Sunday, May 31, 2015
When Kara and Deborah arrived in London, our talk turned to shopping frighteningly quickly. "I want to get a shirt that says 'London' on it!" proclaimed Kara. I didn't hesitate to tell her exactly what I thought of that with my cutting reply of, "Ew, NO. You don't." (We're close enough that I can say stuff like that to her ... I think.)
She ended up getting a powder blue, featherweight Smythson journal at Fortnum & Mason instead. Much better.
I had to look up the word 'souvenir' before writing this post. Of course, I know what a 'souvenir' is, but what's the etmology of the word? What is its roots? According to the dictionary, a souvenir is a "token of remembrance; a memento". It's a French word derived from the Latin, 'subvenire', or "to come to mind". Not to get all Oxford don on you, but isn't that lovely?
To come to mind.
Though I've left my days of tacky keychains and fridge magnets behind, I still keep an eye out for souvenirs on my travels: a locally made straw bag in Vietnam, perhaps, or a hand-blown glass bead worn as a simple necklace in Santorini.
The following souvenirs I'd like to share with you are all tangible items that make the memories of places I've travelled to come to mind. When I look at them, I can close my eyes and remember exactly where I was, what I was wearing, how I felt, and the noises around me. I'm there again.
Pierre Hermé, Avenue de l'Opéra
Two years ago, John had a meeting in Paris, so we decided to make it into a long weekend, taking the Eurostar after work and arriving just in time for a carafe of red wine and steak frites. It was so nice. It was December, so we spent the following day Christmas shopping in Le Marais and admiring the Christmas windows at Printemps and Galleries Lafayette. Before I left, I wanted to take some macarons home with me: instead of stopping by Ladurée (which we have here in London), I dropped into Pierre Hermé instead (this was before the Covent Garden location opened!) and filled this sweet little box with macarons. Funny story: I selected a "truffle" macaron, confusing it with chocolate truffles, rather than the mushroom variety. Imagine my surprise when I bit into the pungent confection! Not my favorite combinations, I must admit.
Pierre Marcolini, Brussels
Not to be confused with Pierre Hermé, Pierre Marcolini is one of the most famous luxury chocolatiers in Brussels (and it's also now available in London!). When I visited the shop with Udita in February, we sipped thick, rich hot chocolate as we browsed the gorgeous chocolates. I loved the keepsake box by designer Olympia Le-Tan so much, Udita bought it for me when I wasn't looking, and filled it with beautiful macarons, which we enjoyed during the train ride back to London. This box reminds me of the short, but very sweet (literally and figuratively) trip with my best friend - our first international trip together. Like the little box from Pierre Hermé, it's perfect for keepsakes.
Barneville-Carteret, Normandy, France
That smooth stone in the background is a reminder of my first trip with John to his aunt's seaside summer home in Normandy. When we weren't grilling fresh mackerel on the BBQ and eating our weight in strawberries and double cream, we spent our days lying on the beach and reading aloud to each other from ... the final Harry Potter book! Ha - I have a hard time admitting that even now. It can be our little secret! I was still studying at York then, and John was working in Paris, I think, so it was a welcome relief from our time spent apart. It was the last trip his dear Uncle Chris (whom I was close to, and who had first introduced me to the wonders of London) took with us before he passed away from cancer. When I hold that flat, smooth stone, it fits perfectly in the palm of my hand - it feels safe.
Galle Fort, Sri Lanka
Shortly after we arrived in Galle Fort, it began to pour with rain. Mind you, it was about 30 degrees (Celsius!) outside, so it felt hot and sticky ... and wet. We ducked into a shop, where I found these vintage postcards, which called Sri Lanka by its colonial name, "Ceylon". I loved the colors of the prints so much, I bought four of them and framed them when I got home to London, intending to display them as a set of four. These remind me of our life-changing visit to Sri Lanka, where I visited a place that I never wanted to leave, and was left with memories like: eating the freshest papaya for breakfast, gently swaying in a hammock under a palm tree, and the screensaver-esque beach views.
Fifth Avenue, New York, New York
One of the most indulgent trips I've ever taken was to New York City - not because of the destination (well, that too), but because of the nature of the trip. John (again) had a meeting there and suggested that I join him for a long weekend. His meeting wasn't confirmed until Wednesday, so I bought my plane ticket on Thursday and got on the plane on Friday. Crazy, right? We stayed at a gorgeous hotel in Midtown Manhattan, right on Fifth Avenue. On Monday, while he had meetings, I met a friend for coffee and spent way too long in Bergdorf Goodman and Sephora, trying on Prada heels and testing out the new (at the time) Christian Louboutin nail polishes. I felt exactly like Rebecca Bloomwood from Confessions of a Shopaholic (minus the credit card debt!). Finally, I ventured into Lord & Taylor, where I ended up buying these adorable, gold-trimmed loafers with patent and snakeskin leather detail. Sadly, London sidewalks have wrecked them only eight months later, but I still love them - and they still remind me of a time when I felt carefree and very, very spoiled.
What comes to mind when you look at your favorite souvenir? How do you feel when you look at it? What do you remember? Let me know in the comments below!
Or, if you're feeling inspired, write your own post and add it to the link-up widget below.
Thursday, May 28, 2015
When my friends visited me in London a few weeks ago, something extraordinary happened: I saw London through their eyes (as a visitor) rather than my own (as a resident). Curious, they asked questions about everything - from how to flag down a bus to the CCTV cameras on the street - and suddenly, everything felt new to me again. I stopped marching around on autopilot and started looking up, down, and all around me.
It was a beautiful, refreshing experience.
More than anything, however, showing my friends around the place I now call my "hometown" instilled a sense of pride that I hadn't felt before.
Here are a few (unapologetically superficial!) reasons why:
London is stunning in the sunshine.
While a glimpse of the sun can be rare (it's England, after all), when it comes out - there's no denying that the city is at its aesthetic best. I'd forgotten about this gorgeous view of Southbank from the corner of Westminster Bridge. Of course, why else would I ever visit the overcrowded, busy corner on a "normal" day?
We have some of the most incredible architecture in the world.
This is one of my favorite ways to see St. Paul's: on the way up in the elevator at One New Change (there's a fantastic rooftop viewing platform at the top where you can get a panoramic view of the city - not many people know about it!). I love the reflection of the cathedral against the dark, plated glass of the modern shopping center. I'm an architect's daughter: whenever my dad visits, he's in full sketch-mode heaven!
Our museums are free and open to the public.
I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I work near the British Museum ... as well as the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery. Why? Because I hardly ever visit, despite them being very nearly literally on my doorstep. But I popped into the National Gallery with Kara during her last few hours in London and found it magical to sit in front of John Donne's portrait for a few minutes in silence - taking in the fact that we were surrounded by original pieces of artwork dating back hundreds and hundreds of years.
London is breathtakingly beautiful from above.
I remember my dear friend Kara getting teary eyed as we sat down for brunch at Duck & Waffle - the spectacular views (and food!) there can be so overwhelming! Whenever I visit a new city, I love to see it from above - whether that's from a rooftop bar, or at the tippity-top of a museum or landmark. It gives you a terrific sense of scope and I love the way the traffic crawls along like tiny insects down below.
The city is rich with history and tradition.
Where else can you finish reading Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, attend the stage production, and visit the place where Thomas Cromwell was executed - all in the same day? As an American, this is a biggie for me (even though, of the two of us, John's the real history buff!), particularly since I'm from the West Coast, where everything is still relatively "new". I used to marvel at the history of my East Coast college (founded in 1837), but then I went to study abroad at Oxford and, well, I couldn't even begin to grasp or to comprehend the legacy of the buildings, the colleges, the whole city, for that matter.
We have gorgeous green spaces (both indoors and out!).
One comment that surprised me the most from Deborah and Kara was just how green London seemed to them. Although I didn't get a chance to take them to any of the amazing parks in the city, they commented on the pretty tree-lined streets of where I currently live and the fact that so many people keep their front yards (or "gardens") pristine and pretty with roses and box hedges. Or even just the fact that, driving around the City, buildings had hanging plants and floral displays embedded into the facades and doorways. It's something I take for granted, but I am so glad that London has its pretty, green spots. It's a welcome relief to escape the urban, concrete jungle of highrises and buildings for picnics in Green Park or a stroll around London Fields.
These snapshots only touch the surface of why I love living in this amazing city. Despite the negative comments I often receive in the US when I reveal that London is my now-hometown, it's a place that I am so damn lucky to have enjoyed for so many years - particularly in my early 20s.
What do you love about the place where you live?
This post was part of the new London Link-Up hosted by London-based bloggers Lauren and Amy. Head over to their blogs to read more about what makes London so special to them!
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
I recently changed the settings on my Instagram profile from private to public; previously, users would send a follow request and I'd vet that person, depending on whether or not I knew them (whether IRL or through blogging or another social channel), and either accept or decline the request.
Initially, I'd decided to make my photos private for a variety of reasons: I used to post photos of my baby niece and family members when I'd visit (which I feel uncomfortable about sharing without limits), and I was too lazy to make a personal account for my "personal" photos and another for my "blog" photos. After all, this blog is ... well, personal. And since the majority of my photos on Instagram are an extension of this blog, I felt that I wanted (and was ready) to share, in order to widen my audience.
Which brings me to the question at hand: when does revealing personal information become revealing too much personal information?
Over lunch with my friend Jodi the other day, she mentioned something that stuck with me - something that I've been thinking of since we met. "I really admire how willing you are to share so much of yourself on your blog," she said, in between bites of her ham and cheese croissant. I smiled outwardly, but panicked on the inside. Do I share too much? Do I overshare?
I'm a sharer. Always have been, always will be. Despite the cautioning of my parents, the emotionally-repressed Chinese culture I come from, the stiff-upper-lip attitude of the British society I entered into ... I'm a talker. This doesn't mean I share everything, of course. I'm selective.
But I've always been a firm believer that - in order to gain someone's trust (or interest, even), you have to be prepared to make yourself (even the smallest of iotas) vulnerable.
Like many other bloggers, I visit my Google Analytics page regularly. Not obsessively, but curiously. I'm interested to see which of my posts "speak" to readers - and which they tend to gloss over or ignore.
The most popular posts? Not the ones about new restaurants or shoes or fancy candles or trips to the beach, but rather, the posts about grief, about dread, about homesickness, or about expat life. These posts are honest; they're authentic, they're raw, and they're real. (Not that the ones about new restaurants and fancy candles aren't, but you can only be so real, raw, and authentic about pork belly and Diptyque, you know what I mean?)
And so, this is my conundrum: I've always wanted to write for magazines. I've got a lot on my mind and I want to say it. But I'm so afraid to make what's private public. I can write about almond milk lattes, no problem, but when it comes to real writing - all that dark, scary, often unhappy stuff that brings out the best writing in me - I'm scared. I'm scared to make myself that vulnerable; to share too much.
So, if you write, or you blog, where do you draw the line between what's private and what to make public? I'd love to know.
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
Hello! How was your weekend? We had a long one here in the UK (and in the US) - John was watching the cricket at Lord's on Saturday and I tried to catch the last of Chelsea in Bloom (and totally failed, as it was raining and half of the floral displays had clumps of dirt trying to cling on for dear life), but on Sunday, we managed to squeeze in a few hours at the Foodies Festival in Syon Park before John had to leave for Helsinki on a business trip. I was super lucky and managed to score two tickets to the festival via a contest that Yelp was running on Twitter, so we made the hike from North London to the beautiful park in West London. I hadn't let anything pass my lips that morning, so by the time we reached the festival at 1 p.m., I had a major case of "hanger" - you know, hunger-induced anger (sorry, John!).
The vibe at the festival was buzzing - with families (and dogs!) abound. Despite the presence of a Pimm's tent, I had chicken drumsticks for eyes by this point, so I charged about aimlessly in search of the most filling, outrageous meal I could find ...
Handing out double-stuffed hot dogs from the window of a vintage 1966 Bedford camper van just might be the classiest version of a food truck that I've ever seen.
After wrangling with the unruly macaroni and cheese (with perfectly al dente pasta, I'll add!) and smashing down the delicous herbed pork sausage sandwiched between the brioche bun, my blood sugar levels still hadn't quite been restored, so I went charging around again in search of our next conquest, all at the same time yelling at John for not giving me enough time to take the photos I wanted (helpful, and not at all rude, right?).
After making a couple of loops around the festival, we finally settled on a stall that had quite an exciting looking menu (sadly, we missed out on the rainbow fries, but I'm still intrigued!):
The Wandering Bun's pork belly bun with Thai mayo and slaw filling looked downright mouthwatering. I watched them put together two of these famous buns before deciding that I needed one ASAP (sidenote: check out the sheer intensity of the mayo-squeezing down there ... I mean, I seriously need to adopt that level of concentration in the kitchen, rather than the haphazard aim-and-misfire method that I typically employ).
But the bun itself ... oh my goodness. Some seriously intense flavors, with an interesting tangy, chilli kick! That crunchy slaw was epic, btw.
But I skipped a step. In between "courses", I'd stopped by The Brownie Bar to ogle their selection of brownies. Question: when asked to choose between over 30 different flavors, including salted caramel, millionaire, lemon meringue blondie (!!!), and s'mores ... which would you go for?? I almost always pick salted caramel anything, so went with that in this instance.
We also bought one of these incredible brownie-stuffed cookies ... yep, you read that correctly: a brownie within a cookie.
It just had to be done. The brownie was lovely and gooey, encased by a soft and chewy chocolate chip cookie. Must. Find. Recipe.
By now, my blood sugar levels had satisfactorily restored themselves, but I couldn't help purchasing a little tub of toffee waffle hazlenut ice cream from Simply Ice Cream, which is based in Kent.
Throughout the day, there were food demonstrations being given by top chefs and cocktail-making masterclasses ... all which looked interesting and fun. If we had more time (and - let's be honest - had I been in less of a mission to quell my hanger), I might have sat down to participate. But I was too busy stuffing my face with brownie-cookies (or, "brown-kie", as someone suggested over on Instagram?) instead.
Honestly? I would have liked to see a few more adventurous recipes and items on the menu at the Foodies Festival - some were pretty run-of-the-mill items, such as hog roasts and paella. I think we're pretty spoiled with the food markets near us in Dalston/East London e.g. Broadway and Netil Markets in London Fields and Sunday (Up)Market near Brick Lane/Spitalfields.
What's the best food festival you've ever been to? I really liked Smorgasburg in Broolyn, which is self-described "flea food market", rather than a festival, though I've been to Bite of Seattle in the past, which was a lot of fun too (not to mention, free!).
Thursday, May 21, 2015
If you're reading this right now, then I'll bet you're either:
a) a friend
b) a fellow blogger
c) a combination of the above
d) none of the above
(e) my mom.
And, I'll also bet that my blog is one of five, ten, or fifteen other blogs you'll visit on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Right? (Unless you're my mom, who only reads mine, duh.)
You might regularly visit a beauty blog that you love, a food blog you're obsessed with, a travel blog for inspiration, a fashion blog that's just fun, or a lifestyle blog that's pretty.
But what this blog doesn't have is a niche. Food, travel, shoes, expat stories, whining (and wining!), Bach ... I'll write about whatever comes to mind (specifically, whatever comes to mind while shaving my legs in the shower because - I'll tell ya - that's prime time for inspiration).
I can't write a blog about The Best Spots for Truffle Scrambled Eggs in London. I can't write a blog about Pointy-Toed T-Strap Shoes (they are very in right now, Instagram tells me). I can't dedicate an entire blog to perfume or art or tiny aluminum sculptures of geese (I'm staring at one right now).
It's just not me. It's not my voice.
Five years ago, I started writing this blog to help me figure out whether I wanted to live in the US or the UK. I thought it'd help me make up my mind (it didn't). I called it "Angloyankophile", because I wanted to highlight the best of both worlds. I wrote about cakes and nice Irish tube drivers and books.
Fast forward five years later, I've amassed a few more followers (other than my mom), gained recognition in the Travel category at the UK Blog Awards, worked with some incredible brands and companies, and - most importantly - made some very special friends.
But still, I attend blogging workshops and events - Muji pen poised above the pages of my Moleskine journal, ready to absorb, ready to learn - and I'm crushed when the first words out of the organizers' mouths are, "Get a niche. Stop whatever you're doing and get a niche. You'll never be successful otherwise."
And, you know, I'm not writing this blog to be successful. But I'd be lying if I said that I didn't want anyone to read my words either.
I try to post 3-4 times a week. If I wrote that blog on tiny aluminum sculptures of geese, I'd probably post once a month. "Drop the sarcasm," I hear you say. Okay, I will. But even if I wrote a blog about vegan beauty products, for example, just how many posts could I realistically write about vegan beauty products per week? In an online arena that is saturated - I mean, dripping like the french fry fat at the bottom of your McDonald's cardboard french fry holder (sorry for the gross analogy) - with beauty blogs?
And that brings me to my next point: the sheer volume of bloggers that exist.
Sometimes, I become so disheartened about blogging. I'm a teeny, tiny drop in what feels like an infinite ocean. According to this 2012 survey, there were an estimated 31 million bloggers in the US alone. Now, just think about that number and imagine how it would be multiplied worldwide - and we're now in 2015.
But then I have to remember my audience - and I was thinking about this for a while. My mom might read anything that I write (even if it's about tiny aluminum sculptures of geese), but you probably wouldn't, unless it was interesting, right?
And I don't want to alienate any readers. I try to make my posts as widely appealing as possible: regardless of age, gender, geography, ethnicity, or where you're at in life. Sometimes I fail at that. I know, and I'm sorry.
But I read these lovely comments below, and the emails I get - from Brussels to Arizona to Seattle to San Diego to Hong Kong; from 20-something students to 60-something women (HI MOM! SORRY I REVEALED YOUR AGE! SORT OF!) and I think, no. I don't want to "go niche".
Goodbye, success; hello, my small group of lovely readers.
I'm so glad to have you here.
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
I'm an all-or-nothing type of person; I don't do things by halves. Blame it on my American enthusiasm, but I basically want everything to be the best ever - like, all the time. So when my friends made the long journeys from their respective corners of the US, I wanted them to have the best time.
So I took them to brunch at Duck & Waffle - a restaurant on the 40th floor of Heron Tower which, despite being blogged/Instagrammed/toured to death - saves itself from clichéd status because of its genuinely innovative and delicious food, not to mention its unsurpassed views of the city.
I was in a rotten mood when we headed out - mainly because it had begun to pour outside. Not drizzle, but pour. By the time our cab dropped us off to the entrance and we began our ascent to the top in the glass elevator, though ... the clouds parted. It looked incredible.
On my last visit to Duck & Waffle, John and I sat at this table:
Can I just say? Anyone who walks into the restaurant and has an air of, "Ok, cool, whatevs," about the view is such a dummy. There's just no point in playing it cool. In fact, I think I literally clapped my hands together when the hostess said, "We reserved a beautiful table for you!" and showed us to our gorgeous booth, which directly faced the Gherkin.
We ordered coffee and spent forever deliberating over the menu - alternating between reading the mouth-watering descriptions (peanut butter, bananas brulee, and chantilly cream, anyone?) and glancing up at the spectacular view in front of us.
Finally, we settled on this:
For me, the Full Elvis: waffles with the aforementioned peanut butter, bananas brulee (you can crack the sugar on the top of the banana with a spoon, just as you would do with creme brulee - HOW COOL IS THAT?!), chantilly cream, and "all the trimmings".
Kara fell head-over-heels for her duck egg en cocotte, with its soldiers to dip into the runny eggs and truffle shavings. And would you blame her?
Then, of course, we all had to share this - Duck & Waffle's signature dish:
It was even better than I'd remembered!
After having our fill of the amazing food, we sat around talking (the staff there are lovely - they leave you alone to chat and enjoy the view, until you're ready to leave ... of course, it probably helped that we were there on a fairly quiet weekday!) before making a pit stop for photo opportunities in the reception/bar area.
Then, thinking that we hadn't had enough of the gorgeous views of London yet, I marched us toward 20 Fenchurch Street, the home of Sky Garden, where we underwent some serious, airport-style security checks before being transported to this magical place:
It was fun to look out the windows and to retrace our steps from the day before ... our walk from Borough Market, to Tate Modern, to St. Paul's, then Covent Garden ... we realized (from above) that we'd walked a lot!
Finally, I usually avoid posting photos of myself/friends/family on this blog, but couldn't resist this ... which will definitely be framed and looked upon for years ahead.
Love these girls and their smiles. The best, the best, the best.
Have you been to Duck & Waffle or Sky Garden? What did you think?
Monday, May 18, 2015
Happy Monday. How was your weekend? I was just scrolling through the photos (again!) from my friends' visit last week and thinking about putting together a photobook of their trip to make the memories really last.
Before they arrived in London, I'd planned a surprise trip to Oxford, with a stay in Woodstock and visit to Blenheim Palace - just so we could get out of London and also so that they could have a sneak peek at what the English countryside is like.
I also wanted to show them around Oxford because it's a special place for me: I studied abroad there as an undergraduate at St. Catherine's College, which is where John and I met (and then subsequently held one of our two transatlantic wedding receptions!).
We stayed in sweet little town called Woodstock, which is about a 20-minute drive outside of Oxford, and where I prefer to stay when I'm visiting Oxford with friends or family. I chose it for its proximity to Blenheim Palace (one of my favorite places in the world!), and also for its quaint, village-feel.
I'd love to share some photos with you, if you'd like to see!
When we arrived in Woodstock, I was starving, so we dropped off our bags and sat down for some cream tea (and a tiffin bar for Deborah!) before taking the bus to Oxford city centre to explore some colleges and familiar sights, like the Radcliffe Camera, Sheldonian Theatre, and Bodleian Library.
It was hard to believe that John and I met here over 10 years ago!
If you're familiar with Oxford and haven't visited the Bodleian recently, the new Weston Library has just opened (it was covered in scaffolding during my and John's time there as students) and I am so glad that we stumbled in - the most amazing exhibition is on at the moment called, Marks of Genius, featuring original manuscripts and first folios by Jane Austen, Kafka, Donne, Shakespeare, Marlowe, Jonson and so, so much more. It's an English (and History) major's dream come true!
After spending far too much time gawking over the original letters that inspired The Wind in the Willows, we wandered to New College and admired their beautiful gardens and peaceful cloisters.
Even though it was the weekend, very few students were around, so we walked around in silence, listening to the breeze run through the trees. It was blissful.
The sky had been a little grey and threatening to rain, but by the time we'd left New College, it brightened up a bit, so we decided to ... go punting. Have you been before? I used to go with John and his friends in the summer, especially after exam time. We'd usually grab some Pimm's and snacks and grab boats from Magdalen College, spending all afternoon floating along the Cherwell.
I'd never fallen in, but did deliberately jump into the river once ... and had to be hoisted back into the boat by one of our friends!
John proved to be an expert punter that weekend, though we all had a try: Kara did pretty well, I kept steering us into the wall, and Deborah almost fell off - grabbing a tree branch (I kid you not!) to save herself. It was hilarious and stressful all at the same time. So glad that John was there to help! Otherwise, I'm not sure what kind of trouble we would have gotten ourselves into ... I think I was much better at doing this 10 years ago than I was last weekend.
After a yummy pub dinner, John had to go back to London for work the next day (boo!) but I stayed on with Deborah and Kara. We ate chocolate and cookies in bed until late and watched a movie before I finally decided to clamber into bed in my own room next door ... which is when the laughter started. I'm not sure who started what, but all I could hear was hysterical cackling coming through the walls next door in some kind of tag-team sychronization. Then I'd get a text telling me what happened and I'd start howling with laughter ... I'm really surprised that we didn't get a knock on the door from hotel management. We were all too hyper to sleep that night.
The next day, we ordered some sandwiches and took them to Blenheim Palace, where we also scored a student discount (YAAASSS!) on our tickets (not because we looked like students, mind you, but just because the ticket guy was being extra nice).
If you haven't been, Blenheim Palace (and its grounds) is one of those places that's picture perfect no matter where you look. I like to bring visitors from out of town, because I'm certain that there's really nothing quite like it anywhere else in the world. I've been about four or five times (the first was when John took me on my last day in Oxford all those years ago ... I remember it being such a happy but sad time all at once!) and it's just as magical every single time. I felt so grateful to be able to share the experience with my friends.
We walked until our feet were ready to fall off and managed to catch the local bus back to Oxford, where we took another bus back to London ... and snoozed on the way back.
It was the happiest time; the best time.
Have you ever planned a surprise trip for your friends or family? I'm the worst at keeping secrets! I almost gave the location away about 5 different times. Oops!