Island Morning. We wake up in the loveliest guest room – comfy bed, intriguing artwork on the walls, hot shower with expensive skin and hair care products. Walk downstairs, where the baby is laughing, soft music is playing, and the maid is preparing our hot oatmeal with a generous sprinkle of sultanas, sliced banana and agave syrup. Train into town – my boyfriend goes straight to his (toy) conference, and I check into our design-led hotel…
Tuve. Situated in a gritty, cool, multi-coloured street below a flyover road in Causeway Bay, the dark, metallic hotel facade doesn’t call much attention to itself. ‘Cold and lonely‘, the boutique hotel is absolutely beautiful and comfortable in my Scandinavian eyes – timeless minimalist design, a deep quietness, everything held in concrete, raw wood, warm metals and white fabric, all natural elements, spacious rooms and bathrooms, with luxurious subtle scents and amenities, an ambience that gives you room to think … very, very nice. Philosophy keywords: severe, nuanced, stark, textured, shadow, light, intellect/philosophy/nature in dialogue, harmony, gentle vacuum, no boundaries, sensual and poetic, a utopian sentiment, timeless, placeless, genderless, meditation, rest, purity.
Cafe Artisan. Meander around the area, which is a bit rougher than Central but still appealing, find a hip (Australian) coffee shop, from which I work all morning to sleepy, peaceful music.
Barre Bootcamp. In the evening, I go for a class at the original Barre2barre studio, hidden away above a 7-Eleven in a dingy corner building in Central, by no means as nicely decked out as ‘my’ studio (which was designed by a Danish interior stylist), and the training is also a lot less hard. But it’s still a great experience – I’m greeted warmly by the cheerful teacher; it’s fun to feel I belong somewhere in a foreign city; it’s soothing to be back at the barre and to use my body in a way I’ve come to love after more than two weeks’ break.
Yardbird. After the training, I trot through the steep, narrow streets on my own (my boyfriend has a business dinner), enjoying some alone time, walking where we walked together and remembering his anecdotes about this and that, towards a hip restaurant that ‘everyone’ has recommended (and which opens soon in Singapore too). It’s packed, and I feel lucky to get a seat at the shiny steel bar, chatting with the bartenders and waiters as I enjoy my first ever KFC – Korean Fried Cauliflower – and a house-made sparkling yuzu soda. Both so delicious. Cab home, hot shower, FaceTime with my mum. My boyfriend comes in late, wearing a white dress shirt, and opens a cold Japanese beer from the mini bar.
Omotesando Koffee. As we’re waiting for our breakfast to be served at a Le Pain Quotidien half-way between Causeway Bay and Central, my boyfriend cuts through my gold-tinted stories about good old hungover brunches with friends and family at the franchise’s New York City and London branches, with an assignment: I am to grab my camera and walk up the narrow street to the left of the cafe – notice the elegant facades and the red baubles hanging from the tree canopies, and stop when I get to something that really speaks to me after about 150 metres. How exciting! How well he knows me: half an hour later we’re sipping coffee while working peacefully at the most beautiful (totally identikit) coffee shop I’ve ever seen – the coffee is delicious too:
Green Spots. I ask my boyfriend if there are any nice green spaces in town. He says no. I look at the map and ask what Victoria Park and Hong Kong Park are like then. He shrugs – in his eight years as a local, he never went to either one of the remarkably big green squares on the map. You like parks?, he asks surprised, and points out that he didn’t know that about me. Well, I guess there’s a limit to everything then (or, as we say in Danish, ‘trees don’t grow into the skies/Heaven’). Coffee shops and parks are the two elements I’m most likely to gravitate towards when exploring a new city. And, boy, has he missed out on some good green stuff – Hong Kong Park and the neighbouring Botanical Gardens/Zoo offer a beautiful respite to the concrete jungle, with waterfalls, lakes, lush greenery – and the famous tea house, LockCha.
Morning Run. Getting up for an early morning jog, I can confirm that Victoria Park is equally as attractive. Groups of slender, strong Tai chi practitioners on sports fields and circular tiled plazas between palm trees and waterfalls. Manicured lawns and curved tree patches. A mint green bridge leading over to the harbourfront, which I run along to get to the yacht club, from where I venture under a fence to stumble out along a stone pier to a cute little white lighthouse. Here I stop, twirl around, breathe in the fresh salty air and take in the great views of Kowloon, Central’s grey and neon-lighted skyline, the mountains hugging the city from all sides, the white rigging and masts of the yachts shining against the orange sunrise. Ahh. Sprint back up to the hotel, shower and then join my boyfriend for breakfast at Artisan Cafe with a kind, fun TEDx-curator friend of his.
Catch Juicery. The lovely airy juice bar, where I’m the only customer all day (bad for their business; perfect working environment/conditions for me), munching on a crispy, freshly made vegan salad and slurping down one cold-pressed green juice after the other. Such a pleasant day – I’ve got the whole afternoon to hammer out work; every time I look up from my laptop, I sense the clean ambience of the cafe and the colourful, lively impressions in the street in front of me; and then there’s the comfort of knowing that at 18:45, my boyfriend will appear right across the street from me, for a happy meal at:
Bep. The best Vietnamese meal I’ve ever had, shared at a small table in the back of the vibrant space.
Tai Hang Village. After dinner, we take a westbound train to his second most favourite area, close to the hotel, a perfect mix of grittiness and hipness, which evolved because of the density of mechanic shops in the streets, which called for waterholes and eateries for drivers waiting to have their vehicles fixed – walking around among all of the lively little cafes, wine bars and Asian and Mediterranean restaurants with outdoor service shining like jewels pushed in between derelict dark warehouses and tenement buildings, we see a big, swanky Rolls Royce in a dodgy cluttered old garage. It’s all got a very romantic vibe to it. We end up at a rusticly-designed branch of Classified, sip a glass of wine, quietly soaking up the very quiet, dark, mysterious Hopper-/Auster-esque bleak atmosphere surrounding us. Returning the next morning to work from the same serene spot.
Rooster-Pore. Our hometown is decked out in lunar new year’s celebrations when we return – gigantic psychedelically shining inflatible chickens, hens and roosters lining the streets, accompanied by garlands of überfresh-looking lawn, flower petals, pineapples and cherry blossoms – pomp and circumstance that continues into the office and puts a spring in everyone’s step. It’s the year of the rooster! Actually, the chicken, to be exact, but it’s been decided that the rooster is a more honorable animal to dedicate an entire, well, more years to. Streets are filled with lion dance, billboards are wishing people a year full of wealth and prosperity (so blunt and too-overtly-materialistic sounding to a Western ear), the Chinese New Year version of happy-go-lucky Christmas tunes fill the air in lifts and malls. Ah, ’tis the season to give your friends oranges and pennies! A delayed Christmas card from a friend arrived while we were in Hong Kong, and as I open the bright red envelope, silver stars start gushing out and cover the kitchen table in glamorous dust. The table is already covered in one sweet Christmas parcel from my German Bali Xmas buddy, who’s left a touching card, a bag of organic dried mulberries, a jar of homemade muesli and a bottle of superb German Riesling. Watering our orchids and green plants on the balcony (a friend working at a local cafe tended to them while we were away), Christmas and spring spirits merge into one joyful feeling. Cultivated seasonality. The feeling makes me wonder how time, moon cycles, the year, may look in the mind of people who grow up with / are never exposed to anything but endless summer. I guess that the Southeast Asians I can most immediately approach to enquire about time perception travel quite frequently to temperate destinations, if not in real life, then via various types of media. But, still, I find it so central to my understanding of my place in the world that I get excited about spring, and then about summer, and then about autumn, and then about winter, and then all over again, and therefore mind-boggling to imagine not having grown up with (a sentimental) attention to small and fully expected signs in nature. Maybe I sound completely ignorant. If I think carefully, or ask around, I’m sure I’ll discover multitudes of natural as well as cultural signs of seasonality, or circularity, beyond the rituals and celebrations tied to the Chinese New Year.
Meditation. On Thursday night we go to a full moon meditation led by our dear friend, just one sign of circularity, and I’m given a chunk of rose quartz to bring with me to LA later in the week. Loving the heat in Singapore, I’m still looking forward to the chilly 17 degrees I’ll be feeling there, thinking how funny it is that normally, for me, a trip to California would signify a warm escape at this time of year (or any, really).
Authentic Thai. Friday lunch with my colleagues at Amoy Street Food Centre. That once-in-a-while $4 lunch from a neon light-decorated stall called ‘Authentic Thai’ that tastes amazing but whose origins, quality and exact content (of pesticides and their friends) you can only guess and make up stories about.
Ding Dong. Feeling a bit foolish, I sit down to a 10 times as expensive Thai dinner later that day, after an intense afternoon at work and a trip to the gym for pool laps and sauna, only halfway lulled into thinking that the quality of the food is directly proportional to the prettiness of the place. My friend and I share some nifty dishes and cocktails and toast to her new summerhouse in Sweden and my upcoming travel.
La La Land. After dinner, I go straight home, brush my teeth, and thank my boyfriend for carrying down my suitcase to the street. After so many days together, it feels a bit strange saying goodbye, but we are quite used to it – and it’s just for a week – and it’s gonna be a fun week – so it’s all right. I fly to Seoul with lots of leg space by the emergency exit, wait there for a few hours, and then skip across the Pacific Ocean to LA to meet two of my oldest and closest friends who live there, or south of the city anyway. Watch Café Society, listen to On Being and stare at the moving map illustrating the trip – marking that I’ve now, for the first time in my life, officially, technically, been all the way around the world.
Hermosa Beach. Land in LAX at 6am, take a taxi to Hermosa Beach, have an unsweetened matcha latte at Source Cafe, in a typical strip mall on the main avenue leading down to the beach, gazing out on shiny sports cars, rows of slim palm trees and a Bikram yoga studio. Welcome to Southern California! Done with my matte green drink, I walk down along the pale pastel-coloured wooden shop fronts to the pier (where one of the most iconic scenes from La La Land was filmed), and walk along the beach, enjoying the fresh, slightly cool air, smiling at the living postcard – clean blue skies, clean blue ocean, clean yellow beach, toned guys playing volleyball at 8am, toned girls jogging between the beach and the luxury villas sitting along it…. My friend comes walking towards me, smiling and hugging me warmly; she and her boyfriend sold their flat in Copenhagen, quit their jobs and moved here a year and a half ago to open an ice-cream shop. We have a hippie healthy breakfast back at Source Cafe, get a coffee to go dancing to the end of the pier, and then she shows me around town, pointing out the highlights, such as where each cute dog lives (and what they are called and what their special traits are), before stopping at their shop, where her boyfriend is busy setting up for the day – and offers me a spoonful of the sweet, tangy strawberry sorbet. M-m-m.
Pages. She and I then continue our walk – to Manhattan Beach, because she wants to show me a cute little indie bookshop there, where I buy two books on my wishlist, The God of Small Things and Shantaram, recommended by my boyfriend and, funnily enough, both among the shop owner’s top picks.
Venice Beach. Coming to meet us by the beach is my other friend, who lives down by San Diego, in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, and her little daughter. Together the four of us drive to Venice to go shopping and dancing down the coolest street I’ve ever seen, Abbot Kinney, ending up at a leafy, breezy wine shop/bar for a glass of chilled rosé. All four gals are smiling euphorically, and I’m so grateful for this opportunity to hang out with some of my top favourite people in the world. It’s been more than five years since we saw each other on a daily basis in Copenhagen, but we’re still in each other’s hearts and thoughts every day, connect and exchange thoughts, ideas and laughs frequently, sustaining our friendships despite the geographical distance – the comfort and wonder of kindred spirits.
Highway 1. After spending the night at a cute little New England-like hotel, my Cardiff-friend, her daughter and I drive up along the coast – music, sun, catching up, feeling of freedom, listening to The Chainsmokers’ Closer on loop – with one stop at Alfred Coffee in Brentwood, where I get my tourist purchases sorted, a bag of Stumptown Coffee and a large black ceramics cup with the text, But First, Coffee, and then another stop in Malibu Village, for lunch from SunLife Organics and to push the baby on the playground see-saw.
Santa Barbara. Our final destination is Montecito by Santa Barbara, where my friend’s husband’s mum lives in a quaint mansion on top of a hill overlooking the ocean to one side and the mountains to the other… I haven’t been to Santa Barbara since 2004 and am eager to check out the pretty little town, but for now, this afternoon, we just hang out at the house, or, mostly, in the hot tub in the garden. Getting back from an early dinner at the golf club, I fall asleep in my beautifully decorated bedroom after just a few minutes of listening to a 10-minutes meditation on Headspace, beating the jittery jetlag that tries to sneak in on me.