LCW 19: Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making at G.F.Smith

G.F.Smith

 

I have been wanting to visit paper specialist G . F Smith‘s showroom since it opened in 2016, but somehow never got round to it. The London craft week provided me the opportunity to visit the showroom as well as the new exhibition ‘Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making’ co-organised by MaterialDriven, a design agency and Material Library. The exhibition presented a collection of new, experimental materials that are at the forefront of design and sustainability.

 

GF SMITH

GF SMITH  GF SMITH

GF SMITH

 

G . F Smith & Son was founded by paper merchant George Frederick Smith in 1885. And for nearly 140 years, the company has been providing the finest speciality papers to the creative and fashion industries. Their Soho 4,000 sq ft showroom features a 14m-long collection wall displaying their paper in 50 Colorplan shades, accompanied by paper installations that change regularly.

The company’s long-time collaborator Made Thought not only designed the colour wall but also the corporate identity that was awarded D&AD “BLACK” Pencil for Brand Expression in 2015 (see below).

For those who think paper is ‘dead’, they probably have yet to visit this stunning and inspiring showroom.

 

GF SMITH

GF SMITH

GF SMITH

GF SMITH

GF SMITH  GF SMITH

GF SMITH

 

At the exhibition space downstairs, the display included a wide range of sustainable and experimental materials that reflect the current landscape of making across fashion, interiors, architecture, and graphics.

 

Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making

Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making

Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making   Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making

Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making

Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making   Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making

Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making

 

Some of the innovative materials at the show are as follows: ‘That’s Caffeine’ tiles made from used coffee grounds and biodegradable resin by industrial designer Atticus Durnell; recycled polystyrene by designer Sam Lander; Papertile made from 100% post-consumer recycled paper by design duo Jasna Sokolovic and Noel O’Connell; textiles made from upcycled seashore plastic by De Ploeg; and Ecopet, a recycled polyester fibre made from plastic bottles etc.

It is always encouraging to see designers and makers using waste materials to produce new and biodegradable materials are not harmful to the planet. We certainly need more innovations and collaborations in this sector as a way of conserving our raw materials and preventing further damage to our highly polluted planet.

 

Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making

Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making

Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making

Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making   Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making

Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making

Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making

Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making   Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making

  Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making

Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making   Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making

Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making   Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making

 

To be continued…

 

Kevin Cheung’s design studio visit at Blue House, Hong Kong

blue house

 

I have been writing a lot about Hong Kong’s heritage lately, and coincidentally when I contacted Kevin Cheung, a local upcycling designer, he invited me to meet him at his home studio, which is also located inside a heritage building: the Grade I listed Blue House in Wan Chai.

The Blue House Cluster consists of three interconnected buildings: Blue House, Yellow House, and Orange House. The revitalisation project was part of a HK$100 million plan by the Government to preserve nine Chinese-style buildings in Wan Chai built during the 1920s. Conservation architect CM Lee and LWK & Partners Architects were commissioned to renovate the Blue House. Unlike other heritage projects in Hong Kong, this people-led heritage conservation project focuses on revitalising community relationships and developing a community-oriented and sustainable economy. Former residents were also invited to move back in. Opened in 2016, the project was rewarded the Award of Excellence in the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation 2017.

 

blue house hk

blue house hk  blue house hk

Before the renovation

 

The Blue House is a four-storey Lingnan-style house built in 1922 with a mixture of Chinese and Western architectural features. The distinctive blue colour was not a deliberate aesthetic decision — the decorators only had blue paint, so a blue house it became. In the 1950s and 1960s, kung fu master Wong Fei-hung’s student Lam Sai-wing and his nephew launched their kung fu studio here.

 

blue house

blue house  blue house 

blue house  blue house

 

The ground floor shop now houses the Hong Kong House of Stories, which aims to preserve the neighbourhood’s heritage and promote local culture through community art and activities. Free guided tours of the Blue House are also available on Saturdays.

 

blue house

blue house  blue house

 

At the Blue House, a co-living membership scheme ‘Good Neighbour’ was launched to create a sustainable community and preserve the lifestyle of the traditional Tong Lau (where community spirit was key). Out of the 32 units, 11 flats are available for rental provided the tenants are willing to contribue towards building a community, sharing their life experiences and skills, and collaborate with their neighbours to create a supportive and responsible environment for all. To be honest, I was very surprised to learn that this type of co-living scheme exists in Hong Kong – I applaud the implementers for this forward-thinking plan.

 

kevin cheung's studio  kevin cheung's studio

kevin cheung's studio

kevin cheung's studio  kevin cheung's studio

 

Kevin‘s home studio is located on the 2nd floor at the back of the Blue House complex. As soon as I walked in, I was greeted by his friendly parrot. His studio is bright with big colonial-style windows and high ceiling where he has hung a few rows of illuminated bottles made from waste PET bottles. When I looked around his studio, I could see all sorts of upcycled products including another set of LED lighing made from old bicycle rims, speaker systems and guitar made from waste plastic containers, document bags made from leftover felt carpets collected from the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, and wallets made from wallpaper samples etc.

 

kevin cheung's studio  kevin cheung's studio 

kevin cheung's studio

kevin cheung's studio  kevin cheung's studio

 

Kevin is a very open and friendly guy, and I thoroughly enjoyed chatting to him. Although we agreed that it is almost impossible to be completely waste-free and carbon-free, but we can still strive towards that goal. For years, Kevin has been experimenting with waste materials and has collaborated with different NGOs and traditional craftsmen to produce upcycled products locally. He also spent one month staying at Japan’s zero-waste village, Kamikatsu, to learn from the villagers on how to recycle, and eliminate the use of landfills and incinerators. As his contribution to the building’s ‘good neighbour scheme’, he volunteered to take over the recycling scheme at the Blue House, and runs upcycling workshops for residents and the public to tackle the waste issue in Hong Kong.

 

kevin cheung

rice bells

rice bell  kevin cheung's studio

 

Like Kevin, I firmly believe that designers, manufacturers and shop owners have the responsibility to create positive changes and change the world for the better. A consumption-driven society is not sustainable, and we have to be more aware of our actions.

I think Kevin‘s works are creative, interesting and fun; I particularly like his upcycled rice bells that are made out of aluminium waste from discarded rice cookers. Since rice cooker is a ubiquitous household appliance in Hong Kong, I doubt he will ever run out of material. Working with a local metal craftsman, the rice bowl is flattened first, and then pressed into dome shapes, followed by trimming, assembling and coating. Each bell is unique and has different patterns/colours/characteristics.

His first upcycled design, Boombottle is a speaker system made from a waste plastic container. The plastic bottle is air sealed, waterproof and rugged, yet has a large internal volume, making it a nice speaker enclosure. The speaker is also portable, and glows in the dark due to the LED light inside. I bought a smaller boombottle lite, which I think would work well with my computer as a desk speaker. It is not Bose, but at least I know that I am supporting a good cause, which is important to me.

 

kevin cheung's speaker

Boombottle Lite speaker

 

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Hong Kong heritage: old Tai Po Police station/ Green Hub

old tai po police station

 

Even though Hong Kong is a small city, there are many hidden gems that are off the beaten track, and Green Hub is one of them. I only discovered this place via google map while I was in Tai Po after a visit to the Tsz Shan Monastery. Originally I was simply looking for a place to have lunch, but then I ended up spending hours there, which was completely spontaneous.

Green Hub is situated at the site of the Grade I listed Old Tai Po Police Station up on a Tai Po Wan Tau Tong Hill that overlooks Tai Po. This site was also the location where the British flag-raising ceremony took place, marking the official British takeover of the New Territories in 1899. The Police Station was erected in the same year as the Police Headquarters of the New Territories and lasted until 1949, but eventually closed down in 1987.

In 2010, Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden had been selected to transform the Old Tai Po Police Station into a ‘Green Hub for Sustainable Living’. The Hub offers a range of low-carbon living programmes and workshops to help individuals and organisations understand the low-carbon living alternatives to unsustainable consumption that is causing climate change and rapid resource depletion. Opened in 2015, this revitalisation project was recognised with an Honourable Mention in the 2016 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation.

 

old tai po police station  old tai po police station

old tai po police station

old tai po police station

The wooden planks (pictured above) are actually recycled railway sleepers collected from the nearby Tai Po market station

 

The site comprises of three buildings: Main Building, Canteen Block and Staff Quarters, and they are arranged around an open lawn. The colonial style architecture is an excellent example of east meets west. It features verandah and louvre windows catered for the hot and humid climate in Hong Kong, and Chinese-styled timber roof structure with double-layered pan and roll tiles that are commonly used in Hong Kong’s colonial buildings. The design of the site reflected a utilitarian approach, which adopted a rather irregular form for the Main Building. The conservation team used archive photographs to restore the architectural details, and even repainted the buildings to match the original colour.

 

old tai po police station

An old Camphor Tree Cinnamomum camphora near the entrance

 

The Canteen Block has been transformed into the Eat Well Canteen to promote low-carbon food culture. The canteen serves fresh, seasonal, locally-sourced, and fair-trade vegetarian dishes that aim to minimise energy during the cooking process, as well as reduce food waste.

 

green hub Eat Well Canteen

green hub Eat Well Canteen

Vegetarian food at Eat Well Canteen

 

Next to the canteen is the kitchen’s garden where herbs and vegetables are grown, and they are used as the ingredients for canteen, so they are guaranteed to be fresh. And on Saturdays, organic vegetables, herbs, and eggs from the Kadoorie farm and the garden would be available for sale in their eco shop. The Canteen also makes and sells homemade bakery products, seasonal sweet or salty pickles and different styles of sauce. Meanwhile, there are regular cooking classes and farming workshops that promotes the ethos of the hub and farm.

 

old tai po police station

old tai po police station

green hub

old tai po police station  old tai po police station

old tai po police station

green hub

The Kitchen garden and eco shop

 

After lunch, I found out that there was a free one-hour guided tour of the site, so I signed up for it. The tour was very informative and it enabled us to visit the inner quarter that is normally not open to the public.

We first visited the heritage display of the Old Tai Po Police Station that has been carefully preserved. Visitors can see the typical setting and layout of a colonial Police Station with a report room, retention cell and armoury.

 

old tai po police station  old tai po police station

old tai po police station

old tai po police station

old tai po police station

old tai po police station

 

In order to fully appreciate this heritage site, one must join the guided tour as it enables visitors to enter the beautiful inner courtyard that is not normally open to the public. The once unappealing inner courtyard has been redesigned to an Enchanted Garden to enhance natural ventilation within the Main Building. Around the courtyard are the Police Quarters that have been converted into a guesthouse. The guest house have twelve rooms that can accommodate 24 guests, and they are available as single, twin, triple-bed to six-bed rooms at reasonable prices.

Standing in the courtyard, it is easier to appreciate the restored decorative architectural details, such as the Dutch gables, windows with voussoir-shaped mouldings and aprons, ornamented fireplaces, chimneys with moulding and cast iron downpipes with hopper-head.

 

old tai po police station

old tai po police station

old tai po police station  old tai po police station

old tai po police station

The inner courtyard

 

Before the tour ended, our guide took us to the Seminar Room where we could observe twenty or more egrets resting not far from the site. Apparently, the northern slope of the Old Police Station is a nesting and breeding site for egrets and herons. Hence, a bird screen is in place along the walking path at the northern side of the Greeb Hub to reduce disturbance to wild birds that nest in the Egretry. The ecologists here continue to monitor the Tai Po Market Egretry, and in the summer of 2015, they counted more birds nesting nearby than before the renovation began.

After leaving Green Hub, I was curious about the red brick buidling nearby and decided to walk up the hill to explore. Built around 1907, this building used to be the Old District Office North and was the earliest seat of the colonial civil administration of the New Territories. The building also housed a magistrate’s court until 1961, but now it is used by the New Territories Eastern Region Headquarters of The Scout Association of Hong Kong. Although you can’t go inside the building, you can walk around outside to appreciate the architecture and the surrounding nature.

 

Law Ting Pong Scout Centre

Law Ting Pong Scout Centre

Law Ting Pong Scout Centre

Law Ting Pong Scout Centre

Law Ting Pong Scout Centre

 

It was very calm and quiet as I walked along the path towards the Tai Po Contour Sitting-out Area located up on a small hill. I was surprised to see so much greenery here, which is a huge contrast from the bustling Tai Po market not far away.

As city dwellers, we often think that we need to escape the city in order to find tranquility, yet we forget that nature may be around the corner from where we live. When we look harder, we would find that nature is really everywhere.

 

tai po  tai po

tai po

tai po

Tai Po Contour Sitting-out Area

 

 

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The scene behind India’s cotton production

India is the world’s largest producer of cotton (it surpassed China recently), while Gujarat is the largest cotton producing state in India with a production of 125 Lakh Bales. Cotton is considered not only the most important fibre crop in India but the entire world.

Cotton is the most popular cellulose fibre in the textiles and fashion industry, yet it uses more than half the chemical pesticides used in the entire agricultural production in India. In fact, cotton production is very unsustainable and poses serious challenges to the environment through the excessive use of inputs like water, fertilizers and pesticides.
Although most of us consider cotton as a preferable fibre to other synthetic fibres, few of us actually know much about the process of cotton production. Our visit to a cotton production factory in Kutch was an eye-opening experience, and it made me think hard about my consumption habit and how it has to change in the future.

 

cottoncotton

cotton

cotton

 

The cotton plant is a shrub native to tropical and subtropical regions around the world, including the Americas, Africa, Egypt and India. The essential requirement for growing cotton crop is high temperature varying between 21°C and 30°C.

Cotton is a kharif crop which requires 6 to 8 months to mature. Traditionally, cotton production takes about 10,000 litres of water to produce one kilogramme of cotton fabric. And since India’s cotton is grown in drier regions, government subsidises the costs of farmers’ electric pumps, placing no limits on the volumes of groundwater extracted at little or no cost. This has created a widespread pattern of unsustainable water use and strained electrical grids.

So what happens after the cotton has been picked? Raw cotton is then brought to the ginning mills or factories to be cleaned and processed, and we visited one of them in Kutch. From afar, the raw cotton looked like mountains of snow – I have never seen so much cotton before, and it looked incredibly fluffy!

cotton factory

cotton factory

cotton factory  cotton factory

cotton factory

 

However, when we entered the factory, it was another story… the dark and polluted environment was shocking. We could barely breathe properly inside, and I had to take out and wear my ’emergency’ face mask immeditately. The factory was filled with cotton dust – a mixture of many substances including ground up plant matter, fibre, bacteria, fungi, soil, pesticides, non cotton plant matter and other contaminants. Yet in this appalling condition, none of the young workers there were wearing face masks, which made us question our guide about the ethics of the factory.

 

cotton factory

cotton factory

 

The guide told us that the factory boss does provide face masks for the workers, though they refuse to wear them. He claimed that even social workers have tried to persuade them but failed. I found it a bit hard to understand, and said that the government needs to impose stricter safety regulations and fines in order to protect the workers’ health and safety. Even though we didn’t spend a long time inside the factory, we were already finding the air inhalable and very toxic; it was inconceivable to think that the workers have to work in this hazardous environment all day long. I am sure that the young workers here would develop respiratory-related illnesses from this. Yet this factory is only one of many in the region/ country; the overall situation is probably more horrific and depressing.

 

As we left the factory, I felt quite upset and helpless. The tour has made me reconsider my consumption habit and it reminded me of the importance of supporting eco-conscious fashion and textiles. Although I can’t help the situations of the workers, I hope that I can spread the message and let consumers understand the truth about the cheap cotton t-shirts and other garments that are costing lives of so many around the world.

Papermaking with plants workshop in The Highlands

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The scenery from Ullapool to Assynt

 

Scotland is one of my favourite places in the world. I love the landscape, wilderness, people and traditions; however, I am not so fond of its weather – a crucial element that has put me off moving up there. I have been traveling up to Scotland annually for the last few years to attend a meditation retreat in June, but I would only stay for about 1 week or less each time. This year, I decided to explore further and spend longer time there during my 6-month sabbatical. I stayed for three weeks in July. It started in Glasgow, then Fort Williams, Ullapool and and the Isle of Lewis.

I stayed in Ullapool to attend a paper-making with plants workshop at a local artist, Jan Kilpatrick‘s home/studio in Assynt, a remote area north of Ullapool. Since I wasn’t driving, Jan arranged her friend and workshop attendee, Jo, to give me lifts during the week as she happens to live in Ullapool. The commutes from Ullapool to Assynt were simply breathtaking, and I was capitivated by the sight of Cul Mor, Suilven and Quinag during these car journeys.

 

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img_5612

img_5611

 

Jan is predominantly a landscape textile artist, but she is also a paper and mosaic artist. However, most of the courses she offers on her website are textiles related, so it was lucky that I managed to sign up to her paper-making course, which seems to be less in demand (as we were told). Since there were only a few of us, we got to know each other quite well during the week.

The reason why I signed up for this course was due to my passion for paper and interest in plants/botany. I have previously attended one/two paper-making sessions that lasted less than an hour, so my knowledge was minimal and I wanted to learn more about the technique and craft. Besides, the thought of spending the week sourrounded by nature up in the Highlands was a huge draw for me.

 

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papermaking with plants workshop

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highland flowers  highland flowers

ullapool

img_5821

img_5840

 

Over the five days, we spent most of the time working outdoors as we were quite lucky with the weather (except for the last day and when the midges attacked). Being able to pick many fibrous plants and grass from Jan‘s wonderful garden and use them as the materials of our paper was fantastic. The process of paper-making involves soaking the plants overnight, followed by boiling the plants with soda ash (or washing soda) and water. Then it is necessary to break down the plant fibres into pulp using a blender, and we mixed the plant fibres with recycled paper pulp to create different textures and varieties.

 

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papermaking with plants workshop  papermaking with plants workshop

papermaking with plants workshop

papermaking with plants workshop  papermaking with plants workshop

paper making

papermaking with plants workshop  papermaking with plants workshop 

papermaking with plants workshop

 

The next stage requires a mould and deckle (you can make one using picture frame and mesh), a vat filled with water and a bit of pva glue. Then it is time to add the pulp mixture into the water and let it dissolve in the vat. What followes is the most difficult part – using the mould to scoop the pulp from the back and bottom upwards inside the vat. When the mould is lifted you, it is best to shake it from side to side to drain the water and even out the pulp. This process requires patience and steady hands for consistency, and it may take several attempts to get the pulp evenly rested on the mesh. Sometimes the paper may be too thick or too thin, and it differs depending on the plant fibres.

 

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papermaking with plants workshop  papermaking with plants workshop

 

The final stage is to remove the deckle from the mould and place the pulp on the mesh safely onto a wet paper towel. Then you need to press the pulp down with a sponge, add another piece of paper towel on top and place a heavy wooden board on top to squeeze out any excess water. After some time, you can lift up the board and hang the paper to let it dry on a rack.

 

papermaking with plants workshop  papermaking with plants workshop

 

We used a variety of plants like nettles, horsetails, daffodils, montbretia, dock leaves, and grass as our pulp, and we also added some flower petals as decorations. Since the process of paper-making is the quite repetitive, Jan suggested that we try mono-printing with plants, as well as eco-printing by arranging the plants onto the paper followed by steaming it.

 

papermaking with plants workshop

papermaking with plants workshop  papermaking with plants workshop

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papermaking with plants workshop  img_5770

img_5811  img_5828

papermaking with plants workshop

papermaking with plants workshop

 

After four days of making and experimenting, we spent the last day compiling everything together into a large portfolio book showcasing all the papers we made, and binded it together with some strings. We also created two mini plant books each featuring some of our handmade paper.

 

papermaking with plants workshop

papermaking with plants workshop

papermaking with plants workshop

 

The five days went exceedingly quickly, and I found the workshop extremely inspring and enriching. It was also lovely to enjoy the vegetarian lunches that Jan prepared for us daily using many ingredients from her vegetable garden.

On Wednesday, we crossed the road and visited the Elphin market where there were vendors selling food and craft produced by local farmers and artisans. I learned that many artists and artisans chose to live and work in the Highlands due to its remoteness and landscape and nature, which I have no dounts would make one more creative being in this environment.

It was sad to leave this place behind, but there was more adventure awaiting, so I left feeling quite joyous and refreshed.

 

salad  img_5841

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elphin market  elphin market

elphin market

elphin market

 

Art, nature & permaculture in Fujino

fujino

 

Most foreigners who visit Japan tend to stick to big cities or well-known onsen/resorts, and they rarely travel to the rural parts of Japan. On this trip, I completely fell in love with Japan’s rural countryside. The Kumano Kodo pilgrimage was a highlight, but I also loved Fujino, a rural town (with population of just over 10,000) located in the northern edge of Kanagawa Prefecture and about 1.5 hour outside of Tokyo. Officially, the town name doesn’t exist anymore after it was merged into Sagamihara city (it became Midori Ward in 2010), but locals still fondly call the area Fujino. Surrounded by mountains and tea plantations, the numerous hiking trails are big attractions for hikers who live in Tokyo due to its proximity and beautiful scenery. On a clear day, you can even see Mount Fuji (which we did one day) up on the hill.

 

fujino  fujino

fujino

fujino  nature fujino

fujino

spider web

 

Actually Fujino is not near Mount Fuji, its name means wild wisteria town. As soon as you step out of the railway station, you would see a ‘love letter’ art installation – an envelope sealed with a heart held by 2 hands – midway up on a mountain opposite the station that welcomes visitors.

So what differs Fujino from other rural towns in Japan? First of all, it is the first official Transition Town in Japan, and the 100th in the world. The world’s first Transition Town was initiated in 2005 by Transition Network founder and permaculture teacher Rob Hopkins in Totnes in Devon (see my earlier blog entry here). The Transition Town Movement is an international network of grassroots groups that aim to increase self-sufficiency through applying permaculture principles to reduce the potential effects of peak oil, climate destruction, and economic instability.

Hence, Fujino is considered a hub for sustainable communities that use local resources, farming, traditions and culture to increase self-sufficiency and tackle peak oil and climate change.

 

fujino

flowers

fujino flowers

fujino flowers

fujino flowers

 

Besides permaculture, the area has also been attracting artists for decades. During the times of WWII, some sixty of Tokyo’s most prominent artists (including Tsuguharu Foujita, Toshio Nakanishi, and Genichiro Inokuma) evacuated to this village, with the goal of building a ‘city of artists’ here. Since the 1970s a number of foreign artists, artisans and craftsmen have also moved here.

Although Fujino never became a world-renown ‘art city’, a ‘Fujino Furusato Art Village Plan’ was launched in 1986 to promote it as an art dwelling community. In 1995, a multi-purpose art centre called Fujino Workshop for Art was built. It has a 300-seat concert hall, rehearsal studios, craft-making studios and accommodations. The venue provides workshops in pottery, woodworking, and natural dyeing for local children, adults and visitors.

 

fujino The Kumano Shinto Shrine

fujino The Kumano Shinto Shrine

fujino  fujino

fujino The Kumano Shinto Shrine

fujino The Kumano Shinto Shrine

After doing the Kumano Kudo pilgrimage in Wakayama, I was pleasantly surprised to find a Kumano Shinto Shrine up in the mountains

 

Soon it was followed by the opening of the Fujino Art Village, an art and craft market where local artisans and craftsmen sell their work in 9 individual huts. The village is not massive, but it is a good spot to find one-of-a-kind handmade crafts and designs and support local artisans. You can find glassware, woodwork, leather goods, ceramics, and home accessories here.

 

fujino art village  fujino art village

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tsumugu fujino art village  tsumugu fujino art village

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fujino art village  fujino art village

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Fujino art village

 

At the art village, you can also enjoy lunch at an organic cafe/restaurant. From Fri to Sun, the cafe becomes a pizzeria serving stone oven pizzas with organic produce made by potter, Touhei Nakamura (also a friend of Bryan). In addition to the standard pizzas, he also serves some unconventional ones with an Asian twist, and they are super delicious with very thin base and crunchy crust.

 

fujino art village

Touhei pizza  fujino art village

Touhei pizza

Touhei pizza

 

While staying with Bryan, we had the opportunity to meet his artisan friends who live locally. One of them is a basket maker and his basketry works are incredibly beautiful and intricate.

 

basketry  basketry

basketry

basketry

 

Bryan also took us to visit a potter who lives in a very secluded place… we had to walk downhill along a trail off a road for about 15 minutes in order to reach his home studio at the bottom of the valley.

While the potter normally sells his pottery through a gallery, we got to buy his very reasonably-priced work from him directly, and needless to say, we were all more than happy to part with our cash in exchange for some exquisite handcrafted pottery.

 

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pottery

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pottery

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A secluded potter at his home studio

 

Last but not least, we also visited a secluded art gallery and cafe called Studio Fujino founded by graphic designer/art director, Yuko Higashikawa. After working in Milan on exhibition planning for some time, she returned to Japan to pursue a slow life. Her galley is surrouned by nature, and its secluded location means you are very likely to miss it if you are led by a local. (N.B. Unfortunately, I learned that the gallery closed its doors two months after our visit, but I hope it will revive in a different form in the future).

 

 studio fujino studio fujino   studio fujino

studio fujino

 studio fujino

Studio Fujino

 

After spending 10 days being surrounded by nature, it was hard to leave this place behind. My only wish is that I can return again in the near future.

 

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King’s Cross Pond Club & the New Horizon pavilions

king's cross king's cross king's cross pond club

The pond club is the new art installation at King’s Cross ongoing redevelopment

 

Last month, I attended a tour of the Of Soil and Water: King’s Cross Pond Club organised by property developmer Argent ( responsible for the regeneration of King’s Cross) as part of the London festival of architecture. If you are not keen on London’s public lidos or the natural ponds in Hampstead Heath, then perhaps this cool new natural pond will appeal to you. The 40-metre man-made fresh water public pond is the first of its kind in the UK. The chemical-free water is purified through a natural, closed-loop process process using wetland and submerged water plants to filter the water and keep it clear.

 

kings crossking's cross pond clubking's cross pond club king's cross pond club king's cross pond club king's cross pond club

 

The pond is designed by architects Ooze (Eva Pfannes and Sylvain Hartenberg) and artist Marjetica Potrč as part of the King’s Cross public art program RELAY. The installation aims to make the public reconsider their relationship with nature, the urban environment and the undeveloped spaces.

Here is a video about the project:

 

 

We were told by the project manager that the project was initially proposed as a permanent installation, but it was rejected by the Camden council due to oppositions from local residents. The project was eventually approved for a trial period of two years, and the developer hopes that its popularity and positive impact will convince the council to extend its lifespan.

 

king's cross pond clubking's cross pond clubking's cross pond clubking's cross pond club

Nature in and around the pond

 

What I love about this pond club is its landscape design, not only it is surrounded by seasonal plants and flowers, it also has plants growing inside the pond. Situated next to Global Generation’s Skip Garden, the theme of ecology and sustainability is discernible.

There are 8 changing rooms, outdoor showers and lockers, accompanied by bold red pictogram. Swimmers can pre-book their sessions/slots online, and it is limited to only 163 a day.

I think this project is highly commendable and I hope that it will turn into a permanent feature after the end of its 2-year period.

 

Lewis Cubitt Park

Lewis Cubitt Park and the New Horizon temporary Irish pavilion

 

After the visit to the pond club, I walked over to the Lewis Cubitt Square to see the two temporary pavilions designed collaboratively by four Irish practices: Clancy Moore, TAKA, Steve Larkin and Hall McKnight for London festival of Architecture’s New Horizon_Architecture from Ireland exhibition.

The collaboration was part of ID 2015, the year-long celebration of Irish design. The New Horizon initiative was conceived and curated by Raymund Ryan and Nathalie Weadick, and it explored the theme of the festival, “Work in Progress”, at a city scale.

 

Red Pavilion by TAKA, Clancy Moore and Steve LarkinRed Pavilion by TAKA, Clancy Moore and Steve LarkinRed Pavilion by TAKA, Clancy Moore and Steve LarkinRed Pavilion by TAKA, Clancy Moore and Steve LarkinRed Pavilion by TAKA, Clancy Moore and Steve Larkin

 

Red Pavilion by TAKA, Clancy Moore and Steve Larkin

 

The bright red pavilion was designed by three Dublin practices: TAKA, Clancy Moore and Steve Larkin. Their approach was to emphasise the collective fabric of cities and to doubt arbitrary expression. It acted as a temporary piece of civic infrastructure, drawing people up from the square and enabling them to explore from above.

 

 

Yellow Pavilion by Hall McKnightYellow Pavilion by Hall McKnightYellow Pavilion by Hall McKnightYellow Pavilion by Hall McKnight

Yellow Pavilion by Hall McKnight

 

The Yellow Pavilion designed by Belfast practice Hall McKnight was a homage to brick. The pavilion was manufactured from a kit of pieces cut from boards and assembled in units. Inside it was a collection/installation of bricks that spoke of a city as a work in progress. The architects saw the bricks as a testimony of both the old and new city.

 

Spring hike in Hong Kong

silver mine bay hong kong

Silver Mine Bay, Mui Wo

 

So far this year, I have only hiked twice, yet both took place in the rain and mist… first in Surrey and then in Hong Kong!

Spring is probably not the best time to visit Hong Kong as the weather is humid, damp, foggy and unpredictable. After the fog has finally cleared in Hong Kong, I was yearning to get out of the city. My friend suggested a hike in Mui Wo (Lantau Island), and it sounded like a perfect plan.

 

fog in hong kong

Morning fog

 

Despite having checked the weather forecast beforehand, my friend and I were caught out in the rain after taking the ferry to Mui Wo. At the beginning, it was merely drizzle and so we carried on even though we didn’t have any rain gear nor did we dressed warm enough (the temperature also dropped overnight). Unfortunately for us, the rain did not stop, and we had to turn back because the ground was getting too slippery.

 

mui womosiac house mui wo mui wo

Main: Cycling culture in Lantau Island; Bottom left: A colourful mosaic house at Silver Mine Bay; Bottom right: Lantau Island bus company established in 1973.

 

After an unsuccessful hike, we considered taking a bus to the fishing village Tai O on the other side of the island, but since the journey would take approx. 45 minutes, we gave up on the idea and decided to stay in Mui Wo.

We then spent the next hour or so meandering around the Silver Mine Bay area. Although we didn’t complete any hiking routes, it was relaxing to walk in an idle manner. The contrast between the bustling city life and the slow pace of these outlying islands is huge, and our pace slowed down naturally as we walked on.

 

Mui Womui wosilver mine bay hong kong

 

The day provided us opportunity to admire the wonders of nature, something that is hard to do living in the city. It was also educational for an amateur like me to learn more about plants and trees, and to see what blooms around this time of year in Hong Kong.

We saw Morus nigra full of black mulberries (which we initially mistaken them for blackberries), Catalpa trees (my guess) with long pea pods, many other wild flowers, old banyan trees and a giant snail crawling slowly on the path (I think even the snails here crawl slower than the ones in the city).

 

mui woblackberries peasold banyan treespring Hong Kongsnail

 

After wandering around for a few hours, we had a huge late lunch at the Turkish restaurant near the ferry terminal. And when it was time for us to head home, commuters of the island were starting to return. Most of them ( including students, Westerners and office workers etc) had parked their bikes outside of the terminal, and this cycling culture surprised us, as we seldom see people cycle in the city (probably because it is too dangerous).

Although we didn’t hike very much, we felt exhausted when we arrived back in the city. Yet my friend and I both agreed that it was a pleasant and relaxing day despite the rain and setback. We both can’t wait until our next adventure!

 

Silent walking weekend

sunflowereastbourne eastbourne

 

As a keen hiker/walker, I have joined various walking groups and did many day hikes/walks out of London in recent years. Walking aside, these groups are sociable and provide opportunities to meet and mingle with other walkers who live in London.

Lately, however, I find some group leaders overly keen to get to the destinations (i.e pubs), so it is hard to absorb the scenery except during the picnic break. Other times, we are all just too busy chatting or taking photographs that we completely miss what is in front of us.

Hence this summer I did fewer walks than the previous years and instead booked myself onto a Silent walking weekend retreat at Gayles retreat near Eastbourne. The retreat also includes yoga and meditation sessions, so it is an ideal holistic weekend for a stressed Londoner!

The location of the retreat is situated within the Seven Sisters country park near the Birling gap coastline. The retreat serves delicious vegetarian and vegan meals with most of the ingredients grown and picked from their garden. I loved seeing their chickens wandering around the garden, very free range indeed!

 

gaylegayle retreatgayle retreatgayle retreatgayle retreat free range chickengayle retreat

 

Some of my friends do not understand what ‘retreats’ mean (they think it’s some kind of luxury spa holidays) nor do they understand why I would go so regularly. As a business owner, it is hard to switch off especially if you are doing four people’s jobs at the same time, and I often need the time and space for myself. In this day and age, not only we are bombarded by information, overwhelmed by endless choices, we are also surrounded by noises all the time (outside and inside). Simplicity and tranquility is something that I long for, but I would have to consciously make time and effort for it as city and work life is always hectic. I also like to get out of my comfort zone sometimes, because it allows me to see the bigger picture and observe own my neurotic mindset or behaviour!

 

ladybirdgayle retreat from the seaeastbourne

 

Silent retreats can be hard for people who have never done it before, because in silence, we have no choice but to face our inner conflicts and cluttered mind. And at this retreat, we spent most of the time in silence, photography was also forbidden during the walks (these photos were taken after the silence ended).

Silent walking/hiking is a meditative activity. It allows your senses to open up and be as close to nature as you possible can. The only distraction is your own mind. On the first day, I was aware of my wandering mind during the walk, but on the second day, I noticed that it was much calmer and thanks to the yoga sessions, my body felt less tense too.

On the first walk, we saw skeins of wild geese from all directions gathering at a pond, it was a spectacular sight that took all of our breaths away! On the second day, we walked along the stunning coastline and spent some time on a deserted beach listening to the sound of waves and enjoying the warmth of the sun on our skin. These moments were very special and not something that I could experience often living in the city.

 

lotus

 

Although I fully appreciated the silent walks without the use of photography, I have also been wondering about the relationship between mindfulness and photography lately. Does photography really interfere with the present moment? Even though I am an amateur photographer who lacks advanced skills and techniques, I enjoy the process and often find it immensely meditative as I am so aware of what I am seeing that I would forget about everything else. Then I found an article called photography and mediation by the Buddhist teacher/author/photographer Stephen Batchelor and he addresses the query that has been bothering me for a while. In the article, he explains the parallels between photography and meditation, and I especially resonate with the last sentence, “For both paths (photography and mediation) have served to deepen my understanding of the fleeting, poignant and utterly contingent nature of things.”

Surprisingly, there are many books on the topic of photography and mediation or mindful photography, and John Suler‘s Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche is one of them. His article, Mindfulness and photography also explores the relationship between the two activities with great insights. Photography can be a mindful exercise if we understand the essence of the two activities and adopt an attitude that is open, non-judgemental and not ego-driven. And the more you are aware of your environment, the more likely you will capture THE moment for some great photography.

 

Slow living on Peng Chau Island

peng chau

 

While I was in Hong Kong, the weather was greyer and cooler than usual and I hardly saw the sun. Hence when the sun came out one day, I decided to take the opportunity to get out of the city. But where? I browsed through the little booklet on Hong Kong’s outlying islands that I picked up from the Hong Kong tourism Association office and I decided to head for Peng Chau, a small island that I have never visited before. I took a cab to the Central ferry pier and boarded onto a (fast) ferry heading towards Peng Chau, and less than 30 mins later, I felt like I was on a different planet!

 

peng chau peng chaupeng chaupeng chau peng chau

 

Another reason why I picked Peng Chau is to do with the fact that it is still considered as ‘rural’ and much less developed than other islands. From what my friends told me, Lamma island is now full of expats and trendy cafes and bars, and even Cheung Chau is becoming more touristy than ever.

For someone who wants to get away from city life and be in touch with nature, Peng Chau is ideal. There were hardly any tourists on the day (it was a weekday) and when I arrived on the car-free island, I saw mostly elderly sitting in groups by the pier or riding leisurely on their bikes. The pace here is slow and laidback, so immediately I felt relaxed and calm.

 

peng chaupeng chaupeng chaupeng chaupeng chau peng chauP1090196peng chaupeng chaupeng chau peng chau

 

Unlike other outlying islands of Hong Kong, the ‘centre’ of Peng Chau is rather sleepy and I did not come across any Western bars/restaurant/cafe except for one on near the main square. On the main covered high street (Wing On Street), there is a stretch of inexpensive shops and Hong Kong-style cafes but many were closed on the day. I had a quick and inexpensive lunch at a Vietnamese cafe before setting of to explore the island.

I was quite taken aback to see the centre being so run down, the huge blue building where the former Peng Chau theatre once stood reveals that it wasn’t always the case. Peng Chau was once a thriving centre for lime and matchsticks productions during the 70s and 80s. Public can visit the former sites of the lime kiln and match factory (now just ruins), but I skipped them and visited some nearby temples instead.

 

peng chau temple peng chaupeng chaupeng chaupeng chaupeng chau peng chaupeng chau peng chau

Top & second row left & middle: Tin Hau temple; 2nd row right & 3rd row left: The Golden Flower Shrine; 3rd row right: Temple of Morality (Taoist); Bottom left: A small shrine near a village; Bottom right: Seven sisters temple

 

There are several temples on this small island, the easiest one to locate is the historical Tin Hau temple, located about 5 mins walk for the pier near Wong On Street. The temple was restored in 1798 and rebuilt in 1882, but the exact history of the original temple has yet to be traced. Tin Hau Goddess is the most worshipped deity in Hong Kong, there are over 100 temples dedicated to her in Hong Kong. She is said to protect fishermen and sailors, and the island celebrates a yearly Tin Hau festival on the 21st day of the 7th lunar month.

Not far from it is The Golden Flower Shrine dedicated to Lady Golden Flower, which sits under an old banyan tree. Worshippers believe that Lady Golden Flower can grant many generations of descendants.

Another interesting temple is the Seven sisters temple on Pak Wan. The ‘seven sisters’ are somewhat versatile deities; while they usually help young women improve their needlecraft (not sure how many women would be praying for this nowadays), at this temple, they aid couples who want to start families.

 

peng chau peng chaubamboo in peng chaupeng chaupeng chaupeng chau peng chau

Nature on the island

 

After visiting the temples, I walked up to the highest point of the island, Finger Hill to check out the view. I was hoping to see a panoramic view of the island from the top but was disappointing to find the trees blocking the view. Hence I walked towards the sea and chilled out at the pavilion where I could see Hong Kong island from a distance.

 

peng chau peng chaupeng chaupeng chaupeng chaupeng chaupeng chaupeng chau peng chau

 

It didn’t take me too long to walk around the island, but it would have helped if there was more signage for directions. Though I was happy to see many empty beaches, I was also bothered by the rubbish on these beaches esp. by the Fisherman rock. I am not sure if the rubbish came from the sea or was left by visitors, either way it is a nuisance when people do not respect the environment and nature.

After spending about 5 hours on this island, it was time to leave… as I was approaching the pier, commuters were starting to return home from Hong Kong island. I felt incredibly exuberant as I headed back to the city, and I sincerely wish that the island will continue to remain ‘local’ and not be over-developed like the other outlying islands. Yet this may be wishful thinking because new modern housing is already being developed now, and Peng Chau may soon loses the authentic and tranquil quality. I hope that this will not be the case but the government needs to protect Hong Kong’s nature and not sacrifice the citizen’s quality of life for economic growth/development. As a so-called international city, Hong Kong is very behind in its environmental effort ( air pollution is a good example) and urban planning, when will they wake up and smell the roses? If they continue to ignore these important issues, then there will be no roses to smell soon!

 

peng chau peng chaupeng chaupeng chaupeng chau peng chaupeng chau