Thursday

Launching of the Debs

In most of the Indian communities, still arranged marriages are common. Usually, when a family is ready to marry off their children, they start taking the boy/girl to social events like weddings and get-togethers where they expect to find suitable bride or groom within their community.

Likewise, in the past there was similar culture in the western aristocratic societies as well. 17-year-old girls are called as debutantes, and they would be, launched into society where they could meet eligible bachelors, between March to August. This was called as The Season and the occasion would be referred as Coming out Dance.

The term debutante is pronounced as:

Often they are just called as debs for short. Unlike Indian communities, it was quite surprising to know the planning and preparation required to become a deb! For starters, the girls were sent to Finishing Schools in France, London or Switzerland, depending on the family's financial status. Here, they learnt to dance, how to behave in society and write courteous notes. In short, all aspects of etiquette would be taught in the finishing schools.

At the Kensington Palace, The Last Debutantes section presents a clear picture of this culture. Here, I came across a deb's comment, on how they managed to fake their waists to look smaller:

We always wore petticoats under our dresses to make our waists look smaller - Judy Johnson

They were using the dress to show off their riches. The narrow waist dress shown in the above picture is studded with precious stones and rich thread work. Moreover, see this clipping to get an idea of how frivolous they have been:

Yet again, a similarity with the Indian custom is that, like the Indian brides, the debs eagerly used to anticipate the guests. Here is a classic photo where the debs are waiting for guests to arrive.

Besides the formal coming out, they were very fashion conscious in selecting the dresses and accessories for the whole season. 

I guess they would have used these clothes to out with the chosen guys. Um, of course debs were always chaperoned.

Tuesday

Adapting and Communicating in a Foreign Country

Distant pastures are always greener, this is true in every walk of life. Once, I used to think that living abroad would be a great pleasure. How naive I was! Now after 7 yrs of being an expat, I have mixed feelings and am trying to gauge my thoughts...

At first, in Kuching (East Malaysia), I enjoyed the pleasant climate and good-natured people. I used to communicate by sign language with a neighbor, because both of us didn't know a common language.

Later in Kuala Lumpur (West Malaysia), even though many spoke English, at first it was difficult to understand their accent and style. Others used to say the same thing about my accent as well. After being there for 5+ years, more or less I started to speak/communicate like locals.

Now, here in UK, for the first few days it was like re-inventing the cycle, in terms of communicating with the locals. At a super market till, the cashier asked me something twice and I couldn't catch it. It sounded like this:

Chu nida bae?

She had to repeat it for the third time and finally I understood that she was asking me:

do you need a bag?

I was a bit embarrassed and lamented about this to a friend. Um, well, her experience gave me more confidence because she told that in her early days, she could never understand anything, even if the same thing was repeated several times! Nowadays, to overcome this situation, whenever I travel in public transport or be in a public area, I try to catch up with the conversation that goes on around me, but the intention is not eavesdropping:)

So far, I have never heard should, must or for that matter they don't even use can you. They are always polite. Here is an incident, to show their politeness or rather use of language. When you travel by bus, besides regular stops, there are several Request Stops. If you happen to wait at this type of stop, you need to wave your hand, to signal the driver that you need to get in. Similarly, if you have to get down at these stops you need to press the red buzzer.

Say, if you were unable to reach the buzzer, you would be requesting someone nearer to help you, right? I would have said "excuse me, I need to get down so please press the buzzer". But, I overheard someone's request, which was: Could you please ring the bell for me? That too with a pleasant smile. After that, she was profusely thanking the other person.

Saying thanks and sorry for even very small incidents is a part of the British culture. A friend, jokingly commented that these phrases are too natural and sometimes it looks like automated words without meaning, but so far, I have not had any negative experience it this area.

Further, in public, usually people are lighthearted. Once an old lady was finding difficult to get up from the bus seat. Just then, I had an eye contact with her. Immediately she had a beautiful smile and quipped: I need a pair of new legs.

Monday

Big Ben and the Neighbours

We reached Westminster underground station, without any idea of how to reach the parliamentary buildings. Moreover, we saw more policemen than the civilians in that vicinity. Then, my friend called up to alert us that there was some procession by Sri Lankan Tamilians on Westminster Bridge. By then we reached that place and saw the calm procession.

As the procession passed, we turned back to examine that area, and suddenly we noticed that we were standing right under the Big Ben!

This is the World's largest four-faced chiming clock. Like us, there were many tourists and locals eagerly waiting around that area until 7 pm to hear the tone of the bell. Then, we crossed the road and tried to take a full view of the parliamentary buildings, but with my camera I could capture only this:(

Contrast to this old marvelous neo-gothic building, look at this equally beautiful modern building, which is just opposite to Big Ben.

From here, we could see the London Eye as well. But, to get a better view we walked up to London Pier.

The wheel was spinning at painstakingly slow speed. In fact, Eye on Malaysia at Titiwangsa was a bit faster! Moreover, the ticket price is GBP 17/person. So we decided not to go for a London Eye flight (ride).

This is the London Aquarium, which is situated besides the London Eye. We didn't go there either. 

Tuesday

Package of an MP...

A forwarded mail is the cause of this post, which claims Politics as a profession in India. After seeing the breakdown of their official income, am wondering who is the real cause of the economic slowdown? Here is an excerpt that shows where the tax payer's money goes:

Salary & Govt. Concessions for a Member of Indian Parliament
Monthly Salary: Rs. 12,000/-
Expense for Constitution per month: Rs. 10,000/-
Office expenditure per month: Rs. 14,000/-
Traveling concession (Rs. 8 per km): Rs. 48,000/-
(eg. For a visit from South India to Delhi & return: 6000 km)
Daily DA TA during parliament meets: Rs. 500/day
Charge for 1 class (A/C) in train: Free (For any number of times
All over India ) 
Charge for Business Class in flights: Free for 40 trips / year (With wife or P.A.)
Rent for MP hostel at Delhi: Free
Electricity   costs at home: Free up to 50,000 units
Local phone call charge: Free up to 1, 70,000 calls
TOTAL expense for a MP [having no qualification] per year:  Rs.32,00,000/-

This is equal to RM 2,31,300 or GBP 43,500.)

To my knowledge, the allowances are true, but not sure about the salary. However, the package is too high for many of the undeserving candidates. In addition, there are no performance standards, against which they can be gauged. And, there is no retrenchment either!

I wish their package can be reduced to half, and that amount can be spent to bring some of the basic needs like proper sanitation and drinking water to thousands of Indian villages.

Friday

Windsor Castle

Right from teenage, when I started reading novels, I was fascinated by the descriptions of palaces and castles. I have seen few palaces in India and seen the exterior of some of the palaces in Malaysia.

But, I have always longed to see a castle. When I stepped out of the Windsor and Eton Riverside Railway station, I was so thrilled to see the majestic round tower dominating the skyline.

Whenever I read or even thought about castles, I had a vivid visualization of sprawling lawns, high towers and cold breeze. I would say that the Windsor Castle did not disappoint me.

Instead of expressing my feelings in words, it would be better to watch the video to get a hang on my thrill, and also see how I was rattling to my husband, with great excitement:)

video

It was just awesome. Look at this bird's eye view photo.

We saw a different kind of flag on the round tower...

Someone in front of us asked the security personnel if the Queen was in the castle. He answered that it was easy to tell by looking at the flag in the round tower. It seems that if the Queen is in residence (meaning, she is living there at the moment) the Royal Standard flies else the British Union Jack flies! So, we knew the relevance of that flag and also that the Queen was there when we were visiting, not a big deal though...

The dark corners of the castle remind me of all those romances that I have been reading since my college days:)

And the moats remind me of all those bloody wars.

Look at this deep wall, where a soldier can comfortably aim at the enemy...

Look at the beautiful view from the lower ward of the castle.

On your right, see the castle and on your left you see the St George's and Albert Memorial Cathedral, dating back to the 11th century.

It is a good example of Gothic architecture and exquisite glass paintings. Besides, it is a living church, which means, it is still in use by the royal family and the people of Windsor. Around 11 kings are buried here.

In the upper ward of the Castle, Photos are prohibited.

The Doll's house was dimly lit, to preserve the fragile miniature collectibles of Queen Mary. The highlight of this section was a present from one of her granddaughters, which was a doll's house. In this, everything is a working scaled down version of a modern mansion of the 18th century.

Then as we entered the Grand staircase, I was reminded of the Mysore place in India. The audio tour explained that, even now Queen Elizabeth II, receives the state guests, from this staircase.

The State Room was filled with treasures acquired from various British colonies. The best piece was the large golden tiger head seized from Tipu Sultan of Mysore, India. In fact, the largest collection was from India that ranged from jeweled armouries to dresses. Though, I had a sense of misgiving to see my country's treasure in a foreign land, I consoled myself by thinking that we have migrated here and no point to talk about the glorious past, right?

Then, the King's, Queen's Chamber was like what you would expect in a palace. The walls were adorned with marvelous paintings by famous artists from 15th to 17th centuries.

Holbein and Rubens paintings were captivating. Holbein's self-portrait was the best, and I spent long time in front of that painting, as it was so powerful. I wanted to take a snap, but unfortunately, it was a restricted area. However, you can see Holbein's self-portrait online. In the original, his rich silk robes and straight posture shows an air of authority and whichever angle you stand, you feel as if Holbein is watching you smugly.

This post is getting longer, so let me wind up with a beautiful shot that shows the backside of the castle.

Thursday

Royal Guards

Changing of the Guards ceremony at the Windsor Castle, UK was spectacular. Traditionally, the outgoing set of guards march towards the main gate. During special occasions or when the Queen is at the castle, the march is led by the greyhound and band.



See the outgoing guards...


But, I wonder how the guards manage to carry the heavy bearskin hat and still march at steady gait! Their actions at the posts are a bit funny and confusing...



At one of the private areas, we saw a guard standing still, so I approached near the fence to get a good shot. Just then, he suddenly changed the rifle from left to right hand and marched few steps forward, where there was no one, stood at Attention pose and saluted. Then he marched back to the original position.


We saw similar behavior at the exit gate and front of Buckingham Palace gates.


Tuesday

Rattling to Unwind...

After a Day's Sightseeing, am itching to share my experiences, but before that I wanna unwind, and rest so that I can carry on for the next couple of days...so here goes my rattles...

Well, I have not yet downloaded 260+ photos that I took today in Kensington Palace, Thames Cruise and Trafalgar Square. In St Paul's Cathedral, there is a display that requests not take photos. I wanted to respect that request, but with much regrets. However, I saw few tourists snapping fervently, so I too followed suite and took very few pictures, that too using my hand-phone.

Here in UK, we are entirely relying on public transport. Even after buying car, I don't think I would like to take my car to Central London, because of excessive Congestion Tax and heavy parking rates. Besides, The Transport For London is quite good and mostly reliable. 

Whenever, I go to Central London, I have been watching a couple of things. Every time, I go to Overground railway stations in London and its suburbs, am reminded of Chennai Central, Chennai Egmore, Madurai and Kuala Lumpur Railway Stations. Yes, I agree that these places had British influence in the past. But, what irks me the most is the poor lighting facilities in all these stations.

The, the Underground or Tube stations in Central London is similar to Singapore Underground network. Here, the minute you enter the underground level, you can see people always moving in a great hurry, as if their whole life depended of catching that train. Today, at one of the stations, I was suddenly reminded of rats scurrying! Now, I realize what has made me to think like this:)

Especially in the tubes, always I can see young adults necking. Here, I can't understand what motivates them to behave like this.

Then, comes the basic necessity. In Malaysia & Singapore, washrooms in shopping malls and railway stations are maintained with acceptable quality and in most places, it is free of charge. As for Chennai & Madurai, there are both unpaid and paid restrooms, but you cannot expect decent maintenance. But, as for as London is considered most of the railway stations and tube stations do not have washrooms. Even the ones that has this facility, they charge, yet not in good condition!

Thursday

Thames Walk

From Oxford Circus, we had to change a couple of Tubes (underground rails like Singapore trains), to reach the London Bridge, which is built on the Thames river.

From childhood, I had a penchant for this place, as there are too many attractions along the banks of this river.

And for the first time, I would say that my imagination matched with reality, which rarely happens.

We just passed through the attractions, because we would be using the London Pass to enter these places, next week. Here are some interesting shots that I took along...

 

One of the 5 Imperial museums is an army ship, HMS Belfast. This is permanently docked on the Thames.

This is a bronze fun size pirate ship, at Hay's Galleria, which is a tourist-targeted shopping center with traditional nick-nacks and coffee bars.

As we approached the London Bridge, I was so thrilled like a child, but still it was not an architectural wonder or massive. I think it is just a sense of satisfaction that I am finally there. I called my kid at that moment to share my joy and she too got excited and wanted to join us immediately!

On the bridge, the traffic was heavy. Unlike Kuala Lumpur, the pavements are large, in fact, the tracks for the vehicles are narrower. This helps the tourists to spend time on the bridge conveniently.

Then, we had a clear view of Tower of London, which was the powerful fort for the British Empire, few centuries ago.

Tower of London looks so romantic from the opposite bank. There are many gates to this tower, and one of the gates was named as Traitor Gate, which had direct access to the river in the past. I guess the history has not been kind. I will share more details, when we get to see this place next week.

By then, the weather had started to change, because of the chill wind. After a tea break, we headed for Westminster, to see the Big Ben and the Parliamentary house. I will continue on this in my next post. Stay tuned:)

Wednesday

A day in Central London

We were tentatively thinking to buy London pass, which provides free entry to 50 destinations, which is otherwise ridiculously expensive. The usual price for a three days pass with travel costs GBP 83. But, last week we came across London Pass promotional offer for GBP 77, so without second thoughts we bought it online. We are planning to use the pass from 13 to 15 April. I'm very excited about this trip.

Well, to collect this pass we had to go to Britain Visitor Center in Piccadilly Circus, Central London. London has excellent public transport system, but the ticket costs are exorbitant. However, there is an option of buying off-peak one-day travel card for GBP 7.50.

After collecting the pass, we wanted to make full use of the day card. So, we used the map that we had collected from the Visitor Center and started the wild-goose chase. 

This is the statue of Eros, in Piccadilly Circus. As, I have read a lot about this place, we spent some time looking at the old buildings...

Then, we headed to the nearby Oxford Circus, which is supposed to be the shoppers' haven.

This time, no shopping. Believe me, except for buying an Easter egg made of dark chocolate^^.

We were just gazing at renowned buildings such as Liberty Theater and the Palladium...

Throughout the day, the weather was good with clear blue sky. Later, we headed to London Bridge. Yes, finally, we had a stroll on the banks of the Thames and one of my dreams has come true! Thames experience is worth another post, so guys please wait for my updates:)

Sunday

Home Sick

I miss my friends, the hustle, heat, crazy road signs and tall buildings, the la slang, makan and everything in Kuala Lumpur. Not even a month yet, I miss my second home.

I long...

to sit in the open-air balcony at Endha Villa and sip hot tea!

I long...

to speed in my car. 

I crave...

for that yummy Chinese Veggie food, especially the butter lotus root fry...

I Yearn...

to drive through the tall buildings and beautiful landmarks...

The above picture shows the bronze statue, Palace of the Golden Horses...

Here in UK, as Spring has started, the flowers have started to bloom, I guess they would help me to chase my blues.

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