A Tourist in My Own Town

Feels like it’s been a while since my last update, but maybe it’s because I’ve been doing so many small things everyday that on their own didn’t seem worth a full entry. So here’s a recap in aggregate!

BY THE WAY, I finished grad school two weeks ago. I don’t think I gave that fact enough fanfare. I’M DONE WITH GRAD SCHOOL!!!! Ever since I turned in my final essay, I’ve been searching for jobs part of the time, and also keeping to a regimen of at least one fun thing a day. I have the time, the leisure and a finite timeline; I also have no excuses. For my remaining weeks in London, I am a tourist in my own town!

And what I’m realizing is that London is really the world at your fingertips. Especially now that the London Festival has begun, the numerous events in this city are just incredible; you really could just keep yourself occupied absolutely every day and still not experience everything!

RETAIL THERAPY

I haven’t done much shopping in London, and truth is I haven’t even set foot in any of London’s chi-chi department stores for fear of wanting it all. So I made a date with A(p) to check out Harrods in celebration of having turned in my dissertation, and oh my. It was so indulgent, designer-centric, posh and ridiculous that after enjoying it for about 20 minutes my American sensibilities revolted against the opulence.

But then again, there was a sale. So I bought some shoes, which I love and am stuck with because I found out after the fact that Harrods only exchanges sale items for store credit. Everything else in that store is so overpriced that I’d rather keep the shoes than get ripped off trying to buy the next-cheapest item available. (Sequined tank top for £80, anyone?)

For dinner, we walked to the nearby gastropub Pantechnicon Public House, where I came with G two months ago when she was visiting. And I have been thinking about this delicious burger ever since. The best burger I’ve had in London, for £13.50. Not cheap, but you know what? After eating really awful food for eight months, I think I deserve a splurge.

SONG AND DANCE

What? They do this every year?! Last Saturday, the casts of all the West End shows performed musical numbers free in Trafalgar Square. I went with A(r) to catch numbers from Singin’ in the Rain (still one of my favorite stage musicals ever), Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera, Billy Elliot, Wicked. Awesome, awesome stuff. Can’t believe this is FREE. Love this city.

LONDON, YOU’RE BEAUTIFUL

I loved the line drawings in Charing Cross station.

Browsing a bookstore in South Kensington the next day, I found a book by David Gentleman, who did these drawings, called London, You’re Beautiful: An Artist’s Year. Gorgeous, evocative watercolors tracing the seasons and cityscapes. It’s £17, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to buy it before leaving this city. A preview:

ENGLISH DRINKS, SOUTH AFRICAN FOOD

That evening, I had my first-ever taste of Pimms. And it was gooood. I’m won over.

 

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve seen a spread this beautiful, or even had a home-cooked meal. A(r), who is from South Africa, made bobotie, a curried meat dish. Thanks A(r) for having me over for such a cozy, homey evening!

HIGH CHURCH

Monday, the Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge, sang the Evensong service at Westminster Abbey. I’d gone a few weeks ago when the Abbey choir sang, the traditional boys’ and men’s choir. But I have to say, the men’s and women’s choir was just truly ethereal and heavenly, perhaps because the women’s voices are fuller than the boys’, so the harmonies layer in the most beautiful balance. At one point, a sustained refrain of amens truly brought tears to my eyes.

I attended Evensong with yet another A-named friend, A(b). Haha.

*Tip: If you want to go, try to arrive before 4.30 at the latest, as the seats fill up quickly. Just tell the people at the front gate that you want to attend Evensong; otherwise, so I hear, they won’t let you in!

THE BEAUTY IN THE ORDINARY

Such a pleasant, simple landscape–it could be any hillside in England. But it’s actually a getaway in the middle of the major global city of London. I love Hyde Park, and I remind myself every time I walk through it how lucky I am to be living so near such a beautiful green space.

FASHIONISTAS, 1700-PRESENT

Erdem 2008
Photo: David Hughes

I also went to see the Ballgowns exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Alright, I’ll confess up-front that I’m a little spoiled; the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Met in New York last year was more immersive and impressive. But this was good too :)

The dress pictured above was definitely one of my favorites in the collection. Afterwards I also explored the newly-reopened fashion wing of the museum. Worth it (esp since the permanent fashion exhibit is free!), though perhaps not the most amazing thing you’ll see in London if you’ve got a time constraint, I’d say.

SOUTH BANK FOOD AND CULTURE

Ever since I tried this in March with J, I have been craaaving the Kappacasein grilled cheese sandwich. And this time, I also found another glass of Pimms :)

Afterwards, we walked along Bankside to the Southbank Centre, where the Festival of the World is currently taking place. Part of that is the Poetry Parnassus, which has loads of free poetry events! You can literally just walk right into the Royal Festival Hall and attend poetry readings and workshops.

A(p) and I caught the end of a “Poetry Karaoke” event, where someone reads an English poem translated into a foreign language, and members of the audience try to guess the poet/poem. Say what?! I am not nearly knowledgeable enough to do that, but some of the audience members were seriously on top of it.

The next in the lineup was a translation contest, in which an American and a Brit each did a translation of a Spanish-language poem, and we did a line-by-line comparison of their two translations. This was a fascinating exercise in parsing out the differences owing not just to personal choice, but cultural and linguistic understandings. Like how mediana alcurnia translated by an American becomes “middling ancestry,” while to a Brit it becomes “average nobility.” Come on, classism!

(To be fair, the British translator explained her choice in a very eloquent way that certainly demonstrated a much deeper understanding of the poem’s meaning than I gleaned at first. But it’s still remarkable how that happens.)

HOMEMADE SUSHI (THE ONLY GOOD KIND YOU’LL FIND IN LONDON)

Last week, we discovered that A(r)’s flatmate P has pre-bought most of the ingredients necessary to make sushi. And I haven’t had a single piece of good sushi since I moved to London. So we decided to make our own!

Since I’m Korean, we opted for Korean-style sushi, or kimbap, which doesn’t involve individual pieces of sashimi/sushi. We just cut up some veggies (carrots, cucumber, avocado), got some fish (smoked salmon, imitation crab meat) and rolled away!

I love roll-your-own-sushi nights because they’re interactive, fun and the end product is delicious.

The result of all that hard work? A sushi feast! Definitely the best I’ve had in London ;)

And that’s two weeks of fabulous done-with-grad-school freedom!

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9 thoughts on “A Tourist in My Own Town

  1. Congrats on finishing grad school! I felt the same way when I turned in my thesis to NYU last year! I will also be returning to the States very shortly as well and trying to enjoy my free time in Spain. :)

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