Eat and shop in Fort Kochi

Kashi Art Café

Kashi Art Gallery


Prior to my visit to Fort Kochi, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Yet after I arrived, I felt very at ease and safe. Despite the hot weather, it was pleasant to stroll around and enjoy the Bohemian atmosphere. There are many art galleries/cafes, heritage accommodations, churches and cool shops. My biggest surprise was to see many unique fashion boutiques and concept shops selling handdyed/handprinted clothing and handmade accessories. I think that there are more interesting independent shops here than Central London, and that is not an exaggeration.

Since I arrived very early and wasn’t able to check in yet, I decided to have breakfast at the nearby Kashi Art Gallery. Kashi Art Gallery is located inside a converted old Dutch house, which opened in 1977. Over the years, Kashi Art Gallery and Café has become the hub of Kochi’s contemporary art scene and popular hangout for young locals and tourists. I love the photography exhibition at the small gallery at the front, and I found the cafe very relaxing, which was a good start for ne after a long flight.


Kashi Art Café

Kashi Art Café

Kashi Art Café

Kashi Art Café

Kashi Art Café

Kashi Art Café breakfast

Kashi Art Gallery and cafe


Another popular cafe in the area is the Loafers Corner cafe located in a restored 200-year-old Dutch-Portuguese-style building. I visited the cafe later in the afternoon and bagged a seat by the window where I could watch the world go by from above. When I find chilled-out cafes like these during my travels, it does bring me joy… I am not a big fan of fancy and trendy cafes/restaurants; personally I prefer places with character/history/relaxing ambience. Hence, it is no wonder why this cafe is extemely popular with young locals and tourists.


Loafer's Corner cafe

Loafer's Corner cafe  Loafer's Corner cafe

Loafer's Corner cafe

Loafers Corner cafe


The next day I had lunch at the vegan Loving Earth Yoga Cafe, which is a yoga studio, cafe and a social enterprise. This is another expat’s favourites, and I guess it is catered for the health-conscious bunch. It is also spacious and relaxing, and a good place to eat healthy vegan dishes. My only complaint is that many dishes were not available on the day, so the choices were a bit limited.



Loving Earth Yoga Cafe


fort kochi Farmers cafe

fish in banana leaf

Farmers cafe & banana leaf-wrapped fish


After my trip to India last year, I completely fell in love with Indian clothing. In the UK, it is not easy to find contemporary Indian fashion, and even if you do, it is extremely overpriced. Hence I was looking forward to exploring the boutiques in Fort Kochi, and my first stop was Napier Street. Aside from Fab India (one of my favourite mid-range priced shop), there is a pop-up shop called Aambal eco clothing store. The shop has many handdyed and well-designed items that are all sustainable. All the items here are made by independent designers from around India and they are all very unique. Prices are reasonable especially if you compare it with London, so I do recommend a visit to this shop.


Aambal eco clothing store

Aambal eco clothing store

Aambal eco clothing store (Napier Street)


Anchovy is another cool boutique that sells contemporary fashion, accessories, vintage items and many illustration books by my favourite Indian publisher, Tara books.



Anchovy boutique (Vasco da Gama Square, Church Road)


I wanted to buy a book on Indian flowers and plants, so I went to a local book shop called Idiom Book Sellers. The shop sells both new and second-hand books, including Indian literature, history, cookery, and travel etc. I managed to find a few books on Indian plants and flowers, and I bought a small one published by DK to be used as a mini guide during my travels. The book seller was very friendly and agreed to let me take a photo of him.


Idiom Book Sellers

Idiom Book Sellers (1/348, Bastion Street)


There are a few intesting shops on Lilly Street, and one of them is Anokhi, a well-known Indian brand originated from Jaipur selling fashion, textiles, accessories and home furnishings that are handmade by craftsmen. Their designes often feature traditional motifs and techniques, like blockprinting, natural dyeing and embroidery, which are popular with locals and tourists.


Anokhi fort kochi



Further down the street is Kochi Kochi, a nice shop selling clothing and accessories that are hand-blockprinted onto recycled materials. I got to meet and speak to the designer and craftsman, who is keen to keep his designs as sustainable as possible. Yet this does not compromise the quality. I bought a long dress here and was complemented by many when I worn it to a dinner the week after. The staff here are friendly and prices are very reasonable, so it is not to be missed.

Next to Kochi Kochi is Via Kerala Design Shop, a design shop that sells a variety of accessories, products and souvenir made by local designers. At the front of the shop, there is also a small exhibition area showcasing interesting local art and design works.


Via Kerala Design Shop

Via Kerala Design Shop

Via Kerala Design Shop

Kochi Kochi and Via Kerala Design Shop


I didn’t expect to see concept stores in Fort Kochi, but I came across two intriguing upmarket ones while I was wandering around. One of them is Cinnamon Boutique, a modern lifestyle store located inside a converted Dutch bungalow. Designed by Italian architect Andrea Anastasio, there space includes a restaurant and shop selling chic fashion, jewellery and homeware made by Indian designers and artists.


Cinnamon boutique

Cinnamon boutique

Cinnamon boutique

Cinnamon boutique

Cinnamon boutique

Cinnamon boutique (1/658 Ridsdale Road, Parade Ground)


Another one is lcoated in Calvetti near the Boat Jetty called Pepper House. Originally a warehouse for spices, now it has been converted into a cultural centre, which includes a library, a design shop and a coffee shop. It is definitely a very cool-looking venue.


Pepper House

pepper house

Pepper House

Pepper House

Pepper House

Pepper House


Although most cool clothing shops are located in the centre of Fort Kochi, there are many craft and antiques/vintage shops located in Jew Town/Mattancherry. One of the larger ones is called Ethnic Passage, which is a 2-storey shopping gallery that sells handicrafts, home accessories, handmade souvenir (downstairs) and larger vintage furniture upstairs. Personally, I found the shops in Mattancherry more commercial than Fort Cochin, so I didn’y linger too long in this part of town.


ethnic passage

ethnic passage

ethnic passage

Ethnic Passage



The Mills (Part 2): Art, design & retail

the mill tseun wan


One of The Mill’s main attractions is CHAT (Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile) – a space dedicated to the past, current, and future of Hong Kong and Asia’s textile industry.

Welcome to the Spinning Factory! is the inaugural exhibition designed by Turner Prize winning U.K. architect collective Assemble and UK/HK design firm HATO. Set within the former cotton spinning mills of Nan Fung Textiles in Tsuen Wan, the exhibition tells the story of the cotton industry and the role it played in shaping Hong Kong’s past, present and future. The interactive exhibition features old machinery, vintage cotton products and archival documents and objects. Visitors can also experience the manual cotton-spinning process using traditional spinning instruments, and design and create cotton labels at the workshop stations.


the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan

The mill

the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan

‘Welcome to the Spinning Factory!’ exhibition at the The D. H. Chen Foundation Gallery


An interesting piece of artwork caught my eye outside of the gallery and it was a long piece of knitted textile on a table titied Fabric of CHAT. It was the work by Hong Kong-based artist/designer Movana Chen. Movana is known for her KNITerature, which combines stories by knitting books from people she encounters during her travels. When she first visited the construction site of The Mills, she discovered stacks of old discarded documents, so she shredded and knitted them into a new art form that contains the history and memories of the factory.


Fabric of Chat

  Fabric of ChatFabric of Chat

Fabric of CHAT by Movana Chen


CHAT’s inaugural exhibition, Unfolding : Fabric of Our Life, curated by Takahashi Mizuki showcases the works and performances by 17 contemporary Asian artists and collectives who use textile as a testimony to articulate forgotten histories and repressed lives through textile production. The thought-provoking exhibition reveals the region’s colonial capitalist exploitation through the use of fabrics and garments. One work that I found quite powerful is called ‘Day Off Mo?by Filipino artist Alma Quinto, who invited Hong Kong’s Filipino domestic workers to speak out about their experiences through a video and their DIY craft book.


Dayanita Singh's 'Time measures', 2016

Dayanita Singh's 'Time measures', 2016

Dayanita Singh’s ‘Time measures’, 2016


Norberto Roldan's 'Incantations in the land of virgins, monsters, sorcerers and angry gods', 1999 - 2018

Norberto Roldan's 'Incantations in the land of virgins, monsters, sorcerers and angry gods', 1999 - 2018

Norberto Roldan’s ‘Incantations in the land of virgins, monsters, sorcerers and angry gods’, 1999 – 2018


Jakkai Siributr

Jakkai Siributr

Jakkai Siributr’s Fast fashion, 2015/19


Reza Afisina, Under Construction as Long as You’re Not Paying Attention, 2018–19

Reza Afisina’s ‘Under Construction as Long as You’re Not Paying Attention’, 2018–19


Alma Quinto's 'Day Off Mo?', 2018–19

Alma Quinto, Day Off Mo?, 2018–19

Alma Quinto’s ‘Day Off Mo?’, 2018–19


the mill tseun wan  the mill tseun wan


I was also intrigued by Vietnamese artist Vo Tran Chau‘s ‘Leaf picking in the ancient forest’, 2018-2019. The name of the artwork is inspired by the title of a monk’s manuscript. Buddha, taking a few leaves in his hand, said to the monks: “All that I have seen and encountered are numerous, just like leaves among the grove, yet my teachings which I have revealed to you are but little, just like this handful of leaves in my palm…”.

The artist collected abandoned clothing from second-hand clothing stores to create her abstract mosaic chamber. Each quilted mosaic references historical photographs of Vietnamese textile factories and reflects the distinct cultural and political climates of North, Central and South Vietnam at different periods of time. The quilts reflect only blurred images as if a metaphor for the fate of the textile factories. Inside the chamber, one sees another side/story in these historical images.


Vo Tran Chau's Leaf picking in the ancient forest, 2018-2019

Vo Tran Chau's Leaf picking in the ancient forest, 2018-2019

Vo Tran Chau’s Leaf picking in the ancient forest, 2018-2019


One encouraging aspect of The Mills is that the retail outlets here differ vastly from other shopping malls in Hong Kong. Instead of international chained companies, the shops here are mostly independent and with a strong focus on sustainability.

I was glad to see that Book B (which we have worked with previously) has found a new home here. The space is inviting and it also has a nice cafe inside. I think this is one of the best independent book shops in Hong Kong, and I hope it will continue to thrive.


KoKo Coffee Roasters

KoKo Coffee Roasters

KoKo Coffee Roasters


book b the mill tseun wan

book b the mill tseun wan

book b the mill tseun wan

Book B


Another surprise was to see a garment upcycling shop called Alt:, which is a partnership between HKRITA (The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel) and Novetex (a leading textile firm), together with funding from HKSAR government, H&M foundation and The Mills.

A garment-to-Garment (G2G) Recycle System is placed in the shop for the public to learn how old clothes can be upcycled and made into a new ready-made garment in 4 hours, with the aid of the innovation of upcycling technology. The on-site mill can upcycle up to 3 tons of textile waste per day, which hopfully will help to tackle the city’s fashion waste issue.





Alt: – the upcycling garment shop that can turn your unwanted clothing into something new


 the mill tseun wan

 the mill tseun wan

 the mill tseun wan

 the mill tseun wan

the mill


Overall, I enjoyed my visit to The Mills; I think it offer an alternative retail experience (which is much needed in Hong Kong), and the new textile centre is an exciting cultural space that showcases Hong Kong’s textile heritage while looking forward to the future.



Tomigaya: All you need is a dog in Tokyo!


Tomigaya dog  Tomigaya dog

Dogs in strollers


When you think of dog-loving cities, most likely you are going to think of Paris, but on the other side of the world, Tokyo is now the ‘Paris of the East’ (in terms of their obessions with their pets or dogs).

Tomigaya is an area in Shibuya, located on the southwest of Yoyogi park, that has become a ‘hip’ place for locals and foreigners alike. Perhaps it is due to its low-key neighbourhood feel, and its interesting mix of independent shops and eateries, but it certainly feels less commerical and touristy than Harajuku, which is on the southeast side of the park. And you know the area must be cool when there is a Monocle shop here!

Walking around the area on a Saturday afternoon, I couldn’t help but notice that dogs have literally become the new LV bags in Tokyo (there was a time when the LV monogram bag was carried by 90% of the women here)! Some of them were even being pushed around in strollers like babies, which I thought was quite bizarre to say the least.


Tomigaya cheese stand  Tomigaya dogs

Tomigaya dog  Tomigaya dog

Tomigaya dog

Tomigaya dog  Tomigaya dog


According to Nikkei, the market for pet products and services is growing robustly in Japan even as the number of pets falls. Over the eight years through March 2016, the market for pet products and services in Japan grew nearly 10% to 1.47 trillion yen ($13.2 billion), according to Yano Research Institute in Tokyo.

In a country where the population is aging rapidly, and birth rate falling to a record low, perhaps it is not surprising to see people here turning their focus onto pets or animals. After all, dog is man’s best friend, and you can affirm this belief in Tokyo.





dorian gray Kamiyamacho  Kamiyamacho


Kamiyamacho  Kamiyamacho


monocle tokyo

Tomigaya Norwegian Icons  Tomigaya Norwegian Icons

The eclectic mix of independent shops here include Monocle and Norwegian Icons (bottom row)


Aside from dog-spotting and the Monocle shop, you can find a variety of shops here including Shibuya Publishing & Booksellers (which I have written about previously) and Norwegian Icons that is dedicated to mid-century (1940 to 1975) Norwegian designs and furniture. I often think that Scandinavian and Japanese furniture designs share a great deal in common, hence I believe that Norwegian designs would not look out of place in a Tokyo home.


camelback tokyo

camelback coffee  camelback sandwich

fuglen tokyo

shibuya cheese stand



This area is also full of cool cafes and eateries, and Camelback sandwich & expresso is probably the most popular takeout counter here. There are only a few benches outside, and usually there is a long queue here (mostly foreigners), so be prepared to wait for some artisanal sandwich and coffee. Hayato Naruse is a trained sushi chef, and his signature sushi-style tamagoyaki omelet sandwichi is the bestseller here. Was it worth the 20-minute wait? Yes, it was delicious and so was the coffee.

If you prefer to sit down while you eat and drink, you can visit the nearby Fuglen, a coffee shop and bar with vintage decor that is originally from Oslo, and now a huge hit in Tokyo.

Shibuya Cheese Stand is another popular eatery here where you can taste freshly made cheese like mozzarella and ricotta made in Hokkaido, the northmost island famous for its diary produce.


so books  so books

So books


The best thing about Tokyo is that often you would stumble upon some unique/wonderful shops while rambling in different neighbourhoods. And this was how I came across So books, located on a quiet street not far from Yoyogi Hachiman station. It is a small bookshop that specialises in rare photography books (new and secondhand), with also some art, design and craft books. The friendly owner Ikuo Ogasawara speaks very good English, and he was surprised to learn that I had simply stumbled upon the shop. I bought a few books that were easy to carry – I would have bought more if I didn’t have to travel further on. Luckily, the owner told me that they have an online shop and ship internationally (not many Japanese shops like to ship overseas), so it is great news for photgraphy book fans out there.


hinine note  hinine note

hinine note

hinine note

Hinine note


Hinine note was the shop that I was seeking in the area after reading about it before my trip. It took a bit of effort to find it (with the help of google map), but it paid off. This is a stationery shop where you can customise and create your own notebooks. You can choose the size you want, the paper style, cover designs and binding methods. There is a wide selection of designs/colours to choose from, and everything is made on the spot. Not only you can enjoy using your one-of-a-kind notebook, it would help to reduce waste too. Love it.






I think this is an interesting neighbourhood that is not just full of trendy and established shops (which I tend to avoid), and I definitely would want to return and explore further.


Design & stationery shopping in Western Tokyo

d47 design travel store d47 design travel stored47 design travel stored47 design travel store Takuro kuwata at tomio koyama gallery

d47 design travel store and Tomio Koyama Gallery at Hikarie



d47 design travel store (Hikarie 8F 2-21-1 Shibuya) – Muji is now an international brand that many non-Japanese are familiar with, but in Japan, d & department Project is the fastest-growing household and lifestyle brand in recent years. Established in 2000 by the famous graphic designer Kenmei Nagaoka, it started as an self-initiated project on connecting cities in Japan under the name of ‘design’. The shop name stands for ‘dream design department store’, and their shops sell a wide range of new and recycled furniture and everyday objects that are timeless and functional.

At this store, it offers a collection of traditional Japanese wares, tools, handicrafts, regional specialties and gourmet ingredients sourced from the 47 prefectures of Japan. If you are looking for souvenir with a difference to bring home, then this store is the place to visit.


postalcoPostalco IMG_4869-compressed IMG_4870-compressed

Top two rows: Postalco; Bottom: Flying books


Postalco (1-6-3 3FL Dogenzaka Shibuya) Founded in New York in 2000 by Mike and Yuri Ableson, the company has since moved to Tokyo, where it creates highly practical and understated stationary and leather goods. Located on the 2nd floor of an inconspicuous building, the quaint shop in Shibuya is not easy to find. Once inside, it is hard not to be drawn towards the appealing leather products and stationery, prices are not cheap but quality and timelessness of the products are the main draws here.

Flying Books (1-6-3 2FL Dogenzaka Shibuya) – Under Postalco within the same building is a cafe and bookshop that stocks an international selection of new and used books and magazines on music, art, design, philosophy and world religions etc.



Shibuya Publishing booksellers


Since I was staying near Shibuya, I was keen to explore the area, particularly on after hours shopping. As a supporter of independent booksellers, I was thrilled when I discovered Shibuya Publishing & Booksellers (17-3 Kamiyamacho, Shibuya), an independent bookshop and publisher that opens from noon until midnight. The shop was designed by architect Hiroshi Nakamura, and there is a illusory mirror-like window that allows customers to see the office behind. This unconventional bookshop is not interested in selling bestsellers, instead it carefully curates a selection of new and used books and magazines on topics like food, culture, art, design, photography and lifestyle. Besides books, the shop also sells an interesting selection of stationery, jewellery and lifestyle products. Being able to linger and browse in a bookshop at 11pm was a luxury that I seldom experience outside of Asia, so I truly cherished my time spent here.


daikanyama t-sitedaikanyama t-site daikanyama t-sitedaikanyama t-sitedaikanyama t-site

Daikanyama T-site 


My after hours shopping continued the following evening at Daikanyama T-site (17-5 Sarugakucho, Shibuya-ku), Tokyo’s most talked-about lifestyle bookstore in recent years. Design by Klein Dytham Architecture, whose design won the World Architecture Festival, it is considered to be a dream bookstore for many. Tsutaya‘s complex comprises of three interlinked two-story buildings with a convenient store, a cafe, a lounge inside and several restaurants outside. I was particularly dazzled by its vast magazine selection, I am not sure if I had ever seen so many magazines at one place before! It is easy to spend hours here, and luckily, the store is open from 7am until 2am, so do enjoy the midnight shopping experience here!



Pass the BatonPass the Baton Pass the BatonPass the Baton MOMA STORE TokyoPLAY BOX comme des garcons

Top, 2nd & 3rd left: Pass the Baton; 3rd right: MOMA design store; Bottom: Comme des Garcons’ Play Box at Gyre


I have previously written about shops in Omotesando, so I will not repeat the list again. I will only add two shops to the list, and one of them is Pass the baton (Omotesando Hills West Bldg 2F, 4-12-10 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku), a contemporary recycle/consignment store that sells not only fashion but also antiques, furniture and crafts. Designed by well-known interior designer Kasamichi Katayama of Wonderwall, the basement shop feels more like a vintage museum, and it even has a small gallery at the back. Don’t expect bargain charity shop prices here, but the quality and selections are a cut above the rest. Many items include a photograph of the previous owner and a personal anecdote from them about each item. Emotive storytelling is an effective communication tool, and the success of this shop proves exactly that.





Quico (5-16-15 Jingumae, Shibuya) – inside a white building designed by architect Kazunari Sakamoto is a split-level store filled with a well-curated collection of homewares, textiles, fashion, shoes and furniture from around the world. The store also has an exhibition space upstairs.


rocca maursa balloonstokyo souvenirtokyo souvenir tokyo souvenir

It excites me to see the products we carry in stores… Top left: Rocca games; Top right: Marusa balloons; 2nd & 3rd rows: stationery and books that I bought on this trip


Hong Kong’s hidden gem: Foo Tak building

foo tak building foo tak building

Foo Tak building in Wan Chai


Sometimes I am surprised by readers’ responses to my blog entries. My previous entry on Hong Kong’s secondhand bookstores have generated more responses than I expected, so I gathered that people are still interested in independent/secondhand booksellers.

What astonishes me about Hong Kong is that it has much to offer beyond the glossy shopping malls, yet often these places are overlooked. During my stay, I discovered a hidden gem called Foo Tak building (365-367 Hennessy Rd), an inconspicuous 14 storey old residential building in Wan Chai filled with cultural hubs, alternative bookshops and artist studios etc. This building is truly one of a kind in Hong Kong, and it is easy to figure that out as soon as you step into the lift as it is covered in anti-government and political stickers. Cool.


the coming society the coming societythe coming societythe coming society the coming societythe coming society the coming societythe coming society the coming society

The coming society


Located on the second floor of the building is The Coming Society, a second-hand bookshop selling English and Chinese (and some French) titles in literature, arts, philosophy, social science and history. Founded in 2011 by Daniel Lee and Chen Ho-lok, both Philosophy graduates from The Chinese University of Hong Kong, with the aim of stimulating discussions. The shop also organises talks, book launches, film screenings and mini concerts on a weekly basis.

Aside from a reading corner, the shop provides a self-help pantry and free wifi. I was impressed to see alternative publications on gay and lesbian rights and US zine ‘Tenacious: Art & Writings by Women in Prison’ on the human rights of female prisoners. These are not publications that you would find in any mainstream bookstores in Hong Kong. Last but not least, there is even a set-your-price box for CDs produced by local musicians… now that is something that I have never encountered in Hong Kong before!


art & culture outreachart & culture outreach art & culture outreachart & culture outreach art & culture outreach

Art & Culture Outreach


Located on the 14th floor is the brainchild of the building: the non-profit organisation Art & Culture Outreach. Founded by in 2003 and supported by Dawei Charitable Foundation, ACO aims to use the building to facilitate both local and overseas art and cultural practitioners to have cross boundary/ discipline development. In 2014, the bookshop moved from 1st floor to a bigger space on 14th floor which includes a cafe, gallery space and a rooftop vegetable farm. The bookshop stocks a range of books from local and foreign independent publishers with a strong focus on art, design and architecture. There are also lifestyle goods made by local artists/designers on sale, and an exhibitions area for local artists/illustrators to showcase their works.


MaKee MaKeeMaKeeMaKeeMaKeeMaKee



On the 8th floor is MaKee, a retro cafe and shop that sells vintage household/accessories/stationery that the owners found during their travels. It is common to see these types of shops in Japan, but seldom in Hong Kong. The homemade cakes are baked by the friendly owner, and the ambience makes you feel like a visitor at a friend’s home rather than being in a cafe/shop.

Unfortunately, I did not have time to visit all the shops/venues in the building, but I will certainly return again in the future as this building is what I considered as an ‘oasis’ in Hong Kong.


Hong Kong poster Hong Kong YMCA posterHong Kong poster Hong Kong poster

Cool poster designs on local events


Foyles & the comeback of bookstores

Living in this fast-paced world today, is there even time for nostalgia? Changes are inevitable in big cities, but not all changes are necessarily positive. In Hong Kong, I often complain to my local friends that 90% of the lovely spots that I discovered the year before are likely to disappear within a year, and most locals wouldn’t even notice it. One year is like eternity in Hong Kong. Now I feel like London is heading down the same direction, and people are becoming increasingly oblivious to these changes.

Recently in my neighbourhood, a beloved local newsagent has announced their closure, and all the locals are saddened by the news. I have known the family for years, and one day the owner said to me: “We are like families, I feel sad to go too.” Families? Would the guy who ‘mindfully crafts’ my coffee behind Starbucks use this word? Obviously not. I don’t think these locals are clinging to the past or are reluctant to changes, instead they value the relationships and trust built over the years. London used to be like a city with many small villages, and each village would have their small independent shops where locals would visit regularly. Now it is a very different story.



Foyles’ flagship store on Charing Cross Road 


Before Amazon, people used to linger in bookshops and I was one of them. Studying design and working in advertising, bookshops served as a main source of inspiration for me. The unfortunate demise of bookshops have prompted numerous independent and even large chain booksellers in the USA and UK to close down in the past decade. According to the Booksellers Association (BA), more than 500 independent bookshops have closed its doors in the UK and Ireland since 2005.

When I lived in New York many years ago, I used to spend much of my time lingering in independent bookshops like Rizzoli (which had to relocate from its beautiful 50-year old premises due to demolition of the building), as well as chain bookstores like Borders (now closed) and Barnes & Nobles (only a few left in the city). Being used to the traditional British bookshops (not bookstores), I was initially fairly gobsmacked by the size, late opening hours, and the variety of products (with huge magazine and music sections) available at these large American chain bookstores. Besides, Barnes & Nobles was the pioneer to incorporating cafes (or Starbucks) in their stores, and this proved to be a successful formula that would be copied by other bookstores globally.

The most successful ‘copycat’ is Taiwan’s largest bookseller chain Eslite, where customers can hang out all night long at their 24-hour Dunnan branch in Taipei (which I did when I was in town, and I loved it). Customers can browse books, shop for lifestyle products and enjoy coffee or light meals all within the same retail outlet. Another successful example is Tokyo’s Daikanyama Tsutaya Books (T-Site), a beautifully-designed concept bookstore that is open from 7am until 2am. These booksellers demonstrate that heyday of bookstores is far from over, all they need is to evolve and move with the times.


foyles foyles


In London, the best-known bookstore is Foyles founded in 1903. It was once listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest bookstore in terms of shelf area (30 miles/50 kilometres) and number of titles on display. Like many Londoners, I still have vivid memories of the old maze-like store where books were piled up everywhere, and occasionally had to climb or dig to reach for the books.

When the 111-year old legendary bookstore announced that they would relocate down the road to a bigger space (the former site of Central St Martins College of Art and Design), it probably startled many of their apprehensive and loyal customers. After visited the bookstore a few times since it reopened it doors in June, I honestly believe this change was long overdue. London needs a world-class contemporary bookstore like this and I more than welcome the change.


 foylesfoylesfoylesfoylesfoyles cafe

A cafe & gallery space inside Foyles’ flagship store


Designed by London-based architects Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands, the new store has won several major architectural and retail project awards since its opening. With 37,000 square feet of retail space, spread across eight shop floors within the four storey building, and over 200,000 different titles on four miles (6.5km) of shelves, it is the largest bookshop to have opened in the UK in more than a decade.

The architects have done a tremendous job and have created a bright, practical and multifunctional space that would no doubt attract more footfall. And in order to survive in the 21st century, a bookstore can no longer be just a bookstore. Besides books, there is also a café, a gallery space and an auditorium, there is no trace of the past except for the posters/photos on the walls.

Elsewhere in London, booksellers like Waterstones and Daunt books (whose owner is now the MD of Waterstones) are also rallying and embracing changes in order to survive in a fiercely competitive market. Aside from book signing events, Waterstones have also installed free wifi and added Cafe W to more than 100 of their stores nationwide.


daunt books

Daunt books in Hampstead


But what about the independent booksellers that are rapidly vanishing from our high streets? How do they cope and survive in this day and age? What these bookshops offer that Amazon cannot is human contact, so aside from finding a niche and understanding the target market, factors like customer service and building relationships with the customers are crucial.

Here are some general, specialists and secondhand bookshops (I shall write about art/design bookshops in the future) that are worth visiting in the city:

Hachards booksellers (187 Piccadilly London W1J 9LE) – Forget Waterstones down the road, this is the quintessential British bookshop (even though it is owned by Waterstones). It is the oldest bookshop in the UK, and you can soak up the historical ambience while browsing inside. There are also many signed books available in store, and it is seldom crowded, so it is easy to spend a few hours here away from the hustle and bustle outside. 
hachardspersephone books waterstoneLondon review bookshop
Top: Hachards Booksellers; 2nd left: Persephone books; 2nd right: Waterstones; Bottom: The London Review bookshop
London review bookshop (14 Bury Place WC1A 2JL) – A much loved bookshop by the locals, and despite its touristy location (near the British Museum), it is not very touristy. There is a wide range of selection here, but the main focus is literary fiction, poetry, history and travel. The cafe is extremely popular too, as there are not many decent cafes nearby (P.S. I was told by the barista that they use Monmouth coffee beans, so coffee connoisseur need not worry here). 
Persephone books (59 Lamb’s Conduit Street, London WC1N 3NB) – This small independent bookshop/publisher differs from other because it reprints neglected fiction and non-fiction by mid-twentieth century (mostly) women writers. Their collection of 112 books includes novels, short stories, diaries, memoirs and cookery books, all reprinted in their signature grey covers. You can buy their books online, but I recommend a visit to their crammed but delightful shop. 
Stanford Travel (12-14 Long Acre, London WC2E 9LP) – I often drop by when I need to research or plan for a holiday. Established in 1853, this travel and map specialist bookshop stocks the world’s largest collection of map and travel books, as well as travel accessories and stationery. The small cafe at the back is also quite pleasant and relaxing if you want to get away from the crowded and touristy Covent Garden. 

IMG_9066 SAM_7935karnac bookshousmans bookshophousmans bookshop the bookshop theatre judd books

Top left: Skoob books; Top right, 2nd row middle & right: Housmans bookshop; 2nd row left: Karnac bookshop; Bottom left: The bookshop theatre/ Calder Bookshop; Bottom right: Judd books


Housmans bookshop (5 Caledonian Rd, London N1 9DX) – London’s oldest radical and not-for-profit bookshop (since 1945) specialising in books (over 500,000 titles from their online shop), zines, and periodicals of radical interest and progressive politics. Located close to Kings Cross, this hidden gem stocks the largest range of radical newsletters, newspapers and magazines in Britain. It is hard to find this sort of bookshop in London today, so we are lucky that this one is still going strong after all these years.

Calder Bookshop/The Bookshop Theatre (51 The Cut, Southwark, London SE1 8LF) – This is another unusual bookshop and theatre that started in 2011 by a collective of friends who wanted to create their own theatre to put on their own productions. Aside from regular theatre and a weekly cinema club, their not-for-profit shop has quality second hand books and literature on plays and performance art.

Karnac books (118 Finchley Rd, London NW3 5HT) – This small inconspicuous bookshop is located on the busy Finchley Road, yet many would walk by without taking much notice of it. This specialist bookshop is in fact dedicated to psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, and related subjects. Established in 1950, Karnac is Britain’s only specialist psychoanalytic bookshop, and interestingly, it is located not far from the Freud museum. There are not only books by famous names like Freud and Jung, but also new and rare-to-find titles, and it regularly hosts events and seminars related to these topics.

Skoob books (66, Brunswick Shopping Centre, Marchmont Street, London WC1N 1AE) – This basement bookshop is one of my favourites in the city because it feels like Aladdin’s cave for books. It offers over 55,000 different titles of second-hand academic books, including large collections of books in Philosophy, Psychology, Modern Literature, Art, History, Politics, Economics, Classics, Science and Technology. I often find books that I already own here for 1/2 the price I originally paid, so if you are looking for bargains, this is THE place to come. And you are quite likely to spend hours here and leave with a heap of books back home.

Judd books (82 Marchmont St, Saint Pancras, London, WC1N 1AG) – Judd Books has a large stock of used and bargain academic books including Literature, Art, Film, Media, Architecture and Music. There are also bargain boxes outside where you can find new/like-new condition books for under a fiver.


black gull book shopblack gull bookshopword on waterword on water

Top left & middle: Black gull bookshop; Top right & bottom: Word on Water


Black gull bookshop (70-71 Camden Lock Pl, London NW1 8AF) Now that Camden market has become a major tourist trap (it didn’t use to be this way), I would avoid like the plague. However, there are still some gems to be found beyond incense sticks and greasy Chinese noodles, and one of them is Black gull bookshop. The secondhand bookshop stocks Fictions, Classics, Crime, History, Philosophy, Psychology, Mind Body and Spirit, Mythology, Occult, Art, Film, Music, Poetry, Drama and Cookery. I also discovered a few plastic crates of children’s books outside. Most books are in excellent condition, and the staff is friendly and helpful. The market is currently going through a major facelift, I just hope that this shop is here to stay.

Treadwell’s books (33 Store Street, London WC1E 7BS) – If you are into tarot and other spiritual-related matters, then a visit to the Treadwell’s is a must as it is an independent/alternative bookshop that specialises in esotericism, culture, religion and spirituality. There are also regular events, courses and workshops on related subjects, this is undoubtedly one of the most unconventional bookshops in London.

Word on Water (Located inside Granary Square) – The most unique bookshop in London is not on land but on water! Word on Water is a floating bookshop on a 1920’s Dutch Barge that offers a range of contemporary fiction, cult, art and photography, non-fiction and quality children’s books at reasonable prices. After losing their previous mooring in Paddington Basin last year, they have been offered a permanent residence on the steps at Granary Square in King’s Cross. These days, it is not easy to find space on land or on water in London, so let’s hope that this bookbarge is here to stay.


Singapores’s Tiong Bahru neighbourhood

Tiong Bahru apartments Tiong Bahru apartments Tiong Bahru apartments IMG_6983Tiong Bahru apartments Tiong Bahru apartments

Tiong Bahru estate


Tiong Bahru is home to Singapore’s first housing estate, built in the 1930s west of Chinatown. Yet the term ‘Tiong Bahru’ means new cemetery because it was a swampy land used as a burial site since the late 19th century. Eventually the area was redeveloped and the first set of housing blocks were completed in 1936, with more were to follow after WWII.

The population of Tiong Bahru estate declined steadily for the past few decades as more people moved into newly built condominiums. Yet in recent years, young professionals and expats have moved back in while new independent cafes, restaurants and shops have sprung up, injecting a younger and livelier vibe to this old residential neighbourhood. In many ways, it feels similar to Hong Kong’s Tai Hang neighbourhood, where young, old, locals and expats coexist side-by-side.

Since it is not close to the metro station, the area still has a rather sleepy feel to it esp. along Seng Poh Rd, where Tiong Bahru Market and hawker centre is located.


Tiong Bahru Tiong Bahru IMG_6989Tiong Bahru Tiong Bahru apartments Tiong Bahru IMG_6987 IMG_7029

Top right: Tiong Bahru Market and hawker centre; Others: Block 78 on Guan Chuan Street


Built in the shape of a horse shoe, Block 78 on Guan Chuan Street is not only the largest block in the estate, but it also contains a 1500 square feet air raid shelter built in 1939. And last year the National Heritage Board launched a Tiong Bahru Heritage Trail which includes visits to the air shelter. Unfortunately, I did not find out about this until later, but if you are interested in finding more about this trail and the history of this area, you can go to National Heritage Board for more details.


stranglets strangletsstrangletsstrangletsstranglets



On Yong Siak Street, there are several cool shops and cafes including (no.7) Stranglets, an independent design/ lifestyle shop that sells design objects, stationery, games, homeware, fashion accessories by local and international designers.


IMG_6995 books actuallybooks actuallybooks actuallybooks actuallybooks actually books actually

 Books actually


Next to it is probably my favourite shop in Singapore (also loved by the locals): Books actually, an independent bookshop specialises in fiction and literature established in 2005. I love the fact that a lot of the books here are published locally and cannot be easily found elsewhere. At the back of the shop, there are two small rooms filled with wonderful vintage Bric-à-brac, a bit like an Aladdin’s cave. But the star of the shop must be its book-loving cat, which sits happily on top of the books watching book-lovers walking in and out…


plain vanillaplain vanilla plain vanilla

Plain Vanilla cafe


A few doors down, Plain Vanilla (1D) is a relaxing and unpretentious cup cake cafe is a popular hang out. I am not a cup cake fan but I did enjoy their not-too-sweet dark chocolate cup cake.

The landscape of the area is changing rapidly because landlords are take advantage of the area’s increasing popularity and rents have soared in the past 2 years. As always, whenever a neighbourhood is being gentrified, old local businesses will be replaced by new ones, and there will be dissatisfaction among the locals. There will be 2 sides of the story, and finding a balance is crucial in order to create a harmonious environment and community where the old and the new can co-exist happily.


IMG_6997 IMG_7027IMG_6999tiong bahruTiong Bahru apartments   IMG_7032 IMG_7031

Top left: Woods in the books; 2nd row right: Flock cafe; Bottom left: durian stall; Bottom right: stall selling live seafood