“You have been to the Netherlands before, haven’t you?” The middle-aged man, checking my passport carefully, spoke in a marked Dutch accent.
“Yes indeed.” I answered.
“For what purpose then?” He asked.
“Cycling?”, the Visa officer paused with a baffled smile, “Well then, your entry stamp will be delivered to your address in two weeks. Do enjoy your cycling in Holland this time.”
The morning had dawned clear and bright, with a glim of sunshine that hinted the mild British Summer. I left the Dutch embassy, a refreshed man from the exhausting early train to London, wandering driftlessly during the rushing hour. It was the third time I came to the UK, and more than half a year since my last visit to London.
My thoughts swung to the Christmas Eve last year; the city looked bleak back then. Winter is harsh in England, but not much compared to West Scotland, where I stayed. That day I was on another strenuous trip from Scotland to London, for the flight back to my home in Shanghai. The situation was dire, with Covid variation pushing the daily number of infections over 50 thousand, countries shutting transportation from the UK one after another. Fortunate enough, I went aboard the last fight to China before the travel ban was imposed the same day. The flight was regarded as “Noah’s Ark”.
London had been very different since then. Though the Delta variant was raging all over the country – tens of thousands of new infections every day – people seemed to get used to the situation. I dropped off at London Eye, opposite to Big Ben across the Thames. The riverbank was flooded with visitors, most without a mask. There was not much novelty, Big Ben having been under maintenance for years. Looking for something new I jumped on a Thames tourist boat, having little idea where it heading to.
Sometimes impromptu was an answer to uncertainty. The day I finished quarantine in Shanghai, I got a haircut, and that was all I prepared for the interview of eBay in that afternoon, not least a self-introduction. I was nonetheless shortly informed to be enrolled the next weekday, following my overconfidence stroke a remarkable interview. The internship did not go as smoothly as the interview, however, especially after the new term embarked. With most lectures taking place at night due to the time difference, I usually exchange my lunch time for a nap in the park nearby at noon. I could have enjoyed my nap, had the insusceptible security not driven me awake abruptly.
The boat eventually took me to Greenwich, a viewpoint in the suburb of London. Now I was similarly lying on a bench on the hill, with a nice view of the London city, and even better, no one bothering my nap. The Thames meandered to the east, cutting the city to north and south, which reconnected by the splendid Tower Bridge.
I used to view London the most wonderful city in Europe, but now I had changed my mind. I departed to my second study track in Barcelona, only two days after I concluded my internship in eBay. Late April came the best season of the coastal metropolitan, showered in everyday sunshine and a gentle touch of Spring from the Mediterranean breeze. The city is a masterpiece itself, sandwiched between sea and hills, where the works of art of Gaudí scattered around the Gothic city centre.
If there is any match to the Spring of Barcelona, it must be the Summer of Edinburgh. I went to the Scottish capital for a 3-month internship for Heineken UK, following my 6-week short stay in Spain. While Scotland is by no means enjoyable in Winter, it is no less than anywhere else in Summer. The weather is clear, and the day gets long, often ending up with a gorgeous sunset, casting a brilliant glow to the orange sky. It was my first time working outside Shanghai, which fortunately, turned out to be a smooth one, before I embarked the third study track in the Netherlands.
“That´s how I came to London from Edinburgh, for my visa”, there are few small talks with a stranger in London, so I made it a bit longer, “So far this year I have been staying in Shanghai, Barcelona, Edinburgh, York, and then to Rotterdam. Honestly, I never imagined I would have been living in so many cities during the peak of the Covid.”
“So, which city is your favourite?”
“I cannot tell really. Hardly have I seen any marvellous as the Spring in Barcelona, or more spectacular a Summer in Edinburgh”, I pondered for a while. “But Shanghai would always be my favourite. After all, that’s my home.”
4th September, 2021
Author and Photo credit: David Wu