By James Chow

Protected: Going Back to Bristol!

Excited!

Tomorrow, I’ll be going back to Bristol for the first time since I’ve moved to London! I can hardly call anywhere in the UK home, but if there is one it’s the beautiful port-city of Bristol!

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I’d been planning this 3-day trip for a couple of weeks now. I’ve still got some stuff left at my friend’s place since I moved out in such a hurry from Winkworth House in September. In fact, I had bought so much (mostly useless) stuff over the year that I am quite sure that in addition to this one, I’ll need to make at least another trip to Bristol to personally deliver them to London. Well, I think it’ll be another few weeks until I pass my practical driving test and get my license. So until then, I’ll have to bring two empty suitcases by coach, and bring them back fully loaded!

I’m quite eager to see my stuff again after the very hasty departure last month. It wasn’t supposed to be hasty LOL but you know I’m a last minute person. I spent two full days (up to the very last hour before we were to be ‘politely’ chased out) packing my entire room’s stuff into two groups: the two 30KG boxes to be shipped back to Malaysia (which by now should be on their way), and the other two 30KG boxes to be brought to London with me.

Now my mission is to retrieve the two London-bound 30KG boxes.

These two boxes contain stuff that I might need to survive in London in the next few months, including suits and ties for job interviews. Also cramped in those boxes are my iPad, Magic the Gathering cards, souvenirs from around Europe, as well as all my bedside novels and books without which I can’t really go to sleep properly.

Besides getting my stuff, I also need to meet up with Jeehee and Fat Boy, two of my dear former flatmates who are still in Bristol. Allen and Helen have rented a house in Bristol too but wouldn’t be seeing me this time as they are on vacation in Greece. I’m also hoping to see Giordano, Ameer and Masood too if they’re around, and they should.

There’ll be nightouts and parties and great catch-up times… But in the end, besides friends, the other thing that I am most looking forward to seeing is my university.

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I really miss walking to campus every morning, past Dean’s Court on St. George’s Road, up the steep busy pavement of Park Street, cross the road in front of the Wills Memorial Building, turning right and continue up University Road, pass Bristol Grammar School, and arrive at Senate House. I plan to retrace this route and probably spend some time in the university as well.

This is a city with lots and lots of great memories. I can’t wait to be back. Smile

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By James Chow

Protected: Les Miserables – the Musical Theatre

It is extremely late now and I am absolutely exhausted, but the excitement still burns in me like a wildfire. I have just watched the most incredible and overwhelming theatre performance that I have seen in my life.

I just had the great pleasure of watching Les Misérables at the Queen’s Theatre in West End.

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My palms are still totally sore from clapping and my voice hoarse from cheering.

I had already watched the recording of the 2010 Les Misérables 25th Anniversary Concert at The O2 Arena, and I had already known that I was going to watch one of the – or probably the – best West End musical of all time. Despite the expectation, I was still totally blown away by its utter grandeur and brilliance.

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Claire and I had bought the tickets well in advance and managed to secure a pretty good and front seat at a very good price.

We had gone to buy some stuff at the National Geographic store in South Kensington in the afternoon and since Claire had to accompany her mum and aunt for shopping, I made my way to Leicester Square to collect the tickets from the box office first.

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It was a very different experience watching the 25th Anniversary Concert video, in which the cast were generally stationary in front of their microphones; and watching the live theatre performance, where the characters run about the stage, fighting and singing at the same time. The latter was much more captivating.

For example, the Thenadier scenes were much funnier when acted out on stage and the one scene that will forever be carved in my mind is the final battle at the barricade.

(Note: photography was not permitted during the performance so I’ll just use screenshots of the Les Mis 25th Aniv. Concert video instead.)

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In the 25th Anniversary Concert, the battle scenes were not acted out at all (just flashing lights, image above). But the same scene in the theatre was action-packed. I will not forget the scene where Enjolras got shot (multiple times) on the barricade, swayed back and forth almost in slow motion, and fell off the barricade like a rag doll.

The scene of Gavroche’s little body lying dead at the steps underneath the barricade was also deeply moving.

I was extremely impressed with Geronimo Rauch who played Jean Valjean and Danielle Hope who played Eponine, the latter probably because Eponine has always been my favourite character in the story. I’ve always had a soft spot for this character and she touches my heart deeply.

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I think Danielle Hope was wonderful but I still think Samantha Barks (above, in the 25th Aniv. Concert) is the one Eponine that I love.

A lot of people adore Fantine and Valjean and the Thenadiers and I think they are great characters but Eponine is usually forgotten. Her ‘On My Own’ and ‘A Little Fall of Rain’ have never – ever – failed to bring tears to my eyes, doesn’t matter live or recording.

My second favourite character is probably Enjolras, whose charisma and passion just makes him irresistible.

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All in all, the singing was totally brilliant and considering the fact that the cast had been performing the exact same musical every day for months and some even years, their movements, actions, facial expressions and voice were still as passionate and fresh as if it were their maiden performance.

To me, Les Misérables is epic because of its songs.

It was an absolute pleasure listening to a live orchestra, choir and singers performing such amazing songs as ‘Stars’, ‘One Day More’, ‘Bring Him Home’, my favourite ‘Do You Hear the People Sing’, and the legendary ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ on a spectacular theatre stage.

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My hands were utterly numb from intense, uncontrollable applause especially at the end when the cast came out and bowed to us one-by-one before the encore. I really wish I could have taken some pictures during the performance but that was strictly forbidden and I respect it.

Seriously, I had never been so overwhelmed by a performance as I was tonight. Les Misérables had such incredible themes and plot and emotions that it touched my soul in a way that no other performance had ever done.

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More than that, it sends such a powerful message of freedom, courage, hope and love that truly inspired me.

With all its merits, it is no surprise that Les Misérables is the longest-running musical theatre production in London West End history.

Sadly, Les Misérables is virtually unknown in Malaysia as of now but I swear that if it ever goes to that part of the word, I will be the first to buy tickets at any cost, at any time. Smile

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By James Chow

Protected: Churchill War Rooms

It’s Sunday and I was wandering around the Whitehall area in the afternoon.

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I had been very interested to check out the Cenotaph (above) at Whitehall since Remembrance Day last year, when I was also in London but didn’t have the opportunity to come here. Let’s hope I can be here for this year’s Remembrance Day, which is coming up next month.

I should, as I am from a Commonwealth country after all.

Whitehall is something like the Putrajaya of the UK. With government offices lined up side by side and all concentrated within the area.

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The first difference is that US$8.1 billion was probably NOT spent to build Whitehall, unlike Putrajaya.

Whitehall has a huge amount of rather old-looking buildings serving as headquarters of major government ministries.

Even the Prime Minister’s residence is (famously) No. 10 of some street in the City of Westminster. Everybody has heard of No. 10 Downing Street, but I used to jokingly ask my friends: If the US President has the White House, the French President the Élysée Palace, and even our Malaysian Prime Minister can afford the not-so-shabby Perdana Putra…

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… why couldn’t the government of one of the most powerful nations on earth afford a building for their Prime Minister? Why must he live in a single small apartment (No. 10), being neighbours with the equally powerful Chancellor of the Exchequer, the almighty finance minister of the UK, who miserably lives in apartment No. 11?

Is there even a lawn? What about place for a barbecue grill? To plant a tree? To play catch with the dog?

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Haha don’t get me wrong, it’s probably because of historical reasons. And No. 10 Downing Street is probably the most recognisable address in Britain. And the buildings may look old, but it is a highly dignified kind of old which reflects the country’s glorious history.

Look, there’re even sword-carrying horse guards in the nearby Horse Guards Parade!

Don’t make them angry. Everybody who’s played Civilization knows cavalry are super powerful against lightly-armed people (archers) like us. They’d charge at you yelling "FOR THE KIIIIIIIIIING!” and swipe your head off.

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And then as I was walking in the direction of Buckingham Palace, I was intrigued by this museum called Churchill War Rooms, located right opposite the entrance to St. James’ Park.

Apparently it is a branch of the Imperial War Museum, the Manchester branch of which I have just visited a couple of months ago. I checked the entrance fee, which is a bloody £16.50!!! Most of the London museums are free, even the Manchester IWM was free, why does this charge so much?!

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Sigh. I’m not his real fan, but I quite admire Sir Winston Churchill. I have researched quite a lot about him and he’s quite the unconventional world leader. So I was like screw this I’ll just enter this last one.

I’ll be honest and say personally I don’t think the place was worth £16.50 (for God’s sake it’s even more expensive than the Vatican Museums or the Louvre). But considering the underground bunker was the actual command centre of the British Government throughout World War II (and people like Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill had actually worked there), it was quite cool. Smile

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There were quite a lot of things on display, and the vast majority of the tables, chairs, cabinets, maps, telephones, recordings etc. were REAL. Most of the stuff there were left behind when the bunker was promptly abandoned once the war had ended.

The picture above was the actual cabinet room used by Churchill’s war cabinet ministers and the seat right in front of the map was that of Churchill himself. 

For some weird reason, being in the bunker makes me feel more like I’m hiding from a zombie apocalypse than a war. I saw a lot of things that made feel like the overground world was overrun by zombies.

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But then, of course, it couldn’t have been possible. There were no zombies in the 1920’s because the Umbrella Corporation and Progenitor virus were only founded in 1968 by Oswell Spencer. So… sadly no.

I was quite impressed by how well the stuff had been preserved. All the maps on the walls and telephones on the desk were real and arrange to resemble how the war room had actually looked like during WWII.

The humans, of course, were not real. 

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And this was Churchill’s actual war bedroom:

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We’ve all seen Churchill with that cigar, right? Apparently, his fondness of cigars led him to put that huge white box underneath his bedside desk… just for cigar butts! 

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There was a very ordinary-looking but secretive room called Room 63 and it is always locked with the little sign above the handle (like a toilet cubicle’s) always showing ‘occupied’.

This former broom cupboard housed the first ever transatlantic ‘hotline’ between between the UK and the US. This was the cutting edge technology of its time and allowed Churchill to speak to the US President without fear of being tapped by the enemy.

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There was also a large part of the museum dedicated to the life of Sir Winston Churchill. Stepping into that part of the complex was a dramatic transformation from a dusty old war bunker to a modern museum with sophisticated interactive multimedia presentations.

This huge ‘timeline’ of Churchill’s life is controlled by touching and swiping gestures. I’m quite sure that it was all based on computer vision and not touch panels because there were huge cameras and projectors above… 

I know because my engineering final year project involved this stuff and, well, I must say that mine was WAY cooler… ‘nuff said. Nyah-Nyah

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I wonder how many millions of pounds were spent on this presentation, which seemed like the main display of the museum. Even the staff appeared quite proud of it and kept coming forward to politely ask if I knew how to operate and if I had tried out this panel and that.

Of course I appreciate their kind help and it’s great for this museum to have such great staff. But dude I know how to operate this. Trust me, I’m an engineer.

Or was.

Well anyway, of course in a way I’m proud of Churchill. Not only was he a great leader and speaker, Sir Winston Churchill was also the Chancellor of my university from before he became prime minister until his death. If I were to live in those days I would be receiving my scroll from him during graduation next year! In love

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On the wall of one of the main corridors in the bunker was a large portrait of Churchill. Immediately next to his portrait was a map of Britain and Ireland, and then next to it was a huge map that looked familiar enough.

I registered the familiarity of the map in my mind but didn’t recognise it until about 10 seconds later.

Dude it’s the ‘sweet potato’ of peninsula Malaysia!

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What’s a huge 3D map of Malaysia doing in a British war bunker?!

We’re screwed.

LOL and then I remembered that Malaysia was a British colony back then and Churchill was the UK prime minister during the Malayan Emergency (darurat) – check your history textbooks and he was the one who ordered harsh military action against the now-defunct Malayan Communist Party (MCP) and kicked commie leader Chin Peng out of the country.  

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Sometimes I think I learn more about Malaysian history overseas than in Malaysia. I remember how I refreshed so much Malaysian history in the IWM Manchester and British Museum in London.

Back in my own country, I was just too lazy to visit museums, or memorials, or anything other than malls and entertainment outlets. I think I should start checking those places out once I get back. 

I know I am a disgrace and should be deported.

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