Fiesta Flamenca at The Forge


It has been a while since I last attended a live music/ dance gig, so when I found out about a live flamenco performance at The Forge in Camden, I suggested it to my friend, who is also a fan of different dance forms.

I only discovered The Forge last year and was surprised that there is such a contemporary, laidback and friendly music venue in the middle of Camden. The venue has two floors, with bar and restaurant serving tasty British and European food and cocktails. The unqiue courtyard with glass rooftop and vertical garden is where the music performances take place, so unlike many other music venues, it is airy with good acoustics.


The foundry at The Forge also serves lunches and weekend brunches


The evening performance was performed by London-based, Fiesta Flamenca, made up of vocalist and dancer Anita La Maltesa and guitarist Ramon Ruiz. Joined by another vocalist Javier Macías and dancer Jorge Muelas, the performance was exuberant and captivating. Aside from the superb skills, the energy, passion and joy conveyed on stage was almost contagious. The only downside was that my friend and I would rather be inside a local tapas bar in Spain than a wet and cold London… having said that, I think the ‘heated’ performance more than made up for the freezing temperature outside.


London film festival 2012

I am a huge fan of world cinema and documentaries, but it’s never easy to pick just a few from the long list at the London film festival. I usually would pick out the ones that are ‘least’ likely to get distributed here, hence I never pick the popular choices.

It is always a bit ‘hit and miss’, but this year, all the ones I saw were ‘hits’ rather than ‘misses’, so I would recommend them all even though each subject and style is completely different from one and other.


Tango libre

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this Belgian film before the screening, it turned out that the film is more of a comedy than a tango love story. Although at times it seems to lose direction, it is still entertaining, unpredictable and is supported by a strong cast.

Personally, I love the tango-inclined soundtrack and the tango sequence set in the prison, which I think is the most creative and energetic sequence I have seen in any tango-related films. It changes the stereotypical view of the dance and demonstrates how versatile, creative and amazing the dance can be.



Teddy Bear

It is hard not to like this film about a shy Danish bodybuilder looking for love in Thailand. It is charming, subtle, sensitive and funny at times. At the Q & A after the screening, the director Mads Matthiesen explained that apart from the actress who plays the mother’s role, the rest of the cast is not professional actors, hence the film seems realistic and natural.

We all understand that perception is not everything, yet we still judge people by their appearances, so it’s interesting to see a film that challenges our own perceptions.



In another country

If Meryl Streep is America‘s finest actress of her generation, then Isabelle Huppert must be the French equivalent. She has always been brave in her film roles ( like The Piano teacher) and continues to challenge herself and the audiences. In this Korean comedy, Huppert plays a three French women visiting the same sleepy seaside Korean resort in three different stories, encountering almost identical characters in each story.

It was a joy watching Huppert confidently enjoying herself in the three roles. It is hard to believe that she will be 60 next year, she looks about a decade younger and is natural, graceful and intriguing. Seriously, no Hollywood facelifts and botox could help those aging actresses to be as ‘beautiful’ as her ( as her ‘beauty’ is constantly emphasised in the film).

Hong Sang-soo‘s film would not be the same without Huppert, even though the film itself is quirky, fun and immensely enjoyable.



Canned dreams

If you are a meat-eater ( glad that I have quit), then beware of the gruesome slaughtering scenes in this compelling Finnish documentary on the process of food production in different countries, accompanied by stories of workers in the industry.

The documentary is beautifully shot with a poetic tone, don’t expect this to be an informative doc. about the food production industry, it is more about humanity and the storytellers’ emotional journeys in a sterile or emotionless environment. While some might find the theme preachy, which I have no problem with, however, I did think the stomach-turning scenes are slightly overdone. If you are going to see this, it’s best not to eat too much meat beforehand…



The ethnographer

The last film I saw at the film festival was an insightful observation of a low-key British anthropologist/ ethnographer working in Argentina, protecting and helping the Wichí community ( indigenous South Americans). The documentary focuses mostly on his daily lives and the time he spends with his family ( he is married to a Wichí woman). However, you also get the chance to see him working on a few ( unjustified) cases against a few Wichí people, and disputing with mining companies over the land and wildlife. It is subtle and moving even though nothing ‘dramatic’ happens throughout. This is a documentary about activism, humanity and values of life, it is especially thought-provoking in this day and age when so many have forgotten how to truly ‘live’.


Kiosk & shops in NYC

Quite a few years ago, I discovered the independent concept store, Kiosk, located in Tribeca, NYC. I love the concept of showcasing and selling a range of products sourced during their travels from all over the world in a rotating exhibition format. The sourced products are mostly everyday objects that reflect the local culture and aesthetic style.

The shop has since moved to Soho, hidden from street level on the first floor with a narrow graffitied stairway entrance, it feels like a gem in the area that is more touristy and commercial than Time Square these days.

The small shop does feel more like a mini museum than a retail shop, displaying quirky and unusual finds from different countries. My only complaint is that the lighting is rather dim and sometimes it’s hard to examine all their curiosities.

If you are tired of the standard gift shops, a visit to Kiosk may be an inspirational one.


Not far from Kiosk is an unusual shop love by many locals, Pearl River Mart, which moved from its original Chinatown location to Soho in 2003. At first glance, this shop looks more like a kitsch/ tacky Chinese ‘theme’ shop, but actually there are many interesting and fun items to be found here and at reasonable prices too. The range of products are huge, from household products to stationery, clothing, food and tea etc. The space is much airier and less cramped and hectic than its previous location making the shopping much more pleasant.

Another interesting store in the area is the Evolution Store, a mini ‘Natural History Museum’ shop filled with fossils, taxidermy, animal skulls, dried bugs and many other quirky and weird finds. Even if you think it’s creepy to give an animal and even human skull to your friends or loved ones, the place is a great place for browsing and it’s easy to linger for a long time when it is not packed.


Pearl River Mart and Camper store in Soho


There are many unusual and cool shops outside of the Soho area esp. in the West Village, Lower East side and Chelsea ( while the Meatpacking district has become too ‘trendy’). In Chelsea, the Olde good things is a architectural salvage shop ( with three locations in the city) that sells vintage and refurbished furniture and furnishings. However, it wasn’t their shop windows that attracted my attention, it was their truck near Union Square that initially caught my eye. What a fun way to advertise the shop and its furniture, cool!


Olde Good things truck and ‘food’ pouches at the MoMA design store


For design items and books, there is nowhere better than the MoMA design store. Personally, I prefer their Soho location than the two next to and opposite the museum in midtown. There is a diverse selection of design objects and gifts designed by the more established designers as well as many up and coming designers from all over the world. Since Muji has yet to established their US presence, they have a store within the store for Muji fans.


Interior of Chaos and shop window of Malin & Goetz in Chelsea



Art exhibitions in New York ( Fall 2012)

Tatzu Nishi’s Discovering Columbus at Columbus Circle


Whenever I am in New York, I would spend at least 2 days visiting art exhibitions because like London, there is always so much too see! I usually prefer to visit the less touristy museums/ galleries, but on this trip, due to the limited time, I ended up going to the three major museums.

Fortunately, I found out about Japanese artist, Tatzu Nishi‘s Discovering Columbus installation just in time, though not realising the complicated procedure until I went online to book for it. Although it is free, most time slots were sold out for days, and I narrowly managed to find a free slot but the booking required me to print the ticket and bring it along to the event. What a drag!

Even on the day, I had to wait outside for about 20 minutes before we were let in. After climbing up six flights of stairs, I finally got to see what the fuss is about… the statue of Colombus standing in the middle of a contemporary style living room.



Tatzu Nishi is well-known for surrounding public historical monuments or statues with domestic spaces or even functioning hotels, like the Merlion Hotel in Singapore and Villa Victoria in Liverpool. Initially, I didn’t entirely understand the concept on paper, it was only when I was there that I finally understood what the artist was trying to achieve.

It is interesting to see how art has evolved over the centuries, while it used to only be accessible for the privileged, it is now accessible to everyone. And even though Gaetano Russo‘s marble sculpture of Columbus has been in its current location since 1892, who has had the opportunity ‘or even interest’ to see it up close?

And if you are unimpressed by the installation, there is always the incredible view of Columbus Circle overlooking Central Park which is probably worth climbing the stairs for.


Exhibitions at MoMa


I have been to the renovated MoMa a few times but each visit simply confirmed my preference for the old building, which was a wonderful space… less confusing and did not feel as cramped ( apparently the art critic, Roberta Smith had critisized it numerous times in the NY times). More does not mean better, so even a room full of master pieces can be indigestible.

Despite my view on the space and permanent collection, the curation of the temporary exhibitions are exceptionally high. I thoroughly enjoyed Century of the Child: Growing by Design, 1900–2000 ( until Nov 5), Alighiero Boetti: Game Plan ( ended) and Quay Brothers: On Deciphering the Pharmacist’s Prescription for Lip-Reading Puppet ( until Jan 7, 2013).

The exhibition of 20th century design for children explores how history and social changes influenced children and childhood. It was especially intriguing to see the evolution of toys, games, schools and even clothing. I think it is more successful than Des jouets et des hommes ( Of toys and men) at the Grand Palais Paris where I visited earlier in the year.


Guggenheim museum and exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art


At Guggenheim, the photographic exhibition, Rineke Dijkstra: A Retrospective ( ended) was very compelling, and I particularly liked her video footage of Liverpool teenagers/ club-goers dancing to their favourite music.

I was very disappointed that I couldn’t get up to the roof at the Met to see Tomás Saraceno’s Cloud city ( until Nov 4) because of the wet weather. Since I am not a huge fan of pop art, the exhibition Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years ( until Dec 31) didn’t do much for me. But the experience was worsened by the huge crowds and guards constantly shouting “No photos!” at foreign tourists. Hence, I ended up spending more time examining scrolls of paintings and ceramics at the Chinese gardens: pavillions, studios and retreats ( until Jan 6, 2013) with groups of Chinese tourists.

Besides these major museums, there are many other interesting museums including Cooper Hewitt, National Design Museum ( now being renovated until 2014), The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Morgan Library & Museum ( this is one of my favourites), International Center of Photography and Brooklyn museum. If only I had more time…


Tatzu Nishi’s Discovering Columbus is on view until 18th November.


And when we danced…

Milonga at the Ukrainian East Village restaurant


Although I learned tango in London, it is not my favourite place to dance, many leaders are too serious, unfriendly and the overall level is very mixed ( my personal opinion). I have never been to Buenos Aires, but I have danced in different cities and my favourite is Paris, followed by New York and Berlin.

I couldn’t imagine going to NYC without tangoing, so even though I was exhausted after walking around for days, I dragged myself to a pre-milonga class as a ‘warm up’. The class was so-so, as were my partners, which wasn’t exactly a good start to the evening.

An almost empty dance floor on a Friday night milonga was not what I was expecting, but then a friendly face appeared, sat near me and asked me to dance…

Our connection was almost instant and before I knew it, we had already danced together for over an hour… I have connected with many dancers before but never like this, this was something special.

Both of us were already exhausted before the milonga, so after dancing for hours together, we exchanged contacts and parted before midnight. Yet for days after, I couldn’t detach myself from that ‘special connection’ I felt when we danced.

On my last night in New York, we arranged to meet again…

That evening, the connection was even stronger and I felt like I was ‘in love’ with this stranger. He was gentle, stable and I felt secure in his embrace. Trust is important when you are dancing so intimately with someone, and I felt that I could trust him completely on the dance floor. The conversations we had off the dance floor were slightly awkward but on the dance floor, we were like magnets. Perhaps we both knew that we might not experience this again, so we enjoyed every moment we spent together.

When it was time to part, he told me how ‘our encounter’ took him by surprise and I told him that I felt the same way. Our feelings were mutual but we both knew that we would have to return to ‘reality’ and what we shared would become history.

I left the venue with a void in my heart, I felt both joyful and poignant at the same time because it was hard to let go of something so magical. I knew I was not really ‘in love’ with him, yet I felt like I was.

In our life time, how many times can we be touched by a stranger/ passerby? When our paths cross, he or she may reveal part of yourself that may even be unknown to you. Even though the moment is brief but you know that the feeling will stay with you for a long long time.

This was my tango love story.


New York blues


A few months ago, knowing that I would have a few busy months ahead of X’mas, I decided to spend my last ‘holiday’ of 2012 in New York. I once lived in this city and since moving back to London, I would return regularly until work took over two years ago. My trip to New York was long overdue, not only did I miss my friends, but also the brunches, cocktails, shopping and art exhibitions…

Yet things weren’t as rosy as I remembered… after queuing for over an hour at JFK’s immigration ( one of THE worst airports in the world), I was taken to the ‘back room’ because a Chinese officer decided that my passport photo looked ‘suspicious’! He questioned me endlessly and presumably thought I intended to stay in their country as an illegal immigrant (despite the fact that I am British and had legal status previously). The experience was not a pleasant one and it made me question the issue of identity and authority in the US, which I will not go into detail here.

During my week’s stay, the weather was as grey and wet as London, so it didn’t match the ‘fall’ image I had in my mind before my trip. Then there was the noise, pollution, dirty sidewalks and rudeness… Did I not notice these ‘facts’ when I was living there before or has my tolerance level lowered or am just I getting old and boring these days? Suddenly I realised that as much as love NYC, I no longer want to move back there anymore ( this might disappoint the immigration officer)…


Almost completed… The new One World Trade Center


However, there are still things that I miss about New York that London lacks:

Brunches – Although London’s restaurants standards have improved a lot in the past 10 years, but when it comes to brunches, it is still lagging behind, perhaps it’s because people prefer to do pub lunches here. Good eggs benedicts, bellinis/mimosas, mac n cheese and French fries are hard to come by. The NYC restaurants scene changes very quickly but there are some places that will always deliver…

Balthazar ( serves the most filling onion soup), The Standard Grill ( addictive French fries), Freds at Barneys ( if you can overcome the pretentious vibe, their salads are huge and fries are great ), Flea market cafe ( cool and relaxing French cafe in the East village)


Dirty martini on a Monday afternoon & brunch at Standard Grill


Cocktails – There is no question that NYC is THE place for cocktails, London has some great bars but not quite there yet… Cosmos are good here but dirty martinis are better!

My choice: Four Seasons hotel‘s bar ( pricey but excellent martinis in a low-key and elegant setting), Pravda ( for Russian cocktails), Bar room at The Modern ( who would have thought great cocktails can be found inside MOMA?), Cibar ( cosy neighbourhood lounge in Gramercy)

Sample sales & bargain shopping – Many ‘honest’ New Yorkers would tell you that they rarely buy full priced fashion items from the stores, instead they would go to different weekly samples sales in search for bargains, including wedding dresses! Besides samples sales, Century 21 is a bit chaotic and popular with tourists, whereas Loehmanns is more civilised. However, my friends and I are still mourning over the closure of Daffy’s, the chain stores where we used to spend hours rummaging through racks of discounted clothing…

Beauty treatments & massages – I am baffled by the standards of beauty and spa treatments in London… pricey, inconsistent and inefficient. In NYC, it’s normal to see men getting pedicures in beauty salons and they are not even gay. Going to spas or having nails done used to be my friends and I’s weekend rituals, yet I haven’t stepped foot in a London spa for years! I could get an excellent no-frill massage in a Midtown commercial building for less than $50 or an hour of pedicure treatment for $30 that would last for weeks. Treating or pampering ourselves does not always mean breaking the bank!

My choice: Exhale spa ( has 3 locations, popular with locals), Haven ( I got my own/new set of pedicure tools, very hygenic!), Jin Soon ( a cute and chilled nail spa with friendly service)

Despite all the things I miss about NYC, I am happy with my life in London, but for some reason, I felt particularly nostalgic on this trip, memories of events came flooding back. I am not even sure why, perhaps it was to do with the grey weather? Although I felt a bit sad to leave, I was glad to be going back home…


Favourites from Tent London 2012

Main photo: DesignK’s “Tea for one”, bottom left: Morie Nishimura’s “A quiet celebration”


With so many designers showing at Tent London, it was hard not to feel numb after hours of wandering around. Eco and handcrafted designs are the key trends now, so it seems that the boundary between craft and design is diminishing more than ever. At the show, there were some designs that were more memorable than others and here are some of my favourites:


DesignK – the UK based Korean designer just launched “Tea for one” table, inspired by the English afternoon tea time. Handcrafted with a ceramic plate and leather trimming, this cute table will bring smiles to all those solo dwellers who prefer to drink tea/ coffee alone!


Morie Nishimura – I am not a trend follower and at times I like products that have a nostalgic quality to them. I met Nishimura at Design Tide in Tokyo last year and I thought his range of “Furniture of Prayer” were intriguing and refreshing ( click here for my previous entry on his work). At Tent, he showed his “A Quiet Celebration” range of hinged brass mirrors and they left quite a strong impression on me. I like the simple, unpolished and ‘old-fashioned’ quality about them, their essence really match the title!


Left: Studio Inbetween, right: Tre:Form


Studio Inbetween– The eco-conscious “One Piece of Lamp”, by Helsinki-based Korean designer Kiseung Lee attracted a lot of attention at both Tent and 100% design. It is light, flexible and can be flat-packed. I would love to see this being manufactured and available in stores soon.


Tre:Form – I had an interesting conversation with the Finnish couple behind Tre:Form, esp. about my recent trip to Helsinki. Like most Finnish designs, sustainability is important in the design process, so wood is the most obvious choice of material. It’s encouraging to see more designers producing DIY flat-pack furniture that are easy to assemble and high in quality. I was particularly drawn to the “Firewood” lighting made from birch bark, each one is unique and very ‘natural’!


Left to right: Huzi design, W & Q, Laszlo Tompa‘s Cube illusion


Huzi design – This Hong Kong-based company collaborates with international and local designers to create objects for children. Slightly pricey but interesting.


W & Q – The colourful and graphical bamboo handicrafts are designed by two Chinese designer/artist who studied in London. By merging new ideas with traditional techniques and materials gave birth to a range of contemporary and sustainable designs that we can all appreciate.


Laszlo Tompa – This Hungarian designer’s range of wooden flower lamps are really beautiful but I also love her sculptural Cube illusion storage boxes. They remind me of simple wooden handicrafts from the past… very unusual!


Left: Orée’s wooden keyboard, right: Koodform’s “Curiosity table”


Orée – If I was asked what present to receive for this X’mas, I would go for this beautiful wireless wooden keyboard designed by the French brand, Orée. Simplicity at its best!


Koodform – Daniella Koós’ “Curiosity tables” have seven different-sized compartments and four partitions. I think they are very functional and for someone who is always needing storage space but dislike clutter, this table would be perfect.



London design festival 2012 ( part 2)

100% design at Earls Court


A rather delayed post on the London design festival, so I will keep it brief…

At 100% design, a new layout which divided the venue into different sections made it easier to navigate. Also, a lot more effort was spent on the interior of the venue, which was a vast improvement from the previous years. The talks and speakers were good but it still remained as the most ‘commercial’ trade show out of all the events at the festival.


Tent London @ Old Truman Brewery


Tent London has always been one of the major shows at the London design festival, with many young and international designers or design studios exhibiting here. This year, there was ‘Fresh Taiwan’ and a Korea section, it seemed like both places are spending more abroad to promote their homegrown talents.

As much as I love design, it was hard not to be overwhelmed by so many products in one afternoon. After hours of wandering around, the products that appealed to me the most were the least designed using the most simple and natural materials ( which I will blog about in my next post).


Design Junction @ the Sorting Office


One of the newer shows of the design festival was Design Junction at a 1960s Sorting office in Holborn, with many established brands as well as new designers exhibiting here. The space was quite impressive and well laid out, I was particularly impressed by the talks and the “Added value?” exhibition organised by the Crafts Council.

If I had to pick a bone, it would be the rather dismal toilet facility… 6 unisex cabinets for the entire building ( how did the staff cope back in the 60s?). Ironically, it was a design show full of beautiful products, yet the basics were overlooked. Did the organiser miss out on the details?


Other events in town:

Designersblock @ The Southbank

Brompton design district


Talk and exhibition @ the Roca Gallery



London design festival 2012 ( V & A)

Nendo’s mimicry chair and Established & sons’ Bench years


I haven’t had the time to organise the photos or blog about the London design festival until now. With so many activities across town, I had to pace myself and not tried to squeeze in too much.

As always, the V & A acted as the main hub for the event, but this year, the breakfast talks were cancelled and were replaced by many free talks throughout the week. Interestingly, the main installations were designed by two Japanese designers, Nendo/ Oki Sato and Keiichi Matsuda.

My favourite was Prism, a unique structural and digital installation by Keiichi Matsuda & Associates displaying data of London on screens made from Japanese mulberry paper. The location of this installation meant that it had to be pre-booked and visited in small groups.

The installation revealed interesting data in London from the bicycle hire scheme to air pollution level and even energy consumption of 10 Downing Street. After the tour of the installation, we were led up to the roof ( not normally opened to the public) and enjoyed a 360 degree view of the city, this alone was already worth the trip!


Prism & view of London from the top


Nendo‘s mimicry chairs throughout the museum was a fun and unique installations, however even with a map, it was not easy to locate all of them. These installations were designed to respond to the environment where they were located in various rooms or staircases of the museum.


Nendo’s mimicry chairs


Kouichi Okamoto’s Musical table, mimicry chair & a moving ‘female’ robot at the Sackler centre


To be continued…