On a Sunday morning, I headed to London to meet up with a friend whom I hadn’t seen for over three years. I never thought I’d ever see him again after we parted ways in Hong Kong. Thanks to a class assignment, I got to be reunited with him.


He introduced me to Bethnal Green, a district in East London. That is where he lives now. This is also the part of London I had never been to--and there are so many parts of London I haven’t been to.


The first thing my friend talked to me about, after we said how great it was to see each other again, was how expensive it is to live in London, mainly because of flat rents. He said he thought he’d be fine after he survived Hong Kong’s high cost of living, but it turns out living in the UK’s capital city is still a struggle.


He also told me about the gentrification of the area, and he was glad he managed to find a flat room that charges a reasonable rent. This article shows whereabouts in London “cool kids”--that is, those work in media, culture and sports--have moved to, which indicates a new wave of the capital’s gentrification.


Walking in the streets of Bethnal Green was a comfortable experience, not only because the weather was sunny and warm but because the passersby I saw were ethnically diverse. According to the latest census, more than half of the residents in the Bethnal Green ward are non-whites. That’s one of the reasons that I like being in London--people don’t care if I don’t look like them.


My friend then took me to the Brick Lane Sunday market. I was fascinated by the vibrant atmosphere that it had as well as by the variety of street foods it had to offer. I ended up getting the Korean chicken on rice. If only I could have tried every food stall there. For those history buffs, this article gives a glimpse of what the market looked like back in the 80s and talks about the area’s immigration background.


Despite only a few hours’ stay in this part of London, I felt I gained a bit new understanding of the UK’s capital city. I usually end up in central London where most tourists are when I visit London. This trip to Bethnal Green, however, gave me a chance to see more of real, local Londoners’ daily lives. For tourists, London may be all about shopping, fine dining and museums. For residents of the city, however, not falling behind with rent or grabbing some cheap eats at the market is just part of the reality of dwelling in London.


Finally I said goodbye to my friend. A second later he vanished among legions of people in the streets of London, just as when we went our separate ways in the streets of Hong Kong a couple years ago.  


A trip to London