Eastern Asian Adventure

Eastern Asian Adventure

In February of this year, I was lucky enough to explore Eastern Asia with my dad. We started in Hong Kong before going on to Beijing, Shanghai and Taipei. I had never been to Asia before, and while the well-trodden gap year routes of South East Asia are well publicisied, I had no idea what to expect of the more foreign cities of China and Taiwan.


Arriving into Hong Kong, my dad tried to explain to me numerous times that this was actually a separate country to China, therefore quite different from the other cities we were going to visit. Although it had a growing Chinese population, Hong Kong is know for the expat community throughout the city, which gave the place a slightly more Anglicised feel. Don’t go imagining London or Paris however, this was a world away from Europe. The smaller streets on Kowloon side, with the many Chinese signs hanging across the roads, and shops selling everything from antique pennies to dried foods I couldn’t even attempt to recognise, was a sensory experience like none I had ever had. I found something so beautiful in the Chinese characters found everywhere from street signs to menus, that were so artistic yet impossible to decipher.

Hong Kong didn’t feel like a huge city, it felt like somewhere you could really get to know and learn to love. Although I was only there for three days, I certainly felt as if it was somewhere I would love to live in the future, and discover more of its quirks, culture and amazing food!

Peak Tram

Amazing panoramic view of the city. The tram travels up through the tropical greenery which is scattered across the city. The higher you get up the hill, the more expensive the property becomes. You are able to walk up or down from the peak, or do what we did and walk halfway then take the tram the rest of the way!

View from the Peak

Star Ferry across to Kowloon

One of the TripAdvisor top 50 things to do in Hong Kong. Kowloon itself is interesting – smaller streets and feels like an older district than Hong Kong side.



One of the upper class districts of Hong Kong, known for its large expat community. The Stanley Market is not to be missed – unique Asian clothes, art and jewellery. Try out your hand at haggling!

Streets and Stalls in Hong Kong


Little Bao was one of the best restaurants we visited – try it for a trendy Asian fusion experience. See my review of the restaurant here.



After Hong Kong, believing I knew more of what to expect from China, I arrived in Beijing completely overwhelmed by the masses of people coming from all angles. I knew that it was one of the busiest places in the world, yet in reality it is so much more overwhelming than you expect. As a people, the Chinese are much more pushy, loud and rude than any other people I have encountered, yet this is understandable if you had grown up in a place as populated as Beijing. Although initially quite a shock, I grew used to people’s behaviour but after a few days I began to tire of it as I had to push and shout to be heard.

In my naivety of what to expect from this completely alien country, I had no clue what the weather would be like. It was freezing, honestly one of the coldest places I had been to. It was winter when we went but the city was so much colder than my home in England. Lesson learned – pack lots of layers and a hat if you visit in February!

The city was much older than Hong Kong, with large streets edged with proud buildings with ornate, sloping roofs. This was more like the China you see in the movies.

Great Wall of China

Take a day out of your time in Beijing to visit this wonder. We hired a private guide for the day which was worth every penny, as we could go at our own pace.IMG_9536 We stopped off at a Jade Factory on the way to the wall which was an interesting insight into this Chinese trade. One the way back to the city, we had a tea ceremony which was something else not to be missed as we were educated as to all the different teas drunk and sold in China.

Forbidden City

Another amazing historical insight into the imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty. Amazing architecture and design. A true Chinese experience. IMG_9610


I recommend XiBei XiBei Cai for amazing noodles and pork sandwiches.

1949 specialises in Peking Duck. The dinner we had there was an exciting experience in itself – our duck was delivered to our table with the announcement of a gong sound, with the chef carving it at our table.

Noodles at XiBei XiBei Cai – one of the culinary highlights of the trip


Instead of flying, my dad and I decided to take the high speed train to Shanghai – why would we turn down another new exciting first? I am not exaggerating when I say that the train station in Beijing was the busiest place I had been to in my life. There were people swarming the huge space, and for some reason most of these people were taking photos of anything they could see. The arrivals board. The waiting area. The queue to get on the train. They took a photo of it. I was baffled why they felt the need to document EVERYTHING they did. What on earth would you do with a picture of a dustbin on your phone? But they were all doing it so there must be some reason for it.

Shangai was more Alglicised than Beijing, and although it felt like a large daunting city, it was more similar to Hong Kong in the fact that it was modern and well sign posted!

 Oriental Pearl Tower

An iconic building. Go up to the glass viewing deck about two thirds up for a stomach churning view of the city beneath your feet.

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Yu Yuan Gardens

A highlight of my time in Shanghai! Beautiful gardens that once served as the summer gardens for an emperor. The surrounding streets are worth a look, as they sell handcrafted souvenirs, much nicer than the tacky stuff on offer elsewhere. The City God temple is right next to the gardens and is an interesting old temple right in the centre of a maze of streets.


For the one day we were in Taipei, I was guided around the city by two of my dad’s Taiwanese work colleagues. This was both very exciting and very daunting. It gave a proper insight into the city from a local’s point of view – I was able to point at anything I saw and say ‘translate that’, which was as close as I’m going to get to reading those arty yet indecipherable characters. However, they threw me in at the deep end with a meal in their favourite restaurant. Very thoughtful and kind of them, but they ordered CHICKEN TESTICLES. It was a difficult meal to say the least, but I can’t complain that I didn’t get a full insight into their lives.


Maokong Mountain 

We took a glass-bottomed gondola up the Making mountain, where we visited the temple at the top. It is well signposted on the gondola, and there are various other attractions up the hillside so it it a good activity to do with amazing views of the city beneath. IMG_9703



Two Door Cinema Club

Two Door Cinema Club

I have been listening to Two Door Cinema Club’s music for years now and after the emotional turmoil of their tour selling out, I was gifted gig tickets for Christmas (shout out to my sister for saving the day and bossing present giving). It has definitely  earned a place in my top three concert experiences. It wasn’t only because of Alex Trimble’s, the lead singer’s, effortlessly cool aura and enviable gold metallic shoes, which didn’t even manage to pull my attention away from the performance for too long. (I have since been searching for a similarly cool pair, however, so suggestions would be welcome).

“It’s so good to be back together,” Trimble beams. “So far, the shows have been so much fun, and we’re enjoying each other’s company…. This isn’t a contractual obligation, we’re doing it for pleasure.” 

You could tell from watching the band perform, that this tour is something that they are doing for pleasure. They clearly found joy in their musical performance and all appeared more at ease with themselves and each other, after a few tumultuous years. While their popular songs from Beacon got the whole crowd singing along, their newer material from Gameshow, including ‘Are we ready? (Wreck)’ and ‘Bad Decisions’ seemed to resonate with the band after their struggles with identity and the overwhelming presence of social media and the internet in their lives. It seemed a creative risk so openly criticising the internet, something which the millennial generation that made up the bulk of their fan base clearly depends on, yet it was evident that the new musical sound was enjoyed by fans just as much as their previous material, or even more.

The staging was simple; screens positioned at the back of the set, which played varying graphics to fit with the hits the band kept reeling off, adding an unexpected exciting visual element to an auditory experience. The interludes between songs did not serve as an opportunity for the band to fill us in on ‘inside jokes’ and personal details, which I  actually found refreshing. Two Door Cinema Club instead allowed their popular music to completely dominate their show, using the visual effects as a way of enhancing the listeners’ experience rather than serving as a distraction. I believe they are one of the few bands that manage to perform their songs live to a higher standard than their recorded singles; the electronic sounds of their well known songs were augmented with a heavier bass guitar in their live performance which filled the O2 Academy, pulsating through the crowd, enveloping us in a more immediate sound. The intimate O2 Academy arena enhanced the sound and supported the acoustics of the performance, making it a gig that really celebrated the hits which propelled Two Door Cinema Club through their musical career, the sound they created for themselves and the enjoyment which they have brought to such a number and variety of fans.

The Radical Eye

The Radical Eye

Each of these photographs serves as inspiration for me in my life; they line the walls of my home and I consider them precious gems. I want people to think, ‘I’ve never seen anything like that before, never knew this kind of thing existed’ – just as I did when I first saw these photographs.


Yesterday, whilst trying to understand the understated and simple yet deceptively complex interior of the Tate Modern, I managed to find my way to The Radical Eye, a collection of modernist photography from The Sir Elton John Collection. Maybe I’m reading too far into the exhibition title, but it seems radical that someone who knows next to nothing about photography techniques, analysis and history is attempting to write a review about a hugely popular and anticipated exhibition. But that’s what I loved about this exhibition; how it honed my currently underdeveloped interest in photography and was able to appeal to refined photographic critics and amateurs alike, through the carefully planned layout of so many photographic themes and photographers.

The brief yet impressively accessible introductions to each photographic theme, and descriptions of certain works and collections enabled a level of understanding otherwise difficult to achieve. I arrived verdant in my understanding of the technicalities of photography as an art form, and left with an insatiable desire to see more, learn more and even take more photos.

The exhibition intends to capture the photographic revolution of the 20s, 30s and 40s when experimental techniques and creative decisions were pushing boundaries and changing the way in which people saw everyday objects and situations. I think this collection of innovative modernist photography does just that in a way that is accessible to a huge breadth of people, giving an insight into the exciting developments in this artistic field as well as inspiring many people of today to look at the world in a different way through the medium of photography. And I think that makes it more than a worthwhile visit.


Underwater Swimmer, 1917, Andre Kertesz

This was one of my favourite photos from the exhibition. I love the way the camera captures the light on the water, and the distortion of the body seen through the pool. This photo also exhibits the way in which the camera is able to capture movement with a clarity unattainable with the naked eye, changing our perspective of and finding a beauty in a common situation. This photo reminds me of Hockney’s paintings of swimming pools, and the difference in the presentation of light reflection becomes interesting through the comparison of mediums – photography and acrylic on canvas.

Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) 1972

“The camera should be used for a recording of life, for rendering the very substance and quintessence of the thing itself, whether it be polished steel of palpitating flesh.” EDWARD WESTON





Patricia, c.1942, Josef Breitenbach

This photo, in contrast to the last, demonstrates the more experimental and creative side of photography, transforming a mundane portrait or landscape using a variety of techniques. The physiognomy of this portrait is pensive, distant and serious, which contrasts with the more playful and irregular colour injected into the image. Alone, the portrait is interesting through the psychology of the sitter, yet Breitenbach lends the image another dimension through the light exposure, creating a complex masterpiece.


This series by Man Ray titled Noir et Blanche feels poignantly relevant to today’s society. The contrast between the white skin of the model and the dark ebony of the traditional African mask captures two opposite shades in the vast spectrum of human skin colour. Yet when this image is positioned next to its negative, any preconceptions of the model or the mask due to their skin tone are rendered irrelevant through the reversal of colour. It seems to me a powerful message about the irrationality of racial discrimination and the intrinsic similarities between humans, a connection that goes further than skin-deep.


Restart Africa

‘Perhaps our eyes need to be washed by our tears once in a while, so that we can see life with a clearer view again’ 


Restart Africa was founded by Mary Coulson in 2007, in response to the growing problem of homeless children she saw living in the streets of her home town of Gilgil in Kenya. When it was set up, the Restart Centre began with six boys. I visited the original centre as part of a tour of the local area and I found it so different from the current buildings as it was run down and very basic. However, I reminded myself that this centre was a refuge for the boys it sheltered in the first years of the charity, and it offered safety and comfort in antithesis their horrendous backgrounds. The original building was located next to an orphanage, which I was told frequently complained about the behaviour of the boys.

Original Restart Centre, opened 2007

This reinforced the fact that these boys had had such difficult childhoods, as their violent and disruptive behaviour came as a result of their abusive backgrounds, and this was highlighted by their juxtaposition with orphaned children, who have had relatively normal upbringings. The second centre was much larger, housing 97 children from 2009 until 2014. The charity had introduced girls to the centre in 2009, although I was told that there was a much smaller number of girls than boys, as they were more difficult to rescue because they are considered the property of the family and used as a form of income through prostitution. Seeing the two previous buildings made me realise how well equipped and beautiful the current building is.

Second Restart Centre (2009 – 2014)

Mary Coulson, the founder of the charity, was concerned with the appearance of the new centre as she strongly believes that beautiful surroundings provide a calm and happy atmosphere which augments the rehabilitation process for the children, and gives them a childhood experience as close to what we in the first world have and take for granted.

Restart Africa was set up to save the lives of the street children, who have been forced out of their families and abused in all ways, and who otherwise would have likely died. The charity strongly values volunteers, as they recognise the importance of the relationships formed between the children and the volunteers in helping to rehabilitate the children and help them feel a sense of normality.

Current Centre, opened 2014

These children have never experienced affection of any kind, only rejection and abuse, so I felt so privileged to be able to give up my time in order to be part of their long journey to recovery. As a volunteer I had the opportunity to help in all parts of life at Restart – the kitchen, helping clean the dormitories and do the washing, helping in the classroom, or working in the vegetable garden – but volunteers are primarily there to spend time with the children, so that is what I mainly did on a day to day basis.

My arrival in Gilgil after a long journey was quite a culture shock, as the very rural area was so different from the luxury of the more modern and built up Nairobi.

The view from the apartment

I found it so interesting and valuable, however, to experience such a different culture and it made me appreciate the first world luxuries that we take for granted. It was a completely different way of life from that in England, yet by the end of my time there I had grown accustomed to the noise, dust, torrential rain and culture and grew to really appreciate and respect it.

Smiling and happy

I did not expect to find the children so warm, generous and affectionate as they have never experienced any warmth towards them, but I was surprised to find them some of the most genuine and caring children I have ever met. The whole community at Restart feels like a large happy family, as the children care for each other as they would brothers and sisters, and I immediately felt included in this community from the outset. The toddlers were at the centre in the day, as they attended a preschool run by Restart, so this is the age group that I got to know best. I played with the children in the playground, organized craft activities with them such as mask making, drawing or paper crafts (which were always very popular), or just held their hand.

I gave them all the attention, affection and friendship that I could, and in the time that I was there really felt that some of the children had become more confident and outgoing through my relationship with them. One of the girls who I particularly bonded with, had only recently been taken in by the centre, so was traumatised by her recent abuse and as a result was shy and introverted. I spent a lot of time with her, as she was clearly more desperate for attention than some of the other children who had begun to recover. She really enjoyed playing on the swings, but I felt that even when I was just holding her hand and sitting with her it was helping towards her improvement as she was learning how to be loved for the first time in her life. By the end of my time there I saw her laughing and smiling and interacting much more with the other children in the centre, so felt so privileged to have been able to witness such a transformation in a relatively short period of time.


This personal experience with one of the children, and the day-to-day improvement which I witnessed, made me really understand the importance of volunteers to this charity’s work. Volunteers are able to offer their complete attention in a way that the staff at the centre cannot, as the staff are concerned with the admin side of the centre as well as the wellbeing of the children.

Half way through my time at Restart, the rest of the children finished school for the holidays, therefore I was able to get to know a whole new group of children. These children were older – ranging from 8 to 18 – so they required a different sort of attention. The older children all really enjoyed dancing and music, so I spent a lot of time leading dance sessions and was lucky enough to learn how to dance in the traditional Kenyan style, as they were all so keen to teach me! The older children had a better grasp of English, as they attended local schools, so I was able to talk to them more than I could the toddlers. I was interested to hear that all of the children had aspirations to go to university, in order to make the best possible future for themselves, and was told that four boys rescued by Restart are currently in university. Talking to these older children, I began to see parallels between them and myself, and it made it difficult as it acted as a foil to and thus made me more aware of their unbelievably cruel backgrounds in contrast to my own white privilege. I spent some time tutoring one of the older boys in English, so got to know him on a more personal level and help him in a more specific way.

Playtime for the toddlers

It was so easy to ignore the difficult backgrounds of the children, but I felt that knowing the hardships that they had experienced gave me a more rounded perspective on their journeys and made me see more clearly the importance of the charity to their improvement.

The children had experienced sexual abuse, rape, violence, starvation and neglect. Some of the children had been so malnourished that their growth had been stunted, and some so severely abused that they needed medical attention and even surgery. I found it incredibly difficult to comprehend the unjust abuse that all of the children had experienced in some form, as I had never been exposed to such vulnerable individuals before. These horrendous backgrounds made the volunteer work so immensely rewarding as I could see how greatly all of the staff appreciated my time and attention and how it positively affected all of the children.

I feel so lucky to have been able to get to know so many amazing children and to feel that I have contributed to their recovery during my summer, as well as experiencing such an exciting and different culture. The resilience of the children and their generosity and kindness despite their terrible backgrounds and the complete lack of affection in their lives before their rescue, gave me such great respect and admiration for them. They lived in the present moment, thinking of their future and refusing to be defined by their past, which was such an inspiring way of dealing with their situation. The children’s admirable behaviour in the face of cruelty made me consider our own behaviour in the first world. Petty arguments seem so unnecessary when I consider what these children have been through, and cruelty towards anyone seems so unjustified after seeing so many innocent victims who have been rescued by Restart. The children have nothing other than the basic means to survive, but they have each other and they cherish their relationships with each other so dearly that it serves as such an inspiration for us to be grateful for what we have and to value those relationships with the people who love us for who we are. The children have an immense love of life and are so happy and positive despite their backgrounds, which I considered a lesson to us all to find joy in everything and make the best of every situation through our own positive outlook on life. I felt that personally I learnt so much from these amazing children, and my experience at Restart has completely altered my outlook on life, despite a few tears along the way.

I would recommend this experience to everyone, as I feel that there is so much to learn from the charity, and it is such an inspirational place that it deserves to have amazing volunteers.

I look forward to returning to the charity in the future to see how the children have developed and to give them the attention and affection they so desperately need and deserve.


I was fortunate enough to find some last minute tickets for the opening night of the anticipated performance of Hamlet at the Barbican, starring Benedict Cumberbatch. The previous achievements of the well known film and television actor were at odds with the challenging role which he took on in last night’s performance: a depressed, grief-stricken prince who is driven to madness. However, he translated his talents to the stage with admirable ease and ‘Sherlock’ was soon forgotten as the audience were captivated by his new identity as ‘Hamlet’. As one of Shakespeare’s most renowned plays, ‘Hamlet’ is a role coveted by many actors, but Cumberbatch gave a modern edge to this ageless role: he played the prince in black jeans and, at one point, a hoodie. The modern identity of the Prince gave this enigmatic and complex character a more familiar edge, thus enabling the allusion of a more intimate relationship with the audience, whilst widening the theatrical opportunities of the play. Although breathtaking in his tragic performance, particularly gripping and emotive during Ophelia’s funeral, Cumberbatch was able to bring comedy to Shakespeare’s play through his portrayal of the Prince’s madness. His most obvious comic moment was the use of a toy castle while he was dressed a a toy soldier, but his continuous wordplay and wit emanated throughout and shed humour on some of the more tragic moments in the play. Benedict Cumberbatch, in his leading tragic role, was clearly the star attraction of the performance, but he was surrounded by a cast which reflected his astounding talent; I felt that Kobna Holbrook-Smith gave an impressive performance of the grief stricken Laertes, as he explored a wide spectrum of emotion through his role, from grief at his relatives’ deaths, to the pain and fear of his eventual death scene at the end of the play. Karl Johnson’s performance as the gravedigger provided much needed comic relief, and Leo Bill as Horatio performed as a loveable, relatable character, dressed in jeans and a backpack throughout the performance. I felt that the play was truly astonishing in the talent and time which had clearly gone into its performance, and was an exciting and modern version of one of the best known theatrical works. The cast and crew were fully deserving of the audience’s astonished standing ovation at the end of the play.