Culture Surprises: London - 7/12

Like 'Culture Shocks', this is 'Culture Surprises'. 'Culture Surprises' is my travelogue and peoplogue. Travelogue to discuss about all my experiences in every new place I visit and peoplogue to discuss about all my experiences with people from different cultures I meet. So, it is not necessary that I talk about only cultures here. It's about everything new that I come across. So, purists... please bear with the coinage of the title!

Part 7...

Most of our guys who go abroad for short term assignments would have a hair cut just before leaving India. And then they would have a hair cut as soon as they are back on day one itself. Because it's expensive to have a hair cut there. They would say that it would cost Rs. 500 or 1000 for a hair cut. So I also planned to have a hair cut before leaving. But where did I get the time for all that? Not only that. I was also thinking that there were possibilities of settling there for years together. So I also thought in those lines for many things. I just told myself, 'You can't come back for a hair cut every month. So it's just one more additional time. That's it!' and left. Within few days of reaching there, I would be tempted to get into the barber shops whenever I saw one. In most of the shops, they had written 10 pounds. Those sitting inside were also other people. There was only shop where I would see a lot of Indian crowd always. It's an Indian shop. The charge was less too. 5 pounds. How can I control myself? I just got in one day.

The first difference that our people show us as soon as they land in a western country is their hair style. They would post their completely changed face on Facebook or some other social media. I always used to wonder if that would be their wish or they would request the barber to change it like that or the barber himself would give them a special advice that that is the best suited hair style for them or anyone who has a hair cut in those places will only end up with that kind of a hair style. I sat there hoping that I would get an answer for that that day. If I would get a new face to post on Facebook that would be a bonus.

Looks like the norm is same in all barber shops all over the world. As per the norm I waited for hours together to get the job done there as well. I was observing the technology being employed by them. They finish most of their work with a machine. It's just the finishing that is done manually. The work also gets done faster. It's not rocket science. It's a simple technology that could be easily brought to India as well. We have seen how even more difficult technologies have been brought here. If this also comes fast it would be good for us. What would be more difficult to bring than the machine and the technology is the operational skill. It may take time.

The procedure was begun with the same question there as well - "Short or medium?". Having a haircut is such a nice thing. So the longer it takes the happier I am. Thanks to the machine it got over in no time. It looked nicer. I don't know if it was a London thing or specific to that shop or just a perception problem I had. I don't think I can tell that clearly without having a few more haircuts there. I get that satisfaction once in a while in our place also. I was happy that I got that the first time itself (it's the only time as well) in London.

Whichever place it is, one of the most important things to be talked about is, the transport facilities of the place. It goes without saying if it is London. It's one of the best things in London. London has one of the best public transport systems in the world. It was good in Singapore as well. London is bigger than Singapore. However it has the same or better quality transport network. When I was there I read an article about it in one of their dailies. Only problem is the charges are exorbitant. It's five to 10 times more than Singapore's. Even taxis are like that. In Singapore, the biggest and the only big expense is the house. In London, everything is expensive. Transportation expenses contribute a great deal. Around 200 pounds are gone for transportation itself. That's for one person. If the family is big? Half the salary will go for that itself. If at all you got into a taxi by mistake, you are gone. It's end of the story. I just boarded once. My goodness... I almost got blood pressure. We know the meters are meant to run but no that fast!

London's transport network includes four different types of vehicles - train, tube, tram and bus. We all know train. What's this tube? Is that your question? The train that runs underground like a tube is called tube. It looks like a train only. But the interior is little different. In trains, there are rows of seats with 3 seats on one side and 2 on another in each row. People move around in the aisle in between. It's the same structure as what we see in the trains and most of the buses in our place. But in tubes, it is long and continuous bench-like seats on both sides. There is more space for people to stand in the middle. Tubes are narrower than the trains. Trains go to outskirts and outstations. Tubes run within London city alone. The place where I stayed, Croydon, was in outskirts. So I used to travel by train half the distance and then change to tube. Train looks like a series of boxes. Tube looks like one long box (though even that is a series of many boxes). Train goes very fast. The tubes also go fast. But it seemed as though they are slower maybe because either they run underground or they have too many stops. Trains have toilets whereas tubes don't. Needless to say what it would be like if there were such toilets in underground tubes!

We already talked about tram. When it runs within the city it seems to be running slow. But when it goes out of the city, they just zip through. Next is bus. You don't need an introduction of it. We have seen enough of them in our place itself. But it's only Volvo buses there. My family and I were so lucky to see people stamping on each others' legs and fighting exchanging bad words there as well. The buses are not as crowded as the trains, tubes and trams.

All vehicles are maintained very clean. Almost everyone gives preference to elderly, disabled, pregnant women and people with young children. Sometimes some people don't get it. Maybe the definition of decency is changing there as well. The taxis there have a peculiar look. It's an antique look like that of Ambassador cars back here. I think I told you already that throughout London I could see a lot of antiquity. I also saw another antique thing while travelling in trains. The television antennas that stayed for just 20-25 years back here are still there. Almost all houses have an antenna on their head. I was wondering what they were still doing with it there when we have gone past that so long back.

The tickets are the same for all four types of transports. The weekly pass that we buy for 50-60 pounds helps to travel for a week. Everything is automated. If you just put the money and tell it what you want, it gives you exactly what you asked for and gives back exact change as well. Unlike the fellow human beings that are fond of our money back here. This machine used to be there only in train stations in Singapore. But here you can see them in every bus stop. There are more than one machine in each bus stop. You just have to show the pass while boarding and get down wherever you want. Mostly people prefer daily and weekly passes to tickets. Buying a ticket for each travel may leave you bankrupt in a day or two.

The transport facilities in London made the city look very small. It's bigger than Chennai - Bangalore. But, I never got that feeling while traveling. If you have to travel the same distance back here or in London itself by road, it wouldn't be that easy. I told you earlier that I had two weeks of work in Croydon and two weeks in the city. The two weeks I had to work in the city, I used to travel from Croydon to Paddington, where we have our office. I never felt the distance I traveled. I would travel this distance in 45 minutes mostly. I used to travel by train from Croydon to Victoria Station and then from there by tube to Paddington. There was some work going on in Paddington station at that time. When I go next time (If I) I think I would see a modified Paddington.

Victoria Station is an unforgettable one. It's a busy place. You would find the place always buzzing with busy people briskly moving from one place to another. When I first went there, it made me think, 'Oh, does it mean the British people are not lazy?!'. Not only that. Every time I alighted in Victoria Station, I was reminded of the Central Station in Chennai. There is some similarity between the two stations. Maybe because both the stations let the train terminate their services there.

I could see a lot of Srilankan Tamils there, be it Victoria Station or in my travels between Victoria Station and Croydon. When I was returning home one evening I saw a young pair speaking something sweetly. I couldn't make out if it was Malayalam or Tamil. I know it isn't a good manner to overhear others' discussion. But I couldn't control myself this time. Finally I figured out it was Srilankan Tamil. Another time, there was a guy who talked so loudly, like in our town buses back here, with some relative back home. Though he was speaking to his relative, it was heard by everyone in the train. He even sang some MGR song during the conversation. Sooo much they feel at home!



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