Well, I didn’t think I would have another blog post in 2014 but the good people at WordPress put this together and I thought it might be worth sharing.
Here’s an excerpt:
A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,800 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 30 trips to carry that many people.
In Hollywood – or maybe, more commonly nowadays, on social media – everyone celebrates a splendid Christmas with wonderful gifts and the presence of loved ones.
In my real world, my Christmas started the same as it did last year – with a ParkRun victory, which saw me cross the finish line quicker than I did last year. While the Christmas edition of the ParkRun (not surprisingly) didn’t attract as many participants as a normal Saturday edition does, 209 runners took part, which – according to the event’s Facebook page – represents a Christmas record.
But my Christmas Day after crossing the finish line was rather forgettable. All the finishers were treated to mince pies, tea or some candy. I wasn’t in the mood for tea and the candy was so-so at best. And although mince pies are a popular British Yuletide food, they do nothing for me.
Unfortunately, my Christmas was mishandled beforehand. International students at Leeds Beckett University were invited to eat a Christmas dinner at a church in Meanwood (a section of town not too far from Headingley). However, we had to register by December 19, and I foolishly forgot to do so – or kept procastinating until it was too late 😦 All would’ve been forgiven – if not forgotten – if I had managed to munch on a delicious Christmas Day meal somewhere else. But to make a long story short, that didn’t happen 😦
(By the way, Christmas might be the most dead day of the year in Leeds. Of course, all the shops are closed. But, a lot – if not most – of the supermarkets and grocery stores are closed in addition to local public transport not running).
But despite Christmas being rather unremarkable, the following day was lively. In a lot of English-speaking countries, December 26 is Boxing Day. Way back when, servants would receive gifts in boxes from their bosses. Well, that’s how I think the day originated.
In any case, Boxing Day represents for many people the beginning of post-Christmas sales. While shopping may not feel like a national sport in the U.K. as it does in France, the shops in the city centre were the “it” place as many of them were advertising sales of at least 50% off – and some up to 70% off. Most of the shops didn’t seem to open until 10 a.m., but a decent number of shoppers were out and about in the city’s main shopping area roughly 30 minutes prior.
I didn’t buy anything as I was mainly content to window shop in among other places, Urban Outfitters, Waterstones (a major British chain of bookstores) and the Adidas stores (Now that I think of it, some of the calendars I saw in a temporary calendar shop were rather enticing). I also explored the Trinity Centre – the closest thing Leeds has to a mall – for the first time (I never knew the place housed a cinema). Other than window shopping (and almost buying a decent pair of running shoes for for £30. Well, I think I could have gotten them for £30), the highlight of my day was watching Chelsea dispatch of West Ham 2-0 at a nearby pub.
The following morning (today) was tricky and slippery. It was a normal ParkRun morning and an abnormal one. Normal because it was cold and my gloves weren’t doing any good in keeping my fingers warm. Abnormal because drops of snow had dotted portions of the course (Parts of the UK have been dumped with snow in the last couple of days – not so much Leeds, though). But more importantly and dangerously, parts of the pavement felt like an ice skating rink. Thus, the course was modified so that we would be running on the grass more.
As for the actual race… 50 meters into it, I felt a tweak in my right hamstring. A tweak that could turn into a pulled or strained hamstring. Having to abandon the race early on was a definite possibility if the pain increased.
But fortunately, I was able to tough it out and finish second (despite running cautiously) 🙂 It wasn’t the most pleasant of ParkRuns due to the cold, discomfort and slippery course but I managed to survive.
If Saturday morning required toughness, Saturday afternoon required just a sense of humour. The film Paddington is being screened at the Hyde Park Picture House for a few days and I figured since I was bombarded with ads on the tube for the film (in addition to meeting the bear at Stamford Bridge), it might be worth checking out.
Although it’s a kids movie, I enjoyed it (once I got over the normal bits of drowsiness I encounter in the cinema) as the film made me laugh. I won’t spoil the film here but it is a wonderful reminder of my recent time in the capital as landmarks such as the Tower Bridge, the London Eye and the Natural History Museum were featured. If nothing else, despite being Peruvian-born, Paddington has become a British icon in my mind. Now I just have to rewatch the film when I’m not sleepy.
When I was living in Rouen (France), it dawned on me that every Christmas Day should fall on a Sunday because (just about) everything in France is closed on Sunday – just like on Christmas Day.
Likewise, every birthday should fall on a Friday or Saturday (provided you don’t have to do anything super important the following morning). The good news was December 19 (my birthday) fell on a Friday this year 🙂 Which raised a question: How the hell was I going to make it more memorable than a typical Friday evening, a night usually spent listening to Funky Friday on WXPN before going to bed at midnight (which I do to conserve energy for the ParkRun).
As I was unsure of how to celebrate, I texted (Hyde Park Harrier) Ben and after one thing led to another, I ended dancing up to disco with a lot of people who were dressed for the late ’60s at the O2 Academy in town.
But before joining the mass of bell-bottom and tie-dyed wearing, flower children lookalikes, Scott (another member of the Hyde Park Harriers) was throwing a party at his flat, which was the perfect warmup event due to the presence of beer, disco and partygoers appropriately dressed for the fun at the O2 Academy. The occasion provided fun chatter – when I didn’t feel like sleeping (I really should have taken a longer nap prior to the party) – from which I learned that it’s possible to be engaged to someone with a different native tongue and not learn any of that language.
As for the main event, since I’ve been in Leeds, I’ve always considered the O2 Academy to be a gig venue – I’ve seen Public Enemy and Jimmy Cliff there. But I never knew the place also doubled as a disco, which was the scene Friday night. I was there because Scott and Ben organized a night out to enjoy an event named the Love Train T&C Reunion.
What the hell is the Love Train T&C Reunion? The Love Train is this legendary disco crew headed by a character known as Brutus Gold (Real name: Nigel Wanless) that regularly performed at the Town and Country club (the forerunner to the O2 Academy) in Leeds during the 1990s. Ben mentioned he would frequently see Love Train perform back in the day but currently, they only play in Leeds around Christmas.
As expected, the music was groovy as the audience was treated to the best of the disco era as the Love Train played some of my favourites, including tracks from the Village People, Donna Summer and Earth, Wind & Fire. On occasion, members of the audience were invited to dance on stage, and Inga (a part of our group) did – and she can cut a rug very well 🙂
It seemed like Friday night/very early Saturday morning would be the only fun/memorable thing about my weekend as my ParkRun was terrible. But fortunately, a few days ago, I received an e-mail saying that the New World Steel Orchestra (who I’ve seen several times) would be holding its Christmas concert today (Sunday) at the West Indian Centre. As I had no plans for today, that was the place to be.
So after catching the last 75 minutes of the Tyne-Wear derby (that’s the Newcastle-Sunderland match) at a nearby pub, I cycled to the West Indian Centre, where as expected, a decent number of Christmas songs were part of the show, such as “Joy to the World,” “Silent Night” (which was actually sung by a solo performer) and “Jingle Bells” (which was belted out by a pianist). On the other hand, the New World Steel Orchestra did some non-Yuletide classics such as “Blurred Lines,” “I Will Always Love You,” and “Jammin'”.
Events at the West Indian Centre seem to be hit-or-miss in regards to attracting a decent sized crowd. But the Christmas concert attracted a large audience as the most of the chairs set up for the show were filled (It’s also interesting that while all of the members of the orchestra are young adults, most of the concert’s attendees were 40-somethings or older although there was a smattering of young children in the building). Unfortunately, I had serious trouble understanding the MC and other speakers at the concert (Maybe, it’s my hearing or their accents). Towards the end of the show, a gentleman presented certificates to several members of the orchestra, which as wonderful as the occasion was… I have no idea what the awards represented. In addition, Arthur France, the founder of Leeds Carnival and a prominent community leader, heaped lavish praise on the leader of the orchestra for… I have no idea.
But most importantly, it’s fun seeing a large audience get treated to Christmas classics in a unique matter.
Even if I had decided to spend my yesterday (Sunday, December 14) primarily relaxing in front of a computer, my weekend would’ve been rather productive – a Saturday that saw me finish second in the ParkRun (albeit belting out a slower than desired time – thanks to the rather icy course), join a small but spirited group on Briggate (a major shopping street in the Leeds City Centre) protesting police brutality and end the night by munching on delicious raw food at a potluck.
Instead, a fun weekend wasn’t limited to Saturday or Leeds. As my time in this country is winding down, it dawned on me that despite spending a fair amount of time in the capital recently, I hadn’t made time to play tourist. Furthermore, Sian (whom I met up with in Cambridge one Sunday this January) suggested I come down to London to check out a museum or two. My schedule didn’t allow me to do so until yesterday.
After getting better sleep than normal on the bus ride, my first stop in London wasn’t any museum but “The Bridge.” Stamford Bridge – the home of Chelsea Football Club. In recent weeks, I had already seen the outsides of Upton Park (West Ham United Football Club) and Emirates Stadium (Arsenal Football Club) but since Chelsea is my club in the Premier League, I really wanted to see the outside of Stamford Bridge with my own eyes. For super huge fans of West London’s finest, you can go on a tour of the stadium and visit an on-site museum – which are both ripoffs.
The best thing about Stamford Bridge though is it’s a two-minute walk from the nearest Tube station – compared to the Emirates and Upton Park, which are a little further from their nearest Tube stations. The Bridge is served by Fulham Broadway station, which boasts a shopping centre and is located in a seemingly upscale neighborhood. As for the actual stadium, I saw what I wanted: the exterior, which was flanked by banners featuring images of Chelsea legends and quotes attributed to them. There was no match at the Bridge that day (Chelsea defeated Hull City 2-0 the previous day) but a small group of tourists/Chelsea fans wandered around the stadium to take pictures.
But as the purpose of my day trip wasn’t to bask into the glory of football gods, I headed to the Natural History Museum, which I wanted to visit because it’s a cool place that’s free. The museum I wanted to see the most in the capital is the London Transport Museum. Unfortunately, the entrance to the place costs £15 😦
The Natural History Museum boasts a large collection of items related to geology, the environment, plants and animals. The museum is divided into several zones bearing the name of a color: green, blue and red. At first, I thought the place was awfully kiddie-oriented because upon entering the museum, most of the visitors were parents with their children. At least, their presence dominated the ground floor.
In any case, Sian met up with me in the gift shop of the Natural History Museum (Her train from Camridge was a bit late). As she had forewarned me, she had no voice 😦 Anyway, we spent roughly two hours exploring the place and as the Natural History Museum is really geared toward zoologists and geolists, many of the items on display were models of reptiles, fish, imphibians, minerals, gems and crystals. I won’t bore you (or myself) by providing the information I jotted down in my notes but a lot of it was fascinating – such as only very few of the 370 species of sharks attack people.
Even more fascinating was the above-pictured exhibit devoted to volcanoes and earthquakes. While people in this country don’t have to worry about volcano eruptions – according to information displayed at the museum, a volcano hasn’t erupted in Britain in 55 million years – obviously, a lot of people elsewhere do. Much of the interpretation in that exhibit provided information about the basics, such as what is a volcano, what causes an eruption and what results in the deadliest eruptions.
As for the earthquake section of the exhibit, visitors were treated to touches of Japan. You might know that Kobe was struck by a massive earthquake in 1995. To get a minor sense of what an earthquake is like, visitors can stand in a miniature model of a Kobe supermarket (which looked nothing like a real Japanese supermarket – although cans of Sapporo and Asahi beers were lying on the shelves) and try to hang out for dear lives while the earth is coming out from under them. In addition, four videos of the earthquake/tsunami of March 2011 that struck northeastern Japan were played, each highlighting a different stage of the destruction.
Sian and I could’ve spent all day in the Natural History Museum but the British Museum was calling us, so… after not being able to immediately board the tube at South Kensington station (which is the nearest one to the Natural History Museum), we went on a brief walking tour of Kensington, a really posh section of London, passing the Victoria & Albert Museum and Harrods. We eventually found the Tube and after a relatively short ride to Holburn, we got off and headed for the British Museum.
The inappropriately named British Museum. The place houses artifacts and antiques from cultures across the globe, especially indigenous cultures in Americas and the South Pacific (Among other items, paddles, sleds and canoes used by indigenous peoples in Canada were on display). Not surprisingly, Sian and I spent most of our time in the museum scoping out the Japan section, which housed attire worn by Ainu and geisha, a photobook of the Atomic Bomb Dome and equipment used by samurai. In fact, the Japan section featured galleries highlighting numerous eras of Japanese history, such as ancient Japan, medieval Japan and the Edo period. While the information about the materials was helpful, I really wish it would have appeared in 日本語.
As the museum is huge and a bit difficult to get around (the maps really don’t help in regards to navigating the building), one visit doesn’t do it justice – unless you spend the entire there day there. So there will certainly be another visit to the British Museum, which will include more time in the gift shop. Speaking of which… well, one of the most reknown Japanese paintings is the The Great Wave of Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai (pictured above). I’ve known the image for years despite not knowing its name or creator. Interestingly, The Great Wave was featured prominently in the gift shop – the famous image was plastered on umbrellas, shirts, mugs, shoppings, watches, and… I’m probably missing a few things. If The Great Wave is feaured prominently in the gift shop, the painting has to be somewhere in the museum.
That’s something to search for on my next visit to the British Museum.
Upon boarding the bus for London last Sunday (November 30), it seemed like I had just gotten off the bus at Leeds Coach Station (which was late Friday night, November 28). So after a very poor ParkRun on Saturday (whose only highlight was meeting a Chinese-born student from the University of Leeds who once studied in the Land of the Rising Sun and thus speaks 日本語) and a Saturday mostly spent packing, I endured another slow four/four-and-a half hour bus ride to London…
(The train is obviously a faster way to reach the capital but I’m way too cheap to buy a train ticket. The bus rides would be more enjoyable if it weren’t practically pitch dark upon arriving in London at this time of the year)
Where I completed my work placement. I was limited to ten days at Four Communications and I did two in October and five from November 24 to November 28. So my last day would be Wednesday, December 3 😦
In a sense, my final three days at Four Communications were relatively run-of-the mill as I didn’t complete any super exciting tasks but the days continued to go fast – even when I was completing my most mundane duty: updating the media lists for some of our clients. However, some of my assignments were quite enjoyable. Well, in the sense that my colleagues were pleased with some of the work was absolutely wonderful. Especially a blog post about a hotel in The Hague for Stena Line, a ferry operator that serves the Netherlands (I had emphasized the hotel’s very green way of doing business). Unfortunately, that blog entry hasn’t been updated yet but another blog entry I helped compose for that site is. Click here (I selected pictures for that blog post and four of the ten listed activities). I also greatly enjoyed the reaction I got from Felicity, the colleague I mostly worked with, when I e-mailed her a media pitch for Viator.com (another of our clients) that featured five tours with athletic activities in Caribbean destinations (Of those five, the tour I would most like to sign up for is a bobsledding tour of the Jamaican countryside starting in Montego Bay).
While I won’t rehash everything I did during the last three days or previous seven, I definitely feel Four Communications is the type of place I could see myself working at. Unfortunately, there is no chance in hell I will get a job there. At least, not anytime soon. Probably because I don’t have the experience yet and I’m not sure if they sponsor work visas (In addition, I’m still lacking a bit of confidence in myself but that’s another story). But hopefully, the contacts I made will be useful in the job hunt.
As for working in London… Clare (a colleague of mine in Yokohama) once said to me once you’ve lived in a certain place for a week, it seemed like you’ve lived there forever. While I won’t go that far in regards to working in London, my Tube commute and offer duties had become second nature to me – especially since morning and afternoon trains are quite frequent. London is definitely a place I could see myself working.
And of course, it helps (like in any big city) there is an unlimited number of locations serving delicious meals. Many of those places happen to be expensive so my normal lunchtime hangout was the nearby Subway, where I could order a £2.29 six-inch Veggie Delight. But as I mentioned in my previous blog entry, the Borough Market is located near the Four Communications office and I explored it prior to work one day. Even better, it’s a great location to grab a bite for lunch and my Four Communications colleague Johara (the one North American-sounding person there although she’s lived in the UK for about twenty years) recommended a stand named Koshari Street, which served a delicious Egyptian vegetarian meal (Johara’s not a vegetarian by the way). I didn’t find it on Tuesday (Johara told me about it on that morning) but thanks to her help, I found it to the next morning. Only for me to choose a falafel at an adjacent stand. But for those in the vicinity (meaning the London Bridge), the Borough Market is a great place for lunch as there is a diverse selection of cuisine to choose from. Although it can be pricey for those on a budget – my falafel cost £5.
During my Four Communications time, I usually bounced straight back to my hostel after work – the same hostel near Arsenal FC’s ground (I happened to meet a cool Sapporo native in my room one night). But my last full day in London (Tuesday, December 2), I took a nice leisurely stroll to the nearby Tower of London (Being a major tourist site, numerous signs direct pedestrians to the landmark). It’s not a new sight for me as during last year’s World Travel Market, I posed for some pictures with the Tower Bridge in the background. Now that I think of it, I don’t think I had ever gotten really close to the Tower of London before. Anyway, being a major London landmark, the immediate area was definitely drawing its share of visitors at roughly 6:30-7 p.m. – even if the actual tower was closed. Perhaps, I should actually learn why the Tower is historically significant.
Before I leave this country, I’m sure there will be another fun London day on the horizon. But I’ve gotten comfortably settled back in Leeds life as yesterday, I participated in a small focus group discussion on cycling in Leeds, took part in International Volunteering Day, and danced ’til late at the Hyde Park Harriers Christmas party (It’s still a bit early for Christmas parties but I had fun). And even better, I finished second in the ParkRun today, running my best time in… I’m not sure how long.
Hopefully, my final month in the U.K. will bring me a lot of good times 🙂
At the beginning of October, it seemed like the period between October 20 – November 6 would resemble no other in my life. I had gotten word that a fellow Responsible Tourism Management student at Leeds Beckett had arranged a two-week work placement (a.k.a. internship) at FourCommunications, a London-based PR company. Afterwards, the World Travel Market would arrive on my plate.
Well, I think you all know what happened in mid-October. It just so happened I found out while I was in London at a rather dingy hellholle of a hostel after I completed my first day at FourCommunications (The tragic accident actually happened prior to me first stepping foot in the office). Fortunately, my supervisor informed me I could resume it when I was in the right mental state.
Which I correctly figured would be toward the end of November and I have been as I just completed eventful five days of work in the capital (Unfortunately, I’m not getting paid but that’s another story). I can work a maximum of ten days at FourCommunications and I had already used up two in October, so…
In any case, FourCommunications has a large number of clients in the travel industry – such as Air France, Visit Wales, several cruise companies and luxury hotels and apartments. My duties have included examining newspaper articles of interest to our clients, writing press releases for Visit Wales, and researching December activities in the Netherlands. I’ve been kept busy, which has made my time in the office enjoyable. Then again, if I’m busy, my temporary colleagues are swamped with work, so I haven’t had the opportunity to ask them about the world of PR. However, this is a good chance to make valuable contacts that will be of assistance in the job hunt.
As expected, one of the many awesome aspects of the work placement is that I’m working in the centre of London. The FourCommunications office is within sneezing distance of London Bridge (The London Bridge tube station serves the office), which definitely provides a majestic view of the city. While there don’t seem to be other major landmarks within walking distance of my office, the Borough Market is less than 100 feet from the front door and it’s seemingly a popular place to do grocery shopping. While I was exploring the market on foot one day at around 8:30 a.m., the merchants were setting up the stalls.
Being in London has made me realize how much I miss taking trains (Unfortunately, the price of a Tube ticket will be increasing soon but that’s another matter). During the week, I mostly took the Tube during morning and evening rush hour commutes, meaning that it was shocking if I had to wait more than three minutes for a train. Although some trains I’ve boarded were Tokyo-like crowded, I haven’t had long commutes to/from the FourCommunications office so the crowded train rides have been bearable.
As for where I’m staying in London… unfortunately, I had no luck in securing a CouchSurfing host (Why is it so hard getting a CouchSurfing host in London?). So I did the next best thing – book the cheapest hostel available. It’s just so happened that the hostel I booked was named the Arsenal Tavern and in the same section of town home to the famous football club.
If the information on Wikipedia is correct, the Arsenal Tube Station (located in the Borough of Islington) is named after North London’s finest football club (By the way, the Gunners aren’t my team in the Premier League. My team wears blue and is based in West London). Once I booked a spot in the hostel, I figured after getting settled, I’d look for the stadium. But when I exited Arsenal Tube Station for the first time, I made a right turn – which after seven or eight minutes, took me to the stadium. A wonderful sight – except the hostel was in the opposite direction.
Anyway, Highbury (the neighborhood where Arsenal Tube station is located) seemed relatively quiet on Sunday night (November 23) and probably is on most nights. But Wednesday, November 26 was not a typical night (Well, for me, it wasn’t). Arsenal was hosting Borussia Dortmund in the UEFA Champions League, so the neighborhood was buzzing with energy. While my Piccadilly line train back to Arsenal Tube station wasn’t jam packed, going through the gates exposed me to a vibe that was absent during my previous nights in the neighborhood. Of course, the presence of jersey-clad fans in jerseys was one sign this would be a different night. In addition, numerous food stalls were installed around the station leading up to the stadium. And if any fans were unprepared for the match, vendors at other stalls were selling scarves and Arsenal FC tee-shirts.
One thing I like about Emirates Stadium (Arsenal FC’s ground) and Upton Park (West Ham United’s ground) is how they fit nicely into their neighborhoods. Most major American sports stadiums seem rather isolated from their neighborhoods by humongous parking lots and while tailgating in those parking lots seems enjoyable, I prefer the more community atmosphere found at Premier League matches. Fans in this country are much likely arrive at a match via public transport and congregate at a bar prior to kickoff.
A bar named Drayton Park directly across from the Emirates Stadium appears to be a popular pre-match gathering spot – I saw a decent number of Borussia Dortmund fans inside the place. Speaking of beer, I saw a sign inside a nearby Tesco stating on match days, the sale of beer is prohibited from 4 hours prior to kickoff until one hour after the final whistle.
As for the match, Arsenal defeated Borussia Dortmund 2-0. I didn’t have any rooting preference but although Arsenal is not my team, I wasn’t disappointed by the final result. Most importantly, that night told me… I should really attend a match in this country.