Saturday, December 31, 2011

Goodbye 2011 - 8 things that I have come to appreciate

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With 2011 coming to an end, it's the usual time for repentance for the past year and resolutions for the year ahead. I shan't do that for this time round. After spending the last couple of years in London, it's easy to overlook the things that I have come to appreciate. After much pondering, here's the list of top eight things that thankful for.

1. Mr Brown

Mr Brown, the public persona of Lee Kim Mun (or Kim-Mun Lee in this part of the world) first achieve mainstream recognition when his column on Today, the equivalent of London's Evening Standard, was taken off (by Today's editoral) after he publicly criticised a government healthcare policy. There was widespread sympathy among Singaporean netizens. The irony is that he was able to capitalise on this and relaunched MrBrown.com, a social and political satirical site.

Perhaps what he didn't expect is that MrBrown.com has become rather popular to overseas Singaporeans and it is the first site I turn to whenever I miss home and would like some cheering up.

2. The NHS

I've never heard of the National Health Service (NHS) until our former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was furious that his wife wasn't able to jump the queue (read article). It was big news in Singapore back then - mainly pointing out the deficiencies of the NHS. The common consensus is that if you don't have to pay for something (like the NHS), it can't be good.

The truth is that we have to pay for the NHS - a sizable chunk of the taxes that we pay on a monthly basis goes into funding the system and that's true whether you use it or not. Truth to be told, other than its maternity wards, I have quite a fair experience with the NHS thus far. The best thing about the NHS is that they give priority to young children and you are almost certain to get same day appointment if your child is ill. While there are complaints about how level of service depends on where you live (i.e. postcode lottery), we've had a rather good experience with our local GP. For that, I'm willing to pay into the NHS.

3. Cooking

Perhaps one of the best thing that happened to us when we came over to London is that we learn how to cook. Instant noodles, which was all what I did back home, doesn't count. That's merely boiling. For starters, I now know the difference between rosemary and thyme (go on, laugh).

Once cheap hawker fare is taken out of the equation, we are forced to experiment with new recipes. We realise that there is a recipe for anything and everything online. Some of which that we always refer to include the BBC Food RecipesRasa Malaysia and fellow food blogger Ann's Pig Pig's Corner.

However, our best recipes actually come from books. Markus Warering's How to Cook Perfect and Heston Blumenthal at Home. The best of the lot have to be Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage Everyday, which recipes consistently turns out quite well (his baked chicken curry is foolproof and to die for).

Also, for all those salted duck eggs lovers out there, preparing them on your own is much simpler than you think. Just immerse fresh duck eggs in saturated salt solution for three weeks before hardboiling them. Can get simpler than that, can it?

4. Blogging and Social Media

Prior to coming to London, I've always viewed blogging as a frivolous pastime and a poor substitute for mainstream media. London Expat was started to document what I have experienced in London and was meant to be a pseudo diary when we return to Singapore (I originally plan to stay just for six months).

One thing led to another, we stayed on and I just kept writing. A year on, the food posts spun (check) off into London Chow, which name was chosen because LondonRestaurantReviews.com was already taken and I wasn't able to come up with a better name at 3am in the morning (I'm the impatient sort).

Besides blogging, I can also be found on Twitter, Flickr, Instagram and Facebook. So do drop me a message every now and then, will you?

5. The greatest attractions on Earth

You would be surprised at how many Londoners have yet to visit Westminster, Westminster Abbey, St Paul's Cathedral, Tower of London and Buckingham Palace - all steeped in history and monuments in their own right. Living in central London also means that these attractions are either within walking distance or a short bus ride away. That immediately gives me an edge over the throngs of tourists who fly halfway across the world just for that.

Recently, I've just gotten Christopher Winn's I Never Knew that About London. I'm a sucker for trivia. Which is the oldest church in London? Britain's first paid police force? The first yacht race the world had ever witnessed? This hardcover will be my constant companion well into the new year. Hmm...

6. Lying on open grass

Be it on the slopes of Primrose Hill, Greenwich Park or Hampstead Heath, just lying there on your back with a pair of shades staring at the clouds above is probably one of the most therapeutic activities I can think of. This is one thing that I look forward to every summer (spring and autumn too if I'm dressed warmly enough).

7. Having Europe at my doorstep

With most of Europe within two hours flight from London's airports, I can easily do a weekend trip to any European cities in short notice. With Eurostar, one can dine at the quaint little cafes at the foot of Paris' Sacre Coeur (see tips on travelling from London to Paris) or take boat ride around the heart of Bruges and be back in time for dinner. How about that?

8. West End and the Museums

An abundant of plays in London also mean that a discounted theatre ticket is often cheaper than a trip to the cinema (which a ticket cost £13 upwards at Leicester Square) for the latest blockbuster. If you are fortunate enough to have a local theatre, you're in for a treat. The Almeida Theatre, which is a mere five minutes walk from Angel Tube station, routinely offers £8 tickets for high quality production. Try beating that.

The best things in life is free and by that I mean the museums and galleries in London. My favourite among these being The National Gallery and British Museum. Just the other day, I was on my way to Chinatown to pick up some roast meats for dinner. It turned out that they were still being prepared. No worries, I popped into The National Gallery for some Rembrandt and van Gogh in the meantime. That's something that I can get used to.

Wherever you are, take a look around you, is there something that you are thankful for?

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