I remember it happening like it was just yesterday. Eight of us traveled to Edinburgh for the Christmas break of 2010. We had the time of our lives. Before going back to campus in Plymouth, we stopped by at London for some exciting Boxing Day shopping.
It was Christmas Eve in London and the city was freezing cold. My friends and I left our hotel in the evening and headed to Trafalgar Square to see the large Christmas tree there. Thank God we had a senior with us to guide us through London's complicated underground Tube service. I tried looking at the Tube map to see how to get from one place to the next so it will be easy when I travel to London someday on my own. I just got dizzy looking at it. That's a problem for future Kangga, I thought. Present Kangga can relax at the moment.
Present Kangga had no idea what God had in store for him.
So this is how the journey was to be made. From Bayswater Tube Station, we had to take the District Line to Notting Hill Gate. Once at Notting Hill, we had to change to the Central Line and head for Oxford Street. At Oxford Street, we had to change lines yet again to the Bakerloo Line that would take us straight to Trafalgar Square. If you are following me correctly, you will realize we had to change Lines not once, not twice, but three times to get from our hotel to our destination. Sounds simple? It's not.
Bear in mind this is my first time riding the Tube. Unlike our Malaysian MRT system, there are no interesting sights to see through the windows because it is all underground. Nevertheless, I was fascinated by the people on the Tube. There were hardly any locals. People from all around the world came to London to study, work or stay permanently. It was like Kuala Lumpur on steroids. Also, I kept looking out for brick walls along the Tube line which used to be passageways for former Tube stations that had since been closed. Did I mention I am also an avid daydreamer?
I was sitting quite far away from the rest of my group during our trip from from Notting Hill Gate to Oxford Street. As I got carried away with my daydreaming, I had not noticed my friends getting down at Oxford Street. It was only at St. Paul's Cathedral station that I realized my friends were nowhere in sight.
Here I was; first time in the heart of London.. all alone... separated from my friends. Panicing seemed like the most acceptable, if not right response at the time. Still, I kept trying to get my head to calm down, although my head never agrees with my heart. I get down at the station I was at. I look into the Tube map on the walls. I got dizzy again. Well at least this was not Paris, or Rome, or some city where I don't know the local language.
I then ask this one pak cik waiting for the next train. I will never forget his response.
"Excuse me, sir. Can you tell me where I can see the Christmas tree lighting?" That's right. I did not even remember the name of the station I was supposed to get down at. Before I could even finish my question, he took up his hand, kind of like his way of saying, don't bother me, I'm not interested in helping you. Ass.
I go up to the counter and ask the person there how do I get to the Christmas tree lighting, hoping that in such a large city, there will only be one major Christmas tree lighting tonight. The really nice counter person, who was a young black man pointed out that the lighting will be at Trafalgar Square. He had a thick accent which I could barely understand. Might as well be lost in Paris or Rome, right? What I could make out was I had to take the Tube to Soho and then change Lines or something. So I made it to Soho. This time I looked at the Tube map and it was a direct line to Trafalgar. Thank God Almighty.
I took the next Tube there and was reunited with my friends, whose first response was to laugh at my face. Still, I could see it in their eyes that they were relived that I was okay. Or maybe that's just how I try to remind myself I have good friends.
Lesson of the story is; there is a place and time for everything, including daydreaming. That's what boring classes at school are for. Stay alert, especially if you are traveling for the first time in a foreign land.