Nature Observations (lockdown 2021)

leaves

 

We often talk about time as if it is real, yet according to Albert Einstein and many scientists, time is only an illusion. Time is subjective and personal, and everyone has their own concept of time. In Zen Buddhism, the founder of Soto Zen, Dogen Zenji (1200–1253), also wrote about time or ‘uji’ in Japanese, which is usually translated as ‘Being-Time’. The most common interpretation of the two kanji characters is: “time is existence and that all existence is time.” According to Dogen, we are time, and time is us. Time is a complex subject, and I don’t intend to dwell on it here, but personally, the lockdown has made me become more aware of my relationship with time.

During the pandemic, my digital calendar and paper planners were mostly blank for about 2 years. I had no work events or social engagements to attend, and no upcoming holiday to look forward to. I am sure that many people experienced some sort of anxieties when all the short and long term plans suddenly came to a halt. And with so much ‘time’ on our hands, how were we going to spend it?

Perhaps for the first time in life, I did not have to check my watch, clocks and calendar frequently. I stopped planning, and after a while, time became ‘insignificant’. I could ‘waste’ it day after day without feeling guilty about not being productive enough. When I finally let go of ‘time’, I felt liberated. I learned to slow down and live each day as it comes.

Instead of obsessively checking the clocks for time and calendar for dates, I began to observe time through plants and flowers when I went out for walks during the lockdown. Nature became the measuring device for me.

 

Winter

Perhaps it is a misconception to think that flowers do not bloom during winter. In fact, there are many evergreen shrubs and flowers that thrive in the winter like Snowdrops, Hellebores, Eranthis, Primrose, and Viburnum tinus Eve Price etc. During my lockdown walks, I would come across some blooming flowers despite the cold weather. With less distractions and stimulations, I found joy in identifying unknown plant species during my strolls around London.

 

Hedera colchica  Algerian iris

Hellebores

japanese skimmia  Iris foetidissima

First left: Hedera colchica/ Persian Ivy; First right: Algerian iris; 2nd row: Hellebores; bottom left: Japanese skimmia; Bottom right: Iris foetidissima

 

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of winter plants or flowers are the array of vibrant colours. There are bright pinks, reds, violets, and yellows – these are colours normally associated with spring/summer, yet they can be seen during the winter too. Time passes quickly when you place your focus on the surrounding nature rather than on yourself – the lockdown probably created an environment for introspection, yet too much of it would make us too self-focused due to less interactions with the outside world.

 

Red twig dogwoods  red maple leaves

img_5079

Eranthis   Mahonia

 Viburnum tinus Eve Price

Viburnum tinus Eve Price  Hellebores

First left: Red twig dogwoods; First right: maple leaves: 2nd: snowdrops; 3rd left: Eranthis; 3rd right: Mahonia; 4th & Bottom left: Viburnum tinus Eve Price; Bottom right: Hellebore

 

Euonymus europaeus  Chaenomeles

Chaenomeles

WEIGELA PINK POPPET

Magenta Hebe

First left: Euonymus europaeus; first right & 2nd: Chaenomeles; 3rd: Weigela Pink Poppet; last row: Magenta Hebe

 

Crocus tommasinianus 'Ruby Giant'

Erica carnea, the winter heath

Clematis armandii

Primrose – Primula vulgaris

First: Crocus tommasinianus ‘Ruby Giant’; 2nd: Erica carnea/the winter heath; 3rd: Viburnum tinus Eve Price; 4th: Clematis armandii; Bottom: Primrose (Primula vulgaris)

 

My favourite time of the year is autumn and spring. Around late February and early March, the day light hours would last longer, which means spring is in the air. The gradual increase of sunshine and day light makes a huge diference to the ecology and humans. We start to notice daffodils blooming everywhere, and seeing the golden yellow colour covering the parks immediately uplifts our moods and spirits.

 

daffadils  daffadils

daffadils

daffadils

daffadils

Daffodils

 

On the grounds, there are daffodils, and when we look up, we would see seas of sumptuous white and pink magnolias over our heads. Magnolia shrubs seem to be ommonly planted in people’s gardens in London as I tend to see them a lot when I walk around my neighbourhood.

 

Magnolia  Magnolia

pink magnolia

Magnolia

White and pink magnolia

 

For those (including me) who yearned to go to Japan but couldn’t for the last few years, the joy of viewing cherry blossom seemed to have become a distant memory. Yet London is also a good place for sakura viewing; even though it is not as spectatular as Japan, the number of Japanese cherry trees being planted in the U.K. have been increasing over the years. As far as I am aware, there is only one white-flowering cherry tree (Prunus x yedoensis) standing alone the middle of an open field in Hampstead heath, and when it blooms, it is quite stunning. The next obvious place to view sakura would be Regent’s Park, both inside and on the outer ring.

 

cherry blossom

cherry blossom

cherry blossom

cherry blossom

A white-flowering cherry tree/ Yoshino cherry (Prunus x yedoensis) in Hamspstead heath

 

cherry tree

cherry blossom

cherry trees

cherry blossom

Cherry trees in Regent’s park

 

The lesser-known sakura viewing spot is the residential neighbourhood, Swiss Cottage. The open space in around Hampstead theatre and Swiss Cottage library features rows of white-flowering cherry trees (Prunus x yedoensis) and pink-flowering cherry trees (Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis Rosea’). When the flowers are in bloom, they do look quite spectacular and make you feel you are in Japan for a second. Since it is a recreation space, it may even be possible to have a viewing picnic party there (weather permitted).

 

cherry blossom

cherry blossom  cherry blossom

cherry blossom

cherry blossom

The stunning pink-flowering cherry trees (Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis Rosea’) in Swiss Cottage

 

In spring, we would often see a lot of beautiful camellias in various colours, especially Camellia japonica, which is the predominate species of the genus. Besides that, we might be able to spot some ravishing rhododendrons or azaleas ( particularly at Kew Gardens) blooming in people’s gardens.

 

Camellia Japonica  img_5512 

camellia

img_5643  img_5321-min

img_5727

Camellia – Top & 2nd rows: Japonica Camellia

 

rose

Rhododendron

Rhododendron

buddleia

primrose

First: rose; 2nd & 3rd: Rhododendron; 4th: buddleia; botton: primrose

 

If you are not a fan of showy ornamental plants/flowers, there are plenty of wild spring flowers that are captivating too. Personally, I am quite fascinated by gorse/ulex (commonly seen around the UK especially in Scotland), which is an evergreen shrub with bright yellow pea-like flowers and spiny leaves. The flowers are eible and can be used as a medicinal tea, as well as a natural dye, producing a yellow colour on the fabrics.

 

Forsythia

gorse

Top: Forsythia; Bottom: common gorse

 

Spring is also the season to enjoy various lilac/blue/violet flowers like Ceanothus, Periwinkles, wisteria, lavender and bluebells. Ceanothus are popular garden shrubs in the UK, and their lilac flowers are particularly impressive.

However, when it comes to popularity, wild bluebells certainly rank quite high up on the list. Besides cherry blossoms, the bluebell seasons are highly anticipated by many too. It is quite easy to spot bluebells in spring, but the best places to view are still in the woods. Whenever I see a stunning carpet of blue in the woodlands, I would feel instantly quite ecstatic. There are two main types of bluebells in the U.K.: the British bluebell, (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) and the Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica), and the native ones are being protected by law as they are under threat now.

 

Ceanothus Yankee Point

Ceanothus Yankee Point

Periwinkle

bluebell

bluebells

bellflower

Top & 2nd: Ceanothus; 3rd: Periwinkle; last three: bluebells

 

When I immerse myself in nature, I could see the cycles of nature and life. Flowers bloom, wither, and are replaced by other species as the seasons change. When there is a beginning, there will be an end… though the cycle will continue to repeat itself indefinitely. It does not matter if we can’t figure out what ‘time’ is, the more important thing is to live in the present. We are now living in a more precarious and unpredictable world, hence we ought to enjoy each day as it comes. If you feel down/ stressed/ anxious, why not head outside and spend time in nature to get lost in time? I highly recommend it.

 

Lockdown walks in London (Winter/Spring 2021)

hampstead heath

Hampstead Heath, 28th Dec 2020

 

It is January 2023, and I have not updated my blog for about 2 years. Although a lot has happened in the past three years, everything seems like a blur to me now. How did I pass my time during the lockdown days? When did the lockdown end? I don’t recall much now. Luckily, I did take many photos during that surreal period, and now I am looking at them trying to recall my weekly activities. After being stuck in Hong Kong for most of 2020, I returned to the U.K. at the beginning of Dec 2020, just days before the second/ third lockdown was announced by Boris Johnson. In hindsight, I would not have returned if I had known that there would be another lockdown. However, I was lucky to have missed the initial lockdowns in 2020, and only had to endure four months of lockdown in London, which turned out to be not as challenging as I had imagined.

 

hampstead heath

hampstead heath

hampstead heath

hampstead heath  hampstead heath

winter

hampstead heath

hampstead heath

hampstead heath

hampstead heath

Hampstead Heath from winter to spring

 

For months, I did not take any public transport and I walked everywhere. I walked to Camden Town, Hampstead Heath, Paddington, Oxford Street, Regent street, Covent Garden, Kings Cross etc. I saw a London that I have never seen before – deserted. Yet it enabled me to appreciate the city’s beautiful architecture, especially around Oxford Street. Perhaps the hardest part for me during the lockdown was not being able to meet up with friends (apart from a couple who live near me), and I had to rely on the weekly farmers’ market for some human interactions (not via zoom or Facetime). And over the few months, I became rather obsessed with cooking – though as much as I enjoyed creating new dishes, I was completely sick of eating my own cooking by the end of the lockdown.

 

primrose hill

primrose hill

primrose hill

primrose hill

Primrose Hill

 

Walking around London during the lockdown made me notice the surroundings more – I started to see all the architectural details that I had missed in the past. Usually I would not look up while walking down Oxford Street as I am more concerned with avoiding the crowds around me. Yet without crowds or heaps of tourists, I was able to saunder down the streets and appreciate the historic architecture in the city.

 

Regent's Park

Regent's Park  Regent's Park

Regent's Park

regent's park

Regent’s Park

 

Oxford Street and Camden market are places that I would normally avoid as I don’t really like crowded places. However, during the lockdown, it gave me joy to wander through the empty (and rather eerie) Camden market. Meanwhile I also felt sympathetic towards the shops and businesses, and was particularly sad to see my favourite eateries/cafes in the neighbourhood close down due to the pandemic.

 

chalk farm

camden town  camden town

camden town

regent's canal

camden tow

camden town

camden town

Camden Town and Regent’s canal

 

At the end of winter, Hampstead Heath and Regent’s park were becoming as packed as Bond Street before the pandemic, and I started to change my walking routes. Instead of going to parks, I did more walks along the Regent’s canal. I headed east towards Kings Cross and west towards Paddington along the canal… these walks lasted only a few hours but they were uplifting especially on a clear and sunny day.

 

kings cross

kings cross

Kings Cross’s Coal Drops Yard

 

Two years on, it seems unlikely that we will experience another lockdown soon (fingers crossed), and what I miss most about that period is the sounds of nature ( like birds chirping while walking down the streets) and cleaner air. The pandemic made many of us (city dwellers) evaluate our relationships with nature and our cities. It is hardly surprising that many Londoners decided to move to the countryside during/ after the pandemic. Nature has healing power, which is why so many of us turned to nature during an anxious and unpredictable period.

 

abbey road  abbey road

covid

Little venice

Little venice

paddington

paddington

paddington

Top: Abbey Road; Second: Maida Vale; 3rd & 4th: Little Venice; 5th to bottom: Paddington

 

According to a report commissioned by the City of London Corporation, London is the greenest major city in Europe and the third greenest city of its size in the world. The metropolis contains 35,000 acres of public parks, woodlands and gardens, hence 40% of its surface area is made up of publicly accessible green space. Our public green space is precious, and I hope Londoners will continue to cherish and protect it.

 

london  bbc

regent street

carnaby street  carnaby street

oxford street

riba  riba

Regent Street, Carnaby Street, Oxford Street; Bottom: RIBA

 

mosque

img_5138

img_5153

img_5162

img_5169

Top: The London Central Mosque; Regent’s Park’s Outer Circle

 

covent garden

covent garden

Covent garden

 

chorley wood

chorley wood

chorley wood

chorley wood

chorley wood

chorley wood

chorley wood

A long walk around Chorleywood and Hertfordshire in spring

Forgotten Masterpieces: Indian Painting for the East India Company

forgotten masters  forgotten masters

 

Even though I am a regular art exhibition-goer in London, I often miss many excellent but less publicised exhibitions in town. Luckily, I did manage to see the rare and wonderful “Forgotten Masterpieces: Indian Painting for the East India Company” at The Wallace Collection before my travels to Asia.

Guest curated by renowned writer and historian William Dalrymple, the exhibition is the first in the UK to showcase 100 artworks by Indian master painters commissioned by East India Company officials –ranging from botanists and surgeons, through to diplomats, artists, governors and judges, and their wives – in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (1770 to 1840). These Indian artists include Shaikh Zain ud-Din, Bhawani Das, Shaikh Mohammad Amir of Karriah, Sita Ram and Ghulam Ali Khan, who were all uncredited for their intricate artworks. Until now.

The exhibition explores the four main centres of what has traditionally been described as ‘Company School’ painting: Calcutta and Lucknow, where provincial Mughal painters from Murshidabad, Patna and Faizabad were employed; Madras and Tanjore, where artists from the South Indian traditions received patronage; and Delhi, where Imperial Mughal artists created some of the finest works of this period. India’s natural world appeared to be a popular subject for the British officials at the time.

 

forgotten masters

forgotten masters  forgotten masters

 

After I started to do botianical illustrations as a hobby in recent years, I became very interested in botanical art. Hence I was immediately drawn to all the bold and meticulous botanical paintings of Indian flora at the exhibition. There is a timelessness feel to these paintings, and you could easily see them being transferred to wallpaper or fabric and sold at House of Hackney to trendy East Londoners.

 

forgotten masters

forgotten masters  forgotten masters

 

The fauna paintings are equally interesting. I particularly liked the study of “Great Indian Fruit Bat” (around 1777-82) by a well-known Indian artist Bhawani Das, who was trained in Mughal miniature painting and commissioned by Sir Elijah Impey, Chief Justice of Bengal (1774–1782), and his wife, Lady Mary, to make extensive natural history studies at their estate in Calcutta. I have never liked bats, but the paintings are so intriguing that I found it hard to move away from them.

 

forgotten masters

forgotten masters

forgotten masters

 

Aside from the natural world, another highlight was the painstaking architectural drawings of India’s manmade wonders including the Taj Mahal. I felt like asking for a magnifying glass in order to study these drawings! These drawings were done by an unknown artist (possibly Sheikh Mohammed Latif), and each drawing showcases the detailed ornamental patterns and calligraphy on the facades of the buildings. I am not sure if such drawing techniques and craftsmanship still exists today – these works are immaculate and priceless.

 

forgotten masters

forgotten masters

forgotten masters

forgotten masters

forgotten masters

 

The exhibition also displays masterpieces from the famous Fraser Album for the first time since the album was broken up and sold in the 1980s. Fraser Album is a collection of paintings documenting various aspects of Mughal life, made between 1815 and 1819, commissioned by a British Indian civil servant, William Fraser. The last court painter of the Mughal empire, Ghulam Ali Khan, was commissioned to illustrate Mughal life using traditional techniques but with English watercolours on English paper. This fusion style is known today as the Company School. 

 

forgotten masters

forgotten masters

 

Of course this exhibition is not just about art; the exhibition is fascinating because of its Anglo-Indian history and context. Through these works, we could get a glimpse of the last days of the Mughal Empire, and appreciate the last phase of Indian artistic genius before photography and the influence of western colonial art schools – ended an unbroken tradition of painting going back two thousand years. From the exhibition, we could see that the commissioned Indian artists not only responded to European influences, they also maintained their own artistic visions and styles, therefore these works are truly original and remarkable. Sadly, the vast array of ‘fusion’ works produced during this period were largely forgotten by the world, which is why this exhibition could be seen as a late tribute to the ingenious Indian masters from that period.

 

Winter soup dinner diet & comfort homecooking

farmers market

Autumn/winter vegetables bought from the organic farmers market

 

Last winter, I embarked on a ‘soup dinner diet’ for a few months during the autumn/winter period, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, so I did it again this year. Oddly enough, I don’t actually believe in diets, and have only been on diets a few times in my life (for a short period each time). I love food, and would not want to restrict myself, but I noticed that I would put on weight during the winter months due to lack of outdoor activities. Hence I came up with the idea of having just soup for dinner as an experiment, and to my surprise, it really worked. I did lose weight after a few months of having mostly soups in the evenings, even though I wasn’t extremely strict – there were nights when I just didn’t feel like it. I allowed myself to eat whatever I wanted during the day, and kept a record of what soups I made in the evenings.

Besides losing weight, I also discovered that soup meals are more economical. Sometimes a big pot would last for days, even my food shopping has become more ‘focused’ and less random.

Being a pescatarian means that my soup would be made of vegetables (and occasionally seafood). The trick to this diet is to a make a big batch of vegetable stock beforehand (usually during the weekends) and then freeze it in small tubs. Over the winter months, my freezer would be filled with tubs of vegetable stock, which would be used as the base of my soups.

I am a big fan of farmers market, and luckily I live near one too. Every week I would stock up on fresh organic vegetables for my soups. Although I do shop in the supermarkets as well, I try to buy vegetables that are in season rather than the ones shipped from Africa and South America.

 

vegetable stock

Vegetable stock made from skins and scraps

 

I learned from a popular Japanese cook/food writer/designer Masaki Higuchi to use only the skins, ends and scraps of vegetables to make the vegetable stock, which not only tastes good but also reduces food waste. When I told this to the vegetable farmer at the market, he said it makes sense as the ends of vegetables tend to have more flavour, and he would try making it too.

Rooted vegetables are seasonal during the autumn/winter periods. Pumpkin, beetroot, sweet potato, parsnip, and various squashes like delicata butternut, ambercup, acorn and sweet dumpling etc are not only good for soups, they are good for roasting, too. I found that parsnip soups are really filling and comforting during the cold winter months.

 

pumpkin   pumpkin soup

roasted vegetables

squash soup

Top row: Pumpkin soup; 2nd row: roasting different variety of beetroots; bottom row: minestrone with squash

 

Minestrone is an easy and versatile soup to make, and you can easily alter the ingrdients depending on what you have at home. I also like to add some orzo pasta topped with some freshly-grated parmesan to make it more satisfying.

Besides rooted vegetables, there is also an abundance of mushrooms during this perid, and one of my favourite soups is mixed mushroom soup.

 

parsnip soup

mushroom soup

corn soup

Top: parsnip soup; 2nd row: mixed mushroom soup; bottom: sweet corn soup

 

For the last few years, I often would get colds during the winter months especially when work becomes busier and more stressful. Yet this year, I did not catch a cold, and I would like to believe that my soup diet was one of the reasons.

Probably the most immune boosting soup in winter is French onion soup. According to health expert, onions can cure cold, cough and boost immunity, so this soup is one of my winter favourites and it tastes delicious too.

 

onion soup

French onion soup topped with Gruyère cheese

 

My soup recipe book now contains close to 100 soup recipes that I have made in the last two years. I rarely plan on what to buy before my visits to the farmers market, instead I pick whatever I fancy and then come up with something afterwards. Although I like to read cookbooks or check out recipes online, I never follow them exactly as I view cooking as a creative process, thus being spontaneous makes it more fun.

 

mixed veg soup

fish soup

Top: vegetable soup with kale and barley; bottom: fish soup

 

Ramen is one of the most comforting dishes in winter, but it is hard to find an authentic ramen shop that serves ramen with vegetable base in London, so I tend to make it at home using my own broth. I have also made dashi at home, which can be used as the soup base for miso ramen.

Occasionally, I would see fresh tiger prawns being sold in my local supermarket, so it gave me the idea of making Thai tom yum noodle soup. The heads and shells of the prawns can be used to make the stock, and adding rice noodles makes the soup more substantial. The spicy and sour soup is perfect as a healthy winter meal.

 

japanese ramen

tofu soup

tom yum soup

tom yum soup noodles

 

Oden is a classic winter comfort dish in Japan, which are often sold in food carts, but you may also find it in some izakayas, restaurants and even convenient stores. The one-pot simmered dish is often consisted of an assortment of fish balls, fish cakes, deep-fried tofu with rice cakes and daikon etc. The soy-favoured dashi broth becomes more flavourful as the pot simmers away, and it tastes even better the next day. I love having this dish around New year.

 

oden

oden

Homemade oden

 

As much as I love this winter soup diet, having soup every night for four months can be a bit boring, so occasionally I would cook other non-soup dishes either as weekend treats or as sides to accompany the soups.

Since I bought the Dishoom cookbook, I was eager to try some dishes from the book. The two paneer dishes worked out extremely well, especially the curry, which I think is an uplifting dish to eat at home when it is grey, cold and rainy outside.

 

paneer

paneer tikka

flat bread  flatbread

Indian nights: Matar paneer (paneer and pea curry), paneer tikka, flat bread

 

Although I find winters quite depressing sometimes, cooking gives me joy and motivation. If I am stressed out during the day, cooking helps me to destress and relax. I love experimenting and creating something new. Since quitting meat some years ago, I learned to be more open and adventurous with vegetables, and I discovered how versatiles vegetables can be. I almost always cook from scratch, and I rarely eat ready made meals as I believe that “We are what we eat”, so never underestimate the benefits of healthy eating.

 

homemade pizza

img_1670-min

polenta chips

avocado salsa

inari sushi

Top: homemade pizza; 2nd row: Padrón peppers; 3rd row: polenta fries; guacamole with pitta chips; bottom row: inari sushi

 

 

Emmanuelle Moureaux’s ‘Slices of Time’ exhibition at Now Gallery

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

 

I have been a fan of Tokyo-based French architect Emmanuelle Moureaux and her colour-driven architecture for some time. Since 1996, she has been living in Tokyo where she established Emmanuelle Moureaux architecture + design in 2003. I have never actually seen Moureaux‘s architecture and installations in real life, so I was really looking forward to seeing her first art/design exhibition “Slices of time” in London.

Moureaux invented the concept of shikiri, which literally means ‘dividing (creating) space with colours’. She uses colours as three-dimensional elements, like layers, in order to create spaces, and her work ranges from art, design to architecture.

 

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

 

Inspired by the location of the gallery, near the Greenwich Meridian, “Slices of Time expresses the past, the now and the future through 168,000 numbers cut out from paper. The cut-outs are hung in the gallery space, as a representation of the round earth floating. 100 layers of numbers in 100 shades of colours visualise the next 100 years to come (2020 to 2119), while 20 layers of numbers in white represent the past 20 years (2000 to 2019).

On the preview night, I headed to NOW Gallery on the Greenwich Peninsula, and a long queue had already formed outside of the gallery. At the door, we were assigned a timeslot and when it was our turn, we had to queue (again) outside of the exhibition area. We were allowed to walk around the installations for a short period before being hurried out to let the next group in.

 

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

 

It was wonderful to see the striking installations from above and up close. I am also glad that the architect has chosen paper as her medium – the installation truly reveals the beauty and power of paper. I only wish that I was given more time to linger, but since I was going to be away for several months, this was the only opportunity for me to see the exhibition before leaving. And for those who don’t live in London, there are currently two other exhibitions being held in Taipei (“Forest of Numbers” ) and New York (“100 colors”) where visitors can be stimulated by vast array of colours.

 

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux  Slices of Time Emmanuelle Moureaux

 

 

London’s new street food halls & markets

Flat Iron Square

Flat Iron Square in Southwark

 

Once upon a time, visitors to London used to tell me that London rarely changes, especially when you compare to cities in Asia. Well, you can’t really compare London to cities like Beijing or Shanghai, but as a Londoner, I feel that London has changed immensely over the last decade. Gentrifications around London has changed the city’s streetscape dramatically, and it is evolving quicker than people realise.

One of biggest trends in recent years is the rise of street food and outdoor street food markets. In terms of food market, Borough market is one of the largest and oldest in London, but it is also the busiest and most touristy one. Try visiting the market on a Saturday, and it is likely turn out to be an exhausting and off-putting experience. In 2010,  Maltby Street Market appeared under the railway arches in the nearby Bermondsey, and soon became a popular food market for many Londoners.

The team behind Kerb is also contributes to London’s thriving street food scene. Their King’s Cross street food market that started in 2012 was highly sucessful and subsequently, they opened four more outdoor street food markets at various locations across London. Now outdoor street food markets can be found in many local neighbourhoods, and Londoners are spoilt for choice when it comes to dining options.

 

vinegar yard

vinegar yard

vinegar yard

Vinegar Yard near London Bridge station

 

Unlike London’s trend-driven food scene, street food has been prominent in Asia for decades. Night markets, food courts, and hawker centres are popular in many cities. I particularly love street food in Taiwan (my favourite are Tian Jin flaky scallion pancakes and oyster omelet), pad thai in Thailand (cheaper and better than the restaurants), popiah and chai tow kway at the hawker centres in Singapore. Prices are cheap and choices are endless.

Although I think street food in London is quite expensive compare to Asia, there are some interesting Asian street food stalls at the Old Spitalfields Market if you are craving for Asian street food. In 2017, the iconic East London market received a facelift and launched an indoor street food market called ‘The Kitchens’. I have visited this market a few times, and have tried a few dishes from various Asian vendours.

At Pleasant Lady, I tried their vegetarian jian bing (£6.8), a Chinese savoury crêpe with fillings, which was tasty and crispy but quite expensive as a snack. At Dumpling Shack, I tried their prawn wontons in chilli oil (£7.9) which was spicier than I expected, and rather expensive for the portion. The ‘best value’ dish was a fried fish lunch box from the Burmese stall Lahpet (now they have a restaurant in Bethnal Green), which reminded me of my trip to Myanmar a few years ago.

Besides the above, you can also find Yi Fang fruit tea and Wheelcake Island from Taiwan here.

 

spitalfields market

spitalfields market

dumpling shack

spitalfields market

Pleasant Lady

lahpet

img_9102-min

Yi Fang

Old Spitalfields market

 

After an explosion of outdoor street food markets over the last few years, street food markets have been gradually moving indoors. In 2018, the team behind Market Halls converted two abandoned buildings into bustling street food markets: Market Hall Fulham and Market Hall Victoria; and in November 2019, they opened UK’s biggest food hall at the former BHS building.

When my friend and her family came to visit from New York last year, I brought them to Market Hall Victoria on their first night in town. After trying out different restaurants and pub for the next few days, they suggested returning to the food hall again on their last night in town. They were extremely impressed with the simple and fresh pasta from Nonna Tonda, whereas I am fond of the authentic Malaysian food at Gopal’s Corner, which has the same owner as the super-popular Roti King in Euston. Since there is always a queue outside of Roti King, I would rather come here for my laksa or roti fix.

 

victoria

roti king

Market Hall Victoria

 

In Sept 2019, Kerb also opened its first indoor street food market in Covent Garden. The Seven Dials market now occupies the two-storey 21,000sq ft former banana warehouse on Earlham Street that used to be a shopping centre selling street fashion shops since the 1980s. The shopping centre lost its appeal in recent years, and shoppers were few and far between.

The idea to turn an uninspiring shopping centre into a food hall was a wise one. The bright and spacious market is inviting, and big enough for 25 traders, including street food stalls, a bar, a bookshop, and food producers’ stores on the ground floor. Out of the thirteen food stalls, I ordered a portion of salt and pepper squid with chips from Ink, a fish and chips stall. The batter was crisy and tasty, but not outstanding enough to make me return and reorder. I didn’t mind the communal tables, but I doubt you can have a decent conversation with friends if you come during the peak times. This market is likely to attract hipsters and tourists, so do be prepared to pay the ‘West End’ prices for your food and drinks.

 

seven dials market  seven dials market

seven dials market

seven dials market

 

If you want to eat street food in a more glamorous setting, then Mercato Metropolitano’s second street food market (the first one is in Elephant and Castle) is likely to impress. Mercato Mayfair is situated inside a Grade I listed, deconsecrated 19th century St. Mark’s church in Mayfair. It is celebrated as one of the finest examples of 19th century Greek revival architecture, and the market opened in November 2019 after a £5m restoration.

Even if you are not into expensive street food, it is still worth a trip to this market just to see its stunning interiors. Wandering around the church one afternoon, I saw pasta and pizzas being served on the ground floor, and upstairs, I saw my favourite Turkish dish – pide– being served at Lala, so I decided to give it a try. Normally, I would go to Mangal Pide in Dalston for this, but the upmarket version was a pleasant surprise, and the seating offered a grand view of the church’s interiors. The crust of the machine-made pide was crunchy and the filling ingredients tasted fresh; although it is more expensive than the Dalston version, I would come back for this if I am in the area. The beautiful setting is also a big draw for me, so I wouldn’t mind trying out other stalls in the future.

 

Mercato Mayfair  Mercato Mayfair

Mercato Mayfair

Mercato Mayfair  Mercato Mayfair

Mercato Mayfair

Mercato Mayfair  Mercato Mayfair

Mercato Mayfair

 

Novelty plays a key factor in the street food scene, therefore these markets have to keep changing in order to attract returning customers. I believe indoor food markets would attract more customers in the cold winter days, and judging from the current trend, we are likely to more of them popping up in different locations across the city in the future.

 

“Olafur Eliasson: In real life” exhibition at Tate Mordern

Olafur Eliasson

Model room (2003), Olafur Eliasson in collaboration with Einar Thorsteinn

 

Although I have seen Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson‘s works before, I was still hesitant to visit his “Olafur Eliasson: In real life” exhibition at Tate Modern fearing that it has been overhyped. Then when I went with a friend on one Friday evening, we both enjoyed the exhibition immensely – it was also more fun to go with a friend.

As soon as I stepped into the first room, I was immediately captivated by all the geometric origami architectural pieces behind the glass case. Since I completed a paper art course recenly, I found these pieces utterly fascinating. These preliminary and experimental models enabled the artist and his team to develop larger geometric installations that could be seen in the other rooms. Though seeing these models helped us to understand the concept and work process.

 

Olafur Eliasson   Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson   Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson

 

Eliasson often creates works that aim to challenge viewers’ perception of reality. “Is Seeing Believing?” is the question that we sometimes ask ourselves, yet our past experiences are leading us to think otherwise, since we are constantly deceived by our brains. The truth is that most of us are able to grasp reality.

Eliasson’s most famous work ‘The Weather Project’ drew 2 million visitors to gather beneath his artificial sun installation in the Turbine Hall back in 2003. This ‘fake sun’ became the talk of town for a long time.

This time, an 11-metre-high waterfall constructed from scaffolding was installed on the terrace outside of the museum. According to Eliasson, the piece is meant to probe questions including: “Is nature constructed? Is nature real? Is it fake? Does nature exist?”

 

Olafur Eliasson

 

Since Eliasson spent much of his childhood in Iceland, nature and environmental issues play prominent roles in his works. In one of his earlier works Beauty (1993), for example, Eliasson wanted to recreate something he’d witnessed first-hand in Iceland. Visitors would enter a dark room and see mist coming out of a punctured hose pipe with light illuminated from a single light bulb. If you stand there long enough, you are likely to see a rainbow. Is this nature or manmade? It is up to you to decide.

 

Olafur Eliasson

Beauty (1993)

 

In another room, visitors would be surrounded by a dense fog that changes colours as you blindly navigate yourself through it. Din blinde passager (Your blind passenger) was first presented at Copenhagen’s ARKEN Museum of Modern Art in 2010, and at this exhibition, it has been recreated in a 39-metre long corridor.

The artificial fog is actially made from non-toxic polls, a sweetener often used in food production, hence you can taste the sweetness at the back your throat when you inhale the fog. Not only you might feel disoriented, but all your senses would also be evoked in this space.

 

Olafur Eliasson Din blinde passager (Your blind passenger) (2010)  Olafur Eliasson Din blinde passager (Your blind passenger) (2010)

Din blinde passager (Your blind passenger), 2010

 

Another immersive installation Your uncertain shadow (colour) focuses on light and colour. Five coloured spotlights, directed at a white wall, are arranged in a line on the floor. These colours combine to illuminate the wall with a bright white light. When the visitor enters the space, her/his projected shadow, by blocking each coloured light from a slightly different angle, appears on the wall as an array of five differently coloured silhouettes. The deceptive and playful installation is probably the most ‘instagrammed’ at the exhibition.

 

Olafur Eliasson Your uncertain shadow (colour), 2010

Your uncertain shadow (colour), 2010

 

Beyond the interactive installations, there are also works that employed a more conventional method focusing on the effects of global warming and climate change. A series of photographs of Iceland’s glaciers taken by the artist in 1999 are hung alongside with photos taken 20 years on to illustrate the changes in the landscape that are happening now. They act as a stark reminder that global warming is not a hoax and needs to be addressed asap.

His other ongoing prject, Ice Watch (2014–) is a collaboration with the geologist Minik Rosing in which large blocks of glacial ice cast off from the Greenland ice sheet were installed in three locations, including outside of Tate Modern a year ago. The melting ice installation raises awareness of climate change by providing a direct and tangible experience of the reality.

 

Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson   Olafur Eliasson

 

Like I mentioned earlier, many of his geometric origami models in the first room were later developed into larger installations, like ‘Your spiral view’ (2002), featuring a eight-metre-long tunnel constructed from steel plates that are assembled into two sets of spirals coiling in opposite directions. When visitors walk through it, they would find themselves within a kaleidoscope, in which the space they have just left is reflected fragmentarily together with the view out on the other side. It is another fun and disorientating installations at the exhibition.

 

Olafur Eliasson   Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson Your spiral view 2002

Olafur Eliasson Your spiral view 2002

Olafur Eliasson   Olafur Eliasson

 

Outside of the exhibition, visitors could also view his other projects, including Little Sun, developed with the Danish engineer Frederik Ottesen. Little Sun is a very efficient solar-powered LED lamp, aimed at children in Africa and other developing nations. Since the lamp’s debut in 2012, more than 200,000 have been distributed, over a third of them to regions in Africa with no electricity, the rest at venues like Tate Modern or Coachella.

 

Olafur Eliasson   Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson The structural evolution project 2001.

 

In my opinion, Olafur Eliasson is undoubtedly a persuasive and important artist of our generation. It is hard to put him into a box as he is also a designer, philanthropist and environmental activist. Even if you don’t consider his works as ‘art’, he does have the power to make the public engage and think about our environment, which hopefully will bring about positive changes to our planet.

 

 

African Textiles – Karun Thakar Collection at Brunei Gallery

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

Often it is easy to miss many excellent exhibitions in a big city like London, especially after Timeout got rid of its exhibitions listing when it became a free magazine. Meanwhile, the few art listing apps don’t seem to be comprehensive either. This is when Instagram can be useful sometimes… it was a post that caught my attention and brought me to The African Textiles – Karun Thakar Collection exhibition at SOAS’s Brunei Gallery. Thanks to this post, I managed to see the remarkable exhibition before it ended. I felt that the show was not given the publicity it deserved, and many people who are interested in the subject probably would have missed it like I almost did.

The Karun Thakar Collection is one of the world’s largest private collections of African textiles, and this exhibition showcased 150 exhibits and textiles from west and north Africa including Morocco, Tunisia, Ivory Coast, Mali, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon. Karun Thakar is a passionate collector of textiles, and it would be hard not to be impressed by the outstandling and vast collection.

 

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collectionimg_4997-min

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

In recent years, I have devoted more of my time to the world of textiles. One of the reasons why textiles fascinate me so much is the important roles they play in every culture throughout history. Every handmade textile tells a story, which reveals the fascinating tradition of where it comes from. Often I am surprised by the similarities between textiles made from different parts of the world. The language of textiles is universal and it can break through all cultural barriers.

 

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

Before the exhibition, I knew very little about African textiles, so I was quite blown away by the vibrant colour combinations, primitive patterns, and the variety of weaving and dyeing techniques. Aside from large hangings, there were also rugs, costumes, jewellery, and even a wonderful selection of woven hats.

There were some distinctive stripweave ‘kente’ or ‘nwentoma‘ cloths made by the Ashanti and Ewe tribes from Ghana at the exhibition. The cloths have interwoven checkered patterns made of silk and cotton fabrics, and each colour has a symbolic meaning.

 

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

I particularly loved the Indigo room, which was full of indigo-dyed textiles. Indigo is an ancient dye, and the oldest known indigo-dyed textile was discovered in 2009 at Huaca Prieta, Peru dating to 6,000 years ago. Yet the practice of indigo-dyeing also has a long history in India, Japan, China, S.E.Asia, Iran, Africa and Europe. In Egypt, blue stripes found in the borders of Egyptian linen mummy cloths were dated around 2400 BC.

Inside the room, there were many indigo pieces from West India (partcicularly from Mali, Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon), where the tradition of indigo dyeing has been practised for centuries. It was really interesting to see works created by the resist-dyed technique; although they are not as refined and sophisticated as the ones in Japan, the primitive aesthetics make them unique, and immensely different from the bold and colourful ones in the other rooms.

 

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

If you missed the exhibition, you can buy the book ‘African Textiles’ published by Prestel, 2015. My wish, though, is that one day Mr Karun Thakar’s collection would get a permanent space somewhere so that the public can admire and learn more about the beautiful textiles from this continent.

 

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

Festival of Natural Fibres & Saori weaving at Craft Central

craft central  craft central

 

Even though I live in London, I don’t often venture away from my neighbourhood or the centre, and I had no idea where the Isle of Dogs is until I looked it up on google. I have not been to the Craft Central‘s new venue since they moved across town more than two years ago. Their new space is a Grade II listed Victorian (1860) forge with many historic features located Isle of Dogs not far from Canary Wharf. The spacious industrial building was converted by Emrys Architects to provide artist studios and exhibition hall for crafts people and other creative professionals.

I missed the Festival of Natural fibre in Sept, but I attended part 2 of the festival in November. Organised by Khadi London, Freeweaver SAORI Studio, ONE and Craft Central, the festival aimed to showcase the best ethical and sustainable products, and discussed current trends and challenges in the revolution in the global textiles industry. Personally, I I believe that when the public learn more about the environmental damage caused by fast fashion, many are likely to change their shopping habits (though it takes times), and this festival highlights the beauty and sustainability of textiles and fashion made from natural fibres.

 

craft central  craft central

craft central  craft central

 

There were textiles workshops throughout the day, but unfortunately they were all fully booked when I tried to book. It shows the popularity of these craft workshops nowadays!

 

craft central  craft central

craft central

craft central

craft central

 

There was a demonstration of Indian Charkha wheel spinning, a craft that is often associated with Mahatma Gandhi and regarded as the symbol of the Provisional Government of Free India. The handwoven cloth spun by the wheel is called Khadi, which is usually made of cotton or other natural fiber cloth originating from India and Bangladesh. Also, the yarn used is dyed naturally, so it is much more sustainable than synthetic dyes.

 

craft central  craft central

house of tamarind  house of tamarind

Bottom: House of tamarind

 

At the event, there were some items that are woven with natural fibres in the Japanese Saori weaving style, which I found quite fascinating. Established by Misao Jo (1913-2018) at the age of 57, Saori is free style hand weaving with no rules or restrictions. There is a sense of freedom and liberation, and it enables the weaver to express his/her creativity through the weaving.

Although I couldn’t sign up for the workshop on the day of the festival, I did sign up for a workshop with textiles artist Erna Janine from Freeweaver Saori studio a few weeks after the event ended. Erna helped us to set up the loom and asked us to pick from a wide range of coloured threads from her studio.

 

freeweaver saori  freeweaver saori

freeweaver saori

 

For next few hours, we were just weaving away and being as creative as possible. Since there were no rules, I decided to go a bit ‘wild’ and make a more 3-D piece with the wool I found. I absolutely loved the experience, and I wished that the workshop was longer. I used to think that weaving is a boring and repetitive task, but this workshop completely changed my mind, and I am hoping to learn more about this craft in the future.

 

craft central

freeweaver saori

freeweaver saori  freeweaver saori

 

Autumn/winter wild food foraging in Hampstead Heath

hampstead heath

 

Although wild food foraging is nothing new, it has become quite popular in recent years. I think this is due to our growing interest in sustainability and back-to-basics lifestyle after decades of consumerism. As we know, endless purchase of consumer goods and fast fashion does not fulfil our lives, nor does it make us happier.

Yet how can we change our behaviour/lifestyle living in metropolis like London? Besides buying less, recycling more and shopping at the local farmers market, we can also attempt wild food foraging. After a fascinating funghi foraging workshop in Hampstead Heath a few years back, I was keen to learn more about foraging but never managed to do so until I enrolled onto a wild food foraging course with Jason Irving from Foraging Wild Food.

Jason is an experienced forager, herbalist and ethnobotanist. He used to work as head forager at UK’s leading supplier of wild food, Forager Ltd, for two years. Next year, he will be doing his PHD research in Central America, and our one-day course was the last one of the year.

 

hampstead heath

lime tree  lime tree

Lime tree (Tilia spp.)

 

The sun and blue sky made us feel slightly better for being out and about on a cold late autumn/winter’s morning. Since I live not far from Hamsptead Heath, the heath is like my back garden where I would visit in all seasons. However, I had no idea about the vast array of wild food available here besides funghi. The 3-hour walk around the heath was flabbergasting for a newbie like me. I learned a lot about the usage of many seeds and leaves, which not only can be used as herbal medicine, but also in cooking and beverages. Jason also made us a cake and hot drink from wild fruits and herbs, which was surprisingly delicious.

 

Hog weed seed  common sorrel

Left: Hog weed seed; Right: Common sorrel (Rumex acetosa)

 

Although I made some notes and took photos on the day, I don’t think I would be able to differentiate all the edible plants and seeds after just one course. There is still much to learn, and I guess getting a foraging book would be a good start. Since there are many foraging courses available in London, I probably would do another one in the summer when more herbs and ripe fruits are ready to be picked.

 

Ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata)  Hedge bedstraw (Galium mollugo)

Left: Ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata); Right: Hedge bedstraw (Galium mollugo)

 

Although wild food foraging can be fun, there is also the danger of picking poisonous plants without knowing (we often hear that with funghi-picking). Therefore, it is important to do more research or pick with someone more knowledgeable at the beginning.

 

Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)  Elder (Sambucus nigra)

Left: Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) Right: Elder (Sambucus nigra)

 

The issue of global food shortages reminds us that we cannot take our food supply for granted anymore. What if one day we find ourselves in supermarkets full of empty shelves? If this happens, then how would we survive? Wild food foraging is not only about survival skills, it is also about sustainability and reconnecting with nature. If we undertstand the origin of each ingredient that goes into our food, then we are likely to appreciate it more.

 

Stinging nettle (Urtica dioca)  img_4958-min

Left: Stinging nettle (Urtica dioca); Right: Beech (Fagus sylvestris)

 

Sadly, over-foraging has also become an issue in recent years. I was told that many Eastern Europeans would mass pick edible funghi and sell them to restaurants for commercial gains despite the fact that it is illegal to do so. Even the head chef of Noma –often voted as the restaurant in the wold– was accused of illegally picking wild mushrooms in Hampstead Heath 10 years ago.

 

sweet chestnut  yarrow

Left: Sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa); Right: Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

 

Wild food foraging can be a satisfying and uplifting experience, but if we disrupt the eco-system by over-picking, then we are doing more harm than good. At the end of the day, it is crucial to find a balance. If we don’t respect our environment, we may regret it one day when it is too late.

 

hampstead heath

hampstead heath  hampstead heath

hampstead heath