My Home in London
I lived in Maida Vale, known as a posh neighborhood near Paddington in the borough of Westminster. The high-end residential areas integrate with more affordable housing, including my home. It was a decent 3-storey brick flat near a small park called Tamplin Mews. It wasn’t perfect, being an old building, but comfortable. The landlord changed the sofas and TV, which was a major upgrade compared to before. The mini-backyard had a tall tree which I used to stare at from the couch to admire the changing of seasons. The kitchen appliances were almost complete except for a rice cooker; there was an oven and microwave that were lifesavers since I didn’t have time to cook every day. My room faced the street so I could do people-watching while finishing essays. The most important part for me is the bathroom bidet, which is one of the reasons I chose this flat since it’s a necessity for Asians.
|The front door of my flat|
I shared the flat with 8 other Indonesians, 5 adults and 3 infants. They were Aldy and Irna with their 4-year-old Dannis and 1.5-year-old Davan, Burhan and Arnis with their newborn daughter Ava who joined us in summer, and Monika. Most of the adults were around my age except Arnis, whom I often forget to be 5 years younger since sometimes she is the most mature among us. Burhan and Aldy were postgrad students at UCL like myself and studied the field of telecommunication. Monika took an MBA at Imperial where Arnis took an MRes a year earlier. Irna and I go way back, she was on my AIESEC team back in undergrad, so it was a delightful surprise to be flat-mates. I am grateful to have lived with these people, we supported each other in facing tough challenges of living as postgrad students. The lounge is the place where we shared laughter and insightful stories. Dannis’ innocent comments and Davan’s curiosity of his surroundings really added the fun. Sometimes we cook dinner together and then watch movies on Channel 4 or Aldy’s favorite show: Family Guy.
|Freshly fallen snow in the backyard|
London is such a well-structured city; its planners really consider the convenience of living. There are 3 bus stops just a few steps away from my flat. Two tube stations, Maida Vale and Westbourne Park, are only a 10 to 15-minute walk away passing gorgeous red brick English houses and Regents Canal. There are barbershops that can do my usual cut after being showed a photo. Shopping for food and other necessities was easy because of the many grocery stores a block away. Local convenience stores are nearby if I am too lazy to walk 10 minutes. When I don't feel like cooking, there’s a cheap pizza place, fish and chips joints, fried chicken (Sam’s is the best), and even Lebanese takeout. Sometimes I bought freshly baked croissants at the nearby French bakery called Tregesser for only 50 pence.
|The walk to Maida Vale station|
My favourite place for groceries is Zagros, a halal food store. It sells a wide variety of meats and poultry, offal, fruits and vegetables, spices, yoghurt, Turkish cakes and pastries, and Indian naan. Sometimes there were lamb testicles, I was always curious in trying it but could imagine slicing those things. The butcher always greeted me with “yes, brother?”. He usually offers to de-skin the chicken, which I never do. Plums, peaches and blueberries are my go-to fruits that are displayed by the front door. Being lazy to cook veggies, I mostly just bought broccoli or green beans as I did in Indonesia. Eventually, I grew a liking for grilled courgettes, asparagus and brussels sprout. In front of Zagros, there is a square where people of Caribbean descent play dominoes or some other game.
|Zagros, my go-to grocery store|
The green space of Tamplin Mews gives refreshing feeling. Sometimes I spend time accompanying Dannis and Davan in the playground or just sit on the benches. There is also a neighborhood library nearby with a quiet room for working and a reading area for children. Not far from the library is a larger green space called Paddington Recreation Centre, surrounded by luxurious red-brick flats and filled with lush trees and flower beds. The sports facilities are quite complete, you can find football fields encircled by a running track, basketball and tennis courts, a gym and a large field for playing everything else. There are secluded gardens with benches for contemplating life or watching scavenging squirrels. This was my go-to-place when I just wanted to get out of the houses. It is also a great place to enjoy the seasons: to see the gold and orange leaves in autumn, children making snowmen in Winter (a rare occasion), middle-age men playing cricket in spring, and people sunbathing during summer.
|The children's section of Maida Vale Library|
|Walking to the open field in Paddington Recreation Centre|
|One of the slightly hidden spots of the rec centre|
Just a short walk from the rec centre is the stunning Little Venice. Its main feature is a clean canal that runs between rows of elegant white houses, with houseboats and even boat-cafes berthed by the pavements. Swans and mallards usual swim around the large pond that serves as an intersection for two other canals going to Camden and Regent’s Park. This is also one of the settings for Paddington 2. I once had a nice lunch at Laville, a cozy French-Italian cafe on top of a bridge with the back facing the canal, while enjoying a splendid view of the autumn trees and boats passing by.
Another area near my flat that I often go to is quite famous, Portabello Road in Notting Hill. Here you can find the famous colorful houses from the internet. It is a lively area; talented street performers create an upbeat vibe. Old antique shops line up beside the road selling classic books, vinyl records, toys and crafts. I recognized one shop in the corner from Paddington 2, again (please see the movie if you haven’t, it really gives that feel-good effect). Merchants fill the streets selling even more antiques like old binoculars and radios, also various delicacies. There is also an international food market nearby in Acklam Bridge, where I found Ethiopian, Peruvian, Colombian, Jamaican and so many other cuisines.
|An antique shop I recognized from Paddington 2|
|The colorful shops of Portobello Road|
Fortunate for a Muslim like me, there are two mosques within walking distance from my flat. The closest one is the Asian Islamic Centre, just two blocks away. It is packed on Friday prayers, sometimes people pray in the pavements, and sermons are usually in Arabic. The mosque is positioned in the lower ground with a modest interior. The other one Al-Manaar that is around 15 minutes by foot. It has a rather magnificent structure with limestone exteriors, high ceilings decorated Arabian-style, fluffy carpets and a cafeteria providing Middle-Eastern cuisine. The sermons are initially given in Arabic followed by translation in English. I learned this is a prominent mosque in London after meeting Prime Minister Theresa May at a Ramadan breakfasting dinner or iftar (I’ll share more on this in my next post).
|Suhoor at Al-Manaar|
|Iftar at Al-Manaar|
For football, I used to watch live matches at an Irish pub near my flat called Angie’s. People there are friendly and sometimes unique. Once, during the Real Madrid vs Juventus match, the man sitting beside me claimed he’s chilhood friends with Cristiano Ronaldo and has his number. On another day, I watched Manchester United vs Chelsea. I let out a loud cheer when Lukaku scored for United until realizing I’m in Chelsea territory. Luckily people just looked at me and casually asked if I was a United fan.
Like most Londoners, the people in my neighborhood are kind and friendly. Someone almost always holds the door when I enter the drugstore and thank me when I do the same. Store cashiers wish me a nice day after every purchase. Sometimes I get comments on my attire when I pass by, like “Go Blackhawks!” when I wore a Chicago Blackhawks jersey and smiles because my T-shirt wrote “If you smile, I’ll smile back”. When I was eating a pizza at the park, an elderly man waking by smiled and said,” looks delicious!” before continuing on. Children are well-behaved as well. Like when a young girl opened the playground gate for Davan, who was running towards it. A thing I really appreciated is cars and motorbikes stopping before pedestrians to cross the road. Sometimes I gesture them to go ahead, but they always insist. This just shows respect for other people.
To think of it, it’s the little things that I treasure most. Taking a few steps outside to catch a bus to Piccadilly Circus or Hyde Park. Walking pass wonderful houses on the way to Maida Vale station. Sitting on a bench in Paddington Rec Centre or Tamplin Mews just to refresh my mind. The butcher at Zagros saying, “yes brother? A kilo of chicken thighs, yeah? Skin on or skin off?”. Just being able have a nice walk anytime, whether to Little Venice, Portobello Road or Queens Park. Drinking pints of Coca-Cola at Angie’s while watching a Champions League match at the intended hour. The smiles from people passing by, walking their dogs of all kind of breeds, and children expressing their feelings. The change of seasons displayed in the parks. Getting off the bus home and sharing my day with flat-mates. These simple things just make life feel special.