I love London, so why did I leave? Read the fourth part of my story, here...Continued from last time
And so it was that I found myself hurriedly packing up my belongings and bidding goodbye to island life. I wasn’t alone however: my housemate, Sonja, and neighbours, Ben and Alison, were also made redundant from their respective jobs and forced to book a one way flight home, fast.
The first few (unexpected) weeks back in London, were thrilling. I could feel the adrenaline flowing freely around my body as I wandered around the colourful capital drinking in the brilliant parks, museums, theatres and art galleries. The city’s deep bag of attractions proved particularly satisfying coming from Cayman, where shops and supermarkets still remain shut on Sundays, and‘go slow’ could be the official island motto.
I adored seeing the old and the new side by side, once more: the London Eye towering over the Thames, the tatty fabric shops in Broadwick Street market nestling between Soho’s multi million dollar film companies. I loved, that first month, waking up in the mornings and knowing that the rest of the city was waking up too. The hustle and bustle… the healthy cosmopolitan mix. To see the streetlights! To hear the taxis! The sheer, unadulterated energy of it all!
But, alas, the honeymoon didn’t last long. It was Samuel Johnson who once said: “Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” As much as I admire the late Samuel Johnson, it dawned on me one morning - upon waking in the windowless, WiFi free, freezing cold basement room I rented in Earls Court for the extortionate sum, to find a rat running over my face - that I no longer agreed with Doctor Johnson.
I love London’s cornucopia of cultural wealth, gorgeous gardens (30 percent of the capital is given over to green space), amazing vegetarian restaurants (veggies are virtually ignored in Cayman and the UAE), eclectic music scene - and its proximity to my home town (Watford). However my time abroad has helped me have an insight into why people wouldn’t want to live in London, without thinking that they have a screw loose.
I was working part time for CD-Traveller (a role I relished) while attempting to freelance - with limited success - the other few days. Juggling multiple jobs just to pay the rent probably didn’t help my mood, but it wasn’t only the uncertain work climate that was wearing me down.
There’s an old saying “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” But in Britain, things are broken and no one is a) bothered, b) capable or c) both- of fixing them. Take, for instance, the tube. How come a tube fare costs more in London, than in any other city (save perhaps Tokyo) and yet the transport system never runs smoothy - invariably affected by rain, snow, signal failures and engineering works every other weekend?
Why does Heathrow airport treat six centimetres of snow as if it was six metres, and ground planes when the rest of the world’s airports are able to cope with whatever weather conditions are thrown at them? Why do London landlords refuse to acknowledge that yes, boilers do break and that living in a house where the temperature is less than 9C, the tenants are at real risk of hypothermia? By contrast, in Cayman, when I reported a problem with the air conditioning in my house, the AC engineer was over in under an hour. Problem solved.
In London, when my boots broke after one wear, the surly Ruislip shopkeeper scowled at me and said: “Tough. We don’t do refunds.” When a similar situation occurred in the UAE, I was given a full refund plus a discount off my next purchase. Bottom line? Abroad if things don’t work, are annoying, don’t fit anymore or are just plain ugly, they’re fixed - and fast. In Britain, we behave like ostriches by burying our head in the sand and saying a prayer that someone else will ‘patch up’ the problem. Call me an ‘expat brat’ if you like, but I don’t find this line of thinking either endearing or amusing.
So while in many ways it was lovely to be home back with friends and family eating familiar foods (proper bread not the sickly sweet stuff they sell for a song, overseas), I couldn’t help but wonder: perhapsLondon is simply better at a distance (something the recent Arctic weather conditions have helped reinforce)? Thus - you can see this coming a mile off - when Time Out China came calling, I was seriously tempted to try it; damn the paltry salary and my lack of Mandarin (English, in Beijing, is most definitely a foreign language).
I took a few weeks to weigh up the pros and cons and having reached conclusion that the pluses (one full time job, in the capital of the country that everyone is talking about) far outweighed the negatives, signed a one year contract as Time Out China’s special projects editor. This time around, it wasn’t such an easy decision to make: I was 29 and aware that many of my contemporaries were, in the words of Beyonce, putting “a ring on it”, purchasing properties and/or popping out babies and here I was, about to head off overseas, alone, again.
But leave London, I did. Why? Perhaps it was because I’d found myself back in Blighty - but not by choice - when my career in Cayman was terminated. Maybe it was because while London was definitely feeling the chill of the economic recession making finding full time (gainful) employment as elusive as a taxi on New Year’s Eve, Beijing had emerged relatively unscathed. Partly it was because after the initial honeymoon period, London - where I had lived for most of my life - felt monotonous compared to the new experiences and adventures that Asia was offering. However mostly I expect it’s because, for whatever reason, I seem to be wired differently from my oldest friends and family.
But as a wise soul once told me: “You can’t compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.” With these words ringing in my ears, I boarded a plane in June 2010 - next stop, Beijing!
To read part five of my expat tales, don’t forget to log on next week!