Greetings from … inside a train! Uh, don’t really know where we are right now, but we won’t be arriving in Canterbury East for like an hour, so better put this free time to good use. I’ll try and keep things short, whatever I remember about these past … 24++ hours.
The flight was at 10:05am, but under JPA’s orders, we had to be at the airport by 6am. Woke up before 4 am, had some bread (although I didn’t, and didn’t plan on fasting that day. If I were to follow the current time / sun as we travel from Malaysia to the UK, I’d end up fasting over 20 hours, I think. Yea. [On a normal Malaysian day; dawn to dusk is only 13 hours.] So it’s fine to not fast when we’re traveling long distances, but I’ll have to replace it another day after Ramadhan. ), zipped up the 20kg luggage, and headed off with my mum.
Going into the packing for a moment; that big suitcase has never seemed so small. I barely got to fit my clothes in there, as well as art supplies and some instant food (Brahim’s, anybody? ), so my mum’ll have to courier a separate box of other clothes and stuff I’ll need soon. The bathroom scale at home initially showed nearly 30kg when I weighed the suitcase , so there was some significant cutting-down of less-necessary stuff. I only took one hand luggage on the plane — a backpack with my laptop and extra clothes, documents, etc. The drive to KLIA was long, dark and quite uneventful. Oh yeah, none of my brothers came along, because I never understood the idea of “sending someone off” at the airport, I mean… can’t you just say goodbye at home? They have school anyway, and nothing to do at the airport while waiting. Can’t eat, it’s early in the morning, they’ll just get bored.
I’d like to mention how much I appreciate the fact that my big suitcase (used to be my mum’s) has five wheels evenly spaced at the bottom, instead of the typical two wheels on one edge. It moves on it’s side while I hold on to the … holder, no need to lift up a corner and drag it behind me. Didn’t even need the trolley at the airports, although my 5kg backpack was quite a burden.
Okay so, prayed Subuh at the airport, met the JPA officers sending us off, as well as 16 other JPA scholars heading to London. Checked in the big luggage, then had over an hour to kill until a little briefing from JPA. None of the officers are coming along to the UK this year; the 17 of us had to manage ourselves together until we reached Heathrow. After the teary goodbyes (aww), we went ahead through the passport machine thingy (seriously cool), then boarded an Aerotrain (looks uncannily similar to LRTs) to the terminal. The ride took only a few minutes, then we waited until boarding time.
Take-off pic. I actually video-ed the first few minutes, but it’s nothing interesting enough to show here anyway I guess the waiting place was the first time we’d see so many Britons in Malaysia (the blond little kids are the cutest!). I actually got a window seat, heehee. (I love seeing the take-offs.) Those who said that economy class in planes are cramped weren’t kidding, though. The seat wasn’t at all comfortable, the overhead compartment too high and small (I didn’t get anything from my bag throughout the flight), and the two girls sitting on my right had to leave their seats whenever I needed the bathroom. (Which I needed twice. Bathroom was tiny but cool, with the vacuum suction flushing and all that. )
Airplane lunch. There was also ice-cream, a Mini Magnum! What I remember about the 13-hour flight… Uh, I explored the TV thing at first, but felt too sleepy to watch a movie, and couldn’t figure out where to plug in the headphones until later, when Azmah found out.
So I took a nap with the small pillow lodged between the window and the side of my head, until lunch, which was so good. I chose BBQ chicken, and for dinner Chicken Briyani. Lunch tasted better than dinner. Starting of ze headache. The blue pillow stinks, by the way. But they do say that MAS has really good food anyway. I had a long sleep afterwards too, in between watching an episode of Mythbusters, Malcolm in the Middle, and the movie The Happening (I found it so pointless and … “takde ape” ), playing Solitaire until I won (navigating with the remote thing wasn’t easy, hmph ), Tetris (didn’t win though, too hard), Hangman, and Who Wants to be a Millionaire (I “won” £1000 ).
You can tell the flight felt really really long. And the sky was freaking bright the whole time. At the 7-hour point all thoughts were along the lines of “aaargghh, lama lagi…” “this is such a long day…” and other whiny little whines. I also had a headache until we reached London. Due to jetlag, I guess, and the short uncontinuous naps.
Reaching Heathrow Airport was a huge relief. Encik Adib from JPA London was there waiting for us as soon as we went out of the terminal, and then we had to part with the ones who had to catch another flight to Manchester. The immigration line was insanely long, it took over an hour, I think. Luckily most of us didn’t need to go through Health Check, and there was no luggage problems; nobody asking to check and open them up or anything. (Although my suitcase had some suspicious earthy-red stains at the back. Pfftt.)
[No longer typing in the train, this is the next day. ]
My bed in Malaysian Hall. Quite hotel-like. My first purchase in the UK was two bottles of mineral water for £2 at the airport, JPA already had a (Malaysian) driver with an MPV to send us to Malaysian Hall, where we’ll be spending the night, journey there was quite long due to the traffic jam (which, oddly enough, are called “queues” , and road bumps called humps, or ramps ). Arrived just as Maghrib azan started (from Malaysian Hall , not a mosque ), got a shared room with Azmah, did prayers, tapau nasi campur from the cafeteria for sahur, and crashed on the bed by 9pm.
Only to be wide awake by 2am. (Jetlag, I tell ya. )
So I decided to do terawih prayers, and had sahur afterwards (food was all cold already though ). Okay, boring stuff, so next major thing would be…
Quack. And quack.Oh yeah, before that, the morning of the 17th; Az and I took a walk outside to Hyde Park, despite not really knowing the directions or having a map. The park was huge, but rather … empty (not people-wise, just stuff-to-do-wise), except for the big lake with swans, ducks, intensely overweight pigeons, and the droppings of all of the above. We were out for about an hour and a half, and had some trouble finding our way back because we exited the park at a different spot. Ended up going through the actual High Street/shopping place, full of people walking really fast; even mothers pushing their prams, schoolkids in uniforms tagging along behind, etc.
I actually glimpsed about three hijab-ed ladies that morning, the population in London is quite diverse. Oh, and lots of dogs, of course. They do love their dogs here.
When we got back, packed our stuff, and met Encik Adib to find out how we’ll get to Kent. He introduced us to Ms. Nazlinda, whom we’ve talked to on the phone before. (She called me the night before the flight and was very nice and helpful.) Got a UK SIM card from her so I don’t have to use Maxis roaming anymore, checked out of Malaysian Hall, and she accompanied us to Victoria Railway Station on a cab.
In the train. Typing while moving can cause slight motion sickness. Tickets were £20.50, journey took about 90 minutes. (This was the time I typed up the first few paragraphs up there. ) When we reached Canterbury East station, my first Totally Embarrassing Moment (henceforth referred to as TEM ) in the UK happened.
I tripped on my suitcase as I was exiting the train — hey, it was half my total body weight, I could barely lift it up for more than a few seconds — and fell flat on the ground. Where there were people. Watching. There were two very kind gentlemen who helped straighten up my suitcase, and asked if I was alright. (We all know the British are very kind and well-mannered, yeah? ) I said I was fine, brushed myself off, and tried to ignore the pain from my scratched knees. Good thing my jeans didn’t tear or anything. Though I suppose that might’ve been cool, torn knees.
Barely a minute after we were out of the station, another Azmah (yes, she has the same name as my friend Azmah ), a senior Malaysian student contacted by JPA to help us out was there with another student, Abang Nizam. (He has a car. ) They’re both doing their PhDs in Electronic Engineering. And turns out that Azmah and I are the first undergraduate JPA scholars to study at Kent. Ever. Weird, huh?
So first impressions of Kent was… it was much much more rural than London. (Actually, as the train moved east, it got progressively less urban. ) And the streets aren’t as … packed, the buildings less close to the streets, although all the streets were still pretty narrow. (For instance, what would be the width of a one-way street in KL, is a two-way street WITH parking at one side here. ) And true to the word of Kak Yani, a senior who came by INTEC and has been to Kent — you immediately notice that Kent has a lot of senior citizens. Which is peculiar, but interesting. Walking sticks and motorised wheelchairs are a common sight.
Oh, and turns out that Aunty Azmah (as she asked us to call her) was an old schoolmate of my mum’s, whom she hasn’t contacted in a while. She recognised my last name as soon as she received word about us arriving at Kent, and one of the first questions she asked me was my mother’s name. She even called my mother to announce that she’ll be keeping an eye on me, etc. etc. Oh well, at least my mum will be content to know her friend is going to and living in the same university as me.
Hm. I am aware of how wordy this entry already is. Never mind. We could only check-in at Kipps Hostel (a temporary place we’re staying while 20th September comes and we’ll be able to move into university accommodation) at 2pm, so Aunty Azmah and Abang Nizam took us to see the university. We even got to see our future houses and the School of Architecture and all. The place looked nice, the path to our houses was total hutan and again, true to Kak Yani’s word; there were squirrels. The walk between our faculty and home wasn’t far at all, although there were residential colleges that were much closer to the lecture buildings and all.
Also went to ASDA, a supermarket which I still don’t know what ASDA stands for… (They can’t be random letters, can they? Oh. right. Wikipedia says it’s an abbreviation of “Asquith and Dairies”. Mm k. ) Bought a few essentials like bread, eggs, soap, to last these 3 days. And topped up our new UK phone numbers. (I’m actually not used to prepaid phone services — I’ve always used postpaid in Malaysia, but the prepaid card made things quite simple.)
Hostel room. Oh bunk beds, how I love thee Kipps Hostel is quite nice. Azmah (Azmah Jr. , my friend, not Aunty Azmah) booked for beds in the female hostel, so turns out there’s 7 girls in this room. Doesn’t sound as bad as it is, although there’s very limited space for me to pray and I feel slightly guilty whenever the other girls need to walk around or anything. But anyway, there’s even a kitchen downstairs, and a living room, and free Wi-Fi, which I am using. At night we had iftar at a kebab place with Aunty Azmah and Abang Nizam again. The portions were seriously generous, I brought my leftovers home for sahur and still couldn’t finish the chicken.
Me at the living room after sahur. Around 4:30 am. (The temperature at night’s way way lower than during the day, though. My teeth was chattering even indoors!)
I am still typing in the room, at 2:38 pm on Thursday. All the girls are out but me and Az. This morning we went out to the city centre, all on our own. (We had a map from the pamphlet, though. ) And the place was niiiice, omgosh sooooo many shops side-by-side, with cobblestone paths and no cars and it was actually sunny (though still cold)! We first saw Boots (a pharmacy), which Aunty Azmah already told us about the previous day, so I bought some necessities there, including padlocks for the lockers here. Encik Adib’s advice at Heathrow still rang in my ears: DO NOT CONVERT THE CURRENCY TO RINGGIT! Because if we did multiply the prices by six, everything will be extraordinarily expensive and we’ll likely be on the verge of starvation quite soon.
But yes, things still aren’t cheap. We went in and out of shoe shops, and charity shops and Chromos, a huge art supply store, and also a library/museum, where we spent the most time in, looking at the exhibitions. (Lots of old oil portraits, and animal paintings, and one part of the military-exhibition thing even mentioned Perak, a state in Malaysia. ) Ended up not buying anything aside from the stuff at Boots. I think it’d be better if we moved into our permanent accommodation before starting on the duvets and pots and pans and all.
One thing I realised during our little trip was that, the path for pedestrians aren’t always the same as the streets where vehicles drive. I mean, in Malaysia, jejantas are hardly even used, sidewalks are merely there to line the roads, and the button at the traffic lights that you press before crossing the roads — when they even exist — hardly even work. And people are super nice here, like I said. Even when you don’t ask for help, they’ll ask if you need any, and the drivers are considerate too. (Although I think London drivers are a little more patient. )
Forgive me for the lack of photos, by the way. Camera was charging.
Tonight Aunty Azmah will bring us to another Malaysian’s home for iftar (hehe), and until then I’ll probably just take a nap. It’s been interesting discovering new things about this place (oh yeah, one more thing — the floorboards and stairs here [and at Malaysian Hall] tend to creak a lot when you walk on them , I think because they’re completely wooden. And, houses here are small. Even the front doors are crazily narrow!), although things may be awkward at first. Everything’s fine so far, I just need to figure out how to work the washing machine and dryer downstairs… Hmm…
Taa people, next time I’ll probably blog about the campus and my “actual” accommodation. Cya!