Today started off with a little sneak peak of one of the biggest and luxurious departmental stores in London – Harrods. We had afterall to pass it on our way to the Singapore High Commission. The minute I stepped out of Knightsbridge station, I was greeted by the dazzling Christmas lights that lined the streets of Knightsbridge, the latest collection of Burberry purses systematically organised behind well-polished windows and rows of high-end fashion brands seducing the eyes of the girls (and some of the boys too).
We spent a few moments spazzing over non-existent retail therapy and said our reluctant goodbyes as we proceeded to walk around the red-bricked townhouses that are a feature of the Knightsbridge area. Most of the houses have carved intricate designs of angels on their front porch and christmas decorations placed across their small backyards. Along the way to the High Commission we passed by an old, green tea hut made of wood where in the past London cabbies would stop for their break. .
Upon reaching the High commissioner’s place, we were honoured to have Mr Chai Wen Wai the Deputy High Commissioner talk to us. He explained the impact of Brexit on Commonwealth countries like Singapore, the free trade agreements made across countries and even advised on the requirements needed to join MFA. Most of us didn’t even know that MFA also offers a limited number of JC internships. At the end of our briefing most of us were enlightened via the insights he provided us on the economic and social impacts of Brexit. We also had a better idea of Singapore’s long-standing relationship with the UK. We left with a clearer understanding of what it meant to be a diplomat, as well as the difficulties foreign students might face.
His talk also gave me a sense of what studying in London and getting a stable job here, after university, would be like. That it would no longer be as simple and straightforward as before. I learnt that in previous years, foreign students were given 2 years after graduating, to look for jobs but these days, unless the students’ visas are sponsored by companies, they are only given 6 months before they have to return home.
Despite this, many foreigners are not deterred as prestigious universities in the UK like Oxford and Cambridge offer appealing courses that may not be available elsewhere, this would mean that there is a greater competition amongst students in getting scholarships and positions in the universities. I guess I should start on my holiday homework if I’m to even dream about studying in London.
After the High Commission we once again travelled by Tube as we made our way to lunch at Mother Mash. We had to pass through Piccadilly Circus (which sadly we were not given a chance to explore). Piccadilly Circus seems like a very intriguing place to be in as there were street performers like the woman dressed in a royal gown fully painted in gold, the “floating” Yoda and more. The streets were lined with shops and theatres.
After a hearty lunch of sausages and mashed potatoes (not forgetting the extra vegetables the teachers never fail to order for us) we visited Westminster Abbey, with intentions of touring the interior. However, due to unforeseen circumstances we were unable to enter as they were holding a special service.
Despite this, we still managed to attend Evensong, sung by the chorister of Westminster Abbey. I walked in expecting it to be a simple, humble setting but I was amazed at the extraordinary statues carved out in such excruciating detail, in memory of noblemen and others who have made a mark in history. Such figures include Winston Churchill, Isaac Newton and Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles. The choir sang hymns with such beauty their angelic voices resonated against the towering concave ceilings and surrounded us with grace. It was apparently relatively smaller gathering compared to the usual service, however, I can safely say that the passion displayed by the choir was brought forth in their songs of worship , gave everyone goose-bumps. The congregation sat in silence while the officiants read out verses from The Book of Isaiah. I have attended mass in churches before even though I am a Christian, the Evensong that I attended was different than what I had experienced before: In Singapore, they do not have the choir singing the Lord’s Prayer and the responses, most churches just request the congregation to speak out the responses. Overall, Evensong was inspiring because the dedication that they displayed warmed my heart to know that they find great joy in serving the Lord.
Later on in the day, we briskly made our way to the final stop for today – The British Museum (where Night at the Museum III was filmed ).
Taking the tube in the evening proved to be rather stressful because it was crowded and people were all shoving and carelessly bumping into others. Nevertheless we got to the museum on time. The British Museum has so many displays ranging from philosophy to ancient Egyptian mummies. It was certainly much bigger than I expected (think of National Museum back home, multiply that by 20) and it is supported by a whole row of towering pillars.
Inside, we broke into smaller groups and were given the freedom to choose which exhibition to look at. My group decided to visit the Enlightenment exhibition where we saw statues belonging of Greek mythology like Apollo. We managed however to give ourselves a quick tour of the ancient Egypt exhibition where we learned the art of mummification, looked at real-life mummies of the people and cats, learned about artefacts that were uncovered in Egypt. .
They say you learn new things every day, today was definitely insightful and entertaining as I managed to learn more about the history of Westminster Abbey, learned about mummification and got to look at real-life mummies!
London has been a great experience for me so far, it is a place so rich in history, 10 days will never be enough for me to learn all about it. I hope this will be a motivation to myself , to work harder so that in the future, I will be able to re-visit this city. I want to continue exploring various parts of the world and continuously acquire knowledge outside the boundaries of Singapore and Indonesia.