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Voyage, Quest, Inspired: Sunday in Oxbridge

08/09/2014 13:25 BST | Updated 07/11/2014 10:59 GMT

ONE: Inspiration comes out of tranquility.

TWO: Inspiration is omnipresent.

Hear us indeed the Sunday echoes of church bells,

    Remit all agitation. Dream lilts

    Which doth shed lights on the morning tales

-Edited version of part of 'City of Dreaming Spires', a sonnet by April Xiaoyi Xu

Churches. The study of religion in Tudor England invaded my mind. This is Oxford, a typical English city. And indeed, the Sunday church bells struck several times, right there. Where? Several places: St. Aldate's Church, Christ Church Chapel, University Church of St. Mary's, and others that I have shamefully failed to name.

Peace encompassed the city. At ten 'o clock in the morning, most shops were still soundly asleep, and so was the University Church of St. Mary's. My desire of visiting it to get a view of the dreaming spires seemed to be rejected, for the ambitious 'dawning tales', or 'morning fantasies' would long be dissolved into a quiet 'afternoon fable'. This situation, however, enabled me to get an authentic flavor of English churches on Sundays. 

I have never been to a Sunday service before. So solemn and sacred are the churches. The clear echoes of the church bells have survived through history. Does history repeat itself? Yes, in numerous occasions. The World Wars, the Chinese Dynastic Cycle, and so on... Memories and thoughts carried me away, into another world. But reality requested my existence in the concrete world. The chorus, the prayers, the dedication... Everything was holy.

Strolling on a peaceful Sunday in two of the most prestigious English cities was yet a brand new experience, especially on a day so refreshingly fair, the sun so generously bright, and the weather so invitingly lovely. Well, such a beautiful day is not uncommon in Oxford. But it was rather extraordinary yesterday, for I spent the day wandering in four Churches in Oxford and Cambridge. Plus, it was the day when new students from both Universities excitedly embarked upon their new voyages.

A bookmark that I purchased reads, 'the more I learn, the more I know; the more I know, the more I forget; the more I forget, the less I know. Why I study'? It appeals to me. Actually, it is like philosophy, the paradox and contradiction. In '1984', for instance, the slogan is full of contradictions, 'war is peace', 'freedom is slavery', and 'ignorance is strength'; in 'Brave New World', a central theme is 'appearance versus reality', where the society is dystopian though it appears as utopian with an ironic slogan of 'community, identity, stability'; in Ancient Greece, the philosopher Socrates suggested that 'the cleverest man is the most ignorant' - I agree with him to some extent. According to Shakespeare, 'life is but a walking shadow - a stage, with men and women merely players'. Then, what is the true meaning of life? It is full of happiness and miseries, and, surely, explorations. This voyage to England has inspired me to think deeper and more critically on the issues that we regularly encounter.

By late afternoon, we arrived in Cambridge. Autumn had arrived earlier than us, with its light pavements bringing the reunion between Mother Earth and the leaves. Not only did they savor the sensation of gladly rejoining, but I also indulged myself in returning to this fantastical city.  But it appears that I have hardly wondered what it is like to live in fantasy, for no one in this world may be able to answer the question. However, imagination has no restriction.

The withered leaves collected at my feet. Autumn is beautiful here, yes, absolutely. I gazed, aimlessly and still, at the meadows, the buildings, the river, and the bridge. Time flies, and I was to leave this fantastical world.