I’ve always wanted to visit Platform 9 3/4. I remember reading the last Harry Potter book in the middle of the night sitting by the lamp in the kitchen while my brother was gaming with his friend next door. It was raining and windy outside, and I remember the light slightly flickering now and then. I was racing through the chapters while tears were making my vision blurrier and blurrier. It was a wonderful time…
There was a guy who was in charge of holding the scarves of people getting their picture taken. He looked as if he was having the most horrible time of his life. Poor guy.
The rest of the day was spent browsing the pop-up mall in Boxpark Shoreditch. My friends and I all bought ourselves a pair of fancy Urbanears earbuds. They’re probably going to haunt me in my dreams for as long as I live – not because they’re of poor quality, on the contrary, but because of how expensive they were. I almost regret buying them. Almost. Maybe. Yesss.
Next stop was South Bank, a fancy artsy place with skaters roaming the ground floor. I had a Haloumi wrap, which tasted very salty, yet delicious, with questionable content. I say questionable, because I had no idea what I was eating. I thought it was extremely salty chicken, but it turned out to be grilled goat/sheep/cow cheese. And I strongly dislike cheese.
We swung by a little chocolate shop on the way. They had a lovely chocolate tree. I wish I had a picture to show, because it was magical!
Day 5: Wicked
Thursday was the day of our musical, Wicked. I haven’t seen The Wizard of Oz before, so I initially wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to enjoy it as much as my friend who has. But, I’m glad I went, because it was fantastic!
There was a huge dragon over the scene which moved during the play. It seemed as if it was alive! The actors and actresses were amazing. We had a stand-by for the lead role of Elphaba for our show, and she was absolutely stunning. The costumes and everything on the scene were just as remarkable.
If you haven’t seen it yet, I strongly recommend you go see it if you ever get the chance. I know I’m definitely going to more musicals in the future. It was the best way to end one of the loveliest trips I’ve been on.
On Monday, we decided to spend the day shopping. Better get that out of the way as quickly as possible, we thought.
Breakfast was served at The Attendant, a café styled in the manner of a public toilet. Of course I was dragging my friends there! There were cold, green aluminium stools cramped together to create a cozy atmosphere. I had a whole chicken wrap. Felt just perfect. The actual sitting area was more toilet-y than the actual toilet, because some of the tables had a sort of porcelain toilet bowl on them and the tiles on the walls looked rather shabby.
Dinner was Italian pizza. Our waitress was super cute. She had that raspy type of voice.
Day 3: M&M’s World
Tuesday was the day of sightseeing. On our way to M&M’s World, we swung by Nickelodeon, Trafalgar Square (by accident) and Central Saint Martin before rounding the day off with Buckingham Palace.
We were hit with a wall of chocolate smell. So much chocolate concentrated in one place – it was overwhelming. A huge red double-decker bus with a blue (rather stoned-looking) M&M inside was there to greet us.
Two of my gals and I planned a 5-day-trip to London earlier this year.
We left on Sunday morning, June 21st, for our 1 pm plane and met at the airport. We chilled for a while at the tax free department, sniffing some perfume and oogling at the huge tins of Oreos.
Sunday was spent trying to figure out how to get ourselves from Gatwick Airport to our hotel. We eventually found ourselves on the Gatwick Express, and while enjoying a round of cards, the conductor announced that we were now stopping at Elephant & Castle, which was our stop. We promptly stopped mid-motion and looked each other dead in the eyes. Now?!
As we were rushing to get our things, all I could think of was my precious Totoro deck of cards which I had to shove into my friends backpack. We expected the conductor to announce the stops a couple of minutes prior to actually arriving, but it seems like they don’t do it that way in England (!).
Our next challenge was figuring out the public transportation system. I’ve been to London before with my family, but my role then was purely parasitic, so I had little idea how the system worked. We asked a nice guy working at the railway station for help, and he began the Tale of London’s Public Transportation Ticket System. He had one hell of a British accent, he-he.
We eventually decided on the Oyster Card, which the man initially recommended us to stay away from.
As we were getting our cards, my two companions were matched with a faulty ticket machine which took the money from their cards without spitting out an Oyster card. Our not-so-helpful staff member, Daniel, assured us that the machine sometimes did that, and that he would personally oversee us working the machine the second time to make sure that everything went smoothly.
Nothing went smoothly.
I’ll get the ticket master, Daniel said, and left never to be seen again.
It was all settled in the end, though, after about another half hour or so. They got their money back and their stupid Oyster cards, and we were off on our way to our hotel, which, in comparison, was a bliss. It smelled like the clean bathroom at at that one friend’s house – of a fresh summer breeze with a hint of apple. We slapped ourselves on the Queen-sized beds before we ventured out to the local Chinese restaurant for some well-deserved dinner.
I ordered sweet-n-sour chicken, which came with a curly strand of hair. Oh well.
I finished Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the Worldin December last year on my trip to Japan. Murakami’s book strongly contributed to the sense of wonder and excitement I had when travelling the big cities of this beautiful country. It’s easily one of my top favourite reads.
The book, a science-fiction/surrealism novel, is as magical as the title sounds: It’s filled with glowing unicorns and talking shadows, open wounds and creatures dwelling in the sewers, all while exploring themes such as consciousness and identity, as well as the mysteries around the subconscious mind in a very… satisfying… manner.
My copy even had a map (see the header image)!
The chapters alternate between two parallel narratives. One of them – the Hard-Boiled Wonderland-part – tells about an alternative cyber-punk future where the narrator is a human data processor on his way to some sort of meeting.
The first chapter begins with the narrator taking a what seems to be an incredibly slow elevator to meet someone. The first few paragraphs are all about the narrator’s thoughts about how slow and obscure this elevator seems to be. It’s somewhat amazing how Murakami manages to drag out such a short moment of seemingly no importance to such an extent without it becoming dull.
Upon arrival on his floor, the narrator is greeted by a plump young woman dressed completely in pink from top to toe. And this is when the narrator’s thoughts begin to wander in a sexual direction, of course. A bit cringy to read at some points, because it might be a bit inapproriate at certain moments, but, hey, it’s Murakami.
The narrative parallel to the cyber-punk reality tells of a newcomer to a dream-like world. The place, simply called the Town, is isolated, completely cut off from the outside world by an impenetrable wall. Upon arrival, the narrator is expected to give up his shadow as none of the residents of the Town are allowed to keep their shadow.
Despite refusing to give up his shadow, the only connection to the life he had prior to his arrival, the narrator is forced to leave his shadow at the gates, albeit reluctantly.
I developed a slight affection to the narrator’s shadow, because he took the role of being like an old friend, whose only mission was to watch and take care of you. It was therefore a bit upsetting when the shadow was simply “cut off” from the narrator’s body. Cleaved by the Gatekeeper as if he was nothing but a worthless burden.
The narrator is then assigned a job as the Dreamreader, reading dreams from the skulls of unicorns (OMG!) with the help of the local Librarian. This process is meant to erase everything related to the mind from the Town (creepy, I know). As a result, none of the residents here have a mind of their own.
Unlike the other books I’ve read by Murakami (1Q84 and Tsukuru Tazaki), Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World was exciting with several climactic scenes. There are dramatic escapes from underground creatures, questionable mob-like activity resulting in rampaging of neat kitchens and cutting of expensive clothes – and young girls in men’s pajamases.
The alternating narratives give a fresh break from one world without it becoming confusing to keep track of the parallel storylines. As you read on, you’ll discover that the two storylines converge at one point, and that they are certainly not separate at all. The different elements in the two narratives are all connected in a somewhat logical way.
There were several parts I found intriguing that I had to bookmark. For instance, the parts about the mind. When the narrator in the End of the World is tired from reading dreams, the Librarian warns him that he must not let fatigue set in, and that he should let his body work until it is spent, but keep his mind for himself. Because she, as a native to the Town, lost hers a long time ago. But the narrator is doing nothing but removing every trace of mind when he reads the dreams from the skulls – including his own mind. Ooooh.
All the questions raised in the End of the World-storyline are answered in the storyline of Hard-Boiled Wonderland. There is a reason the enclosed map resembles a brain. (Whaaaat~)
I was a bit thrown off by the ending, to be truly honest. I expected a bit more explaining and a-ha moments near the end, but the ending was as surreal and strange as the story itself. I can’t really complain, as I understand now in hindsight that the ending was meant to be open-ended. It was definitely better than the ending of The Book of Lost Things (if those two books can even be compared).
To conclude: The best book in its genre I have ever laid my hands on. No exception. Truly. The. Best.