Tuesday, September 20, 2016

There and Back Again: From Southeast to Northwest, A Sketchpacker's Diary - Part 1

England. There's something charming about this faraway land for one living in a Southeast Asian country with a colonial past. When the English arrived in Singapore in 1819 and set up her trading post here, things changed for this little island at the southern tip of peninsular Malaysia and it would never be the same again. The English colonial masters brought their country and culture with them. Missing their home, they built buildings reminiscent of the architecture back home, cleared jungle and cultivated English-style gardens, introduced the Rule of Law, the English language, and driving on the left side of the road. Even after they left in 1965, their indelible footprint was left on this tiny island-city-state, and visiting England for me is to enter a world where the vestiges of our past is a present reality. The English made Singapore more like home as they knew it, and each time I visit England, it is visiting those origins, from the tudor houses to the Wren-esque architecture of St. Paul's, to the gardens at Kew and elsewhere.

I had just visited England less than 2 years ago, and had little intention to return there so soon. The cost was prohibitive, especially for one who had quit his job and gone on a sabbatical just over half a year ago. But it was the annual Urban Sketchers Symposium, and I had the privilege of being a lecturer! It was an opportunity not to be missed.

It seemed that these 2 trips to England happened at momentous times in British history. The last time I was there, Scotland had her referendum. Nothing changed, however, since Scotland voted to remain as part of the UK. This time, however, was Brexit, and the implications were many (even though now about 2 months later, Britain has yet to trigger Article 50 to initiate the process of leaving the EU. In 2014, I was based in Cambridge and stayed with my aunt. This time it was just a few months after that aunt passed away. I'm glad I got to visit her before she died.

Aunt Dolly serving us dinner in 2014

This would be a trip of many firsts. It would be my first time traveling pretty much alone for a few days, the first time I'm giving a lecture at the Urban Sketchers International Symposium, the first time I'm visiting this part of England. It promised to be an exciting adventure from the get-go, and I wasn't disappointed.

Day 1: SG > MAN

My flight to Manchester, UK was via Emirates, transiting at Dubai. It was pretty comfortable, and little did I realise that while I paid for 1 seat, I got 3 with extra leg-room! I sketched the view from my seat:

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Soon my 3 seats became 2 as the chap behind me decided to come forward for more leg room. He was a chatty Indian chap and we chatted a bit and with the air hostesses while they were seated for landing. The second leg of the journey, however, was less eventful as I was seated next to a university student from Malaysia who was going to UK for an exchange program with some 70 others on the same flight.

Dubai was HOT! I transited there past midnight and the temperature was in the high 30s (Celsius). Funnily enough instead of boarding the plane from the air-conditioned comfort of the terminal, we had to take a bus way out onto the tarmac and board the plane from a flight of stairs. It was very warm, and I was dressed for colder temperatures with Uniqlo's heat-tech. It was uncomfortable, but we were off on our way soon enough.


Goodbye, Dubai!

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I landed in Manchester at around 8 a.m. Customs wasn't as bad as the famed Heathrow in London, but it still took at least half an hour to clear. I immediately regretted having to lug around a 25kg luggage with only 2 wheels, and that's on top of my daypack and a cabin haversack for an extra set of clothes in case my main luggage got lost. Next time I'm getting one with 4 wheels if I'm carrying around that amount of weight.

The accomodations for the symposium were sponsored, but only for the duration of the event. Since I arrived earlier, I booked a room through AirBnB, but I couldn't check in till 5 pm because my host was working. Thankfully a friend of mine arrived the day before and checked in the hotel near a train station. I went over to offload my things and shower. I scrapped my plans to pay Chester a visit and spent the day in Manchester with Maria. We went about town looking for places to visit and things to sketch. It didn't take long to run into other sketchers who had already started. We joined in the fun at the John Ryland's Library.


We met Elizabeth Alley, president of USk, in the lobby!

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Manchester is a city of canals

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The Central Library, which was closed to public for an event

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First meal in Manchester, and boy was it large! Pretty affordable too!

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Rear of the Town Hall

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Cenotaph

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Manchester's Albert Memorial,
a smaller version of London's

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Manchester Town Hall, which resembles
the palace of Westminster in London

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Paul, Rob, and Corinna have already started!

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The John Ryland's Library

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John Ryland's Library
The Historic Reading Room
"A Cathedral to books"

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I love these booths

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We were using paints on 100 year-old wood tables!

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My sketch at John Ryland's Library
First sketch in Manchester!

We thought of going to the art shop, but it was pretty far and I needed to check-in, so we went back to Maria's room to get my bags and I made my way to my accoms. Thankfully there was a direct bus! I dumped my things, had a good long chat with my host Jonathan, then went down the road for dinner. I had fish-and-chips, but it was a simple take-out place and I wasn't too impressed, especially since they dumped the fish right out of the fryer into a styrofoam box, and the heat from the fish melted the styrofoam it got into contact with. Yuks.

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Building near my accoms

My cosy little room

For a cosy place close to the city, Jonathan charges
really competitive rates! And better still, he's such
a good host and gentleman!

Hmm.......

Day 2: Liverpool

I had breakfast from a food van next to the park near where I was staying and the University of Manchester. Then I went to buy some musical instruments from the shop across the road - Irish whistles! Can't get those in Singapore. I left Manchester late for Liverpool cos of some breakdown in communication.
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Breakfast!

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Sketching after breakfast at All Saints Park

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Hobgoblin Music, Manchester

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Whistles!

More whistles!

Walking to Oxford Road train station

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By the time I reached Liverpool it was almost lunch time, but I decided to walk around a bit before eating. Passed by the St George's Hall, Wellington Column, and went in to Walker Art Gallery.

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St George's Hall

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Jephthah and his daughter

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Fantine and Cosette

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After visiting the Walker Art Gallery, I walked round and headed back to St George's Hall where I had lunch and explored the rooms of the hall. It serves (served?) as a courtroom, complete with jail cells and judge's chambers, but also as a concert hall and venue for community events. The concert hall was closed the day I visited, unfortunately, so I didn't get to see a major part of the building...

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Side of St George's Hall

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Liverpool Central Library

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Liverpool Central Library interior

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Lunch at St George's Hall

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St George's Hall interior

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After exiting from St George's Hall, I made my way to the highlight of my visit to Liverpool - Liverpool Cathedral. This is the largest Anglican cathedral in UK, and the longest in the world. I cut through town and visited some Biennale spots, Cass Art, etc. and passed by the Blackie (formerly Great George Street Congregational Church, where Rev Thomas Raffles, cousin of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, founder of Singapore) along the way.

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Bluecoat, a contemporary art gallery

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The Blackie (left) next to Chinatown

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The majestic Liverpool Cathedral

I didn't have a lot of time to hang about Liverpool Cathedral, but I took the time to do the only sketch I did in Liverpool.


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After visiting the cathedral, I went to the historic UNESCO Heritage Site, the Albert Docks. Got there pretty late so I didn't get to go to the International Slavery Museum and most other attractions. Oh well....


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I wish I had more time in Liverpool, but I had to go. I stopped by the mall for some ice-cream before heading back to Manchester for dinner and popped by Peveril at the Peak to catch up with some of the other symposium attendees.


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Lime Street station, Liverpool

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Peveril at the Peak pub

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Sketchers all are we!

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