Monday, March 16, 2015

Thursday, January 15, 2015


I have a new (virtual) home! It's not quite furnished yet, but I've done up the Blog Room quite a lot and it's not bad to look at, just a few bean bags missing...

Check us out - and update your feeds! I will take this blog down soon, so make sure you don't miss out. I love visitors and I always have chocolate.

Thank you for the love these past eight-ish years :)

Friday, October 10, 2014

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


you can hum tunes with me now
and sometimes, the same music
courses through both our veins
sometimes at the same time
so i can't tell the difference
between your songs and mine

two colours speak to me now
as i fill up the cracks
in the empty winter
black for absence, frozen haze
white for presence, no rainbow
cuts through our days

and i think i was
an unanswered question
my presence in the spaces
between people, a spark
my absence unnoticed
a shadow in the dark

still this absent presence
with its long fingers of smoke
draws spectres from dreary hope
dreams from nightmares, from words
and touching two-coloured piano keys
draws songs from silence, no blackbirds

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

One day in Budapest

(The eleventh instalment of the Backpacking with a Suitcase series, in which I document my travels across Europe in July 2012. Click on the pictures to enlarge.)

The bus reached Budapest past 8pm, but the day was still bright. One of the great things about Europe in the summer. Here, too, I faced a language barrier - even more so than Prague - and hardly anyone spoke English. I finally asked a group of (what appeared to be) students for directions to the nearest metro station. The guards who checked my ticket didn't speak English either, and their only response to my inquiries about validating the ticket was "super!" (su-pair) I took their word for it.

The directions on my hostel (Paprika) booking were indeed "super", and I found it with ease, with only one stop at a stately-looking McDonald's to buy dinner (sigh - it was getting late and I wasn't sure where I'd venture alone to find food, so I took my chance). The hostel was very different from any of the others I stayed at - they strive to be more informal and friendly, while not compromising on quality. It's situated in a huge, old residential building in which it occupies an "apartment" (?), so it's small - you enter through the kitchen and the living room is full of people (when they're not out partying or pub crawling together) who all seem to know each other like one big family. A bit too intimate for me, especially because I was alone, to be in a room full of people I didn't know - but that said, I interacted with and got to know some really nice people and would have probably got used to it if I had stayed longer. I was only in Budapest for one night because I got the cheapest flight back to London from there. (Definitely worth another visit.) 

What do you do if you're in a city only for a few hours? Take a three-hour walking tour, of course. I hadn't planned on this, but my Taiwanese roommates were going for one and I joined them, which turned out to be a great decision. On my own, I probably would have ended up seeing less than half the places, getting lost a lot, and missing out on little nuggets of interesting information about Hungary that our guides were very generous with. Moreover, the tour was "free" (with a request for donations).

The meeting point

Budapest unified to become a single city on 17 November 1873, occupying both banks of the river Danube: Buda and Pest. A number of bridges, the Chain Bridge being the largest and most beautiful, link Buda and Pest. Pest is pronounced "pesht".

Looking out on Pest from Buda - and the Chain Bridge

Occasionally, during the tour, we'd sit down and have a mini history or Hungarian lesson (one of the toughest languages to learn, apparently, because it has no relation to any other language); occasionally, we'd rub a statue for good luck. After exploring Pest, we walked across the Chain Bridge and up to Buda Castle, which looks like something out of a fairytale. 

Buda Castle

The tour culminated at the castle, after we'd witnessed the changing of the guard and taken a group photo. Everyone then parted ways and I decided to explore by myself for the next few hours, before heading back to the hostel for my luggage.

Ice creams in Budapest are the BEST - cheap and with cookies or huge chocolate chunks embedded in them. I sat by the Fisherman's Bastion to enjoy one, and also got treated to some beautiful Hungarian music. Also spied a busker who "played" (or pretended to) what seemed to be a wooden dish and spoon without any strings - making funny "music" with his mouth. I left some change in his case. It wore glasses.

I walked back through very quaint streets; I got lost but all I needed to do was follow the Danube. 

The Parliament building was modelled on Westminster Abbey.

I next visited the Dohány Street Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Europe. I've never been to one before, it was absolutely beautiful.

Dohány Street Synagogue

I got lost on the way to the famed Opera House.

The Opera House

I made a friend at the airport. She had daughters my age; we had the best time all the way to London talking about my dissertation and her job and finding "cheap" postcards at Budapest airport and laughing at the lifeguard illustrations on the plane safety manual.

I kept leaning over the guy in the window seat to get a glimpse of the night view during the take-off. He was reading A Midsummer Night's Dream and probably regretting his chosen seat. The view was stunning.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Humans of Vienna

(The tenth instalment of the Backpacking with a Suitcase series, in which I document my travels across Europe in July 2012. Click on the pictures to enlarge.)

The bus made a stop in Brno, Czech Republic, on its way to Vienna. I got off at the station to buy something to eat, spending the last of my Czech Koruna, which I'd kept aside as souvenirs. Back on the bus, a young man sat next to me in lieu of the older gentleman I had started the journey with. He read Memoirs of a Geisha in German, and watched a Harry Potter movie, and I suspect he may have been fun to talk to if he had taken his headphones off for a few seconds. I stared out the window and took shaky videos of the dazzling sunflower fields and gave him a life-story. Do you ever do that? Give strangers a story, imagine what their life must be like, where they've been, where they're going?



The hostel was in Hütteldorf, slightly far out from the city centre (the last stop on the U-Bahn) but a really lovely suburban area. I got lost, despite the clear directions, because that's what I do, but a kindly man helped me out. I huffed and puffed on the uphill(ish) climb, and wasn't disappointed; the room, to be shared with five others, was charming, and this hostel served the best, hugest breakfast spread as far as hostels go. My Russian roommate was easy to befriend once we started talking. She was in Vienna for an opera master class for two weeks. She braided her hair in a zillion braids as I watched from the corner of my eye, which turned into the most gorgeous curls the next morning. She told me I ate like a bird, and we talked about fellow travellers, careers and asthma.

My interaction with the other roommates was even more fleeting: a Chinese girl who was a student in Gent and let me borrow her laptop to copy my photos onto a disk, all the while chatting pleasantly; an American mother-daughter duo that didn't speak to me once till I gave away my bottle of (accidentally bought) sparkling water (the most pointless drink in the world?) to the mom, who then asked me about my trip and told me about theirs. And then we all went our separate ways. Maybe our paths will cross again - you never know with travellers.



Just a couple of U-Bahn stops from Hütteldorf is the Schönbrunn Palace, where I was due to attend a (kiddie version, because it's cheaper, of a) marionette theatre performance of Mozart's The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte). I was sleepy from the journey, had the worst seat imaginable - last row corner - and hungry (to quell this, I had taken the liberty of ordering a "waffle" at the cafe which turned out to be one of these forlorn things). A family of four sat in the vicinity, the dad and kids in the row in front of me and the very anxious-fidgety mother next to me. They were beautiful, and the parents spoke English to their kids, but they also (all) knew German perfectly, and I spent far too much time wondering how that worked. At one point the mum asked me something, and her daughter exclaimed "She speaks English!" in wonderment. I understood less of the performance than I'd thought, though it was stunning. I also dozed a little. Then I took a solitary walk through Schönbrunn's magnificent gardens.


Starvation is not fun. The fact that pretty much everything is closed on weekends, combined with my woeful (on that occasion) map-reading skills, meant that I couldn't find any food near the hostel. I was starting to think I'd have to take the train back towards the city centre when I saw two boys walking up the road, eating takeout noodles. I made a beeline for them. "HI, where'd you get THOSE?" "At the station!" The station? How had I missed food at the station? Back I went, passing a lady with a giant pizza slice on the way and sure enough, there it was. I started to order my noodles in German, but got caught out. "Are you Indian?" (sigh) "Yep." He was more chatty the next day when I returned for one of the huge pizza slices, speaking to me in Hindi (!), telling me he was from Afghanistan, but had learned Hindi from watching Bollywood movies and from Indian colleagues when he worked in Dubai. And now here he was, working in Vienna and speaking perfect German. Some people make you feel like you haven't lived at all.

On both evenings, I took my dinner to a nearby park, perched on the bench, and enjoyed the traquility, feeling almost free of the constraints of time itself. Almost.

The park bench and the pizza 

Then there was the boy who laughed.

It was raining on Sunday morning, and I was sitting on a couch in the hostel surrounded by a few strangers. He came up to us and said hi, and no one responded except me. He sat down and stared into the distance, and occasionally he would laugh. He didn't talk to anyone - or no one talked to him.

When it stopped raining, I walked to Hütteldorf station and saw him coming up the escalator while I waited for the U-Bahn. I didn't much feel like chatting, but he'd seen me and there was nowhere to go. So I replied to his smile with one of my own, and he tried to make conversation in broken English. He was from Slovakia, and he said he spoke better German than English.

"Ich kann Deutsch," I told him, thereby squashing a great excuse to stop talking. He seemed nice enough, and now conversed in broken German, but by this point the paranoid Delhi girl in me had taken over and the laughter scared me. I began to grow colder. When I got down, he didn't follow.

Later, I told my roommate about him. "I've spoken to him too," she said. "He's very peaceful."


At one of the U-Bahn stations was a woman busker who sat on the steps and sang. She looked young and beautiful. She had no instruments, only a hauntingly beautiful voice. I couldn't understand the words of the song, but that didn't stop them from moving me. I stared at her (and the policeman trying to get her to leave), transfixed as the train moved away.



Somewhere in the midst of checking out all the places where Before Sunrise was filmed, losing my precious notes near the Museums Quartier, desperately retracing my steps and finding the papers miraculously nestled beside a staircase, eating Frankfurters and Apfelstrudel and admiring the blue sky, I found myself staring at a golden statue in Neuer Markt. Beside it, a man created the most glorious music from his Glockenspiel (I think) and voice.

The golden statue had some sort of net over it, and as I searched for the best angle for my photo, a voice chimed in to advise me. It belonged to a Mumbaikar now living in Melbourne, and led to some pleasant chatting before we both went our ways.


On the U-Bahn to Friedensbrücke, I sat opposite an old hag. I don't normally use that word to describe people, nor any of the other words that I actually use for her in my head, but she was huge and spotted and looked a lot like an old Marge Dursley without any dogs, and she punched my head on her way out. I saw her humungous fist come at my temple from the corner of my eye, and she was gone before I could react. I spent the rest of my trip keeping a safe distance from old women.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Writing Updates | April - May 2014

A round up of the articles and interviews I've done for Art Radar in the last two months.

Kookoo and Ku, ‘Welcome 2014′, 2014, spray paint. Image courtesy Kookoo Ramos.

THE PHILIPPINES | Manila's mean streets: The Filipino Street Art Project

A three-part series on a very cool project documenting street art in and around Manila. Part 1 is a general introduction, part 2 is an interview with the founders, and part 3 introduces seven exciting Filipino street artists.

SENEGAL | 10 African artists to know at Dak'Art 2014

The main exhibit at Dak'Art features artists from African/diaspora working across various media, and I picked 10 of my favourites.

HONG KONG | Artist Nadim Abbas talks bunkers, cocktails and weevils - interview

Nadim Abbas told me about the art scene in Hong Kong, his year so far and what lies ahead, and his big project at Art Basel Hong Kong - the sci-fi inspired Art Bar called "Apocalypse Postponed".

BEIJING | Serenading visitor's at Lee Mingwei's first Beijing show

Lee Mingwei is a unique artist whose past exhibitions include visitors sleeping over with the artist at the museum, and handing out flowers to strangers. In "Sonic Blossom", museum visitors are asked a question and if they agree, serenaded by an opera singer.

AUSTRALIA/NEW ZEALAND | "My Country": Indigenous Australian art in Auckland

An exhibition called "My Country" by indigenous contemporary artists - in pictures. Some very interesting work here, using media as diverse as emu feathers and text art, and making a strong political/historical comment.

TAIWAN | Taiwan's first "Art Bank" opens in Taichung

Seriously, it's an art bank. They loan How cool is that? It features only local artists, since the idea is to promote them through this initiative, and the art takes turns to be housed in big fancy buildings in Taiwan as well as diplomatic buildings internationally.

JAPAN | Yokohama Triennale announces artists for 2014 edition

The Triennale begins in August and it has some very interesting approaches, including the entire layout of the triennale being like a book - the various exhibitions are named "Chapters" and everything.

HONG KONG | Sovereign Asian Art Prize 2014: Hong Kong's Adrian Wong wins top award

This is the first time the top prize went to a sculptor (no wonder Wong was so surprised), though not the first time it went to an artist from Hong Kong.

HONG KONG | Para Site conference on performance art

This year's conference focused on performance art, and I live streamed and summarised two talks: one by Gabi Ngcobo on historical legacies and another on performance art in the museum.

RUSSIA | The V&A's Islamic art collection goes on tour in Russia

The Jameel Prize finalist exhibition heads to Kazan (a first) and Moscow as part of the UK Russia Year of Culture.

MISCELLANEOUS | Art Basel Hong Kong 2014: First time galleries prepare for the fair

I asked 4 galleries from Australia and Europe what they were taking to the fair and what they hoped to achieve.

And somewhere in the midst of all these, this blog turned seven.