2.10.96 (Wed)

I’m now on the plane back home.

What I want to record first is the "Phantom" I saw last night. The disappointment was immense. I kind of wanted to rush back home for Michael Crawford’s (or even Peter Kerry’s) version. The "Phantom" was played by an actor named Bowman and I believe that I had seen him played Raoul last year. His interpretation was insufferable. It seemed to me that he could not control his voice. Sometimes his voice was so loud (and unpleasant) that I wanted to cover my ears. I watched Grant Norman play last year and he was much much better. At least his voice was as clear as crystal.

Nor was the music good. Nor were the dancing and the performance of the Managers or Carlotta. Some lyrics had also been amended. And Christine was only marginally bearable.

I can’t describe the disappointment. I wish I had not gone to the show.

However, I did see a very good "Les Miserables" on Monday night. It was wonderful. The production and the performance were very good.

I think such musicals keep having full houses because most of the audience are tourists (including me). If a person has never seen a show before, he cannot tell if it is good or bad.

I also saw "Miss Saigon" for the first time on the first night in London. My seat was very good, right at the centre of the auditorium.

The first scenes of the show were weak. There was indeed not much to tell about the GI meeting the Vietnam girl. But the other scenes were quite good. The performance of the Engineer was great.

The story itself was weak, no matter if it is called "Madam Chrysanthemum" or "Madam Butterfly" or "Miss Saigon". But the production was excellent. I however have no intention of seeing it again. It is like "Cats" or "Evita", they may be great but I don’t like them.

Besides going to musicals, I of course went to a lot of other places in Oxford and London in the past days.

I didn’t do much on the first night in Oxford except going to the Oxford Story. The second day was a fine day. I visited many colleges, including Jesus, Magdelen, Christ Church, New College, Merton. And the guided tour I joined also brought me to the Library (don’t remember the name). I also saw a movie "Multiplicity" that night.

Oxford was much larger than Cambridge, and much busier. And the term had not started yet. I think I like Cambridge better.

Then it was London. Everything was easy and convenient in London. It felt like home. Well, at least I was very at ease.

I didn’t do much on the first day, just walked around, collecting musical tickets. Covent Garden was impossibly crowded on weekends. The ambience was festive. That night I went to see "Miss Saigon" at Theatre Royal Drury Lane, which was only a minute away from Covent Garden. Covent Garden was still very crowded and busy at night. I felt good and safe over there.

It rained that night, and also the next two days.

The next day I went to St Paul’s Cathedral. The timing was not good. It was Sunday morning and part of the church was closed for the service. I think it can’t be compared to the one in Vatican, that’s all.

Then I went to Windsor Castle. It was a grand, well-maintained and beautiful castle, though the Doll House and the Apartments and the exhibits were not really attractive to me.

On Monday, it was the Tower of London and Greenwich. The tour conducted by the Yeoman of the Tower was very interesting and enjoyable. The Crown Jewels were of course worth seeing. And the castle as a whole made a good trip. I don’t know why I hadn’t gone there last year. I suspect that I thought that it was not open to the public (how stupid!).

That afternoon I went to Greenwich by Docklands Light Rail, which went past the Canary Wharf, which indeed looked like a wharf. It was a modern and pale area. It rained the whole afternoon. I visited the Cuttysark, which was nothing more than an old ship. I then tried to walk to the Old Observatory in the rain. But I gave up very easily when I discovered that it was on top of a hill. Though it was not really high, the rain had already washed away my enthusiasm. Instead, I went inside the National Maritime Museum. My intention was to seek shelter from the rain for a while and also to use the toilet. But then I thought, why not have a look. Well, I had to pay to have a look, naturally. But the exhibits, especially the Nelson part, were not bad at all. When there was nothing to do in the rain, that was the best choice. Too bad that I didn’t have time to go through everything.

Tuesday was a fine day. First I went to Bath again. Bath was a very beautiful place. It had a unique aura which I didn’t find in the other places in Britain. Edinburgh, York, Cambridge were all beautiful but they were not like Bath. Its River Avon was another beautiful river.

But I didn’t do anything in Bath. Just walked around a little. Then I took the train to Salisbury.

It was late (past 2 pm) when I arrived in Salisbury. So I could only visit the Cathedral. It was not bad. And I learnt something which had perplexed me: Salisbury is a diocese of the Church of England, which is both Catholic and Reformed (see?) And I also learnt that there was a "Magna Carta", a 12th Century document, kept in the church which was the first charter of English liberties.

The weather is vital for a journey. When it rains, I lose my mood and interest and don’t feel like going anywhere. When the weather is fine, everything seems beautiful and cheerful. (Well, Firenze is an exception. It is beautiful and weather-proof.)

The last place I visited was the Hampton Court Palace. To my surprise, there were a lot to see in there. Apart from the royal apartments, the kitchen and the gardens were all worth a visit. I enjoyed my trip there very much (partly because of the sunny weather, of course).

There were many good things in Britain –

1. the quality of the B&Bs and hotels was generally good.

2. the people were polite and friendly enough (and hypocritical? Who knows?).

3. the guided tours at tourist spots were good.

4. the public toilets were clean and for most of the time free of charge.

5. the TV programmes were good. I watched the documentary "Tiananmen" (a shortened version) on BBC in Edinburgh and also a programme about Michael Crawford on GMTV. Even the movies shown late at night were good.

6. the best part was that I understood the language. And good English sounded like music.

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