Rye – the quaint medieval town



Before booking my day trip to Rye, I actually knew very little about this town. My intention was to visit Dungeness, so Rye was not my destination. But after spending most of the day in Dungeness, I had some spare time and I decided to explore the town before heading home.



rye  rye



Walking around the town centre, I felt like I have been transported back in time. The cobbled streets and historic architecture are charming and fairy-tale like. There are also many independent shops and galleries located inside buildings with traditional shop signage.




Britcher & Rivers   Britcher & Rivers


In need for some caffeine, I walked past a few pleasant cafes but chose to carry on walking until I reached Rye’s Gates and Walls. Just before the gate I spotted a small cafe on my right and it is a hot chocolate cafe called Knoops. I was intrigued and I went inside. The cafe has a wall featuring hot chocolate with different percentages; seeing this prompted me to change my order from coffee to mocha, which turned out to be a wise choice.

The mocha was rich and very intense; it is unlike any mochas I have had before. Mochas I have had elsewhere usually have a more subtle coffee taste, but here it has a strong coffee taste, which suited me just fine (apparently, the kick was from the expresso).

Then I had an interesting conversation with the friendly German owner about London, Derek Jarman, Dungeness, Hurricane Ophelia and hot chocolate. Before long, I realised that it was almost time to catch my train… I think the mocha was exactly what needed to end my day.



knoops rye  knoops rye


Before I headed off to the train station, I made a detour around the town to watch the stunning sunset caused by the Sahara sand and Hurricane Ophelia. What a memorable way to end my wonderful day in Rye and Dungeness! As the train departed for London, I thought to myself that I have to return again soon, and I would have to spend more time exploring this historic part of England.








Dungeness, Prospect cottage & Hurricane Ophelia



One early October weekend, I was checking the weather forecast on my iPad and it showed that Monday would be sunny. The symbol of the sun somehow triggered an urge in me to go to the seaside. I thought of visiting The Folkestone Triennial, but the photos of some contemporary art installations randomly (or not) placed around the seaside town did not really appeal to me. Then I thought of Derek Jarman‘s Prospect Cottage in Dungeness – a National Nature Reserve that I have wanted to visit for years – and within the next hour, my day return train tickets to Rye were booked.

I had no idea how to get to Dungeness from Rye, and after some frantic search on the internet, I found out that I had to take 2 buses to get to this remote and desolate part of Kent.


shells  the pilot  

the pilot

The Pilot Inn


On the day, with the help of a kind bus driver and a lovely elderly passenger, I arrived outside of The Pilot Inn in Dungeness around lunch time. The pub was surprisingly busy on a Monday afternoon, and after having their famous fish and chips, I began to ramble towards the sea. And soon I found myself alone on the beach. Where were all the people from the pub? It turned out that they all drove to the pub for lunch and left afterwards.

I have read a lot about Dungeness before I arrived, but nothing could prepare me for what I saw and felt while I was there. Dubbed “Britain’s only desert” by the Met Office, the landscape here is truly unique. From the surface, the 468-acre nature estate appears to be barren, it is in fact home to 600 species of plants – a third of all plants found in the UK. And in 2015, the estate was sold to EDF Energy (which owns the nuclear power station on site) for more than £1.5m. And they had been paying up to £100,000 per year to use shingle to protect the power station from the sea!

Yes, I had expected to see a vast shingle beach, but I was surprised to see plenty of abandoned rusty machinery, a few old boats and even disused railway tracks scattered across the site. The rusty machinery on the shingle beach fascinated me, because they are like art installations (I was glad that I chose to spend the day in Dungeness rather than Folkestone), and I began to meander across the site following the trails of the machinery.





dsc_0113  dungeness





During my first hour on the beach, I did not see a single person around. Although I enjoyed the solitude, it did feel slightly strange (perhaps I have lived in London for too long). Eventually I headed towards the sea, and despite the strong wind, the smell of the sea, and the sounds of waves and seagulls made me feel grateful to be so connected to nature.







dungeness  dungeness


dungeness  dsc_0221


It is easy to lose track of time and bearing here. I somehow felt like I was in an episode of The Twilight zone. Beguiled by the surroundings, it suddenly dawned on me that time was slipping away and I needed to head towards Prospect Cottage – the purpose of this trip!

I am not sure why it took me so long to visit Derek Jarman‘s famous garden, especially because I learned about this place when I was still a student. It was my cousin who suggested that we should go and watch his feature-length film, The Garden, at the ICA. I remember the cinema was almost empty and we both nodded off during the film. However, after all these years, some imagery of the cottage and garden still remained in my memory.




prospect's cottage

prospect's cottage


Twenty-three years after his death, the appeal of the multitalented British artist/filmmaker still endures. His garden book became a best-seller; his former cottage and garden became a mecca for gardeners, artists, designers, poets, and film buffs etc. This is not Stonehenge, so you will not see coaches of tourists flocking here. Instead, you are likely to meet individuals making their own pilgrimages to pay their respect to a visionary artist. In our trend-driven world today, Jarman‘s influence still lingers because he never followed trends; he only followed his heart and his garden reflects that.

Although this is a private property (now occupied by Jarman‘s former lover Keith Collins), visitors can walk around the garden and appreciate a distinct garden that truly unqiue. Maintained by Collins and Jarman’s good friend Howard Sooley, a gardener and photographer (of his book), the postmodern style garden blends exceedingly well with the dystopian surroundings.





There is a poem on the black timber wall of his cottage from John Donne‘s ‘The Sun Risingand it reads:

Busy old fool, unruly Sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains, call on us ?
Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run ?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school-boys and sour prentices,
Go tell court-huntsmen that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices ;
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.
In that the world’s contracted thus ;
Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
To warm the world, that’s done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere ;
This bed thy center is, these walls thy sphere.






Walking around the garden, it reminded me of the Zen gardens that I visited in Kyoto. The rusty installations, the rock circles, and choices of plants seem to capture the essence of wabi sabi. Inspired by dolmens, the garden’s rustic style and laidback attitude reflect the director’s distaste for perfectionism. In his garden book, he criticised The National Trust’s gardens as being too manicured and said: “If a garden isn’t shaggy, forget it.”

While I was there, three cars stopped by (one after another) and coincidentally, three elderly ladies with cameras got out of the car and spend 5 minutes walking around taking photos while their husbands (I assumed) waited for them inside the cars. And as soon as the ladies got into the cars, they were off in no time. I thought this sequence was rather amusing.






Walking away from the cottage, I was surprised (again) to pass by some rundown bungalows with abandoned furniture and suitcases scattered outside. Yet not far away, there are some intriguing contemporary houses like The Shingle House designed by a young Scottish practice, NORD for Living architecture which is available for holiday rental. Another holiday rental house is Pobble house designed by British architect Guy Hollaway. A recent addition is the North Vat by Rodić Davidson Architects, a shed-like structure that replaced the site’s fisherman’s cottage.

There are also two lighthouses here, one is the Grade II listed Old Lighthouse opened in 1904, and a newer one built in 1961. The landscape here is full of contrasts, contradictions, and nothing seems to make much sense, but this is also the reason why it is so unique.


The Shingle House

pobble house



Top row: The Shingle House; 2nd row: Pobble House; 3rd row: North Vat


As I started to head backwards, the sun gradually turned bright orange and so did the sky. I was completely confused as it was only three o’clock and yet it looked as if the sun was setting. Seeing the nuclear power plant and lighthouses against the hazy orangy sky and sun made the landscape look even more surreal and apocalyptic. It was only later I learned that the unusual phenomenon was caused by Hurricane Ophelia pulling up Saharan dust, which was then reflected and refracted in longer wavelengths, giving an orange colour to the sun and sky.








Could I have picked a better day to visit this desolate site? I couldn’t believe my luck. The day felt like an adventure; it was memorable and full of pleasant surprises. I love Dungeness and will surely make another trip back to explore further afield.



Raindance & BFI film festivals 2017

anoushka Shankar

Anoushka Shankar performing live for the 1928 Indian silent film – Shiraz: A romance of Indian at the Barbican


I saw 8 engrossing films and documentaries in total at the Raindance and BFI film festivals this year, and I feel that the overall standard of the films I saw this year is exceptionally high. Although I chose mostly documentaries, the few feature films I saw also deal with social and political issues that are important today. These are not big budget films, but they reflect more of what is happening in the world today than the big budget and rather unrealistic Hollywood films. Some of these films are grim and disturbing like “Venerable W”, but they are pertinent and they reveal in-depth stories that are often omitted from the news.


“The receptionist” is a low-budget drama based on a true event and it is directed by London-based Taiwanese director Jenny Lu. The film was shot mostly indoor – an illegal massage parlour where young Asian women work as prostitutes to support themselves and their families. It is depressing and realistic, but slightly too long. The acting from the almost-all-female cast is strong, except for the lead, whose face is not very expressive, and her inconsistent performance is a let down compare to the rest of the cast.

The film addresses issues of sex trafficking, exploitation, immigration, loss of innocence, and loneliness. Even though we might be aware of these issues, yet few of us are powerless to stop it, which makes it more saddening and bleak.


“The Receptionist” directed by Jenny Lu


Renown celebrity photographer Michael O’Neill started practising yoga after being told by doctors that he could never use his arm again. Not only did he managed to use yoga to fix his arm, he also became fascinated by this ancient practice. He spent 10 years photographing yoga masters and gurus for his book “On Yoga: The Architecture of Peace”. This documentary is based on the book, with Michael interviewing yogis, yoga practitioners, and spiritual teachers on life and death. I found some of the contents of these interviews very profound and inspiring. Perhaps it is time for people in the West to understand that there is no separation between the mind and the body – both are the same thing. And the practice of yoga is one of the many methods that can help us to reach our full potential and develop higher consciousness. This is a beautiful and poignant film.


“ON YOGA The Architecture of Peace” directed by Heitor Dhalia


What would you do if you discovered that your favourite aunt used to work as a secret agent for a dictator? Worse still, an agent who tortured innocent people and ultimately caused their deaths. “Adriana’s Pact” is a Chilean documentary made by Lissette Orozco, who initially embarked on this project hoping to prove her aunt’s innocence. After years of investigating, interviewing and filming, Lissette had to confront her worst fears – that her aunt might not be innocent after all. This first documentary by the young film maker is courageous and powerful. Sometimes life can be incredibly cruel, but it is also through the tough times that we find our true selves, even though we have to pay a high price for it.


“Adriana´s Pact” a documentary by Lissette Orozco


I have been practicing mediation and studying Buddhism (Soto zen for the last few years) for almost a decade now, yet sometimes I still feel reluctant to call myself a ‘Buddhist’. I felt quite disillusioned after spending 6 months going to a ‘cult-like’ Buddhist group, but meeting my current teacher changed everything. Buddhism is not a dogma, yet it hasn’t stopped different groups or leaders from turning it into a dogmatic practice. As in all religions, problems arise when people misinterpret the teachings and twist the meanings to suit their hidden agendas. And now, Buddhism’s non-violent reputation has been tainted by what is happening in Myanmar thanks to the Buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu.

This timely and disturbing documentary by Barbet Schroeder is the last of his “Trilogy of Evil” series. It is shocking to see how one monk could incite some much racial hatred towards the Muslims in his country. It also shows that Buddhism is not exempt from violence, brainwashing, and the craving and abuse of power.

Unfortunately, the West had projected too much of their hopes onto Aung San Suu Kyi (who has little real political power) and now they are bitterly disappointed and are lining up to condemn her. I think the political situation is more complex than we could comprehend, and I don’t think she has the power to end this horrific atrocity.

Myanmar is a beautiful country and yet it has endured so much political unrest throughout its history. Is this its fate? Suddenly, I remember our friendly vegetarian young Buddhist driver from Mandalay telling us in broken English that he dislikes Muslims because they are not like Buddhists. Watching the film gave me the chills, while the words of the driver echoed quietly in my mind.


“Venerable W” – a documentary directed by Barbet Schroeder


I have always been fascinated by Iranian films, especially films by the late Abbas Kiarostami, Jafar Panahi, Mohsen Makhmalbaaf, and Asghar Farhadi. And I would love to watch some oldies from the pre-revolutionary period.

Israfil” is the third feature by the female writer and director Ida Panahandeh. It focuses on the lives of two women and how they are intertwined through a man they are/were involved with. The film revolves around grief, loneliness, family responsibilities, loss, and love. It is particularly interesting to see an Iranian film directed by a female director as it is not very common in Iran. Without consciously aware of it, 50% of the films I picked were written and directed by female directors. I didn’t choose them for this reason, but it appears that women are quietly making their footprints in the global film-making world, which I think is very encouraging.


“Israfil” – a film directed by Ida Panahandeh

Chinese cinema has evolved a lot over the last few decades, and this subdued, understated and eloquent film is quite distinct from other contemporary Chinese films. It is the second feature by female writer/director/producer Vivian Qu, and it focuses on two teenage protagonists, who both delivered convincing performances.

I saw the powerful Chinese documentary last year – “Hooligan Sparrow” (I then wrote a blog entry here) – and this film address the same issue: government officials sexually assaulting children and using bribery to cover their crimes. The timing of the film is apt, as it was shown during the week when Harvey Weinstein’s sex scandal broke out. It turns out that Hollywood is not so different from the Chinese officials depicted in this film.

I think the laidback and dreamy seaside setting works well in this film, as it acts as a sharp contrast to the dark subject matter. Yet the most devastating aspect is that the film is based on true events, and there are countless of child victims and voiceless families in China that would never see justice being served. Whether you live in a capitalist or communist society, it is money and power that talk. End of story.


“Angels wear white” – a film directed by Vivian Qu


“Becoming who I was” is my favourite film at the two festivals. It is a simple story/ documentary of a young Buddhist boy (who claims to be a reincarnated rinpoche from Tibet in his previous life) and his relationship with his godfather/teacher/guardian. It took South Korean directors/producer/cinematographer, Chang-Yong Moon and Jin Jeon, 8 years to shoot the film. The result is a stunning, touching and authentic film. The love between the boy and his teacher is palpable and moving, and I could see both men and women next to and in front of me wiping off their tears at the end. The ending is heart-breaking and yet very positive. Since there is no ‘acting’ involved, it makes the film more endearing. The young rinpoche is cute, smart, playful, and a delight to watch. While I watched the children playing in the snow, I realised that these children are more innocent and happier than the ones living in the wealthy first world countries who are surrounded by materialistic things. If you don’t believe the saying: “money can’t buy you happiness”, then I urge you to watch this film.


“Becoming Who I Was” – a documentary directed by Chang-Yong Moon and Jin Jeon


Last but not least was the special archive gala screening of the Indian silent film “Shiraz: A romance of India” (1928) at the Barbican, with live film score by Anoushka Shankar and her team of musicians. The film was painstakingly restored to its full glory by the BFI restoration team, and I think the set designs and cinematography are exquisite. The Anglo/German/Indian production is unlike the Bollywood films we see today, and it was further elevated by the mesmerising East-meets-West music.


Hauser & Wirth & Drawing Matter in Somerset


Hauser & Wirth Somerset


One day I receive an interesting newsletter from Architecture Foundation regarding a day trip to Somerset, visiting Hauser & Wirth and the nearby Drawing Matter. I had no idea that The 2014 Serpentine Pavilion designed by Chilean architect Smiljan Radić had been relocated to Hauser & Wirth Somerset in 2015. It is one of my favourite pavilions, so I was glad that it found a new home in a beautiful environment. Since both venues are difficult to reach without a car, it was a good opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.

The weather was rather inconsistent throughout the day, and at one point, the sky turned grey and rained quite heavily. Luckily, the sky cleared before we reached the destination, and we even drove by the famous Stonehenge.



Driving past Stonehenge


Often Londoners live in the ‘London bubble’ and are slightly oblivious of the world outside of it. I am no exception. Luckily, I have lived in different parts of England before, so I do enjoy venturing out of the city and explore other parts of the U.K. And since I went to a boarding school in Somerset for two years when I was a teenager, I have some fond memories of this area. Interestingly, I also attended my good friend’s wedding in the nearby Bourton in June, so I felt nice to be back here.

I actually didn’t know about the existence of Hauser & Wirth Somerset until this trip, and apparently Bruton –where it is situationed– is now one of the most sought-after town in Somerset.




hauser & wirth somerset

haust & wirth somerset


hauser & wirth somerset  hauser & wirth somerset


Opened in 2014, Hauser & Wirth Somerset is a farmhouse-converted contemporary art gallery and multi-purpose arts centre. The land consists of a group of Grade II listed farm buildings including a farmhouse, cow sheds, stables, a piggery, a threshing barn, fields and woodland. As well as refurbishing the dilapidated farm buildings, two new wings were added to connect the buildings by Paris-based and Argentinian-trained Luis Laplace, and the result is very impressive.

Laplace has done a remarkable job in restoring the farm buildings and in creating a contrasting but harmonious balance with the new additions. I love the wooden roof beams, stone walls, barn doors and bright gallery space. Currently, there are two exhibitions showing at the gallery: Josephsohn/ Markli’s ‘A Conjunction’ and Rita Ackermann’s ‘Turning Air Blue’ (both until 1st January 2018).


Swiss Sculptor Hans Josephsohn's sculptures

Swiss Sculptor Hans Josephsohn's sculptures  haust & wirth somerset

Peter Markli's architectural drawings

rita ackermann

Top & 2nd left: Swiss Sculptor Hans Josephsohn’s sculptures; 2nd right & 3rd row: Swiss architect Peter Markli’s architectural drawings; Bottom row: Rita Ackermann’s ‘Turning Air Blue’ exhibition


Aside from the art galleries, there is a bookshop and another shop selling artisan crafts and designs that are made locally. Roth Bar & Grill is a restaurant/cafe/bar focusing on sustainable and seasonal produce from the on-site farm and kitchen Garden. And at the back of the lawn is the restored six-bedroom 18th century Durslade Farmhouse which is available for rental.


Durslade Farmhouse

haust & wirth somerset  haust & wirth somerset

Roth Bar & Grill

Roth Bar & Grill

haust & wirth somerset


For me, the highlight of the venue is the stunning garden designed by Piet Oudolf, the internationally-renowned landscape designer from the Netherlands. Oudolf is a leading figure of the “New Perennial” movement, and is responsible for New York’s famous High Line.

I am not a gardener or a garden expert, but I do love his naturalistic approach to gardening. The variety of species and combination and his method of planting differ from the classical European and English gardens, and it is a real joy to wander around the unostentatious and relaxing garden.

Situated at the back of the garden is the Radić pavilion, which I think looks splendid in Oudolf‘s garden. Inspired by the primitive nature of Romantic-style follies, the pavilion is an odd-looking structure made of fibreglass. The structure is unlike any architecture that I have seen before, and it breaks many ‘rules’, so I am sure it does not appeal to everyone. Personally, I find the bulbous shape comforting and enchanting; it is playful, archaic and futuristic at the time. It doesn’t seem to belong to any time period, which I think is quite groundbreaking.

Sadly, our time at Hauser & Wirth was limited and we had to take the coach and head towards our next destination: Drawing Matters.


hauser & wirth somerset

hauser & wirth somerset

hauser & wirth somerset

The Radić Pavilion

The Radić Pavilion

The Radić Pavilion

The Radić Pavilion

The Radić Pavilion

hauser & wirth somerset

hauser & wirth somerset

hauser & wirth somerset

The Radić Pavilion


Founded by Niall Hobhousea collector of architectural drawings, sketches and models – loosely based on the master plan by Cedric Price, Drawing Matter focuses on architectural drawings and models from the 16th to the 21st century, assembled over the last twenty-one years.

Located at Shatwell, the site comprises a small collection of buildings around a working farmyard in a valley. We visited the Archive on its open day, otherwise it is usually open by appointment to tutor-led groups of students, architects, and researchers only.

Unlike the more polished Hauser & Wirth, this farm site is an ongoing project and there isn’t much to see except for The Archive, the Hadspen Obelisk by Peter Smithson, and a shipping container that has been converted into a mini library full of books on architecture and landscape design.


drawing matters





Since most of the people in the group were architects, they were ecstatic to see hand-drawn architectural drawings by famous architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, and models by contemporary architects. The drawings on display at the Archive on the day were just a small selection of work, which are part of their current curatorial and exhibition projects in the UK and abroad. And if you want to see the vast collection, you can check out their online collection via their website.


drawing matters   drawing matters

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867–1959), Drawing for the 'Eaglefeather' estate for Arch Oboler in the Santa Monica Mountains, 1940.

Le Corbusier drawing matters

Androuet du Cerceau

drawing matters  drawing matters

Nobuo Sekine

drawing matters



Top: the Archive, 2nd row: Frank Lloyd Wright (1867–1959), Drawing for the ‘Eaglefeather’ estate for Arch Oboler in the Santa Monica Mountains, 1940. 3rd row: Androuet du Cerceau; 6th row: Nobuo Sekine‘s ‘Phase of Nothingness’; Bottom row: the office


After spending some time going through the drawings, we were treated with free coffee and cakes by the friendly owner of Chapel Cross coffee room. Then we wandered around the site, and came across Alison and Peter Smithson’s Obelisk. Originally conceived in 1984 for an urban site in Siena, then reworked in 1994 as a woven spiral called the Inlook Tower. Another chapter in the work’s history saw it erected on the estate of Hadspen House, Castle Cary in 2002.

Before we set off, I walked up to the top of the valley and ramble across the fields. The view of the Somerset countryside from the top of the valley was breathtaking. As the dark clouds started to approach us and rain started to fall, it was finally time to leave.


drawing matters  drawing matters

The Hadspen Obelisk BY Peter Smithson

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The architecture-related trip was a rewarding one, and it reminded me how interesting life can be outside of London. I have visited many parts of the U.K. this year, and I will continue to do so in the future because there is just still so much to see and explore.