Tuesday, 28 September 2010

A Day at Kensington

“You’re late,” Art said as he waved at me in front of South Kensington station.

“Sorry, mate, train’s delayed,” I said apologetically.

“Yeah no worries. Off we go then! I’ll show you around here,” he smiled at me.

As much as I want to think that this is only a friendly meet-up, I can’t help but think if this is a date or not. Not that I really fancy him, but there’s something in Art that lures me in.

Is it his very cute smile? Or is it his kindness that I don’t get from other blokes out there?

His text a few days ago was just too hard to resist. He wanted me to show around Kensington, one of London’s most high-end boroughs. Property prices can reach millions of pounds here.

“What’s that?” I asked. We were in this building with a dome-shaped roof.

“Oh, that’s Royal Albert Hall,” he said. “Lovely, just stand there, and I’ll take a pic.” He tested his photographic skills as he took his iPhone from his sling bag and adjusted the angle.

His enthusiasm is just so infectious. I can’t help but smile.

Before I can approach him to check how well he took the shot, he ushered me to pose by the stairs leading to Hyde Park.

“C’mon Josh! Act like a tourist just this one time! Walang hiya-hiyaaan!” he insisted as he managed to snap another candid shot of me.

Well, it’s true. I’ve learned to act like a Londoner within just a few weeks. Being a tourist again is hard in its own way.

“Great pic, mate! C’mon, I’ll show you where I’ve work before,” he said.

“So, is this the place?” I asked. We were standing in front of a very minimalist building.

“Yes, it’s Imperial College London. Too bad I have to give up my job here as a document controller since I got a job offer from a Filipino bank here,” he said. “I should’ve referred you here mate… They pay high!”

“Yeah, too bad indeed,” I muttered. My current job only pays minimum wage, and it’s not enough to make ends meet.

We strolled around the area for a few more minutes before I heard my tummy growl. He must’ve heard it since he asked where I'd want to eat.

“Well, I dunno. Any cheap place to eat in this high class borough?” I asked sarcastically.

“Erm, McDo in High Street Kensington?” He seemed to play around with my sarcastic tone.

“Bring it on. Kudos to the 1.99 Deli of the Day. Haha!” I said.

“So why did you come here to the UK?”

I stopped munching my Chicken Sandwich. What a very serious question to ask, I thought.

“Erm, same as everyone. To  have a good life I suppose… And to have no restrictions at all when visiting the EU or the US,” I said. “How about you?”

“Of course, the same as you. Good thing you started your journey at an early age.” He looked at me intensively, as if he’s studying my facial features.

“But you’re only 29,” I snickered. “It’s not too late!”

Bastos ka! I am only turning 26 this November ok?!” he said defiantly.

“But seriously, Art. If only we’re already stable in the UK, we can do anything we want.”

“Yeah I agree mate. It’s such a hassle to hold a student visa. Many big companies revoke their job offers as soon as they find out that you hold one,” he’s saying it as if it’s based from experience.

So he talked more about how he almost got an apprenticeship position in IBM but was cancelled because of his visa status. We also got to talk about our prospects here in London.

“If I just get a proper 9-5 job, we can go to West End and do some shopping every week,” I said.

“Indeed. Only one more year before we can transfer to a proper work visa.” That’s what I like about Art… talking about the very uncertain future.

We talked more about our future plans and aspirations. But then, Art made a comment that struck me.

“Josh, since it’ll be wintertime soon, you have to find someone to keep you warm during the cold months.”

I was speechless at this point.

“Hah? Are you kidding me?”

“No, I’m not,” he said with indignation. “Just try Lovestruck.com out and you’ll see.” He smirked again.

“Don’t tell me you’ve tried it already,” I jested.

“Yeah, I did, and I found this cool British gal, and we just went on a date at the Royal Air Force Museum.”

I just stared at him in disbelief. Someone like him to do something like that? It’s absurd in its own way.

I was not liking the conversation as I tried to press him further about the girl’s background. He just kept his mouth shut for the whole duration of the meal.

Before I can insist him further on spilling out the beans, he said that he has to go home since he has an appointment to attend to. Tsk.

“Hmm, if you want to pay the instalment on time, you must save like 200 pounds every month,” Art said, as the Circle line train we’re riding on moved past Gloucester Road station.

“It would be a challenge for me then. My take home pay after rent and transpo is like -240 quid.”

“Yeah, I think you should look for one more job. I’d like to help you but our bank’s under freeze hiring at the moment,” Art said.

We talked a bit more before he got off at Victoria station. As I saw him walking farther and farther away, a lot of questions popped out.

Um, who the hell is he dating? Why is he so secretive about it?

And why is my gaydar acting up whenever I’m with him?

Is it because I wanted him to be one so that I can have someone to talk to in a faraway land?

Josh, you’re making this so complicated.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Sushi Sanity

“You start work tomorrow. Be here at 6, ok?” said Nam, my new manager.

After almost 2 months of constant searching, I finally got a job. I don’t have to regret going to Shepherd’s Bush to play some pool anymore.

It’s not a glamorous one I should say… I will be just a mere kitchen porter in a Japanese take-away food chain outlet. Then again, I don’t want to burden my parents any longer. I have to help them subsidise the cost of studying in one of the most expensive cities in the world.

It is kind of ironic when the restaurant serves Japanese food, but all the staff (including the manager) are Korean.

I got trained by the current porter called Sing a while ago, and it was really a struggle since I can’t understand a word he’s saying.

Oo na… I am the arrogant one. But seriously, I do have communication problems when I talk to the following races: East Asian, African, and Indian. They have very thick accents that are not really comprehensible to the non-native English speakers from other nationalities.

I do hope I get this right, since I will be all alone next week, washing tons and tons of containers.

But do see the bright side Josh, as you can eat and take all the sushi you want.

All the sushi you want. Groan.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

A Peek at Piccadilly

For the second time, Gene and her gang dragged me to see and enjoy London’s marvelous sights once again.

This time, we were in Piccadilly Circus and neighbouring Chinatown.

It is a misnomer to name the circle (the QC Circle type) a ‘circus’, but that’s what how the Romans called it. I really imagined beforehand that there were elephants and ringmasters roaming around Piccadilly and Oxford Street.

When we approached the Circus, I saw the iconic Sanyo logo together with other electronic billboards. With the famous red buses circling around the roundabout and the people from all over the world walking in all directions and taking pictures, it was London in its purest form.

Art, as expected, ushered me to stand on the centre of the Circus, so that he can take a picture of me with Sanyo and the red buses.

It was almost 7 in the evening. We decided to traverse Gerrard Street to find an affordable place to eat. Finally, we found a place that does Chinese buffet.

“8 quid?! Seriously?” I said as I tried to see if I still have some cash with me. Yes I still have a tenner, thank God.

“Just get used to the prices will ya?” Tina jeered.

How can I get used to these overinflated prices when my current income is nil. Nil. London is really notorious for its high cost of living. It is seriously a bad place to be unemployed. What did I just get into?

We then went out the restaurant and turned right at the corner, passing by the theatre the does Les Miserables. Given time and money, I will surely watch one of the musicals playing on the West End.

We continued walking until Gene pointed something (or someone) out.

“Pink leotards,” she snickered. She was pointing on two guys wearing very skimpy neon pink leotards.

I think I knew where we were. I looked around. There were a lot of gays roaming around, either with their friends or their partners.

We were in Soho, London’s gay district.

I already did a bit of research about the city's gay life. It's one of the cities that has a lot to offer, alongside Paris and Montreal. Well, not that I want to hook up with someone and get laid a few hours later. That's the last thing that I will ever do.... maybe out of desperation.

I studied the place carefully. There were pubs all around the area with the famous rainbow colour symbol signifying that the place is LGBT friendly. There were also a lot of sex shops and hell knows what the hell's happening right at that moment. Some people were in drag, and some were just in their plain outfits. And some were just plain smokin’ hot.

I think I got a bit carried away in checking the hot Caucasian blokes out when Art called my name.

“Let’s get going. We still have to catch the Tube.”

Oops. I have to be careful. London might be an open-minded metropolis, but I’m just a newbie in here. I don’t want to get myself caught, basing from Gene’s earlier comment.

I still have to see if they’re homophobes or not.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Tower Bridge Time!

Class ended an hour earlier than usual. I was just planning on staying home and do a bit of job hunting when Gene grabbed me.

“Guys,” she pertained to Art and Tina, “let’s take Josh for a tour today, shall we? You kept on complaining that you haven’t been to any of London’s hotspots!”

It’s true. Ever since I arrived, I did nothing but to go to school, to look for jobs, to run errands in the nearby high street, etc.

“Where do you wanna go Josh?” said Art.

“Erm, I haven’t really taken a picture of the Tower Bridge yet…” I said meekly.

“Oh dear. We’ll take a picture of you beside the Bridge. Let’s go then!” said Gene.

“Stand there. We’ll make this your FB profile pic.” Art was ushering me to stand at a certain spot while he moves my camera to check the perfect angle. We were standing at the Hays Complex beside the River Thames, overlooking Tower Bridge and the Tower of London.

“Are you an aspiring photographer?” I asked.

“Yes, but man I hope I can get a DSLR soon,” he grinned. Blimey… his smirk’s so cute. But I have to stop this. He's straight, I think.

I tried to hide my discomposure by looking at the cup of Starbucks coffee I was holding. 3 quid. I have to find a job asap, or else I am really going to sleep here by the Thames.

“Say cheese!” And the camera went click.

“Do you also want me to take a pic of you?” I asked.

“Nah, I already have one, but you can take a shot of me with that over there.” He pointed to the onion-shaped building right next to the Thames.

It’s the London City Hall.

I tried to take the shot from the best possible angle. After showing it to him, he exclaimed: “Haha, you are totally better than me at this one!”

“Nah, I’m not really that good. I have a friend back home who’s really the professional one.” I was not sure if I was blushing or not when talking to him.

We had to go after a few minutes since Tina and Art have work that afterrnoon. Gene asked me if I can accompany her to play some pool (or billiards) in Park Royal. Before I even said yes, she was already dragging me to the Tube station as we headed off for Oxford Circus.

While waiting for Gene’s friend to meet us up, we just strolled along the busy thoroughfare. It was a marvellous sight. Thousands of tourists/shoppers were walking from all directions. Oxford Street was basically London’s Champs-Élysées. High street brands ranging from Zara to Burberry covered both sides of the road, and it goes on and on and on…

I was doing window shopping, while Gene did the actual shopping. Goodness. 25 quid for a shirt? Madness.

“Don’t worry Josh. If you did find a job, you can buy all the things you want.” Gene then gave me a pat on the shoulder, sympathising for me. She then went to queue for checkout.

Someday, I will be the one who will be shopping like hell. Just wait and see.