Plains, Trains, and Kung-Fu Masters

This blog entry about the events of Monday, August 27, 2012 was originally posted on August 31, 2012.

PART 5 (DAYS 7-8): “How many coaches does the train have?” my Filipino cousin Joey asked, with the slight English accent one acquires when you’ve lived in the suburbs south of London for five years.

“Eight!” answered the young English voice of his four-year-old son Adam, who I was meeting for the first time. If you’ve followed this blog for years, you might remember that the last time I was in the Philippines, Joey was not with his comic book-inspired, Anchorman-quoting siblings, for he had moved to the U.K. for a job — and a new life. Now married to a fellow Filipino engineer Niña, they lived with their son Adam — a boy that I soon learned was sort of obsessed with trains.

“What color is the train from Reading to London?”

“White!”

In Adam’s drawers full of toys, most of what he played with were trains — big ones, small ones, ones he and his mother made out of cardboard. I saw all these trains as Adam warmed up to me, his American tito (uncle), while Niña prepared a welcomed home-cooked meal.

“[Sometimes we’ll go to the park, and then to the railway station,]” Joey told me. “[He can watch the trains for hours.]”

Brucknell, England was where my Filipino-English family lived, a suburb south of London, closer to the towns of Windsor and Eton — which is where we went on a day trip during the first day of my two-day/one-night layover in England. Two touristy towns separated by the Thames River — a section narrower and filled with more swans than the part that passes through London — Windsor and Eton are like pages out of a Dickens’ novel, except when you stumble upon the T.K.Maxx. (Why is it T.K.Maxx in Europe? That’s like saying Back to the Future starred Michael K. Fox.) We took a rowboat out on the Thames for a while, which did nothing but make Adam cry, even when a friendly old kayaker who had heard the noise came with a gift.

“Would a football cheer him up?” he said, giving us a round Thomas the Tank Engine ball that he most likely just found floating in the river.

“Thanks,” we accepted.

“Look, Adam. Thomas.”

But he was unchanged in his tears; when you’re in a boat, there’s no substitution for a train.

Anyway, Windsor is a charming, historically-preserved town which dates back to the 11th century, and it’s known most as the home of Windsor Castle — not that it would have impressed Adam because he was completely content hanging out with his mom to do some shopping, seeing the old locomotive, and watching the trains at the nearby railway station. It was just Joey and I taking the audio tour of Windsor Castle, which was originally built by William the Conqueror after the Norman conquest of 1066.

To me, Windsor Castle was very reminiscent of Versailles outside of Paris, with big rooms showing off royal paintings, armor, and other tchotchkes, all of which is impressive at first, but gets repetitive after seeing room after hall after courtyard. Most impressive, I’m told, is the doll house, with a collection of creepy royal porcelain dolls. However, the queue wait was too long for me to care about it, and so we just wandered around with the audio tour handsets amidst the other tourists, who I overheard were getting quite tired.

“How are you holding up?” I heard one man ask a woman.

“I’m in pain,” she replied

“I’m in agony.”

“We should have worn a Spiderman mask,” I told Joey, reminiscing about the time we’d gone to the Spanish colonial of Intramuros in the Philippines, where my cousin JayPee work the webslinger’s mask pretty much all day. “That would have been funny.”

“We’ll make one and go to Stonehenge,” Joey joked.

We left the castle and joined up with Adam and Niña for tea time, followed by a seafood dinner and dessert — but not without an obligatory photo with one of the royal guards. With all that going on, we really didn’t have time to get the supplies or make a Spidey mask.

WE DID GO TO STONEHENGE THE FOLLOWING MORNING THOUGH, a place I’d been wanting to see, as touristy as it is, even before I saw the equally “mysterious” moai statues of Easter Island. It was about an hour and a half drive through the English countryside to get there, and not surprisingly, we weren’t the only ones pulling into the parking lot. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Stonehenge has been known around the world for its mysterious origins — since the ones who built it left no written records — and theories of of it creation include: to serve as a burial ground, to be used as a status symbol, to be used as an astronomical calendar, and to contact alien life.

Joey, Niña, and I used the audio guides there, with narration and music that did make the site more interesting than just a carefully placed collection of big rocks. However, like at Windsor Castle, it didn’t sustain undivided attention — but perhaps that blame could be put upon the kung-fu master that was there, decked out in grey Shinto robes. Needless to say, he attracted quite a crowd as he posed for the cameras of the group he was with (a martial arts troupe of teens who wore lesser karate uniforms). The unexpected kung-fu master kicked, punched, and kicked some more in a graceful, yet powerful way. It was so random; he didn’t even need a Spider-Man mask.

“This is awesome,” Joey said, filming it with his cell phone. “Gandalf the Grey.”

I don’t know if you have plans to go to Stonehenge yourself, but if you do and have the means, make sure a kung-fu master is there. It will definitely enhance an otherwise dull experience.

ADAM WAS UNPHASED BY THE AWESOME DISPLAY OF STONEHENGE KUNG-FU, and so we left and head to the nearby medieval town of Salisbury, before I was eventually dropped off at the airport. “It looks like Windsor,” I told Joey and Niña as we walked around the quite downtown area of cafés, shops, and one British version of an American dollar store, Poundland. We had lunch and coffee in Salisbury before walking around the Salisbury Cathedral, which was not only the big attraction of the town, but the home of one of four original scrolls of the Magna Carta, the document written in the 13th century that served as the basis of U.S. Constitution, with its policies of individual rights.

Of course, none of this excited train-obsessed Adam, so we left and head back down the country roads through the plains of England. Back in Bracknell, I helped him put together the DIY Stonehenge I bought for him, and it was the first time I’d seen him play with something and not talk about trains — although I’m pretty sure his mind was elsewhere. I swear, he can play with anything and shift it to talk about trains.

“What number is this?” he asked me once, when he played with these two long pillows. He just had one laid out.

“I,” I answered. (He’d meant “what letter is this” — not “number” after several exchanges.)

“Yeah. What number is this?” he asked, with the two long pillows meeting at an acute angle.

“V.”

“Yes. What is this?” he asked with the his arm placed across the V.

“A.”

“Yes.” He put the two long pillows parallel with each other and placed down his arm again.

“H.”

Then he put both arms across.

“I don’t know.”

“It’s train tracks!”


FUN FACT:

Banana + Toffee Pie = Banoffee Pie





Next entry: Ich Bin Eine Brooklyner

Previous entry: Men in Kilts




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This blog post is one of six travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: Gone Europin'," which chronicled an eleven-day whirlwind journey to Germany's capital Berlin, scientific Geneva, Aberdeen in northern Scotland, and southern England.

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