First impressions

It's enrolment week, so I spent a lot of Monday and a little of today on campus, mostly among the quaint little cottages that house Goldsmiths' individual departments, nestled against each other along the street with the equally quaint name of Laurie Grove.

The first surprise of Goldsmiths was that it is tiny. To be fair I think many London universities are like that, but the university campus where I spent my undergraduate years was large enough for 7,000 undergraduates and took at least half an hour to walk north-south. In Singapore, universities are even larger institutions, sprawling across grounds large enough that you can go for a short hike on them.

Goldsmiths is snuggled along three streets and takes less than ten minutes to circumnavigate. I ran out of places to explore when I had to kill time between appointments.

The second surprise of Goldsmiths was that the convenor of my MA programme is also a Northwestern University alumnus. Woo!

The third surprise was that after hearing a bit about my professional background and why I'm signed up for cultural studies, said convenor promptly nudged me towards taking all the exciting but scary-sounding courses on intellectual thought and ideas. As if the compulsory course he's teaching wasn't scary enough. A little Bernard Stiegler, anyone? (No, really. He'll be teaching here in spring.)

I am simultaneously thrilled yet terrified.

On a lighter, non-Goldsmiths note: Last week I attended a public lecture by Simon Schama that gave me ideas about what to read (and maybe write) next. This week I snagged tickets for Junfeng's film Sandcastle, which is having its London premiere at the London Film Festival (woo!). And next week I'm going to see William Gibson in conversation with Cory Doctorow (double-woo!).

I suppose it's best to get all the fangirl stuff out of my system before the heavy-duty reading lists kick in.

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Getting into a routine

If there's anything I've learned in the last four years from making two six-week long Lonely Planet research trips and moving house three times (including the most recent move to a different country), it's that no matter where I land up and how much there is to do ahead of me, the important thing is to be able to set up some routines from the get-go.

In the case of moving house, my essentials are:
  • Being able to boil water and make coffee with a French press every morning.
  • Having a hot shower and clean towels.
  • Setting up a work area slash media consumption corner where I can comfortably use and/or plug in my laptop/mobile phone/other device(s), and have space around it/them for some note paper and stationery.
  • Having a clean bed to sleep on in a temperature-appropriate room, with my phone within reach.
Once those things are in place, anything is possible.

Tonight's my fourth night in the flat that I'm going to call home for the rest of my London sojourn, and aside from having my routines in place, I've also cooked brunch anddinner, unpacked all of my stuff, and organised most of it. The incredibly diligent flatmate and her boyfriend who's visiting have also been efficiently Getting Things Done.

There are still bits and bobs I need to tidy up, but I like the way things are taking shape.



Designy goodness

Make your mark

The first weekend I was here, it was Open House London. This week, it's the London Design Festival, and a very old friend from Singapore is in town to present YOLO at Designersblock London 2010. At the preview last night, we kibbitzed about design, Singapore and London, while visitors circled the YOLO installation curiously and squatted to add their scribbles to the piece. I said to him, "Wah, you got black balloons ah? Not pantang?"

Today we wandered the Brompton Design District, beginning with a delightfully mushroomy tea at Brambles Cafe, part of the Super Natural project. It was somehow apt on the first day of autumn, to be sitting in a converted garage space that had been curated in the spirit of a living forest. Or maybe I was just high on the woodland scent concocted by Francis Kurkdjian for the occasion.

My friend asked me if the designy stuff I see winds up in my writing. I responded promptly, "No" --- then added, "It's more like ... part of the environment ..." Was that the right word? It'd have to do. "... ya, the environment." I gestured vaguely around my head. No, not like a crazy person.

Speaking of writing, I was gleeful that I snagged a ticket to see Simon Schama speak at the London School of Economics last night. He rambled, as you'd expect storytellers to do, and particularly extolled the virtues of William Hazlitt (while acknowledging the latter's foibles as well). More things to add to my personal reading list ...

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The future is now

Just in case I drift offline for a while, here's a little rundown of what I'll be busy with:

I move to the rented flat this coming week. The week after, I have to register and stuff at Goldsmiths. The week after that, classes start. And the week after that, two friends will be in London on vacation and have already asked if I want to go and see Yes, Prime Minister at the Gielgud with them.

I should tell you to just look for me on Twitter, but I think because I'm new in town and tend to do things with company, I have fewer opportunities to detach myself from the moment and tweet about what I'm doing.

I told myself (and one friend) before I got here that I would try and write regular and properly formed columns/dispatches during the year I was away, a sort of "Notes and Observations from Afar" sorta thing --- if only to discipline myself to write something in the reportage/commentary style that I'd like to cultivate. Now that I'm coming up to the two-week mark, perhaps I should get cracking.



Sweet home

I wish I lived here

It is a strange thing to live alone in a house that isn't mine. My friends have gone away for a few days, entrusting me with eating all the perishable food in the fridge and little else. I cooked yesterday, for the first time since I moved to the UK, and today I lay around the living room --- all of which, you know, is very nice, but none of it is actually mine. I love their home (and them, of course), but I shall be glad to move to my own digs next week and settle in properly to this one-year sampler of London life.

So yes, I've got a place to live. We get keys next week and I'll be moved in before classes start, although installing broadband service might take anything from a few weeks to a couple of months, based on what friends have warned us. Oh England.

Details and pictures to come, as things take shape. Right now my most pressing Foamy Latte Problem is how I can dress up the place a little, since we're (predictably) forbidden from hanging anything that might damage the walls.



The lay of the land

The end of summer

I have been walking, walking, walking --- putting the different pieces of the London jigsaw together in my head. Now I have a clearer sense of how Angel/Islington (where I'm staying temporarily) connects with Old Street/Shoreditch, connects with Brick Lane/Old Spitalfields Market, connects with Bishopsgate and west to Leicester Square, then down to Trafalgar Square and over to Oxford Circus. Not that this is all of London that I need to know, but it's what I've managed to cover, by bus and on foot, in the first few days of walking neighbourhoods and trying to figure out where I would like to (and can afford to) live.

Yesterday we were at Broadway Market, then moseyed our way down to Hackney City Farm --- where the signs very seriously warn you not to consume any food and drink in the animal pen/pasture areas, lest you pick up stray bacteria --- and over to Columbia Road. Something about Columbia Road really appeals to me, but for a location so not in central London, nor indeed along the way to travel to my university, I wonder if my rental money would be better spent elsewhere.

Today my former student slash friend slash potential flatmate M and I went wandering around St Paul's Cathedral --- where I haven't set foot since 1994 --- and across the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern. There, we ran smack into the Mayor's Thames Festival, which is officially marketed as an "end-of-summer" festival. This better not mean the end of all the lovely weather and sunny days we've been having.



Now on British Standard Time

I've been meaning to write something since I got to London two days ago, but every time I sit down in front of a blank Blogger screen, my mind gets a little unfocused.

So in no particular order:

I'm here --- here being London, where I am staying temporarily with a very old friend Stellou (who used to write this blog) and her husband. The advantages to this arrangement are many, of which freshly cooked homemade dinner every night is certainly not the least of them. Tonight, however, we'll be going to Chinatown for roast duck at the legendary Four Seasons (not the hotel chain, the Gerrard Street institution). This is not on my account; the dinner plans were made with Stellou's friends before I showed up. I am merely a tagger-along.

I am not too badly jetlagged (yes, famous last words, I know) because first of all, I was sleeping odd hours that were almost in sync with London time before I left, and secondly, I slept for most of the flight, thanks to a surprise upgrade to business class. How do you get upgraded to business class without asking? My experience:
  • Show up at the airport damn early --- in my case, 2.5 hours before the start of check-in.
  • Enquire politely about the possibility of dropping off your luggage (I'd already completed online check-in).
  • Let the ground staff mention the U-word and beam appropriately.
  • Be polite and smiley and obliging --- even when the ground staff says something about "making yourself more presentable" for business class. (Most friends I've told this story to, have been particularly stunned by the choice of the word "presentable".)
I haven't had a free business class upgrade in over a decade, and can I just say that having a flat bed-like surface to stretch out on was enough motivation to make want to work harder, so that I can afford business class tickets for long-haul flights in future.


So since I got here, I've been walking around, getting used to the little nuances of how Londoners do things, occasionally tweeting, and generally getting through the psychological shift that comes with being plonked down in a new environment and knowing that you're not leaving for a while.

Still, the thing about being here for only a year is that I can't help feeling like time is ticking away already.

Edited to add (12 September): Oops, the title of this blog post should read British Summer Time. Can you tell I'm new in town?



What you missed

Sorting sorting packing packing sorting returning stuff to friends (some of it stuff I borrowed more than 3 years ago) chucking donating giving packing packing repacking storing packing packing storing packing repacking packed.

And errands to the bank and student visa agency and other uninteresting but tedious entities. A little chasing for payments. Farewell drinks/meals/chat time, though I ran out of time and couldn't see everyone I wanted to.

I don't think it's sunk in fully yet that I won't see all my Singapore family and friends for a year, except maybe when I look at my friends' or cousins' kids who are babies and toddlers now, and who'll be much more mobile and articulate the next time I see them. Hm.

Tonight: a flight. Then: London. See you on Greenwich Mean Time.