緣份,感覺,多少年〈倫敦篇〉

stories / 小說

看過當年台灣行的照片之後。想起嘉琪的我,自然而然的打開了另外一個文件夾:2009年一月,倫敦。

 

地鐵車門在Covent Garden站開啟之後,我快步踏上月台,往箭嘴標示「Way Out」的方向走去。還好倫敦是個大城市,我那急速的腳步並沒有惹來旁人的側目。

出了閘口,我見到嘉琪正站在在售票機旁。

我走到她跟前,微微喘著氣道歉:「對不起…那客戶真的很愛說話…」

我看了看錶。我遲到了三十分鐘。

嘉琪微微一笑。「還好啦。我其實也比約定的時間晚到了。我本來要從辦公室飛奔過來的。收到你說要遲到的電話之後我反倒是鬆了口氣。」

「我們去吃飯吧。」她續道。「你想吃甚麼?」

「唔…這兩天在倫敦都是吃西餐或是快餐,想吃點不一樣的…」我想了想。「倫敦有日式咖喱飯嗎?」

嘉琪噗哧一笑。「你真的很愛日本!連咖喱也要日式口味的。當然有啊。倫敦最不缺的就是咖喱了。」

嘉琪帶我到唐人街的一家日本餐廳去。店內人頭湧湧,我們要排隊等位。時近農曆新年,唐人街街頭都張燈結彩,十分有氣氛。

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「妳在英國住了兩年多,有掛念中式節日嗎?」我說著指了指頭上的大紅燈籠。

「並沒有。」嘉琪失笑。「我一向對西方事物比較有興趣。你忘了嗎?」

我當然沒有忘記。

「那妳為甚麼年底要回香港?乾脆移民英國就好嘛。」我半開玩笑地說道。

「不就是有人要我回香港囉。」嘉琪說罷嘟了嘟嘴。

我看到她左手無名指上的鑽戒。

「也是啦,妳的未來老公的工作都在中國大陸那邊嘛。」我說道。

「上司也贊成我調回去香港的分公司。現在所有人都在搶中國市場。他們覺得有我這黃臉孔,不多加利用就可惜了。可我偏偏就是最討厭中式人事關係。」嘉琪一臉不情願。

我聳了聳肩。「我們公司的老闆就是典型的華人老闆啊。」

嘉琪說道:「但你這工作倒是好,可以四處去。」

我苦笑:「我只是個孤獨的推銷員呀。到哪裡都是只有走馬,沒有看花。我第三次來倫敦了,都還未去看過大笨鐘。」

「要不吃過飯後我帶你去吧。你明天要工作嗎?」

「工作完成了。明天上午的班機回香港。」

「那就好。」

 

飯後,嘉琪跟我徒步從唐人街到走到泰晤士河邊的Embankment,踏上金禧橋往南岸的方向去。雖然是冬季,但幸好那晚的天氣不太冷。

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我拿出了相機,拍了幾張照片。

嘉琪笑道:「你真像遊客。」

我也笑了。「對啊,機會難得,當然要當一下遊客。」

我作勢把鏡頭對著嘉琪,但她笑著避開了。

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鬧了一會,我們才繼續並肩走著。

「其實很不可思議呢。」我呼了口氣,說道。

「怎樣不可思議?」嘉琪問道。

「五年前,我們在台灣淡水那情人橋前,覺得歐洲是遙不可及的夢。現在的我竟然和妳會在倫敦見面。」

我把手臂橫向伸出,說道:「好像有點不真實的感覺。」

嘉琪笑道:「我還以為孤獨的推銷員到過許多地方之後,早已經對不同的地方沒有感覺了。」

「工作不一樣呀。出差的時候都只是工作,做的東西都一樣,到哪裡都沒有分別。」我說道。「而我和妳到了地球的另一面,也還能相見,就令我覺得很奇妙。」

「還好有MSN囉。」嘉琪笑道。

「還有Facebook呀。」

我想,若果我和嘉琪早十年畢業的話,嘉琪去英國之後,我和她大概會失去聯絡吧?

正是因為網路通訊簡單方便,我和嘉琪的持續聯絡才不會那麼煞有介事。我也可以告訴自己,我都只是閒時聯絡舊同學而已,並不是因為還在意她。

 

過了河,我和嘉琪沿著河岸經過那巨型的London Eye。

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「摩天輪,要坐嗎?」嘉琪問。

「時間有點晚了。現在才上去的話,我怕會坐到天荒地老啊。」我說。

她立即知道我意有所指:「恐怕要偷運幾個榴槤上去充飢才成。」

我倆都笑了。這是只有同年代的人才懂的爛笑話。

嘉琪轉了個話題:「那麼,孤獨的推銷員可有女朋友?」

我沒好氣說道:「都說是『孤獨』了,哪來女友。」

「孤獨可能只是你單身出差時的表象呀。就如我剛認識你的時候,也不知道你是這麽外向健談的男生。」

「對不同的人,自然就有不同的態度。這些也是表象啊。」我聳了聳肩。「我們剛認識的時候,妳覺得我是個怎樣的人?」

「唔,在認識你之前,在學校看到你的時候,我覺得這男生有點陰沉。我不是說很恐怖那種啦。就是很安靜,不多話那種感覺。」

嘉琪不知道,當時她眼中的那個我,就是從中學時代一路走來的,真正的我。大學的生活,確實令我待人接物的態度變化不少。而這些轉變,或多或少也是因為她。

我笑道:「妳在我心中的印象倒是從當年到現在一直都沒有變啊。就是那麼高貴大方得體秀外慧中聰明可愛啊!」

嘉琪抿嘴道:「有時候讚美說話說得越長就越沒誠意。但看你一臉誠懇,我就姑且信之好了。」

當時的我想,那大概是我最後一次跟她開這樣的玩笑吧?

我們於西敏寺橋由南岸回到北岸,終於來到大笨鐘前。本來在雜誌照片或是電視節目中才看到的建築物,忽然出現在自己的跟前,還真的有一種不真實的感覺。

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在周圍逛了逛,拍了幾張照片之後,短短的泰晤士河邊漫步之旅就要結束了。

臨別前,在地鐵站內通道的分岔處,嘉琪說道:「我快要發喜帖了。十二月中你會有空出席嗎?」

「我想我會要出差。」我說。「喜帖還是發給我吧。我會送賀禮的。」

她奇道:「這麼早就知道?工作會安排到那麼遠嗎?」

「總之我知道我會在那時候出差的。」我失笑。

何必呢。

聰明如嘉琪,當然知道我意之所指。她只給了我一個了解的表情,點了點頭。

然後,我倆相對無語。

 

to be continued…



David’s Not-so-grand European Tour: Part VI

Europe / 歐洲 2007travel / 出行

Since EY is a normal person with a real job, I am left on my own on the last day of my London tour.

Arrived at the Tower of London at 09:30 (I didn’t manage to get in, remember?), only to find that the Tower does not open until 10:00 on Mondays, so I had to wait a bit before I can get in. I visited most of the points of interests in the time that I spent there, including:

-the White Tower: once the former Royal Armoury, it has a lot of historial weapons and firearms on display. It is worth noting that there is an exhibit that was dedicated to the historical struggles between British Protestants and Catholics, including the Gunpowder Plot. And then when I got back to Vancouver, I read about the news that the Anglican Church and the Catholic Church are planning to merge. I find that kind of ironic.

-the Crown Jewel: probably the must-visit place for visitors to the Tower, the real and still-in-use Crown of the British monarch is on display there

-prison cells where a number of high-profile prisoners were once imprisoned

All in all, the Tower is a decent historical site to visit, if one wants to learn a bit about Medieval Britain.

At around 12:30, I rode the tube to Russell Square Station and had a one last brief visit to the British Museum and visited the Enlightenment Exhibit again before heading back to the hotel to pick the luggage. It’s too bad that I did not manage to spend enough time there (since it was kind of close to the hotel that I stayed in, I did not really planned for a specific point of the trip to visit it, thinking that I could go there as a “time filler”).

I took the Circle Line train from King’s Cross/St. Prancras to Paddington. The walk from the Circle Line Paddington station platform to the Paddington rail station (where I would board the Heathrow Express) is noticably longer than the walk from the rail station to the Hammersmith and City Line platform. One really have to know the way around the London Underground system in order to find the shortest path to any place.

There were long line-ups at the British Airways counter at Heathrow, even the “fast” baggage drop off had a long queue. The flight from LHR to YVR was delayed due to the late arrival of the aircraft (what else). Otherwise the flight back home was uneventful.

London is truly a fascinating place to visit. In many ways (e.g. the dirtiness of the streets), it reminded me of the Hong Kong of old (i.e. 1980’s to early 1990’s). Thanks to the expert guidance of EY, my tour of London covered most of the prominent points of attractions in Central London, and the tour is very fulfilling. However, there were still a couple things that I would like to do but did not do:

– attending a football match: it was FA-cup 4th Round weekend when I was in London, and I thought about going to the Arsenal vs Blackburn match at the Emirates Stadium. However, the tickets were restricted to fan club members only. It might have been a good thing since the match was by all accounts a snooze-fest

– watching a West-end musical: it is listed as one of the to-dos in Wiki Travel. I should’ve made plans early for that.

London in pictures: http://www.davidmak.net/album/v/london/london2007/

This was my first-ever trip to Europe, and actually my first time venturing out to places where English or Chinese is not the main language (although a lot of people that I encountered in Austria and Germany spoke very good English). Although the trip was a little bit short, it gave me a taste of what Europe is all about. I would love another visit again in the (hopefully) not-too-distant future.

On a final note: sometimes I would associate certain songs with the trips that I took, even though the lyrics or the song itself has little to do with my destination or even the trip itself. This time my “theme” song for the trip was Nana’s (starring Mika Nakashima) 一色. When I was on the train from Innsbruck to Munich, I found the song really fitted into my mood during that time, even though I don’t know what the song is about (I am one of those who don’t know any Japanese but listen to J-pop).



David’s Not-so-grand European Tour: Part V

Europe / 歐洲 2007travel / 出行

Day three in London coincided with the Chinese New Year, and EY and I celebrated by going to… Cambridge, which of course is known to the world because of the University there.

We met up at King’s Cross Station at 10:45 and took the next train to Cambridge. The ride was short, just under an hour. The most memorable thing about the ride is the changing air pressure (while the train enter tunnels and etc.) affecting my ears.

We took the bus to the town centre after getting off the train. Cambridge is a more vibrant town than I originally thought, as it serves as a hub to the surrounding areas, according to my guide, EY.

A few of my friends know that I love visiting university campuses, and Cambridge is certainly a worthwhile visit for people like me. We went around several residential colleges, including St. John’s, King’s, Queens’ and Trinity. Highlights of the tour included the Bridge of Sigh, the River Cam, and the King’s College Chapel.

Although the environment at Cambridge does not have the grandeur simiilar to Stanford (another great campus that I have been to), it does give out an aura of history and temperament (is that the right word?) of a prestigous education institution.

After touring the colleges, we sat down at a tea house and had tea (a visit to the UK would not be complete without this). It was all very relaxing, even though the weather was not the best.

We headed back to London in mid-afternoon. Since it is too early for dinner, I dragged EY to the British Museum again (sorry!). The great thing about free admission is not only that I don’t have to pay, but I can choose to go whenever I want and any number of times I want. This time around, we visited mostly the Asian (Chinese, Japanese, Korean) exhibits.

To me, the Chinese Exhitbit was a little disappointing, as I didn’t find anything strikingly impressive (so where are the booty from the 19th century wars?), and the organization of the exhibit is somewhat disjointed and lacked meaning. Afterwards, I read that some of the British Museum’s Chinese Collection went on display in Beijing shortly after I returned to Vancouver. So I wonder if the “better” things were shipped over to China already by the time I was there. The Jade Exhibit is probably my most memorable exhibit within the Chinese Collection.

The Japanese Collection, on the other hand, was very well organized. The exhibit halls are organized in a chronological fashion. A large variety of types of items (e.g. clothing, painting, everyday household items) are displayed to show the various aspects of life in different eras. The captions are well written and expressive. The exhibits are intended to educate people about how Japanese culture has evolved over the its history, instead of just a static collection of artifacts (e.g. pots and porcelain) that hold little meaning to observers, as displayed in the Chinese Collection.

After spending a couple hours at the Museum, we walked down to Chinatown for Japanese curry (yes, again!) at a different restaurant as the night before. I thought the curry there is better than the one I had on the previous night. After studying photographic evidence, Mr. Fung concluded that the second Japanese curry was more authentic than the first one. Nonetheless, my craving of Japanese curry is finally satisfied!

EY and I took a brief walk around some malls after dinner, but then she needed to leave early to tend for other businesses. Before we part, she recommended me to go down to Charing Cross Station and experience the Thames at night. It was not the last time we see each other that night though, as we thought it was.

I followed EY’s instructions and walked on the Golden Jubilee Bridge to cross the Thames from Charing Cross. I was walking along Belvedere Road until I discover that there is a riverside walkway (The Queen’s Walk). Even though it was a Sunday night, there were still a lot of tourists along the riverside area. The night scene along Thames is fantastic, comparable to the night harbour scene of Hong Kong (not sure if that is an appropriate comparison). The London Eye looked big when I was walking beside/underneath it. I didn’t get on it though. What is the fun of going on a ferris wheel alone? Although I think the view would be nothing short of magnificent up there.

I was under the London Eye when I got a call from EY. It turns out that she left the things that she bought from Cambridge in my backpack. I guess we both are quite forgetful. :p We agreed to meet after I finish my night tour of the Thames. Moving on, I walked across the Westminster Bridge and observe the Westminster Palace and the Big Ben at night. Overall, it was a very pleasant walk and I was quite pleased.

I took the tube to Finchley Road and met up with EY to gave her back her things. We said good bye for real this time, but I’m sure we’ll meet again some time in the future.



David’s Not-so-grand European Tour: Part IV

Europe / 歐洲 2007travel / 出行

So why is the London part of the trip broken in several entries? That’s what happens when a lazy guy keep procrasinating and keep putting off writing his travel log. If he waits until he finishes the whole thing before posting it, people won’t get to read it until 2010, or something.

But then, is there really people who would read this self-loving guy’s so-called travel log, with all the petty little details written in?

Anyway, let’s move onto day 2 of the London trip.

After a brief visit to the British Library (it was right across from the hotel). I got to the Westminster Station at 10:30, met up with EY and start our tour from there.

The weather was simply fabulous at that point in time. The blue sky was quite Vancouver-esque (during the summer), but still not quite California-esque though, if you know what i meant. :p

We walked along Whitehall towards Trafalgar Square and passed by the entrance of the National Gallery. We then passed through the Admiralty Arch and walked along the Mall at St. James’s Park. We stopped at the lake area to look at some goose and pelicans (those are Royal properties) and tried to guess which pelican was the one that swallowed a pigeon and made it on youtube and bbc.co.uk.

We got to Buckingham Palace at around noon, just in time to see the changing of guard. There was a ton of tourists there (being a Saturday), and I had to hold my camera up high to take pictures. For the first time I realized that the work of a photographer can be quite hard. To a lot of people, the changing of guard might been be seen as a show. However, I think rituals like these signifies the importance of the British Royalty, even though they have become increasingly low-key politically.

After the change was over, we moved on along Constitution Hill in Green Park. The weather really did make the walk in the parks much more pleasant (duh). The series of Royal Parks (St. James’s, Green, Hyde) in the area are different than the parks that I visited in Canada in the way that it gives a much more “artificial” feel (I don’t mean this in a negative way). The park outside of Rideau Hall in Ottawa actually is in some ways similar to the Royal Parks, for obvious reasons. In Canada, a park is more of a designation of a natural area instead of something that was built by humans.

After walking past the Wellington Arch, we moved onto Hyde Park, walked along the Serpentine, and visited the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain. We got to Kensington Palace at around 13:30.

Compared to the glamour and luxury of Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace is much more modest. In the tour of the Palace, we got a glimpse of Royal life during the pre-Victorian times. I usually don’t like audio tours (I usually find the speaker talked too slowly), but I managed to go through the one at the Palace, partly because it was well made. The audio guide provided a lot of small, fine, but interesting details throughout the tour.

After finishing the tour, we then headed to the Natural History Museum. There were a lot of people there, with parents bringing their children for a Saturday afternoon visit, but there were very few tourists though. We spent some time lining up to get into the dinosaur exhibit, and walked through some others. The architecture of the Museum is quite beautiful. It was worth the visit just to see the building itself.

Afterwards, we walked to Knightsbridge to take the Underground to Piccadilly Circus and went to a Japanese restaurant in Chinatown. I finally was able to satisfy my unexplainable craving of Japanese curry rice (which had gone on since I came back to Vancouver from Hong Kong in January). The curry rice was pretty good, but somehow my appetite wasn’t great that night (being stuffed at the Natural History Museum and then on the tube didn’t help).

After dinner, we took a brief walk around Leicester Square and Covent Garden before parting for the day. We were actually quite proud of the distance that we covered and the number of places that we’ve visited for the day. :p



David’s Not-so-grand European Tour: Part III

Europe / 歐洲 2007travel / 出行

Whether they admit it or not, a lot of Hong Kong people have some kind of emotional/sentimental attachment to Britain (although memories of the pre-handover days are starting to get fuzzy now, I’m sure). This is demonstrated by the English National side’s popularity in Hong Kong, and the number of Hong Kong tourists in London when I was there.

I arrived at Heathrow at 8:30am (the plane had to circle before landing again, is that really common for Heathrow?), waited 30 minutes for the luggagage, and took the Heathrow Express to Paddington (Note: buying Heathrow Express tickets online, namely from the JAL web site, saves 1 pound per trip). From Paddington, I took the Hammersmith and City line to Euston Square. This was a mistake, as the walk to the hotel was 20 minutes, while walking to the hotel from King’s Cross/St. Pancras (the next stop in the line) was 5 minutes. I guess tube maps that failed to clearly show which line goes where did not help, but it did show that I lacked preparation (i.e. not pinpointing where exactly the hotel is beforehand).

I got to the hotel at 10:30 and was told that the room is not ready yet. So I had to change my plans slightly – originally my first item on the agenda is the Tower of London – and headed off to the British Museum.

With more than 200 years of history, the architecture of the British Museum itself is a wonder to a “culturally-deprived” person like me. I went through a number of exhibitions, including Enlightenment, Ancient Greek, Ancient Roman, and Middle Ages. I only browsed through the Chinese exhibits, knowing that I will return for another visit for sure. I saw a number of Cantonese-speaking tourists around in the museum (as well as a couple pretty Japanese female tourists…), and I suddenly came to realize that it was the start of the Chinese New Year holiday.

The collection is all in all very interesting, as the captions are well written, and there are a lot of things that I cannot see anywhere else in the world (e.g. the Pantheon Marbles).

I had a Krispy Kreme donut for lunch. I was surprised that Krispy Kreme is so readily available in London, as I found one in Paddington and another one in Euston. But then there are Subways (no, not the tube) around too…

I went back to the hotel at 14:00 to take the room. The room was really big and well furnished. Perhaps I got lucky and got one of the bigger rooms, since small room size is a common complaint for hotels in London.

Afterwards, I rode the Underground to Bank/Monument, visited the Monument, and walked towards the Tower of London. However, by the time I got there (15:30), it was too late for admission. I walked around the exterior walls of the Tower and took some pictures. I then proceeded to walk across the Tower Bridge and onto the south side of Thames. After walking past HMS Belfast and the Hay’s Galleria, I took the Underground again to Westminster.

London’s Underground system is the most complicated public transit system that I ever encountered (Munich’s S-Bahn and U-Bahn look pretty complex too, but I was only there for a day). Transferring from one line to another in a station, or to exit at a particular exit can be quite different than it was with the MTR in Hong Kong. Not all walkways have access to all the platforms and exits, therefore when I got off the train, I need to pay attention to the signs to see which way I should go in order to get to where I want to go. More often than not I found myself walking the wrong way.

The main attraction around the Westminster station is of course the Westminster Palace. I took several pictures of the Big Ben, and walked around the fences of the building along Millbank, and then along the Thames in Victoria Tower Gardens and all the way to Lambeth Bridge. I finally walked back to Westminster Abbey along Millbank and right about that time the battery on my camera went out (and my spare was charging at the hotel room).

I headed back to the hotel at around 17:30 but got lost around the King’s Cross Station and the Pentonville area (I didn’t know I needed to walk to the St. Pancras side of the station when I was inside the Underground station) for about 15 minutes. That’s what happens to people who rely on intuition and “feel” (instead of being prepared and observant) to get around places that they are not familiar with.

Went to Mornington Crescent at 18:45 to meet up with EY. We then went to a nearby Japanese restaurant. The dinner that we had there consist of teriyaki chicken and beef, plus the usual a-la-carte items (e.g. rice, miso soup). The restaurant was ran by Japanese people, so it was more or less authentic (at least more authentic than the Chinese-ran joints in Vancouver).

I told EY about my craving of Japanese curry. She told me that there are a couple of places around Chinatown that makes good Japanese curry rice, and we can go try it out the next day. I was absolutely delighted. :p