporean ah. The end.

I also bought last minute tickets to Everybody’s Talking about Jamie which was SUCH a great show!! I got super lucky with the tickets too, i got dress circle box tickets for 20 pounds, and the other two people in my box had bought them for 50, LOL. The man in my box asked me how i got them so cheap and i said: have you heard of the broke student’s guide on jemmawei.com? It was more suave in my head than when i said it, he just went, er, no. Then I chickened out and said: ha ha er yea well you can book it for good prices on last minute.com if you want to buy on the day of or day before and just shrunk back into myself in utter mortification. Anyway, good show. I’m glad it was good because it was between that and Phantom for the 6th time and if it wasnt good i would have wanted to die even more than i already did from that whole thing with the man in my box.

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in my super awesome velvet and gold box

After these shows that happened over a span of nights i also had many meals alone, i had chinese noodles and japanese ramen and ten-pound steak and wine, i also went for drinks at bars by myself and read books off my phone. In the daytimes when i was by myself i had beer and snacks and coffee and actual lunches as well. I have actually always enjoyed eating alone – but i dont get to do it much in singapore because i try to double duty my eating times with my social times so i can meet friends and stuff. Someone asked me once, arent you lonely? And i realised i hadnt felt lonely since i was, say, 14. I texted this revelation to my girlfriend, i said to her: i dont need company but i choose it anyway when im with you/ shane/ my other close friends, and later, she sent me this article on eating alone which i thought was relevant, you can read it here. This felt newly relevant to me again when meeting friends in london to lunch/coffee with, i actually did meet a lot of old friends here and there, jian wen, tash, charis, rachel, hayley, and of course, trish, but i felt like i had actively wanted to meet them all, which was a good way to feel.

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Dim sum with hayley, my airbnb-host-turned-friend from 4 years ago!

My last morning in london i went to have oysters for breakfast at borough market, when i was having them i texted my girlfriend: i feel your absence most keenly when im at the markets, no one to freak out over the communal goodness of straight up yummy food, and she sent me a telegram bunny sticker with an egg yolk as a reply. Then i was still hungry so i queued for a supposedly famous grilled cheese sandwich which was so oily it just reminded me of why i think asian food is the best food in the world. I didnt finish the sandwich: to be honest, my mind was on the book i had in my bag. I get into this state when im reading where real life is simply an interruption to the immersiveness of a fictional world, i just wander around in a perfunctory daze. One of my friends told me london is wasted on me since all i did was try to get to places which would allow me to sit and read, but i had a good time, so that’s that.

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the average grilled cheese sandwich

the end?

I was momentarily torn between making the most of my last few hours in london and reading, but in the end reading won out. I went back to the apartment early and sat at the cafe opposite, had banana cake and a coffee, marvelling at how all coffee is good in the uk, and finished Stay with me by Ayobami Adebayo.

Then, draining the last of my cortado, i stood, packed my bags and left.

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