Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Some (not so brief) thoughts on London

Quite by accident, London is kind of the perfect opening destination for my trip, in that it's giving me something of a framing device for everything I'm about to see. I was at the British Museum (or, as one of my professors described it, a monument to Imperialism, and she's certainly not wrong, but man am I glad I went), looking at various artifacts and curiosities from the world over, and I found myself wondering what the difference might be between how the UK was representing these countries and how they would represent themselves--and I get to spend the next 4 months figuring out exactly that. What a cool thing. I don't think it'll be controversial to call the UK's involvement with the rest of the world ... problematic (very generally said: Imperialism-generally not a super thing), but you can see the fingerprints of that history everywhere, as well as London's continually developing role as an international city: I've heard far more in the way of other languages spoken on the subway than I've heard English.
So what about London itself?
London is, for lack of a better word, fast.
Strike that--London is manic. It's agressive. A city perpetually stuck in a state of giddy breathlessness. I tend to walk fast--I get my blinders on, smell the blood in the proverbial water, and go for my goal it's the only one left on the shelf--but I'm finding myself constantly in the slow lane here. And it's kind of fantastic.
London is overwhelming, in every sense of the word, but positively so. I can't help but thinking of a pair of quotes while I'm here: Samuel L. Johnson's (relatively) famous "when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life"--I get the sentiment, and there's certainly enough to keep anyone occupied for ten lifetimes, but perhaps a more accurate sentiment might have been "when a man is tired of London, he is tired of literally everyone on the street treating every waking moment like it's the Indy 500 and just wants to sit down"--as well as the openings of Mrs. Dalloway, in which we all get to fall in love life, London, this moment in June. There's a reason London is a city consistently romanticized and lionized in pop culture--it's a city that begs for romance and oozes it from every pore. And I find myself totally woozy and intoxicated and smitten by the whole things--I've got stars in my eyes and they look like Big Bens and Millenium Bridges.
Also, fun fact--there's a reason that Virginia Woolf quote doesn't read 'life, London, this moment in January'--because it's cold. Listen, I'm from Leadville: in the 10 days before I left, it snowed over four feeet. It got under -10 most nights, and didn't get much above 0 during the days. I figured I'd be coming to Europe to escape winter. I took a rainjacket and I lauged in the face of piddly little London winter.
I know now that I'm wrong.
There are two types of cold: the Leadville cold, the quick and merciless cold, the kind of cold that freezes your hands to metal and can turn snow into ice in a hot second, the cold that takes your skin and laughs while doing that. And then there's the London cold--a damp, creeping thing that crawls under your skin and dies there. These two colds were not created equal. Now I'm wearing underarmor and two different sweaters and I still wish someone would light me on fire. Here's hoping as I move south there's less fog and more blizzards. Because I can handle blizzards--but give me this London stuff and I'm lost.

Finally: one random thought, one random act of kindness, and one thing I learned--because all three of these categories are important, and I want to end all of these blogs on a positive note.

Random thought: Language is a currency. And like any currency, some travel farther than others. Let's all take a moment how unbelievably privileged we are that we can speak our native language in most corners of the world and have at least some (justified) expectation of being understood. My hostel roommates have been from Poland, France, Germany, Austria, and Russia, and not yet has any one even considered the possibility of speaking a language other than English. And the fact that I get to use my native language is great--but how great (and important) is it/would it be if these people could use theirs as readily as I do mine? In case you need another reason why teaching/learning foreign languages is important, than here you are: make someone else's currency travel a bit more.

Random act of kindness: I know they're literally getting paid to be nice to me, but good grief are the people paid to help you in London wonderful. I was struggling to buy a train ticket on the kiosk-y thing, and a woman came up to me, did the whole process for me, showed me how to do it for next time, and made jokes the whole way through. If this had been in New York, chances are someone would have straight broken my legs had I asked for help.

One thing I learned: free water is apparently a profoundly American concept. In my infinite optimism, I just brought an empty water bottle and assumed I'd fill up as I go. I've seen approximately 2 drinking fountains since I've gotten here, and both were clearly designed for children (adults, I assumed, having long since given up the habit of drinking water). So I'm spending most of my days casually being on the verge of death by dehydration.

Long story short: London is groovy. Go see London. I'm a bit bummed to be moving on already--a small part of me already wonders if the trip has peaked as it began (I'm not so far into the trip that I'm used to the act of traveling yet, so every time I turn a street corner it feels like Christmas: 'where am I? Wow! Old buildings! Accents! Red buses! Oh happy day!"), and that everything I'll see from here might pale just a bit in comparison, but what a silly thought--I don't have to worry about comparisons because there won't be any--what's the point of comparing London with the national parks in Vietnam I hope to visit in a few months? DIfferent worlds--and as lovely as this one has been, I'm sure I'll find other lovely ones along the way.

Also, quick note about pictures: You may have noticed that this post is conspicuously lacking in pictures. Reason for that is all my pictures are on my phone, and I'm writing this on a different device, and have yet to figure out a way to quickly and/or conventiently get them over here or share them to this blog. So if you're friends with me on Facebook or are following me on Instagram (jkuster191), you're getting the full, uninturrupted stream, but if this your only resource, I'll have to work a bit to get those pictures here.


  1. Yaaaay Joe! How wonderful! I'm glad you're off to an exciting, joyful start. And yes to what you said about comparing -- London will never compare to anywhere else, because London is London, and that's a good thing. Have fun, stay safe!

  2. I love reading your blog, it makes me laugh, and I'm so excited for you to have all these wonderful experiences! And yeah, I've always seen that drinking fountains are very North American. Idk about Europe, but comparing Asia to America, apparently public trash cans are also American.