#2064 | things i did in london

Hey guys,

I was in london for a week in May, chasing certain ideas and chancing instead upon other things that make you go, well, life, whatddaya know? A good trip, in other words. I recognize how blessed I am to be able to say: it’s my fifth time in london now, so i felt no compulsion to rush around aggressively sightseeing. (You should have seen me my first time in london, i hung around chinatown, wept at imitation laksa, hyperventilated during phantom of the opera, was dazzled by leicester square and pronounced it lei-ches-ter the way all tourists do, a sure sign of naivete: the assumption that england is bound to the phonetic rules the rest of the world holds. I was publicly embarrassing, in other words.) No, no. This time I crashed on a friend’s couch, read compulsively, crossed lengths of london alone, caught up with old friends. It was so great.

Life has been rushing ahead without any consideration for the part of me that struggles to catch my breath, and I was afraid that if I left it too long I’d never get around to documenting my london trip. Already it’s June, and I have so much i still want to say from my trips to helsinki (jan), chiang mai (march), and so on.. Hell, I have thoughts backlogged all the way from when I was in san francisco last october. So I’d better get started now. Here we go..

backstory

trishna: come stay with me, offering my couch because friendship
me: are you sure
me: because im not going to say no to free accomodation
trishna: yes
me: do you want anything from sg
trishna: salted egg fish skin chips
me: shake

Donald, this is the art of the deal.

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day one

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fresh pasta, burrata, wine.

Perhaps it is because i rarely have pasta (my noodle cravings are mostly of the asian variety), but i was so easily – too easily, even – blown away by how fresh and straight up yum this was.

Pastaio London
19 Ganton St, Soho, London W1F 9BN, UK
(Carnaby, Soho)

Fresh pasta followed by a very girly night at home, painting our nails, trying on outfits together for each other to rate, googling (and then trishna actually succeeding at) ‘how to make scented candles’, me picking out the copy of Americanah i gave her a year ago lying untouched on her shelf and going WHY THE HELL HAVENT YOU FINISHED THIS YET? Bahaha. More or less an early night, I was exhausted from the flight.

day two and beyond: things i did alone

Opened Forgotten Country on the tube and promptly cancelled all my morning appointments, found a cafe, and sat down to finish it. Forced myself not to cry in public – a feat of pure discipline. Raved about it while also being aware of how flawed the technical aspects of the book were, thought about the ways we weigh up emotional impact vs skill when it comes to books, film, art, et al. Decided that i still liked the book very much but it may not hold up to a second re reading.

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nude espresso makes very good coffee, for anyone wondering.

Read Octavia Butler’s Kindred in three hours while sitting in a nook in Libreria, then purchased Ponti by Sharlene Teo to go. Bought tickets to The Writer at Almedia Theater over the phone, was very nervous, it was like my first time buying something over the phone and i am very paranoid in general of things like that. I suppose this means i will be obsessively checking my credit card bill for strange purchases over the next six months or something. The nice girl at the counter told me i like your coat and I just stammered. Shame on me, I make a living talking nonstop and i cannot even reply to something like that. To be honest, at that moment i had thought of saying thanks but then also thought: but i didn’t make the coat, i shouldn’t take credit for it. Of course that is a stupid thing to think, but anyway, by the time those thoughts had passed through my head it would have been awkward to say anything because too much time had passed so i just smiled (i hope), bought myself a glass of red wine and hid inside the theater.

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at 39 pounds this was probably the most lavish thing i did in london

The play was very good. I thought to myself at multiple points in the play that there was something truly wrong with me because i was literally brimming the entire time, threatening to cry. I thought: why the heck am i being so emotional, i nearly cried on the tube reading forgotten country, i nearly cried in libreria reading kindred, and now im going to cry in this theater where im sitting all alone and give the old woman next to me a heart attack, she’s already glanced at me four times suspiciously. But then after the play ended I thought, well, probably it was just really good and that is my response to performances that i feel are good. Major callback to phantom of the opera 2014. As we were walking out, the guy behind me said: what a pretentious play, seriously, this whole feminism thing has gone totally bonkers.

Ran in the rain to catch a bus, not by choice.

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you always think getting caught in torrential rain is the kind of thing that happens to other people, not you

Wanted to go to church the next day but it was cancelled (who cancels church?!) so i went to catch a comedy show instead at top secret comedy club. My friend had actually asked me to go to a housewarming party with him and i briefly considered it but it was freaking 50 minutes from london and when i heard that i just laughed at him and said i’d do my own thing instead. So, the comedy show. Because i was being cheap, i bought tickets to a work-in-progress show, and it turned out to be super interesting – the comics tested out new material for upcoming performances, and there was a lot of live audience feedback. I watched two shows, one was free, one was 7pounds, I drank cheap beer, I laughed like a crazy person.

Read Elena Ferrante’s The Lost Daughter on my phone’s NLB app in between the two shows and it was so amazing, i finished the book feeling this small sorrow at having been privy to such a compact form of perfection, having had accessed the interior life of this lonely italian mother. It was very strange, fluctuating between the two extremes, laughing till i had to pee, then feeling this immense gravity within me from starting and completing the book (it’s pretty short, and i’m a fast reader), then immediately transitioning to side-stitch laughter again. I texted my friend: how’s the party? I went to a comedy show instead and he replied: i didnt know london HAD comedy shows. He lives in london.

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I took an overwhelming number of mirror selfies this trip

The Top Secret Comedy Club
170 Drury Ln, London WC2B 5PD, UK
http://thetopsecretcomedyclub.co.uk/

The next day was the only morning in my 2 week trip to europe that i had specifically dedicated to taking photos on my instagram, or had you forgotten that i live out a large part of my life participating as a cog in the commercial capitalist system? I spent two hours in the morning shooting with a photographer from sweet escape, then met trish for brunch at the built-for-instagram elan cafe. After that she went home to study (omg, i said, student life!!! And she rolled her eyes on me because i had graduated less than a year before hahaha and there i was talking like an old person) and i went to daunt books, another independent bookseller, and took photos of all the books i knew i wanted to read. I purchased han kang’s the white book and ayobami adebayo’s stay with me, i would have purchased more, but i was trying to be conscious of my luggage restrictions. Turns out my estimation skills suck and i was stopped at the airline counter anyway, they made me take out all my books and hand carry them to singapore. Ah well. A small price to pay.

I really liked daunt books – i tend to really like all independent booksellers, to be honest – because they organized their fiction by region, so a shelf for Southeast Asia, Middle East, America, Italy, India, etcetera. Obviously they had more space dedicated to european fiction but still there were a good number of books from the rest of the world, and this made it easy to locate them. Idea!

Then I bought day-of tickets to The Comedy about a Bank Robbery and it was not my kind of funny but still very enjoyable. The main female lead was so talented and assured in her role, and i googled her after and it turned out this was her first gig out of school??? Then I felt sorry for myself for a bit because i was intimidated and jealous, i suppose. But i only indulged for a short moment, then told myself what kind of unhelpful reaction to any sort of talent is that you goon, and got over myself soon after. My seat was in the second row and it only cost me 10 pounds fifty on lastminute.com, the moral of the story is it’s easy to get cheap seats when youre travelling alone and your plans are very flexible.

I went to The Ordinary and bought a ton of their caffeine solution 5% + EGCG as gifts for my friends in singapore because i knew they wouldnt take offense at my extremely accurate diagnosis of the state of the standard singapore working professional’s eyebags. I was right.

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I read Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng on the Libby app, it was much better than her first book, Everything I Never Told You. I have a funny story about Everything I Never Told You actually, i had gone to Kinokuniya in Singapore two years back looking for singaporean writers and their works, wanting to familiarise myself with the local literary canon. Celeste Ng was stashed under Singaporean Literature so i bought it and started reading it immediately. I remember thinking wow she writes the asian american immigrant experience so clearly, how did she know and i even wanted to email her to ask her about her writing and research process. Then I googled her and turns out she has NO AFFILIATION WITH SINGAPORE and the moral of the story is kinokuniya can really be freakin country-ist sometimes, surname Ng means singaporean ah. The end.

I also bought last minute tickets to Everybody’s Talking about Jamie which was SUCH a great show!! I got super lucky with the tickets too, i got dress circle box tickets for 20 pounds, and the other two people in my box had bought them for 50, LOL. The man in my box asked me how i got them so cheap and i said: have you heard of the broke student’s guide on jemmawei.com? It was more suave in my head than when i said it, he just went, er, no. Then I chickened out and said: ha ha er yea well you can book it for good prices on last minute.com if you want to buy on the day of or day before and just shrunk back into myself in utter mortification. Anyway, good show. I’m glad it was good because it was between that and Phantom for the 6th time and if it wasnt good i would have wanted to die even more than i already did from that whole thing with the man in my box.

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in my super awesome velvet and gold box

After these shows that happened over a span of nights i also had many meals alone, i had chinese noodles and japanese ramen and ten-pound steak and wine, i also went for drinks at bars by myself and read books off my phone. In the daytimes when i was by myself i had beer and snacks and coffee and actual lunches as well. I have actually always enjoyed eating alone – but i dont get to do it much in singapore because i try to double duty my eating times with my social times so i can meet friends and stuff. Someone asked me once, arent you lonely? And i realised i hadnt felt lonely since i was, say, 14. I texted this revelation to my girlfriend, i said to her: i dont need company but i choose it anyway when im with you/ shane/ my other close friends, and later, she sent me this article on eating alone which i thought was relevant, you can read it here. This felt newly relevant to me again when meeting friends in london to lunch/coffee with, i actually did meet a lot of old friends here and there, jian wen, tash, charis, rachel, hayley, and of course, trish, but i felt like i had actively wanted to meet them all, which was a good way to feel.

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Dim sum with hayley, my airbnb-host-turned-friend from 4 years ago!

My last morning in london i went to have oysters for breakfast at borough market, when i was having them i texted my girlfriend: i feel your absence most keenly when im at the markets, no one to freak out over the communal goodness of straight up yummy food, and she sent me a telegram bunny sticker with an egg yolk as a reply. Then i was still hungry so i queued for a supposedly famous grilled cheese sandwich which was so oily it just reminded me of why i think asian food is the best food in the world. I didnt finish the sandwich: to be honest, my mind was on the book i had in my bag. I get into this state when im reading where real life is simply an interruption to the immersiveness of a fictional world, i just wander around in a perfunctory daze. One of my friends told me london is wasted on me since all i did was try to get to places which would allow me to sit and read, but i had a good time, so that’s that.

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the average grilled cheese sandwich

the end?

I was momentarily torn between making the most of my last few hours in london and reading, but in the end reading won out. I went back to the apartment early and sat at the cafe opposite, had banana cake and a coffee, marvelling at how all coffee is good in the uk, and finished Stay with me by Ayobami Adebayo.

Then, draining the last of my cortado, i stood, packed my bags and left.

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X
jem

#2063 | there will be time, there will be time (?)

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If anyone is wondering, here is what I am up to, I am presently in a hotel room in Malaysia for a church conference and on an unrelated but also important note I am currently reading three books, all of which are very good. People are like how can you read books simultaneously and I used to try and explain but anyway the point is that I can. I was in the shower earlier thinking about the three books and also about the new shampoo and conditioner travel-sized set that I chucked in my duffel bag for this trip, it came in a press kit from Sephora and I had no expectations of it but it turns out I quite liked the smell and the percy&reed packaging and the glossy post-shower effect of the conditioner, and i felt a twang of regret because the thing about travel sets is they’re meant to sort-of be used up by the end of the trip and even though it’s only a 3.5 day trip it was, in that moment, already sufficiently clear that the little tubes would run out over the course of four showers. It was then, whilst pondering the percy&reed tubes, that it became suddenly obvious to me that already we were in June. And then i thought, the older I get, the more relevant the love song of j alfred prufrock becomes, when I was younger and in university I used to (on some level) roll my eyes and think: c’mon, man, get up and get shit done, stop slouching about, of course youre socially paralysed, go and do a 2.4km run or something. of course none of that made it into the thousands of words i wrote about the poem because obviously that is not how you are supposed to feel about j alfred prufrock, and now suddenly i am painfully thankful that back then i did not breathe a word of my ex-feelings (which i have since disowned) because the reality is that upon confronting the chassis of adulthood none of us have the strength to force the moment to its crisis after all. At least, i dont. And i wondered why they make twenty one year olds tear through t.s.eliot when you can only ‘know’ prufrock theoretically but not know it with the same sense of dread that a couple more years will inevitably bring, and then i think, maybe in a year i will look back on 25 year old me and think, stupid stupid, the same way i look back on 23, 22, 21 year old me. I had good times, but still, stupid stupid. And i was stupid on the internet too. Oh well. I feel like the older i get the more terror i experience. I question the basis of the terror and hate that i have to question it. Then i look forward to the future and i know that i am at a ‘great age’ and should be facing it with adrenaline and excitement, and, dont get me wrong, there’s that, but theres also a whole lot of oh no oh no oh no and aaaAaaAAaaaaAAAaAaa which just sounds like the screaming water bottle in that tao lin poem. All of this ran through my head as i exited the shower and promptly discovered that that the hotel’s hairdryer was a disgrace to the concept of a hairdryer, turning it on and towards my scalp just felt like a large man was yawning noisily at me, so i unplugged it and returned to toweling dry my hair with a sense of disgust. There was nowhere to hang it, after. My final thought before I sat down here was: for someone who claims not to get poetry, i sure reference a lot of it internally when taking stock of my life. But still, if someone asks me if i get it, i’d say no.

x
Jem

#2062 | May’s To Read – Dear Ijeawele

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May was a good month, guys, forever etched in my memory henceforth as the month I read 14 books. It only makes sense then that May’s recommendation is a book, a short one, by one of my favourite authors – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

If Chimamanda’s name rings a bell, it’s probably because you’ve heard Beyonce rave about her, or seen her 2013 TED Talk title We Should All be Feminists splashed on Dior’s t shirts and endorsed by the likes of rihanna, amongst others. It’s not everyday that a literary star gets mainstream recognition on such a scale, which explains why chimamanda has reached more or less cult status in literary and pop culture circles.

Last year, she published a new short story adapted from a letter she’d wrote when her pregnant friend asked her for advice on how to raise her baby daughter as a feminist. The result? A 15 step manifesto of sorts, which is clear and concise, charming in its telling, and a fantastic entry point to new readers of Chimamanda’s work.

Approaching a new author can be daunting, especially if youre not a habitual reader, which is why I recommend this book – it’s great both for seasoned readers of her work as well as people who are brand new. It’s easy to read, and Chimamanda truly has a talent for taking complicated matters and putting them across so clearly and cheerfully that the issues dont isolate or alienate readers. It also makes a great gift for new parents, and I dont think it should be restricted to simply parents of girls. I 100% recommend this to everyone. It should be necessary reading in schools. It’s not even long, so you can’t bandy the excuse of having a short attention span, it’s like, 10,000 words, more a lyrical essay than anything else.

After reading Dear Ijeawele:

I also recommend her TED Talks – the danger of a single story, or we should all be feminists.

And my favorite novel of hers by far – Americanah.

That’s it for May, y’all. And no, i dont get a commission on for bookdepo/kino/times/wh smith/any other bookseller sales, before you ask. Though i really should start looking into that. Where y’at, booksellers? hit me up.

Looking for more entertainment recommendations? You can read the rest of my monthly pop culture recommendations here

x
Jem

#2061 | That Amazing Omakase – Sushi Nakamura, Otaru

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Sushi Nakamura
Otaru, Hokkaido
All photos taken on the Samsung Note 8

I was in Otaru for one night in January, passing through to Sapporo Chitose Airport after a week of falling on my face in Niseko. Whilst I was there, I had one of the best meals of my life, as recommended by a chef friend of Roz’s (Chef Petrina Loh of Morsels Singapore, also a very good restaurant!). I hesitate to use the phrase life-changing but, yknw, it was a phenomenal meal. I documented it at length on instagram stories, but after it expired many people wrote to me to ask about the place, so I decided to export the commentary from that night wholesale and post it here:


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After the omakase, we were greedy and just wanted more. Everything was so good thus far that we figured we would regret it forever if we didnt get more. Turns out that was the right sentiment – here we go: BONUS ROUNDS!


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Bam.

Sushi Nakamura
Otaru,Hokkaido
Japan, 〒047-0025 北海道小樽市山田町 一番二十一号
+81 134-26-6566
Reservations required

The best japanese meal of my life. I dream about this meal: I cant wait to go back some day.

x
Jem

#2060 | grieving for a vienna

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Vienna, Austria

It sounds so stupid and obvious but I am in love with Vienna the way most people who visit the place are. I was there over the weekend with fred and edwin, both of whom were skeptical at my wide-eyed amazement, fred asked: for someone who travels so much how can you be so easily amazed still? and edwin said: close your mouth, you look like a demented person (I was smiling at the air).

The truth is i find relief in my wonder. When I first started the broke student’s guide I was very new to travel and so literally everything made me gasp. I was, in other words, 11 year old daniel radcliffe entering diagon alley for the first time, right down to the perpetual gape and bespectacled naiveté. Even then i was afraid of (dare i say it?) growing up, one day letting the faraway concept of adulting allow more pragmatic concerns (jetlag, financial worries, the hassle of packing, the inability to see the humor in being pickpocketed abroad) rob me of that first instinctive reach toward wonder whenever life threw new situations at me, whenever I visited a new destination. So when Vienna took my breath away it was as much a gasp of amazement as it was a gasp of relief. Let me never reach a stage, i thought to myself, where i would face new wonders and be blase. Let me never allow myself to hide behind the facade of boredom.

But there was no possibility of keeping unfazed in Vienna. As we wondered around the city I kept muttering to myself and the boys this city is so so beautiful I can’t comprehend or process this and as a result we made no plans for any kind of concrete sightseeing, we rented bikes and cycled wherever, dropped them off and continued ambling along, stopping for coffee or beer whenever we felt like it with a kind of laziness. We joked: we saw absolutely nothing in vienna but there was no internal direction to ‘see’ anything because the immersiveness in the city was already enough. And the days rolled on.

Towards the end of the trip we were granted an incredible, drawn out sunset, and i was amazed all over again by the universality of the golden hour’s charm. But as the sun started actually setting i felt an immense sadness settle in me. The sunset was lighting up the city in fire and gold as it reflected off the gilded facades of Vienna’s buildings, and watching this I felt a kind of reverence at that kind of beauty and also a heaviness at how temporal this moment was. I could feel the moment dimming and dimming as the sun continued to sink and i knew it was exactly how my memory of the moment would be, the wonder I was feeling at that instant fading away slowly as time passed, so that eventually i would only remember that i had once felt amazement and wonder at the beauty of the city during dusk but not actually be able to locate and reexperience the feeling of wonder within me. I got sadder and sadder.

With a sense of mourning I conveyed this to edwin and he said dont be ridiculous there is so much world left to see. As he said this the sun did its final dip below the horizon and it was officially night. It was 10pm. We went for dinner.

There is no neat resolution to this arc. Back in Germany I thought I had better write this down before I forget. Already parts of it I am forgetting, I looked through my phone’s photo album earlier today and thought with surprise: that’s right, we did have some pretty weird soda that masqueraded as coffee. The bittersweetness returned. And so I am grieving for a version of Vienna that exists only in my memory, and an inconsistent one at that. But then again I have to remember that there are so very few neat resolutions in life. It sounds so stupid and obvious but I am in love with Vienna the way most people who visit the place are.

x
jem