Going Solo

OMG, the last time I updated my blog was two months ago. I’ve been going through some challenging times, and knowing that some close friends are experiencing the same issues makes for a lot of wear and tear on my soul. Good times and bad times seem to go around in cycles, but that’s just the way it is. Sometimes one is faced with making tough decisions, such as the one I had to make—I’m now on my own.

Recalling back, the last time I lived alone was when I first travelled to England for my further studies. I was 17, rented a bedsit (a room with cooking facilities and a sink) with the help of a cousin and spent two years staying in it. At that time I felt lonely and miserable staying by myself. Not that I’m an extroverted guy, but the silence was deafening to me. I remember having the radio on whenever I came back to my room. Those were the days. After that, I went over to the States and lived in a dorm at the University of Arizona. There wasn’t anything like a single room, you were assigned a roommate, and boy, I couldn’t get used to it at first.  During my four years there I lived with four roommates; it was only during one semester in Junior year that I managed to get a room of my own (after forking out extra money).

Now it has come full circle. I’m single again…and living by myself. In contrast to my teenage years when I regarded living alone with a sense of doom and isolation, now I love it. I love my own personal space. I love the freedom to be myself. I’m very happy with this place and I can do anything whenever I want. Well, no crazy parties or anything like that. I’m actually surrounded by lots of greenery and there’s the added bonus of a lovely waterfall nearby, so I can listen to the sound of water gushing, 24/7.

Waterfall 007

Waterfall 012

In this quick-paced and stressful world I feel that we all need to take time off from the busyness of our individual lives. We need to get back to Mother Nature. To chill, to relax. And that’s precisely what I’m doing. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m an introvert—that’s just the way I am. Sequestering myself into my own space allows me to heal and to de-stress. Not to mention my awesome book collection to keep me company and of course, the Internet.


The best years of my life (episode 2)

Ah, England, my England. It was the time of punks and skinheads, Margaret Thatcher was about to be elected prime minister, Disco ruled the airwaves, and a young singer named Billy Joel had just had a hit with “Just the way you are.” Those were good years (1978-1980) with warm and relatively dry summers. It was fun and exciting to take in the sights when I had time. Buckingham Palace, The British Museum, Soho, the West End, Harrods, Hyde Park, London Bridge, the list goes on and on. My cousin gave me a London A-Z map book (she said it was one of the first important things somebody new to London should have) and pretty soon I was able to find my way round this huge metropolis. I walked a lot, but so do a lot of the local population, even OAPs (old age pensioners) Contrary to popular belief, the British are quite a friendly lot. It always made me chuckle whenever ladies called me “luv” or “dear,” something that I got used to pretty fast. And the Brits always hold the doors for anyone behind them. Queuing (lining) up was the order of the day.

I liked the fact that many people would be reading something wherever they were. My favorite newsagent would be the local WH Smith (they’ve got branches all over Britain) and I’d be reading the newspapers like The Times, The Guardian, and The Sun (by golly, to see a topless girl every day on page 3—whew!) The first movie I ever saw there was Saturday Night Fever with John Travolta in the lead role. It was a big deal for me because the movie was uncensored; oh I pitied the poor folks back home watching it with huge cuts made by the censors. There was a local Chinese restaurant in nearby Richmond which offered a cheap set lunch for £1, so I frequented that establishment a lot. Most of my weekday lunches were taken at the college cafeteria, I loved stuff like ham omelets, pork pies, cucumber sandwiches, and not forgetting the traditional cup of tea.

My bedsit was just a stone’s throw away from the famous Kew Gardens, so I used to walk over to visit. In those days, it cost only 1 pence to enter the Gardens (now it costs a staggering £13 for an adult!) and there was this one old attendant who got so used to seeing me every day that sometimes he would just wave me to go in, free of charge. When I had the homesick blues I’d go inside the Greenhouse—five or ten minutes inside that sweltering and humid environment and I was ready to come out into the cold air! Oh yes, I got a kick seeing “smoke” coming out of my nostrils every time I breathed out.

No such thing as the Internet in those days, so I had to use snail mail to correspond with my parents and friends. It was nice to receive mail at 7 AM in the mornings, just before I left for school. I’m so spoilt nowadays, I can’t even remember the last time when I wrote a proper letter with pen and paper.

I loved listening to the BBC radio stations, especially Radio 2 (easy listening) and Radio 3 (the Classical channel). Plus Capital Radio, which was my fave for popular music. And the concerts and great programs they had on the tube provided me with some entertainment when I had finished studying. Fortunately, I can listen to all these stations on the Net.

I’ll end this post by saying that I made some great friends in England and again, I was pleasantly surprised that they took me as I was. They never coerced me to drink, or smoke, or whatever. I remember having a Coke or glass of milk at the pub and my friends never laughed or ridiculed me for it. For them, it wasn’t a big deal, and for that I’m grateful. Cheers, mate!

Some photographs from England

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Life Music

The best years of my life (episode 1)

No doubt about it, the best years of my life were the years I spent abroad, first in the UK, and then in the States. I’ll talk about the UK segment here and reserve the American one for later.

The year was 1978. I was 17, I’d just passed my MCE (Malaysian Certificate Examination, a very important exam for 11th Graders) and was accepted by the West London Institute of Higher Education to do my A-levels in England. The fact that a cousin was studying there provided me with some solace, and I also had two other cousins living within the London area. So that passed off as great news for me—no more daily naggings from my parents, hello independence—yay!

January 1978 found me on board a Singapore Airlines flight en route to London. God, this was exciting! This would be my first time being so far away from home. My parents made sure I had warm clothing; they told me to be prepared for the cold winter weather but you know teenagers, they just shrug it off. Until we landed at Heathrow Airport—my, even the interior of the airport was cold. And when I stepped outside—whoosh! The British winter greeted me with strong winds and some snow. It was daytime but the skies were gloomy, very forlorn in comparison to the sunny Malaysian skies.

My cousin was at the airport to meet me. She had made some advanced accommodation arrangements for me near the college, but I couldn’t move in yet because the room was still occupied. So I stayed in Reading, Berkshire with a friend first. It was good, a time to acclimatize myself with the new environment and weather. A few days passed, and the landlady informed my cousin that the room was ready. It was actually a bedsit (i.e. a room with cooking facilities), the landlady (Mrs. Dunbar, I still remember her name) laid down some ground rules like no loud music after 9 PM, no overnight guests, etc. and then I settled in.

Boy, this was so different from the luxuries I had taken for granted at home! It wasn’t a very big room, but it was comfortable. There was a single bed with a work table beside it. I even had a rocking chair. There was a big cupboard to store my stuff, a lunch table and an electric cooker. I could store frozen food in my landlady’s freezer downstairs and my laundry would have to be done in a launderette. I could use her phone only for local calls (2 pence a call) and please remember, there was no such thing as the Internet, email, instant messaging, whatsoever in those days!

Man, there was like a 1001 things I had to do for myself! I had to open a bank account, I had to know where the post office was, I had to cook for myself, etc. And I had to rely on public transport—the bus, the tube (London Underground subway) and the train system (British Rail, at that time) Did I feel homesick yet? You bet. And every winter’s day would be the same—short daylight hours, with what seemed to be perpetual rain, snow or sleet with strong winds. I was freezing my arse out (of course I never admitted it)

My cousins were very helpful in this respect. One loaned me a small radio (so that at least it wasn’t so deathly quiet in my room), another took me out in his small car for my first meal at, of all places, McDonald’s! At this moment in time I didn’t even know about this burger joint (none existed in Malaysia yet) but I took to the food like a hungry savage! A Big Mac, an apple pie, and a thick strawberry milk shake was like Nirvana for this starving teenager. My own cooking started out abysmally—I actually survived on bread, biscuits, cookies—stuff that I bought at the local supermarkets. My weight must have plummeted. Necessity is the mother of invention, so I had no choice but to learn how to cook. As time went on, I improved, thanks to a rice cooker I procured at home—us Chinese folk probably couldn’t survive without rice. With my stomach now being given more edible food, my spirits returned.

Then it was off to school, and what a difference compared to home! There were students (mostly English) of my age, going around, attending their classes and hanging out; there was music everywhere because I had enrolled in a two-year Foundation Course for Music. At first, I was very shy. Aside from my cousin (who was a year ahead of me) I didn’t know anybody. Fortunately, my English was good. I still remember one day when I was having lunch all by myself in the cafeteria and this one girl, Sarah, came over and asked me very politely whether I wanted to join her group of friends. Gradually I started making new friends, and it snowballed from there.

This post is getting pretty long, so I’ll continue in the next one.