25. Celebrity sightings – I once saw Billy Connolly waiting for a cab by Trafalgar Square. Kevin Spacey and Alan Rickman watching a theater production. Russel Brand with a girl. ^^
24. Tourist spots – The London Eye! Trafalgar Square! Buckingham Palace! Big Ben! St. Paul’s Cathedral! Tower of London! Tower Bridge! London Bridge! Houses of Parliament! Stone Henge! I could go on and on, but it’s quite amazing when you go around central London and see where Charles Darwin used to live, or where Charles Dickens used to hang out, or where Sir Winston Churchill used to frequent and so on. ^^
23. West End Theaters – Sure dramas may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but London won’t be London without its West End theaters and they are quite fun if you get into them.
22. Charity shops – The UK has a number of charity shops that sell second-hand items to raise funds for charitable organizations. If you can’t afford Waterstone’s, Debenhams, Harrods, HMV, and so on, you can always go to the wide array of charity shops on the high street such as Cancer UK, British Heart Foundation, St. Francis, Salvation Army and Oxfam. I volunteer for Oxfam so of course I have a preference for Oxfam.
21. Gregg’s – I could not get enough of Gregg’s when I got here. I shall miss its pastries when I go back home.
20. Waterstone’s -My favorite bookstore. Sure I can’t afford most of it (Sarah Water’s book, afterall, costs £7.99), but Waterstone’s boasts of a very comprehensive array of books, from the classics, to modern fiction, to popular fiction, to comic books, to non-fiction and so on. And if you get tired, you can go to Costa’s and browse your newly-purchased exorbitantly charged books.
19. Fair trade products – Back home products were just products. Here of course, you can opt to buy fair trade products, a direct result of campaigns to sell products that don’t exploit its producers. You can rest easy knowing you bought, for example, coffee produced in South America that did not exploit its workers or harm the environment.
18. Free range eggs – I never knew eggs can come in free range and non-free range ways. That’s because there never was ever any need for that back home. Makes for interesting shopping. How nice it would be if you could get free-range partners as well. I’m kidding.
17. Supermarkets – Overwhelmingly massive supermarkets such as Marks and Spencers, Sainsbury’s, ASDA, Tesco, which boasts of a comprehensive amount of products. A whole section is devoted to different kinds of cheese. Another section is devoted to different kinds of milk (skimmed, semi-skimmed, whole, condensed, etc.), or different kinds of fizzy drinks, or breads and so on.
16. A Health and Safety Law – Immediately upon getting the job, you have an induction program which requires you to go through a health and safety training. Emergency exits, where the first aid kits are, where the fire extinguishers are and how to use them, where the meeting place is in case of fire or emergency happens, what constitutes a possible health and safety violation and/or danger are discussed.
15. Comprehensive environmental law and policies – Central London has carbon emission-free zones. Cars are required to comply with environmental laws. Garbage is collected based on those that are biodegradable or non-biodegradable and recyclable. There are bins and color-coded bin bags for these.
14. Anti-discrimination laws – You can’t not hire a person based on sex, sexual orientation, religion, age, race, criminal record, academic background, physical/mental disability, physical fitness and so on (unless doing so would impede the carrying out of certain duties). Doing so would automatically result in a lawsuit which you, as employer, are bound to lose. Ditto when you hire someone and proceed to discriminate against them.
13. Materials that are disabled-friendly – Books, medicine boxes, in Braille , or in large letters for the visually-impaired, or in audio files for the hearing-impaired in libraries. Menus are the same. Even the labels or boxes of medicine are in Braille.
12. Access for the disabled – In trains, in buses, in hotels, in toilets, on parking lots, pretty much everywhere.
11. Instant hot water – Oh, I shall miss this. No having to heat up the water in a kettle on the stove. Or buying a portable heater to heat up a pail of water.
10. Random female strangers you meet with nice Irish accents (sigh) – Only because I hear them so rarely. Music to my ears. ‘Nuff said.
9. Job centers – It was a shock to me to discover that there are job centers where you can go to if you are looking for jobs. They have computers which lists comprehensively the number of available jobs all over London and the surrounding areas, and best of all, you can print them. If you want to contact them, there are free phones inside the center for you.
8. The Weather – Autumn is a favorite time of the year for me. The nights are longer, the days are shorter, perfect excuse to stay at home and contemplate some more and do a lot of writing bits. You can walk throug the streets of London, and enjoy observing the leaves of the trees change colors as autumn deepens and goes on to winter. Winter is beautiful only because of the snow. And if there aren’t any, it’s just bleeding cold. I know I have said time and again that London only has three seasons: cold, colder and coldest, but I have to admit I shall miss that when I go back to the Philippines, where the weather is either hot or hotter or hottest.
7. Free entry into museums and galleries – The British Gallery in Trafalgar Square is a favorite haunt of mine. I go there to see Impressionist paintings. I know most people don’t like Impressionist paintings by Renoir and Monet, but sod it! one must go through the whole artistic experience – or at the least plod through entire rooms of Renaissance paintings to understand why Renoir and Monet are beautiful for me. Van Gogh is also an excellent artist whose paintings must be seen to be appreciated. The British Museum and the British Library near Euston Square are also a favorite haunt. The British Musem boasts of a very comprehensive range of artifacts dating back thousands of years – Egyptian, Sumerian, Assyrian, Etruscan, Mesopotamian, Persian artifacts (sarcophagi, writings, and so on), all the way to Roman and Greek architecture (a favorite part of my visits there), to Gaelic artifacts (yes, I do love Irish history as well), to African displays and ancient Asian ones as well. If you are lucky, they sometimes do exhibits like the development of clocks or the development of monetary systems. The British Institute of Contemporary Arts is also a good place to check out, showing the best of what contemporary artists can offer. I’m sure there are other places I should have gone to, but that’s alright. And best thing? It’s all free!
6. Public Libraries – Being stuck in the countryside, with only an ASDA supermarket for company and BBC soaps for entertainment (East Enders! Emmerdale! Coronation Street! Ugh.), something’s gotta give. Anyway, luckily enough, they had public libraries, in most every town. I went to the town library, and asked to be a member. Being a member was as easy as ABC. I got an ATM-type library card and I proceeded to borrow from the library. I had a whole range of library materials to borrow: DVDs, CDs, books, comic books and so on. There was an awesome contraption used to check out the items and you can use the same thing to check in the items. If you want to extend the time for borrowing the item, you can do so online. If you want to reserve a book, or request for a specific book, you can do so online. Anyway, the London/English libraries have made it possible for me to read Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman books, as well as “Battle Royale”, “30 Days of Night” and “Y: the Last Man” comic books, and esoteric, sometimes obscure movies on DVD. I’ll particularly miss the Basildon and Chelmsford libraries. Sadness.
5. National Health Service – Every foreigner who intends to stay in the UK for more than six months, is required to register with the National Health Service. So I registered, got my NHS card and thought nothing of it. A few months later, I received a letter from the NHS telling me that I was due for my pap smear and would I please report to the clinic to have it done? And so I went and wow, was that painful as hell! but being an advocate of proper women’s health services, I was glad to have gone and have done with it. A few weeks later, I receive the results of my test which basically informed me that I was in the clear as far as cervical cancer was concerned. The letter reminded me that my next smear test was in 2012, and though I am not looking forward to the exquisite pain that only a cold, metallic gadget inserted in your most private, most sacred of orifices can induce, I will again just to make sure I am in the clear (PSA: go get your pap smear as well. Prevention is better than cure). I will miss that.
4. The service – I once called the tax office to ask for a form I needed for doing my taxes. A nice Scottish (?) bloke answered all my questions and then told me he would send me the necessary form. A couple of days later or so, the tax form I needed was at my doorstep, ready to be filled up. Shock! I would never have enjoyed such kind of service back home. I would have waited for ages before I got any kind of form. Ditto for postal services, banking services, other kinds of services, really.
3. The countryside – I lived in the countryside for the better part of three months the first time I arrived here. To quote Sue Trinder, “The countryside! I never knew there was so much of it! Mile upon bleeding mile!” It was beautiful – rolling hills and plains, fields of gold in the spring, fields of pristine snow in the winter. Then after three months, you start missing the city.
2. Fish and chips – I just can not get enough of it! Sure it’s just cod fish, chips and a side dish of either beans (a perennial favorite) or peas (ugh), but smear generous amounts of tartare sauce on it and =wala!= instant gratification!
-London has an extremely comprehensive transportation system. Being from the Philippines, where whenever you want to go anywhere, you just wait at the side of the road and hope for the best, I was highly amazed and perplexed at the regularity of buses and trains. I was even more amazed that on every bus stop or station, bus map routes and schedules are posted for everyone to see. Train stations had tube maps (for free!) available for your convenience, TV monitors that flashed when the next train was coming, and train employees who always seemed to be available in case you needed assistance. A voice regularly announced if the trains were about to arrive and where they would call (same voice announces the same thing inside the train, and there is an electronic board that announces each stop as well). I the trains were late, the same voice would apologize for it. The companies apologizing for late trains! Shock! I will miss the trains and buses. Those Londoners who complain about late trains all the time – you are all a bunch of tossers! For those people living back home who, upon reading this, feel the need to defend our transportation system – you are a bunch of tossers as well.
TOP THINGS I WILL NOT MISS ABOUT ENGLAND
9. The class system – Nowhere is class more palpable than in England – the underclass, the middle classes and the upper class, and the emerging class of immigrants. Class and status are everything. Quite ridiculous really.
8. The countryside – Because I never knew there was so much of it, because there is mile upon bleeding mile of it, and because while it is beautiful, I would get bored with it after awhile.
7.The weather – Because more times than not, it’s cold, and it’s the kind of cold that seeps through your clothes, into your skin and right through your bones, and into your very being.
6. Immigration rules – Because it’s just quite stressful worrying about your immigration status.
5. Half-terms – Because this means the kids are on school break and they have enough time on their hands to travel in packs and bother you on the streets or at work.
4. Youth gangs and their weekend rumbles/riots – Granted I worked in a place where kids usually hang out, but I certainly as hell won’t miss them.
3. Racist people – Of which there are many.
2. Obscenely high cost of living – Having lived in London for a year – I quickly got rid of whatever luxuries I took for granted when I was living in the Philippines: weekend trips to clubs, weekend Starbucks coffee, regular book buying things, beach trips, eating out and so on.
1. Atrocious taxes – Surely this is the one thing I will not miss the most. I paid more taxes than I worked. It is obscene. Granted I shall probably face the same back home, but still….