April 25th marked the end of my stint as an expat – it was time to come home to my family in Australia. I’d been a basket case for months leading up to it as I packed up and bid farewells in London and Europe. I came close to crying as I sat on the tube to Heathrow, watching a man perusing the Evening Standard, one engrossed in a novel, another playing Sudoku, a lady fast asleep and a girl playing on her phone – all the while wondering whether they knew how lucky they were to be in one of the most best cities ever. However, once I was on the plane bound for Sydney, I was dead asleep for 12 hours and catching up on all the latest movie releases for the other 12, overall feeling pretty numb to emotion (in hindsight, most likely in denial).
Despite the last 2 years of documenting my whereabouts, thoughts and experiences on here, it comes as a surprise that I’m very much struggling to articulate how I feel about hitting the end of this phase of my life. Tellingly, I’ve now been back in Australia for 3 weeks and am still at a loss, but in order for me and this blog to move on (cos I’ve still got so many other travels I’ve yet to share!), something needs to be said. So while nursing a delicious flat white (Australia still does it best!), now is probably the best time to devote myself to the task of curating my little ode to London.
A question I’m constantly asked is “What are your favourite places?” – a loaded, but valid question. Yet whenever I’ve attempted to rattle out a top 5, London never made the cut. Why? I suppose it’s cos we’ve always had a bit of a love-hate relationship, a common sentiment that many other expats tend to have towards this city.
Prima facie, there is so much to dislike. It is crowded, polluted, the water is hard, people don’t tend to be outrightly friendly (“British reservation”), it’s crazily fast paced, the bureaucracy is tiresome, traffic is rife and for the most part, it is always cold. But aside from the gloomy climate and limescale water, everything else is part and parcel with life in a big city – and to be fair, London is pretty much one of the biggest. Yet amazingly (for a city so cosmopolitan), you still manage to get quite a cosy, charming village feel in many areas within Central London, which is something that sets it apart from so many other places in my opinion.
Once I got over the struggles of settling in (finding a home, getting the annoying admin done, making friends, and securing a GBP income flow), I had a solid enough foundation to start discovering the positives of living in London. Yet even then, my tunnel vision drove me to continue treating it as merely a place for work and a base for travels, with pockets of fun times (and plenty of wine nights) in between.
What I only started to appreciate in mostly the last 6 months was that there are other reasons why London is considered one of the greatest cities in the world, in its own right, and not just for its career opportunities and proximity to cool travel destinations.
If someone asked me to draw a picture of globalisation, my interpretation would most definitely be some depiction of London – it is here where I was really able to appreciate and be exposed to true globalisation in practice. As an example, my immediate work team and eventual great mates comprised of Brits, Aussies, Kiwis, South Africans, Indians, Americans, Chinese, Kenyans, French, Italians and Spaniards, all working for the London branch of an American company, supporting businesses across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. But though London is so international and multicultural a place, it is also completely rich in its own impressive history, customs and heritage.
Work aside, even by going out and about, it’s apparent that diversity and acceptance is for the most part harmoniously seamed into London’s cultural identity, an aspect that’s championed by London’s current mayor, Sadiq Khan (who also happens to be a Muslim of British Pakistani background). The tolerance and resilience of the people here, in the face of so many things that have happened over the past few years, is nothing short of admirable. People just always tend to get on with it, tube strikes, terror attacks, referendums and all, though they will always express what they see or believe.
And though it doesn’t possess quite the same French flair, there is certainly some form of joie de vivre that exists in London; that is, when you’re not stuck at work, stuck in commute, or stuck in a queue (btw, the British and their reverance for the institution of queueing is something I’ve also come to admire!). When the weather’s drab, there’s still soo much to do – though 70% of that might involve alcohol (the Brits really do love their drink anytime, any day, anywhere). But when Mother Nature throws us a weather bone, she casts down rays of all-round good vibes that send people walking on sunshine. London just feels like the nicest place on earth on a pleasant day.
There’s so much more to say, but I’m starting to run into essay territory…
Despite certain sore points and misforgivings (e.g. the varying qualities of coffee), I’ve definitely cleared the way for London and the UK in my top 5, perhaps even placing it at Numero Uno if I had to rank. Our relationship wasn’t always fantastic and I didn’t manage to totally culturally assimilate judging by my lack of affinity towards tea. But not only has London tried and tested me, it has been instrumental to many important and defining opportunities, friendships, life lessons and experiences that I could’ve never dreamed of – And at the end of the day, even if it didn’t last forever, that’s as perfect as a relationship can be.
So on that note, cheers to you London and thank you – we’ve had a great run.