A mindful evening with Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh’s calligraphy exhibition in Hong Kong, 2010


There are not that many living leaders I truly respect; politically, it’s Aung San Suu Kyi while spiritually, it’s Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh. Both of them are Buddhists from Southeast Asia who have experienced turmoil in their own countries, but both have opted for peace in dealing with conflicts.

My interest in Buddhism began in my early 20s but at the time, my mind was not ready for it and I did not follow it through. A turning point came after I read Thich Nhat Hanh‘s (or ‘Thây‘ as many would call him, meaning teacher/ master) “Peace is every step” over 4 years ago. It’s not an exaggeration to say that this book changed my life, and it prompted me to embark on the spiritual journey I left off years ago.

Two years ago, I attended a 5-day meditation retreat lead by Thây in Hong Kong. Being so close to someone I respect was a humbling experience, but the most memorable was following him on a walking meditation with over 1200 people in heavy rain for over an hour!

Thich Nhat Hanh’s ‘Awaken to joy mindfulness retreat’ in Hong Kong, 2010


For the past few years, I have been to several of his public talks and each time, his calm presence could be felt even in a hall filled with thousands of people. This week, Thây is in London again but I did not expect to see him because I will be out of town for his events including a group meditation in Trafalgar’s Square. Yet unexpectedly, I received an email a few days ago from Action for Happiness giving away 20 tickets for his talk at the Houses of Parliament! And miraculously, I managed to get a ticket, which certainly made my day.

The talk was unique in many ways, besides the setting and smaller numbers, most of the attendees were politicians, educators or staff from different organisations. Thây‘s talk lasted about 40 mins, focusing on mindful breathing, love and interbeing, followed by an hour of Q & A session.

Many questions were related to how to bring about change in our society today including educating young children or helping young people. I particular like his advice on taking a 2 minute break to breath mindfully and re-connect with our body while sitting in front of the computer. He said that we often forget about our bodies when we sit for hours in front of the computer and the 2 minutes will help us to feel our bodies and the tension we carry.

After the talk, Thây lead a mindful walking session in the Victoria Tower garden, which attracted a lot of curious attention from passersby. Although the day was lovely, it got rather chilly because the sun was setting; nonetheless, it was soon forgotten when I concentrated on my breathing.

Whenever Thây travels, he would be accompanied by a very large group of monastics from Plum Village (including many young people). For this talk, he brought about 15 of them and it was sweet to see some clearly happy to be visiting the Houses of Parliament. The sight of Thây and his monastics being photographed like ‘tourists’ was quite amusing.

Every time I see the Plum Village monastics, they always seem to be very joyful, you can see that it comes from within, which is not something that one can fake. I think they act as a testimony that one can live joyfully without prodigious wealth and possessions.

All the tickets for Thây‘s public talk at the Southbank Centre are sold out already, but you can join him, his monastics and thousands of meditators for Sit in Peace, a group sitting meditation in Trafalgar Square on Saturday 31st March. I am sure it will be an extraordinary event, and if you have never tried meditation before, this will be a great place to start and an experience that can be shared with many others!



‘The price of sex’ by Mimi Chakarova

I hope that my blog title will not attract the wrong crowd thinking that this is a porn site! It’s actually about a documentary that I saw at the Human Rights Watch film festival currently showing in London.

Before launching the website, I found the whole idea of social media quite daunting. Little did I know, 6 months later, I am constantly blogging and twitting online… all in the name of business! I used to wonder if anyone would want to read what I have to say or if I can come up with interesting things to say, but now, my attitude towards voicing myself has changed completely.

I don’t want to use this platform as a political/ religious/ social issues forum and I certainly do not want to be preachy or patronising. But I realised that if my blog can help to raise awareness of issues that I care about, and even if only a handful of people are going to read it, it is better than thinking about it quietly in my bedroom. At the end of the day, it’s up to the readers to judge what really matter to them.

A few months ago, I saw a Swedish film, Lilya 4-ever, directed by Lukas Moodysson, about a young girl being sex trafficked in the former Soviet Union. Loosely based on a true story, the film had a profound impact on me and I knew the story is not an one-off. I started doing research on the topic and tried to find ways to help but it didn’t go very far as there are too many NGOs doing similar work, yet I wasn’t sure which was credible.



Then yesterday, I went to the ICA to see another excellent and moving documentary, The price of sex, directed by photojournalist, Mimi Chakarova, and once again, I felt the urge to do something. The film focuses mainly on three Eastern European women and most of the filming took place in Istanbul and Dubai, where they were trafficked. As explained in the film, sex trafficking is a complicated issue and it’s more to do with power than sex. Being one of the oldest trades in the world, we all know that the sex trade can never be eliminated, but it’s still daunting to see how little has changed even with so much money and effort being put in to combat it. At the Q & A, Mimi, who spent almost 10 years working on this project, seemed quite emotional at times, and as the audiences, we could feel how personal this project is to her.



I don’t know if there are real solutions to this complex issue but raising awareness is the first step, and we need to know that these stories are taking place everywhere in the world including the U.K. It annoys me when I hear people here constantly moaning about the economical downturn and how it’s affecting their lifestyle i.e. cutting down on the son’s swimming classes or not being able to go abroad for holiday. If self-indulgence and self-absorption is the price we pay in to live in the civilised society, then we have certainly reached a critical period in human history. If all us can see a glass as half full rather than half empty, then we will be much happier and be more generous towards those in need.

Mimi urges the audiences to tell at least 5 people about the film, I managed to tell 4 so far, so hopefully, I will get at least one reader who will read this and spread the message to more people! If you would like to find out more or give support, you can check out the Poppy project set up by Eaves, a London-based charity, to help trafficked women.

There is also an e-petition calling on the Government to stop detaining trafficked people, you can click here to sign up.

The joy (and pain) of origami

One of the perks of my job involves sourcing unusual and interesting products from different designers or companies. But sometimes, it is not easy placing orders without seeing the actual products, esp. if they require self-assembly. I love origami and so I requested some Japanese origami product samples from Tokyo Shiki, a laser-cutting paper company which I have dealt with previously. I was quite excited and decided to try one out for myself… After swearing continuously for almost an hour, I finally created this wonderful origami ‘vase’ by Hiroko, a Japanese paper/origami artist that can be send as a pop-up greeting card.

Don’t get me wrong, the ‘vase’ looks wonderful and delicate… almost like an art piece, but the assembling process was rather tedious and it certainly required a lot of patience and a pair of delicate hands. I have a lot of respect for the artist and her work, esp. her ‘Ferris wheels’, which looks amazing! I have yet to try out, but am wondering if I will have to spare another hour for it? I am sure I would be over the moon if I receive pop-up cards like these, but how many people would spare the time to assemble them is my question. For me, it isn’t so much the issue of time but rather the frustration I experienced during the process.

A few days after trying out Hiroko‘s vase, I decided to assemble an octagonal origami box designed by Jun Mitani, a professor in Computer Science at University of Tsukuba in Japan. ( Dr Mitani is the collaborator of Issey Miyake‘s beautiful origami-inspired ‘132 5. ISSEY MIYAKE‘ eco fashion range, which was nominated for this year’s Designer of the year award at the Design Museum).

The sets do not come with English instructions, but Mr Yamada from Tokyo Shiki sent me the video links to assist me with the assembling. I was quite confident when I looked at the instruction photos, but then after about 10 mins, I knew I had to turn to the videos for assistance! Again, the assembling was much harder than I thought, and as much as I love the end result, I realised that I am unlikely to stock these lovely origami items. If you are into challenges and would like to test your patience, email me and I will send you a paper sample ( not downloadable) to try out!

Besides the samples I ordered, I also received some lovely gifts from Mr Yamada: washi paper decor. Luckily, these required less than 5 minutes to hang, and so now my view out of the window is slightly more interesting than just bricks or my neighbour’s window!


N.B. I have been receiving quite a few emails requesting samples of Hiroko’s vase, unfortunately, I only received one sample and I have no spare ones. Though I was told that it is downloadable online, so you can search for it online.


2 verdicts on 2 business events in 2 days

For a change, this entry is businessy and contains no photo… it is my afterthoughts of the two business events that I attended earlier this week.

I used to attend many business events before launching the business, but only less than a handful since. Experiences taught me that not all events are relevant to what I am doing and I don’t want to be confused by the conflicting advice from different business ‘experts’. Networking events with the ‘wrong’ crowd can also be emotionally draining, so I have become very selective now.

On Monday evening, I attended the Inspiring entrepreneur series: ‘Mothers of Invention’ at the British Library and like most their events, it was a well organised, informative and inspiring evening with interesting speakers and an opportunity to talk to them, as well as other business owners afterwards over wine and canapes. A big thumbs up!

On the other side of town, the 3-day event, Business 2012 at the O2 was a completely different story. Having attended a few of their events before, which were chaotic and stressful, I decided to go on the last day and specifically for a pre-booked consultation with Google. It turned out that my tactic was right because of the complaints about the show, including a friend who (like many) could not get into the hall where Richard Branson was speaking due to bad organisation and registration chaos (luckily, she didn’t pay the £1000 to have a cocktail with him). Another complaint was how cold it had been throughout because of its ‘outdoor’ location in the O2! They couldn’t have picked worst place for this event, apart from the cold draft, there was no signage and seminar halls were scattered around randomly…

I didn’t plan to go to any of the talks and only found out about Lord Sugar‘s when I was there. I decided to go but had to walk out 1/2 way, feeling like I have been robbed of my time (and I am pretty sure Lord Sugar felt the same way too)!

First of all, the interviewer was annoying and patronising, constantly asking audiences to clap after each question and answer. But the worst was the audiences’ questions… it made me wonder if the room was filled with either clueless people or narcissists thinking they were on the Apprentice! Lord Sugar lost his patience after being asked by a woman if he could have tea with her, and a guy asking him why he hasn’t set up a charity like other famous entrepreneurs! The most bizarre was a woman seeking advice on how to turn her 11 year-old child into an entrepreneur after he/she has create an APP! The interviewer failed to control the situation, and it made me ‘angry’ that I wasted my time listening to people self-promoting themselves, it was a complete missed opportunity on an event that could have been informative!

Another problem with the show was the staggering amount of promotional junk produced! Each visitor was given a plastic bag full of promotional leaflets and a heavy brochure full of advertisements, which I am sure would end up in the bin! I have been to a trade show in L.A. and was so impressed by their effort to make the show as eco-friendly as possible. Is the U.K. that behind when it comes to trade events?

Despite all the big names behind it, Blak Pearl, the organiser of this event, needs to address so many issues because the show promised a lot but delivered little, it was a stambles which angered many. Amanda Hill of The Social Media cafe blogged about her experience at the show here, which was read by over 1100 people overnight!

We live in a very transparent world now, and the power of social media cannot be underestimated. If companies don’t deliver on what they promised initially, they would experience a backlash from dissatisfied customers. Can they/we really afford this?

I felt sorry for those who experienced the chaos and cold temperature, but at the same time, I am glad that I got what I went for (money voucher from Google to be spent on their Google AdWord). From now on, I am more than happy to continue using facilities at the British Library, which I believe is the best place for business support and advice in the U.K.



My greeting card collection

Some people like to collect silverware or vintage cars or even Louis Vuitton handbags, I, on the otherhand, have been collecting stationery (esp. Snoopy ones) since I was a child. I started collecting mini erasers given to me at the doctor’s clinic ( I wonder if doctors still do that now?), followed by stickers, bookmarks, pencils, pencil cases and later, writing letter sets.

These days, I still can’t help buying cute and beautiful origami paper greeting cards esp. when I visit Japan. I have sent many to friends and family but have also kept some for myself, simply because I love them too much to give away! In Japan, the greeting card selections are simply astonishing, and it would take at least 20 mins to choose a card because there are just too many to choose from!

Here are some from my accidental collection (mostly from Japan with a few exceptions):






Cute & fun:



Hong Kong’s eco design movement

Many people will be shocked when they read the title of this blog entry, actually, so am I! For those who know Hong Kong well will know that it is far down on the list for being eco-friendly, way behind other Asian cities like Singapore and Taipei. Yet, from what I have been observing, an eco design movement is subtly happening in Hong Kong, which may even be oblivious to the locals! Beyond the glitz and gloss, there is a group of local and expatriate designers who are making a difference and changing the local design scene. Here are just some of them (you can also click on the links in bold to find out more about them):


Milk design

Similar to MUJI’s Found project (see my previous entry), Milk design launched ‘Repair‘ in 2010, a collection of furniture made from old/discarded found objects. Like MUJI, designer, Lee Chi-Wing aims to retain the values and essence of the original objects while incorporating them into furniture that will fit into our contemporary lifestyle. The challenge is to find a solution to extend the objects’ lifespan and make them useful again. What is interesting about these furniture pieces is that they are not only original, but also practical and will not look out of place in a contemporary home.


Studio Leung

Born and raised in the U.K., product designer Michael Leung is the founder of Studio Leung and HK Honey in 2010. As Hong Kong’s first urban beekeeper, Leung acquired his beekeeping knowledge via two local beekeepers. The aim of the project is to communicate the value of bees and benefits of locally produced honey. With the participation of local artists, designers, photographers, bee farms and cafes, the organisation designs and produces honey, candles, and hosts regular beekeeping and candle-making workshops. There are also cool and educational infographics on their website that are worth checking out.

The decline of honeybees in the last 50 years has caused concern over an imbalance in our ecosystem, as they play an essential role in agriculture. It is refreshing to see these designers and artists raising awareness on an issue that is so critical yet so overlooked. esp. in Hong Kong.


So Soap!

Although not founded by a designer, So Soap‘s minimalist packaging and informative website with cool graphics and photos will certainly leave a positive impression and change the perception of locally produced skincare brands (is there one beside this?). The founder, Bella, a soap-maker and environmentalist, has created a range of organic products free of chemicals, packaged in recycled bottles that can be collected and reused. The company strives to be socially and environmentally responsible, which includes providing work opportunities for females with low education and skills within the community.

Will So Soap! become the Body Shop of Hong Kong? So far, from the positive responses, this may well happen one day…


Handsome Co.

‘Made in Kowloon’ is the tagline included in Handsome Co.’s logo, which displays the multi-disciplinary design firm’s pride in their locally made products. Walking down a familiar Hong Kong street, Billy Potts saw the waste being generated by taxi garages and decided to give it a second life. With the help of Joseph Ng, they launched a new line of bags and accessories made of discarded taxi upholstery, whilst employing local craftsmen and manufacturers. Their concept is similar to the British brand, Elvis & Kresse, which produces bags and accessories out of used fire hoses.

Looking at the bag (see below), you would hardly believe that it is made out of waste from a taxi garage! A job well done!



For many Hong Kong people, the word,’heritage’ is more likely to bring confusion than pride. Heritage conservation has been a hot local topic in recent years, causing many debates and conflicts; it seems that years after the handover to China, many are still searching for their identities.

The jewellery company, Patinova, aims to preserve and make people appreciate the unique history of Hong Kong and so they launched a collection of cufflinks made from collectable coins used in the colonial days. Like the other designers mentioned above, their cufflinks are made by local craftsmen, so not only they are bringing historical objects back to life again but they are also protecting skills that are withering away rapidly in the throwaway culture we live in today.


MUJI & Naoto Fukasawa

As soon as I heard that Naoto Fukasawa (Japanese product designer and advisor for MUJI) will be in town to give a talk at the Design Museum, I booked the ticket immediately knowing that it will be sold-out event (and I was right). I have always liked his minimalist designs i.e. his CD player for MUJI, and products at his own company, ±0. In 2009, I saw his exhibition at the 21_21 design sight in Tokyo, Outline, which featured his products along with photographs by Tamotsu Fujii. The unique approach of photographing the contour of the products fully captured the simplicity, beauty and timelessness of his work.

Fukusawa/ Fujii's Outline exhibition at 21_21 design sight, Tokyo 2009

In London, the Design Museum talk coincided with the opening of the exhibition, ‘Product fitness 80 – MUJI‘, just a few days before the one year anniversary of the devastating earthquake that hit Japan on 11th March 2011.

Apart from Fukasawa, Sam Hecht and Konstantin Grcic, product designers who have collaborated with MUJI, and publisher, Tyler Brûlé also took part in the talk. The 45-min presentation given by Fukasawa on MUJI’s motto, ‘Product fitness 80’, was thought-provoking and inspiring. This motto is MUJI’s response to the aftermath of the earthquake last year, which is to raise awareness of the excessive consumption of goods and materials in our society today. Instead of over doing everything and aiming for 100% satisfaction, they are suggesting that we should aim for 80% satisfaction, share instead of own and slowing down our pace. This motto is also used to review their own “adequacy” (fitness) and renew their determination to pursue craftsmanship in harmony with society and the earth.

Their new concept store (set up in their first ever retail shop in Tokyo), Found MUJI, houses a collection of remodeled products based on durable everyday objects found across the globe. The idea is not to re-design these products, but rather to update them slightly and incorporate them into our contemporary lifestyle while retaining their original essence. Fukasawa is especially fond of the gardening gloves he found in China (see below), as well as the Chinese porcelain bowls that have been produced using the same technique for centuries.

Having witnessed the ups and downs of MUJI over the years, and being slightly disappointed with their direction in recent years, I feel that they are finally back on track again. Although the sustainable living and balance lifestyle motto is nothing new, as an influential lifestyle brand, their re-evaluation or reflection would have an impact on the society esp. in Japan. A visit to their mega store in Yurakucho in Tokyo will make you understand that they are not just another ‘brand’ in Japan.

At the exhibition, you can see that they have re-worked some of their products by downsizing. There are large towels that can be cut into smaller sizes, a pan lid that fits 4 different pan sizes, spiral notebooks with wider gaps in order to reduce the wire used, narrower toilet rolls as well as downsized credit cards… It is quite rare for an established company to re-evaluate and modify their products in such a way but I think this approach is an encouraging one.



The DIY cardboard child chairs (see below) are shown for the 1st time in Europe and you can see Fukusawa‘s fun version at MUJI my chair exhibition, photographed at Detour Hong Kong in 2010.

Whenever there is a crisis, natural, man-made or personal, it is usually a wake-up call for us to reflect and understand what went wrong. By blocking or escaping from the situation will only provide another opportunity for it to happen again. Therefore, we need to deal with the issue and find a way to solve it in order to prevent it from happening again. If companies, designers and individuals can all respond to crisis in a positive and meditative way like MUJI, then the world will definitely be a better place.


Product fitness 80 – MUJI is showing from 9th – 18th March at the Design Museum.



Tranquil English countryside

I used to work in very competitive industries with long working hours, not only did my body suffered, I was constantly stressed out and would experience skin allergies as a result. At the time, I didn’t know how to balance my life and my escape was to eat, drink, shop and party, not surprisingly, these activities did not make my life better nor easier.

Experiences (esp. bad ones) can make people slightly wiser, so after a string of them, I finally learnt to balance my life in other non-hedonistic ways. Nowadays, apart from my regularly de-stressing activities, I would go on country walks or hikes now and again to reconnect with nature. Nature, I discovered, has the magical ability to melt away our anxiety and stress, even if it’s for a short period of time.

Before I started country walking, I never fully appreciated the beauty of the British countryside and now I finally understood why poets, writers and artists were/are inspired by the picturesque landscape. Even though landscapes in many countries are beautiful, there is something unique and tranquil about the British countryside. Perhaps it’s to do with the rolling hills, woodlands, ancient villages and the many shades of green against the clear blue sky; but whatever the reason, these green belts and their inhabitants are invaluable and must be protected.

Due to the cold and snow, I have only been on two country walks so far this year, but luckily, the weather had been mild and sunny on both occasions, so I was able to enjoy the walk as well as the weather and scenery. Walks like these also provide chances to meet like-minded people who are also enthusiastic about nature and what it has to offer. Often, joyful moments can happen unexpectedly, which includes having homemade picnics in idyllic settings…  these are not activities that city dwellers get to enjoy on regular basis.

Now that spring is on its way, I am keen to do more walks and take advantage of the longer daylight hours. For someone who likes to be active but dislikes going to the gym, I find outdoor walking much more satisfying and has more profound effect on me; besides, it is much cheaper than paying for gym memberships!




The skin we live in

I walked past Neal’s Yard Remedies last week and saw them promoting their paraben-free week. Potential customers were encouraged to swap their skincare products with parabens for 20% off the store’s non-paraben products. It’s not a bad way to promote their products and ethics, as well as raising awareness on an issue that are not so welcomed by many cosmetics and pharmaceutical companies.

Even though I have always been careful with my skincare and cosmetic products, to my surprise, I still managed to find some products that contain parabens… in a hand cream and a hair product. But what’s the fuss about? Parabens are actually chemical preservatives that have antibacterial effects and are widely used in the beauty, drug and food industries. They can often be found in shampoos, makeup, hair gels, skincare products, toothpaste and even food. Although some can be found in plants or fruits such as blueberries, there are increasing concern over their potential health risks on humans. Researchers have found a link between parabens and cancerous breasts tumours, though they may not be the causes, it is best to take precautions and avoid these chemicals altogether. Besides, many people are allergic to parabens without realising it, so why take the risks?

Sometimes brands may claim to be organic or natural but this may not be the entirely true, so it is important to check the ingredients beforehand. Since I have highly sensitive and dry skin, I am not very adventurous when it comes to skincare products. I sometimes would react after facials at spas, so I am careful with what I put on my face. Apart from Neal’s Yard, I have also been using several French skincare brands for some time that are high in quality, reasonably priced, and mostly paraben-free.

Nuxe – This French brand is one of my favourite and I especially love their moisturisers. They are slightly above mid-range (cheaper if you buy them in France), but I have never had problems with their products because they are mostly organic, mild and not heavily perfumed.

La Roche-Posay – a pharmaceutical laboratory originating from a small French village, this has become more popular outside of France because of recommendations by dermatologists. Most of their products are fragrance-free, soap-free and paraben-free, I especially like their Anthelios XL SPF 50+ tinted cream, which is the best facial sunscreen in the summer.

Bioderma – Similar to La Roche-Posay, Bioderma is also a laboratory that is popular within France, but not as well known in the U.K.

Besides these French brands, Ren from the U.K. and Dr Hauschka from Germany also sell natural products free of chemicals, my only complaint is that prices for Dr Hauschka are much higher here than in Germany! Recently, many cosmetics giants have also launched new paraben-free lines, so it’s likely that there will be more choices available in the market soon.

For those who don’t trust these beauty brands (personally I think many are rip-offs where most of what we pay end up going to their marketing and retail rentals), an alternative is to create DIY products at home. Years ago, I bought ‘The world beauty book‘ which contains a collection of natural and secret recipes gathered from women all over the world. From avocado hair mask to banana and butter hand cream, the book is packed with ideas that are not only cost-effective but healthier and probably more effective on the skin! The downside is that you can only make a small batch for immediately use, which also means it is guaranteed to be fresh each time! However, at the end of the day, I think it is more important to have an overall healthy and balance lifestyle than what we put on our faces!

There is a lot of information online about parabens, and here is one article regarding parabens and breast cancer.