Aunt Jenny is an old family friend who I know since I was very little, in fact she knew my mum even before I was born. Jenny now resides in the UK, having migrated there and living in Hampshire with her husband Uncle Raymond, they have 2 children. My mum had been in contact with her all the while and she also serves as our main UK point of contact whenever we are visiting the United Kingdom.
Naturally, Aunt Jenny was the first thing on my mother’s mind and consultant of choice when she learned of my decision to study in the UK. This is also particular in helping me integrate into a distant foreign country. Well, not that I am not integrating well myself, but I guess she just wanted to “be sure”.
The Plowmans had the honour of inviting me over to spend Christmas with her family and I am humbled to do so, it being my first Christmas December over. Personally it’s quite an eye opener to live with a traditional British family. I stayed over for almost a week in between my trips between London and Cardiff where their home near south Hampton surprising serves as a very good transition point between my trip as well. I got to know their family and way of better. I was like an anthropologist, observing the life and family roles of a new found species to document in a science documentary.
Views of their snow covered neighborhood in winter, sights we can only dream of in Singapore (Fullsize)
Housing in the UK are most private landed homes, with land abundance everywhere they are the preferred housing option compared to apartments, which are actually non-existent in the UK except in the big cities. This is so also given the many building height restrictions in the area as most countryside and towns are free fly zones for private recreational planes as well. Then there come the interesting land laws I was told, particularly claiming ownership of anybody’s if you’ve stayed and maintained it for over 5 years.
Integration was great, I made myself at home in no time. I stayed at their daughter’s room who lives in her own home but will be back over Christmas with the family. I the mean time, I have her whole room to myself. 😛
I remembered passing by some magnificent views of the country side on my way to their home. Both Uncle Raymond and Jenny were at the train station to pick me up and gave me a lift home. I will touch on the views of the nearby country side later, but in the meantime, here are some excellent photos.
Oh yes, back to food, it was different. Generally eating out is very expensive in the UK, so usually cooking at home is a very viable, not to mention economical way to dine as well. Jenny is a very good cook too! When I first came into the UK, I never quite caught on the “1 hot dish a day” lifestyle, with only a hot meal eaten either for lunch or dinner. Sandwiches are eaten to top-up the rest of the other meals such as breakfast, lunch/dinner. We Asians in comparison are so used to eating hot cooked meals for lunch and dinner daily. No wonder my college dorm mates never understand why I have to always cook 2 times a day on weekends!
But sandwiches are not too bad either, with that as a staple comes the varieties of toppings and preparation styles which can go with them, all heartily taught by Aunt jenny herself, who happens to be one of the best home cooks I’ve ever met too. She found my love for cheesecake and sweet pickled bread- to the extent of myself stocking them all up in college after my trip home!
I was a man on a mission too, to gather all the best recipes from Jenny so my mum can try them out at home too. Jenny shared with me all her cook books, websites and magazine clippings containing particularly her strawberry cheesecake.
Christmas dinner was yummy, not to mention interesting as well. The spread was big- bit too big for lunch when I first saw the spread. I was naive, thinking that if Christmas lunch was this big, will Dinner even be digger? What will I be missing then? Later do I know that Christmas dinner is usually a big hearty meal served around 2-3pm around lunch time, culture I never quite understood. Breakfast is actually “breakfast” or “lunch”, dinner is usually eaten during lunchtime and dinner from what I know of is known as supper. Go figure!
Sights of Yately
Throughout my stay, Uncle Raymond brought me sightseeing around the country side near town, namely their iconic horseshoe lake, rivers, parks and castles. Horseshoe lake, as the name suggest is presumably is a lake shaped like a horseshoe. Lined along the lake are nice riverside trails which are all dried and compacted from the cold, with some occasional bits of frozen ice which makes trekking abit more of a challenge.
Walking in a temperate forest is an eyeopener for me, firstly the floral are all new to me and walk is very cool, calming and overall a rather enjoyable experience- It’s almost like walking through a spare Singapore tropical forest, only with the air conditioning and de-humidifier always on. The feeling is rather unreal, considering after all my exposure in cross-country running and training the sweaty topics. Beat that!
The winter trails are usually very long and stretches for miles at a go, offering great cross country running route for many of the locals around the area as well. Beats running around in circles in most parks in Singapore! We even got to visit a 12th century castle for keeps too.
Besides natural attractions, they also showed me their main shopping areas around town, as well as tagging along with Aunt Jenny on few of her shopping trips, learning about as well as gathering ingredients for a cheese cake she will be making in the evening so she can teach and demonstrate to me the preparation processes. They also showed me various pubs around town where my parents used to hang out during their UK trips here, in particular few arms pubs which had been around since then till today.
360 views of the Horseshoe Lake and nature reserve. (Fullsize)
There are much differences to how things are done in a traditional Asian family back at home. Particularly the free time they have for family (besides getting used to their diets too!) Back in Singapore, everyone works, hoping to get the “best” out of life and climbing up in carrier advancement, often at expense of family time. The work-life balance in the UK is very good and there will always be family time for everybody, even the shops closes early at 5pm so store owners can spend time with their family members as well- a stark contrast to life in Singapore.
Moreover, it seems owning a car in UK is very much justifiable as opposed to Singapore as well. The car here, particularly in bigger countries are workhorses. Faithfully to the job. For motorheads, it also justifies the love and passion of driving, the highway and countryside roads here are just excellent to drive on. No wonder almost every family member in the family owns a car each.
As well every journey embarked comes a time of farewell too. I was treated to a farewell dinner at a local Chinese restaurant on the night before my departure back to London. Conicentally, the owner of the resultant was from Singapore as well, the creepy thing is that she used to stay not far from where I am currently living as well. What a small world.
Thanks Aunt Jenny, Uncle Raymond and family for a fantastic time out and dinner. Will definitely be looking forward to next year’s. =)
More photos of the trip in the Hampshire photo album.