Living it up in London: Back to the First World

Hopping off the plane at Heathrow, there were a few clues that I was back in the first world. Everywhere I looked there were white people in stylish black peacoats with professional short-cropped hair or painted on makeup, hurrying to their next destination. In comparison, I was clad in the same clothes I had worn for the past 30+ hours of traveling, a gray jumper that barely came to my waist (a woman’s coat given to me by Jen when she had no more room in her bag, hey gotta stay warm), and my pink highlighted hair. As I walked toward the tube station, a man purchased two express train tickets to the city center for a cool 58 pounds. Wait, 58 pounds for a 30 minute ride on public transportation!?! Yup, definitely not in India anymore.

Dirt roads have been replaced by gray sidewalks and asphalt with clearly marked lines neatly separating traffic. Wild, unkempt jungle with well-manicured parks. Bamboo and straw huts with concrete monoliths and flying buttresses. 100cc scooters and rickshaws with BMWs and red double decker buses. The smells of curry spices with fish frying in oil and slowly rotating schwarma.  Bum guns with rolls of multi-ply toilet paper.  Controlled chaos replaced with controlled order.

I have been a little surprised at how quickly I’ve re-acclimated to life in the Western world and how great of a time I have been having. But it’s very hard not to have a great time as you reunite with old friends. When I got off the Underground at the Halloway Road station, my friend Kate from uni was there to greet me. Kate is completing her masters degree at SOAS University and has been gracious enough to let me stay with her this week (greatly reducing my trips to the ATM, which is perfect because I just realized my ATM card expired a few months ago). On Friday night we headed down to Brixton for a birthday party and some dancing at a little establishment whose dj looks like Peter Jackson, the director of the Lord of the Rings.

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Kate and I on Primrose Hill. She did an awesome job of showing me around the city.

On Saturday we went to Regent Park and made our way up to Primrose Hill. (One thing that I have not yet become accustomed to is wearing shoes. In fact, I strained a small muscle in the arch of my foot from walking around in shoes so much. Luckily it was a great day with the weather approaching 21 degrees, so the shoes definitely came off.) From this beautiful vantage point the sprawling city is visible with its numerous landmarks reaching towards the sky. Engraved into the stone are these words from William Blake: “I have conversed with the spiritual Sun. I saw him on Primrose Hill.” The view shows the dichotomy of nature in the forefront and the metropolitan city in the background. From what I’ve experienced, London does a pretty good job of maintaining nature in the midst of a bustling city with the eight royal parks and walkways along the canals of the Thames River.

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Enjoying the spiritual sun. As my boy Kalvin noted, it looks like Tarzan's first trip to the city.

That night I got to meet up with some more old friends, my awesome diving buddy Jo from Koh Tao, who flew down from Scotland for the weekend, and Lauren, my awesome fellow yogi from the first course I assisted on in Agonda. Kate and I met up with Jo at the Camden Market, a foodie’s wet dream. Aromas from all around the world permeate through the air, and free samples are handed out without discretion. So much for being on the vegetarian wagon when there’s Jamaican jerk chicken to be sampled. I had an awesome Turkish wrap and a variety of Peruvian dishes as we caught up over a few Spanish beers.

Around midnight we caught a bus to Camden to meet up with Lauren, who had put us on the guest list at the club she works at. So we strolled up to Club Koko, skipping the line, and gave our names to the hostess. “Sorry, I don’t see your name on the list.” I gave Lauren a call and realized what a dumbass I was. Lauren works at Club Cuckoo, not Koko, in the very posh downtown area on Swallow Street. So we hopped another bus and made it down to the club.

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Getting cuckoo with Lauren at the club. Drinking my manly martini.

When I say that the Cuckoo Club is a classy establishment, I mean it’s a damn classy establishment. My backpacking ass had no business being surrounded by people dressed to the nines ordering bottle service. But Lauren is classy enough for the both of us and made sure that we never wanted for a drink. A first round of martinis were quickly replaced by round after round of delicious Black Label and coke. With confetti raining down from the ceiling and high quality whisky in my glass, I definitely wasn’t back in India drinking honey brandy that’s $3 a bottle. (Although I kind of missed Leopard Valley, dancing barefoot underneath the open sky.) Around 4 in the morning the club brought out free pasta (which ultimately did little to stem off Kate’s massive hangover the next day, but was delicious and a nice gesture nonetheless), signaling the night coming to a close. It was great to see Lauren and to catch up with Jo, an all around amazing end to an amazing day.

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