A few observations of life in London
1> Pardon me? There is a football match tonight.
In 2010 I experienced working in Wembley Stadium for a couple of days. I had no idea which teams were playing, but nonetheless I served bottles of beer to those who came to see the matches. Some of the customers were shouting at me for no reason. His team must be losing, I assumed. After work, I was squashed among the drunk football fans, singing loudly on the tube on their way home. I remember them looking extremely happy. The nation of gentlemen is also a nation of football lovers.
2> Red Knickers
It was the first hot summer in over two years in 2013, with temperatures reaching up to 31 degrees celcius. I was sitting outside the Westfield shopping centre in White City. An old couple were sitting across from me on a bench. The old lady suddenly took out a pair of very sexy dark red knickers from one of the shopping bags and showed it to the old man next to her. They appeared to chat about the knickers for about 5 minutes. Were they husband and wife?
3> Cycling Accidents
In July 2013, the press reported the death of a 20-year-old woman hit by a lorry as the first victim of the ‘Boris Bike’. When I graduated from my MA degree, I decided to cycle to my studio to save the monthly tube fare and wanted to become healthy by cycling. I was really afraid of the roads (I still am), so I took the canal path which was longer, about an hour and a half journey to my studio in Shoreditch. After a month, my folding bike was stolen. I could not believe this, it happened within a blink of an eye. Since the theft, I travel by Underground and it often takes just as long as when I was riding my bike. Delays and signal failures are a regular occurence. I have no regrets, however. I have even come to think that it almost a blessing to get my bike stolen when so often I read tragic stories about cyclists getting hit by lorries and buses. Today, I am safe inside the unreliable London Underground.
4> Health and Safety
I often see ladies with two children riding on a single bicycle in London. One is seated in front of her and the other baby is behind her. When I first saw this, I was shocked and thought that she must be really confident with her cycling abilities. I thought the UK was the Kingdom of Health and Safety. In the summer of 2013, I saw a lot of mothers riding bicycles in Copenhagen, with a much safer-looking carriage attached for their children to ride in. The carriages have enough room for more than two children. My fellow artists and I agreed that they were better. But is it safer?
London is one of the leading cities for fashion. Or is this the case for just one week of the year, during the London Fashion Week? When it comes to fashion in Korea, people are sensitive to what others think. I have lived in London for six years and nobody has ever commented about what the casual clothes I always wear. In Korea, an ordinary college girl would wear high-heel and full make-up everyday. A lot of my female Korean friends would not even go to the supermarket without make-up on. I now live in a city where no one judges me if I wear gym trousers and no make-up. In London, however, I have noticed that if you are in training or if you cycle, the Brits really gear up. I often see cyclists wear waterproof trousers, custom-specific tops, high knee socks, accessorised by sports water bottle, headgear and a backpack on rainy days. I get curious about the kind of things they carry in the bag. In Korea, people wear ragged sweatshirts to exercise or to cycle and do not tend to spend money on purchasing expensive sports gears. In the UK, people wear different clothes to cycle to work, then take a shower and get changed when they arrive. This really surprised me. Not a single company has a shower in the office in Korea.
6> Baby Boom Boom Shake Shake
Soon after I graduated from my MA, some of my friends started having children. Some of them moved in together and many eventually married. To me this was shocking because in Korea it is usually the other way around, at least in my family that is the rule. I see a lot of people around me having babies. In London, I can see a lot of mothers with buggies. According to the news last year, the UK has experienced a huge population growth and the birth rate has risen immensely. It has been the biggest baby boom in forty years. Living in the UK for six years now, I feel that time flies by as I see my friends’ children grow.
7> From Cradle to the Grave
The British culture of drinking was the first thing I noticed which differed from the environment in which I grew up. There was even a bar inside the college and there were three pubs within five minutes distance from my flat. I was really surprised when I saw people drinking beer during the day while enjoying a meal in the pub. Having investigated the history of British drinking culture from my case studies, I understand the culture more. But still, I don’t like the smell of beer and hate drunk people saying ‘arigato’ or ‘nihao’ to me.
8> Three Sisters
One day, I saw three drunk girls hanging out together in Oxford Street. It was on a Friday night and there were a lot of people partying. I could hear people raising their voices in the tube and singing together in the streets. Friday nights are usually the time for house parties and birthday parties. The idea of Friday night excites me too. But in reality I am always working over the weekend.
9> Rainy Shelter
I saw a homeless man near the Palace Gate bus stop in Kensington. He was there day and night. That spot was his home. I passed by him everyday and I saw him sleeping and eating on the street. I do not fully understand the government policy, but I heard that the government supports the homeless in various ways in the UK. In July 2009, I watched the documentary ‘Famous, Rich and Homeless’ on BBC Three. It was a TV program broadcast shortly after the recession in 2008, when homelessness was a frightening possibility for almost everyone. In the program, five celebrities volunteered to be homeless for a week and struggled to cope in the harsh environment. At the time, the Korean currency was sky rocking against the Pound and I was afraid of the global economic meltdown. I participated in trying to help those affected by donating sleeping bags collected by my church to give to the homeless. Sometimes I still see the homeless man selling the Big Issue in front of the Notting Hill Tesco. I would like to see him overcome his situation.
10> Finally, the sun came out!
The summer in 2013 was recorded as the hottest and sunniest summer since 2006 in the UK. Although, I have lived in the UK for six years, I have not yet managed to get used to the weather. I long for hot weather and I feel like my body temperature is dropping quickly when it is raining. I really miss the hot sunny Korean summers . I want to have another summer that is really hot and sunny in 2014 so I can try outdoor swimming on Hampstead Heath.
11> Divided Nation
Britain suffers from a high level of obesity. According to the NHS, there has been a marked increase in obesity rates over the past eight years – in 1993 13% of men and 16% of women were obese – in 2011 this rose to 24% for men and 26% for women. In my daily life, I see a lot of people jogging in the park while others I see enjoying fish and chips in the middle of the night. I felt that the UK is a divided nation when it comes to health and nutrition. Some people are addicted to working out and spend hours in the gym while others do not. This is a sensitive issue as this may be connected to poverty and income. But in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea where my college and home are, I often see posh ladies jog around the Holland Park. I don’t belong to those ladies. I am a poor college student who is lucky to have a rented flat in Notting Hill, well I think I am in both sides.
12> Keep Calm and Carry On Jogging
My desk in the Royal College of Art has a big window. Through this window, I can see a part of Hyde Park where I see runners every twenty seconds. It did not matter if it was raining or snowing, early in the morning or late at night. I was amazed. Sometimes I would see a man running with a baby in a pram or a couple running with their dogs. I became curious about the jogging culture and when the British started jogging outside in the park or in the streets. This is really rare in Korea as jogging is not very popular nor is there a lot of places to run outside. Koreans are more keen fast-walkers rather joggers. By the way, I don’t believe walking is not exercising. It is daily human activity.
13> Daddy’s Little Helper
‘Dad needs something today to calm him down.
And though he’s not really ill, there’s a little yellow pill.
He goes running for the shelter of a dad’s little helper.
And it helps him on his way, gets him through his busy day.’
Lyrics from the Rolling Stones’ Mother’s Little Helper
Daddy’s little helper is a pill for depression.
15> Dancing Queen
‘You are the Dancing Queen, young and sweet, only seventeen
Dancing Queen, feel the beat from the tambourine
You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life
See that girl, watch that scene, diggin’ the Dancing Queen’
Dancing Queen by ABBA
My current gym is located in Vauxhall. At weekends when I go early in the morning, I can see a lot of people who are returning home from their night out. The gym is next to a club. There are a lot of clubs around my university in Korea and I remember that when I left the studio late at night, clubbers also would flood the entire area with their fancy outfits. Being surrounded by clubbers in the UK was not such a strange thing for me as it reminded me of my time in Korea.
16> Just a second, sir, I would like to finish my cup of tea, says Alice.
The English tea culture is unique and I have come to value it highly while living in the UK. It is a quintessential British experience as the British always take out time to relax with a cup of tea. Drinking tea with milk was such a weird thing to experience first time but I soon became an avid tea and coffee drinker. I only drank herbal tea in Korea.
17> Eve Smith & Eve Jones
I used to joke that that I was unable to find a boyfriend because all good men in the UK were gay. Korea is a conservative country where homosexuality is still a taboo. When I saw two women kissing each other in front of me in the streets in Cambridge in December 2010, I was shocked.
18> Four Weddings and a Funeral
My favorite radio station is BBC London. When I first listened to it in 2008, a radio presenter was taking calls from people who were divorced. A lot of people all over London phoned to speak about their lives. Divorce is still not socially acceptable in Korea. It was amazing to see how people talk openly about their divorce and subsequent marriages.