Nature Observations (lockdown 2021)


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.


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 irisHelleboresjapanese skimmia  Iris foetidissimaFirst 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 leavesimg_5079Eranthis   Mahonia Viburnum tinus Eve PriceViburnum tinus Eve Price  HelleboresFirst 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  ChaenomelesChaenomelesWEIGELA PINK POPPETMagenta HebeFirst left: Euonymus europaeus; first right & 2nd: Chaenomeles; 3rd: Weigela Pink Poppet; last row: Magenta Hebe

Crocus tommasinianus 'Ruby Giant'Erica carnea, the winter heathClematis armandiiPrimrose – Primula vulgarisFirst: 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  daffadilsdaffadilsdaffadilsdaffadilsDaffodils

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  Magnoliapink magnoliaMagnoliaWhite 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 blossomcherry blossomcherry blossomcherry blossomA white-flowering cherry tree/ Yoshino cherry (Prunus x yedoensis) in Hamspstead heath

cherry treecherry blossomcherry treescherry blossomCherry 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 blossomcherry blossom  cherry blossomcherry blossomcherry blossomThe 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 camelliaimg_5643  img_5321-minimg_5727Camellia – Top & 2nd rows: Japonica Camellia


buddleiaprimroseFirst: 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.

ForsythiagorseTop: 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 PointCeanothus Yankee PointbluebellbluebellsbellflowerTop & 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 heathHampstead 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 heathhampstead heathhampstead heathhampstead heath  hampstead heathwinterhampstead heathhampstead heathhampstead heathhampstead heathHampstead 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 hillprimrose hillprimrose hillprimrose hillPrimrose 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 ParkRegent's Park  Regent's ParkRegent's Parkregent's parkRegent’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 farmcamden town  camden towncamden townregent's canalcamden tow camden towncamden townCamden 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 crosskings crossKings 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 roadcovidLittle veniceLittle venicepaddingtonpaddingtonpaddingtonTop: 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  bbcregent street carnaby street  carnaby streetoxford streetriba  riba Regent Street, Carnaby Street, Oxford Street; Bottom: RIBA


mosqueimg_5138img_5153img_5162img_5169Top: The London Central Mosque; Regent’s Park’s Outer Circle

covent gardencovent gardenCovent garden

chorley woodchorley woodchorley woodchorley woodchorley woodchorley woodchorley woodA long walk around Chorleywood and Hertfordshire in spring

A global pandemic is the time for reflection and change




Like everyone else around the world, my life has been vastly disrupted by Covid-19. I was traveling in India for a month until early March, and luckily left before it started to spread, which eventually led to a nationwide lockdown on 25th March. Then I arrived in Hong Kong days before the government imposed a 14-day quarantine for all inbound travellers. So far so lucky.

Sadly, my three-month stay in Japan had to be cancelled/postponed. All the courses that I enrolled onto were postponed to next year, just like the Olympics, which may or may not happen. I have been stuck in Hong Kong for months because all the flights were grounded until July, followed by a hike in all the airfares back to the U.K. I have no idea when I can return back to the U.K., and it is causing a bit of a problem for my work. Uncertainty is causing anxiety for everyone, and we somehow have to get used to it or even learn to embrace it.

How and why did it happen? When will this all end? Where do we go from here? What is our future going to be like? There are so many questions but very few anwers or even solutions. A majority of the population on this planet has never experienced a pandemic before, and we struggled to cope, physically and mentally. Yet it didn’t happen out of the blue, many scientists and visionaries had predicted it years before it happened, including Bill Gates. In 2015, Bill Gates gave a talk at the TED conference, aptly titled: “The next outbreak? We’re not ready”.




In Buddhist teaching, the law of karma refers to the law of cause and effect: that every volitional act brings about a certain result. It is the law of nature. In this case, we only have ourselves to blame. The cause of the pandemic is complex, but it is the result of human actions, regardless of whether they were intentional or not. Our planet has been sick for some time, and yet we continue to destroy and abuse it, and perhaps this is nature’s retaliation on us. I truly feel that nature has been too kind to mankind, and this is a stark warning sign for us all.

When governments place economic growth and technological developments as their top priorities, while disregarding the environmental impact on the planet, an imbalance would occur. This imbalance did not happen overnight. We are now dealing with numerous issues that have been accumulating over the past few decades such as climate change, pollution, electronic and plastic waste, deforestation, resource scarcity, antibiotic resistance, and overtourism… the list goes on. These are all man-made issues. We are killing our planet and we need to stop it asap.

During the pandemic, most planes were grounded, which meant that the air quality around the world improved as a result. Besides airplanes, luxury cruises were halted, road traffic was reduced substantially because of lockdowns; suddenly everyone has to go back to basics. Actually we don’t have much choice. This is the time to reflect and focus on what is most important to us. It turns out that most of us value our health and families more than money, work, fashion, and holidays.

I believe that crisis can bring opportunity and change. I only started my business due to a personal crisis; my suffering made me stronger and more motivated. If I hadn’t hit rock bottom, I probably would not have had the courage to start a business. All of us have the ability to changes our lives, and I believe the time is now. Instead of moaning about lockdowns/staying indoors, you can take the opportunity to do more indoor activities, and spend more quality time with our families. Often I would go into hibernation in winters, so staying in is not an issue for me.

Slowing down or being stagnated does not always feel comfortable, but it is essential sometimes. Maybe we need to accept that the world has been heading down a wrong path for decades, and now we need to readjust in order to find a more balanced path. I was quite pessimistic about our future before the pandemic, yet now I feel that there is still hope… if we become more aware/consicious of our actions, then we can make positive changes for ourselves and the environment. At the end of the day, our enemy is not the virus, but ourselves.