“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.”
– Nelson Mandela
My brother once told me how much his home city Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, keeps changing. The roads are never the same: they re-name them, they demolish them and build new ones or they change their routes entirely. Colonial shop houses get knocked down and are replaced by skyscrapers; schools are bull-dozed and turned into shopping malls.
He remarks with great relief how London never changes. That no matter how long he has been away from her, he can always return and familiarise himself with her landmarks and streets very easily.
London had been my home for many years: I grew up around her outskirts, I studied and worked in her centre, and lived the majority of my twenties in her leafy suburbs. Making the transition from experiencing London as a tourist in my teens to becoming a fully-fledged London commuter in my twenties was difficult. London ate up my energy, my mental agility and my time. I wasn’t in love with her.
Having lived a couple of years now in Brussels, I realise that I was living in some sort of fog in London. Meeting up with friends was a hassle because at times I would spend two hours just to get to their side of town; making arrangements would always have to be done weeks in advance; and getting home from a night out on my own was a constant worry. During my London years, I felt I was continuously missing out on the party. I was unhappy; lost; trapped; and clueless as to what to do about it.
London as a holiday destination makes me acknowledge that she can only be loved on my terms. I now have the time to enjoy her: riding at the front on top of the double-decker no. 87 bus to Aldwych, mesmerised by Big Ben and Westminster Abbey and the glorious views of London’s exquisite skyline day or night; eating in my favourite Asian restaurants; going for cheeky cocktails with the girls; exploring the museums, the serene parks and commons, the gorgeous winding streets and cute cafes – all on my time. I love this London.
My brother is right: she’s still the same old London. Thankfully, I am the one who has changed.