Our 4th theme: Read


Charlene’s initial draft of the home page


The initial idea of selling art books and zines emerged about 2 years ago, stemming from my passion for printed matters and reading. Having launched three themes focusing solely on products, it seems like a change of direction to sell books, magazines and zines. Yet I think this change is necessary for the company to evolve. Since our launch 5 years ago, I felt that we have become more of a shop than a platform. My wish is that the new theme and changes to the website will enhance the user experience and encourage users to learn more about the artists/illustrators/designers behind the publications or products.

In recent years, independent publishing seems to be making a comeback. We are seeing a new range of indie aesthetic-driven lifestyle/art/design/craft/food magazines like Kinfolk, Cereal, Delayed Gratification, Dirty furniture, Oh comely, Hole & Corner, Intern, Flaneur, Toilet paper... the list goes on. The same trend is happening in Asia, indie magazines like ‘Science of secondary‘ by Atelier Hoko from Singapore, Design Anthology from Hong Kong, White Fungus from Taiwan and IDEA from Japan are all getting distributed outside of Asia. Many of these magazines showcase bold/conceptual photography, playful illustrations, interesting writings on niche topics and crucially, the standard of printing and paper is much higher than the ones we normally see on the shelves of newsagents. If you think Monocle is expensive, well, it isn’t anymore. Yet these pricey indie magazines are gaining followers because of their quality and unconventional subject matter. One of my favourite magazine is Uppercase from Canada and it is retailed at £14 here, which I think is really expensive for a magazine! I also like Print isn’t dead (£10) from UK, the annual FUKT from Germany and the biannual Weapons of Reasons (free/£6) from the UK.


Hong Kong zines

Various zines created by Hong Kong and Taiwanese illustrators at Open Quote in Hong Kong


Aside from magazines, I also noticed a thriving fanzine/zine market during my travels to Asia in recent years. Artists, illustrators, designers, photographers and independent press studios have turned to self-publishing, and their work can be found in independent book shops, galleries and local zine markets. Earlier this year, I spent some time in Hong Kong, Taipei and Berlin seeking out small independent book/zine shops for research and inspiration. It was an utterly rewarding experience because everyone I contacted was very supportive and encouraging. Since the zine market is not highly profitable, most zine-makers are passion-driven, thus it is a close-knit community. In Hong Kong, I had the opportunity to meet with independent booksellers from Book B and Open Quote, and other local illustrators/artists like Kylie Chan, Gabrielle Tam aka Onion Peterman, Wong Sze Chit, Luna Ng, Kevin Leung from Brainrental. I felt particularly positive after meeting with artists/illustrators, and I wanted to use our platform to promote them as well as other up and coming illustrators/artists/zine-makers in the region.

Back in London, I visited the East London Comic Arts Festival (you can read my blog entry here) and I came across London/Hong Kong-based illustrator Charlene Man. Charlene‘s colourful and playful zines caught my eye, and although I didn’t talk to her, I did get her contact for future reference. Eventually I emailed her and asked her if she was interested in collaborating with us to create an one-off illustration for our new home page. She told me about her upcoming exhibitions in Japan and Hong Kong, but she said she was interested and could work on this before her trip to Asia. We arranged to meet in Shoreditch, had some vegetarian lunch followed by coffee afterwards. We brainstormed and then chatted about work, family and travel. The meeting was casual and spontaneous, and I really enjoyed spending the day with her.

Initially we weren’t sure whether the interactive idea would work or not, and I had to consult the IT guys to see if it was feasible. We thought we would give it a go, and if all things fail, we would make some adjustments to the work. Luckily, everything went smoothly and we were all pleased with the result. Spending the last eight months researching and building a collection was rather bumpy, but I am glad that we finally were able to launch the new theme/collection before Christmas.

I sincerely hope that we can continue to introduce more artists and illustrators from Asia and showcase their wonderful zines and books here in the future.


New York art book fair 2016


MoMa PS1, Queens


As a newbie to art book fairs, I had no idea what to expect at the New York art book fair hosted by Printed Matter at MoMA PS1 in Queens. I have visited the London Art Book Fair at the Whitechapel Gallery in 2015 (there wasn’t one this year), but it was minuscule compared to the New York one. I was completely overwhelmed by vast size of the New York one, and I had to return again for a second visit. Yet, I still didn’t manage to visit all the stalls, but the experience was eye-opening, and judging from the crowds, I can safely say that book publishing is far from dead!






A former school/warehouse dating back to 1892, MoMA PS1 reopened as P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center after a $8.5 million renovation project in the late 90s. The center eventually merged with MoMA in 2000 to promote contemporary art to a wide and growing audience. 




NY ART BOOK FAIR 16  misaki kawai at NY ART BOOK FAIR 16

motto at NY ART BOOK FAIR 16


3rd right: Japanese artist Misaki Kawai‘s books and zines; 4th row: Berlin’s Motto; Bottom right: Ottographic from U.K.


The fair occupied two floors of the building and two outdoor tents, featuring over 370 booksellers, antiquarians, artists, institutions and independent publishers from twenty-eight countries, and was attended by over 39,000 visitors. I was glad to see many familiar booksellers and publishers, especially because I have been doing a lot of research on independent bookshops and publishers for our new theme lately. Yet, I was also thrilled to discover new booksellers and publishers from around the world. There was much to see and I had to resist the temptation of purchasing for my own personal interest.



 Onestar Press at NY ART BOOK FAIR 16

Ebecho Muslimova

Ken Kagami  NY ART BOOK FAIR 16  bread & puppet calendar


daido moriyama

Top left: Gagosian Gallery; Top right: KAWS‘ ‘Man’s best friend’; 2nd row: OneStar Press stand; 3rd row: Ebecho Muslimova at One Star Press; 4th left: Ken Kagami; 4th right: Bread & puppet calendar; 5th left: Marco Breuer; Bottom row: Daido Moriyama photography


Aside from artist books and zines, there was a strong focus on photography books, and some of best stands in the photography section were from Japan, including Goliga, Akio Nagasawa and Komiyama (specialises in vintage art and photography books). As a fan of photography, I finally succumbed to temptation and bought a book & DVD set called ‘Tokyo diaries’ at the Pierre von Kleist stand from Portugal. I spoke to its Portuguese  publisher and photographer André Príncipe and he told me about his project – how he encountered well-known Japanese photographers such as Nobuyoshi Araki, Daido Moriyama, Takuma Nakahira, Hiromix, Kohei Yushiyuki and Kajii Syoin in Tokyo; and how the films were ruined by the x-ray machine during transit. André also signed the book for me, and I left the stand feeling quite satisfied with my purchase.








At my second visit to the fair, I decided to spare some time to see the exhibition on the top floor: VITO ACCONCI: WHERE WE ARE NOW (WHO ARE WE ANYWAY?), 1976′. The multidisiplinary artist’s solo exhibition showcased much of his early performance work through photographs, sketches, films and video footage. His radical and subversive explorations of the human condition, sexuality, voyeurism, identity are still provocative even in today’s standards. The exhibition also reinstalled his ‘WHERE WE ARE NOW (WHO ARE WE ANYWAY?)’, which is made up of a wooden plank surrounded by stools. The plank continues through an open window and becomes a diving board suspended over the traffic below.



NY ART BOOK FAIR 16  Wizard skull' 'Sexy Ronald'

Top & bottom left: The view from MoMA PS1; Bottom right: New York artist Wizard skull‘ ‘Sexy Ronald’ could be seen inside and outside of the venue


If I had more time, I would have paid a third visit to the fair because I reckoned I only managed to see 2/3 of the fair. As an art book fan, and a new bookseller, I thoroughly enjoyed the fair and its popularity indicates that independent publishing now is thriving and will continue to do so in the near future.



Books, zines and DVD I bought from the art book fair


Mr Men & Little Misses’ mini museum

Mr men mini museum


It is hard to believe that Mr Men & Little Misses are 45 years old! Created by writer and illustrator Roger Hargreaves for his young son, Adam, the series has become an international cultural phenonmenon since its launch more than four decades ago. Adam took over the reins of the Mr Men empire after his father’s death in 1988, and to this day, he is still creating new characters for the series.

When I was a child, I used to love reading the adventures of the different characters because they were all so distinctive and humourous in their own ways. When I found out about the pop-up mini museum at the Oxo Tower, I was keen to visit in order to evoke some childhood memories. Yet it was only the last day of the exhibition – a bank holiday Monday – that I managed to get my gear together, dragging my friend along with me.




We arrived just after lunch time, and there was a long queue of families with kids and nostaglic adults. We were put off by the queue, and so we left for some food and drinks nearby. Later, we returned again to find that the queue had dissipated by half, and so we decided to wait in line.

It didn’t take too long for us to be let in, and once inside, I felt like a kid in a candy store. Although the gallery space was not huge, and the exhibits were slightly incoherent, I was still delighted to see characters that I have known for most of my life. While reminiscing with my friend about the books I used to own, I noticed that I was surrounded by middle aged adults who were looking more excited than their children!


Mr men mini museum  Mr men mini museum

Mr men mini museum

Mr men mini museum


I think what makes the series so successful is partly due to the simple, colourful and original graphics or cartoon style; and partyly due to the humane aspect of the characters, since none of them are perfect. They are all flawed, but they have to learn, live and grow with their other imperfect friends.


Mr men mini museum

Mr men mini museum

Mr men tube poster


The museum also exhibited the new TFL posters, a new collaboration between Mr. Men Little Misses and TfL that launched in June. I particularly love the one featuring Little Miss Stubborn (see above)! Besides the tube posters, there is also a new merchandise range including children’s stationery, wall art and gifts available to buy from the Transport Museum shop.

Long live Mr Men and Little Miss! And I can’t wait for the 50th anniversary activities!






Design & stationery shopping in Western Tokyo

d47 design travel store d47 design travel stored47 design travel stored47 design travel store Takuro kuwata at tomio koyama gallery

d47 design travel store and Tomio Koyama Gallery at Hikarie



d47 design travel store (Hikarie 8F 2-21-1 Shibuya) – Muji is now an international brand that many non-Japanese are familiar with, but in Japan, d & department Project is the fastest-growing household and lifestyle brand in recent years. Established in 2000 by the famous graphic designer Kenmei Nagaoka, it started as an self-initiated project on connecting cities in Japan under the name of ‘design’. The shop name stands for ‘dream design department store’, and their shops sell a wide range of new and recycled furniture and everyday objects that are timeless and functional.

At this store, it offers a collection of traditional Japanese wares, tools, handicrafts, regional specialties and gourmet ingredients sourced from the 47 prefectures of Japan. If you are looking for souvenir with a difference to bring home, then this store is the place to visit.


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Top two rows: Postalco; Bottom: Flying books


Postalco (1-6-3 3FL Dogenzaka Shibuya) Founded in New York in 2000 by Mike and Yuri Ableson, the company has since moved to Tokyo, where it creates highly practical and understated stationary and leather goods. Located on the 2nd floor of an inconspicuous building, the quaint shop in Shibuya is not easy to find. Once inside, it is hard not to be drawn towards the appealing leather products and stationery, prices are not cheap but quality and timelessness of the products are the main draws here.

Flying Books (1-6-3 2FL Dogenzaka Shibuya) – Under Postalco within the same building is a cafe and bookshop that stocks an international selection of new and used books and magazines on music, art, design, philosophy and world religions etc.



Shibuya Publishing booksellers


Since I was staying near Shibuya, I was keen to explore the area, particularly on after hours shopping. As a supporter of independent booksellers, I was thrilled when I discovered Shibuya Publishing & Booksellers (17-3 Kamiyamacho, Shibuya), an independent bookshop and publisher that opens from noon until midnight. The shop was designed by architect Hiroshi Nakamura, and there is a illusory mirror-like window that allows customers to see the office behind. This unconventional bookshop is not interested in selling bestsellers, instead it carefully curates a selection of new and used books and magazines on topics like food, culture, art, design, photography and lifestyle. Besides books, the shop also sells an interesting selection of stationery, jewellery and lifestyle products. Being able to linger and browse in a bookshop at 11pm was a luxury that I seldom experience outside of Asia, so I truly cherished my time spent here.


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Daikanyama T-site 


My after hours shopping continued the following evening at Daikanyama T-site (17-5 Sarugakucho, Shibuya-ku), Tokyo’s most talked-about lifestyle bookstore in recent years. Design by Klein Dytham Architecture, whose design won the World Architecture Festival, it is considered to be a dream bookstore for many. Tsutaya‘s complex comprises of three interlinked two-story buildings with a convenient store, a cafe, a lounge inside and several restaurants outside. I was particularly dazzled by its vast magazine selection, I am not sure if I had ever seen so many magazines at one place before! It is easy to spend hours here, and luckily, the store is open from 7am until 2am, so do enjoy the midnight shopping experience here!



Pass the BatonPass the Baton Pass the BatonPass the Baton MOMA STORE TokyoPLAY BOX comme des garcons

Top, 2nd & 3rd left: Pass the Baton; 3rd right: MOMA design store; Bottom: Comme des Garcons’ Play Box at Gyre


I have previously written about shops in Omotesando, so I will not repeat the list again. I will only add two shops to the list, and one of them is Pass the baton (Omotesando Hills West Bldg 2F, 4-12-10 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku), a contemporary recycle/consignment store that sells not only fashion but also antiques, furniture and crafts. Designed by well-known interior designer Kasamichi Katayama of Wonderwall, the basement shop feels more like a vintage museum, and it even has a small gallery at the back. Don’t expect bargain charity shop prices here, but the quality and selections are a cut above the rest. Many items include a photograph of the previous owner and a personal anecdote from them about each item. Emotive storytelling is an effective communication tool, and the success of this shop proves exactly that.





Quico (5-16-15 Jingumae, Shibuya) – inside a white building designed by architect Kazunari Sakamoto is a split-level store filled with a well-curated collection of homewares, textiles, fashion, shoes and furniture from around the world. The store also has an exhibition space upstairs.


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It excites me to see the products we carry in stores… Top left: Rocca games; Top right: Marusa balloons; 2nd & 3rd rows: stationery and books that I bought on this trip


Musashino Place: The ideal library

musashino place


While I was in Tokyo, I met up with the Japanese architect/ director behind a brand that we will be launching soon. I mentioned to him that I would be visiting the Edo-Tokyo open air architectural museum, and he recommended a visit to the nearby Musashino Place in Musashino City.

Designed by kw + hg architect and opened in 2011, Musashino Place functions primarily as a public library, whilst providing spaces for children/youth activities, educational workshops, meetings and civic events. The building is located within a small park near the Musashi-Sakai station, and it stands out from afar due to its cool white exterior and massive oval-shaped windows.


musashino place musashino placemusashino place


As soon as I stepped into the building, I was immediately struck by the clean lines and spaciousness. The mix of natural light source with soft interior lighting works harmoniously. This is one of the most minimal and yet striking libraries that I have ever visited. It showcases the essence of Japanese aesthetics and design principles brilliantly. It is simple, subtle, open, calm and well balanced. In many ways, this contemporary library is not so indifferent from a traditional Japanese zen temple.


musashino placemusashino place musashino place


One of the most fascinating aspects of this building is that it appears to be a three storey building from the exterior, yet in fact, it has four floors and three basement including an underground car park! Aside from a library collection of 140,000 books and 600 periodicals, there are 400 reading seats, a cafe on the ground floor, as well as soundproof recording studio in the basement.


musashino placemusashino place


When I was visiting the library, I saw groups of mothers and their young kids sitting and playing outside in the park. While inside, I saw a few elderly men taking naps on the reading chairs (why not?), students doing research and friends chatting and relaxing in the cafe.

Musashino Place not only serves as an educational facility, it also encourages social interactions for people of all ages and backgrounds. In an ideal world, all libraries should be like this… if all local councils in the UK would invest and improve their library facilities and services for youths, I am sure that literacy rates would improve and crime rates would also be reduced.

The residents of Musashino City are a lucky bunch!


Foyles & the comeback of bookstores

Living in this fast-paced world today, is there even time for nostalgia? Changes are inevitable in big cities, but not all changes are necessarily positive. In Hong Kong, I often complain to my local friends that 90% of the lovely spots that I discovered the year before are likely to disappear within a year, and most locals wouldn’t even notice it. One year is like eternity in Hong Kong. Now I feel like London is heading down the same direction, and people are becoming increasingly oblivious to these changes.

Recently in my neighbourhood, a beloved local newsagent has announced their closure, and all the locals are saddened by the news. I have known the family for years, and one day the owner said to me: “We are like families, I feel sad to go too.” Families? Would the guy who ‘mindfully crafts’ my coffee behind Starbucks use this word? Obviously not. I don’t think these locals are clinging to the past or are reluctant to changes, instead they value the relationships and trust built over the years. London used to be like a city with many small villages, and each village would have their small independent shops where locals would visit regularly. Now it is a very different story.



Foyles’ flagship store on Charing Cross Road 


Before Amazon, people used to linger in bookshops and I was one of them. Studying design and working in advertising, bookshops served as a main source of inspiration for me. The unfortunate demise of bookshops have prompted numerous independent and even large chain booksellers in the USA and UK to close down in the past decade. According to the Booksellers Association (BA), more than 500 independent bookshops have closed its doors in the UK and Ireland since 2005.

When I lived in New York many years ago, I used to spend much of my time lingering in independent bookshops like Rizzoli (which had to relocate from its beautiful 50-year old premises due to demolition of the building), as well as chain bookstores like Borders (now closed) and Barnes & Nobles (only a few left in the city). Being used to the traditional British bookshops (not bookstores), I was initially fairly gobsmacked by the size, late opening hours, and the variety of products (with huge magazine and music sections) available at these large American chain bookstores. Besides, Barnes & Nobles was the pioneer to incorporating cafes (or Starbucks) in their stores, and this proved to be a successful formula that would be copied by other bookstores globally.

The most successful ‘copycat’ is Taiwan’s largest bookseller chain Eslite, where customers can hang out all night long at their 24-hour Dunnan branch in Taipei (which I did when I was in town, and I loved it). Customers can browse books, shop for lifestyle products and enjoy coffee or light meals all within the same retail outlet. Another successful example is Tokyo’s Daikanyama Tsutaya Books (T-Site), a beautifully-designed concept bookstore that is open from 7am until 2am. These booksellers demonstrate that heyday of bookstores is far from over, all they need is to evolve and move with the times.


foyles foyles


In London, the best-known bookstore is Foyles founded in 1903. It was once listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest bookstore in terms of shelf area (30 miles/50 kilometres) and number of titles on display. Like many Londoners, I still have vivid memories of the old maze-like store where books were piled up everywhere, and occasionally had to climb or dig to reach for the books.

When the 111-year old legendary bookstore announced that they would relocate down the road to a bigger space (the former site of Central St Martins College of Art and Design), it probably startled many of their apprehensive and loyal customers. After visited the bookstore a few times since it reopened it doors in June, I honestly believe this change was long overdue. London needs a world-class contemporary bookstore like this and I more than welcome the change.


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A cafe & gallery space inside Foyles’ flagship store


Designed by London-based architects Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands, the new store has won several major architectural and retail project awards since its opening. With 37,000 square feet of retail space, spread across eight shop floors within the four storey building, and over 200,000 different titles on four miles (6.5km) of shelves, it is the largest bookshop to have opened in the UK in more than a decade.

The architects have done a tremendous job and have created a bright, practical and multifunctional space that would no doubt attract more footfall. And in order to survive in the 21st century, a bookstore can no longer be just a bookstore. Besides books, there is also a café, a gallery space and an auditorium, there is no trace of the past except for the posters/photos on the walls.

Elsewhere in London, booksellers like Waterstones and Daunt books (whose owner is now the MD of Waterstones) are also rallying and embracing changes in order to survive in a fiercely competitive market. Aside from book signing events, Waterstones have also installed free wifi and added Cafe W to more than 100 of their stores nationwide.


daunt books

Daunt books in Hampstead


But what about the independent booksellers that are rapidly vanishing from our high streets? How do they cope and survive in this day and age? What these bookshops offer that Amazon cannot is human contact, so aside from finding a niche and understanding the target market, factors like customer service and building relationships with the customers are crucial.

Here are some general, specialists and secondhand bookshops (I shall write about art/design bookshops in the future) that are worth visiting in the city:

Hachards booksellers (187 Piccadilly London W1J 9LE) – Forget Waterstones down the road, this is the quintessential British bookshop (even though it is owned by Waterstones). It is the oldest bookshop in the UK, and you can soak up the historical ambience while browsing inside. There are also many signed books available in store, and it is seldom crowded, so it is easy to spend a few hours here away from the hustle and bustle outside. 
hachardspersephone books waterstoneLondon review bookshop
Top: Hachards Booksellers; 2nd left: Persephone books; 2nd right: Waterstones; Bottom: The London Review bookshop
London review bookshop (14 Bury Place WC1A 2JL) – A much loved bookshop by the locals, and despite its touristy location (near the British Museum), it is not very touristy. There is a wide range of selection here, but the main focus is literary fiction, poetry, history and travel. The cafe is extremely popular too, as there are not many decent cafes nearby (P.S. I was told by the barista that they use Monmouth coffee beans, so coffee connoisseur need not worry here). 
Persephone books (59 Lamb’s Conduit Street, London WC1N 3NB) – This small independent bookshop/publisher differs from other because it reprints neglected fiction and non-fiction by mid-twentieth century (mostly) women writers. Their collection of 112 books includes novels, short stories, diaries, memoirs and cookery books, all reprinted in their signature grey covers. You can buy their books online, but I recommend a visit to their crammed but delightful shop. 
Stanford Travel (12-14 Long Acre, London WC2E 9LP) – I often drop by when I need to research or plan for a holiday. Established in 1853, this travel and map specialist bookshop stocks the world’s largest collection of map and travel books, as well as travel accessories and stationery. The small cafe at the back is also quite pleasant and relaxing if you want to get away from the crowded and touristy Covent Garden. 

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Top left: Skoob books; Top right, 2nd row middle & right: Housmans bookshop; 2nd row left: Karnac bookshop; Bottom left: The bookshop theatre/ Calder Bookshop; Bottom right: Judd books


Housmans bookshop (5 Caledonian Rd, London N1 9DX) – London’s oldest radical and not-for-profit bookshop (since 1945) specialising in books (over 500,000 titles from their online shop), zines, and periodicals of radical interest and progressive politics. Located close to Kings Cross, this hidden gem stocks the largest range of radical newsletters, newspapers and magazines in Britain. It is hard to find this sort of bookshop in London today, so we are lucky that this one is still going strong after all these years.

Calder Bookshop/The Bookshop Theatre (51 The Cut, Southwark, London SE1 8LF) – This is another unusual bookshop and theatre that started in 2011 by a collective of friends who wanted to create their own theatre to put on their own productions. Aside from regular theatre and a weekly cinema club, their not-for-profit shop has quality second hand books and literature on plays and performance art.

Karnac books (118 Finchley Rd, London NW3 5HT) – This small inconspicuous bookshop is located on the busy Finchley Road, yet many would walk by without taking much notice of it. This specialist bookshop is in fact dedicated to psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, and related subjects. Established in 1950, Karnac is Britain’s only specialist psychoanalytic bookshop, and interestingly, it is located not far from the Freud museum. There are not only books by famous names like Freud and Jung, but also new and rare-to-find titles, and it regularly hosts events and seminars related to these topics.

Skoob books (66, Brunswick Shopping Centre, Marchmont Street, London WC1N 1AE) – This basement bookshop is one of my favourites in the city because it feels like Aladdin’s cave for books. It offers over 55,000 different titles of second-hand academic books, including large collections of books in Philosophy, Psychology, Modern Literature, Art, History, Politics, Economics, Classics, Science and Technology. I often find books that I already own here for 1/2 the price I originally paid, so if you are looking for bargains, this is THE place to come. And you are quite likely to spend hours here and leave with a heap of books back home.

Judd books (82 Marchmont St, Saint Pancras, London, WC1N 1AG) – Judd Books has a large stock of used and bargain academic books including Literature, Art, Film, Media, Architecture and Music. There are also bargain boxes outside where you can find new/like-new condition books for under a fiver.


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Top left & middle: Black gull bookshop; Top right & bottom: Word on Water


Black gull bookshop (70-71 Camden Lock Pl, London NW1 8AF) Now that Camden market has become a major tourist trap (it didn’t use to be this way), I would avoid like the plague. However, there are still some gems to be found beyond incense sticks and greasy Chinese noodles, and one of them is Black gull bookshop. The secondhand bookshop stocks Fictions, Classics, Crime, History, Philosophy, Psychology, Mind Body and Spirit, Mythology, Occult, Art, Film, Music, Poetry, Drama and Cookery. I also discovered a few plastic crates of children’s books outside. Most books are in excellent condition, and the staff is friendly and helpful. The market is currently going through a major facelift, I just hope that this shop is here to stay.

Treadwell’s books (33 Store Street, London WC1E 7BS) – If you are into tarot and other spiritual-related matters, then a visit to the Treadwell’s is a must as it is an independent/alternative bookshop that specialises in esotericism, culture, religion and spirituality. There are also regular events, courses and workshops on related subjects, this is undoubtedly one of the most unconventional bookshops in London.

Word on Water (Located inside Granary Square) – The most unique bookshop in London is not on land but on water! Word on Water is a floating bookshop on a 1920’s Dutch Barge that offers a range of contemporary fiction, cult, art and photography, non-fiction and quality children’s books at reasonable prices. After losing their previous mooring in Paddington Basin last year, they have been offered a permanent residence on the steps at Granary Square in King’s Cross. These days, it is not easy to find space on land or on water in London, so let’s hope that this bookbarge is here to stay.


The art of letter writing


New paper stationery by Kuroyagiza from Japan


Can you remember the last time you received a handwritten letter from someone? I can’t (postcards don’t count). Have we lost the art of letter writing? Did you ever have pen pals when you were younger? In recent years, authors, designers and retailers are trying to revive this ‘ancient’ way of communications. Even pen pals are making a comeback according to a Guardian article, so perhaps this form of art is not quite ‘dead’ yet.

My love affair with writing paper began during my primary school years, and many of my school friends shared the same passion. We often exchanged cute and wonderful Japanese writing paper with each other, and this activity was one of my fondest memories of my school years. About a year ago, I accidentally discovered a large box containing writing paper that I had exchanged during those years, which certainly brought back many childhood memories.


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KUROYAGIZA’s letter sets are delightful and has a nostalgic quality to it


During my secondary school years, I was sent to boarding schools by my parents who reside abroad. Apart from communal payphones, the only way for boarders to communicate with the outside world was through letters. My parents insisted that I wrote a letter to them every week, and so I did. And when I changed schools, I corresponded with friends from my previous schools weekly. Everyday, boarders anticipated letters from friends, families or loved ones, this was our ‘gateway’ to the outside world. A week without any incoming letters could make us feel neglected, we all longed for the connection with people who mattered to us.


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Korean design studio Ttable Office’s letter set are heart-warming and imaginative, they evoke innocence and childlike qualities within us


I have a male school friend who has corresponded with me continuously since we left school. We would meet once every few years (because we were both constantly moving to different countries and cities), and even when his outer appearance has changed, his handwriting has not and I would recognise it as soon as I see it. When our correspondence eventually stopped, he would still send me a lovely Christmas card every year with a note attached telling me how he is doing. Last year, I received a Christmas card from him with a photograph of his new family and a note expressing his joy on his new life and future. I could ‘feel’ his happiness through the lines of his handwriting, and I was so over the moon for him. Friendship like this is hard to come by these days, and so I will always treasure it even when we no longer correspond regularly.


eco letter set eco letter set

Korean design studio Gongjang’s eco letter sets are one of our best selling paper stationery. Many customers also use them as ‘Thank you’ notes.


Writing by hand requires more conscious effort because you don’t want to make mistakes as you can’t delete it and scribbling over it would look messy and careless. We need to think or construct more on what we want to convey before writing it down on paper. And there is no doubt that receiving handwritten love letters or poems through the post is much more romantic than receiving it through emails or text messages.

Due to my passion for letter writing, I have continued to stock writing paper designed by different Korean designers and they have sold surprisingly well. Hence, I want to continue to advocate this form of art and encourage more people to enjoy the magic of letter writing. I discovered Japanese design studio KUROYAGIZA one day, and I was drawn to their wonderful and slightly nostalgic letter paper and mini note sets. I later found out that the designer Junko used to have 30 pen pals around the world when she was younger, which subsequently inspired her to set up her own studio and share her passion through her paper stationery.

You can check out our new range of paper stationery range by KUROYAGIZA, and surprise your loved ones by a handwritten note or letter. Let’s help to revive this art form and not let it drift into obscurity!


Art bookbenches in London

Theodor Seuss Geisel (artwork) Created by Jane HeadfordSir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories by Valerie Osment Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories by Valerie Osment

Main: Theodor Seuss Geisel (artwork) Created by Jane Headford; Bottom: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories by Valerie Osment


If you have been out and about in London this summer, then you are bound to have come across one of the bookbenches somewhere in the city. There are 50 different benches designed by local artists and they will be exhibited until 15th September.

These art benches will be auctioned on 7th October to raise funds for the National Library’s Trust to raise literacy levels in the UK. If you want to find out more about the artists, designs, events and even download the trails, you can go to Books about Town website.


Ian Fleming's James Bond stories by Freyja DeanAgatha Christie's Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane by Tom Adams (artwork) and Mandii Pope Marple Helen Felding's Bridget Jones' diary by Paula Bressel

Top: Ian Fleming’s James Bond stories by Freyja Dean; 2nd row left: Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane by Tom Adams (artwork) and Mandii Pope Marple; 2nd row right: Helen Felding’s Bridget Jones’ diary by Paula Bressel


P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster by Gordon AllumOscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest by Trevor Skempton Fiona Watt's That’s not my meerkat… by Rachel Wells (original illustrations) Jenny Hilborne (design) Painted by Sarah Jane RichardsGeorge Orwell's 1984 by Thomas Dowdeswell

Top: P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster by Gordon Allum; 2nd row left Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest by Trevor Skempton; 2nd row right: Fiona Watt’s That’s not my meerkat… by Rachel Wells (original illustrations) Jenny Hilborne (design) Painted by Sarah Jane Richards; Bottom: George Orwell’s 1984 by Thomas Dowdeswell


The habit of diary writing

eco balance diary

Gongjang’s eco Balance diary


A few years ago, I was doing some decluttering at home and I found an old diary written by me at the age of seven. The diary was about a holiday with my family and the ‘dilemma’ that I was facing then. Of course what bothered me at seven seems trivial now, but it made cackle because it was silly and sweet at the same time. Unfortunately, I stopped writing after the holiday, so the diary was left mostly blank.

This diary, however, reminded me that I was told to keep a diary when I was a child by either my teacher or parents. Why? No idea, but this turned out to be one of most beneficial habits that I still keep (on and off) decades later.

I did not write consistently over the years but there were certain periods of my life when I did write quite obsessively. The first period took place in my mid to late teens, and it certainly wasn’t all about my study… it contained a teenage girl’s insecurities, fantasies, desire and disappointments, a bit like the female equivalent of Adrian Mole. Every night, my room mate and I (we were boarding at the time) would write before we went to bed, it was like our daily ritual! Some of these diaries even have locks… in total I must have written about 6 diaries over a two-year period; I had no intention to read them again, so I locked them all away about 10 years ago.


eco balance diary


When keeping a diary, one is often anxious about the possibility that someone may accidentally find it and discover all their hidden secrets. I sometimes think that too, but at the same time, I want to be honest with myself, so occasionally I would use codes to disguise people’s identities. Is it necessary? Probably not, but it is part of the fun of diary writing. Yet why keep a diary in the first place? For me, I see it as an outlet to express my feelings, emotions and anxieties. Sometimes I would be emotionally affected by an event, but it is only when I write things down that I become fully aware of my subconscious thoughts and feelings. And when I experience personal crises, writing becomes a cathartic tool. For me, diary writing is not about reminiscing because I would seldom read them afterwards; it is more to do with giving myself the time to record and articulate my thoughts, feelings and emotions. I also see the act as a self-discovery/ personal development tool.

Unlike writing blog entries, I never know what I will be writing beforehand, it’s spontaneous and words would flow as I put my pen down. I don’t need to check spelling or grammar, and sometimes I would be so sleepy that words would slant off the lines. And since there is no audience to consider, I can allow my deepest and darkest thoughts to emerge. Honesty is essential for diary writing.

Perhaps the reason why I continue to stock notebooks and diaries is because I know that like myself, there are many people who would prefer to write with a pen than to type in front of a computer. There is also something psychological comforting when you hold a pen and write on a smooth piece of paper, the experience is totally different from pressing your fingers onto a cold metal or plastic keyboard.

If you don’t keep a diary, I urge you to start one today because I guarantee that there will be plenty of surprises in store for you.


Navigating through the social media world

This entry is all about social media because I want to share my journey/ experience with those who are as overwhelmed, confused and sometimes fed up as me.

When this blog entry is being published, I will be ‘unplugging’ from the internet for a week in a remote and scenic part of Scotland walking, meditating and just being in touch with nature. This will be my summer holiday, completely cut off from the outside world for a week and I am very much looking forward to it!

If it wasn’t for work, I probably would not even want to maintain one account including my personal Facebook page, especially since I am only regularly in touch with less than 1/4 of my friends on it. I am not a fan of Facebook, but I love Pinterest, followed by Twitter.


the science of social media

One of the million books on social media…


In the world of social media, there is nowhere to hide, all information is ‘shared’ and made public including personal details that we would rather not share. I am aware that as a small internet-based business owner, social media is crucial as a marketing tool. I am not against it because I think it can be a very effective tool to spread messages, encourage transparency in companies and do good in the world ( including bringing down dictatorial governments). However, since technology world is forever changing and growing, it is almost impossible to keep up and often we become overwhelmed or information-overload in the process.

Like many other designers and practitioners I have spoken to, we want to concentrate our time in developing our work and grow the businesses, yet we are constantly obliged to manage and keep up to date with all social media at the same time. I thought our lives are supposed to be made easier with the advance of technology? Yet why are we all more stressed than ever? The constant need to ‘share’ can also be addictive ( I am sure most of us have had to eat with friends who are constantly tweeting or posting during a meal), so in order to stay ‘sane’ in our instant gratification-driven society, we need to gain control over it instead of being controlled by it.

Since I started my social media journey for work almost 2 years ago, I have attended workshops, talks and even bought a book on it (see above). I have had my ups and downs, experienced excitement, surprises as well as stress, pressure, anxiety and frustration because I felt that I was not doing enough, or not seeing immediate results, or simply overwhelmed by all the new tools that are supposedly the next big thing!

Here I have drawn a ‘rough’ diagram of my social media timetable and journey:




At the beginning of my journey, I had no idea that I could link my different accounts and use tools to manage all of them. Since I discovered these tools, yes, it has made my life slightly easier but I still have to come up with contents that are fresh, engaging, informative and interactive across all social media sites on a weekly or even daily basis!

Before I started writing the blog, I was worried about not having enough interesting topics to write about, but since I am often out and about and doing different activities, I somehow manage to find new materials for it. I can’t recall ever writing as much and as regularly since my school days! I have never considered writing as my strong trait, but since I started this blog, I find joy in writing and it also acts as a platform for me to express my opinions that I feel strongly about.

Recently I have also been asked by a business consultant about my social media marketing strategy? I said “none” and he said “you are not the only one but we can help you to set daily tasks and plans etc.” This made me panicked for about 2 weeks, I was feeling the pressure… eventually I had to tell myself to step back and not let it get to me. Yes, perhaps I could have a solid strategy and plan in place to help me reach a wider audience or hire a marketer to do all the work for me, but I also view it as a learning process, it’s about trial and error.

We have all heard stories about tweets or posts going viral, creating some kind of social media frenzy; but honestly, how frequent does it happen to new and small businesses? And even if it does, how long will it last or will it increase help long term sales? Social media is a tool that is supposed to help businesses, but if the products or services are not up to scratch, the effect of social media will not be sustainable in the long run. To me, as long as the products are selling, I don’t care about the number of ‘likes’ on the Facebook page because I know it does not reflect the sales volume.

There are many strategies that are recommended by books and experts in the field but at the end of the day, like most small business owners with limited resources, time and budget, we can only do what we can within our limitation. My experience has taught me to not let it take over my life, and I will continue the cycle of ‘try, test and give up’ ( and back to trying again), hopefully, I will eventually get better at it one day.