The beauty of winter

For the past two years, I chose to spend the New Year period at meditation retreats outside of London, but this year I decided to take a break from everything. Going on retreats sometimes stir up a lot of emotions and feelings that had accumulated over time and it could take up to weeks for me to adjust and return to ‘reality’. This year has been tough, emotionally challenging and exhausting, and I knew I needed some rest, so my plan was to do a ‘home retreat’ where I can hibernate and go ‘offline’ for a while.

I guess my intuition was right, I fell ill at the end of November and things deteriorated until I gave in to antibiotics (something I tried to avoid for a long time). I have never been sick for a month before, but then I realised it was a blessing in disguise because I was able to really slow down, relax, reflect and enjoy some ‘me’ time. Almost all my usual activities were disrupted… a month of no proper sleep, meditation (I couldn’t breath properly), socialising, tango, pilates, country walks, coffee and wine was like a cleansing/ detox period. The only down side was that I had vistors during this period and was unable to spend much quality time with them, which was a bit of a shame.

Since I got better, I was desperate to reconnect with nature, something that I had really missed while I was ill. I have never been a nature lover until recent years since I grew up and lived in different big cities for most of my life (except for my boarding school years), but I guess aging does have a strange effect on people.

To me, Hampstead Heath is like paradise in London, it has some magical healing power that can temporarily get rid of pain, sorrow, fear and anxiety. During spring and summer, it gives you hope, joy and positive energy, in the winter, despite the sadness, loneliness and stillness, you can still feel the hidden message… a message that tells you this will all pass and spring will be back again soon, so just enjoy this moment in time. Sitting on the same bench where I sat on 6 months ago, I felt incrediably calm, free and positive.

While I was walking in the cold, I suddenly thought that as much as I like Singapore, I don’t want to live in a place with no seasons changes. Life without winters will be so boring! The beauty of winter is something that can only be experienced and once you understand, you will forgive winter for all its shortcomings.



The Booking office

I have wanted to try the Booking Office for quite a while, partly because I wanted to check out its interior and architecture. Finally, I went there for brunch on Sunday and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I thought the setting is stunning, it makes you almost feel like you are inside a cathedral! I just love the ambience and was impressed by the attentive and friendly service.

However, I was even more impressed by the drinks menu esp. when I saw the variety of ‘old-fashioned’ punches! My hot Billy Dawson Punch contained lemon peel, demerara sugar, rum, cognac, porter, nutmeg and was served with berries which was delicious and ideal on a wintry afternoon. These days, it’s rare to see traditional punches being served, so it’s wonderful to see their revival in 2011!

The all day menu is inspired by many traditional British classics like steak and kidney pie, fish and chips and Lancaster hot pot. I ordered a smoked mackerel pate to start, which was tasty and ‘fishy’ (in a good way). The mushroom and leek wellington main, a vegetarian version of the traditional beef wellington, was unusual but also well-executed.

Outside at the St Pancras International, I was particularly intrigued by the Lego Christmas tree… I have always loved Lego and to see this tree simply put a smile on my face! Now I just wish I could have a smaller version at home…


Souvenir from Hong Kong (stationery)

Although I didn’t buy very much in Hong Kong, I did make a few interesting purchases…

Greeting card

I think the illustration of this greeting card shows the Hong Kong that I am familiar with: chaotic, colourful, cramped but full of character. Sadly, in recent years the city’s unique buildings and street scenes are being replaced by soulless glossy shopping malls and luxury apartment blocks. This card makes me feel nostalgic and reminds me of the ‘old’ Hong Kong, very much like the city depicted in Wong Kar-Wai’s films…

The traditional Chinese calendar

The traditional Chinese calendar is a fascinating item… Not only does it tell you the dates (Western & Chinese), it also indicate when you should and shouldn’t wash your hair, get married, move house, go fishing (for fishermen in the old days), clean the house etc. Astrology also plays an important part; depending on your Chinese zodiac signs, there will days marked as ‘bad’ days when things are mostly likely to go wrong. I am not a superstitious person, but I am always curious and fascinated by the ‘warnings’…



Children’s exercise books

These nostalgic children’s exercise books can usually be found in traditional stationery shops in Hong Kong, but since these shops are disappearing fast, it makes it harder to find items like these now. I found these in the stationery department inside a bookstore where they come in a pack of 5 and just under $10 (which is about 85p). A bargain!



DIY rubber stamp printing kit

Rubber stamp sets are not cheap in the U.K., so I was quite thrilled when I saw this DIY rubber stamp kit. It contains a black ink pad, different shaped type holders, tweezers and a 2 different sizes of rubber alphabet and numbers. I bought this for about £8, which is much cheaper than what I would have to pay in the U.K.

Cyber Clean

I saw this in the bookstore and was curious about its function… it claims to be able to get rid of the hard-to-reach germs and dirt on the computer keyboard, remote control and phone etc. I tried it recently and it seemed to work okay… but are all the devices free of germs now? I am not so sure.

DIY Art vase

I saw this DIY paper vase inside the Hong Kong Museum of Art shop, I found it  interesting because it is made to resemble a traditional Chinese ceramic vase. All you have to do is to fold according to the instructions and turn it into a vase that can be used to hold pens or other items.



Wrapping paper

This wrapping paper depicts scenes of old ‘China’ in the style of wood block printing. It’s quite unusual and I think it would look good as book covers.



Souvenir from Tokyo (part 2: stationery)

In the past, I couldn’t resist shopping endlessly whenever I went to Tokyo; nowadays, I shop a lot less but I still can’t resist the wonderful Japanese stationery. My favourite stationery shop in the world is Ito-ya in Ginza, where my friend and I could spend more than 3 hours wandering up and down the store.

I have been collecting Japanese stationery since I was a kid, from erasers to writing paper, pencils, bookmarks, stickers and pencil cases; now that I am a lot older, my collection is still growing, I guess some obsessions just never change!




Japanese calendars are unique and creative, and they are extremely popular in Japan. On the top floor of Ito-ya, there are hundreds of calendars on sale for all ages and interests. Personally, I really like the moon calendar but the calendar in the shape of a ruler is also great fun.

Christmas/ greeting cards

These X’mas cards are the cutest! They feature groups of Santa Claus in different settings but all within Japan. I love them so much that I find it hard to give them away!

These post cards are simple yet wonderful…

Note pad set

Instead of writing letters, this note pad set is ideal if you just want to write short messages to friends and family… I love the bold graphics…



Simplicity is the best!

Plastic sleeves

In Japan, plastic sleeves are rarely transparent, they are usually printed with graphics. This wonderful Art Nouveau style A4 plastic sleeve was bought from the Printing museum while the smaller sleeve with cool motifs and is particular handy to carry when traveling.

Memo pads

Another cool retro design bought from the Printing Museum…and the small memo clock is from Muji.

Tape hook

This paper hook is designed by Torafu Architects for Kaminokousakujo (one of our Japanese suppliers). It is made of paper and made to look like tape but it can also hold keys, glasses and jewellery. Cool.


Love these colourful crayons!! Not sure what to do with them yet but I am sure they will come in handy one day!



Japanese paper

For paper lovers, Japanese paper is probably second to none. Just take a look at these…

Souvenir from Tokyo (part 1)

Again, I was supposed to write about this right after I got back from Asia… it has taken me a while to sort out the photos but I really want to share the goodies I brought back from Tokyo because they are so weird and wonderful!


Pianissimo ViV Menthol cigarettes

I am no longer a smoker but when I saw these on sale from the street vending machine, I had to get a pack for my smoker friend! Each cigarette in the pack contains a ‘breath sparkling shot capsule’ in the filter. Before crushing the capsule, the cigarette gives a menthol taste with mint flavour. After crushing the capsule, it would give a more intense and sweet menthol flavour with a refreshing taste. Apparently, it’s similar to Camel Menthol Crush which launched the year before, but I like the packaging of this and am tempted to try one myself just for the experience…

I Lohas water bottle

Another product I spotted from the vending machines (I love Japanese vending machines and convenient stores!)… The I Lohas water bottles from Coca Cola Japan allow users to twist the bottle after finishing the water, subsequently reducing the volume and save space in the refuse and recycling bins. Maybe it’s more of an eco-gimmick but I was quite intrigued and so bought a bottle to try it out myself… what’s amazing is that the bottle can actually be revert back to its original state after I twisted it, cool! Click here for to see their TV ad…

Turtle ‘Tawashi’ Vegetable Brush

This traditional scrubbing brush has been around for over 100 years! It is made of palm fibers, and is tightly bound with thick wire. It is hard, durable, waterproof and biodegradable… a ‘must’ item for the kitchen!

Japanese snacks and sweets

Who can resist Japanese snacks and sweets especially with their wonderful packaging? I just love the peanut snack and its packaging!



Seasonal napkins

In Japan, not only selling and serving seasonal food is very important, even products are often created according to the seasons. These wonderful napkins have seasonal themes; I just love the graphics, not sure if I would want to use them unless I am hosting a very special dinner party…

Tabi socks

I have a soft spot for socks especially for Japanese tabi socks! I already have quite a few sou.sou ones but I couldn’t resist buying more when I saw these! I even bought a pair of Tabio’s sports socks, it’s good to know that they have a shop in London now…

Furoshiki cloth

I can’t say that I am an expert at folding furoshiki but I love the pattern of this cloth! It’s so beautiful and wintery! Now all I need is to go onto Youtube to learn the many ways to turn this into a lovely eco bag!

To be continued…







East London design show 2011

I was meant to write about the East London design show right after it ended but I caught a bad flu which disrupted all my work schedules. I almost thought I had to pull out of the show because I was so poorly! I missed half of Friday but luckily, other designers kindly covered for me, and a friend volunteered to help on Sunday, so it turned out okay in the end.

It was a last minute decision to do the show and it was our first public show since we opened in October. With such limited time and resources, I had to think of an effective and efficient way to display our products. In the end, I decided to print an A00 size poster of our theme illustration and I think it worked pretty well because it did catch visitors’ attention. Then I hired a table from the organiser and displayed our products right in front of the poster. Compared to other designers, our stand was quite minimal, it probably would have been better if we had some shelves; but hopefully, we will improve our stand display next time.

The overall experience at the show was positive despite my ill health. It was good to see how people reacted to our products and hear positive feedback. One designer who has done the show for years told me that this year had been the most quiet, I guess it’s not surprising given the current economical climate. However, our overall sales were better than I expected and I thought the show was a good way to market the e-shop.

The most fascinating thing for me though was to see how other designers interact with their customers… nowadays designers not only have to create good designs but they also need to be good salesmen. I certainly learnt a few tricks from them at the show and I hope that I will be as convincing and as good as them one day!


Exhibitions in Tokyo & Hong Kong (Nov 2011)

While I was in Tokyo, I went to a few exhibitions including: Irving Penn and Issey Miyake’s Visual Dialogue at 21_21 Design Sight in Midtown, Metabolism: the city of the future at Mori Art Museum in Roppongi Hills and Japan’s long selling products at Printing Museum in Koishikawa.

Irving Penn and Issey Miyake’s Visual Dialogue was rather disappointing esp. compared to many of the previous exhibitions I have visited at the same site. The exhibition displayed photographs of Issey Miyake’s designs taken by Irving Penn since 1980s. Although many of the photos are strikingly beautiful, I felt that the material wasn’t enough for an exhibition… one can’t help that something was missing despite their efforts to include a cartoon animation of their collaboration.

Metabolism: the city of the future at Mori Art Museum on the other hand, was excellent! This retrospective looks at the Metabolism movement that started in 1960s lead by Japanese architect, Kenzo Tange. There are drawings, sketches, videos, photographs and many architectural models… not to be missed! The exhibition ends on 15th Jan 2012.

Long selling products – Products with a 30-Year to 400-Year History at the Printing Museum was small but very interesting. It exhibited many famous Japanese products in chronological order, with a sub-exhibition on their packaging design. The most amazing thing is that many products which went on sale more than 50 years ago are still being sold in shops today and in their original packaging! It just proves that Japanese packaging designs are timeless… I also love the museum’s free newsletters on printing, there are some wonderful prints and photos inside and you don’t need to understand Japanese to appreciate them!

Back in Hong Kong, I went to visit the Hong Kong Museum of Art where they showed several interesting exhibitions: Cruising the universe – fantastic animals in the arts of China, Wu Guanzhong’s Painting, dance and music, Johnson Chow Su-sing – A tranquil heart in art and Artistic inclusion of the East and West – Apprentice to Master. I didn’t realise that there is free admission on Wednesdays, so it was quite a pleasant surprise when I got there…

Wu Guanzhong’s Painting, dance and music was my favourite out of them all! Regarded as one of the most famous contemporary Chinese artist, Wu’s masterly art work combined the best of East and West. Many of the paintings on display at this exhibition used visual elements such as dots, lines and planes. Some of the paintings are minimal in composition, some are abstract and colourful but they are all so unique that it is hard not to be moved by his beautiful and rhythmic paintings. The exhibition goes on until April 2012, so if you happen to be in Hong Kong, do not miss this!

Artistic inclusion of the East and West – Apprentice to Master – I think the museum’s in-house design team should be applauded for their efforts in producing such wonderful exhibition catalogue! The catalogue are made up of a pack of nicely printed postcards (see above), displaying art work from the exhibition. The exhibition itself was also fascinating, it examined the flourishing Chinese export painting trade in Guangzhou in the 18th and 19th centuries. There were works of Western artists as well as ‘copies’ by Chinese artists using similar techniques and styles. It made me wonder about modern day counterfeiting… would this be considered as counterfeit art today? Hmm.

Letterpress business cards

It was quite a challenge to find a letterpress printer that could deliver within a short time frame and not be charged an arm and a leg! After contacting many printers both within the UK and outside, I eventually went for ‘Glasgow Press‘.

The card used is Colorplan pristine white 540 gsm, edge painted in orange. Yes, they are expensive to print but I like the effect of letterpress… I just wish that letterpress printing could be cheaper and more accessible because they look so much better than digital printing. Long live letterpress!!