14 Must-Do Things in London

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In the land of Shakespeare, Arts and Culture, there’s just so much to discover. London has been a dream city since my childhood and I have waited over 10 years to come here; flew over 22 hours from Sydney, 9 hours transit, with 3 luggage, and just ONE ‘big fat’ dream—to see this beautiful city. I’ve had the absolute privilege to travel to London 5 times during my exchange (I’m possibly crazy haha), but if that makes you feel better, I am going to produce a local’s scoop of the must-do things in London, well, according to me!

I made it a challenge not to blog about too overrated stuff unless it’s really good, so let’s skip the Big Ben and London Eye in this list, shall we? Because that’s idiot proof!

1. Be dazzled by this Insta-worthy neon lights heaven

You have to be prepared to travel out of the way for this Instagram-worthy heaven, God’s Own Junkyard (technically it is owned by God). It is nowhere near central London at all. We took about an hour and a half to get here. It is a 15-20 minutes walk and about an hour on the tube, but the result? Totally worth it. Just note that pictures cannot be taken using a DSLR, as they cannot be used for commercial purposes.

One funny story—both of our phones died the moment we reached there. Since there’s neon lights all around us, power and electricity must be in abundance. We simply plugged our phones in one of the sockets hahaha.

God’s Own Junkyard
Unit 12, Ravenswood Industrial Estate
Shernhall St, Walthamstow
London E17 9HQ, UK
Opening hours:
Closed Mon-Thurs
Fri & Sat 11am – 9pm
Sun 11am – 6pm
For the: Picture crazy traveller

2. Go Museum Hopping and leave feeling inspired

I wrote a post specifically about museums in London that you absolutely must visit here, and the museums in London really have vast collections so rich in culture, history and value. Besides museums, cultural centres are totally worth visiting as well. My friend recommended me to go to Somerset House, which is an art and cultural centre with ongoing galleries and festivals. It is the breeding ground, the new experimental workspace for artists, makers, thinkers and hipsters alike.

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Somerset House is one of the best atmospheric outdoor venues in the UK. Its galleries are divided into East Wing, South Wing, New Wing and North Wing; each of them houses various exhibitions. They also have performances like this in the main Fountain Court. Circus Sampler was performing on the day we were there, where you can catch hula hoop acrobats and the Guinness World Record Holder in action!

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My absolutely favourite discovery lies in the South Wing. Print! Tearing it Up is an absolute treasure that I have stumbled upon and my biggest takeaway from Somerset House. It’s a showcase on independent British magazines changing the world, and all the magazines there were amazing. Print! Tearing it up reveals that print is not dead in today’s digital era; and seeks to continue its demand by revealing the power of print to provide a platform for key social and cultural issues.

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Furthermore, the content is good—they have a wide selection of topics like art, design, photography, poetry & prose, cooking books, and more. The exhibition showcases a diverse range of contemporary publications dedicated to urgent issues of the day, arguing the case for considered journalism to politics, fake news to the power of the algorithm. I bought a magazine called Backstage Talks on compiled interviews with 10 designers at the Design Conference last year (the yellow one on the table). This series ended on 22 Aug but don’t worry, there’s always new and interesting things coming, they have cool events like summer film screenings etc! Just keep a lookout for What’s On.

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Somerset House
Strand, London WC2R 1LA, UK
Opening hours:
Everyday 8am – 11pm
For the: Culture seeker

3.  Spoil yourself with luxury and beauty stores in Covent Garden

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From Somerset House, you could take an 8 mins walk to Covent Garden, where the best shops and best buys are at! There is Jubilee Market, which is famous for antiques and collectables; luxury shops like Daniel Wellington, and also the quirky Moomin shop. We went to Covent Garden on a rainy day and was in the mood for some souvenir shopping, and headed towards macaroons shop Ladurée and tea shop Whittard. You absolutely must visit Whittard to try their hot chocolates and their fine selection of teas! They have a lot of their flavours for testing. I tasted the white hot chocolate on a cold rainy day, and the rest was history. I have never tasted white hot chocolate in my life before. So so good! Of course, I bought it hehe.

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Besides shopping, Covent Garden is also renowned for award-winning restaurants and theatres, so you might wanna check it out.

For the: Culture seeker, the shopaholic

3. Unleash your inner foodie at the local markets

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This was my lunch for £8!! It’s rice with seafood (prawns, oysters etc). You absolutely must visit the markets in London. They are great for affordable food & shopping in contrast to places like Covent Garden. Borough Market is one of the largest and oldest food markets in London. The padella pasta is good, and they also have a wide selection of wine and cheese, honey…the list goes on. Borough Market’s food is fresh and amazing, especially seafood. You can even drop by London Bridge while you’re at it cos it’s just next to the market!

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Borough Market
8 Southwark St
London SE1 1TL, UK
Opening hours:
Mon – Thurs 10am – 5pm
Fri 10am – 6pm
Sat 8am – 5pm
Sun Closed
For the: 
Passionate Foodie

Next, Camden Markets! This one is huge. Camden Town is something like the Bugis street of Singapore I would say! There are more stores selling fashion and accessories here, adjoining large retail markets. Borough Market just sells mainly food; however Camden has more Asian food as compared to Borough.

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Camden Market
Camden Lock Pl, Camden Town, London NW1 8AF, UK
Opening hours:
Everyday 10am – 6pm

4. Feel (un)cultured trying to understand Shakespeare

This is crazy. I got tickets to watch Shakespeare’s Hamlet for £5! Yes, tickets can get as low as this…provided you get the yard tickets (standing). But we didn’t mind at all because of the play was so exciting, the actors so talented and engaging, that by the time we had noticed our legs were aching, the play’s already over.

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I watched it at Shakespeare Globe. The architecture here is amazing and (I think) it’s probably one of the only places to watch Shakespeare. Anyways I never felt so uncultured my whole life because I didn’t understand a word of the actors’ dialogue haha. However, it wasn’t boring at all for me, and you have my assurance that it probably won’t be for you as well. The actors are so talented, they would keep you engaged with their body language. I wished I could have watched one of Shakespeare’s plays when he was still alive in the 1600s, that would be interesting.

Plays usually have an intermission in between, and we aren’t allowed to take photos while the actors are on stage. Buy your tickets online in advance, because for this one, the tickets sell out very fast. I repeat, very fast. Like literally I checked in the morning it was available, and by the afternoon came it was all gone. I had never felt so anxious about buying a ticket in my life before.

Shakespeare Globe
21 New Globe Walk
London SE1 9DT, UK
Tickets: http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/whats-on
For the: Culture seeker

5. Catch dirt cheap musicals in West End

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Ahh, West End. I’ve heard so much about this before I came here. It’s so integrated into London’s culture, and it has never let anyone down, so if you only have one thing you can do in London, I’d say do this. Everyone I’ve met who have been to London (Jan, Florence, WenXin…) have told me not to miss out on the musicals.

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I was deciding between Phantom of the Opera or Les Miserables, and in the end, we went for Les Miserables—the world’s longest-running musical. I have watched the movie before so I was really curious to see how the actual live musical looked like. The experience was…exhilarating. I cried. I don’t think I can ever emphasize how much the both of us freaked out right on the first act, the music and the singing really freaked us right out into tears. My friend beside me burst into tears immediately. I was stunned, sitting frozen in a daze. It was so loud, so impactful, so real…the familiar lyrics I’ve always used to hear over my computer screen just thundered right before my ears. By the time I Dreamed a Dream came on, uncontrollable tears just flowed freely from my eyes as I sat high up in the upper circle, my gaze fixing on the actors below. It was performed differently from the movie—it was raw, unstable, emotional. The plot slowly unfolded right before our very eyes, the acting the music and props & everything…was so nicely done. My favourite song was Do you hear the people sing? it was just so liberating, so enchanting, so otherworldly. From the first song to the last, we sat frozen in a gaze, our hearts secretly impressed.

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We caught it at Queen’s Theatre, and we weren’t allowed to take pictures while the actors are on stage so these images I got from Google hahaha. We got pretty good seats for ourselves for about £29. What a steal! Considering musicals like these would easily cost over a hundred plus in Singapore, I’m very satisfied with the price. I heard that if you queue up outside the box office very early in the morning, you can get tickets as low as £5-10. I don’t know, I never tried. If you plan to get tickets online, book it in advance too because this one is also as crazy as Shakespeare Globe!! The good seats run out very fast.

Due to time constraint, this was the only musical I’ve watched during my time in London. So it works like this: usually, one theatre is dedicated to ONE production. Below are the respective theatres and their productions. They should have one intermission. And oh! Don’t just leave after the musical. You can head outside the backstage door to meet the actors and take pictures!

Queen’s Theatre
51 Shaftesbury Ave, Soho
London W1D 6BA, UK
Production: Les Miserables

Her Majesty’s Theatre
Haymarket, St. James’s
London SW1Y 4QL, UK
Production:
The Phantom of the Opera

Lyceum Theatre
21 Wellington St
London WC2E 7RQ, UK
Production: The Lion King

Prince Edward Theatre
Old Compton St, Soho
London W1D 4HS, UK
Production: Aladdin

Apollo Victoria Theatre
17 Wilton Rd, Pimlico
London SW1V 1LG, UK
Production: Wicked

Cambridge Theatre
Earlham Street
London WC2H 9HU, UK
Production: Matilda the Musical

For the: Culture seeker

 

6. Shop till you drop at Oxford and Regent Street

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Oxford Street is London’s busiest shopping street, with big and luxurious brands of our favourite international brands. Don’t let that scare you, I think the prices are pretty reasonable at Oxford Street! If you’re truly broke, head to Primark. In Oxford Street alone there are already 2 huge Primark stores, where you can find cheap and trendy fashion as low as £6, Harry Potter pyjamas as low as £10 (yas!!), Disney and Friends pyjamas, beauty buys, make-up, handbags, shoes…I bought so much this trip that I had to buy another luggage to fit all my stuff in! Primark is known for its affordability. I got Pusheen socks, earrings, necklaces, bathrobes…just remember, Primark. When there is Primark there is no self-control. 😂

If you have a bigger budget or is just feeling splurgy, check out Selfridges, which is also at Oxford St. It is a large departmental store, with fashion, stationery, kids stuff and more. I found Victoria Beckham’s fashion collection there! Lots of VIPs visit the store, and despite the chauffeur driven cars waiting outside, people in Selfridges are not snobby at all. Lots of people compare Harrods to Selfridges, Harrods being another departmental store selling luxury gifts, fashion accessories and designer clothing. I picked up a Prada bag in Harrods for £5,000—not available anywhere else in the world but can only be found in Harrods. The price shocked the hell out of me (obviously) but I still stayed and chatted a while with the saleslady. The people were not snobbish at all. Harrods is not near Oxford St, but it would be worth checking it out after visiting Selfridges.

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After Oxford Street, you can also head down to Regent St, which is in Soho. This is where you can shop at another departmental store Liberty, famous toy shop Hamleys, or explore Carnaby Street which has lots of cool fashion shops with a funky and edgy street style. Or, you can even do a pub crawl which I never got to do because of time constraint haha.

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And Chinatown Gate is just around the corner too. Here in Chinatown, you can find Hong Kong pastries and Chinese food, give it a try!

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For the: Shopaholic

7. Sit under a tree and chill with a book at the amazing parks

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When we moved to London, our accommodation was near Kensington Gardens so we decided to take a look. It was so breezy that day, a blessing considering that the past few weekends had been really hot. I could easily have my ideal morning there: feeding the ducks, reading a book under the shade of a tree and watching the world go by. Imagine living near a park in London! You could just go there whenever you are stressed and walk around, take in the fresh air or feed the ducks, which I must say, is a very therapeutic activity.

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Holding hands and dating must be so nice amidst this lush greenery and amazing weather too!

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From Kensington Gardens, all you have to do is cross a bridge from the correct side of the gardens and you’ll reach Hyde Park! Hyde Park was huge. There were a lot of people walking their dogs, and doing some rowing near the lake.

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For the: Nature Lover

8. Tell people your Hogwarts acceptance letter came…finally.

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The UK is THE paradise for every Harry Potter fan. This is the Harry Potter Warner Bros Studio Tour, which is a freaking long tour (about 4 hours) but was super worth it. You can go on board the Hogwarts Express, see the train cabins where they filmed Harry Potter, and also try out wand choreography (which I felt like an idiot doing it but they teach you how to wave a wand properly!!)

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Besides visiting the sets, you’ll be let into the costumes collection, prop collection and most of the stuff used for the filming of Harry Potter. We got to see concept art and initial sketches of the movie, as well as paper models of Hogwarts and other sets, and the design and thought process that goes behind the production of the 8 films. It just awes me, that people put so much effort and dedication into perfecting every detail, into making the costumes, building the sets…

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Oh! they also served us butterbeer, which is non-alcoholic by the way. Its actually made out of cream soda and butterscotch foam, and tasted really pleasant and sweet. Overall, this place just brings the magic of Harry Potter to life.

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter
Studio Tour Drive, Leavesden WD25 7LR, UK
Opening hours:
Mon-Fri 9.30am – 10pm
Sat-Sun 8.30am – 10pm
Tickets: £41.00
https://www.wbstudiotour.co.uk/tickets

For the: TV and movie buffs

9. Connect with London’s famous detective, Sherlock

From the moment I watched BBC Sherlock played by Benedict Cumberbatch, I was Sherlocked. Captured in every way possible: by the witty storylines, the friendship between Sherlock and John Watson, the detective novels. I’m absolute trash for this fandom you probably have no idea. So I made it a mission to go to the most famous address, 221B Baker Street, to pay my detective a visit.

The museum was awesome. Inside we walk through the apartment of Sherlock Holmes, Watson’s study, and I was impressed that everything, even the furniture, looked exactly the same as the TV series! To see it in real life triggered scenes of the show in my head. “Oh, this was where he took drugs…this was where he and John sat to solve crimes.”

If you’re aren’t a BBC fan like me, that’s okay too. Lots of people have just heard a lot about Sherlock, and are curious about him. You’ll definitely learn more about this famous character here. Alternatively, you can visit the Victorian gift shop in the museum for free, which is just below Sherlock’s apartment, and they have lots of antiques, souvenirs & collectables, and BBC Sherlock merchandise for a trash like me.

Fun fact: I spent more at the Sherlock Holmes museum than in Primark, even after taking several items out of my shopping cart.

The Sherlock Holmes Museum
221b Baker St, Marylebone
London NW1 6XE, UK
Opening hours:
Open everyday 9.30am – 6pm
Tickets: £15.00
Purchase at the museum shop

Caution Tip: Please go way earlier than the time it opens to avoid long queues. The queue is crazy.

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We also made it a point to visit the actual film locations of BBC Sherlock. The actual apartment where BBC Sherlock was filmed at was at North Gower St, a quieter street not far from the actual 221b Baker St. We took a bus down after visiting the museum and…I almost broke down at the sight of this door, memories came flooding into my head, memories which were not mine. I was rather emotionally involved with the series hahaha. And tada! Beside the door is the famous Speedy’s Cafe.

We just casually had lunch here until we realised this cafe is bursting with business—most of their customers are Sherlock fans. There was a bunch of girls sitting beside us, one of whom was wearing a “I am Sherlocked” necklace hahaha. The food was okay, not particularly great, but because Sherlock used to always have chips here, I asked the waiter, “Does my burger come with chips?” In the end, we ordered so much and ate till we were so full. 😂

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Speedy’s Sandwich Bar
187 N Gower St, Kings Cross
London NW1 2NJ, UK
Opening hours:
Mon-Fri 6.30am – 3.30pm
Sat 7.30am – 1.30pm
Closed on Sundays

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As if that wasn’t enough, we went to St Barts Hospital, the place where Sherlock committed suicide. There were SO MANY fan scribbles on the wall, it reminded me of how this series used to take London by storm when it first came out. I never dreamed of coming here, of seeing it in real life. If you’re a Sherlock fan, you shouldn’t miss this. Bring a pen with you if you wish to share some love! One of my regrets at that time: I didn’t have a pen with me.

St Barts Hospital
W Smithfield
London EC1A 7BE, UK

For the: TV and movie buffs

10. Explore the state rooms of Buckingham Palace

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I went to Buckingham Palace on three separate occasions. Mainly because it’s always this crowded, and THIS hot in the summer, and I refuse to give up until I get a clear view and good photos haha. I do recommend going at least 45 minutes earlier to camp at a good spot, where you can see the changing of the guards. It usually starts at 11am.

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I also had the absolute privilege of entering the palace to visit the state rooms. It is indeed a rare opportunity which we can do this, as the palace is only open for a limited period only. Plus, again, tickets are in demand, so it is advised to book in advance. I paid £22 (student price) for a one year pass; the palace is open to the public on 21st July and will last till 30th September. It’s ending soon, so if you’re in London during this period, go on and be a royal for a day. Sadly, no pictures are allowed inside, and we had to go through a tight security check. I took as many mental images as I walked through the drawing room, throne room, ballroom, grand staircase…because how often do you get to see the inside of the palace? I even saw the throne chairs used for the Queen’s coronation and I was enthralled!

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If you have time, do explore the palace gardens and surroundings as well! I saw some swans and it is indeed a tranquil place to take a walk.

Buckingham Palace
Westminster, London SW1A 1AA, UK
Opening hours:
Open everyday from 9.30am – 6pm
Last admission 4.15pm
Tickets: £24.00 for a one-year pass
https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/the-state-rooms-buckingham-palace

For the: Culture seeker

11. Visit the squares in London

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I know, sounds funny right? Squares in London, what’s that? Well, Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square are my favourite squares in London. I was in Leicester Square during the pride weekend, and it was so happening, so crowded and usually there are performances in the square. Leicester Square is an entertainment hotspot, with more cinemas, theatres and restaurants ever. Just nearby you can visit TWG Tea if you’re feeling a bit homesick, or check out the huge multi-storey M&M’s world, an outlet like no other, where you can customise messages and names on your M&Ms.

See Nelson’s Column at Trafalgar Square, and if you find that dull like me, just opposite the column is the National Gallery, where you can see paintings of famous artists like Van Gogh and Monet.

For the: Culture seeker, the shopaholic

12. Scare your pants off at the London Dungeon

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I never knew the dark side of London. Here I got up close with London’s frightening past—of convicts, the great fire, and the plague. The London Dungeon is near London’s Southbank, along with the other tourist attractions like the London Eye, Big Ben and River Thames; but you’ll scream in fright here like no other. I was brought from room to room in darkness, with occasional jump scares while learning about London’s dark history at the same time. I was treated like a convict, charged guilty, and there are two rides inside—where they say you will ride to your peril.

Ok, in all honesty, I was seriously so scared but it’s manageable as well. I mean, there were kids there, so it can’t be that bad. My favourite feature was probably coming (almost) face to face with Jack the Ripper. The actors and workers inside were also really into character, they spook me and make me laugh at the same time!

The London Dungeon
Riverside Building, County Hall
Westminster Bridge Rd, Lambeth
London SE1 7PB, UK
Opening hours:
Open everyday 10am – 5pm; with the exception of
Sat 10am – 6pm
Thurs 11am – 5pm
Tickets: £21.00 (online price)
https://www.thedungeons.com/london/en/tickets/

13. Don’t be a typical tourist—Climb the Tower Bridge!

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We all know the Tower Bridge, but I got to learn a bit more about it when I climbed up there and discovered its hidden history, learning how it was built and constructed. I never knew the tower bridge could be lifted up, splitting into two parts in order to let big ships pass! You can check the bridge lift times here.

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Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge Rd
London SE1 2UP, UK
Tickets: £9.80 (cheaper if you buy online)
https://towerbridge.recreatex.be/Products/Overview

14. Get a bird’s eye view of the city at St Paul’s Cathedral

This is not for the faint-hearted! You can get the best view of the city by climbing St Paul’s Cathedral, with its world-famous dome. Speaking of which, there’s probably a lot of spots to get good views of the city from above, like SkyGarden or The Shard, but I’m very satisfied with the view I got from St Paul’s because I worked for it!

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There were no elevators at that time the church was built, so the only way up is to go through a very narrow staircase, and it takes about 528 steps to get to the top — a height of nearly 365 feet. When you reach 257 steps and arrive at the top of the dome, there is also a Whispering Gallery where you can stand at one end of the dome and whisper to your partner at the other far end and he/she would be able to hear you!

After that, you can continue climbing to the Stone Gallery, which can already get you a decent bird’s eye view of the city; or go even higher to the Golden Gallery, where you hit 528 steps in total. I climbed all the way. Initially thought since I was young and it would be easy, but my legs were wobbling at the end and you have to be very careful not to slip and fall. There were so many people resting or giving up halfway—making up to the top was no mean feat!

If you don’t wish to climb, just visiting the church alone for a time of reflection and prayer would be awesome. I cried there again after saying a prayer because I was too overwhelmed by the grandeur and angelic song by the choir. I know, what a crybaby haha. The bottom of the cathedral is the Crypt, where they house tombs of the famous dead. You can explore that as well, it was such a holy and mesmerising experience.

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St Paul’s Cathedral
St. Paul’s Churchyard
London EC4M 8AD, UK
Opening hours: Mon-Sat, 8.30am – 4pm
Tickets: £18.00
https://www.stpauls.co.uk/tickets


 

So there you go! It is definitely a challenge to keep this list short because I have so many things to share and London never really gets boring! I sneakily added Number 3 twice, did you notice? 😉 I don’t think we would ever finish exploring London, the city is just buzzing with festivals, events and activities all the time; since it was my first time there, every corner I turn was a surprise. My advice would be just to explore each and every corner of London because this city is a place where we don’t have to stick to an itinerary in order to have fun. Just be flexible in your travel plans, and if you see something interesting, don’t forget to snap it and share it with me!

Lots of Love,
Grace

Spring

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Spring is here!

Just came back from grocery shopping at the shopping mall near my house. Today was a bit special, my housemate offered to walk with me from our house to the mall. I have never walked before, have always taken a bus, and it was very nice of her to show me the way by accompanying me. She had just moved in and I have never actually hung out with her before. The walk was 30 minutes, and to walk together means I would have to sustain a conversation with her for 30 minutes.

To my surprise, it was such great ease. We talked non-stop, there was no awkwardness at all, in fact, so much laughter and the conversation felt so natural. She was very talkative, very bubbly; there was hardly a gap of silence, and she gushed about the benefits of walking, “Yeah you should walk! I always walk and listen to my music and the walk is not long at all! In fact, it’s part of my daily routine now. And it is spring, the weather is so nice and the flowers are in full bloom…look!” as we walked she pointed, and we stopped occasionally to admire the flowers. The walk from our house to the mall was a bushwalk and we had to pass through a creek, where we see flora and fauna of species which I have never seen before (and certainly not thriving in Singapore).

“I’m definitely missing out!” I said in response and meant it. As she talked with such gusto and introducing me to the skatepark nearby, the mini supermart nearby, I felt a pang of embarrassment. I have lived here since May and have never walked to school or to the mall before. She has only just moved in and yet already knows so much about the neighbourhood. Ever since I came back from Europe and was curing my jet lag, I was usually late, and rushing for the bus and stuff. I never got to make the extra effort to wake up early, breathe in some fresh air and admire nature as I walked to school.

All I can say is I have made the decision to walk to school from now on. I am so so excited to listen to music and think about life while walking, or to just get a bit of exercise amidst my busy schedule. I have recently planned to meet up with a friend and she suggested instead of the usual hanging out at a cafe, why not go to a park and get a bit of running done? I loved the idea.

I got to the supermarket and have realised that I have never bought foods that I really wanted to try before. Mainly because I don’t know how to cook them, and I was too unmotivated to experiment. Then I got home and made some strawberry milkshake for myself for the first time since I’ve moved in. I realised have not used the blender even once, I seldom used the rice cooker, and I always use the microwave. I have not noticed how the flowers in my backyard have started to bloom.

I paused because I was trying to get some sort of insight here. Perhaps I was too absorbed in my own life and what I’m doing in school, or what’s online at the moment; that I’ve never stopped to appreciate beauty unless I’m travelling. I have not ventured outside my comfort zone to try new recipes or to even use the blender, instead of buying packet drinks and milkshakes all the time. I think…I lived like this not because I was lazy, but because it is too easy to fall back into a routine. We always think there are more important things occupying us, when in fact maybe…it is these little things that keep life fresh.

I love spring. The flowers are a sign that the weather is getting warmer, and should be a sign for me to stop being so absorbed in my own world, and to walk to school, too.

Museums in London that you absolutely must visit

Hi everyone! Throughout my stay in London I’ve had the luxury of time and the pleasure of visiting many museums, and here are some of my top 7 picks! This city is a place so rich in culture and content, not to mention they’re particularly good at documenting it, so no matter what your interest is—cinema, retro culture, art and design, science or natural history—you’ll definitely find something that interests you. If you’re not a museum lover, these museums might just surprise you too!

  1. Natural History Museum
    
    Size: 4/5
    Famous for: Life and Earth Science, and natural specimens
    Admission: Free

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    So hyped over learning more about history AND enjoying great architecture at the same time! Some of my nicest photos were captured here at this museum. I’ve heard a lot about its Romanesque architecture even before I came to London; and you’ll need a full day for this one, given its humongous size. The highlights, I’d say, would probably be the dinosaurs and the mammals’ collection. I quote, ‘The collection includes 157 taxa, 115 consists of original material and 69 are type specimens.’ I even got to see the first fossil ever found from my favourite dino species, the T-rex.

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    Surprisingly, the first gallery my friends and I flocked to wasn’t the dinosaurs. It was human biology. Yes. They make science so easy and interesting to understand, and there were kids all around on their field trips. I wonder if I had grown up studying in London, would I be smarter. hahaha. There was also an exhibit on volcanoes, outer space and the Earth, which was really interesting considering it was like a geography crash course on Earthquakes and Earth minerals.

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    If you’re more interested in living things, go to the Large Mammals Hall first, and you’ll be captivated by the sight of a large blue whale model suspended from the ceiling. There’s a certain kind of wonder when I saw it. This section features extinct mammoths and other mammals like giraffes, hippos and horses. Alternatively, if you happen to be interested in plants, insects, or minerals, don’t worry, the museum has everything for everyone.

  2. Design Museum
    
    Size: 2/5
    Famous for: Product, industrial, graphic, fashion and architectural design
    Admission: Free with the exception of some exhibitions

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    Unlike other big museums I’ve visited, this one doesn’t give me stress or tire my legs at all. It’s just the right size, with easy to understand information and descriptions. The exhibits mainly are separated into 3 sections: Designer, Maker, and User. I was from Design school so I totally understand the importance of user-friendly designs, and this museum pretty much emphasises on that. Just this year, Design museum was named “European Museum of the Year.”

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    There was this section devoted to the graphic design of London’s transport system (the tube) and road signs. I thought that was pretty interesting because you’ll notice a font consistency when you walk around the streets of London. There’s this “London font”, the same font they use for all their signs and stuff. Omg, totally catering to my inner OCD. It also shows the design process of some new trains—how certain features of the old trains (ie. height of the train) must be kept, and how certain features can be improved. A broad range of design disciplines is covered, from architecture and engineering, to the digital world, fashion and graphics. You’ll probably only need an hour or so to view this free permanent collection, so you decide whether it’s worth going down.

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  3. Museum of Brands, Packaging & Advertising
    
    Size: 1/5
    Famous for: Retro culture, packaging and branding history
    Admission: £9.00

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    This is one of the most underrated museums! I went there on a University field trip and had a workshop on branding done there. If not for that, I’ll probably never know about it. Located in Lancaster Rd, it’s not as accessible to get to as compared to the other museums, which are near tube stations. This museum is the best for hipsters in my opinion. I LOVE IT. In fact, I loved it so much I purchased a 1950s scrapbook from the museum shop—I never purchase anything from museum shops unnecessarily.

    This museum focuses a lot on consumer culture, and it documents the packaging design of many lifestyle products, showing visitors how a brand evolves with time…I saw familiar brands like Ovaltine, Dettol, Nestle’s Carnation Condensed Milk, basically everyday items we use!! It’s so interesting to see an unfamiliar packaging on a familiar brand. The evolution of packaging design reflects the changing demands of consumers at different time periods; it tells us something about what they look for in a product, and how visuals are constantly shaped to cater to appeal to our attention.

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    The retro culture in the museum is so strong, it gives me so much historical nostalgia. Album covers, vintage TVs and radios, typewriters, old newspapers…all these gave me insight into the society in Britain during the 1920s, 40s, 50s and so on. The famous scandal involving Princess Diana, Queen depicted on vinyl records, papers on the royal wedding…the list goes on.

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  4. Victoria and Albert Museum
    
    Size: 5/5 
    Famous for: Decorative arts and design, materials and textiles
    Admission: Free

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    If you’re in South Kensington and visiting Natural History Museum, there’s no harm coming into V&A to take a look. It markets itself as an art and design museum, but there is so much more than that. They have art and design pieces dating back to 5000 years ago, which brings us to lots of stuff like the 1960s fashion, photography, embroidery, furniture…etc. There was even a section decided to metals, and glass, and other materials as well. There was this particular section filled with gates, doors and benches made from the material.

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    And then I finally went to the top floor, where I saw more graphics, communication design and product design stuff! There were really cool furniture design as well as design for social media, design for the digital age and more. This museum also has a pretty good cafe beside a large open area where you could sit on the grass and chill. The weather was nice that day, so we ordered a salad and did exactly that.

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  5. British Museum
    
    Size: 5/5
    Famous for: Collections from all around the world- Eygptian mummies, Renaissance and medieval objects  
    Admission: Free

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    The British Museum is the first museum I’ve been to out of this list—and I also visited it on my very first day in London, so it was very fresh! To be honest, I came without expecting anything and I didn’t even know what was inside. It was SO HUGE, I arrived at 1pm and stayed till it’s closing time @ 5.30pm, and yet it was not enough to cover everything. The museum houses over 8 million objects, has 8 different levels (from Level -2 to Level 5); and it is so exhausting to walk through it. Just make sure you get a map, some water and wear comfortable shoes!!

    Perhaps my favourite gallery in the museum in the Enlightenment gallery. In the past, people studied all sorts of things to understand how the world works, and the knowledge gained during this era has greatly changed the way we viewed the world and shaped culture. In this gallery, they classified the various topics of study into various sections, and it was so interesting to see a comprehensive collection and renderings of nature, stones, etc…people in the past are just so so patient and smart, I could never imagine putting that much effort and detail into a field of study!

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    Two types of posers in a museum:

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    This is the Department of Greece and Rome. Also one of my favourite!! I was like feeling some high classical Greek vibes here, plus the sculptures are so amazing! These sculptures date back to 4000 years ago, from 3200BC all the way to the 4th century AD. It’s almost like a time travel, I promise you, and if you’re feeling playful you can even wear a nude coloured top (like me) and recreate the poses of the Greek Gods hahah.

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    Many of the must-see artefacts of the gallery belong in the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, so if you’re tight on time, please don’t skip this section. It’s located in Room 4, Level 0. They have over 100,000 pieces of Egyptian Art, and most of the sculptures were really huge, like towering over me. And if you’re interested in more ancient Egypt, you can visit Rooms 60-66 on Level 3, where they talk more about the Egyptian death and afterlife, a huge part of their culture! This is where the mummies are housed, it talks about the procedure the bodies have to go through after death and more.

    British Museum is so much more than that—they have the department of Asia, Africa, America, Oceania, the Middle East and Europe—it’s pretty much a museum of the world, for the world.

  6. National Gallery
    
    Size: 4/5
    Famous for: Portraits and paintings from mid 13th century-1900, fine art
    Admission: Free

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    Located just next to Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery is worth dropping by when you are in the area. It was a hot day, and I was in London for a day trip, so my friends and I decided to escape into the museum. As we have limited time, I went there with a purpose: to see the works of famous artists like Monet and Van Gogh. You can catch their works in the 18th to early 20th-century collection. Many famous works such as van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait, Velázquez’s Rokeby Venus, Turner’s Fighting Temeraire and Van Gogh’s Sunflowers are all housed in this museum. If you have the time, I strongly recommended joining a tour where they would explain the story behind the paintings. Most of the paintings there has a narrative behind it, a narrative that tells us something about life, death, passion and beauty.

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    There are stunning paintings depicting seduction and forbidden love; and also paintings of the English countryside and nature. This one below is one of my favourites, ‘The Boulevard de Clichy under Snow’ by Norbert Goeneutte. It depicts a snowy winter in Paris, capturing the buildings and the people, and the elegance of the city. I particularly love traditionally-painted townscapes, they all look so dreamy.

    The Boulevard de Clichy under Snow 1876 by Norbert Goeneutte 1854-1894

  7. Tate Modern
    
    Size: 3/5
    Famous for: International modern and contemporary art
    Admission: Free with the exception of some exhibits

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    For us, Tate Modern was a regrettably quick experience and was kind of rushed, but I still decided to put Tate into this list because I saw pretty inspiring photography, installations and fine art. The gallery holds the national collection of British art from 1900 to the present day and international modern and contemporary art. Most of the stuff there is pretty abstract. There were media networks exploring the impacts of mass media and digital technology on contemporary art as well. I really prefer contemporary art to classical art nowadays, I prefer cubism to realism; maybe because realistic, historical paintings don’t intrigue me anymore. With contemporary art, boundaries are endless. The impossible might become the next possible.

     

    So there it is! My list. Next post will be on my favourite spots in London in general. Lots of love!

Passion and Fire

“Hear this, young men and women everywhere, and proclaim it far and wide. The earth is yours and the fullness thereof. Be kind, but be fierce. You are needed now more than ever before. Take up the mantle of change. For this is your time.”
—Sir Winston Churchill

Speaks to me a lot, because I know I have a vision, perhaps even a global revival for the youths of today. I can be kind and fierce… the question is, is this my time?

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When we are young, we are filled with all energy and hope and passion and fire.

I was watching this documentary on American rappers in the music industry and they say we creators, us, we have to keep feeling and keep owning this fire; and implement our passion with discipline and consistency, because if we don’t it’s going to fizzle.

I hope mine never runs out.

I know in the creative industry, in the business of blogging, youtube and content creation, we have to market ourselves. This female rapper, Awkwafina, was talking about how she thinks she probably couldn’t be marketed without her music (her niche). I think so, for me, too. I have to have something that complements me…a kind of craft, a skill I can hone. Asian female, I am short, petite, normal looking, nobody would notice me. Some people (like celebrities and fashion models) can be marketed as themselves, as it is, as their personalities; but I don’t think I can be marketed like that. The thing is I am still not sure about my niche: is it art? Is it design? Is it in my writing? Or my video editing? Or photography? On top of all these, I still have so many things I’m interested in like acting, modelling, singing. Even though I have 0 experience in those. I have to find and market my niche.

My friends and I were talking about YouTube (the Asian Hollywood lol) yesterday and how it’s so oversaturated, that in order to really stand out, we have to be smashing original. Thinking about this repulses me, but it does not quench my drive for innovation. It just quenches my interest in YouTube. I DO NOT wish to be a social media influencer or a YouTuber, but I just enjoy creating videos. How does it make sense?? HAHHA. I have to be original and innovative.

Growing up, I am taught by my mother that Asians have no place in Hollywood, or in any creative industry for that matter. When I wanted to venture into the international market, my mum and others would tell me that as an Asian, I would always be treated with inferiority. It only has been in the recent year that I studied more on race, gender and culture in University; and I think the world is changing to become more inclusive, so I refuse to be defined by race or gender. I am still working on my insecurities though: my Singaporean accent. Not so much because I’m not proud of my culture, but because people have such a hard time understanding me when I speak Singlish. I feel embarrassed, and even though I have successfully shaken off most of my Singlish accent, learning how to speak in standard English; there is still this nagging doubt: If I wanted an acting career, would they accept the way I speak? If I wanted to have my own talk show or go into public speaking, would people recognise the way I speak? Would international employers want me to go into news reporting, for example? Race and gender is a barrier that the world is slowly overcoming, but what about accents? I want my face to get out there and I want to represent the weak, to give a voice to the silent, to inspire. I have to be comfortable in my own skin.

 

Forbidden love: The Crown Review

The Crown, as you know, is about the Royals, about the reign of the dazzling Queen Elizabeth as the main character, but perhaps what stole the show was the short-lived love affair between Margaret and Peter Townsend.

These star-crossed lovers got me a couple of times, with their subplot pulling at my heartstrings, I couldn’t help feeling indignant towards them.

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Their proposal for marriage faced strong objection not only from the state but also from the government body. As the church of England, royals like Margaret aren’t supposed to marry divorced persons like Peter. After waiting it out for 2 years with the hope that they’ll finally be able to marry, but that was not to be. These two are finally reunited; but they soon find themselves separated again, and this time, for good.

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I am no stranger to the concept of forbidden love. Perhaps I know the feeling that it comes like the dagger straight to my heart, that as a Christian, it is both against my parents’ wishes and God’s wishes to marry a non-Christian, someone outside the faith. You may think I’m silly, that in this modern age, nobody clings onto traditional values like this, but I don’t have a choice because my relationship with God is important to me as well.

I think the negotiation in today’s post does not lie in whether a Christian can marry outside the faith or not; but let’s assume we cannot, then the negotiation lies in divided loyalties, the party to blame. Should we be angry at God for prohibiting our relationship? Our parents? Myself? And sometimes it hurts because there is no one to blame at all.

Perhaps that is why when the time came for Margaret to choose, with great agony, between the call of duty and love; that I felt great pain for her—marrying a divorced person at that time was against the Holy Scriptures, the church of England didn’t allow it; and no matter how we matter dismiss these values today, they stand in face of their unique situation.

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Despite his record as a courageous fighter ace, [Townsend] was gentle, sensitive, and intuitive, qualities that appealed to the vulnerable core hidden beneath Margaret’s willful, confident exterior. When Townsend accompanied the royal family on a tour of South Africa in 1947, the two were in each other’s company every day. “We rode together every morning in that wonderful country, in marvelous weather,” the Princess told a confidante. “That’s when I really fell in love with him.”

For once, I know how it is to love that kind of man. That kind of man that seems more passive, quiet and probably duller than me but really…is the one silently supporting me from behind, is really the one shining, the one to hold me together. Gentle, sensitive, intuitive. The one that complements my fire, that wild spirit inside; the one who can tame it, nurture it, shape it without being burned himself. Rather decent and old-fashioned. “Easy qualities to mock,” Margaret says. “Easy to miss, too.”

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“I won’t let them send you away. I won’t.”

“Even though both Townsend and Margaret went on to marry others—with Margaret’s marriage to photographer Anthony Armstrong-Jones ending in its own scandalous divorce—Townsend was always considered to be the great love of Princess Margaret’s life.”

Perhaps we only fall in love once, and that happened when we least expect it, or that one romance early in life that was everything. Then as we grow older we just find people who fulfil our ‘checklists’…financial security, tick. Appropriate age gap, tick. Preferred race, tick. Similar values, a similar religion, tick. Royals have to marry royals. Easier to live together this way. A safe route.

But if you have a checklist is that really love?

I always believe love is just…unexplainable. It just happens, you just love a person, you don’t know why. If you say, “well, he’s so cute,” or “well, he’s just the sweetest being ever, so responsible and romantic,” then perhaps you’re in love with his qualities, qualities that fulfil your requirement in a lover. Of course, that’s not to say we shouldn’t appreciate or look out for these qualities, but if these qualities become the reason you love someone, then…chances are you’re letting it define your relationship, and when that crumbles, your marriage would crumble, too.

Loving has no explanation. It is loving the person, embracing their flaws (unless they assault you or whatever then please go to the police la) HAHHAA.

Maybe there is such a fine line between requirements and real love, that we don’t know what’s the difference anymore. All I know is I felt strongly, that Margaret’s great love is Peter Townsend, that one love that we will never forget no matter what, that one precious love early in your teens that if it has worked out for you, you know you’re the lucky ones.

Midnight in Paris

Watched a film I put off for a long time, Midnight in Paris last night. Before I played it I already knew I would not only enjoy it, but it would resonate deeply with me.

I was having a bad day, but Midnight in Paris totally cheered me up and transported me to another world.

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Plot: A writer travels back through time in Paris in the 1920s every night, and mingles with famous writers and painters to get inspiration.

Wow. For a start, ok, this film is a visual feast. The filming locations are usually outdoors, in beautiful locations, so romantic, so picturesque. The soundtrack, oh my god, it accompanies everything. The jazz…so relaxing, it’s really my type of music. That’s how it drew me in.

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That’s exactly how I see the world, through those lenses of fantasy, taking in the charming allure of the city. I think that’s why I have such strong attachment to my Europe trip. I romanticise places. A lot.

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The lines in the film are also exceptionally beautiful and inspiring for me as a designer, writer, artist, content creator.

THE CONCEPT OF CREATING

But Midnight in Paris is not just that. It’s about content creation, inspiration, ambition. The power of believing and giving a shot. Probably too late to be a writer, but I do believe people have what it takes inside of them to succeed.

“We all fear death and question our place in the universe. The artist’s job is not to succumb to despair, but to find an antidote to the emptiness of existence.”

I think that’s the highest form of calling. I think this is what I’ve been searching for all along. I recently came across this Japanese concept ‘ikigai’ online, which means ‘the reason for being’. It means combining doing what you love, what you’re good at and what the world needs all at the same time. I think what the world needs is an antidote to the emptiness of existence. I do believe I have the antidote—God, of course—but not everyone believes in God and some people even pushes away the gospel. I’m afraid I don’t have it all figured out, I want to help people, but I don’t know how to…and I’m still trying to figure out how to present my antidote to the world in another way. Though I’m not going to pressure myself, because I believe all things come in its own timing. As an aspiring writer/artist, seeing how they talk about art in the film is…rather confronting. Real art is confronting I think. It might be harrowing, but I think in a sense it questions our being and through that, encourages people to find their own ‘ikigai’.

Anyways watching the artists at work just makes me very very inspired, to bring my abstract concepts to the world.

The question is what can I offer?

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The film inspires me because it tells me it’s never too late to start. Yes, I’m young, but I always believe our time on earth is very limited. Gil (the main character) took a real shot at being a writer, to me, he’s inspiring. This sounds cliche, but pursuing our dreams is inspiring, no matter how old you are. And if you’re in a field like accountancy, or medicine, or law, those professions usually have a fixed path, a corporate ladder—but in my field, the world of content creation, the creative industry, we hustle and hustle in obscurity. I have lost track of the times where I felt so unheard, my voice so insignificant and soft. This film then is so peculiar, because Gil is also a normal, insignificant person that gets to hang out with the greatest giants of the literary world—F Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso.

THE CONCEPT OF LOVING

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“I believe that love is true and real and create a respite from death. All cowardice comes from not loving, or not loving well, which is the same thing. And when the man who is brave and true looks at death squarely in the face, it is because they love with sufficient passion, to push death out of their minds.” —Ernest Hemingway

I know this. I know this full well because I had a man give up on us because of his fears.

Because he was too afraid. Afraid of exactly what, I don’t know.

Afraid of commitment, afraid of poverty, afraid that he wouldn’t be able to carry the heavy crown on my head.

“I’m sure you’ll be a very successful designer.”
“So what? Why does it scare you if, just if, I’m more successful than you?”

But whatever the fears are, all fears stem from one fear—the fear of death.
We are sinful beings that deserve death in the first place. Perhaps the reason why we’re so fearful of the future and about the little things in life is that we know death is the unavoidable outcome, and we try so hard to make our lives matter.

I had asked him, “Do you like me enough?”
I’d like to think the hidden connotation to my question was, “Do you like me enough to call it real love?”

He couldn’t answer.

Maybe the answer is no. Perhaps it has been no all along, because if cowardice comes from not loving, then the answer is simply not loving.

I saw and I loved. I loved wholly, though flawed, but wholly. I know it is for three years. I loved enough to brave the storms, to push death out of my mind, I loved enough to disregard all flaws, and I love that about myself.

That was a question I had asked him for a long time and both of us couldn’t figure it out. Maybe it’s a question not targeted at him but targeted at myself. I needed a conclusion, the concept of either loving or not loving, when in actual fact, the greatest, most perfect love of all, from God, is enough to push death out of my own mind.

I’d like to think my love for him could possibly push his fears out, however regrettably, if only he believed in the power of love.

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AN OBSESSION WITH THE PAST

Funnily enough, this week’s lecture in my University talked about the topic of retro culture as well! This ties in nicely with the idea in the film where characters obsess over the past and, as a result, travels through time. My lecturer says, every generation seems to admire the previous, which is exactly the same insight this film is giving. For example, the millenials of today would admire the 50s, or 60s; and the 50s kids would admire the 20s, and the people of the 20s era would think that the Renaissance Age is the Golden age. Perhaps why we’re constantly obsessing over the nostalgic past is because we just want to escape from our every day (unsatisfactory) lives, and the thought that we would be happier elsewhere….well, do you think that’s what’s happening to me? The fact that wished I lived in a different era.

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Not to mention my baby Tom Hiddleston is inside- as F Scott Fitzgerald. Although the scenes he appeared in are very little, funnily, coz I didn’t choose to watch this movie because of him. But he’s so dashing as usual, and this is the first time I see him light a cig!

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I am probably taking a trip again soon. Maybe, just maybe, this time, I will ditch my camera, and write my way through.