Thursday, July 19, 2012

London and a long bad, bad summer

I arrived in London more than a month ago and during all that time the weather had been far from what is expected of the summer months - warm days with plenty of sunshine. It's the same with the rest of the UK with many places experiencing unprecedented heavy rainfalls and flooding in many areas . It is said that this is the worst summer in the UK in living memory. That being the case much of my time is spent watching TV , something that is not my normal indulgence back home. On the plus side however I must admit that I quite enjoy the opportunity to just sit back and be able to watch the many sporting events that have been and are being televised 'live' over the sports channels. There was the exciting Euro Cup, the Queen's Cup and Wimbledon tennis championships, the Formula One, athletics championships , the on-going Tour de France and of course the much awaited Olympic Games that will kick off in about a week's time.

Watching the Tour de France I can't help but admire the cyclists on the 'tour' for their endurance and fitness , exhibiting such determination to be able to maintain the highly competitive level throughout the race, kilometer after kilometer, especially on the uphill stage day after day for the duration of the 'tour' which is three weeks with only two or three days of rest in between. I have done a number of marathons, trekked many mountains and cycled thousands of kilometers, over the years but compared to these super athletes I feel very small indeed. What they are doing is truly amazing and inspiring . I don't really quite follow the cycling sport as a whole but I am quite aware of the so-called 'Tour of Langkawi' that is held in Malaysia yearly and correct me if I am wrong if I say that no Malaysian had won the 'King of the Mountain ' stage when the race took place up Cameron Highlands or Genting Highlands. Why?!!. The question is difficult to answer but I think the reason is we don't train enough and do not have the right coaches to make the difference. We may have a long way to go but I guess we just got to keep on trying . After all Britain is still waiting for a local Wimbledon champion after more than 70 years . This time around we have Azizul, who has a good chance of clinching an Olympic medal in cycling . Let's pray for his success.

Despite the unfavourable weather I managed to do some cycling around the area where I am staying,Barking . The Park in Barking is ideal for recreational cycling, jogging or just walking and the area has a pleasant surrounding with a lake that is home to a fairly large number of swans, ducks and a group of birds that I am trying to identify . They fly, swim on the lake and also dive underwater. It is also home to a large colony of fairly tame squirrels that would even come to feed from your hands if you are patient enough to entice the nippy creatures. I cannot imagine these wonderful creatures having a free rein of these public areas without ending in some cooking pots had it been in Malaysia . Besides the more well known St. James Park and Hyde Park , there are many other parks and open areas in and around London that you can indulge in whatever physical activities you fancy and I can't help feeling angry to think of what is taking place back in Malaysia where the city fathers are replacing our green areas with concrete structures.

Developed countries of the west have lost much of their natural forests through developments and farming over the centuries but we in the equatorial regions should learn from these countries not to destroy these natural treasures. It is really sad to know that large tracks of forests in South East Asia and the Amazon in South America are being cleared and replaced with farms and other developments. I am happy that my new friend, Heinz from Ulm, Germany has booked a two-week holiday in Malaysia beginning in about 10 days time. Of course our Taman Negara in Pahang is one of the destinations for the family . I hope to be back in Malaysia to see them before they fly back to Germany.

On one of the rare days when the weather was kinder I managed to take a cycle tour of Central London visiting the iconic sights like Trafalgar Square, the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace and the Tower Bridge. London is always a favourite for Malaysians and it was no surprise that I bumped into a Malaysian couple and their daughter in front of the Tourism Malaysian office in Trafalgar Square. Francis Ho, who is also a keen cyclist, is from Kuching  and is here to attend his daughter's graduation. As for the Queen, I opted to skip visiting her, as she was having a nap when I arrived at Buckingham Palace, he he!

Boris Johnson, the London Mayor is promoting cycling in London in a big way with many cycling programs lined up. I am glad to say that I managed to join an organised ride known as Sky Ride. Such 'rides' are regularly organised in London to promote the cycling culture. While progress is being made in that area there is much to be desired as the infrastructure for cycling in London and in the UK in general is still not in place and the general public not showing much enthusiasm . Cycling lanes in the city are still inadequate and where they exist, they share the same surface as buses and in many housing areas cars are parked on the cycling lanes. To appreciate the cycling culture, you need to go to Germany, Austria or the Netherlands and learn from their experience.

Athletes and Officials for the Olympics have began arriving in London and don't know when the Malaysian contingent would arrive . I hope to at least witness one of the cycling events where Malaysian cyclists take part if I can get hold of ticket/s to the events. I am counting on the Cycling Federation of Malaysia to give me some tickets. To purchase the tickets is just beyond me. Staying in London itself is proving to be impossible and I can't wait to go home.

Cycling at Barking Park

Barking Park

At the Park in Barking

The Royal Oak - one of the 'watering holes' in Barking

The Natural History Museum

The Cutty Sark - Greenwich

At the O2

London's familiar sight

With Francis Ho, his wife and daughter

'Nasi Lemak' anyone?

In London to see the Queen

Many 'heads' rolled here

The fishmonger from Bangladesh

'Thorn' among the roses?

Olympic countdown at Trafalgar Square



'Makan time = Happy time'

Thursday, July 5, 2012

London - All the Colours

As far as London goes the city has always been the home to a myriad of people from all corners of the world. The big migration to London (England) actually started in a big way after the World War 11, when many citizens of the former British colonies arrived in droves to fill the need of the industries in the manufacturing sectors and the rebuilding of the country as a result of the war. Many came from India, and Pakistan (when they separated) and the West Indies among others. More recently however there is a surge in migration coming from the former Soviet and the communist states that are now part of the countries forming the European Union. As such many of the workforce now are from countries like Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and also from the African continent. A visitor setting foot in London for the first time cannot be faulted if he wondered if he had come to the wrong place because he would find that wherever he goes he would be meeting more people from other parts of the world,  in buses, on trains and on the streets. I am not surprised if there are less Englishmen in London than the others combined. On that note United Kingdom must be given the credit for opening up the country to 'outsiders' who now occupy important positions in the government, as businessmen, traders, MPs, and the Local Council . There is no other nation other than the USA that is seen as more open and democratic in its system. London is a such a vibrant city with a mix of colours , cultures , religions and not surprisingly a city of choice for tourists from around the world. And with the Olympic Games just around the corner London is set to welcome the biggest number of visitors and earn a huge amount of foreign exchange in the process. The venues for the games are still frantically being readied for the opening and there is no shortage of publicity and promotional effort by the organisers through the various media channels.
Since arriving here about three weeks ago I have not done much cycling or going out touring mainly because the weather had been so unpredictable that it just puts you off. Some parts of the British Isles have seen storms, rains and flash floods that are not seen in decades causing a lot of havoc and loss to many people. London, too, has not seen much sunshine but with frequent rains and cloudy skies the last few weeks. Nevertheless, I had gone out to see some of the iconic sights in London to overcome the boredom. Luckily there is no lack of sporting events aired on TV to keep one occupied. There was the exciting Euro Cup soccer, followed by tennis (at Queens Club) and now Wimbledon and Tour de France and then the Olympics . London is a very expensive city and as a visitor, travelling on the buses or the trains and the Underground 'tubes' can drain your resources very quickly. Taxis are definitely out. To add to the costs many of the well known places charge entrances fees for a visit . On the plus side, food is readily available no matter from where you come from. There are Chinese restaurants,  Indian, Thai , Vietnamese, Italian, French ; you just name it London has it, including fast food outlets like KFC, Mac Donald's,  Nandos, etc. In mixed neighbourhood, cheap takeaway outlets run by Indians and Pakistanis are popular. Halal food is also not a problem.
Cycling in London or in the UK is not as easy as cycling in Germany , Austria or the Netherlands because of a number reasons. How and when cycling became a way of getting around for their daily needs in these countries is not clear but what is evident is the fact that the infrastructures needed for cycling in these countries are all in place making it considerably safe for everyone to cycle including young children and the elderly. It is not uncommon to see individuals, groups or families out cycling together to the local stores, the supermarkets and the parks or during weekend outings for sports and recreation and the varieties of bicycles available are indeed amazing . It would indeed be nice to be here in the UK ( and in Malaysia) when cycling is made safer. The London Mayor is aggressively promoting cycling in London but more needs to be done before the cycling culture takes hold here.
There are no shortage of interesting places to visit or things to do in London and even if you are here for a month you are not likely to to complete seeing even half of London. Visiting the number of Museums and Galleries alone would take weeks and if you are into Theatres , Musicals and Plays, the choices are limitless. The least you can do is visit the famous historical sites and buildings or just take leisurely walks in the Parks.
I have yet to meet up with Malaysians who are in London or the UK so if any of you guys out there would like to do so please contact me through this blog or email me at:www. . I would also love to meet up with those in Malaysia who have been following my journey through the blog when I return, God willing before the Hari Raya. Your support and encouragement had kept me going . I believe there are many things that we can share and learn from one another and I hope to continue blogging and of course embark on new adventures. Take care and God Bless You all.

The famous 'Rocket' the first steam locomotive

The 1916 Ford

Early BMW

Pioneer in Aviation

The Natural History Museum



The Cutty Sark

This guy started the smoking craze

Boris's cycling effort

The 'old' Knight

The 'Painted Hall' at the old naval college

The Greenwich Meridian

Olympic Games countdown

'Mee Goreng' at Greenwich market

Tea anyone?