London’s unusual sunset spot: Emirates Air Line

emirates air line


I feel that sometimes when we live in a place for a long time, we would start taking things for granted, and stop noticing our surroundings. Yet if you talk to tourists or friends visiting from abroad, you are likely to be surprised by their discovery and knowledge about your home city/town/village. Maybe we all have act like a ‘tourist’ sometimes in order to appreciate what is on offer around us. Personally, I find it hard to get bored in London, as I am always discovering something new about the city and I love being a ‘tourist’ here.

The most famous quote about London was recorded in 1777 by Samuel Johnson to James Boswell: “Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”

Of course, there are things that I dislike about the city, and have thought of moving away for the last few years, but I have yet to find a place that is on par with London (I can say this after living in New York, Hong Kong and Moscow).


emirates air line


Recently, I had to go to the Greenwich Peninsula one afternoon, as I was leaving, I was captivated by the sky colours and walked towards the river. Standing by the rirver, I saw the Emirates Air Line, the cable car link that brings passengers across the River Thames. Costing £60m to build (more than double the original estimate) and masterminded by London’s former mayor Boris Johnson, this unpopular project has been viewed as one of Boris‘ vanity projects. Emirates has signed up to provide £36m in sponsorship for 10 year, but what will happen after that, I am not quite sure.

The only time I took the cable car was back in 2014 with an Italian friend from Turin. We went to see an immersive show nearby one evening, and thought it would be fun to take the cable car across. We enjoyed the night view of of the Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks, but I never had the urge to return after that.

On impulse, I headed towards the cable car’s ticket area, and paid £3.50 for a single fare using my oyster car. As soon as I stepped onto the cable car, I saw the screen reminding me that the project was partly funded by the EU, and my heart sank immediately… I wonder if this link would be scrapped after we leave the EU? I am not sure how many Londoners use this link as a commute transportation, but judging from the empty cable cars around me, I doubt many Londoners would go on a protest if this gets scrapped.


emirates air line


Although I don’t see much point of this project, but I certainly did enjoy watching sunset from 90m above ground. Sunny days are hard to come by in winter, so I was extremely lucky with the weather. Before today, it never occurred to me that the cable car would be a fantastic sunset watching spot.


emirates air line

emirates air line

emirates air line

emirates air line

emirates air line

emirates air line


The 10-minute ride seemed rather short since I was focusing on the sunset and surroundings. When I arrived at the other end (Royal Docks), I felt uplifted and yet disorientated at the same time. I did not know my bearings, and the DLR Royal Docks station was not convenient for me, so I used google map to direct me towards Canning Town. The poor transport link on this end probably explains why this cable link is not as popular as The London Eye.

After the ride, I still couldn’t decide how I feel about this project. Do I think it is a vanity project? Yes, definitely. But was the ride worth £3.50? I would say yes to that, too. Who knows what will happen to this when the funding and sponsorship stop, but at least I would always remember this ride where I saw a beautiful sunset on one winter’s afternoon.


emirates air line

emirates air line

emirates air line





Hong Kong heritage: The Hong Kong Railway Museum



After my visit to the Green Hub, I walked downhill and headed towards The Hong Kong Railway Museum located about 10 minutes away. This is a small but very pleasant free open-air museum that is likely to attract railway fans and families with children.

Located at the old Tai Po Market railway station built in 1913, the station buidling is of indigenous Chinese architectural style, with pitched roof and decorative figures on its facade that are commonly found in old southern Chinese temples.


The Hong Kong Railway Museum

The Hong Kong Railway Museum   The Hong Kong Railway Museum

The Hong Kong Railway Museum

The Hong Kong Railway Museum

The Hong Kong Railway Museum


The Kowloon-Canton Railway (British Section) opened in 1910, and Tai Po Market station was erected three years later as one of the stops in the New Territories. After the Kowloon-Canton Railway was electrified in 1983, the station was taken out of service and was declared a monument a year later.

Inside the building, there are permanent exhibits of the station and railway’s history, a refurbished ticket office, and signalling house.


The Hong Kong Railway Museum   The Hong Kong Railway Museum

The Hong Kong Railway Museum

The Hong Kong Railway Museum

The Hong Kong Railway Museum

The Hong Kong Railway Museum   The Hong Kong Railway Museum


However, the main attraction here is not the exhibits, but the heritage locomotives on display, and the six coaches where visitors can walk through. One of the heritage locomotives is the W. G. Bagnall 0-4-4PT narrow gauge steam locomotive that ran on the narrow gauge Sha Tau Kok Railway line between Fanling and Sha Tau Kok. When that closed, the two steam locomotives were transported to the Philippines to be used by the sugar mills. The locomotives eventually returned to Hong Kong and were restored.

The second locomotive is Sir Alexander diesel locomotive that was introduced in Hong Kong in 1955 to replace the steam ones, and it was named after former Governor Alexander Grantham.


The Hong Kong Railway Museum

The Hong Kong Railway Museum

Steam locomotive W.G.Bagnall 0-4-4T

The Hong Kong Railway Museum

Sir Alexander diesel locomotive


The six other coaches are from different periods: 1911, 1921, 1955, 1964 and 1976. Visitors can walk through each coach to see the changes that took place over the years.


The Hong Kong Railway Museum   The Hong Kong Railway Museum

The Hong Kong Railway Museum

The Hong Kong Railway Museum   The Hong Kong Railway Museum

The Hong Kong Railway Museum


There were very few other visitors while I was at the museum (probably because it was a weekday), and I really enjoyed my visit. From the archive photographs, I could imagine how exciting it must had been when the railways were built and steam locomotives were introduced. Although this is not a major museum, it traces and celebrates the history of Hong Kong’s railway, which has played (and continues to play) a crucial role in the city’s infrastructure. Hong Kong’s public transport system is regarded as one of the best in the world, and ironically it has surpassed the British system decades ago, so if you want to see where it all started, this museum would be a good starting point.


Echizen Washi Village

the JR Johana Line

the JR Johana Line

Belles montagnes et mer  the JR Johana Line

The JR Johana Line in Toyama and the poster for the Belles montagnes et mer sightseeing train


When foreign visitors think of Japanese railway, the first thing they think of is likely to be the sleek Bullet train/ Shinkansen. As much as I appreciate them, I have a particular soft spot for the slower retro 2-carriage local trains that go through small village stations. These trains and stations are old-school and delightful, and often carrying very few passengers. In Toyama prefecture, I took the JR Johana line which originally started in 1897 by the Chūetsu Railway, but now it is run by JR West. Although the journey was not long, it was lovely nonetheless, and it made me want to take more local train journeys around Japan in the future.



Japanese train  ekiben

Japanese train station poster

Top two rows: Shinkansen & ekiben for the journey; Bottom row: poster warning passengers not to text while walking at the train stations (we need them in every country!)


Another thing I love about rail travel in Japan is the amazing ekiben (station box lunch) that are sold at the train stations. Usually these lunch boxes consist of local produce and specialties that are unique to that region, and so every station would offer something different.

Even more surprising was when I encountered a contemporary craft gallery inside a train station… during my transit at the Takaoka station, I came across Monono-Fu Gallery, where they exhibit and sell exquisite crafts that are made locally. I even noticed the Honeycomb tin basket from our shop; it was good to be able to locate its origin in person. Aside from metal works, the region also produces wood products, washi paper goods and ceramics etc – it is a fantastic idea to promote the local crafts and perhaps more stations should follow suit.


gallery monono-fu  gallery monono-fu

gallery monono-fu

gallery monono-fu

gallery monono-fu

Locally-made crafts are promoted and sold at the Monono-Fu Gallery inside the Takaoka train station


Although Mino is famous for its washi paper (due to its status as the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage), it is Echizen in the Fukui Prefecture that has the highest production of washi paper in Japan. The history of washi paper-making in this region dates back to 1500 years ago, and currently there are 70 washi industries in Echizen, mostly family-run businesses, employing around 500 people in the Imadate area called Goka, which includes five villages of the town, Oizu, Iwamoto, Shinzaike, Sadatomo and Otaki. These villages have been producing Japanese paper since 6th century and constitute “Echizen Washi no Sato“. Every spring, there is a Kami festival in Washi-no-Sato that celebrates the paper goddess, Kawa-Kami Gozen and the two local gods at the Okamoto Otaki Shrine.

After learning about the Echizen washi village in Takefu (a small town which is part of the Echizen City), I went online to find out more and on how to reach it. However, I learnt that getting there is no easy task without a car, and I could not find any accommodation nearby either. Eventually I contacted Katz, a local photographer whose contact is on the official website and he kindly assisted me with the accommodation and travel itinerary.





A miserable day in Takefu


Aside from washi paper, Takefu is also known for its 700-year old knife-making industry and its knife village. I was rather unlucky when I arrived at Takefu, because the scheduled bus didn’t show up at the train station (the third time during my trip), and I had to contact Katz for assistance. Then it was raining cats and dogs by the time I reached the washi village and it didn’t stop until the next morning.

Unlike most of the cities/ towns I visited previously, I saw no foreign tourists, shops, cafes, restaurants nor pedestrians as I was walked towards the washi village. All I saw were residential houses, warehouses, factories and small agricultural fields – it felt very suburban. This town is unlike any towns that I have visited before, and it was quite a shock for me as I was expecting to see a charming town like Arimatsu or Mino. Yet this is the other side of Japan, a side that perhaps not many tourists get to see.


echizen washi village

Paper & Culture Museum echizen washi village

Paper & Culture Museum echizen washi village

Paper & Culture Museum


There are several buildings in the Washi Village, and one of them is the Paper & Culture Museum. The museum displays ancient documents showing the history and origins of Echizen Japanese paper, but there is little English explanation (probably because there are few foreign visitors here). I think this museum is less interesting than the other two venues in the village, and I didn’t linger for too long. However, there is a washi paper library at the back that displays a variety of washi paper samples, which is worth seeing.


Papyrus House echizen washi village

echizen washi village Papyrus House

echizen washi village  echizen washi village

echizen washi village

echizen washi village  echizen washi village

Washi paper-making workshop at the Papyrus House


At the Papyrus House, there is a paper souvenir shop and an area where visitors can try out some washi paper-making which lasts about 20 minutes. I decided to have a go at it and did manage to make a few pieces to bring home.


echizen washi village

echizen washi village

A washi paper and stationery shop in the washi village


Out of three venues, my favourite was the Udatsu Paper & Craft Museum. Unlike the two other new buildings, this museum is situated inside a former paper maker’s house from the Edo period (1748) , which was later dismantled and reconstructed on this site.

The most fascinating part of the museum is that visitors can watch the process of washi paper making by paper artisans using traditional tools. Unfortunately, I had missed the last session of the Japanese traditional papermaking workshop, but being the only visitor there, I was able to watch the artisan closely while she was working.


echizen washi village Udatsu Paper & Craft Museum

echizen washi village

echizen washi village

echizen washi village  echizen washi village

echizen washi village

echizen washi village  echizen washi village

echizen washi village

echizen washi village

echizen washi village

echizen washi village

echizen washi village

Udatsu Paper & Craft Museum


There is also an exhibition hall upstairs that showcase washi paper works from the region. I had a relaxing time here, and was especially grateful to the kind lady who gave me an umbrella to take away as it was chucking it down outside.


echizen washi village

echizen washi village  echizen washi village

echizen washi village

echizen washi village

echizen washi village

Udatsu Paper & Craft Museum


After the museums closed, I had to wait around for the heavy rain to ease slightly before walking back to the minshuku, which was fairly basic with few amenities ( not even wifi). I didn’t see other guests and I thought the place was not very clean, but since I was only there for one night, I just turned a blind eye to it. When I tried to locate restaurants nearby for dinner with google map, there were few and far between, hence I decided to wander around to see what I could find.

Eventually I found a soba restaurant that had a ‘closed’ sign hanging outside, even though it was supposed to be opened until 9pm. I walked up to the door to try my luck, and it turned out that the restaurant was indeed opened! The soba restaurant is run by an elderly couple, and aside from a young male customer, there was no one else around. I sat down and picked one a set meal from the Japanese menu, which I have to say was one of the best meals I have had throughout the trip. It was so simple, and yet so delicious. I thought the tempura was even better than the ones I had at the expensive Tenichi Ginza Honten with my friend in Tokyo a few years back. The homemade soba noodles tasted great, too. I thought it was ironic that I randomly walked into an almost empty restaurant in the suburbs and had a surprisingly satisfying meal. Perhaps the food tasted better because I was tired, cold and wet; or because i had no expectations. Anyway, that meal did make me feel happy at the end of a rather miserable day.


echizen washi village

A heartwarming dinner was what I needed on a cold and rainy night


The next morning, I went to say goodbye to Katz, and he said he was hoping to take me to some washi paper studios in Echizen if I had spent more time there. I was grateful for his generosity but at the same time felt quite disappointed with my stay (I think the heavy rain didn’t help either). I am sure that one day was not enough, and there must be many interesting washi paper studios in the area that are worth visiting. Since this area is not a touristy region, it probably requires more research and planning beforehand, so perhaps it does deserve a second visit in the future.




Scotland by rail

train ride to scotland

Scenery from somewhere north of England


I am one of those people who would get excited sitting in the front row on the top deck of a double decker bus. And often I would end up sitting next to kids under 10 years of age who are equally excited, though I don’t express my enthusiasm as explicitly as they do.

Hence, I can’t verbally express the joy I feel when I am on a train. Perhaps what I enjoy most is staring out of the moving window while scenery, buildings, animals and people disappear from my peripheral vision. Those fleeting moments are not dissimilar to our experiences in life; one minute it is there and next minute it is gone. Unable to grasp the moment, we can only act as spectators and watch the changing scenery pass us by.

Sometimes people are bemused by my keenness to travel by rail, whereas I am equally bewildered by their eagerness to reach the destinations as fast as possible. I often feel that the most thrilling part of traveling is the journey itself rather than the destination. If time permits, I would always pick the longer and more interesting travel route.


train ride to scotland wind turbineUK aqueduct train ride to scotland train ride to scotland


Months ago when I was planning a trip to Scotland from London, I forwent the cheaper flying option and opted for the more costly and time-consuming train option. The booking process also turned out to be more complex and baffling, it is no wonder many travelers prefer the flying option. It took me days to figure out the routes, but one thing certain was that I wanted to include the Caledonian Sleeper, one of the two remaining sleeper trains in Britain (the other is The Night Riviera from London to Penzance).

Finally, I decided to take the Virgin Crusader from London to Glasgow (5 hours), then from Glasgow to Inverness (3.5 hours), and return back to London via the Caledonian sleeper (12 hours). Even though I had planned and booked almost 3 months in advance, I still had to pay £50 for a reclining seat (vs. £130 for a shared berth) on the Sleeper train. I can’t say that it was a bargain compared to a £30 Easyjet flight.


glasgowglasgow train station virgin crusaderglasgow train station

Arriving in Glasgow via Virgin Crusader


Out of the three journeys, the most pleasant and comfortable one was the Virgin Crusader. I paid an extra £10 for first class, and it was definitely worth it. The service was attentive, with complimentary food and drinks available throughout the 5 hour journey. However, the scenery is less spectacular than the journey I took to and from Edinburgh via the East Coast two years ago.


preston station aviemorepitlochrystirling stirling station

 Station after station…


For breathtaking scenery, it necessary to travel further north. The journey from Glasgow to Inverness offers some stunning views of the Highlands. The train passes by two significant summits: Drumochter and Slochd, and two viaducts: Culloden and Tomatin. Although it was the end of June at the time of travel, snow on the summits was still clearly visible.



Scenery of the Highlands


My last leg of the train journey was taking the night train from Inverness back to London via the Caledonian Sleeper. The train was surprisingly busy, but I was lucky to have two opposite seats to myself. In terms of comfort level, I would say the seats are similar to most airline’s Premium class seating. Nonetheless, do not expect to sleep well throughout the night especially if you are a light sleeper. I woke up a few times in the middle of the night and watched sunrise hours before the train arrived into London.


inverness station caledonian sleepersunset sunsetsunset


Since March of this year, Serco has commenced a 15-year contract to operate the Caledonian Sleeper between London and Scotland. More than £100m (part-funded by a £60m grant from the Scottish government) will be invested in building 72 state of the art carriages, which will make up four new trains by the summer of 2018.

It will be interesting to see these new trains, and I wonder if they will lure travelers back to rail travel again (given that they will not be too outrageously expensive)? Although British rail travel has passed its heyday, there are still some notable routes that are worth the time, effort and costs. My only advice is this: book early to avoid being charged an arm and a leg!


Hampshire’s heritage railway line

No, I am not a trainspotter! Sadly, I don’t have the knowledgeable nor am I geeky enough to be one. However, I have always loved trains, especially the heritage ones and whenever possible, I would choose trains over planes as a mode of transport. I think it is a shame that many people nowadays would seek the quickest and cheapest options to travel, yet these journeys can be so stressful that you would probably another holiday to recuperate! The longest train journey I took was from Los Angeles to Portland via Amtrak’s Coast Starlight which lasted 29 hours in total, a daunting thought to many but it was the most memorable ride that I have ever taken.

In UK, train travel is overpriced and often not very pleasant. Michael Portillo‘s BBC documentary series Great British railway journeys are delightful but in reality, commuters would often have to experience delays, chaos, overcrowded coaches, disgusting or blocked toilets… not to mention the high prices. It is no wonder that many Brits would rather get cheap flights to Europe than to take the trains and travel within the UK. Former Guardian journalist Matthew Engel‘s light-hearted book, “Eleven Minutes Late: A Train Journey to the Soul of Britain” somehow reveals a more realistic account of the British railways.


alresford stationalresford station alresford stationalresford stationalresford stationalresford station

New Alresford station 


Heritage railway though, is a different matter. I have never taken a heritage train in the UK before, so I was quite thrilled when my friend who lives in Hampshire suggested a visit to the railway stations that serve Hampshire’s heritage railway line, Watercress line.

We first visited the New Alresford station, which opened in 1865 for the new Alton, Alresford and Winchester Railway and later became the Mid-Hants Railway. Since watercress has always grown wild in the chalk streams and ditches in and around Alresford, the opening of the station meant that watercress could be transported to London and the Midlands within a day. And even today, Hampshire is still the main producing area in the country and for the last ten years, an annual Watercress festival would take place in Alresford, attracting many locals and visitors from far .

The nostalgic-looking station has been wonderfully restored, and being there made me feel as if I have been transported back in time. Just as I was getting excited, my friend assured me that the best was yet to come…


ropley station ropley stationropley stationropley station ropley stationropley stationropley stationropley stationropley stationropley station ropley station

Ropley station where you will find Thomas the tank engine and the famous King’s Cross footbridge, Handyside Bridge


We left Alresford and headed towards the nearby Ropley station, which also opened in 1865. The main locomotive shed and workshops for the Mid Hants Railway are located here and so you can get up close to the locomotives (including Thomas!) and see preservation in action. Another attraction here is the famous iron wrought Handyside bridge at King’s Cross station, that featured in the Harry Potter films. Due to the redevelopment of the station, the the Grade 1 listed structure was donated to Ropley station in 2011. The bridge fits in well at its new home, and it provides a premium vantage point of the beautiful South downs.


alresfordalresford fire station

New Alresford – Main: The 13th century riverside Fulling Mill Cottage; Bottom left: The Grade II listed Old fire station; Bottom right: Another historical timber and brick house


Sadly, my short trip in Hampshire had to come to an end but I am sure I will be back again very soon.



Charles Holden goes west

sudbury town tubesudbury town tube sudbury town tube

Sudbury Town understand station


Last year, I attended an architectural walk organised by London transport museum to explore English architect, Charles Holden‘s iconic art deco underground stations (click here to read the blog entry) on the north east end of the Piccadilly Line. This year, I attended another walk (which was also part of the London festival of architecture) that explored the north west end of the Piccadilly Line.

I love these walks not only because of the architecture and design, but it is immensely fascinating to learn about the history of London. When I visited these stations which were built almost a century ago, I felt like time has stood still and that I was transported to a different era. When you look at these photographs, you can see that good architecture and designs truly stand the test of time because every detail is well thought out and is still functional after all these years.


sudbury town tubesudbury town tubesudbury town tubesudbury town tube sudbury town tubesudbury tube stationsudbury tube stationrayners lane

Many original features including signage can be found ar Sudbury Town understand station; Bottom right: small garden at Rayners Lane station


Housing developments in the early 1920s around Richmond, Hounslow, Harrow and Ealing meant that the Piccadilly line had to be extended to replace some of the District Railway services. And three men who were in charge of this project were Charles Holden, Frank Pick and Stanley Heaps.

The tour started at the Grade II listed Sudbury Town station, the first tube station that Charles Holden designed for Frank Pick, built in 1929 and completed in 1931. Holden described this as “a brick box with a concrete lid”.

At the station, the station conductor was keen to provide us with his knowledge of the station and he even let us into the original ticket booth for a bonus tour! Like most other stations designed by Holden, this station is symmetrical, spacious, bright, with wide entrance and has no architectural ornament.

The original signage can still be seen at this station and the typefaces used are the standard London Underground ‘Johnston typeface’ with ‘petit-serif’, which was developed by Holden and Percy Delf Smith. I especially love the blue barometer on the wall, but sadly no longer works (there is an identical-looking clock on the opposite side of the hall). Now the barometer’s hand is stuck at ‘change’, which is very accurate of what our weather pattern these days.


alperton tube station alperton tube stationalperton tube stationalperton tube station alperton bus terminal

 Alperton tube station and bus garage


Our second station that we visited was Alperton station, which was built in 1931 and completed in 1933. The station is similar to Sudbury Town station and has a block-like ticket hall with high ceiling, large windows with plenty of natural light.

Next to this station is the Alperton bus garage, one of the very few built for Central Bus operation in the 1930s.


park royal tube stationpark royal station park royal station park royal stationpark royal stationpark royal tube station park royal station

Park Royal station


Although the Grade II listed Park Royal station was not designed by Charles Holden, it evidently influenced by him. The art deco station was designed by Felix. J. Lander from Welch & Lander in 1935 and was completed in 1936. I love the art deco exterior and the tower is a prominent feature that can be spotted from afar.


hanger hill estatehanger hill estatehanger hill estatePark royal hotelhanger hill estate Park royal hotel

 Hanger Hill estate – Top main: Hanger Court; Bottom left: Hanger Green/ Royal Hill Court; 2nd & bottom row right: Park Royal Hotel


Not far from the Park Royal station is the locally-conserved Hanger Hill estate, a ‘superior suburbia’ developed in the 1930s by Haymills Ltd. This was a large commercial development with houses, flats and public buildings, and the team of architects involved in the project included Welch & Lander and Cachemaille Day. Many art deco architectural elements can be seen in this area, but I found the derelict Park Royal Hotel especially intriguing. Originally I thought this was a theatre because of the unusual twisted brick columns on its facade, but when I did my research online, I was surprised to find out that it used to be a hotel. However, I could not find much more information on it, it is a pity that this fascinating-looking hotel is left neglected while thousands of cars drive past it everyday without even noticing that it is there!


hanger lane station hanger lane stationhanger lane station hanger lane stationhanger lane stationhanger lane stationhanger lane station

Hanger Lane station


After exploring the estate, we walked over to the nearby Hanger Lane station, which is situated in the middle of a roundabout on the busy (and rather gloomy) North Circular Road. Back in the days when I used to drive, I drove past this station many times as this is one of the most popular routes to get to Heathrow airport. Yet I never knew that in the underpass tunnel underneath the station there is a superb display of vintage Underground posters. Who would have thought that this underpass is actually a poster gallery for the Transport of London?


acton town stationacton town station acton town stationacton town stationacton town stationacton town station

 Acton Town station


Our last station of the walk was the Grade II listed Acton Town, an important example of Holden‘s mature work for an interchange station. Designed in 1931 and completed in 1933, all the Holden‘s signature style and materials are used here. The notable features include the art deco lighting in the ticket hall and brass railings that can be seen throughout the station.


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Mill Hill park estate


Our last optional tour was a visit to the nearby Mill Hill Park estate developed from the 1880s by William Willett and son. Many houses here are influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement, which was at its height around the turn of the century. Each house here is unique and very well maintained, and like the Hanger Hill estate, this area is a local conservation area with special architectural or historic interest.

London is a city full of surprises and hidden gems, and once again, I have discovered something new about this city in just a few hours. Like Samuel Johnson said, “Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” I think the best bits about London are often hidden, and so if one is tired of the city, it is because they haven’t looked or dwelled deep enough.


Contemporary Chinese culture at The Floating Cinema

It’s not an exaggeration to say the ‘dilemma’ that faces many Londoners is not the lack of entertainment/consumption choices, but the overwhelming of choices available. And when it comes to cultural events, we are just spoiled for choice and it’s hard to keep up even if you are subscribed to hundreds of e-newsletters (because you still need to time to read them all)!

I have long wanted to attend events organised by The Floating Cinema, but somehow never got round to it. Finally, when I found out about the Contemporary Chinese culture events curated in partnership with the Manchester-based Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, I was eager to sign up for some events that took place on the canal boat.

The boat was parked by the Granary Square in Kings Cross for the weekend. The outdoor canalside steps are ideal for the outdoor screening of several Chinese films. Due to the boat’s limited seating, most events were full and I managed to book myself onto two events.


The floating cinemaThe floating cinema Yan wang preston

Main & bottom left: The Floating Cinema in Kings Cross; Bottom right: Yan Wang Preston


The first event was “Both Sides Now“, a collaboration between Jamie Wyld from Video Club (UK) and Isaac Leung from Videotage (HK). The screening included new and historical documentaries and animations created during the 1980s-2000s from China and Hong Kong exploring the impact of three decades of cultural and societal development. The screening was also followed by a discussion and Q & A session.

Some of the videos shown are quite political sensitive, hence they cannot be shown in China. The artists in the programme include: Ellen Pau, Linda Lai, Anson Mak, Kwan Sheung Chi, Lee Kit, Tse Ming Chong, Choi Sai Ho, and other 11 artists from Hong Kong.

For those who are aware of Hong Kong’s current political climate would know that it is far from rosy. The city’s largest pro-democracy rally in a decade took place on 1st July, with around 510,000 protesters participating and it made headline news across the globe. Whenever there is political and social unrest or even economical downturn in a state or region or country, it is also the time for creativity to emerge and blossom… this unsettling period may be a tough time for Hong Kong’s citizens, but it has enabled a new breed of talents to make their voices heard.

One of the most memorable video/animations at the screening was the last one by Hong Kong artist, Wong Ping. His “Under the lion’s crotch” is bizarre, grotesque, graphical and disturbing, but it is also dark and humourous. The animation is the artist’s interpretation of the current situation in Hong Kong and it won an award at the 2013 18th IFVA festival in Hong Kong. Here is an extract from the artist’s website about the work:

“Under the Lion Crotch”
Here comes the end
Our land is brutally torn apart by conglomerates
Redevelopment swept across the city
Their thriving business had left us homeless
Rotten city, rotten crowd
Luxury clothing won’t conceal the stench
Top yourself and throw a curse
Fill the streets with our merry hearses
Is the world going to end
as we’ve been longing for?
Destroy us all together with the chaos
Set us free like
the ashes in the wind

*Beware of the graphical material in this video!


No One Remains Virgin “Under the Lion Crotch” MV from Wong Ping on Vimeo.


The second event I attended was a talk by an award-winning Chinese photographer and visual artist, Yan Wang Preston. Her talk was on her long term artistic and research project, Mother River, which she has been working on since the end of 2010. Initially driven by a personal desire to reconnect with one’s Motherland, the project focuses on China’s most iconic waterway: the Yangtze River.

The artist also wanted to investigate the impact of the controversial hydroelectric dam that has had on the environment and the local people. The dam was built to prevent flooding and generate power in the local areas, yet the construction also flooded important archaeological and historical sites, displaced some 1.3 million people, and caused significant ecological damages to area.

The artist epic journey across China began from the source of the river (in Tibet) and photographed the 4,000 mile long Yangtze River with a precise interval of every 100 kilometres and 63 fixed points in total. Yan spoke about the difficulties she encountered during her journey, but despite all the mishaps and re-shoot, she finally completed the project earlier this year. Yan‘s photographs of China are fascinating, but what touched me most is her passion, courage and determination. Feeling disillusioned by the ‘new China’ and horrified by what she saw during her first research journey of the damage caused by the construction of the dam, the project became her personal quest to reconnect with her roots, heritage and culture. And the result is an admirable achievement that she should be very proud of.

Here is a video of a symposium given by Yan in 2012 about her work:


Yan Preston – Land / Water Symposium 2012 | Water Image from Land Water on Vimeo.


Retreat aftermath


Stunning scenery from the train journey between Edinburgh and Newcastle


It has been about 5 days since I returned from Scotland, and I am still feeling slightly disorientated ( which seems to always happen after a week-long retreat).

I remember on the day of departure, some retreat friends and I had some spare time and decided to grab a quick lunch in Edinburgh city centre before taking the train/ plane back home. This turned out to be a discomforting experience because it was the opening day of the Edinburgh festival and the city was completely packed! Not only did we have to fight our way through the crowds with our baggages, I was also highly sensitive to the noise level, people’s facial expressions and even the colours of passerby’s clothing ( I found it hard to adjust to the sharp bright colours after seeing mostly ‘green’ all week)!

The train ride back was not much better either, the air-conditioning unit broke down in many of the coaches ( including mine), so it was like sitting in a sauna… but for 4 1/2 hours! The toilets were blocked and the staff were grumpy, the only consolation was the beautiful scenery outside of the window esp. the from Edinburgh to Newcastle. I felt like I was being ‘tested’ after a mindful retreat… I had to tell myself: Welcome back to reality!




Back at my desk, I am aware of the emails that I need to reply to, the office supplies I need to order, and the large amount of preparation that I need to work on for the upcoming new collection and Christmas season. Despite feeling positive and energised after the retreat, I was feeling slightly overwhelmed as well. Images of the retreat, people, the loch and its surroundings kept popping into my head, and eventually I had to leave my desk to meditate for a while.

From my past experiences, I knew I would be feeling more emotional and sensitive after the retreat, but perhaps it is not so negative in my case. Since I decided to start this business, it has been an extremely ‘lonely’ experience, even with the support from people around me ( and sometimes from strangers), often I am unable to express my frustration and anxieties to others. I love what I do and am grateful that I am able to pursue my dream, but I cannot say that it has been an easy journey. The most difficult part is to find a balance, whether it is between commercial and conceptual options or work and life, there are so many decisions that have to be made and most of time, it’s about taking risks. Even as I am writing this, I find myself feeling ‘exposed’ as I have no idea who will read this and I am not used to being so ‘public’. Often I am wondering how much of ‘me’ should be exposed and how much should be kept private? Where do I draw the line?

I think the retreat has allowed me to reflect, feel vulnerable… and perhaps slow down a little. In life, often we are so focused on the destination that we forget to enjoy the journey, and even if the journey is not always pleasant, it is best to sit through it with awareness rather than trying to run away from it. I know that there is nowhere for me to run to, work still needs to be done and decisions still need to be made, but the best thing that I can do is to take it one step at a time… slowly and mindfully.

Like a miracle, once I became aware of this, I woke up this morning with many positive news relating to work ( and more support from strangers and new friends) all within a day! Is this the result of all the positive energy generated during the retreat? I would like to think so.


Charles Holden’s iconic underground stations

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Arnos Grove station designed in 1929 and opened in 1932


Most Londoners have a love/ hate relationship with the Tube/ underground. While it can be efficient and convenient on some good days, it can also be crowded, hot, disruptive with long delays on many bad days and most of us seem to experience the latter more ( or we feel as if we do).

What we have forgotten is that London’s tube system is the oldest in the world and it was never intended to carry one billion passengers daily! In the early 1930s, the extension of the Piccadilly line took place and subsequently, a string of iconic stations were born thanks to Frank Pick ( the managing director at the time), and the two architects: Charles Holdenand Stanley Heaps.


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Oakwood station, designed in 1929 and opened in 1933


Last week, I joined an afternoon walk organised by the London transport Museum to explore the area of around Southgate, and to learn about how its history, development and architecture including the three well-known tube stations: Oakwood, Southgate and Arnos Grove.

The most iconic of all is the Arnos Grove station, a Grade II listed building which was chosen by archi­tectural critic Jonathan Glancey as one of the 12 “Great Modern Buildings” by The Guardian in October 2007. Inside the station, there are even newspaper clippings and original architectural drawings of the station on display, which shows the ‘significance’ of this station.


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 Southgate station, designed in 1929 and opened in 1933


Simplicity and functionality are key elements in Holden‘s designs, with a strong influence from European architecture especially by the work of Willem Dudok and Erik Gunnar Asplund. His buildings are often symmetrical with large windows that allow plenty of daylight to penetrate into the spacious ticket hall. Traditional English brickwork was combined with smooth concrete, along with metal window frames and glazed tiling. Even the signage or typefaces were developed and designed specifically for these stations.

The most surreal one though has to be the futuristic or spaceship-like Southgate station ( also a Grade II listed building) which even has a beacon on the roof ( I am especially keen to see it at night)! The station was renovated in 2008 but has preserved many of the original features including the escalators. I love the bronze lighting, paneling and tiles, all very art deco! Another interesting feature here is the circular station parade ( a bus station with shops) built around the station for commuters to interchange between the tube and buses, the two designs complement each other very well.


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Main and bottom left: Southgate station parade designed in 1929


Holden has designed many other underground stations in different parts of London, this walk was a taster for me which has triggered my interest to explore more of his other stations in the future.


Rickmansworth Festival 2013

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Floating band and canal boats in Rickmansworth


It is amazing what I keep discovering here in London… I have never heard of the Rickmansworth Festival ( nor Rickmansworth for that matter) even though this year was its 20th year! I only found out about it because I was taking the special vintage tube journey organised by London Transport Museum ( see my previous entry) on the day.

Arriving at the station, we waited for the free heritage bus to take us to the site of the festival. I was excited to see a green RT, the predecessor of Routemasters which has been beautifully restored. On the way back, I got to ride on a red routemaster with a conductor giving us free tickets via his vintage machine. It really brought back memories and it made me realise how much I miss the good old days when I could jump on and off those buses so easily!


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Free heritage bus services provided by London Transport Museum Friends which included conductors on board giving out tickets from the vintage ticket machines


I had no idea what to expect at the festival, but I was quite pleasantly surprised by the showcase of canal boats there. I have always wanted to go on a canal boat holiday in the U.K. but somehow never had the opportunity, so this was a good chance to see them up close.


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It was intriguing to see many beautifully painted and restored canal boats and the engines inside as well. It seems a shame that canal boat art/ decoration is not more recognised because I could see a lot of effort have been put into decorating the boats ( inside and out) and each one has its own unique style. The more traditional style is similar to folk art from Russia/ Eastern European with roses and castles as the main theme and motifs, but there were also some non-traditional style including a Mexican one! I walked past a lady/ boat owner selling hand-painted ceramic ware and I bought an item simply because of the cheerful colours!


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The festival took place near the Rickmansworth Aquadrome local nature reserve where there are two lakes, Batchworth and Bury. While stroll along the lake, I saw people water skiing, camping, fishing and a family of ducks and ducklings, which was lovely!

My day had been more enjoyable than I expected and it triggered my interest to find out more about other festivals that take place near London. Summer is the best time to explore and take part in outdoor activities, so I will look out for fun events in the coming months!



 Rickmansworth Aquadrome local nature reserve