When I first moved to London, the intention was to stay only for one year.. maybe two, max. I arrived on a working holiday visa (it has a two-year limit), after just having been granted permanent residence in Australia. SO THE PLAN WAS: have some fun, travel, blah blah, then settle back in Melbourne.
Yeah right! London is so fantastically awesome that almost eight years later, here I still am. It didn’t happen overnight, but after all this time I’ve come to realise that ‘damn, I love this place!’
It seems not everyone is a fan of London.. and yeahhhhh I admit, there was a period when I wasn’t too fond of it either. From the stories I’ve heard from my many fellow immigrants (haha), most start out hating it!
BUT. Here are the three big things I LOVE about the city I now call home. This is the stuff I blab on about – very animatedly and very loudly – whenever I get asked why I live here
London has no nearby sandy beaches, but we have some of THE MOST BEAUTIFUL parks and green spaces! A multitude of them too, despite the city being so dense with concrete.
In the summer, I pretty much live on the grass. Some of my friends in Europe think it’s silly to wear a bikini at the park. But do Londoners care? Nope! We need all the sunshine that we can get and if the sun’s blasting then.. all plans cancelled; we’re having a picnic. And when you find long grass to lay on, your bed (and life) is made.
^I like my picnics colourful. Photo taken in leafy Richmond, where there are plenty of picnic spots by the river.
Being ever-so-fortunately born in the summertime, my birthdays in London are also celebrated with a big picnic at the park.
Photos above taken at Hyde Park in 2013 😉
Speaking of Hyde Park, there is this AMAZING UMBRELLA/WATERFALL TREE that you can climb all the way to the top. I love it and always make a stop whenever I’m there skateboarding as it’s near the Serpentine lake, where a lot of people skate ‘cos it’s flat and wide.
Anyway, the tree. Enter the curtain of leaves and it’s like a maze of old twisted, warty branches going upwards.. like something out of The Enchanted Wood! It’s magic. The view from the top of course is delicious. You can see my friend Luis poking out in this pic:
^And this is what the tree’s like during the cold season.. just.. bare branches. Haha! And squirrels! I LOVE the squirrels of London.. some of them are so bold and have no qualms about walking all over you like a mat and trying to steal your food. I really enjoy that.
Of course, I enjoy other things outdoors as well..
..Like playing with my ukulele on a tree. This was at Regents Park.
^Playtime with the lovely Emma. Last winter we spent an afternoon at Hampstead Heath. It’s my favourite natural space, after Regents Park/Primrose Hill as they’re my local ones (local bias, right?).
When the leaves fall, the Heath is a feast for all your senses. The ground is thick and the air rich with the smell of fallen leaves. Crispy leaves! Ohhh how I would love to be rolled around on that crunchy bed of autumnness.. like a sausage being tossed around in a pan of sizzling chopped garlic. But without the heat. Or the oil. Sorry I’m so weird.. let me get back on topic..
No doubt maximum park enjoyment is during the summer.. when there are loads of festivals, and other events/pop-ups going on.
For example, Rekorderlig built a Swedish summer house in Victoria Park once, and it was superb:
You could get food and cider served by cute boys dressed in shorts and suspenders 😀
Other than these huge parks, there are also smaller, more intimate places to enjoy some greenery. E.g. the Dalston Eastern Curve Garden, nestled between the two Dalston overground stations. In their garden they have soil beds for local residents to plant food! There is a kind of hippie, chilled-out vibe to it. And if I remember correctly there was a quirky old rocking horse at the back, too.
^The wooden pavilion is sometimes used for creative workshops, food markets, or kids’ programmes. I’ve created some rad crayon art there myself..
There’s always stuff to do in London’s bazillion open areas, even during the freezing winter. There are the obvious Christmas markets and fairs. Then there are the less touristy activities too, like climbing up to Parliament Hill (at Hampstead Heath) to set off fireworks on Guy Fawkes’ Night (SO MUCH FUN), or trekking south-west to Syon Park to see the Enchanted Woodland (SO MANY LIGHTS). The low temperatures don’t stop people from swimming in the icy park lakes, either!
As for the summer.. hmm, this could take ages. Let’s skip to Thing #2.
This is the beauty of London. There is SO MUCH COLOUR in its inhabitants. You’re free to express yourself creatively no matter how ridiculous it may look or sound and I LOVE THAT. The variety of characters you can find here is immense.. The whole world is here! Whatever language you speak, you’re quite sure to find someone else who speaks it. Whatever weird, obscure activity it is that you enjoy doing, you’ll find a club for it. YOU CAN BE WHOEVER YOU WANT.
Most importantly, freedom of expression yields… crazy people. My favourite kind of people. Why do I love being in a city full of crazy people?
I can walk into a theatre and meet a bunch of smurfs:
^And get photobombed by a ‘normal‘.
I can wear this hideous, freaky, big-nosed mask that I got from Venice (it’s actually part of a plague doctor’s costume worn in centuries’ past), and prance around Piccadilly Circus at night like a mad tourist:
I even managed to get my caricature drawn!
We also went into a busy McDonald’s to see if we could successfully feed each other fries through the gaps in our beaks. It was not a success.
^The real tourists loved us 🙂
I can get on the tube wearing my fox onesie:
^No one gives a shit!
I can have a picnic with a bag over my head (and walk around the park chasing strangers with it on – I have a video somewhere) and have fruits as my guests, but hey it was my birthday:
I did have human guests too but they weren’t quite as exciting as the fruits.
And then there’s this scary clown putting down his newspaper to have a conversation with a cyclist passing by:
^Oh and me traipsing around Oxford Street with a guitar and balloons tied to my bag.
You can find restaurant menus like this:
^And end up in places where they teach you how to crochet… a sperm.
Now THIS is how you ‘Boris Bike’:
Oh I love that mask. It still sits in my desk drawer now. I do like Boris (for those unaware, he’s our Mayor) – he seems to enjoy getting involved with the community and isn’t afraid of looking silly. I don’t have enough knowledge about politics so I can’t say much more than that..
But YES, being surrounded by so much creative energy, openness, an eccentricity in London has helped shape who I am today. I can be ME! I can be as silly as I like. Strangeness is mostly embraced here. I could start a one-person dance party on my street with no music wearing only my underwear and it’s fine. I could pull out a potato from my handbag and have a dance with it next to a street jazz performer – I have, in fact, done this (video is also somewhere..).
This freedom of expression was particularly instrumental in my personal development. I grew up in Malaysia, where society was a lot less accepting and less.. exposed. I felt rather limited there. Being in London OPENED UP THE WORLD TO ME.. It was like.. the drug of life (does that even make sense?).
Onto Thing #3!
When there are so many wild/crazy/creative people.. there will be special occasions for us all to be crazy together, OBVIOUSLY.
My favourite? LONDON SANTACON!
When else can you have a Christmas dance party on the streets, dressed as Santa, with thousands of other people also dressed as Santa?
Just look at these weirdos! I love them:
My second favourite? WORLD ZOMBIE DAY!
It’s pretty much the same as Santacon, except you dress up as zombies instead, and the music is less cheerful..
Some of the costumes you see on the day are freakin’ AMAZING. I really need to up my game next year, man..
^What a beautiful bunch of dead mimes!
The kind of things you can see at an East London club on Halloween weekend:
^A super cool bloodied fox. And then there’s me, with two My Little Ponies and.. a box of Pocky. Haha!
There are SO. MANY. EVENTS. There’s a day for you to ride the tube with no pants. Race people while flipping pancakes (next month!). Run 5k in an inflatable sumo suit. Get your dance on at a silent disco festival. Cycle naked. Go to the Science Museum to be a cockroach. You can even smash stuff up for fun.
And here, play with a insane amount of coloured powder at one of London’s Holi Festivals (there seem to be a few now – Google will disclose details):
^THAT was so much fun..
In Sweden and other Nordic countries, they celebrate the crayfish harvest season by throwing a Crayfish Party. So why not have one in London too, right? I went to a Swedish Crayfish Party last year organised by Ocado and it was hilarious!
Basically, everyone gathers to eat mountains of crayfish together. Along with other stuff, like a delicious selection of herring, salmon, cinnamon buns, and Swedish candy. Washed down with cider. And schnapps. You also have to wear crayfish hats and bibs, and sing some funny Swedish songs!
Life in London to me has been extremely enriching. There is an endless amount of learning and experiences available. So many different cultures and people to EMBRACE! Oh and the diversity of food that that comes with.. we really are spoilt for choice. If I had to narrow down London’s best quality to one word, it would be OPTIONS.
THANK YOU LONDON for being such a fantastic playground and classroom. I have grown so much while living a such a vibrant, full life. So obviously, you’re my favourite city 🙂