Monday, July 12, 2010

Coming back to the UK

I flew down to London and had never landed at Gatwick Airport before. I was struck by how tidy and relaxed everything was compared to Heathrow and immediately liked it. But the coin had a flipside. We waited for ten minutes or more in the plane because they couldn’t find the dude who was gonna drive the bridge to be attached to the air-craft for us to alight. And then in the passport control they had loads of checkpoint-desks, but less than a handful of positions open so the queues were long to say the least. After a while it picked up though. They saw that there were too many people for the few gates and slowly opened a few more, but then we had been there for a while. Gatwick was nicer and more relaxed than Heathrow both for better and for worse. Modern comfort with Mexican siesta-time efficiency!

I took the train in to St. Pancras and met Shzr Ee outside the national library. We had some food in the sunshine and talked about near and far. She had just come back from fieldwork in East Asia. A hot day in London and I could almost fool myself to feel like I was back in South East Asia for a moment. I had stuffed my hand luggage inside my big backpack and it was warm enough to trek around with! Shzr Ee wondered if I had packed all my survival gear in there, but was excited to hear I had packed some Norwegian breads from mom.

The night before in Norway I had looked online at train tickets from London to Leeds. I was trying to book quite late and I ended up taking a bus instead, since it was more than 70 Pounds difference between the two alternatives. Two and a half hours on a train against four and a half on a bus… I knew which one I thought I would prefer. The swift efficient comfort of the train sounded tempting, but I was in for a treat. Seeing the land from the road is different. I remember taking a bus through the Czech countryside once, on a stretch where I was used to taking the train. We went through villages, on farm-roads and came closer to where people lived. Many modern roads are built on top of several hundred years old foundations. People have walked them for centuries and hence you find the natural demographics of people in those same natural geographical lines. Planes, hills, valleys, woods, rivers… -where people live and have always lived. Railroads are usually cut right through the landscape in the most efficient way and planned to minimize the interference with local settlements and everyday life apart from its stations. Seeing a country from a road and from a railroad teaches you different things. Or at least shows you different impressions. Like an impressionistic painting, fragments of green and yellow fields mixes with blue skies and white clouds, farmhouses, towns, cities, the manmade and the natural and becomes one nice big blur to a tired traveller. Swift, linear, efficient and interrupted lines from the train; softer, calmer, more winded and following society and geography’s natural paintbrush more from the bus. Two different views and I was in no hurry anyway. Never mind we got stuck in the London traffic and spent an extra hour to get out, I enjoyed the trip.

The bus finally stopped just around the corner from my house. I was back and had missed the English winter but gained the Norwegian one instead. Six months since I set my feet here the last time and now it is summer. I took my keys out and held the door opener in front of the sensor. “Bliiip” and the door went up. I checked my mailbox and it wasn’t too full cause Lara had been here emptying it for me not long ago. I went into the lift and found that the “close the door button” had stopped working. Apart from that everything was like before. Or almost… I looked into the big wall-to-wall mirror and thought, “what am I doing here?” Sure, I know I’m off to my friends wedding in a couple of days, but apart from that. Why have I not yet let go of England? I thought I looked different. The mirror looked different as well. We were both the same as ever, but not quite. I left this place as a recently graduated student and came back as a…? Every time I’ve come back before I’ve had an agenda. That’s even why I got this place. “Mind the gap,” cause that’s where I am now.

I walked into the apartment and felt the sweet smell of home. It’s like Louis in “Interview with the Vampire” returning after centuries to a new age. My work-desk, instruments, loudspeakers, mixer and computer-screen were all covered in light cloth by my best 19th century abilities as to not dust down, and it looked quite nice. Like coming back from holiday when I was a kid or seeing a Victorian period drama where the character returns to his summer-residence. From the look of some of my slightly faded books by the window I should have included my bookshelves in the scheme as well. Anyway, all my life as I knew it was covered by white and light yellow cloth and I liked it so I kept it. –At least for a few days till after I had written this so I wouldn’t forget how it felt. The bigger question is if I will remember how it used to feel, the things I’ll see when I remove the cloth. I need something new to remember!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Memories of conversations in Singapore pt.2

December 2009

The Yin Family took me out eating one of the first days when I was back. We went to this Chinese restaurant that I had never tried before. The restaurant had great food and a good variety of set-menus that could be shared on one table.

We had just told the lady that was serving us what we wanted to order. She then turned to James and said in Chinese that if we couldn’t finish all the food they brought us, the restaurant could provide take-away boxes for the rest. James replied and I couldn’t understand the words, but he shook his head as in “no thank you, that won’t be necessary.” Then he continued and turned towards me. Ah, got it! “Don’t worry with the take-away, the tall blonde chap can finish!” I must say I was quite happy with that! It’s a good compliment on any day, but further taking into consideration that James is an army officer, it was one of the best compliments in a while! (They’re usually not unfamiliar with eating…)

Save plastic boxes! Save the environment! Bring Harald!

Memories of conversations in Singapore pt. 1

December 2009

I was walking around in the Arab quarter of Singapore. The sun was getting low in the sky and the afternoon was drawing to a close in not too long. I was looking for Ishani and Maria. We were going to meet and go to Ambrosia shisha-bar in Baghdad Street. Ishani had text’ed me the name of a street they were currently walking along and I tried to look for it. I thought I knew where it was but couldn’t find it, so I decided to ask someone.

In the 5-foot-walk outside a Persian carpet shop I found two guys sitting and talking. One on a chair with his back towards the street, and one on top of a massive stack of carpets. The one on the carpet-pile nodded towards me to signal to his friend who now turned around and asked how he could help me.

“I’m looking for this street,” I said. “Maybe you can help me?”
Turned out he didn’t know where it was neither. Then the conversation quickly turned.

“Do you need a carpet?”
(Me looking surprised by the sudden topic-change.)
“I have many nice carpets here, we could find one that you’d like.”
I smiled and said I that I was back for holidays and a friends’ wedding and that I didn’t live here anymore. Hence, I would probably not need a carpet at the moment, but thanks!
“Where do you live Sir?”
“Right now I live in the UK.”
“Maybe you’ll need a carpet in the UK? I can fly it for you!”
I was surprised to hear that a small local shop behind a 5-foot-walk by Arab Street in Singapore shipped internationally. But hey! Internet age, bulk ships and big aeroplanes… It didn’t exactly take me three months on a sail-ship to get to this part of the “far orient” neither, so maybe I should have some more faith in his logistics. Curious I asked:
“Do you do international deliveries?”
“Do you fly goods internationally as air-cargo with a freight company or something?”
“No no no no no!” he replied with a big smile and a thick Indian accent.
“I fly it for you!”
He made a hand-move as to hold the tip of the carpet up in font of him while sitting on it.
“Ahh! Like Aladdin’s magic carpet?”
“Yes, yes! My carpets are magic!”
All of us were laughing pretty well by now.
“Well, thank you! I will let you know if I need any carpets in Europe!”

It was sad to leave. Both fellows were really funny and if I had stuck around, who knows, maybe I would have learned the ancient skill so few today master: to fly a Persian carpet! But I had to find Ish' and Maria. Maybe I should come back for a lesson one day. Indian and Arab traders are great on making deals, so maybe I could suggest something like:
“Ok, if I buy these carpets and don’t bargain the price, you give me flying lessons! And if I come back with my friend and he buys carpets I get more lessons! OK?”

Firm eye contact! Don’t give in! Prepare for handshake and you should have it nailed!