Saturday, May 08, 2004

London is an Education- Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad

Education is about learning; it exists unconstrained by the bounds of academia. Our experience in life provides us with the best education.

London is an education as it offers a rich experience. Many adjectives can be used to describe it – cultured, colourful, cosmopolitan, vibrant, lively, historical, etc. In depicting London, antonyms often come together as it is a city filled with superb paradoxes. Generalisations fail to describe its breadth. This is a city that is difficult to be fairly caricatured. Modern and ancient, British and global, the cultured and the mundane – if there is anything such as the best place to get a holistic education, London would surely be one of that.

There are times when moments in Canary Wharf, amidst the ultra modern skyscrapers, the wonderfully landscaped gardens and with the Thames next to it, remind me of being at my hometown, Kuala Lumpur, in the company of our landmark, the Twin Towers. Yet not far from Canary Wharf is the age-old monument of London, the Tower Bridge. Next to it of course is the nearly a-thousand years-old Tower of London – once the dungeon for traitors, now an important relic of British history.

The exorbitant cost of living in the city is an oft-cited complaint. Economics teaches us that high prices come from high demand. London’s attractions and wealth as a city has made it the destination for people across the globe. This of course results in the inflationary prices in the city; but it also provides useful lessons to many students in London, balancing their limited budgets and the expensive youthful lifestyle. I myself had to work, albeit in a fun-filled experience as a Match Steward at Chelsea FC, in order to provide myself with a bit of extra pocket money. Many previously unappreciative youths now learn the value of money, often through the hard way of having spiralling student debts and cutting on previous necessities – but it affords them the pleasure of knowing the satisfaction of earning their own.

London offers you some of the most amazing opportunities – watching world famous musicals at West End, Premier League football in four different clubs, catching premieres at Leicester Square and shopping at the legendary Harrods – yet those opportunities comes only if you can afford them. To be able to do as many things as possible before your window of opportunity shuts itself on you, you will cherish every penny earned, and now life’s harsher realities dawns on you (unless of course, you get your parents to bail you out!). You appreciate the cheaper pleasures in life – such as going to London’s quality museums and galleries, enjoying a stroll in Hyde Park or merely enjoying the sights and sounds of city life.

The attraction of London has also made it a highly cosmopolitan city. My university accommodation was at the glamorous address of Hampstead, formerly home to Robert Louis Stevenson and George Orwell; now houses the expensive residences of Rachel Stevens and Thierry Henry, just to name a few. Then I moved to Walthamstow, where there were probably half of the halal shops in London just in front of my house. Now I live in the opposite end of the Victoria Line, at Brixton where there is a vibrant Afro-Caribbean community. Being an international student myself, the diverse environments have led me to appreciate diversity ever more, learning about the values of respect, tolerance and understanding. Londoners may not be as friendly as the rest of the British people, but they diminish stereotypes and create a sense of belonging and community that extends across racial, national and ethnic lines. It teaches me to look beyond my borders; at the same time it implores me to appreciate my roots.

This has enabled me to be concerned about the world at large. London becomes a focal point for diverse groups with similar sentiments – I have participated in its historic and massive anti war rallies which taught me the meaning of solidarity and political protests. I have attended Question Time at the Parliament, as a symbol of functioning democracy; yet paradoxically always found myself intrigued by one of the world’s most famous hereditary ruling families.

One who leaves London merely academically enlightened has surely failed in educating themselves in the lessons of life. Far from being merely a city with the best tertiary institutions in the country, it is a city that functions as a university in itself. This is no Brideshead Revisited, but as I said earlier, often life provides the best education. London educates people about life.

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