UK, India | September, 2019

Golden hour morning and evening light in London

🍂Autumn glow. Blue skies, crispness in the air. Run and walk to work in all of the flaming colours. 🍂Taking daily barre or pilates classes, at awesome Hampstead studios. 🍂 Meeting a friend for coffee at one of my favourite places in London, Coffeeworks in Angel. 🍂 Going to a friend’s leaving-do at the newly opened Arcade Food Theatre — she’s moving to SF. She’s got a pile of snazzy travel mags for me, which she thought I’d like, neatly organised with my name and notes on several post-its, issues of Suitcase and Cereal with features on India, Singapore, and other places that apparently she associates with me. So thoughtful. 🍂 Work from home, with Sanoop spoiling me with chai and hugs, while I’m tapping away on my laptop, and taking me out for lunch at charming cafes in England’s Lane, Belsize Park. 🍂 Heading to Covent Garden for a friend’s book launch one night after work. She’s in town from Singapore. Missing our walks and talks while exploring Peranakan neighbourhoods and lush rainforests together, I’m so excited for her to come to the UK to launch her third unique, stylish and offbeat book at Stanfords in Covent Garden, map and travel guide specialist for over 160 years. TOKYO & BEYOND is clearly a labour of love, based on her extensive curiosity-filled research, ability to immerse herself in local experiences, and eye for the best sushi and ramen spots, cool coffee stands, flea markets selling vintage kimonos, secret open-air sentos, late-night (or early afternoon) karaoke venues and much more. The beautifully illustrated neighbourhood and nature guide, which highlights 111 special spots in Tokyo and ventures beyond the capital for 40 additional alluring haunts, ranging from stunning skiing resorts in the majestic Japanese Alps to cultural charm in Hakone and Kyoto to the secluded temple town of Mount Koya, also features wonderful contributions by Tokyo-locals: top ramen tips from a guy who eats 300 portions of the dish a year, a public bath ambassador’s fav sentos, and a gorgeous photo journal by a photographer who clearly shares the writer’s love of Japanese culture and nature. A few days after the launch, she and I meet for dinner at Pique-Nique in Bermondsey, set in the corner of a park with a tennis court and a playground, both bursting with activity. We mainly talk about how much we love London, especially areas like this, with the picturesque converted warehouses, colourful facade of the Fashion Museum, and the charming little boutiques and Spanish eateries of Bermondsey Street. 🍂 Experiencing the Astana Ballet at the stunning wood-clad Linbury Theatre with Sanoop. A dream. The movements, the passion, the humour, the perfectly cut simple silk and linen costumes, the Kazakh heritage and talent… I just want more. Want to learn more. Want to immerse myself more. So happy I live in a city where this level of art is relatively accessible.  Curious about the lives of ballet dancers! Every time I experience any members of this talented tribe on stage, I’m so mesmerised by their strength, grace, energy, musicality, creativity … Does anyone know anyone I can talk to to get to know more about what it’s like, haha?! 🍂 Weekend with my brother in town from Denmark. Scorchingly hot. Saturday — Broadway Market, Covent Garden, and a walk on the Heath; I go to a girlfriend’s birthday party at Shoreditch House while the boys bond at a pub in Hampstead. Sunday — wine and hang on the Heath, Sunday Roast at the Freemason Arms, and then I take my brother to meet my colleagues in Angel — pub and cinema. Monday is the first drizzly, grey day in ages. My brother says that that’s kind of how London is supposed to be, in a good way. We head to Coal Drops Yard, to check that out, have lunch together at my office, and then I take him to Liverpool Street Station from where he catches the train to Stansted. It’s my least favourite thing in the world to take visiting family members to the airport express train. Reversely, it’s quite uplifting that the design festival’s neat landmark project, #PleaseBeSeated, is occupying the space next to the station so beautifully, letting people sit or lie on its re-used wood or walk under it or stand next to it in the downpour to admire it from almost all of its curvy angles. 🍂 My brother leaves, and a friend from Copenhagen comes to visit, taking over the guest bed. She works for a small furniture design startup and is here to represent her company at the London Design Festival. We go running on the Heath together and hang out in Shoreditch before and after the fair at the Truman Brewery, getting coffee at Allpress and having dinner at Fare in Old Street. ❤️ London.

West Sussex

On a sunny Saturday morning, Sanoop and I rent a car and drive to the gorgeous country side west of London to celebrate the birthday of a new British friend of his. The guy has rented a  meet Sanoop at Highbury Islington, train to victoria, rent car, drive to West Sussex for birthday party, his friend rented a barn converted into a beautiful villa on Airbnb… startup in Hackney, all know each other from Oxford 20 years ago… wonderful, lovely, grounded, curious people… I talk to artist and film producer Margate, … woman and I watching her kids swim in pool, girl reminds me of me, diving, birthday boy giving her advice, friendly, lovingly from the edge of the pool, breathe in deeply, use arms, set off… one at a time, 100% improvement… meanwhile, we cheer… and talk, she runs a charity in India, shivia, empowering woman by encouraging them to set up their own business at home, have helped 13,000 women so far… she and I talk a lot about that.. how we might collaborate… she invites me in for a coffee at the Conduit in Mayfair when I’m back from India in October… I am so grateful for this life… third wonderful meeting, young girl (went to Cambridge, knows the others through her husband, the brother of the birthday guy)… cutest little son… asks where I am from, when I say, she says she went to Copenhagen for sustainable fashion summit… we take turns at dropping names of Danish designers and brands and green initiatives we love…. smiling, laughing, agreeing… it turns out she runs a company that does green Oscar dresses… she’s extremely humble… they’re moving to LA in a few weeks so she can focus full time on that, her son will go to James Cameron’s sustainable kindergarten… Sanoop and I walk in the garden, pick ripe apples and pears…

 

Oxford

On another sunny Saturday morning, Sanoop and I take a bus to Oxford and meander around the stately colleges together, admiring the limestone grandeur and soaking up the cosy vibe. Meet some friends, who live in town, for lunch at Gee’s, and walk along the canal to their home for some afternoon garden hang and home-cooked dinner, eaten in the garden as well, before taking a late evening bus back home.

Brighton

On a third sunny Saturday morning, really early, Sanoop and I hop on a train to hippy, happy Brighton and spend all day like this:

BANGALORE

Biggest, most independent work trip of my life so far. My partner throughout this first year in my current job, who has now also become a close friend, and I spend the last week of September in Bangalore, the culmination of a project we’ve been preparing for months, conducting co-design sessions of new product features with the users who’ll be using, and hopefully benefitting from, these products. We’ve recruited the participants through college and NGO partnerships, and we learn so much from working, talking, laughing, and even dancing with them across town. We work from 7am to late into the evenings every day of the week, except for the Saturday, my birthday, which we celebrate by wrapping up the day’s workshops at 6pm and heading back to the hotel for a glass of champagne followed by a long, soothing Ayurvedic massage at the lavish hotel spa, my colleague’s gift for me. All relaxed and with deliciously fragrant oily skin and hair, haha, we head out for dinner at a nearby Kerala-food restaurant, where the staff sing a birthday song for me while carrying a plant-based dessert over to our table set in a lush garden, the circa sixth birthday treat of the day. We give the cake to a beggar on the way home, feeling so grateful that we get to do everything that we get to do. One of my more memorable birthdays, for sure! In the morning, I’d found a gift from Sanoop in my suitcase (well, I obviously found out he’d snuck it in there on the first day of the trip, but I let it be until today), and after taking a quick dip in the hotel pool, I came back to find my room covered in rose petals and fresh fruits — ‘your husband called and said you don’t like cake,’ the housekeeper told me when delivering a book on India’s history; ‘we thought you might like this.’ The no-cake thing had not been communicated to the restaurant staff: when we came down for breakfast, they greeted us with a huge candle-topped chocolate cake, which we took over to our workshop studio to keep the participants’ blood sugar levels engaged throughout the exciting, intense, insights-filled day.

Last year, I spent my birthday sweating over exams in Koh Samui.

The year before that, I spent the day in Thailand as well, sipping on coconuts in Phuket (we were supposed to have been in Bali, but had to change our plans last minute, i.e. at the airport, due to a volcano threatening to erupt in Bali).

The year before that; catching up with my family in Malaysia, where my brother was doing an internship at the time and I was able to quickly hop up to him from Singapore.

 

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