Tag Archives: London

Trip Notes: London

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I had a chance to spend part of my summer holidays in London—six days, plus a day and a half on the way back to Singapore—and met quite a few people from different industries such as finance, law, higher education, food and government.

First of all, I can say that London is still London and nothing really has hammered its good mood.

Since the referendum on June 23rd, nothing much has changed except for the fact that EU citizens living in London are preparing themselves to apply for British passports.

Restaurants are full, theatres are colourful and, most importantly, there are tourists all over London, despite what’s going on in continental Europe.

I went to see a dramatised version of George Orwell’s 1984 and it was absolutely great. (Tip: read the book to understand the play better.)

People had apparently had a real shock on that frightening Friday with the referendum results, but it looks like that initial reaction has soon dissipated. With the new government in place very quickly, confidence levels are coming back, though they are still nowhere near the desirable level.

Of the people I spoke to, I can say that none of them showed any intention of leaving the UK following the Brexit vote.

During my stay in London, the only thing that really bothered me was the persistent helicopter hovering over central London, but unfortunately that’s a new normality and we will have to live with it for some time.

Since I have been living in Singapore for the last three years, I keep comparing London with Singapore, and I must admit that the level of service in Singapore is much better than that in London right now. If you are looking for a single example, try to call the British Airways hotline and then call Singapore Airlines.

Another example could be the fantastic BA ground staff at Heathrow Terminal 5. On the way to Italy, the check in process took us 40 minutes due to an incompetent member of staff.

Fintech is growing very fast and I visited level 39 at 1 Canada Square to see how these people are doing. It looks like they are doing okay-ish, in that they are now situated on levels 39 to 42.

Canary Wharf management had to decide how to fill up the vacant space after banks began to pull out (or simply went bankrupt, like Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers) and they decided to divide the space into pieces and rent the space to fintech companies, since they are growing very fast.

It would not be a surprise to see many fintechs in Canary Wharf in the near future.

Even though Brexit looks ugly and frightening right now, a nation with great negotiation skills demonstrated over the course of centuries makes me feel quite comfortable.

With a proposal to reduce the corporate tax level to 15 per cent and possible personal income tax reductions, it would be very attractive for many people to stay or even to return to the UK.

London is really unique and it has its own vibe compared with the rest of the country. Sometimes I think that it would make sense for London to have a special zone status within the rest of the UK.

From my point of view, the biggest challenge ahead for the UK is how to educate the uneducated and low skilled parents to make sure their children are part of the country’s future success. Access to education in the UK is free for everyone, but unfortunately a proper education is only enjoyed by a fraction of the population.

Last but not least, I paid visits to many book stores, including my favourite, Daunt Books at Marylebone, and bought some more books. These are Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall, Germany by Neil MacGregor, This is London by Ben Judah, An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Education by Tony Little and When Breath becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.

I have already read Prisoners of Geography and I really like the book. I will be writing a book review on it in the coming weeks.

If you are looking for a restaurant tip, go to Oka for sushi on Kings Road.

I may still be biased but, having travelled to 53 countries now, nothing can really beat London.

All the best from Singapore,

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

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A weekend in London – What would I do?

I lived in London for 7.5 years and I became a true Londoner in this period of time. Since I have been living in Singapore for the last 2.5 years, I sometimes miss London, and whenever I have a chance to go to London, it is a great opportunity for me to get into my old routine for a few days.

What would I do in a weekend in London?

London, the capital, is a place where new ideas are generated so it is a place to visit museums, shows, restaurants but, most importantly, bookstores. You will not get any night life advice here.

In a typical weekend, I would start my day walking to Marylebone: this is my London centre since I lived in Bickenhall Street for 3.5 years.

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Marylebone is a very special place for me as I have a lot of memories of every single corner of it, and my first visit would be Daunt Bookstore on Marylebone.

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Technology is evolving and many argue that books will be history, since a lot of people have already shifted to e-books. Daunt Bookstore definitely fights quite strongly against this idea.

It is a great place for me to spend a couple of hours. It is an Edwardian bookstore with long oak galleries. This bookstore specialises in travel books, but there are other sections such as history and literature. I love to look through its travel books, but I would always buy a history, politics or economics book over a travel book. Since this is my first stop early in the morning, I won’t buy any books but I decide on what to buy on my return.

Now the long walk to Hampstead starts.

I cross the Marylebone Road and reach Regent’s Park, where I spent many of my early mornings and late nights. Through Regent’s Park, I reach Prince Albert Road and then I continue to walk towards Hampstead. The nonstop walk will take about an hour to reach beautiful Hampstead Heath.

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My stop would be at The Wells, a gastropub, by Hampstead Heath. It is a family friendly pub with an evolving menu. I would stop here for an hour or two before heading back to Marylebone to buy the books that I decided to buy earlier.

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I find a lot of similarities between Marylebone and Hampstead Heath. A boutique cinema chain (Everyman) and my favourite bookstore Daunt Books are only two of them. I feel both have distinct characteristics, not like Chelsea, and they are both true London boroughs.

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The time would hit 4–5 pm now and I would have to go and leave my books and maybe rest a bit. I have a lot of favourite restaurants in London, and I would prefer Big Easy on Kings Road, Alounak in Westbourne Grove or a new London restaurant recommended by a friend.

If I could a squeeze in a theatre at night, that’s perfect. Sometimes it is quite difficult, but I would definitely try.

The walk should take about 17–18 km that day. In other words, around 35,000 steps. Not too bad! And thank God that London is flat.

I would wake up as early as possible on my second and final day in London. I would try to go to Trafalgar and Covent Garden, to walk without any aim. Then I would walk to Parliament and would cross Waterloo Bridge.

This would enable me to walk towards London Bridge and should take about 45 minutes. On my way, there are the Tate Modern, a nice pub by the river, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and Vinopolis—which I heard that it is closing down.

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Lunchtime should be about there and I would take a cab or a tube from London Bridge and go to my favourite spot once more, Marylebone. My lunch would take place at Casa Becci, an authentic Italian restaurant run by an Italian family for a long time.

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It is a very simple restaurant and price friendly, but, most importantly, great simple Italian food. My favourite here would be Spaghetti Aglio E Olio.

Unfortunately, the weekend has come to an end. I have to take a flight to continue wherever I need to go. I should walked about 15,000 steps that day, or in other words 10–11 km. Not bad!

London is not an easy city to live in, but it is definitely one of the best!

P.S. Most of my walking sessions started at Chelsea Bridge Wharf over the last three years as my beloved friend, Hakan Dikmen, kept hosting me without grumbling. Thank you, Hakan—you are such a great host!

All the best from Singapore.

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

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A Decade Away from Istanbul

The date of 15 September 2015 marks the completion of a decade away from Istanbul in my native land, Turkey.

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It is always good to look back and analyse your challenges, mistakes and successes to improve yourself.

I am still young but a completely different person from who I used to be.

What has been my experience in the last 10 years?

I would definitely rate my experience as 10 out of 10.

Here are the reasons why.

Once I was out of my comfort zone, I realized what a spoiled upbringing I had had.

Your parents want to give you everything and that’s not really good.

I was living in central London and I had some of my old friends from Turkey and new friends from my courses.

Initially, it was too much fun!

But then I realized that I had to wash my clothes, change my bed linen and even sometimes cook!

I truly wasn’t aware of all these tasks being done by somebody else all those years!

Lesson #1: The first few weeks in London taught me that I had good intellectual capacity, but I was not at all prepared for everyday life.

Even paying the bills on time and keeping track of what I spent was a totally new concept for me.

Once I started to get going with the basics, I was fine but I was not aware that life was about to get tough.

Without being immodest, I can say that my graduate course on international business economics was going very well. I was very confident that I would be one of the very few students who would get a distinction at the year’s end and I did!

In the meantime, I started liking the challenges and most importantly London! And I made the decision to stay there.

So I needed to find a proper job.

Istanbul was my playground and I could reach anybody through my network but London was something new. I did not know anybody except a few friends who were also students.

Lesson #2: I learned that I had to rely on myself to get things done. Nobody would give me a job here as I have no contacts in London.

So I started networking and applying !

This was a great challenge.

And I did it!

Now I had a job and I stayed in London.

New challenges lay ahead.

I enrolled on a graduate programme for new employees from all over the world: Brazil, Greece, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, the UK, Germany, Iran…

While I was a student, I chose whom to spend time with.  A new episode in my life was about to start…

Lesson #3: I understood how important it is to interact with everybody, not only with loved ones!

More importantly, I learned that I have to build relationships with those I don’t like as well!

Having been in London for some years, I had friends now from all over the globe.

Time was ticking by and I was exposed to many different cultures, which fostered my curiosity and confused me as well, sometimes.

Lesson #4: This encouraged me to travel to different countries to understand my friends’ cultures and I also read a lot about them.

I should know the history of people with whom I am dealing and more importantly I should understand their background and what influences their decisions.

And then I discovered that I don’t even know my own background properly. Unfortunately, history lessons in Turkish high schools are not wide-ranging.

I am still learning…

Lesson #5: As Richard Branson famously says, “The more you travel, the more you read and the more you read, the more you travel”. I am in a learning circle right now which I doubt I will ever want to leave.

A Danish gentleman, Peter Klein, was my first CEO and I remember what he told me during my first days of employment.

“University does not teach you much but it does teach one main thing and that is the ability to update yourself continuously”.

Maybe university did not do that but living abroad in the last decade definitely did !

To sum up, I had a really fantastic decade living outside my comfort zone. It became so addictive that I am not sure I want to step into my comfort zone again.

I encourage you all, especially new graduates, to get out of your comfort zone and work abroad.

Unfortunately, the world is not so rosy and the best way to learn is to get out of your comfort zone and mix with different types of people.

All the best from Singapore

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

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