I can’t believe that I have been living in London for a month already! I have been very busy exploring its culture and its people. It has been a wonderful experience that has affected the way I see the world. I am also very fortunate to be living in London in this time of the year because I get to see snow! My hometown Laredo, Texas is a very hot place and we never see snow, so it has been an awesome experience to see the tons of snow falling down in London.
These last days I have been outside enjoying the snow, taking long walks through London and admiring this fabulous city. Londoners have told me that although the weather here it’s kind of chilly, it is not usual for them to see snow either, so everyone here is really excited. I have been trying to make the most out of my time here–and I almost forgot to update my blog! Since my last post, I visited the Mortlake crematorium with my sociology of death class, and went on London walk guided tour about the Darkest Victorian London with my crime, culture, and the city class. I also, visited the Hillsong church at the Dominion theatre, Camden town, the Chelsea Football Stadium, Westminster abbey, the houses of parliament, the Graham Norton show, and the British museum.
The Mortlake crematorium visit was an eye opener for me, thank God I haven’t experience the loss of a loved one in recent years. However, I always had thought that only the body was cremated, but, to my surprise, the coffin is cremated along with the body!! The crematorium employee told us that the heat inside the cremator is so intense that the coffin is completely disintegrated. The ashes given to the family members are basically only the ashes of the bones because the bones are the toughest part of the human body and are able to withstand more heat than other things inside the cremator. The employee also told us about the ways in which people from different cultures deal with their death. For example, most Christians doesn’t want to be cremated even though it cost less because they believe in resurrection. On the contrary, people from other faiths want their loved ones to be cremated and their ashes to be scattered in a park, river or ocean. They want to remember them every time they visit that place.
After the Mortlake crematorium I took a guided walk tour about the Darkest Victorian London which resulted in a total shock for me! I was exposed to the history of London in the Victorian era from the perspective of the poor! The tour guide, Judy (a lovely old lady), took my classmates and me from the monument tube station to the Borough market, stopping in different places to talk about the events that took place there throughout the 19th century. She told us about the blooming age of theatrical plays and how there were many actors at the time who were incarcerated for performing without a license. The contrast between the beautiful Victorian buildings constructed at the time and the overcrowded slums in the south of London were many immigrants and poor Londoners resided.
I got to visit an empty lot were many prostitutes of the time were buried! According to Judy, during the Darkest Victorian era poverty was extreme in the south part of London, women were considered inferior to men and had few opportunities of getting a job. Many women of the time were single mothers and others were homeless. Poverty dragged many of those women into prostitution to be able to survive. Most of those women were buried in an empty lot just outside of the Borough market once they died. However, in modern times a construction company was excavating the site to construct a building, but thanks to a women investigator who wrote a book and a report about it, the lot was closed and now is consider a memorial to those women and many Londoners go there often to put flowers and letters on the walls in remembrance. We also visited the place where Charles Dickens used to live when he was a boy and his father was incarcerated, Judy told us some of the adventures of Charles Dickens while he lived in one of the poorest neighborhoods of London at the time.
The visit to the crematory and the London walk made me realize how blessed I am to be alive and doing well, so I started to look for a church to go and give thanks to God. Luckily, there is a group of students from a Christian university participating in my ISA program and they took me to the Hillsong church at the Dominion Theatre. It was awesome!! The place itself is a really big theatre packed with lots of friendly people from different countries. The church has its own music band, “The Hillsong band” a very famous band around the world. The week after that, I visited Camden town which is composed of a gothic theme. There I found a Brazilian restaurant where I delighted my taste with some Brazilian food. The wonderful thing about Camden town is that you can bargain with the merchants about the prizes and everything is very affordable, perfect for souvenirs!
Later on that week, I participated in an ISA excursion to the Chelsea football stadium, where I got see the lockers of some of the best soccer players in the world. The tour guide explained to us the different tactics behind the design of the locker rooms for the home and the visiting teams. I was very surprised to learn that the architecture of the visiting team locker’s room was designed to make them feel very uncomfortable. I got to sit in the press room and pretend that I was signing a contract with the Chelsea football club for millions of British pounds like some of the best players of the world have done in the past. I also visited the museum where they have all the trophies and championships obtained by the club throughout its history. On my way back to my dorm, I found a Mexican restaurant named “Chipotle.” It was great!! I had a beef burrito different to the ones I have at home but definitively similar in essence.
A couple of days later the ISA staff took us on an excursion to the Westminster abbey where many famous people of the world are buried, like Charles Dickens, Isaac Newton, Margaret Cavendish, Charles Darwin, and Robert Browning, among many others. The gothic designs in the roof of the building are beautiful, and the different tombs located inside the building containing the remaining of kings and queens of England are delightfully decorated. Needless to say, there are many immense historical events associated with this place. If you are visiting London, a guided tour inside Westminster is a must!
Later on that evening, Tom, one of the ISA staff members, took us on a tour inside the Parliament houses. Let me just say that this guy is very helpful! The ISA staff had told us in advance about the tour to Westminster and I didn’t sign up to go. But after hearing a friend talk about how wonderful this tour would be I decided that I wanted to go. I showed up at the last minute wanting to participate in the tour and Tom explained to me that all tours were booked in advance and that they only had bought the specific amount of tickets. However, this guy went running to the entrance and talked to the people in charge and after some waiting I was allowed to participate in the tour as well!! Brilliant!
I was so lucky to go in! I got to walk through the same corridor as the queen does when she opens the parliament, everything inside is so beautiful, the house of lords is amazing, a beautiful chair made of gold is placed in the center where the queens sits down and gives her speech. The house of commons is located in front of it. It is not as elegant as the House of Lords, but it is classical and beautiful as well. There is an ornate chair located in the center as well where the speaker of the House of Commons sits down when the parliament is open.
I have so much more to talk about but I have some homework to do, so I must end here for now!
I will write more later on this month!
Classmates Connecting Cultures