"and as a day is not really a day because each day is like another day and they begin to have nothing"

The artist who created the pictured artwork: Juliette Blightman
Lamp, net curtain (courtesy the artist and Hotel, London)

From the exhibition guide: Juliette Blightman ‘has introduced an arrangement of objects, including a vase [which I didn’t see], a lamp and a net curtain, into a window space in the [Hayward] [G]allery.’


| This is art. | Art, this is. | Is this art? | Art? Is this? |

The above were the responses I had towards different pieces of artwork displayed at the British Art Show.

We saw Charles Avery’s one-armed snake observing a female explorer on the cusp of finding Truth while uncanny creatures roam the port of Onomatopoeia. We saw a Picasso-esque sculpture; it has a wine glass out of which wine doesn’t flow for its silver-coloured mouth is completely sealed. Most impressive of all, we watched 1.5 hours of Christian Marclay’s monumental project, THE CLOCK. One day, I’ll watch the remaining 22.5 hours.

Did you watch the film, too? Which hour(s) did you watch? Can we swap hours? How?

The clock project reminded me of Borges’s story “On Exactitude in Science” (an expansion of an idea in 
Lewis Carroll’s Sylvie and Bruno Concluded ).

I liked Robert Wood‘s comment about the snake: “In the country of the serpents the one armed snake is king.”

Winning Winchester

The publication of my very short poem “The Final Straw” in the March 2011 issue of elimae reminded me of this day-trip to Winchester. Read on and you will see why.
In March last year, we took a day trip to Winchester, a cathedral town and an ancient capital of England. Because of its history, the place is full of things to see. It also turns out to be quite an attractive little town and it was a nice place to spend a Saturday.
After we got off the train, we walked towards the city centre, passing by the huge Winchester Cathedral in which Jane Austen is buried. Along the side of the building, there is a charity book shop which raises money for the church. Like many small town second-hand book shops, you just have to leave money in a little box. We were surprised by the relatively large selection of books and many of them were in very good condition. Needless to say, I picked a couple including a history of English Literature and a book about Victoriana.
We had skipped breakfast so by this point we were getting quite hungry. We chose the Wykeham Arms. The pub has lots of character. Some of the tables in the bar are made of old school desks and there was a fire burning, welcoming the guests. However, we ate in a small room in the dining area, which was filled with Victorian paintings and prints. The food was terrific and I managed to eat a whole steak and a giant mushroom without any help from my companion.
After lunch, we walked by Jane Austen’s last home. We later learnt in the museum that Austen came to Winchester hoping to recover her health. However, within a few months, she died. From there, we walked passed the ruins of a castle; the only thing left is more or less some of the outer walls so the city has turned it into a football field. The River Itchen runs through the city near the castle and we walked along its pretty banks and over some bridges. Here, we saw two perfectly white swans, vainly grooming their feathers (see more swans here and here). One of them, pictured below, had been banded for some reason and it kept trying to remove the tag from its leg. It was such a sad sight, especially since it was clear that the tag would probably never come off. I am sure this swan was banded for a good reason but I still felt a great sympathy for the bird.
After the stroll, we returned to the cathedral and had a little rest on the grounds. There were many other people sitting there having lunch or playing games; it was very similar to what we saw in Exeter where the cathedral grounds provided a park in the middle of the city for people to hang out.
Near the cathedral is the Winchester Museum, a small but friendly institution. It is particularly aimed for families as there are lots of interactive games for kids. One item in particular stuck out: a Medieval face jug. As the name suggests, there are two faces on the body of the jug.
Lastly, we went to the Great Hall, a part of Winchester Castle from the thirteenth century. Although much of the rest of the castle is gone, the Great Hall remains. It is a huge airy room which must have been impressive in the Middle Ages. At one end of the hall is a huge table, which claims to be the Round Table of Arthur‘s Court. It turns out in fact to be not old enough to be the genuine article. Yet, it remains an imposing sight.
Underneath the table was a statue of Queen Victoria made for her Jubilee. It was interesting to see these two important British symbols together in this way. After the Great Hall, we walked back to the station and caught a train home to London as the day died. We got back home just in time to catch this beautiful sunset:

Highgate Cemetery without Karl Marx

On Saturday, we went to Highgate Cemetery where we took a guided tour of the West side. Highgate Cemetery is divided into two sections: the West and East sides. Most visitors go to the East side to see the graves of famous people, most notably Karl Marx. Our guide told us that tour buses full of people from former Communist countries often go to see Karl Marx’s grave (and they like smoking a cigarette next to it too) and no one else.

Highgate Cemetery is perhaps also known for being the setting of Audrey Niffenegger‘s second and new book, Her Fearful Symmetry (2009). Niffenegger’s first was the massively popular The Time Traveler’s Wife, published in 2003 and turned into a motion picture this year. The setting is also used by Neil Gaiman in his critically-acclaimed The Graveyard Book (read my post on it here).

However, we decided to take a tour of the less-visited West side (Karl Marx, George Eliot, William Foyle, Douglas Adams and more will have to wait for another time…). There were only five people on our tour and we learnt a great deal from our young voluntary guide. Some of the things we learnt are summarised below:

1) The cemetery began as a private venture run by the London Cemetery Company. It opened in 1839 as one of many new commercial cemeteries designed to make money and solve the growing problems associated with London’s overcrowded public burial grounds. For example, many corpses were stolen by body snatchers who sold the bodies to hospitals for medical research. The idea was that the cemetery, which was at that time located outside of the city, would be a quiet oasis for people to spend the afterlife. It was also an attraction that people came to visit during the weekends. They could admire the view of London from Highgate and hopefully be convinced to buy a plot. The company originally did well, but as spaces filled, the maintenance exceeded the profits. By the 1970s, the cemetery was in disrepair and was being vandalised.

The front gate to the West side of Highgate Cemetery

2) Since the 1970s, the cemetery has been run by a charity, the Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust (FoHCT). Especially on the West side, their policy is called ‘managed neglect’. The effect is that the cemetery is largely overrun but still free of garbage. The organisation takes relative little initiative to restore the graves but it does trim back the trees and plants. This all gives the cemetery a rather Romantic feel, as if you were walking into a lost world.

3) The guide told us a lot about the symbolism and fashion statements associated with the graves. For example, on their graves, many people chose to have a Roman column which was severed at the top to symbolise a life cut short. This was then topped by a wreath to represent the triumph of the afterlife over our worldly existence.

4) The highlight of the tour may have been the Egyptian Avenue and the Circle of Lebanon. The Egyptian Avenue was originally designed to impress visitors and to exploit the interest in things Egyptian of the time.

Egyptian Avenue
Bat holes

As we walked along the Avenue, we saw many crypts which had holes in the doors for bats to come out in the evening. The Avenue led to the Circle of Lebanon, which must have been the centrepiece of the entire cemetery. They built the Circle around a huge tree which has only grown larger in the 150 years or so since it was built. Today, the Circle feels like a village of the dead:

5) One of the people buried in the Circle was the lesbian author Radclyffe Hall, who incidentally also went to King’s College London. Hall is most well-known for her controversial novel, The Well of Loneliness, which has overt lesbian themes and was banned in both the UK and the US. She is buried with one of her lovers.

6) Above the Circle, we saw the grave of George Wombwell, who founded Wombwell’s Travelling Menagerie, a kind of travelling zoo. He began his career when he bought two boa constrictors from the London Docks. He then began touring pubs with the snakes, a business which made him a good profit. From there he expanded to other animals. He had two lions, one of which was called Nero. Nero, famous for his docility, is featured on Wombwell’s grave:

7) Also above the Circle, we were introduced to Julius Beer, a German investor in the nineteenth century. His mausoleum is the biggest and tallest in the cemetery. The guide seemed to think Beer, a self-made man and proprietor of The Observer, built such a large monument to make up for the fact that in his life time, he had not been well received in Victorian English society.

Julius Beer’s Mausoleum

8) Another stop we made in the main part of the cemetery was at the grave of Thomas Sayers, the famous nineteenth-century bareknuckle boxer. His funeral was believed to have been attended by thousands of fans, an impressive feat for a time in which boxing was officially illegal. Sayers’s most famous fight was against the American John C. Heenan; the fight was advertised as the championship of the English-speaking world. The fight went on for two hours and twenty minutes (37 rounds) before it was finally broken up by police and called a draw. After the fight, Sayers’s fans raised money for him to retire from boxing. He spent his last days going from pub to pub with his dog, Lion, buying drinks and being bought drinks. Lion is featured on his grave as a loyal friend and guardian.

Thomas Sayers, guarded by his faithful friend, Lion

9) Although we couldn’t see them because they are in an overgrown section of the cemetery, Dickens’s parents are buried in the West side of Highgate Cemetery. I tried to test the guide’s knowledge but he didn’t seem to know a great deal about the rest of the family. Still, he was a very good guide, who seemed to have great passion for the place. Because he only volunteered once a month, he was genuinely excited to be there and shared with us what he knows.

After visiting Highgate Cemetery, we went to the fashionable and hip Camdan Town. Surprise! I bought two clothing items, one of which was a discounted funky small jacket for cross-dressing purposes (kidding!). It’s quite dashing.

"I want to see the ocean."

Reader, we didn’t go to Canterbury. We went to Brighton instead. There, we saw the ocean. The beach reminded us of some nicer Hong Kong beaches, where we went on occasion.
The seagulls flew freely. The lovely chubby kids fell on the pebbles, and stood up again, chasing colourful soap bubbles.
It was great to have the sun on our faces. When I was living in Hong Kong, I hated the sun, especially in Summer. I was called by some friends ‘the least sun-loving person’ they have ever known. In Winter, I am more accommodating to outdoor activities.
Is the sun different here? Yes and no. We know we have the same sun (unless some of you are living in science fiction) but of course because we are further North, the sun is weaker. There is a Chinese saying: ‘The moon in my hometown is the brightest’ (‘家鄉的月光特別明亮’). But I am unaware of a similar comment on the sun. If you were to invent one, what would it be?

[The title of this post is something the partner said. We went to Salisbury and Oxford previously and this time he wanted to go to a city that has a different atmosphere.]

This post was originally written on February 28, 2009.

20 Responses “’I want to see the ocean.’” →
  1. Shadowy figure
    Thanks for the wonderful photos. The sun does indeed shine also on the wicked… like me :)

    Reply  –  Edit

  2. Great – it turned out you guys went to Brighton to see the ocean…I suppose the beaches there are with more “small stones” than soft sand…but looked like you had a good trip! I like the pic with you and the background of the sea (the smaller one)! Very stylish!

    Reply  –  Edit

  3. Fiona Tsui
    Nice pictures! You should go to Hawaii and see the ocean there. It’s a completely different world!

    Reply  –  Edit

  4. Simon B.
    I, too, like the smaller picture of you (the big one is great as well) – any chance you’ll post a bigger version of it?
    In response to your question, perhaps something like “The sun in my hometown has forgotten me”? No, just kidding.

    Reply  –  Edit

  5. Lovely and beautiful photos, and you are charming.

    Reply  –  Edit

  6. So you’ve got the CD cover, all you need is the CD! And I know how much you enjoy making audio recordings. :)

    Reply  –  Edit

  7. Loved the pics…
    Abt the sun, how bt
    The sun in my hometown is the cloudiest;)

    Reply  –  Edit

  8. Nathan
    I also once went to Brighton on a lovely sunny day, so I know just the kind of experience you had. The city has the laid back feel of many coastal towns, but I also thought it was quite hip. I also love the train station with the high, slightly rounding ceiling. A great place, to spend a Bright-and shiny day.
    It looks like you had a professional photographer following you around all day.

    Reply  –  Edit

  9. Phoebe
    you’re so right tammy. i hate the sun in hk but find it much lovelier here. i’m coming to london the wkend of 13. wanna be in england from the beginning of the week…but still havent made up my mind where to stop! any recommendations? will you be around like 12 or so?

    Reply  –  Edit

  10. Phoebe: yes, let’s meet and have coffee! (Are you a tea person or a coffee person?) There are many many places to go here in London – I think it’d be better if you come on weekdays. There are too many people on the weekends and the tube doesn’t run normally….
    Nathan: I took most of the pictures! But you are right, he’s improving. But let me reiterate: it’s the sun! The sun charms up everything!
    Simon: okay I’ll use the small picture prominently in a future post.

    Reply  –  Edit

  11. Roy MAK

    Reply  –  Edit

  12. Tammy,
    You said “we” went to Brighton. So, who is the “we” in your life now? Perhaps I have not been keeping up with your blog enough lately.
    That main picture of you in the post is a very nice pic of you. You look very pretty in the photo.
    Isn’t the beach a bit cold at this time of year?

    Reply  –  Edit

  13. It looks like summer in your photos – and just one week after Oxford. Is it British weather or is our planet really warming up?
    Btw the photos are great – really nice composition!

    Reply  –  Edit

  14. Verner

    Reply  –  Edit

  15. tammy , ur photos are beautiful, which camera are u using ?=)

    Reply  –  Edit

  16. Hey…i like your portrait in the middle at right hand side as well…and the portrait of Jeff’s also nice ar…u always look young & sweet…so envious

    Reply  –  Edit

  17. Michelle
    Gorgeous photographs, Tammy.

    Reply  –  Edit

  18. Oh yes, what camera did you use? I want to know too.

    Reply  –  Edit

  19. Joey & Kevin: I was only using a small digital camera my sister, Crystal, gave me as a gift…. I didn’t do anything to the pictures – they are quite bright as they are. :)

    Reply  –  Edit

  20. Crystal Ho
    D相靚, 相入面的人更靚呀!!! ^0^

    Reply  –  Edit

Wish You Were Here? Postcards from the Future

“Wish You Were Here? Postcards from the Future” is an exhibition of fourteen digitally-transformed photomontages of recognisable London landmarks by Robert Graves and Didier Madoc-Jones showing at the Museum of London. These images depict the possible impact of climate change on the city. 
The most captivating postcard, for me, is “The Gherkin” (although the building is commonly known by this name, it is officially called “30 St Mary Axe”), pictured below. The image reminded me of public housing estates in Hong Kong (I am familiar with them) and one of the photographs in Alvin Pang’s series “We Belong Together” (published in Issue #12 of Cha). 
Click image to enlarge 
© Robert Graves and Didier Madoc-Jones.
The descriptions says:

The iconic City office tower is now high-rise housing. Originally converted into luxury flats, the block soon slid down the social scale to become a high-density, multi-occupation tower block. The Gherkin now worries the authorities as a potential slum.

Refugees from equatorial lands have moved north in search of food. They make their homes in the buildings that once drove world finance – before the collapse of the global economy.

The exhibition is on until 6 March 2011. Alternately, you can view all the postcards and learn more about the project, first conceived in 2008, at the “London Futures” website. 

Shakespeare’s curse

Click image to enlarge. | Picture taken on Tuesday 28 December 2010 | Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-on-Avon

Good frend for Jesus sake forebeare,
To digg the dust encloased heare;
Bleste be the man that spares thes stones,
And curst be he that moves my bones.

Merry Christmas to friends and family

“Champaign and cinnamon candle”. Photo courtesy of E & S
On Christmas Eve, two friends visited us and we spent a joyous afternoon and evening together, eating, drinking, chatting and playing games. Happy times. The picture above was taken by them.

May all our friends and family have a wonderful Christmas and a happy New Year.

This year, my Christmas song choices are this and this.

Written in Snow

Picture courtesy of JP.

                                         –by t

We extinguished two glasses of port,
drained the lamp,
transfigured from dressed to undressed.

Both times were revelatory.
The way you spoke then did not speak:
everything was newly sparse–
more new than sparse.

I do not remember it all, now,
what we said afterwards:
The virtues of simplified over traditional,

But we kept the blinds two-thirds drawn
and from your warm bed
we caught slivers of tree branches
in soft toques.

The snow had stopped and the road was icy
when we left. What took place already seemed hazy;
even your steadying arm around my shoulder
felt different.

Friendly people, we commented
on irrelevant things: the barber shop over there,
the dog park. Then I saw phrases fingered on cars,
unconvincingly hidden in snow. The calligrapher,
in haste, had chosen simplified.

It doesn’t matter, I guess.
New snow may fall, cover the slate.
And given time, all words melt.

This poem is now published in the March 2011 issue of Subliminal Interiors

My scarf visited its foster home

This post was originally written on 15th February, 2009.

My favourite scarf is long, long enough to be an afternoon blanket for two babies, and the remaining length draping all over the floor.

I only wear it when I care whom I am spending time with. Of course also when it is suitably cold.
I bought it in a second-hand shop in Oxford when I was studying there in the Summer of 2000. Yesterday I brought it back to its foster home for a short visit. It saw a few of its less attractive friends still hanging around, looking available.
J and I were walking lexisurely (and aimlessly) around Oxford, stopping every now and then for a coffee or a drink. He had hoped that I would show him the classrooms I studied in; and the places, shops and pubs I went to as a teenager. The best I could do was to keep saying, ‘hmmm this looks really familiar!’ and ‘hey I think I was here before!’
But it was with certainty when I saw this shop (pictured below) that I knew it was the shop. The partner urged me to take a picture this time, so I will always remember. We opened the door and the smell was distinctively Summer 2000.
Have you been?
Many things are unchanged: the postcard racks are still pushed to the same wall, the candy and chocolate bar close to the door, the second-hand fancy costumes taking up most of the space at the back of the shop. Big and small earrings, rings and bracelets covering the table.
Touching these small things, I felt that I was back to Oxford again, after all these years.
Updated on Wednesday 15 April 2009 at 11:40am: The extremely awesome Mike told me that the students’ hall we stayed in was called Warnock House – I’ll remember when I go to Oxford again and visit there!

Emerson on Stonehenge

Stonehenge, pictured by a member of the family in August, 2010.

Stonehenge, in virtue of the simplicity of its plan, and its good preservation, is as if new and recent; and, a thousand years hence, men will thank this age for the accurate history it will yet eliminate. We [Ralph Waldo Emerson and Thomas Carlyle] walked in and out, and took again and again a fresh look at the uncanny stones.

Emerson, The Collected Works (1856), p. 157

From N’gueniene to Dakar

My friend the graphomaniac bookworm sent me some wonderful pictures and below is one of them.

“This one was taken in Senegal, from inside a taxi, on the road from N’gueniene to Dakar. The colourful, hand-painted vehicle you can see outside looks just like most public transport vehicles there. April 2009.”


My friend took this picture. Be quiet — music is banned.

Kowloon Tong, 9:10am

At this point, the receptionist is late for work already.