By James Chow

Protected: I Am Soooooo Lazy

You know I am very free when I update my blog more than a few times a month.

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These days I am so unproductive that I can almost feel this country’s GDP fall because of me. I contribute to the GDP neither though working nor spending. I feel like a parasite… I feel bad… But I am just too lazy to do anything about it. Smile with tongue out

Yea I know, I should be applying for a job by now. It has been almost a month since I had submitted my dissertation and one of the reasons I chose to move to London is that it might be easier to find a job here. But now that I am here and comfortably settled down, I feel so damn lazy.

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I call it the Post-exam Laziness Syndrome. I feel that going online to apply for a job is the most stressful thing on earth, and nothing is more compelling than to step out of the house and go somewhere. Anywhere.

Yesterday, after attending church service with Rebecca, I didn’t want to go home but none of my friends were in London. So in the absence of better places to visit, I went to… the National Gallery.

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I had always wanted to visit the National Gallery ever since I saw it in the film St Trinian’s. But just like the British Museum, I’d been reluctant to visit it during my last few visits to London as a tourist. This is because these galleries are huge (respectively the third and fourth largest art galleries in the friggin’ world!) and require at least half a day to just quickly browse through.

Not being a great art fan, it wasn’t really ‘worth’ it.

But anyway now that I have all the time in the world in this city, here’s my chance!

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I spent the entire afternoon there just wandering around. Armed with a guidebook, sometimes I would stay in a hall for 30 minutes or more, and sometimes I could browse through three halls in under ten minutes.

Of course, there were also those people, with glasses and notebooks and all, who spend an hour staring at a single painting. Nerd smile

Being an absolute n00b in art, I can now only remember four of the paintings that I saw. These four left the deepest impression in me: Da Vinci’s The Virgin of the Rocks (this is the second version, the first being at the Louvre), Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire, Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, and Holbein’s The Ambassadors.

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The Ambassadors is pretty cool as it features lots of seemingly random objects and the guidebook provided a lot of interpretations on what the objects could possibly mean. The identity of the two men in the painting along with the overall meaning is still under debate. The painting is like a puzzle and I bet art scholars spend years staring at it, trying to decipher what the artist wanted to express!

Just look at the picture above and tell me what you see other than two dudes with beards posing beside some garbage.

Also, it being a Sunday, there were a number of street performances outside the Gallery in Trafalgar Square.

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Most UK attractions save pubs and clubs are closed by 6PM. I have also lost the appetite to party or drink ever since I left Bristol. Fortunately, there is a large shopping mall in Stratford City within walking distance from my house.

In the evening I would sometimes just go there and hang out with friends. Compared to Malaysia, malls are sort of a rarity here in this country. Of course, there are the large ones like Trafford Centre and Bluewater, but most of the other ones are just quite small.

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Take Bristol, for example. Cabot Circus and The Mall at Cribbs Causeway are smaller than most of the malls in the Klang Valley and is comparable only to Alamanda Putrajaya. Sad smile

I think it has something to do with the culture. Perhaps the British people prefer more personalised, individual shops over chain stores flashing the same foreign brands everywhere.

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Oh and perhaps it is also not so blazing HOT in the UK that they are more willing to walk or drive to visit individual stores outdoors instead of hiding in a single large, air-conditioned mall.

But with me being Malaysian, you can imagine my joy to find Westfield Stratford City so near to my house and, being the largest shopping mall in Greater London and third largest in the country, able to fulfil my need for such a hangout place! Smile

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With a 17-screen all-digital cinema, bowling alley and a huge, membership-free casino, I can foresee myself spending quite some evenings here. Party smile

But seriously dammit I need to start looking for a job or internship, paid or unpaid, in the UK or elsewhere. ANYTHING!

… but I am waaaay too lazy.

If there was a super expensive but effective cure for laziness I would work as a stripper to buy it. Annoyed

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By James Chow

Protected: My Trip to Isle of Wight, England – Top Places to Visit (P.1)

Note: this blog post relies heavily on photos to get the message across. So all pictures have been enlarged.

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Last month, having moved out of Bristol and waiting to move in to London in October, I wasn’t going to rent a room in some hostel and stay put! Summer is still lingering and I have just returned from a most epic journey across Britain!

The first leg of the journey was the sunny beach resort of the Isle of Wight!

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The goal of this journey was to seek out the incredible landscapes of England and Scotland that had so long marvelled poets and explorers since writing began.

From the warm pebbly beaches on the Isle of Wight in the far south, to the tranquil lake of Windermere in the heart of the Lake District, to the majestic mountains in the Scottish Highlands in the far north, this trip covers a one-way distance of over a thousand kilometres! Double that for a return trip. Smile

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We departed at night from London to Portsmouth and stayed overnight in a rather dodgy backpackers lodge (well, we paid only £51 for two and spent like only five hours inside). The owner was grumpy over the fact that we arrived late (well, quite late – almost midnight!) and the bathroom was probably the worst I had ever seen (including hostels) in Britain. Not gonna talk about that!

Early in the morning, we headed to the port and took the first hovercraft across the Solent to the Isle of Wight!

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It was an incredibly fine day with a generous dose of sunshine. We had four days to spend on the island and were not in a hurry but we felt compelled by the great weather to immediately seek out a beach. Smile

After checking in at our guesthouse, we headed out to Freshwater Bay. It took us quite a while to get there by bus as our hotel was on the east of the island and Freshwater Bay was on the west. 

But it was all worth it! Once we got out of the bus, we were stunned – just check out the view!

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The sky was blue and the water was sparkling. Seriously, I am a beach guy and hailing from Malaysia, I have seen lots of wonderful beaches… but this was different! This was a totally different type of awesomeness compared to the tropical beaches.

Instead of smooth white sand, the beach was filled with pebbles. Instead of strings of coconut trees outlining the shoreline, the bay was surrounded by a majestic row of white cliffs!

Having not had breakfast, we headed up the cliff and found a nice tea house overlooking the bay. They’ve even got a private swimming pool!

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We chose a table outdoors with a spectacular view of the sea and ordered some sandwiches with soup and baked potatoes.

It was quite windy up there and despite the bright sun the weather was still a little cold. But sipping on a hot cup of tea really helped raise spirits and prepare us for the day ahead!

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So after brunch we headed straight to the beach.

We found a secluded area at the edge of the beach where only a couple of people were sitting under the sun reading books. We laid out a piece of cloth on the ground, sat down, got comfy and slowly took in the surroundings.

It was really remarkable – sitting there in that little shade created by the mighty white chalk cliffs behind you, and having the clear blue sea gently lapping onto the pebbles on the beach right in front of you. The water was perfect – calm and perfectly clean!

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After spending a while in the sun, we decided to hit the water. Judging by the wind, I felt the water would be a little cold for my liking but there were a few teenagers in the water and they didn’t seem bothered at all.

Well, I decided that if I could survive swimming in the canals of Copenhagen, this should be nothing. So I took off my shoes, folded up the feet of my jeans, and tested the water.

Claire was the first to change into swimwear and get into the water.

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I made the grave mistake of walking too near to the water – I should have known better – and got the foot of my jeans all wet! I underestimated the randomness of the waves’ strength and stumbled in the water for a good couple of seconds.

It was pretty bad – my jeans was soaked all the way past my knee! And it was at that point that I decided that instead of changing into my beach shorts, I was going to go into the water with my already drenched jeans. There was no chance for a pair of jeans to dry anyway! At least I could still change into my dry beach shorts after we were done at the beach. 

Now, the water. It was bloody – freezing –  COLD. I guess it was like about 15-20 degrees which was probably okay for the folks over here but I had been so used to warm, tropical seawater that this felt like I had waded into a bucket of ice water.

After fooling in the water for a while, I decided that the temperature difference between the sun-soaked beach and the frigid seawater was just too great. So I contented myself to just sunbathing on the beach and boycotting the water.

Apparently Claire, who was born and grew up in a city with ample snow during winter, shared my views about the water. She, too, bailed out of the water soon after.

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It was baffling. How could the temperature on the beach be so comfortable and yet the water be so cold?

Nonetheless, we had a great time on the beach soaking up the sun, eating snacks, and generally chilling the afternoon away. We did get back into the water every now and then, but neither of us could last more than five minutes submerged in the water.

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We also checked out the top of the cliffs around the bay. It took a small bit of hiking to reach the top and the view was just phenomenal!

From the top, you could see that the water was just so clean and clear that, despite it being a major tourist attraction, stood in stark contrast to the major Malaysian major tourist beaches which I felt had been over-commercialised.

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The high chalk cliffs, standing regally between the flat green meadows on top and the vast expanse of blue sea below, formed a rather dramatic landscape.

Along with the massive rocks protruding from the water, coral formation on the shallow seabed, and little white chalets dotted in the background, the beautiful landscape was an excellent start to our Britain nature trip!

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The cliffs were natural and there were no guard rails along them. Sitting on the edge of them was not for the faint hearted. I instinctively held on to my belongings much firmer that normal when staring down at the splashing waves way below. 

Simply dangling my feet off the cliff made me feel convinced that somehow my shoes were loose and will fall off.

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It was quite unbelievable that despite the fine weather, the place was almost deserted. There was the occasional sole traveller hiking past with a walking stick, but that was pretty much it. Perhaps we were just lucky!

The stretches of land were mostly tilted either upwards or downwards to the sea. Putting a camera flat on the ground gives an illusion of the background being a fake background image tilted in a weird angle. 

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We had planned to visit another place that day but Freshwater Bay was just too beautiful and the weather too good for us to leave. We basically hung out around the area for the whole day and took some marvellous photos!

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At the end of our swim, we decided to pack up and leave at around four o’clock. My jeans were hopelessly wet and I would look incredibly silly wearing or carrying my jeans back in the city with my beach shorts on. We also didn’t have sufficient room in our backpack to carry it without getting our other belongings wet.

It was an old pair of jeans anyway. I bade farewell to it and disposed of it in a rubbish bin by the beach.

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After getting back to Newport, which was sort of like the capital of the Isle of Wight, my first priority was to get a new pair of jeans! So I trod into an apparel retail outlet right next to the coach station in my long-sleeved t-shirt, overcoat, (it had gotten chilly in the evening), and beach shorts! I looked into the mirror and saw that it was the weirdest combination ever.

I quickly found a nice pair of jeans, bought it, and told the sales assistant that I was wearing it out. So here’s me acting cool with my new pair of jeans on the adjacent street where I feel most honoured. Smile

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So we got some food on St. James Street and had our dinner in a nice little park off Church Litten. It was a great end to our first day on this beautiful island.

The second day, however, was gloomy. We had been warned about the thunderstorm by the weather service several days ahead but the disappointment was, naturally, not at the least negated.

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It was a very wet and cold day. It was an outright downpour, not your usual British drizzle… and it lasted the whole day. We stayed in our guesthouse the whole morning hoping for the rain to subside, but even our friendly host advised us over breakfast that there was almost no chance for us to see sunshine that day.

She did sit and chat with us in the morning, reminding us that we still had two days ahead and suggested great places where we could head to next. Besides spending an awful lot of time in our room, we were also allowed to use the nice little dining hall throughout the day while trapped indoors by the rain.

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Let me talk a bit about our accommodation – The Ryedale. This modest guesthouse was absolutely splendid and I would highly recommend anyone visiting the Isle of Wight to stay over! 

The rooms were cosy and well-equipped, the place was clean and impeccably furnished, the price was great (we paid only £59 per night for a double room), and the host was truly gracious. We were treated so well that I really felt like extending our stay! The full English breakfast that was freshly prepared for us every morning gave us a great start to each day during our stay. Smile

We practically did nothing on our second day besides watching TV in our room and going out for food and some shopping. The rain never stopped until late evening. So let me just generally talk about the Isle of Wight in general!

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Over the four days, we’ve had a lot of time to see the various parts of the island either by public transport or by foot. This island had some of the most quintessential British countryside scenery, if you ask me!

I could write many paragraphs describing them all, but pictures speak better. These are the many photos taken around the town centre and countryside.

A random suburban street:

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A thatched inn and bar in the town:

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A water theme park:

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A random church:

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And the further we get away from town, everything got even more delightful:

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Who would have known a random landscape could produce so many colourful layers?

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A random village house:

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Cattle in the sun:

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Sheep on a rainy day:

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I would choose to live in one of these than a luxury city apartment anyday:

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Farms everywhere!

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This looks like some wild wild west scene… on the Isle of Wight!

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Is this not splendid or what? The chalk cliffs reflect so much sunlight that it sparkles!

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Despite their grandeur, this was hardly the best scenery that the Isle of Wight had to offer. I have saved the best two for the second part of this travel log.

If you thought the Freshwater Bay cliffs were majestic, wait till you see the towering multi-coloured sand cliffs of Alum Bay! If you thought that the pictures above represented the best English countryside scene the island had to offer, wait till you see the fairy tale-like thatched cottages of Godshill.

Up next! Now to sleep. Smile

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By James Chow

Protected: Malaysia Night @ Trafalgar Square

Malaysia has always been quite famous at Trafalgar Square.

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With the huge Tourism Malaysia office sporting the Malaysian flag at a prominent corner, Trafalgar Square hosted Malaysia Night yesterday!

I don’t really know how much money has been spent by our Tourism Ministry to secure such an iconic London tourist attraction, but it looked pretty cool!

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To tell the truth, I did not even know that this event was happening until I saw it on Facebook at 7PM. I looked out the window and saw that it was raining. I felt lazy, my room was warm, but then I read that they were serving Malaysian food.

MALAYSIAN FOOD!! The hell with it, I’m going.

Food is one of the three F’s that make me insist to eventually return to Malaysia – Family, Friends and Food. Sadly, they are also the only three reasons that make me want to return to Malaysia, unless, of course, there is a dramatic change in the country’s competitiveness and public policy. Seems unlikely in the short run.Sad smile

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Anyway, the scene in Trafalgar Square was quite unreal!

Between Nelson’s Column and the National Gallery – two of London’s most iconic buildings – was a very familiar, very Malaysian pesta-looking scene!

Small tent-stalls were erected in lines selling satay, nasi lemak, sup kambing etc. All around the square were banners (see above) bearing the words ‘Malaysia Night’ (I do somehow feel that Malaysians overuse banners in events). And right in the centre of the square ,underneath Nelson’s Column, was a stage with so many spotlights it looked like a futuristic battle scene in Terminator.

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There was some performance going on. The ‘band’ playing composed of a variety of Malay, Chinese and western musical instruments. In the beginning a Malay woman was singing and her voice was very beautiful. I admired how she could sing so well despite standing on the part of the stage with no shelter from the rain.

But then halfway through a fat Chinese dude came out and started speaking in a forced British accent. I was even more appalled when he was like “any Spanish people around heeeere??” *a Spanish couple beside me cheered* and he started singing some song in horrible Chinese and Spanish.

The bewildered look on that couple’s face was priceless.

But who cares about that when there’s so much food! Open-mouthed smile

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I had fried carrot cake (above), sup kambing and some coconut juice. They were so damn good AND SPICY that despite hating spicy food I savoured every bite.

The food aside, the other thing that was so remarkable was the amount of lah’s and lor’s and Malaysian accent that was in the air. I’d missed it so much! Having been so deprived of Malaysian contact in Bristol (there was none in my class and flat), I enjoyed very much being in such a homely atmosphere.

The only bad thing was the rain, which went on all night. But the wet British weather could not dampen the hot Malaysian spirit! Smile

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