I’ve been sharing so many snaps of Copenhagen lately you’d think I’d forgotten about Bristol. But I lived in Bristol for close to 6 years, so I’ve still got some places to share with you yet 🙂
Ashton court and Leigh woods was great place for quarantine/lockdown walks. The woodland and open meadow are quite spacious and you’re surrounded by some picturesque scenes. And if you live more centrally, without a bike or a car, I reckon this is pretty much the only big ‘nature’ walk you can get within walking distance to the city centre. Check it out:
Today is exactly 2 months since I arrived to Denmark. I’ve queued up this post because I’ll be travelling back to Copenhagen today from a weekend away celebrating my partner’s birthday 🙂
Though not much else has happened or changed since my last update, I guess I can now say I have met someone ‘special’ here. I won’t bore you with the details except to say it’s making a positive impact on my life overall 🙂 Besides that, the weather has taken a turn for the worse, if we can call that news (how English of me to talk about the weather so often). I mean it feels like it’s been raining non-stop for the entire month of July. No big deal, though – I’m already used to rainy summers thanks to being from Korea (we have the most humid monsoon seasons) and having lived in the UK previously.
Anyhow, this has meant a lot of indoor days and museum trips. I’ll share some snaps in upcoming posts. Many museums and attractions are half price during this summer period in particular, and some of them have days where you can visit for free anyway. So I’ve been trying to take advantage of that. Just the other day I went to a Korean-born Danish artist’s exhibition! It’s great to be “new” in a city over summertime because you really feel like you are on an extended vacation and don’t get bored or feel a need to travel elsewhere – at least I don’t really! And since we get so much nordic summer light here it’s really a blessing to get off work ‘on time’ – as in 5pm before everything closes – and to make the most of what’s left of the day. Honestly, it feels like you can have two complete days in one – the time you spend at work, and the leisurely activities you can enjoy around the city after work before it gets dark around 10-11pm.
Besides that, I don’t necessarily have exciting adventures to report. Everyone at work is basically on holiday here, as July tends to be the ‘holiday’ month for employees in Denmark. Personally, I’ve been pretty busy with work and will be for the foreseeable future so I don’t anticipate that I will take any time off. As I’ve mentioned in my previous update, though, the work/life balance is pretty good here so I don’t feel like I’m missing out.
The thing that’s mind-blowing to me right now is that last year July, right around this time, I graduated from my PhD. I know I keep going on about all these developments in my life but I really hadn’t the faintest idea what I would do with my career this time last year. I felt like a complete fraud putting on my fancy robes for what felt to me a ceremony to validate that I am overqualified, overeducated, and with no purpose in the real world (you have to remember, I was unemployed when I graduated).
If anyone had told me last year on my graduation day that in exactly a year’s time I would be 2 months into my second academic job (in Denmark of all places!), living in a French-style apartment in the middle of the coolest neighbourhood in Copenhagen, happier than I have ever been in my life, completely smitten with the first person I met here…well, I would have told them those kind of stories don’t get written for foreigners like me 😉 I mean you really have no idea…I used to fantasise about not getting deported, that was my threshold for a good life! I’ve always felt like a little nomad, an outsider, with no real home to speak of, trying to make it somewhere in a sea of obstacles. I’ve always felt like my life story was constantly changing course and being re-written. And I’d wondered if my story would ever ‘settle’. Maybe it never will. But what I have right now – a few years of stability – is good. It’s the best possible reprieve from my anxieties about the grand uncertain narrative that is my life (and I suppose, the universe).
It occurs to me that I haven’t really kept up with my Sunday musings posts, and I think the reasons for that are: first, that it feels a bit arrogant to assume strangers are actually interested in my passing thoughts, and second, I’ve been occupied with living my life. So, I’m not sure how frequent the text-only posts will be. I’ve always found that when I’m super content or happy with my life I don’t have much to say by way of writing out prose. In a weird way, dissatisfaction is often more inspiring than happiness, which is sort of more banal (not that this is an unwelcome thing!) But if you are in a generous mood, do feel free to give me ideas for things I could reflect about.
I’ve already posted quite a few photos by Bristol Harbour on my blog. But I have so many photographs of this place from my walks before I left for Denmark, so here are a couple in the afternoon/evening light.
Bristol has this reputation of being the next best thing after London when it comes to desirable places to live in the UK. I’m pretty skeptical about that reputation. The supposedly “cool” features I read about Bristol are way overblown, like the fact that Banksy is from Bristol (most of his works in Bristol have been destroyed, by the way), that Massive Attack is from Bristol, that it’s “cheaper than London”, or that it’s a “diverse” and “multicultural” place (diverse or multicultural in terms of what?). Truth is it has its fair share of flaws like any other major city: it’s difficult to find housing, it has a homelessness problem, there are stark inequalities between neighbourhoods.
Having lived in the city for a number of years of course gives me a different perspective compared with that of a non-resident or tourist. But I’m also surprised at how unsentimental I feel about Bristol now, despite having left the city under such exceptional and bittersweet circumstances. I mean Bristol really is the place I’ve lived the longest since legally turning into an adult. I had many Big Life Moments in Bristol, like getting my PhD there. And so many people I care about and have extremely close and meaningful relationships with still live in Bristol. In the past year especially I was really “finding my way” and gaining important experiences in terms of my career and relationships – despite many mishaps.
In the end, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I had to deport myself out of the UK with no chance for proper goodbyes thanks to the ongoing lockdown. You’d think it would feel like leaving part of my heart behind. You’d think I’d agonise about the “what ifs” I never got to live out on account of everything. But no. I only cried tears of joy because I felt like I finally arrived when I made it to Denmark, having spent the last couple of months in Bristol feeling like I had somewhere else to be, yet nowhere to go and no chance of going. When I finally got out, it was as if I was released from some kind of purgatory. I’d been futilely waiting for answers to questions people still stuck in the UK have to ask themselves constantly – “What is my immigration status? Will I or won’t I get in trouble with the Home Office?” Still, my ambivalence about Bristol is not merely down to this hassle. I think I had my moment of “I’m ready to leave Bristol” for a pretty long time now, like way before this new chapter in Denmark materialised. But how did that feeling come about? I’m not sure.
It makes me think a person’s relationship to – and experience of – a place has more to do with the meanings a person happens to attach to that place, rather than about any ‘objective’ feature about it. You won’t love a place just because it ticks a bunch of boxes. You won’t hate a place just because it doesn’t. And while it’s certainly true that we can measure the “good” of certain places with lots of factors, I think a person’s physical placement in the world really is like an intimate relationship. It’s a type of relationship that is not only characterised by lofty ideals (like when people buy a one-way-ticket out to big cities to make their dreams come true), but also by one’s being embedded somewhere physically, spiritually, and in Time (like if I were to say, “I am a true Bristolian now”). Of course, there’s lots of reasons and explanations for why a person may come to be in a particular place. Yet how a person makes do with that place, how a person fits in with that place, and the veering back and forth between love, hate, and everything in between for that place – that seems to me as inexplicable as the constancy between pairings of significant others through thick and thin. There’s always an X factor when it comes to how we end up seeing, being, and treating ourselves in different parts of the world. Any thoughts?
Well, maybe I’ll save that topic for another day. I can’t believe I’ve just become one of those people who feels compelled to share some banal life story just to share a couple of pictures, ha ha. But I do still want to mention some things about Bristol that really did grow on me. I can’t complain about the food scene (if you ever visit – do ask me for recommendations for places to eat), the lovely aerial views you get in different neighbourhoods thanks to all the hills (though I hated the actual hills), the Harbourside on a sunny day, the circus artists you see juggling or slacklining in basically every green space, the fact that people play psytrance of all things on the boombox in family-friendly parks, the general celebration of creativity and artists around the city, and the cool/weird/wild music scene and night life enjoyed by most age groups without shame (inexplicable 4am bonfire raves in the middle of the street and all – if you live in certain areas).
Now, one place I do think brings together some of the likeable elements of Bristol quite nicely is North Street in Bedminster. Bedminster is a neighbourhood fairly close to the Harbour. It houses plenty of pubs, restaurants, and cafes – on a “normal”, nice day, the place would be teeming with people (I guess in the UK a nice day is just one that doesn’t rain and isn’t impossibly chilly). I even used to work at the Tobacco Factory Market, which hosts some of the best food stands in Bristol and is one of the liveliest place you can be on a Sunday afternoon in the city.
Even during a lockdown, the length of North Street is a great place to explore because there’s so much street art to look at. Normally every year in summertime it plays host to Upfest, the largest street art festival in Europe, which explains the particular abundance of murals in the area. Last year a Greta Thunberg piece was commissioned by the Tobacco Factory which went on to get approval from Greta herself and garner worldwide attention. I’ll share below a couple more pieces that I spotted on North Street. I’ve identified all the artists responsible for these wonderful murals, so do check them out as well.
After almost six years of living in Bristol, I got so accustomed to the place I even stopped taking photos of the city. But I dusted off my old DSLR the other week – heaven knows the last time I took my camera on a day out – to capture some of my favourite spots on my Harbourside walk. Bristol is only really nice for like three months in a year (if that…ha) but I could spend every single day on the Harbourside when it’s warm and sunny like this. I mean just look at these views…