London – a place where the vivid imaginations of my dreams burst into a cacophony of colors.
As a child, everyone listened enraptured as we were told the story of how Raffles founded Singapore. Later on when we were older, such household names as the Big Ben, the Tower of London and other historical landmarks residing in the British Empire that made the existence of Singapore possible were taught to us from books, from what our parents told us, and by word of mouth.
Later on, when Harry Potter burst onto the literary scene, places like King’s Cross Station and Hogwarts invaded the dreams of millions of spellbound fans, myself included. Yet, these places could only remain ingrained in my memory as a figment of my imagination, a mere shadow of the real deal.
And then, this London immersion breathed life into my imagination. As I sailed down the River Thames with the London Bridge as a backdrop, I recall how the Queen’s boat entourage sailed down the same River during her Diamond Jubilee celebrations; as the Oxford tour guide shows us the location of where Draco Malfoy was Transfigurated into a ferret, I recall the exact same scene in the movie itself. Words cannot begin to describe how surreal the experience was. For once, imagination and reality clicked in place. It was an exhilarating and rewarding process, a truly cultural and historical immersion in the City of London.
In addition, we were further exposed to the quirks of daily British life, aided by our host school, Newstead Wood School for Girls. (Contrary to its name, the school does accept boys, though its a small minority) Our buddies were gracious hosts, eager to learn more about Singapore as we were eager to know more about them. From watching a soccer match, visiting Leed’s Castle to the experience of simply eating British home cooked food, all of us agreed that the precious 2 days spent with our buddies had deepened our understanding of London and her people.
This immersion has also taught me the importance of friendship. Beyond forging new bonds with new friends, it has helped me to reestablish old ones with old friends. I have learnt new sides of my friends that I never knew existed before. Only through this immersion could I reevaluate my perception of my friends, in the process strengthening our friendship.
Even before we embarked on this London immersion, we were forewarned about 2 things about London: the weather and the Tube. Since our main mode of transport to sightseeing attractions in London was public transport, we were unfortunate enough to experience the daily crush of commuters aboard the Tube, London’s version of the MRT. Suffice to say that this was one experience none of us were eager to repeat and, in the words of Siqi, “When I get back, I’m never complaining about the MRT ever again”. As for the weather, we experienced just how volatile it could be when a light drizzle during our visit to Oxford turned into a heavy downpour in a matter of minutes.
On a personal aside, I feel it would be a gross injustice if I did not mention our shopping experiences in London as well. To start off, there was the customary visit to Harrods, a visit that rendered most of us speechless by the grandeur and the exorbitance of the Harrods brand.
On the other end of the spectrum, we had much more palatable shopping visits to Primark, a budget store chain selling a range of products from $3 shoes to $1 T-shirts. Primark became such a favourite haunting ground that all 20 of us, guys included, spent our last day in London doing our last minute shopping there.
As I pen this reflection in the comfort of my airplane seat, hurtling back towards Singapore at 600 kmh, I recall a quote by Edward Gibbon, an 18th Century English historian and scholar: “London is an astonishing and perpetual spectacle”. Only after I visited London can I fully appreciate the veracity of this statement. Indeed, culture and history is embodied in the very facade of London, and a 2 week immersion is simply an appetizer to the main course.
It is my fervent hope that this is not the last of my visits to London. Heck, I haven’t even made fun of the Buckingham Palace Guards yet.
Written By: Tang Kai Jie, 12S60
Photo Credits: Alvin Leong, 12S65