As my core course landed in London, I was taken aback by the livability of it all. So many cities, when I’ve gone to them, felt as though they would consume me with the weight of their simple existence. London may have been large and uncontrollable, plagued by issues that constantly pressed at the back of my mind on this trip, but there was something uncanny about the attractiveness of that city.
As any large city has the sense to, London was absolutely kinetic from start to finish. Even on a Tuesday, the night life was utterly absurd, with lines outside the bars and nightclubs. The tube, oldest subway system in the world, buzzed with activity on a near round the clock basis. That’s why, to me, London feels like the city of lives. Everywhere you look, you get the sense that people have lived and done everything possible in this plot of land, and direct operations around the globe from this odd sort of base.
Doubtless, the shadows of colonialism still linger in the city. While the Swedish museums that I’ve been to took an apologetic tone when it came to past misdeeds, there is no such sense in the United Kingdom. In fact, it feels as though the general idea of the museums is that other cultures should be proud that the British took mummies, Ottoman rugs, and Buddhist statues. To some degree, it’s nearly impossible to atone for every sin, but the lack of admittance was my first indication that a past of Western domination, lies in the heart of London.
As an American, I’m not really one to be throwing stones. The US, as a geopolitical power, relied and relies heavily on military intervention and economic colonization to bolster its status as a superpower. The United Kingdom is not strange to me in how it romanticizes the past. A friend of mine, an East Londoner who works as a civil servant, allowed me to compare the way that the US and UK school systems were similar; both share a tale of how history collaborated with itself in a gambit to create our respective nations. She also shared with me the discrimination she sometimes faced going to university while Anglo-Chinese, and was one of the first people to not be shocked when I told her that my home university had similar problems when it came to racial harassment.
It makes me wonder what could be done to fix our world. It seems as though education, for all its good, still has trouble scrubbing away the darkness that makes people target minorities. This is one reason why I study literature, and hope for diversity in all forms of media: by representing the lives of people who break the status quo, you create familiarity in the common humanity we all share. It won’t be one work that changes the tide, but the work of thousands of books, movies, shows, plays and video games that changes the way race is seen across the world.
But back to the UK. We saw the ups and downs. On the uppity side of life, we ate high tea, went to the previously mentioned museums, and attended a personal acting workshop at the globe. These experiences, while nice, did have a certain sinister edge when compared to the problems in Britain. We saw Grenfell tower, which burned down just last year due to lack of fire code adherence, where nearly a hundred working class residents burned to death. Covered up with a white shroud, it loomed as a reminder of what happens when people are reduced to costs and benefits.
London, however, is truly a city of life. I was privileged to have met a wonderful friend from the area and have an in-depth conversation with her, and was able to see a great variety of what the city had to offer. There’s something beyond attractive about the sheer density of human story here. No wonder my teacher called it the “city of bookstores.”