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Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Reflections of a passerby in Cambridge


The skies are blue and the sun is out today, as it has been the past few days. Unlike Manchester, Cambridge is blessed with clear skies most of the time.

It is exactly one more month till I submit my dissertation. I should be working on it right now but I've decided to pause, take a walk to the Midsummer Commons and breathe in the fresh Cambridge air instead. Because, it is also exactly one more month till I leave Cambridge for good.

I never felt like a stranger in Manchester - it was my second home. Walking to Lidl to do my grocery, hopping on and off the Magic Bus, and getting takeaway from Curry Mile were all so intuitive to me. I went back to Manchester last week and things were pretty much the same - except that it is no longer a quid but a pound fifty to take the Magic Bus. As usual, Manchester did not fill me with wonder. It was the same old and dull city - not particularly pretty - but somehow, it gave me a sense of familiarity and belonging. It was just. so. different. from Cambridge.

Perhaps it's because I've only been in Cambridge for less than a year, or perhaps it is because I am truly different from the Cantabrigians; but unlike Manchester, I've always felt like a stranger, a visitor, in Cambridge. Cambridge is beautiful - far more beautiful than Manchester will ever be. A three minute walk from home is where the boathouses are. Every evening, you will see the rowers diligently training for the boat race. Further down, across the bridge, is the Midsummer Commons, where cows roam and families spend the evening when the sun is up. Across the road is Jesus Green, where students play football, slackline, have picnics, or simply read a book. The trees in there are lined up so perfectly on each side of the pathway that it amuses me to cycle through them every day. They are especially beautiful in autumn, when the leaves take on various shades of red, orange and yellow. I don't think I will ever forget that mesmerising sight.

Yet, in spite of all its beauty, Cambridge somehow makes me feel lonelier, more foreign, and harder to fit in. I took my Japanese exam yesterday and as we were saying our farewells, our sensei complimented us, saying, "Cambridge students are truly different. If it was elsewhere, they probably wouldn't have been able to learn as quickly." Even though I am a Cambridge student, I felt slightly offended. I suppose it is because I identify myself more as a student of Manchester.

And this is how, I've noticed, Cambridge is so different from Manchester. Well, at least in university. In Manchester, I remember debating, a lot, about our political views in seminars. It was fun. Even though we did not agree on everything, and even though it wasn't always objective, it was fun to see everyone passionately defending their own views. In Cambridge, we rarely did such things. It was always about the readings. Always about being objective, intellectual, and having the correct answers. It made me very cautious to share my two cents worth. And perhaps, that is always why I feel that I am gradually losing my interest in Politics.

Manchester is a safe haven for refugees and I met a handful of them in church. Listening to them recount their times of distress back at home and how they barely managed to escape always put things into perspective. It made all my problems look so trivial in the light of what they had been through. It made me treasure my life, no matter what situation I am in, and never feel the need to be stressed. In Cambridge, all I see is people overreacting over the smallest of things. All I hear is students whining about how difficult university life is. And it is. The undergraduates have it really tough in Cambridge. And while I know that we ought not to trivialise anyone's situation, I can't help but think - really?! I feel too laid-back and nonchalant in this university town where everyone seems on the edge.

But... before I make it seem like Cambridge is a cold and heartless place, I have to say that there were many times when it surprised me. While the people here appear to be more detached and uptight, they are very warm-hearted and exceptionally kind. And unlike in Manchester, I have never been pick pocketed, catcalled or received a racist comment - not once. I remember falling off my bike with my groceries flying all over the place during one of my first few cycles back home. It was an utter mess; but at that moment, a female student came up to me, got her hands dirty while helping me clean up my mess, took her books out of her cotton bag and gave it to me to put the groceries that survived. I also remember falling off a route at the climbing gym, as I pulled the tendon in my left ring finger. I was distraught. But just then, a staff at the gym came up to me and said, "That route there...it's yours." Those five words brought me comfort. These are just a few of the many beautiful encounters that I had in Cambridge.

Next month, when I leave this place, I will probably leave with a heavy heart. When I am back in the grind of working life, I will probably think of Cambridge much more than Manchester - of its luscious fields, the River Cam and its earnest punters. But I will miss both places dearly - for very very different reasons.

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