London Christmas Vibes | 03-091218

Work. All of this week, I’m introduced to millions of decks, research reports, project briefs, talks on everything from exploring what influences and defines visual culture and local aesthetics in Jakarta, Lagos, Mexico City and Lagos to neuroscience to helping victims of natural disasters to saving certain types of endangered whales. 20 years ago, two students came together with an idea: to provide users with access to the world’s information. That mission still drives everything the company does, whether that’s saving you a few minutes on your morning commute or helping doctors detect disease and save lives. It is a global company that is committed to building products for everyone. That means working with many industries, from education and healthcare to manufacturing and entertainment. I feel like an excited puppy running from one TED-like talk to the next, only interrupted by coffee dates with scores of friendly, smart people, who all come over to my desk to introduce themselves and ask how I’m feeling. It’s such a fascinating eco system, microcosm, centre of education and value creation for so many different people, creativity, career development, human development, physical and mental wellbeing. A girl in my team sets up daily meditation sessions for us all. I go for ballet, Pilates and strength classes at the gym, all taught by colleagues who teach the respective disciplines for a hobby. I could teach barre too – or at least do my own training here. No one ever really needs to leave the building – other than the well-equipped gym, here’s everything from a post office to doctors, nurses and physiotherapists to massage therapists to nap pods to barista-run cafes to various wonderful restaurants full of healthy, seasonal foods, with lots of vegan options. While slowly figuring out how I can contribute and create value in this world, I gradually feel more and more at home in it. Every single person I talk to is strikingly welcoming, kind and easygoing. There’s a lot of freedom and flexibility in scheduling your day in terms of where, how and when you work, but a supportive and inspiring network when needed. People are energetic and motivated – they get things done and are willing to stop and listen and to ask and answer questions to help you get things done as well. A great culture through and through, it seems. On Wednesday, my team heads out for a Christmas arts and crafts session (linoleum print!) in Covent Garden, followed by drinks at a pub, and on Thursday, there’s a giant Christmas Party, a winter wonderland of foam snow, hundreds of London-based workers and their partners dressed in their best sartorial interpretations of snowflakes, a variety of vegan foods, a crowded responsibly low-alcoholic bar, cool bands on stage and a dance floor full of glittery elves on stilts and life size plush polar bears. On Friday afternoon, my team has its own intimate Christmas gathering – Christmas jumpers, Christmas music, games, bauble-painting, sparkling wine, wishing each other happy holidays around the world…

After Work. Monday: home-shopping in John Lewis and checking out the Christmas lights in Regent Street, Oxford, Soho, Covent Garden and Mayfair with Sanoop. Tuesday: Coal Drop Yards – there’s always something new and shiny to admire in London, in this case, steel wings and luminous tubes kissing atop Victorian warehouses serving as home to chic boutiques and eateries! Wednesday: Watching When Harry Met Sally in bed. Friday: Mulled wine in cosy Maltby Street Market.

Weekend. On Saturday, we head over to the Hippo for coffee and then take the train into Sloane Square for breakfast at a swanky cafe. We walk over to check out Saatchi afterwards, and then through Chelsea to South Ken to watch the ice-skaters at the Natural History Museum. Lunch in the beautiful cafe at the V & A. Christmas shopping in Harrods. Meet an old friend and walking back through Chelsea with her – for a takeout dinner at her place in Fulham. On Sunday, we go to Kew Gardens, where tears start streaming uncontrollably from my eyes as we step into a tropical greenhouse. I just stand there between the palms and ferns and cry and cry and cry and cry. It occurs to me that I never ‘got to’ cry over leaving Singapore; we left for something good, and we left together. There was nothing to cry over, really, just lots to be excited and feel grateful for. But there is a little girl inside me who still needed/needs to dwell a little bit on the sentimental notion of leaving something good behind (even if it’s for something else that’s good as well). Sanoop comforts me with a hug and a promise that we always can come back here whenever we miss Singapore. I don’t think I’ll be needing that. I think this is all I needed – just a short and sweet cleansing weep. From there, we head up north for some mulled wine at a friend’s place, and at night, we have a cosy roast dinner at No 1a Duke Street, a very swanky and cosy gastro pub in Richmond.

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