But I know that I can make it, as long as somebody takes me home every now and then…
When Brandon Flowers sang Sam’s Town at the Royal Albert Hall to the thousands and thousands of Londoners who came out to watch the Killers, it just gave me chills. The last line from the song (quoted at the end of this post) probably says everything that I need to say about how I feel living in London. Despite its faults, despite the struggles, I absolutely love being here.
LONDON AND ME: A LOVE STORY
The journey to this kind of contentment takes ages, and the best thing is I’m still on that journey. Here I am, five and a half years down the line and I’m still discovering new things to love about London. My love for London is what I imagine being in a relationship is like. You start off with stars in your eyes and you get swept up in the romance of it all. You visit Big Ben and Tower Bridge, or stroll along Southbank or walk down Pall Mall towards Buckingham Palace – you know, touristy stuff – and its like those first few dates when everything seems perfect. I think that first year, London could do no wrong in my eyes. I arrived on the tail end of 2011 and I rang in the New Year by watching the famous London Fireworks at the London Eye. The amount of people who turn out for that, and who are willing to wait 7 odd hours in the freezing cold for a 10-minute firework display, simply boggles the mind. I’ve watched it twice and I don’t think I’ll ever do it again. But back then, I was in love with the wonder of it all that I barely noticed the crowds (or the struggle to hold your pee in because the journey to the public toilets was more difficult than climbing a small mountain).
The fireworks display that year was extra special because 2012 was the year of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics. The atmosphere that year was electric, I could not have timed my arrival better if I tried. I threw myself into the celebrations that year with the energy of a woman possessed. I waited three hours in the rain for the Royal Parade down the Thames, jostled elbows with the crowds near Trafalgar Square so that I could catch a glimpse of the Royal Family as they made their way to Buckingham Palace, watched the London Olympics Opening Ceremony in the park with my friends, bought tickets to the games, and celebrated a job well done with the rest of London during the Closing Ceremony (which fell on my birthday!) on a special viewing area at Westfield-Stratford near the venue.
I gradually adjusted to adulting. I learned to do my own laundry, set up my own Wifi and even cook. I was doing well at work, but it was probably the first time in my ambitious existence that I focused less on getting ahead in my career because I was too busy “living the life”. All I wanted was to get paid at the end of each month so that I can pay rent and do fun things. I refused bank shifts because it took time away from my exploration of all things British. I fulfilled a childhood dream to watch the Backstreet Boys in concert (don’t judge me!) and followed that up with what is still one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to in my life, watching Coldplay live at the Emirates Arena during their Mylo Xyloto tour.
The Seven-Year Itch
Inevitably, the excitement wore off. Winter began and whilst I used to scoff about Seasonal Affective Disorder when I was studying about depression at uni, I sure wasn’t scoffing when I started to feel really blue as November kicked in (I still do sometimes). I discovered that I actually needed the sun, and the shorts days and long nights really got to me. I developed a love-hate relationship with the London Weather. The first time I was running to catch my bus with groceries on one hand and an umbrella on the other because it was raining so hard, I think I nearly cried. Reality really does bite. The honeymoon was over. I started to think about what it really meant to live in London. Why am I here, so far away from family, friends and everything that’s familiar to me? Am I here to just do a job so that I have enough money to go to the Philippines every year because that’s where I think my life still is?
Making it work: couples therapy with London :p
Ultimately, I made the conscious decision to stop being a tourist and really live in London and all that entails, horrible weather and all. I learned a lot of things that year, and while my previous post dealt with how to get started in London, I think this one is more of a guide on how to be really live and be happy here.
Accept the weather
Now this was something I struggled with. I came from a tropical country where it would be 30 degrees Celsius even with a storm raging. Everyone you’ve ever met who told you about the constant, seemingly-never-ceasing rain in London was not kidding. There are times when it rained for two full days nonstop. I hated it. I’m a shorts and flip-flops kind of girl, I hated wearing closed shoes and jackets. I cannot (and still can’t) layer to save my life. I used to moan a lot about the weather. But now I’ve learned to embrace it. I bought myself a pair of Hunter boots and an all-weather warrior jacket from Hollister and that was that; I had my battle armour ready for the next torrential downpour. I bought a sturdy umbrella that wouldn’t turn itself inside out with the next strong gust of wind. I learned to plan my activities around the weather. My friend visited me a couple of years ago and commented on my almost obsessive hourly checking of the weather. She had obviously never experienced going out in shorts and Toms because it was sunny when you left the flat and then two hours later, you’re soaked to the bone because it had begun to rain. Do not underestimate how much of an impact the weather will have on your London life.
Love your job
Most people will tell you that they’ve taken a job abroad so that they can travel, and that’s what keeps them going: the thought of going away every couple of months and exploring the world. That’s all fine. But realistically speaking, you won’t be able to travel more than twice in a year. Maybe if you take short weekend trips you can stretch that to four, but the fact is, a lot of the time you’ll be caught up in making a living. The average nurse spends 37.5 hours a week at work, more if you do bank shifts (overtime). Honestly, I didn’t love my job as much as I should have, nor did I give it the appreciation it deserved for being the reason why I’m in London in the first place. Maybe my first job wasn’t really the right fit for me, but the one I have now is. Part of the time I’m working in a speciality that continues to excite me, but most of the time I’m doing what I love and do best: teaching.
Its the kind of job that challenges me, frustrates me, pushes me to my limits and ultimately, gives me that sense of achievement that only comes when you know you’ve made a difference. Don’t get me wrong, some days I feel like doing a primal scream or burrowing underneath my duvet and never leaving the apartment. But the good days outweigh the bad. Having a job I love has kept me sane even as it makes me insane.
Develop a hobby or a passion
I have to be honest. I haven’t been listening to this part of my survival guide for the past year because I’ve been too caught up with work. I feel like I’ve taken on the problems of the world on my shoulders, I’ve forgotten the simple fact that the world will go on turning with or without me. I am irreplaceable to no one except myself. This is part of the reason why I’ve taken up blogging again. I used to write and write like there’s no tomorrow, even if no one would ever read it. I wrote for the fun of it. I used to go dancing twice a week and training every other day. I used to go for runs just because the weather is good and I feel like it. It’s really essential that you have a work-life balance, and -what’s that saying – that you don’t get too caught up in making a living that you forget to live. The people who have enjoyed living here the most are those who have made the most of what the city has to offer. They do yoga, go wall climbing, joined running clubs and others. For those who less physically-inclined (like me), there’s book clubs and social groups that you can join to keep the monotony at bay. Push yourself though, I never thought I could do Muay Thai but I’m not only doing it but loving it.
Meet new people, not just fellow countrymen
When I got to London, the Filipino community was pretty much established. Most of them were people who went to the same school as I did, acquaintances more than actual friends. But it amazes me how much being in a foreign country together forges a bond. No one else will know what its like to be living and working abroad apart from the people who are having that same experience. However, I didn’t want to limit myself to the Filipino community. I’m living in one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world. I love to talk (hence, blabbaholic) and I have a genuine love for getting to know people and gaining new perspectives. I think one of the reasons why I love my current job is because it allows me to get out of my comfort zone and actually network with people. And the more people I meet, the more I’ve realised that people are essentially different but the same, and that those differences should be embraced and celebrated.
My boss is Scottish and my vocabulary has gotten so much better ever since I’ve started working with her. I’ve also picked up a couple of quintessentially Scottish words, the kind that have no English translation. There are no words to express how much I’ve matured as an educator because of her advices. One of my closest friends is Australian, and she’s taught me to see things from a whole different perspective, and to stand up for myself every once in a while. She’s also brought me to a sports bar to watch State of Origin and got me to cheer for Queensland against New South Wales, and to wear red in support of “my” team. Another one of my best friends is Italian, and she teaches me Italian swear words and brings me cheese from home. She’s also one of my most avid cheerleaders, and she always reminds me to love myself and to look at the mirror and think, “I am beautiful”.
A couple of years ago, I tried a social group called Thinking Bob, and I thought it was fantastic. I got to meet so many new people while doing activities. I learned that I have the courage to walk up to a group of strangers and socialise; because of this group, I had the guts to step up on stage in front of a rock band and sing ‘Proud Mary’ like I was Tina Turner, complete with the dance moves. It was exhilarating to be with people where I can be someone besides usual myself. There’s comfort in the company of strangers because they have no basis with which to judge you, seeing as they don’t really know you.
There’s nothing like the home crowd though…
I’ve met lots of people and I love it. But there’s something to be said about having the kind of friends who you just know will help you bury a body if you ever decide to murder someone. The kind you can call long distance at 3am because you’ve just unlocked one of life’s important achievements. The kind you can have two-hour conversations with just because. So stay connected to the friends who have known you long before you ever landed on Heathrow.
Yes, travelling tops every 20-something or 30-something year old’s list of things to achieve. There’s so much fuss about travelling lately, and so many travel blogs or vlogs about exploring the world and finding yourself while getting lost in some random city. There’s a reason why there’s so much hype, because travelling changes you in so many ways. I’ve always loved and read about history, and travelling gave me so many opportunities to visit places that I’ve only ever read about in books. The first time I entered the Louvre gave me the most surreal feeling. I think I cried when I entered St Peter’s Basilica and when I finally got to walk down the gardens of Versailles. I had authentic German beer in Berlin with friends I met on a free walking tour; I visited Anne Frank’s attic and felt profoundly sorry for the innocence that was lost there. I visited a concentration camp and got up close and personal with just how low humanity can be brought to when driven by greed, hate, prejudice and desperation. I toured the canals of Venice, prayed in the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona and enjoyed aperitivo along the coasts of Italy. Each time I came back from travelling, I came back not quite the same person, but more. So yes, before Brexit fully comes into its own, travel. A lot.
Stay connected to faith and family
I put these two together because for me they are one and the same. My faith and family keep me grounded, and give you a reason to go on during days when everything just seems to be going wrong. By faith, I don’t mean religion. I am not at my most eloquent when talking about spiritual matters. But I suppose by faith I mean just having the belief that everything will be ok in the end because there is a plan for you; and that you are here for a reason. And if you get that kind of faith by going to church or praying or meditation, it doesn’t matter as long as you keep the faith. I think when we stop believing and we stop hoping, that’s when we stop seeing the beauty in being where we are. Its happened to me a couple of times, and each time it helped to go home and spend time with my family.
Because really, there is no substitute for having family. There is something to be said about people who have to love you no matter how horrible you are simply because you share the same blood. When I was having a bad week at work a couple of years ago, I cancelled all of my extra shifts and hopped on a plane to Switzerland, where my nearest relative was. I didn’t have an itinerary or any kind of plan, and I didn’t care. I just wanted to be somewhere else and be with someone who has no expectations of me. I think when my sister moved to London last year, I breathed a sigh of relief. Life just got a little easier (and my waistline a little thicker, she’s such a good cook!).
I try to go home to the Philippines every 2 years to see my family. It recharges my batteries like nothing else can. One of the highest points of my life was when I got my entire family to go on a Eurotrip with me last year. Seeing London through my dad’s eyes brought me back to those honeymoon days when everything was new and wonderful. They made me love London again, and made me love London more.
Take care of you…
Home isn’t a place, its a feeling. Its the feeling of belonging somewhere, of being somewhere where you can learn new things and explore other parts of yourself but still have a place, and people to turn to, where you can just be you. And YOU are important. You are allowed to be selfish and to pamper yourself every once in a while. Have a mani/pedi, get a gorgeous haircut, buy that dress that fits you like a glove. You deserve it.
A happy ending
The truth is, the book doesn’t end when you find happiness because happiness is an ongoing thing. I have come to the conclusion that no one is every truly always happy or always content, we go through cycles of happiness and contentment. More importantly, we have to work for it and not be passive observers of our life, because as cliched as it is , life really is short. Your circumstances can change in an instant. Have you made the most out of this experience or are you still waiting for life to happen to you? Wake up and smell the roses: that future that seemed so faraway is happening now. You’re an adult, deal with it.
I’m going to stop blogging now and go out to re-explore this city that I love so much. I didn’t come here expecting to find home, I thought it was enough for me to have a job, to earn money and to have the chance to travel. But home is what it has become. It’s my Sam’s Town, and I could not be more grateful for that.
You know I see London, I see Sam’s Town
Holds my hand and lets my hair down,
Rolls that world right off my shoulders.
I see London, I see Sam’s Town now.