The Aokigahara suicide forest

A blog entry about suicide seems rather odd especially weeks before Christmas, but perhaps it is precisely THE time to write about it because there are many who may not be feeling the festive and joyous mood during this period. And for those people, the festive seasons can also be the most lonely and depressing periods.

Previously, I have visited and stayed around the Mount Fuji area ( usually by one of five lakes nearby) in Japan a few times, and I have heard many haunted stories and rumour about the area, but the spookiest must be the Aokigahara forest, which is the world’s second most popular suicidal location after The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco ( there is also a documentary about it in “The Bridge“). Not surprisingly, Japan also has one of the world’s highest suicide rates, which is an on-going issue for the country.


Patryk Mogilnicki

A haunting but beautiful illustration of Mount Fuji and the Aokigahara forest by Polish illustrator, Patryk Mogilnicki.


The forest is also known as the “Sea of Trees” and has long been associated with demons and spirits in Japanese mythology, but its popularity for suicide soared after the publications of the novel “Kuroi Jukai” (Black Sea of Trees) by Japanese author, Seichō Matsumoto in 1960 with two lovers committing suicide in the forest as its ending. Then it was mentioned again in Wataru Tsurumi‘s controversial book called “The Complete Manual of Suicidepublished in 1993, which sold over one million copies in Japan. In this book, he also recommends Aokigahara as the perfect place to die, which hardly helps the situation. In 2004, the the number of people found dead in the forest reached 108 ( usually by hanging), and so more efforts have been made to prevent further deaths including placing warning signs in the forest.

Recently, I watched a rather sombre but moving documentary on the suicides in Aokigahara Forest, and it prompted me to want to write about it. The documentary follows the forest’s geologist, Azusa Hayano, who patrols the forest to prevent suicides. The documentary shows how vulnerable and isolated people are especially in this day and age. It also reminds me of the drama-documentary film, “Dreams of a life” about the life of Joyce Vincent, who died in her flat alone for three years without being discovered. Although it was not a suicide, it was shocking enough to hear that someone could disappear from the earth without friends and family noticing it!

 * Beware of the graphic images in this video…



The message in the documentary is not about the morality of suicide, but like Mr Hayano mentioned, we are not alone in this world, so in order to coexist, we need to care about each other more and have more face-to-face human interaction. As we all know, we and our loved ones will all die one day despite of the causes, so while we are still alive, perhaps we can care more and do more for each other to make each other’s lives happier.


All about Fungi – foraging in Hampstead Heath

fungifungi fungi


I have always loved eating mushrooms, ( it’s funny to say this but Campbell’s mushroom soup was one of my favourite when I was a kid) years ago, I even bought a hardback cookbook on mushrooms only. About two years ago, I met a couple on a hike who like to go fungi foraging abroad and in rural England. On one hike, we encountered a variety of wild fungi and they pointed out to me the ones that were edible and ones that were poisonous. I was fascinated and wanted to learn more.

I had no idea how popular fungi foraging is in the U.K. these days, it seems like it has become one of the ‘trendiest’ activities for many, thanks partly to the celebrity chefs who have been promoting it endlessly. I tried to find a fungi workshop about 2 months ago but most of them were fully booked. Eventually, I managed to book myself onto a one-day workshop ( the last one of the year) ran by Fungi to be with in Hampstead Heath.


fungi fungifungiautumn fungi


The day started with an hour of introduction into the basics and characteristics of fungi, followed by a walk in the heath. And then the typical English weather set in, pouring down while we were out and about but stopped as soon as we got in! We were told that there are over 600 species in the heath alone, but due to the fallen leaves, it was very hard to spot the ‘camouflaged’ fungi, but we managed to find a variety including huge ones ( which I have never noticed before) on tree barks.

After the walk, we had a delicious lunch, followed by putting our knowledge to the test and trying to identify what we discovered on the walk. This proved to be extremely difficult. I realised that the workshop was a good introduction, but I will need a lot more time and ‘studying’ to gain the knowledge needed to identify the vast variety. Even after the workshop, I don’t have the confidence to go foraging without assistance, so in the meantime, I will stick to my supermarket mushrooms…


hampstead heath hampstead heath


Currently, there is an on-going debate and concern on fungi foraging in the U.K. because of irresponsible picking by Eastern Europeans and/or pickers collecting in mass for commercial usage ( then selling to restaurants). Although it is legal for for people to pick fungi for their own personal usage in the UK, it is illegal to sell fungi for profit-making. Fungi hotspots like Epping and New forests have become the target for these illegal activities, and it is a real shame that people do not respect nature and the eco system. I only wish that people can see the long-term damage they are creating by their short-term personal gains.

Fungi are fascinating organisms, and I hope I will have more opportunities and time to learn more about them in the future.


Hong Kong’s Business of Design Week 2013

business of design week 2013


Of all the cities in Asia, I find Hong Kong and Singapore to be the best representations of the term ‘East meets West’, this is partly due to their historical backgrounds and links to the British. Even though in recent years, the world’s focus has turned to Chinese cities like Shanghai and Beijing, Hong Kong and Singapore still enjoy the advantage of being ‘freer’, more matured and global than other cities. Now the two cities are trying to find their competitive edge in order to compete with the upcoming Chinese cities.

In recent years, design has become more important and recognised in Hong Kong, especially with government initiatives such as CreatHK which supports and funds businesses and organisations in the creative and design industry. The annual Business of Design Week in December (organised by Hong Kong Design Centre since 2002) is one of the key events on Asia’s design calendar. The week-long event will comprise the BODW Forum (for global design trends), concurrent events (covering brands, design, technology, city and the culture, design management and education, business of intellectual property etc.), exhibitions (for the public and trades) and the Detour community programme, aiming to inspire the participants about the power of design in building a better tomorrow.

Every year, the BODW parnters with another country, and Belgium is this year’s focus. I have previously attended BODW 2009 and BODW 2010 and the partner countries were France and Japan, respectively. I found the talks and exhibitions in 2010 particularly useful because I was at the pre-startup stage and was glad to hear established Japanese designers speaking at the forum.


hong kong old baileys victoria prisondetour hong kongdetour hong kongdetour hong kongdetour hong kong

Photos were taken from Detour 2010 at the former Victoria Prison in Central except for the bottom left which was taken at Detour 2009 at the former Police Married Quarters with a temporary bamboo scaffolding structure designed by a well-known local architect William Lim of CL3 Architects


Britain has participated in the forum every year since its launch in 2002 and was the partner country in 2006. UK industry professionals have been actively participating in BODW due to the unique position the forum offers to enter the Chinese and Asian market. And Asia’s rapidly growing cities and investments have given international and national architects an opportunity to engage in great project and constructions. Well-known UK architects such as Keith Griffiths, Andrew Grand and Thomas Heatherwick have all designed spectacular buildings in Asia. In the past years, Thomas Heatherwick, Ron Arad, Andrew Grant, and Spencer de Grey have also participated in the forum as speakers. This year, Deyan Sudjic, director of London’s Design Museum will be speaking at the forum.


SONY DSCPacific Place -Pacific Place, the symbol of luxury meet design in Asia - Thomas Heatherwick famed project in Hong Kong Learning Hub at Nanyang Technology University - Thomas Heatherwick - Comptition winning proposal for £360 university redevelopment scheme

Main: The stunning Gardens by the Bay designed by Grant Associates and Gustafson Porter; Bottom left: Thomas Heatherwick’s redesign of Pacific Place, a popular shopping mall in Hong Kong; Bottom right: Thomas Heatherwick’s Learning Hub at Nanyang Technology University in Singapore


BODW is a forum that serves as a platform linking all forms of design, architecture and art by merging disciplines and exchanging ideas, projects, and concepts, as well as a gateway to China and Asia. As we all know, we are living in a more globalised world, and so collaborations between the East and the West is crucial in shaping our future. At the end of the day, we are all codependent of each other, and hopefully through design and dialogues between organisations, businesses and people, we can create a better and more harmonious world.


Business of Design Week 2013 will take place in Hong Kong from 2nd – 7th December at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.


Arabesque by Jane Birkin

When I was a teenager, I became obsessed with everything ‘French’ because of their immaculate taste in art, fashion, design, culinary and cinema. I indulged in French cinema ( esp. Eric Rohmer ) and even spent 7 months living in Paris trying to improve my English-accented French learned from school here. During the time in Paris, I spent hours at Virgin or FNAC listening to new released CDs by French and other artists from around the world.




Even though I grew up listening to British pop, I never shared the Brits’ sneering attitude towards French music. I think French music offers something completely different, often more poetic and diverse in style. As a teenager, I was introduced to Serge Gainsbourg, Françoise Hardy, Les Rita Mitsouko, then Mylène Farmer, Alain Souchon, Liane Foly, Patricia Kaas and Enzo Enzo etc ( these days, I listen a lot to the talented Camille). 

As far as I can remember, the name Jane Birkin has always been associated with Serge Gainsbourg ( rather than the Hermès bag!) and their famous chanson, “Je t’aime… moi non plus“. I would read news about the iconic singer/ actress/ activist now and again, but not paying too much attention until I watched a documentary on her visit to Fukushima in Japan after the tsunami disaster. Jane visited the area and gave a charity concert singing in French. Although most of the local residents did not know who she was nor did they understand her songs, they were moved by the emotions in her voice and her sincerity. I was rather touched by her actions and singing, and so when I found out that she was in town performing for one night only at the Barbican, I was eager to see her perform live.



It is hard for me to describe the evening because it was beyond my expectations in many ways. Jane reinterpreted Serge Gainsbourg’s classic songs with an infusion of Arabic music performed by Djamel Benyelles, and his band Djam & Fam. The music and performance by the band was faultless, but it was Jane who took me by surprise, despite the fact that she doesn’t have the ‘best’ voice. However, her voice conveys a lot of emotions, and it is not necessary to understand all the lyrics to appreciate them. I also love her humour, sincerity, playfulness and sensitivity, it is hard to believe that she is already 66 years old, I wish I could be as cool when I reach that age ( I guess I have hope since we share the same zodiac sign)! The concert hall was almost full and the atmosphere was fantastic with the audiences giving her standing ovation at the end. She was also very touched by the overwhelming positive responses and claimed the evening to be “one of the happiest moments of her life”.

Do the French have good taste? No doubt about that, just look at the English actresses who made it in France apart besides Jane Birkin, there is also Charlotte Rampling and Kristin Scott Thomas, who are all intelligent, natural and aging gracefully ( without the need of botox and personal trainer). There are some people who are born effortlessly cool and there are fewer of them who would become icons.

What can I say? Life has always been rather unfair.


Forgotten spaces 2013

forgotten spacesforgotten spacesSAM_8574forgotten spaces forgotten spaces

Top left and middle: Somerset House’s hidden passageway; the Lightwells and Deadhouse; Top right: 2nd price – Aquadocks by Studio Pink; Bottom left: 1st price – Fleeting Memories by 4orm 


I have always enjoyed the Forgotten Spaces competition organised by RIBA London. The competition seeks out redundant spaces across Greater London and invites innovative design proposals for re-use and regeneration. The exhibition at the Somerset House features 26 of the best proposals including the winners and a selection of completed regeneration projects across the Capital. One of the highlights of this exhibition is the exhibition space, where visitors get the chance to explore hidden passageways and coal holes; the Lightwells and Deadhouse underneath the historical building.

The exhibition reveals the city’s hidden assets and potential, with some very creative work on display. I especially like the two 1st & 2nd price winners: “Fleeting Memories” by 4orm and “Aquadocks” by Studio Pink and “Museum of Memories” by Claire Moody. Competitions like this are encouraging especially because it gives smaller architecture firms the opportunity to showcase their creativity, however, if we look at what is happening in central or the City of London now, we see a very different picture.


forgotten spacesforgotten spaces forgotten spaces

Main: Hidden Light ( 90 White Post Lane, Hackney Wick) by Threefold Architects; Bottom left: Museum of Memories ( 121 Westminster Bridge Road, Lambeth) by Claire Moody; Bottom right: The Gasworks ( Greenwich Gas Holder, Boord Street, Greenwich) By Patrick Judd & Ash Bonham


Councils in different boroughs across London are desperate for investment, so they are allowing foreign investors or property developers to build unflattering and soulless office high-rise or luxury flats or hotels all over London regardless of the surroundings ( the previous government was also partly to blame for this). These companies would often hire big and ‘safe’ names like Fosters + Partners, Renzo Piano and Rafael Viñoly ( the architect who designed the Walkie Talkie building that melts cars and bicycles from across the street!) for these projects, creativity is hardly their first priority. It saddens me to see London’s cityscape being ruined by these 1980s or Hong Kong style glass buildings, so thoughtless and uninspiring! If we compare London to Paris, we will see how chaotic London looks these days! Hence, this exhibition is like a breath of fresh air, and we desperately need more creative projects to be realised rather than being ‘forgotten’ like the title of the competition!


Forgotten London Transformed – BBC1 from James Cameron on Vimeo.


The free exhibition at Somerset House will end on 10th November.


Milonga by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui

I have seen several shows choreographed by the experimental Moroccan-Flemish choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui‘s at Sadlers Wells before, including: Sutra ( a collaboration with Antony Gormley and a group of young Shaolin monks in 2008), Babel ( another collaboration with Gormley and Damien Jalet in 2010) and TeZukA ( on the works of the master of Japanese manga, Osamu Tezuka in 2011). Needless to say, I did not want to miss his new tango show Milonga, especially because of my own interest in the dance.

If Cherkaoui was a chef, he would probably be a ‘fusion’ one but with the creativity of someone like Heston Blumenthal ( as the term ‘fusion’ does not always bring excitement). But unlike his previous pieces, the dancing style in Milonga is more traditional than I expected, focusing more on the connection between the dancers rather than reinventing or fusing it with some other dance style. It is refreshing to see the incorporation of visual effects like shadow cutouts and video clips of the Streets in Buenos Aires ( even though it feels rather random), as well as some humour, which is often lacking in tango shows ( or even at most tango milongas). The live music is mostly nuevo with many pieces by Astor Piazzolla and some milonga for the lighthearted part. Having previously seen the more traditional tango shows by companies like Tango Fire or Tanguera which often showcase the techniques of the dancers but fail to update the stereotypical ( or cheesy) image of the dance, Cherkaoui‘s Milonga is certainly a step forward. The dancers are given the opportunity to showcase their personal dancing styles rather than being choreographed in a certain routine as a group, hence the contemporary style couple really stands out from the ensemble. However, I feel that the show is slightly restrained compare to the choreographer’s previous work; perhaps he was under pressure to not go too far, so this show feels like the beginning of something that could be developed or explored further.



My favourite part of the evening is the dynamic men trio, which ultimately reflects the dance’s essence and roots i.e. Argentinian tango started as a dance between two men. I have always enjoyed seeing men dancing tango with each other because of their powerful energy and spontaneity, and the chemistry between men is very different from a man/woman couple. I love watching Los Hermanos Macana, the two brothers who dance and perform together, I find them so inspiring! ( you can watch their jaw-dropping performances via their website above)

I rarely see men dancing with each other at milongas in London ( although there are more women dancing with each other these days) because of the rather reserved tango culture here. Having visited milongas in other cities, I find the London tango scene very uninspiring and so have taken a step back…

I hope that Cherkaoui‘s Milonga will change some people’s views on Argentinian tango, which is very different from the “Strictly come dancing” style! The show will end on 10th Nov, so go see it if you can.


Suspense: London Puppetry Festival 2013

puppet theatrepuppet theatre puppet theatre

The floating Puppet theatre Barge in Little Venice


I have previously written about puppetry because I am rather fond of this traditional art form. When I found out about the London Puppetry Festival a few weeks ago, I was quite eager to take the opportunity to see some contemporary puppetry shows.

First, I saw “The Fantasist” by Theatre Témoin ( founded in Toulouse in 2007 by graduates of the London International School of Performing Arts), partly because it received very positive reviews by the press. The subject matter is rather dark yet ‘contemporary’… a story about a woman who suffers from bipolar disorder and her illusions inspired by personal experiences. The lead actress ( Julia Yevnine) succeeded in keeping the audience engaged throughout, and allowwed us to embark with her on an emotional journey. Excellent performance and imaginative plot on a subject that is not easy to tackle. Unfortunately, the two shows that followed were slightly disappointing, even though I love both venues.

I have been to Little Venice on numerous occasions, but I never noticed the Puppet Theatre Barge on the canal, kinda strange considering it has been there for over 25 years already! Not surprisingly, the canal boat theatre is narrow and rather ‘cosy’, but it is a cute and quirky venue for marionette puppetry. However, “All he fears” written by Howard Barker and performed by Movingstage Marionette Company failed to create the same excitement I felt towards the venue. The dark plot about a philosopher and professor who seems to be jinxed largely due to his own pessimism was engaging up to the interval, and then it all went downhill. The storyline was too thin for the 75 min running time, it lost direction in the second part, which was a shame because it could have been better if it was shorter and without the interval.


angel theatreautumn autumn

Little Angel Theatre in Islington & lovely autumn days in London…


A similar problem occurred when I saw Dustpan Odyssey by the famous French company, Compagnie Philippe Genty at Little Angel Theatre in Islington. Again, I was surprised not to have discovered this puppetry theatre ( established since 1961) earlier since it is located right behind Upper Street! The small theatre is lovely and I shall definitely come back again in the future. However, I have slightly mixed feelings towards the fun and entertaining performance based on Homer‘s “Odyssey”; on one hand, I was absolutely amazed by the creative prop choices and spontaneity and skills of the actors, but I felt that the show was slightly too long and it became rather random and tedious towards the end. Yet I was still glad that I saw it as I would never look at corkscrews and dustpans the same way again!


Our new theme: PLAY



In the past few years, I noticed a “back to basic” trend happening in the developed countries, and even in product designs, many designers have opted for less decorative style and creating products from natural material. Simple wooden toys also seem to have made a comeback, which I am quite happy to see.

I am sure that most people would agree that as technology advances, our lives are improved in a certain way, yet at the same time, our lifestyles are more unhealthy and we are more disconnected with reality and the people around us. The idea of introducing a collection based around the theme “Play” came to me because I feel that perhaps adults don’t play enough these days ( and I don’t mean Candy Crush saga). I remember board or card games that I used to play with friends and families before the internet days, and it was through these games, we got to know the other players i.e. how competitive one can be or how one loves to cheat etc. I was also fond of origami, paper crafts, jigsaw puzzles and building mini cities with Lego, it was through these activities that I was able to apply my creativity, which I believe is crucial regardless of our ages.




A majority of the products from this collection are Japanese because out of all the Asian countries, Japan offers the most creative and diverse range of games and paper crafts. And products like handmade balloons that can change colours ( Hen-shin balloons) or turn into a dog ( Mammal D) can only be found in Japan! Again, there are some Good design award winners like Funny Face by Cochae, Irokumi colour card set by Studio Pi-pa and Rocca card games by 10inc. I was also quite thrilled to have discovered some less well-known design studios like Mountain Mountain from Japan ( personally, I love the Process balance bird set) and Newcode design studio from Taiwan who have made some wonderful wooden toys including an old time favourite, yoyo.




I started preparing for this collection in July and somehow encountered a lot of difficulties due to all sorts of reasons. There were products that I really wanted to stock but was not able to, which was a bit of a disappointment. However, I was lucky to be helped by many including Susumu-san in Japan who contacted the Japanese companies on my behalf without getting paid for it. I am so indebted to him!

From the very beginning, I already knew that I wanted to collaborate with a local Asian game designer to create some simple but fun games for the website to be more interactive. Yet the process of finding this person turned out to be quite a quest in itself! I eventually found Sam Chau by chance via the London College of Communication website, where I saw an announcement of his award-winning game at a competition. He was on holiday when I contacted him and I was on a retreat when he replied, so it took us a while to eventually meet and discuss the project.

The front page and the three games took about 2 1/2 months to develop and complete from start to finish, there were a lot of changes throughout, but we are both happy with the final outcome. I hope that besides the card games, toys and paper crafts available for purchase, users will be able to enjoy the interactive games at the same time.

Remember that play time is not only for children, adults need it too! Enjoy!



AOI Illustration Awards 2013

aoi illustrations awards 2013Russell Cobb - JohnstonworksRussell Cobb - Johnstonworks

 Bottom left & right Russell Cobb for Lower Mill Estate: Summer and Autumn


I often feel that illustrations or illustrators are ‘undervalued’, perhpas due to its ambiguous nature… somewhere between art and graphic design, it is somewhat overlooked by people outside and sometimes even inside the industry. When I used to work in advertising, illustrators in the agencies were important yet they were not fully appreciated, which I found quite odd. Hence, the AOI illustration awards organised by The Association of Illustrators is a good way to give illustrators the recognition they truly deserve.


aoi illustration award 2013Jonathan Burton - Odd BodsJoe Caslin-  Our Nation's Sons - FilmJonathan Burton - Odd BodsJonny Hannah

Top middle & bottom left: Jonathan Burton’s Odd Bods playing cards for The Folio Society ( Professional winner in Design); Joe Caslin’s Our Nation’s Sons street art project ( New Talent winner in Public Realm); Bottom right: Jonny Hannah


I went to see the AOI illustration awards exhibition at the Somerset House before it ended, and I was very pleasantly surprised by the standard of work seen at the show. The exhibition featured highlights from this year’s shortlist, including advertising, design, research, books, editorial and public realm, which reflect the diversity within the industry.

Here are some of my favourites from the show:

I like the fun and nostalgic style “Odd Bods” playing cards by Jonathan Burton for The Folio Society ( Professional Winner in Design). The illustrations are lovely and playful, I wish I can purchase a set for myself!

I love Joe Caslin‘s inspiring street art project, “Our Nation’s Sons” and I was glad to learn that his project won the New Talent Award in the Public Realm sector. His ongoing project involves installing large-scale portrait drawings of teenage boys from the edges of society in Scotland. Instead of neglecting or isolating them from the society, he gets them involved in the project and gives them a sense of belonging. You can watch a video of this project here:



The Editorial New Talent Winner, John Riordan has created a set of powerful illustrations about The City and the financial crisis in the series, “Capital City”. The illustration style is unique and atmospheric, I also love the cynicism and dark humour on our flawed financial sector.


Chris Rixon - On The RoadPaul X Johnson - Among BrothersLesley Barnes Anna and Elena Balbusso: Melancholy Eugene Onegin bookNicolle Fuller

Top left: Chris Rixon’s On The Road; Top right: Paul X Johnson’s Among Brothers; Bottom left: Imagination by Lesley Barnes for V & A’s Museum of Childhood ( Professional Winner in Advertisiing); Anna & Elena Balbusso for the book: Eugene Onegin; Bottom right: Nicolle Fuller’s Nanolipogel’s attacking cancer ( Professional winner in Research and knowledge communications)


Although twin illustrators, Anna & Elena Balbusso did not win an award at the AOI, I was completely captivated by their work for the book, “Eugene Onegin” by Alexander Pushkin. Their illustrations are hauntingly beautiful, atmospheric and mysterious. I was a bit surprised that the work did not win the category, but was glad to learned that it had won the Best Book award at the V&A Illustration Awards.

Research and knowledge communications Professional Winner, Nicolle Fuller‘sNanolipogel Attacking Cancer” took a different approach in tackling a subject very scientific and complicated. The medical illustrations are detailed but not too overly technical, they are accessible to the mass audience without compromising on the aesthetic appeal. Outstanding achievement.