George Alagiah interviews us on the BBC
Tuesday 24 October 2006
Owen Powell - 24th October 2006
For lunch on the first day, we thought we'd combine eating with meeting. London has one of the most cosmopolitan cuisines in the world, and we thought that restaurants, cafes and food shops would be ideal places to find people and chat about their lives, cultures and experiences of London. However, I was still feeling a little bit sick. The idea of going inside, away from the relative fresh air of central London, and having to eat a randomly chosen international dish made me start to sweat. So we did the next best thing. We walked to London's very own Chinatown to order a takeaway.
On the way there, I called Rachel, my girlfriend, to let her know how our day was going. She used to work for a refugee and asylum seeker charity, and is currently doing an MA on the politics of detention centres for asylum in the UK, so she had a few worries that what we were attempting to do might come across as slightly demeaning to the people we were 'collecting'. In fact, the most academic text message I've ever received from anyone was from her after I had called, excitedly, to explain the idea Alex and I had just come up with. It read: "Nationality can be viewed as a colonial construct, which makes this new project an example of the continuing neo-colonial obsession with classification." I felt chastened for a while, until I realised it was (at least partly) tongue in cheek.
She was wryly amused to note that everyone we had found so far was doing reasonably badly-paid work. I reiterated my desire to find a whole range of people, professors, doctors, stunt-men, professional footballers. But then I had to admit that our next stop was Chinatown where we hoped to speak to a waitress. Thierry Henry would have to wait until after lunch.
'Top Of The Town' Chinese Restaurant is on Gerrard Street, south of Soho and the heart of Chinatown. Interestingly, the original Chinatown in London was out east in Westferry, near to where I live now. Characters in Sherlock Holmes books and in Oscar Wilde's 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' hang about in Westferry and Limehouse, scoring opium off Chinese men who lurk near the docks. Now all that's left is a large dragon sculpture near the railway station.
Inside the restaurant, Alex ordered Special Fried Rice, and I went for a Chicken Chow Mein. While we waited for the food to come, we had a little chat with the lady welcoming customers in. The restaurant was very busy, and particularly popular with toddlers (they'd brought their parents with them), so our stilted conversation never really got going. However, as people came in and out, and a few dozen two-year-olds wandered about, banging into glass doors, we managed to explain the project to Wo Yi Sum. She is 25 and had been living in London for only six months, with a cousin of hers in Chinatown, not far from the restaurant. Before that, she'd been in her home country, Malaysia. She's still getting used to London life.
We wandered off with our boxes of Chinese food, to sit amongst the pigeons and people in Piccadilly Circus and reflect on a reasonably successful first day. Then, at 4pm, I went to bed.