Friday, 4 May 2007
Two Java Chip Banana Frappuccino Blended Coffees in the Park
Alex Horne – 4th May 2007
Still on a roll from last week’s article I set off again for the City of London, this time to meet someone called Violeta from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
This time, however, things didn’t go quite so smoothly. We’d agreed to meet at the Starbucks on Fleet Street. After sitting in the Starbucks on Fleet Street for quarter of an hour I was told that there was actually more than one Starbucks on Fleet Street (I probably should have guessed, especially considering that Owen is currently doing a show in which he reveals the two closest Starbucks in London). By the time I took the hundred odd steps along Fleet Street to Starbucks No.2, there was no sign of Violeta there either. We’d missed each other. Still, we have each other’s email addresses and I’m sure we can meet more successfully soon.
Fortunately I still had my second engagement to fulfil so grabbed some lunch in an independent coffee shop then took the Northern Line down to Clapham Common where I’d very specifically arranged to meet Andrew, an Indonesian. He arrived, bang on time, the sun was shining, everything was ok again. We decided to get some coffees and sit in the park. Looking round, it was clear the closest café around was… yes, Starbucks. We bought a couple elaborate iced coffees, found a suitably sun-drenched spot and started talking.
Andrew is a 29 year old architect. I can’t remember ever meeting an architect before but for some reason knew that it’s a profession that demands respect. ‘Oh yes, that’s true over here’, says Andrew. ‘There is a lot of admiration for design in the UK, but not in Indonesia’. ‘Ah’, I say, trying to figure out why that might be. ‘I guess that’s because London’s buildings are so old and grand and there’s so much history and -’ ‘Oh no’, says Andrew, ‘it’s just that Indonesia is a developing country. Design is less important than other things’. Good point. It’s so easy when you know the answers.
We chat about working as an architect in London and it soon becomes apparent that Andrew is an extremely competent confident chap. I like him a lot. He lives in Angel now and has to endure ‘sardine-tin conditions’ between there and London Bridge on his way to the office every day but says he enjoys living and working in the respective locations so it’s just about worth it. ‘I live with a few other Indonesian friends there. It’s a good place. Most Indonesians live in Hendon’, he tells me. ‘They call it Hendonesia’. I like that a lot too.
The office, he says, is made up of 27 people, about half of whom are from overseas. ‘There is an obvious division between the locals and foreigners’, explains Andrew. ‘Nothing bad but the people from abroad tend to hang around together, as do the people from the UK. It’s just natural. I’m sure it would happen back home too. See that girl over there, she’s a Malaysian’, I look to where he’s pointing and regret that we’ve already found our Malaysian. ‘We often come out here when it’s sunny. We normally have a kick around over there’.
Andrew started work in Clapham in 2004 and is now working on a project for Brighton’s West Pier. His company, headed by a Swiss-French boss, were responsible for the hugely successful London Eye and are currently planning something similar for the seaside town close to where I grow up. Back in October soon after starting this project, I’d stood with my bird-watching dad and watched as 100,000 starlings performed one of their magnificent murmurations one huge flock flying in unbelievable formations between the two piers before coming to roost in the famously dilapidated structure that has been deteriorating for longer than I’ve been alive. In 2009 a 183 metre high observation team will have brought new life to the area with a pod holding 200 people at a time allowing visitors spectacular views back over Sussex or out towards France, largely thanks to Andrew and his small team. Even the starlings won’t mind too much as a large portion of the old pier will be left lounging in the sea for posterity. The people of Brighton, he says, have been entirely supportive.
It’s clearly a pretty good architects firm. After completing a bachelors degree in Indonesia, Andrew took his masters at the Architecture Association on Gower Street, one of the two main internationally recognised schools in London (the other being the Bartlett School of Architecture at UCL). ‘I always wanted to be an architect – ever since first grade’, he smiles. I’m a little jealous of someone who knew exactly what they want to do so early. ‘Yes, it’s great if you love what you do. If you’re passionate about your job, everything becomes much easier’. I guess I am passionate about this project, but I certainly didn’t know I wanted to go round meeting people from every country in the world when I was six years old. I think I wanted to be Ian Rush (I know my little brother Chip always said he wanted to be ‘an army’).
So, what next for Andrew? Will he return to Indonesia? ‘There is always that idea’, he tells me. ‘I always think; ‘next year, maybe next year’. But I like London. I feel well appreciated here. And it is architecturally very interesting’. We chat, for perhaps the first time in my life, about London’s architectural make up. ‘Well, firstly’, explains Andrew patiently, ‘the economy is amazing here at the moment. There are so many jobs. And that’s great for the buildings. But it’s not really a European feel. It’s not like Paris or Berlin. It’s a lot more… practical here’. I agree, glad that I’ll know what to say if this conversation crops up again. ‘One thing that you can definitely feel about London’, he continues, ‘is that it’s composed out of small villages like Hampstead Heath or Clapham’ – ‘Or Kensal Green’, I offer enthusiastically before telling him all about the West London cemetery near my home (see UK) where Isambaard Kingdom Brunel, the only architect I know (well, engineer, but Andrew kindly said there wasn’t really a difference back then) was buried. I’m pleased we seem to be getting on well.
‘Jakarta is completely different’, says Andrew. He was born and raised there and says it’s a typical South East Asian city; ‘chaotic, noisy, a high crime rate – which is fine if you’re into that sort of thing. It’s certainly got a great night life’. I tell him I don’t think that doesn’t sound all that different from London but Andrew laughs, ‘London is absolutely more relaxed. Yes, it’s a lot faster than other cities in Europe. But Asia is so much more hectic!’ Looking round at the various clumps of people eating lunch and drinking smoothies in the park, I admit he’s got a point. ‘He’s a Brazilian’, he adds, subtly pointing out another of his colleagues relaxing in the sun behind me.
As usual, I rack my brains to think of other things I know about Indonesia. Living in Jakarta his family weren’t affected physically by the tsunami of Boxing Day 2004 and we both skirt around the subject. ‘We’re in the news twice today!’ Andrew says after a while and eagerly points out two articles in today’s Metro; one, a picture story of a girl holding a candle at a vigil for the kidnapped BBC journalist Alan Johnston in Jakarta; the other, an environmental story about deforestation in the area with the headline, ‘A Shameful World Record for Indonesia’. Andrew smiles dourly. ‘It’s terrible’.
I ask him if he’s proud to be Indonesian. ‘That’s a good point’, he replies. ‘I’m actually Chinese originally. I’m not a native. And there are racial differences. Obviously there are racial tensions here too but there is much less discrimination and the law is good. Back in the Jakarta riots of 1998 many Chinese people were killed. It was incredibly tense. So I’m still not sure about going back to live there’.*
‘My grandparents were the ones who moved to Indonesia’, he continues. ‘So I do feel Indonesian. I think that going through university abroad makes you more patriotic’. One thing he certainly misses is the food. ‘I do cook a lot so it’s not as bad as all that, but there’s not a single authentic Indonesian restaurant here. There’s such a small population of us that the chefs are forced to compromise. There are enough Chinese and Malaysians for their genuine restaurants to survive but Indonesian food would probably be too spicy for British tastes’. I tell him he’s almost certainly right. I can barely cope with an American Hot Pepperoni Pizza.
At the end of a relaxing lunch hour, hopefully for both of us, we finish up chatting about the relative merits of the London food scene, another first for me. Andrew takes the lead once more and tells me where I can buy delicious bread in ‘Old Clapham Town’, beautiful macaroons in the French Café round the corner and proper Afghan food in a restaurant in Angel. On the way back to the tube he shows me round his office (my first time in an architects office and yes, by far the trendiest office I’ve ever been inside) and hands me his card. I take it, and thank him a bit too gushingly for his time. I feel like I’ve learnt as much about London today than I have since I moved here. As I said, he’s a very competent confident chap and I really did like him a lot.
*In case you, like me, are a little hazy about this fairly recent event, you can get a comprehensive and chilling reminder here. Over a thousand people were either burnt, shot or beaten to death.