Whistle-stop return22 April 2023
When I formally migrated back to the UK I was pretty much at the end of my tether due to the local lock-down and general uselessness of the authorities, with my move to London being for the simple need to get on with my life and since then basically never looked back. However circumstances required me to make a trip back and this coincided with an old friend wanting to see the city so decided to make a mini-holiday of it all. Overall the trip went about as well as I could have realistically expected and here are some thoughts I wrote while I was over there, and while part of me had beforehand not wanted to make such a trip overall I have no regrets about doing so.
Practical purpose of visitFor some reason I had been unable to access funds I had in my remaining Euro-denominated bank account here, and based on past trouble I had with the local banks decided it best to walk into my branch with every single piece of paperwork they could possible ask for. There was still almost €38,000 or so sitting in it so this was a trip I would not put off indefinitely, particularly as I had decided to repatriate the bulk of my non-sterling holdings, and as a friend had been asking me about the city decided to just do it while they were also over there. Through a combination of branch-provided phone calls to the accounts department and front-desk cashier contact that got elevated to manager level, the issue was my account being “inactive” — which they define as no incoming transactions even though there are outgoing ones like account fees — and that the bank had adopted a policy of closing such accounts for people who were non-resident.
A draft for the closing balance would not have been much use to me so I had to fill out a paper form in order to get the funds transferred into my ForEx account, a process not helped by them giving me the wrong form. Overall I was in the branch for two hours which was very annoying but at least everything was sorted in a single sitting. It was nevertheless the cutting of one of my few remaining ties to the place and this was going to inevitably have an affect on me.
AccommodationAs long as the bedroom is a private room I am not fussy about accommodation but that aside I stayed in what was a dump even by the standards of run-down guest houses I have stayed in over the years. Back in 2013 when I was still looking for accommodation I was a regular on this street but that was a phase of my life that I do not look back at with any fondness, and while this particular guest house had a private bedroom it was otherwise was as basic as it could have possibly been, and I am pretty sure back when I first moved to the city I had stayed at this venue. The whole road is known for run-down guest houses but in this case £3xx for 5 nights was outright price-gouging — back in 2013 I was spending something more like €15–20 a night. However it got the job done and given the circumstances the price was good compared to the alternatives, even if the latter would have been far better, and at the end of the say it served its purpose.
Old hauntsOn the first day I dropped by quite a few watering holes in what was my local area prior to 2020 but many of them were closed and of those that were open all but one I did not feel much enthusiastic to be back in — the subtle differences with both the places and the circumstances. My number one local was a place called Kings Inn and I asked how the owners — Alex and Ronan — were doing and to send them my regards, and apparently Alex recognised me on the remote CCTV system they have there and asked the barman on duty to give me a free drink. I was told he would be in the following evening so I switched around my plans to be there that evening and went elsewhere for the remainder of the first day, although in some ways that place was a bit of a disappointment. Although I did come across a place or two that I thought was due to be demolished but had actually reopened, I noticed quite a few venues had either closed down or had curtailed their opening times.
Of all places on my main bucket list that I could have visited there was only one I did not but with limited time it was too much of an ask to fit it in, although I managed to fit in some other places I had not planned to go. At times it felt like being in auto-pilot but it was better to properly enjoy a few select places than the rush of trying get a little of as much as possible. This is after all a past life I had long accepted had been put to rest, albiet not in the way I would have wanted.
Touristy vs. locals stuffAs part of the trip I decided to try some of the things and places that tourists flock to but one never does when actually living in a place and subsequently regret not doing so when it would have been easy — a regret I have looking back at New Zealand but not so much my time in Shanghai. Crazily my friend thought that a single night would be enough to see everything and even before the first day was over was already making noises about trying the place again. On my last full day I went along to some meetups but they left with the mixed feeling of being back but also being held back because it would not be long before being gone again, and that means actively avoiding any sort of attachments. All in this was the expected difficulty of being a visitor somewhere that was once a long-term home.
How the place comparesOne question that inevitably comes into my mind is would I want to live in the place once again and that comes down to what I miss of the place, but from asking around the place is far from the same it was pre-Covid so it would not be simply slotting into the previous life where it was left just over three years ago. One of the few things I really miss was the Korean meetup and was disappointed that I was not able to attend due to it changing day, but I was told that it was now mostly those into K-Pop rather than many actual Koreans. Many other thing have actually gone backwards, such as that upmarket supermarket I used to drop by work closing their deli service at barely half three in the afternoon whereas in the past they would be well stocked up until at least six in the evening, but the real killer is accommodation which I was told had not improved and suspected had actually got worse. It was ultimately not wanting to deal with the awful accommodation & property situation that was the final push for me to get out of the place.