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London logs - part 1

by Phil Inje Chang

The day Joie and I got here was the worst London had to offer - freezing, rainy, windy, and costly. After losing a night of sleep on the plane, we landed in gale-force winds and dreary conditions. The flat wasn't arranged, so we had to do an emergency maneuver into a hotel/pub (and spent a bundle on the mini-cab), and the next sleepless half day had me trying to make calls to push the flat through. Thank God we stayed across from Neil, an old friend of Joie's, who helped us with making phone calls but was going through his own problems with a broken down boiler/central heating. Pretty miserable.

Amazingly, the weather cleared up that first weekend and the pattern became sunny mornings, overcast afternoons and chilly evenings. Lately, the afternoons have started to get sunny, and some evenings have been almost balmy. All in all, the climate and landscape remind me a lot of northeast America. So there are physical as well as cultural ties between the east coast and England.

Initial Observations

Americans are really in a unique position to observe the character of Britain. It's the same language ferchrissakes, but with more color. Take some of these shop names: Settle Inn, Eataly, Wet 'n Wild (a pet shop). Yes, girls with British accents are pretty alluring - it's funny now remembering how American guys complain about British and Irish guys wooing American girls all the time with their accents.

We recently picked up a free newspaper called Positive News. Yeah, stuff about Earth Summit and environmental causes, but the whole middle of the thing was about progressive education. Every story, and there were perhaps five, was about some experimental approach to education in some part of the UK. Check out this one: a lecture service allows children to learn about 21st century science, and the example given was a lecture about telepathy by Rupert Sheldrake for boys and girls 15-18 at St. James Independent School. Then there's the Dharma School, a small school in Brighton taught by Buddhists of various sects, which is a member of the Human Scale Education movement.

This thing about education hits a real vein for me. I went to a prep school in a part of America that looks a lot like where I'm now living, and then to a public university in radical California. The whole time I wondered, where are the intellectuals in this country? If you don't go to a private or parochial school in most parts of America, you're filling in coloring books. Here, you can meet a regular bloke on a street corner who's quite intellectual and worldly. From about the age of 10 I realized the American way is limited by its system of education. So, for those of you who wanted the story on why I came here, that's part of it.

Last night I met a French guy at a trance party who carried on about how in London, people accepted you no matter where you came from. I think as recently as 10 years ago, according to accounts by Joie, there was a pretty ingrained anti-American sentiment here. Nevertheless, his point is that in other parts of Europe society is more rigid - he cited the tension between North Africans and native French in Paris. It's true that you get a potpourri of nationalities all blending together in London. Well, I can say that I agree with this guy. Not only that, as an Asian guy I feel more attractive to women here than I ever did in America.

submitted 7 April 2002

Tales of travellers
more travel stories
London travel links
Phil Inje Chang brought his violin to London.
London logs - part 4


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