1. London - Old Street (Breakfast Club), Shoreditch Grind, the National Gallery, John Finnis on Judicial Power
After playing 40 minutes of tennis with someone who posted an ad on Gum Tree (I'm not even making this up), I rushed to the train station to catch my 11.15am train to London. I was late to leave the house and I was tired from tennis and I didn't want to walk, so I walked a third of the way and got into a cab near St Andrew's Road. The cab driver said that I had a lovely (I cannot remember the exact adjective he used)smile early in the morning. That was needless to say; I was on my way to London.
There is something about London that makes me feel at ease, at peace, at home. Of course, a not-insignificant part of that feeling can be attributed to a sentimental sense of nostalgia when I return to a place where I spent one of the best years of my life; but still, it was also the way I felt when I lived there and accumulated the aforementioned nostalgia. It's probably as simple as this: I feel at home in a big city where the streets are crowded with people all rushing somewhere and the roads are packed with cars and buses, not cars and bicycles. More to the point: I feel at home in such a big city where I hear multiple foreign languages spoken all around me. I love London's multiculturalism, and related to this is its dynamism. It is a mix of all these different things: history, high culture, pop culture, capitalism, fringe interests, street art, bohemia, literature, music, non-Western/European/English culture, almost where East meets West. I definitely still wish that I lived in London, but of course, it does not follow from this wish that I don't enjoy Cambridge. I do; it's just different. It's not what I'm used to, for sure, so I appreciate it for different reasons. But this entry isn't about that, and so I shall not go into it.
The original plan was to go to Birley's at Essex Street to have my favourite salad and then go to the LSE library. At King's Cross tube station, I found myself walking in the direction of the Metropolitan and Circle line when, on an impulse, I decided that what I really wanted to do was to go to Old Street and have the best vegetarian English breakfast in the world at the Breakfast Club.
That was exactly what I did. The food was amazing. Amazing. It was what I craved for during my first couple of weeks in Cambridge when I woke up hungry and wanted English breakfast. I tried it at two different places - Cote and Bill's - and both didn't and couldn't satisfy what I really craved for - Reggie the Veggie from the Breakfast Club. I was so happy I changed my plan. This doesn't happen often, by the way. I am indecisive and therefore inflexible about changing plans after I formulate one. Although I did change my mind on an impulse, it was an impulse that arose again after I suppressed the impulse that came before. That is how inflexible I am.
Anyway, I had coffee at Shoreditch Grind, which was my regular coffee haunt when I lived in Old Street. Oh my god, I hadn't had coffee of that sort since I left Singapore. I haven't tried Hot Numbers in Cambridge which is supposed to be good, and all the other places where I've had coffee have been pretty average. Granted, one of them is the Buttery at the Sidgwick Site, and you can't expect coffee from the university canteen to be good. But still.
I was genuinely torn between being a diligent PhD student and seizing the day and living to the fullest (as far as possible given the time constraints) the fact that I was in London. Alas, the latter won in the end. I took 243 to Aldwych/Somerset House and then walked to the National Gallery, therefore ditching the stuffy and gloomy interiors of the LSE library (no, my nostalgia does not extend to missing the LSE library. It is a shitty library to study in. I much prefer the Squire Law Library, i.e. the Cambridge law library).
It was a brilliant day. The sun was shining, the sky was a brilliant blue, it was not too cold. I can't even put into words the gladness that I felt in my heart. It was almost enough to make me believe that I truly had no care in the world; alas, the weight of the book that I had in my bag (The East Asian Challenge for Human Rights) reminded me otherwise.
What can I say about the National Gallery? I can never appreciate pre-Impressionism art, save for maybe Rembrandt (I wanted to look at the painting that Gerard Woodward wrote about in his Jones trilogy - a painting of Rembrandt's mistress I believe - but I couldn't find it). Early Renaissance, High Renaissance, Baroque...I can't appreciate any of this. The religious paintings generally creep me out, I don't particularly enjoy looking at portraits of people that have no significance to me even if I can appreciate the skills that went into painting those portraits, and some of the landscape paintings are quite beautiful, but my personal preference is for art that tends away from realism.
Ergo, Impressionism. I was particularly struck that day by one of Monet's Water Lilies:
Needless to say, the actual painting is infinitely more arresting, impressive, emotional and moving than this crappy image. It elicited an emotional response in me. I would attempt to explain it, but I can't, and so I shall appeal to the authority of Gustave Flaubert as explained by Julian Barnes (“Flaubert believed that it was impossible to explain one art form in terms of another, and that great paintings required no words of explanation.") and leave it at that.
I will say, though, that I really love the Impressionism masters. There were a couple of Sisleys which weren't as impressive as the ones that I saw in the Musee d'Orsay, but there were also a couple of Pissarro's paintings of Montmartre - one at night and one on a rainy day - that I really loved. There is just something about this whole movement of art that is of such beauty that it takes my breath away, and which cannot be truly captured in words. There is a dreaminess created by the colours and the brush strokes and the unique points of view of some of the artists that enhances and augments the beauty of the world. I think that's the gist of why I love this period so much: these paintings make the world seem more beautiful than it is.
I bought a poster of one of Monet's paintings of Westminster and the Thames, though it wasn't my favourite one. I also bought a mounted print of a Renoir. It was a good purchase; I can't wait to start decorating the bare, drab walls of my dungeon.
As for the John Finnis lecture: I spent the whole time disagreeing with everything that he said. He was basically anti-judicial review. The acoustics in the Gray's Inn room weren't fantastic, so I couldn't catch everything he said. I was also tired after a long day, so my attention wandered sometimes. I will, however, analyse the copy of the lecture that I obtained and discern his reasoning for preferring an almost-strict adherence to separation of powers. I really wonder what his take is on Lim Meng Suang; what should the CA have done in that case, and can it be plausibly argued that the CA's decision was right without an overall loss of constitutionalism and some sacrifice of rights? Of course, what I'm saying now is premised on an underlying theory of rights and judicial review and separation of powers that approximate Dworkin's views (which Finnis referred to and rejected, obviously) but Dworkin's views are the most convincing to me so far. It's all well and good to say that judges should not legislate or update the law or change the law and that these are the functions of the legislature. But what happens if the legislature is unwilling to do so and even explicitly allows a law that has been repealed in many other jurisdictions to stay on the books to placate the conservative preferences of the majority? Is this not, first, an encroachment on the rights of gay men, and second, an impermissible and unjustifiable encroachment? It's one thing to say that the courts cannot decide questions of morality and philosophical balancing of rights and that these things should be left to the legislature; but what if the legislature has considered it and got it wrong? I just don't think that it's an answer to say that the courts can never decide these issues, or that the courts overreach in deciding these issues.
Anyway. I am too tired for this. I shall move on.
I was the last person to leave the law faculty, I believe. It was really creepy when I was alone in the library after 9pm when the library closed, so I finished the chapter that I was reading and left really quickly.
It was all dark and quiet and deserted outside. I told my mom that I feel safer in London than in Cambridge at night, and the reason for that is obvious: London has people and lights and CCTV cameras. Cambridge doesn't. I only saw one other person within the entire Sidgwick site when I was walking out of the site and to the road leading to the main road. It was kind of scary.
Anyway. I have decided to face up to the fact that I never was, am not and will never be productive in the day. As such, the new strategy is to have lunch at home and go to the library and stay there till the night, i.e. 9 or 10. I had an interesting thought at 8.30pm about the universalist rhetoric of the human rights movement and how it is ironically self-defeating because the word 'universal' implies its opposite - relative - and this provides ammunition to detractors of human rights to deny its normative force, on the basis that human rights are relative and therefore not universal (if it's universal, it's not relative; if it's relative, it's not universal). The problem with this thought that it's not substantial and it's also not the focus of my research question.
Speaking of that, I still don't know what my research question is. I want to send out whatever I need to do to my supervisors by the end of Sunday so that I can spend Monday and Tuesday working on the conference paper before meeting them on Wednesday, so I need to figure something out, and fast.
Still, I am having a ball of a time. It is tiring as fuck and I am confused as fuck but it's incredible that I have a legitimate reason to go to the library and read about human rights in Asia. It's just awesome. It would be perfect if I were paid to do this, but hey, that will come in due time.
I should give up on hearing from him more often. Everytime I give up on this, I hear from him out of the blue. This time, he texted me, 'Happy back to the future day.'
Random, right? He is so strange. I sent him my current Facebook profile picture - of me in court attire underneath my gown - and he sent me three heart-shaped eyes emoticon in reply. Omg. Also, we talked on Skype without video. We discussed our December/January plans. It turned out that he's only returning to Singapore at midnight on 12 January, which is when term starts for me. He realised that it would be impossible to meet in Singapore and he expressed his feelings about it - 'This is annoying.'
Here's the silver lining: I haven't booked my flight back to the UK from Singapore yet. This means that my travel plans are extremely flexible. I told him this and he sounded really excited. He said that he'd free up some time to see me if I was willing to cut short my Singapore visit to meet him in Europe, where he would be in December/early January.
Talk about stating the fucking obvious. But he needed to know how important this was, that it wasn't something to be taken lightly, so I said that he should mean it and he shouldn't just be saying it for the sake of it.
He sounded almost incredulous that I said that. 'I'm not just saying it for the sake of it,' he said. 'I want to see you.'
This entire discussion was prompted by my informing him that Wittgenstein's grave is quite near to my college. He didn't know that Wittgenstein was buried in the UK. I said, 'See, you should totally visit.'
I am excited about this too. That said, my heart has been bruised so many times by this thing between us - mainly by how my expectations, created mostly by my insanely intense feelings for him, overshoot the reality of the situation - that I don't want to hope, or have any expectations, just in case I feel crushing disappointment again. I don't doubt that he wants to see me. What I doubt is how much he wants it.
I guess we will see. It will be amazing to see him in Europe in December. It's too bad that he has a conference in Germany in early January; otherwise, I could try and convince him to go back to Singapore earlier. His tickets, unfortunately, have already been booked.
What would be really out of this world amazing, though, is if we went to Greece in June next year. My first year paper is due at the end of May and the viva is probably around the same time, so I'll probably have my summer free. I'm excited just thinking about it - travelling Europe in the summer is one of the best things in the world for me. And going to Greece with G would be the most amazing thing ever.
I haven't mentioned this to him yet. I talk so infrequently to him that I can only say the most important things, and right now, one of them is figuring out a way to meet in December. I did mention that I would probably be done with the PhD in three years if everything goes well and he sounded quite pleasantly surprised.
Anyway. He floats back into my life as and when he pleases. But I think it shows that I still mean something to him. Actually, that is pretty obvious. It goes without saying. But sometimes I forget. And I still wish he were here.
Barry (and his co-editor) has made me one of the editors of the Cambridge Journal of International and Comparative Law. Yay! This is exciting.
I really need to sleep.