A love letter to London.
It was through the thick haze of sleep when I saw it: the familiar three stars that make up Orion's Belt (a.k.a. the only constellation I can readily recognise). The night was a magical one: the plane soared across a sea of clouds bathed ever so gently under a glistening half moon, against a midnight blue backdrop punctured with stars. The whole scene felt so close, as if I could walk towards them across the pillowy fluff of clouds. In those sporadic flashes of consciousness, my photography-loving brain drowsily chided me to hurry, take a photo. To which my body, both mesmerised and still heavy with sleep, ignored. Hence, gone is that moment forever. But now etched in my brain, with only this passage as a somewhat physical proof of its existence.
Now here I am, safely quarantined with a hot cup of tea, ready to write. I glance, with envy, towards the clear blue sky and the street glistening in the Spring sun. In fact, it has been almost criminally painful to watch a week of beautiful sunny days to pass my window by (with a silent prayer that the weather forecast is wrong, and the day my quarantine ends would NOT be the daunting grey it hints at).
But most of all, it is surreal to wrap my head around the fact that it is London I am sat in. After almost two years and a pandemic later, it feels as though time has left no trace in this city whatsoever. That everything is hauntingly similar to the way I left it. Or perhaps that is simply the bliss of ignorance, me existing merely in this room away from the outside world.
Despite the fact that three incredibly memorable years of my life was spent here, that London I remember is as fleeting as those moments on the plane.
Perhaps that is what makes moments so precious, so poetic : its transience.
And try as I might to capture every precious moment in my camera roll,
I find that the most beautiful are the most elusive.
And all I have of them are fragments ingrained in memory.
London was where it all started: university, living in a city for the first time, the dull business of adulting, spontaneous trips, lots of food adventures, and lo and behold: the idea to write a blog (which never happened until AFTER I left London. So believe me when I say there is literally no perfect time to start whatever project you want to start.)
A city that, despite all the memories, museums, cafes, restaurants, shops, events and so many more stories that I'd love to share with you, was one I never once considered writing about before. Simply because London became a moment too precious to unpack. A moment, like that night up in the stars, is now neatly tucked into the corners of memory. Like a mental photo album I love to flick through once in a while. It is also precisely because I can never return to those years that makes it all the more frightful to give those moments a physical form. Whether or not they are romanticised memories I've stored, I wish for them to remain the way they are, untainted by the harsh light of reality.
The beginning of the journey is always the most vivid...
and in this case, it involved a heavy bag of sketchbooks, a huge A1 portfolio, and being ditched by two cab drivers hence nearly missing my train to London.
Also included, with said portfolio being wider than both my cousin and I, was the interesting experience of literally being blown away by strong winds during rush hour. (Though not an event I would recommend).
And a cosy ending to that wintry December evening spent huddled in the narrow, steamy interiors of Shoryu Ramen, slurping addictive, excessively salty broth to immense satisfaction.
I left the buzz of city life early the next morning, back to the quiet comforts of college. Then, the dream was to attend a campus university, as I fantasised about girl nights, dormitory fun, events and friends aplenty. And largely being ignorant to the fact that that was the start to a tumultuous journey of personal growth. After years of living with a romanticised expectation that university was about to be the 'best time of my life', the real experience was a slap in the face: academically, my confidence and whatever passion I began the course with was left in shreds. And socially, it was a challenge to befriend new people, alongside the effort required in maintaining and nurturing friendships with the people who matter.
I think the thing about living in a foreign city, or any city really, is that it requires time and effort to carve a life into it. Looking back at those years, I see now how powerful those moments were. To have everything I thought I knew taken away may have somewhat violently shoved me down the tracks of evolution, but between the tears, procrastination, over-caffeination, and midnight popcorn, were powerful moments of friendship, camaraderie, and a strong, very satisfying sense of independence.
These moments are now safely locked within a haze of sleepovers, post-submission k-drama binges, and the Hamilton soundtrack.
Now, almost two years and a pandemic later, I return, changed, to an evolved London. And with that I do not deny a fear that the space I have so painstakingly crafted into this city has disappeared. Some rather steadfast people of my 'London life' are no longer here, while for the others here, a tiny voice worries: would there still be a space for me in their lives? Or has time set us all on diverging paths?
Suddenly, there is so much to lose in this city that it both excites and scares me. Simply because London to me, has evolved from being yet another label. 'London' is now a representation of ambition, self-discovery, independence, fear, anger, social relations and so much more.
And I am immensely grateful to be given this second chance to experience it. With a new resolution to finally visit all the places I said I would visit but never made it to, and to really enjoy all the small moments. Well, we'll see what this churns up to. Till then, helllooo grey London skies!
Thank you for reading :)