Today, we started our London journey with Brixton as the first stop. Unfortunately even before we began we had to reluctantly say goodbye to Mr Er, who was feeling unwell and had to rest at the hotel.
It was chilly when we set off. However, as we walked to the Tube station, I noticed that the clouds were giving way to reveal blue patches of sky where the sun was peering through. This instantly lifted my spirits in anticipation of the clear day ahead.
Upon reaching Brixton, I was immediately drawn in by the vibrancy and diversity of the area. Upbeat music blared from shops and cars along the streets and the buildings were dressed in all kinds of colour and art. The whole area had a unique personality unto itself, nothing like the prim and proper side of London we had experienced the past few days. But as we were to discover, itt was also a world apart from Brixton of the past, where violence and crime abounded and living conditions were poor. I couldn’t wait to start exploring it.
We met our music-loving Blue Badge guide, Angela, who took us around Brixton. Our first stop was the iconic mural of David Bowie, a famous pop culture icon of the late 90s. He was born in Brixton, and so the artist decided to paint a mural of him here in 2012 to celebrate his contribution to music, fashion, and sexuality. Since he died earlier this year, many people from all around the world have been making a ‘pilgrimage’ to this mural to pay homage to him. Even though I was not very familiar with his work, I felt honored to be able to see the mural and the flowers people have laid for him there in acknowledgement of the influence he has had on pop culture.
Moving on, we visited the Black Cultural Archive. Opened in 2014, it is the only place in the U.K. that documents black history. It was opened to help the Black British gain awareness of their roots and where they originally came from, as many of them only know what happened after 1948, the year their forefathers from the Caribbean came to Britain to work. Hearing about all this, I couldn’t help but draw a parallel to Singapore. Being a Chinese Singaporean, I realised and felt ashamed that I didn’t know much about my family history in China either, where my forefathers came from. Hence, I feel that the Black Cultural Archive is a good initiative to help the Black British reconnect with their roots in order to move forward, and that Singapore should open such places for the various ethnic groups as well. As Walter Rodney says “to know the future we must know the past and present.”
We had our lunch at Pop Brixton, a place full of life and diversity. There was a range of cuisines to choose from, and we bought an array of dishes to share, such as jerk chicken and cannon balls. Some of the food I tried included the arepa, a type of South American corn cake, and goat curry. These were things that I would not normally have eaten, but it was a good experience as I thoroughly enjoyed every bite!
After the hearty lunch, we carried on with the tour of Brixton to Electric Avenue and Brixton Village, both full of local flavour. We were then given the opportunity to take a London bus for the first time! This would mean that we would have tried almost every form of public transport in London, from the Tube to the iconic red double-decker bus. It was interesting to note that the bus has three entrances, differing from Singapore’s, so everybody doesn’t have to crowd around the same entrance, making boarding more efficient.
As we reached the Imperial War Museum early, we were given time to take photographs in front of it. We obviously relished the opportunity and proceeded to take various jump shots and group photos, sealing our happy memories together in film.
Entering the museum, the mood turned sombre as we headed to the Holocaust exhibition. Walking through the exhibits, I felt shocked at the atrocity of the German regime towards the Jews. I was aghast seeing the pictures of Jewish women being raped, Jews being led to their death at the gas chambers, and probably the most affecting of all, the picture of a huge pile of dead Jews in a mass grave. I ached to think of what the victims had gone through, and was relieved that I was not born at that time. Witnessing the result of extreme racial discrimination by Hitler, I am ever more appreciative of the racial harmony we have in Singapore today. I realised that everyone has a role to play in creating an inclusive society where everyone feels safe, and am determined to do my part in ensuring that history does not repeat itself.
Nightfall meant that it was finally time for the SAJC alumni dinner! This has long been touted as one of the highlights of the trip and I had been really looking forward to hear what my seniors had to say about higher education in the UK. As the seniors arrived one by one, they were met with a warm welcome from the current Saints, as well as embraces from teachers whom they had not met in a long time.
I myself had the privilege of talking to two seniors who had taken very different paths. One was studying classics and philosophy in the University of Glasgow, while the other was doing law at Oxford. I was intrigued by the former’s choice of classics and philosophy, and learnt that it was a result of the combination of her love for history and literature. This opened my eyes to the many courses that university has to offer that can cater to all kinds of interests, which I find reassuring as I am now more confident of finding something that I like and want to pursue.
They both also offered me valuable advice related to the application process for university and how to survive JC2, such as showing you are passionate about your desired course in your personal statement and having good time management respectively. Overall, I felt inspired by the many Saints who have achieved so much and are pursuing their passion after graduating from SA. I am now motivated to work hard in the coming year knowing that anything is possible if you just put your heart to it!
It was a very eye-opening and enriching day. Even though the trip is nearing its end, I feel very blessed to have been able to gain so many valuable experiences in such a short time. If given a chance, I would definitely do it all over again!