The Saviour of Suncheon Bay

Located in the southern province of Jeollanam-do, Suncheon is a natural jewel. Great mountain trails, calm beaches, and sprawling parks entice visitors to a city that possess all the wholesome beauties that nature can provide and people can facilitate. It is in this marriage of nature and society that Suncheon Bay National Garden emerged. Prior to the garden’s conception, the city was facing an ecological crisis. Suncheon Bay, a marvellous coastal wetlands site, was taking in more visitors than the area could sustain. And so the National Garden came into being. Unveiled in Expo 2012 in Yeosu, the international exposition’s theme of “The Living Ocean and Coast” focused on environmental sustainability and protection of sensitive lands and species. It is here that the Suncheon Bay National Garden was opened to the public.

Covering a little under 1.12km2 of land, the SBNG is recognised as South Korea’s top national garden. Intended to help absorb the sheer numbers visiting Suncheon’s wetlands, the expansive park was designed in cooperation with the surrounding natural landscape. Artists, landscape designers, and many other creative individuals were locally and internationally sourced, all coming together in Suncheon to design a garden that welcomes ten of thousands of visitors every year. Over 860,000 trees (covering more than 505 different species) call the garden home, as do 113 species of flowers that change in accordance to the seasons. After visiting the Suncheon Filming Location, we headed towards the Dongcheon River to see SNBG in the afternoon light.

With only enough time to focus on one side of the garden, we decided to spend the rest of our day on the east side of SBNG. Here we found flora both indigenous and foreign to Korean soil, miniature gardens inspired by the architecture of outside countries and cultures, and a colourful design spirit that made every part we explored a unique and memorable experience.

In the six hours that we spent in SBNG the time flew so quickly, I couldn’t believe it when the sun started to set! Listed below are our Five Reasons to Visit Suncheon Bay National Garden.

The World Around Us and The World That Once Was

Entering the east gate, the Indoor Garden is one of the first exhibits that SBNG offers its guests. Once indoors, the sunlight is muted, radiating the warm glow that lights the building’s interior. Bougainvillea, first discovered by a French explorer of the same name, is the first flora to greet you. The path through the Indoor Garden bends this way and that, slowly leading you forward. Air purification plants, their vines spindly white like unwound cotton, hang neatly overhead and give the air inside a refreshing presence. Floss silk trees are tall and stately, their thorny trunks heavy with water in preparation for the dry season. The Wollemi Pine Tree sits nearby. A tree that dates back to the Jurassic period (201 – 145 million years ago), the Wollemi Pine was thought to be extinct. Miraculously, in 1994 it was discovered in the Blue Mountains of Australia. One of the rarest trees in the world, a few call the Indoor Garden home.

Near the back of the building, an area called Uami Garden is sectioned off. Here all the crucial elements of a traditional garden have been recreated, taking on the look of Joseon Dynasty (1392 – 1897) gardens in aesthetic details and the traditional organisation of such spaces. Entering Uami Garden, a Korean traditional totem pole welcomes you. A fake river is constructed to show visitors how pavilions would be constructed to exist harmoniously with their natural surroundings. The Bullo Gate (“Gate of Eternal Youth”) sits across from the pavilion, its sleek and simple design free of all signs of age, promising the visitor everlasting vitality.

The World Garden Zone

You don’t have to leave South Korea to see the world. Within SBNG lies a space where the cultural values and aesthetic tastes of eleven different countries are brought to life. Thailand, America, Germany, and many other exciting destinations are condensed into charming gardens that capture the design elements integral to each country’s global image, as well as the essence that makes each one distinctive.

Of the eleven countries, five hold a special place in my memory. While they are all stunning in their own right, my own tastes made me partial to the Mediterranean opulence of the Italian Garden, the Austen-esque romance of the British Garden, the colourful flowers that surrounded the Dutch Garden’s giant windmill, the Mexican Garden with its colour contrasts that brought Picasso to mind, and the heartbreaking tale of The Butterfly Lovers whose sentimental spirits shone through the style of the Chinese Garden.

Fun for the Little Ones

While I don’t have any of my own, it warms my heart to see children having fun. Summer days can be a logistical nightmare for families. Wanting to enjoy the sun without suffering in the heat, SBNG gives parents reprieve and their kids a way to enjoy their holiday without developing heatstroke. The adorably named Wriggling Garden has both covered play areas for the children and an outdoor water-play station with tall structures that spout water. Its cute name is derived from a long wooden tunnel. Donning every colour of the rainbow, the tunnel turns about like a snake finding its way in the grass. Each colour is a different section with its own means of entertaining the kids (from mirrors, to a ship’s steering wheel, to climbing ropes).

The City Reimagined

When your eyes set on Suncheon Lake Garden, it is difficult to think beyond its beauty. The elegant slopes of its five hills and the seemingly impossible wisp of a bridge that winds through them make for a breathtaking vision. What is truly amazing is that the lake garden, fitting so perfectly with its surroundings, was not always there. The artificial lake is the centerpiece of SBNG designed by American landscape designer, Charles Jencks. A person whose vision combined nature with science, Jencks designed the lake to illustrate the city of Suncheon in miniature. The hills are the city’s mountains, the wooden deck is Dongcheon Stream slicing through the landscape, and Suncheon itself is symbolised by the lake.

A Bridge Made of Dreams

SBNG was made with a vision of protecting and maintaining the wildlife surrounding it for future generations. The Dream Bridge perfectly encapsulates this goal. Designed by installation artist Kang Ik-joong, the bridge connects the east and west sides of Dongcheon River, giving visitors the opportunity to explore Suncheon Bay. Built for Expo 2012, The Dream Bridge was made in the spirit of the expo. Constructed with thirty abandoned and recycled cargo containers, it is charmingly decorated with 140,000 tiles made by as many different children from sixteen countries, reminding visitors that the environment is a global treasure, and that it is the children of today who will have the world of tomorrow.

Bringing the world to this city in southern Korea, Suncheon Bay National Garden is a place where you can spend the day, becoming lost in beauty created by both Mother Nature and the world’s artistic minds. 

Sun, Tea, and Seonamsa Temple

Tall, spindly trees shade the wide footpaths. Beside the elevated trail, the gentle Seonamsacheon stream flows down from the peak of Mt. Jogye. Centuries-old landmarks are dotted around the woodlands that stretch through the western end of Suncheon’s northern Seungjumyeon district. This is the Mt. Jogyesan Provincial Park. Two Buddhist temples, located on either side of the territory, call the park home. After checking into our accommodations, we headed off to visit Seonamsa, a quiet temple in the forest.

Built on the flatlands underneath Mt. Jogye, the Buddhist temple was first established in 529 for the Taego Order. It is now recognized as one of the head monasteries for this Korean branch of Buddhism. First named Biroam, it wasn’t until the mid-ninth century that the temple was dubbed Seonamsa. Doseon, an influential monk who lived through the fall of the Silla Dynasty, expanded the temple grounds in 861. In the 19th century, the complex was rebuilt after facing damage from the Japanese invasion and a large-scale fire. Many monks used Seonamsa as a place to live out all facets of a traditional life. Here they studiously applied their monastic education, cultivated a tea farm, and cared for apricot trees around the temple grounds that have called Seonamsa home for the past six centuries.

The trail leading towards Seonamsa, the more traditional and simplistically styled of the two Buddhist temples inside the park, offers a series of landmarks that have harmonized with the beauty of the natural environment for hundreds of years. Here are Five Reasons to Follow the Seonamsa Temple Trail:

Traditional Flavours in Soothing Tea

In a similar fashion to Seonamsa Temple, a low wall of clay brick and tile surrounds the perimeter of the Traditional Wild Tea Centre. The Centre is divided into two levels. On the ground floor lies the exhibit hall, where visitors can discover the history of tea, tea pottery, the tea-making process, and the particulars of Suncheon tea. It is here that we taste-tested some of the locally sourced teas. Each had a sharp, distinctive taste, and I finished the testing with a purchase of a packet of dried tealeaves gathered from Mohusil’s mountains and fields. Upstairs, the Tea Ceremonies take place on low tables and soft cushions on the dark wooden balcony. Low railings surround the space, giving an uninterrupted view of the Hanok buildings and surrounding mountains. Tea cookie tastings are a smart accompaniment to the traditional tea ceremony, giving visitors a rounded view of the tastes and traditions that have persevered.

An Otherworldly Bridge

Its name meaning “The Ascending Immortals”, Seungseon Bridge was a passion project for Monk Hoan. Beginning work on the Joseon Era Bridge in 1713, Monk Hoan completed construction in six years. Blending in neatly with the surrounding stream and wispy trees, Seungseon is considered one of Korea’s most picturesque bridges. The stream’s natural bedrock is used as the bridge’s foundation. Trapezoid-shaped stoned have been stacked atop each other with little interest in aesthetics. The walkway was paved with mud and grass. Below it, a sculpted dragon’s head sits underneath the midsection. Following the principles of pungsu-jiri-seol, the dragon’s head faces upstream to ward off evil spirits. Legend claims that removing the head will collapse the bridge. The arch of the bridge offers a clear view of Gangseon pavilion. With its timeless look, Seungseon Bridge is often used as a filming site for movies and television shows.

A Charming Little Pond

A quaint oval shape holds a small island in the middle. The island teems with vegetation, and the pond’s surrounding waters are covered in lily pads. Seonamsa Samindang, “The Pond of the Three Marks”, was created by monk Doseon in 862, a year after his work on the temple. It rests at the foot of the pathway that veers off from the main trail and leads visitors to the temple complex. This pond design is unique to Seonamsa temple. A plaque sits before the pond. On it this Buddhist ideal is carved – “Everything changes and there is no being. When people realize it, they enter nirvana.”

Iljumun Gate

The first gate of Seonamsa temple, the low walls that make up its perimeter are an architectural feature unique for typical Buddhist temple construction. It is known as the “One Pillar Gate”, as its side profile creates the illusion of the gate standing on a single pillar. This *symbolizes the one true path of enlightenment that supports the world. As the border between the Buddhist temple and a human’s worldly life, Iljumun Gate symbolizes ritual purification. A fire consumed the original gate, which was restored in 1540. The Qing invasion of Joseon led to another reconstruction in 1719.

Wontongjeon Hall

Located in the centre of the temple complex, in Wontongjeon Hall a statue of the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy poses gracefully, giving a serene smile to her worshippers. Built in 1660, this section dedicated to the goddess differs from its counterparts at other Korean Buddhist temples because of its unique design. In Seonamsa, the Wontongjoen Hall has three sections that come together to form a “T” – a large front area with two side sections.

“Wongtong” signifies “juwon-yuntong”, meaning “the truth is omnipresent and passes through everything.” Perhaps King Jeongjo (1752 – 1800) was seeking this truth when he asked Seonamsa’s High Priest Nuram to help pray for a male heir. Nuram dutifully set about his task, spending 100 days praying for the king to receive a son. His prayers were answered, and Prince Sunjo was born. To show his appreciation, the king gifted the temple with a simple and elegant tablet written in his own elegant script.

Whether wanting to enjoy a peaceful stroll, or take in the ancient architecture and the craft of tea making, the trail to Seonamsa Temple is a .

Experiencing the Magic of Studio Ghibli

In its thirty-four years of history, Studio Ghibli has enchanted its viewers with its persevering message of hope through adversity, strength in difficult times, and conviction when all seems lost. Framing complex topics such as environmentalism, personal identity, and the preservation of culture and tradition in worlds of magic, spirits, and anthropomorphic animals, Hayao Miyzaki helps his audience understand the doublespeak of politicians through fantasy, and shows us time and again how important it is to believe in yourself and fight for positive change.

From now until November 3rd, FTLife Tower in Kowloon Bay is holding a two-floor exhibition of some of Studio Ghibli’s most famed works. Containing detailed dioramas and life-sized models of well-known characters and sets, “The World of Studio Ghibli’s Animation” allows us to step into the immersive worlds that coloured and shaped many childhoods since the mid-eighties. Listed below are five iconic scenes brought to life in the Studio Ghibli exhibit.

A Witch and Her Cat inside Gütiokipänjä Bakery

While Miyazaki made the young witch and her cat recognizable worldwide, Kiki’s origins stem from a Japanese book bearing the same name as the film. Set in a fictional Northern European town, location scouting was mainly completed in Stockholm and Visby (both Swedish areas), explaining the island town’s distinctly modern German aesthetic. Gütiokipänjä Bakery, a name melding together the Japanese words “bakery” (“panya”), and “rock, paper, scissors” (“jankenpon”), was a place that became home to the wandering witch. The sudden decision to help the bakery owner return an item to a customer would launch the entrpreneurial girl’s delivery service.

Understanding the need to pay her dues, the exhibit’s own Gütiokipänjä Bakery shows Kiki and her companion, Jiji, going through a slow shift – something that people of all ages can relate to. No detail is overlooked in this rendition. To the far left, a blue cash register sits beside a vase containing two sunflowers and sprigs of baby’s breath. More flowers and plants rest behind and beside the cashier table. Mouthwatering loaves of bread are on display by the window, in the display counter, and behind the working girl. The sign for her delivery service hangs on the windowfront. The bakery’s door, spring green in colour, shows flour, milk, jams, and baguettes, neatly arranged on a wooden shelving unit.

Howl’s Moving Castle

Another adaptation of a children’s book, both versions are set in Ingary, a fictional monarchy located somewhere in the southern United Kingdom. A hodgepodge combination of metal and small single-storey red-roofed houses, the behemouth mobile home is kept together and powered by the fire demon Calcifer, whose physical form is chained to the fireplace. The world-unto-itself that is the moving castle lumbers along on short, spindly legs. Its façade, a crude imitation of a face, adds to the mystery surrounding the wizard, Howl.

No exhibit that includes this film would be complete without the colossal residence. Every angle of the moving castle’s model speaks of its miscare. Different sections are coloured in subtly *different tones of grey, copper, and mould-like blues and green. Like its animation counterpart, the castle is a blend of sharp angles and curves. It is at once machine and monster. The peculiar home is immediately out-of-place with the pastoral scenery. Behind, snow-topped mountains and a deep blue sky lets viewers know they are seeing countryside springtime. In the foreground, fluffy white sheep are clustered outside of a farmer’s house, a quaint abode with a thatched roof.

A Spirit on the Train

Tried to show “No-Face” the view. Like Queen Victoria, he was not amused!

An original creation by Miyazaki, Spirited Away falls into the coming-of-age genre, one that Studio Ghibli uses time and again. Set in the spirit world, the young protagonist Chihiro must rescue her parents in this world of characters that have become consumed by materialism and avarice. She works Yubaba, the owner of a bathhouse for spirits, a powerful witch who transfigured Chihiro’s gluttonous parents into pigs. It is here that she meets “No-Face”, a spirit that reflects the personalities of those around him, becoming corrupted by the greedy workers at the bathhouse.

It is a thirty-minute wait to pose with “No-Face”, and there isn’t a single visitor that passes the opportunity. The spirit, so volatile and destructive in the bathhouse, is now still and calm as the train he is riding heads closer to the home of Zeniba, Yubaba’s twin sister. The long bench that “No-Face” sits on is a soft red velvet. To the far left, a comically large package sits. Below it is another package, both being delivered to some unknown location. Outside, the sunset is coloured in pastel pinks and purples. The shifting light of the ocean’s reflection is imitated through clever lighting.

The Fall of Laputa

A visual steampunk fantasy come alive, “Castle in the Sky” is an action-packed thriller that warns of the corruption of government and corporate entities in the pursuit of valuable resources. It is a reminder for humanity to remember its connection to the earth, and not abandon it in godly pursuits of power. Sheeta, an orphaned descendent of the Laputan royals, is in possession of an amulet containing “volucite” cystals. These crystals keep flying cities in the air, and their power leads to Sheeta and her friend Pazu being chased by a government agent and air pirates.

Tinted in a dramatic red light, the scene depicted is Laputa, the legendary castle in the sky, in flames as pirates and soldiers alike have opened fire. Sheeta stands on a collapsing column, in the clutches of a robot that is part of ancient Laputan technology. As the last remnants of the sky city fall, Sheeta and Pazu reach out for each other, the pair happily starting anew back on land.

A Very Fluffy Spirit

Another addition to Studio Ghibli’s collection of coming-of-age films, “My Neighbour Totoro” explores the double challenges of the illness of a loved one and moving to a new home. Set in postwar rural Japan, sweeping landscapes are strongly featured. The steady signs of a country regaining its prosperity after loss, audience members experience the simplistic joys of countryside living with the protagonists Satsuki and her younger sister, Mei. Following two adorable, large eared spirits to a large, hollowed camphor tree, here the characters are introduced to Totoro, a gigantic, rotund grey and white creature who speaks by bellowing out roars that make little Mei laugh.

Depicted in the exhibit is the scene where the sisters and Totoro wait at the bus stop for a giant cat that doubles as a magical flying bus. The soft pattering of the rain plays around patient visitors as they wait for their turn to photograph with the pair. Low lighting emphasises the night, and the falling rain is cleverly shown through active bluish-white light streaming behind the characters.

Things to Know Before You Go

Like & Share

Just before entering FTLife Tower, you’ll be asked to like and share the event’s Facebook page. Doing so gives you the choice of receiving either a paper crown or paper fan to commemorate the experience. Both show Totoro’s silhouette, within which famous scenes from Studio Ghbili films are arranged in neat squares and rectangles. Given the Hong Kong humidity, I opted for the fan.

Free Wifi

Many visitors want to capture their experiences and post them live, and “The World of Studio Ghibli’s Animation” is happy to help. Free wifi lets people update to Instagram minutes after posing with their favourite characters, letting more people know about the nostalgia-filled exhibit.

Get Ready to Shop

At the end of the visually enthralling exhibition lies a pop-up store filled with Studio Ghibli memorabilia. Everyday items such as towels, kitchenware, stationary, and bags are made utterly adorable with characters such as Jiji and Totoro. Hyper-realistic plush toys, puzzles, and enamel pins are too cute to resist. Of all the people I saw in the store, only a handful left without purchasing a thing. Most bought at least three or four, unable to make a choice between a Totoro-themed face towel and a life-sized plush version of Jiji’s girlfriend, a snow-white cat. After battling between several items, I finally left with an enamel pin of Totoro wielding an umbrella as he roared.

If you love the intricate worlds and unique characters of Studio Ghibli films, this is one exhibit you won’t want to miss!

The Fairytale that is the Lynn Glen Trail

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Sometimes what the soul needs is a daydream escape. Finally able to breathe after an onslaught of deadlines, we took to the road and made our way towards the coast. The roar of city life stripped away with every mile that we placed between us and Glasgow. Pop throwbacks from the 2000s and early 2010s blared in the car as I picked each song, connecting them to the car’s speakers through the magic that is Bluetooth. Singing along to the likes of Selena Gomez and Avicii, we ran through all the songs that had caught our generation by storm all those years ago

As we drove into Dalry, rolling mountains and staggering fields were sprawled as far as the eye could see. Even with three years of living in the UK, the beauty of pastoral life still brought a smile to my face. My friend chuckled as a I cheerily yelled out “Sheep!” or “Horse!” every time I caught sight of the farm animals. Reaching our destination, we parked the car near Lynn Bridge, a quaint stone construction, and headed towards the river.

Having parked at the end of the trail, we decided to start there, too. Spending the afternoon on the Lynn Glen Trail, five stunning sights make the charming walk a perfect way to spend an afternoon.

Faerie Doors

Existing in the histories of many cultures worldwide, the physical forms and purposes of faeries differ between countries. To understand how long these magical beings have been part of humanity’s story of the universe, it is important to note that the term is derived from the Latin word “fata”. This refers to “The Fates”, three goddesses of Greek mythology that spun the string of individual destinies, determining the length of people’s lives before they are born. In this context, we can understand that faeries are mystical beings that can comprehend our world in ways we can’t even fathom. One of those ways is their ability to travel between realms.

Through our walk, we were greeted by the sight of faerie doors. No taller than the length of our hands, each door was carefully hand-painted with the whimsical charm of childhood. According to myth, faerie doors are used as a means for humans to communicate with the spirited creatures. While we didn’t have any faerie sightings, we admired the tiny offerings of coins and sparkly knick-knacks that rested beside the homemade doors.

A Picturesque Cascade

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The largest tributary of nearby River Garnock, the side stream rushed on our left side as path twisted and turned with the steep cliff faces. On the right, statuesque trees stood tall and proud. Gnarled roots gave the impression of bowing, and sturdy branches jutted out over the path, their foliage providing a lovely shade. Our pace slowed to a snail’s pace as we admired each new perspective of Garnock’s feeder.

A Well-Ribboned Tree

Further along, we passed a moss-covered tree dressed in colourful ribbons. A handmade sign sat on one of the branches, declaring it to be the “Wishing Tree”. Ribbons are a common item for humans to gift faeries. Their heavy presence in on the trail suggested a long history of odd phenomena in the area explained away with the winged firms. Without ribbons of our own, we passed the tree hoping that the dreams attached to it would come true.

Lynn Falls

As we drew closer to the waterfall, the river began to stagger, preparing itself for the inevitable drop. Glances through tangled tree branches amazed us. What was revealed near the end of the path was more than we had hoped for. As if set into a small staircase, the river poured over levels of stone, past a toppled tree coated green. The water by the edge of the fall was surprisingly calm. Wanting to enjoy the full view, we waded through the water. The sight was worth the caution. Looking back at the river, skinny trees framed either side. Rushing water made for a stunning contrast in tones. The fallen tree called out to me, and I answered. Walking its length with careful steps and airplane arms, my mind was brought back to younger, carefree years.

A Charming Waterfall

Past Lynn Falls, a subsection of the river flows into what is adorably known as Lynn Spout, which ends in an impressively sharp 90-degree drop. Looking back, water falls off of staggered rock formations. The precision of their design gives the distinct impression that they were crafted and not naturally formed. We wandered around the area, climbing along the bridge-like form of a fallen tree. Walking through the rushing water, visitors would be wise to either tread carefully on bare feet or wear water shoes with reliable grips.

Things to Know Before You Go

Wear Form-Fitting Clothes

While much can be seen on the main path, we found that most of the stunning views could only be captured by climbing over rocks, carefully treading on fallen leaves, and weaving through numerous branches. That day, I was wearing a long coat that snagged on everything. Physical mementos of the excursion stayed with me in the form of leaves, spiderwebs, and bits of twig. To avoid turning your clothes into makeshift birds nests, wear form-fitting attire.

Make Sure You’ve Got Grippy Shoes

Underestimating the depth of a pool of water, my friend almost sprained his ankle, if not for the incredible luck of course-correcting and stumbling himself upright when he realised his mistake. Granted, he was wearing slip-on boots with smooth soles. It wasn’t the best choice for a day out, and he’s since stuck to trainers whenever we meet up.

When nighttime drew, we reluctantly left the trail behind. Singing along to old Selena Gomez songs, our expressions were bright with the fun we had on the faerie’s trail.

Glasgow: Good for a Wander

Spending almost a month in the city of Glasgow, the time flew by. Venturing into the city centre as often as possible, I always made sure to wear boots made for walking as I explored the cityscape of the Dear Green Place.

From the get-go, Glasgow stunned me with the familiarity of its metropolitan manner. Throughout the entirety of my stay, I couldn’t help but feel as if the city was an old acquaintance, someone I’d known once before who was at once recognisable and mysterious. It started, as it so often does, with food. Standing at the street corner just a few metres from the train station was a sight I thought I’d never see in the UK. The unmistakeable red and white of the Tim Horton’s brand called my name. Who was I to ignore her siren call? In my extended stay, I visited the Canadian coffee chain at least a dozen times.

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All that sugar and caffeine fuelled me for the long strolls around the city. Most exciting was discovering the various murals adorning buildings. Created in 2008, Glasgow Council developed the City Centre Mural Trail, an exciting way to explore all four corners of the city’s downtown sector. Leading you through main roads and narrow alleyways, the trail is an exciting way to experience Glasgow, a fantastic activity that is enjoyable in both daylight and moonlight.

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Of course, coffee alone wasn’t able to sustain me. While enjoying the mural walk, I stumbled upon an establishment that called out to my love for Japanese animation. Located on Saltmarket street, R-CADE is the city’s first retro arcade gaming café. Fun for all ages, playing sessions at R-CADE are charged by the half-hour or hour at amazingly affordable flat rates covering all the games in the store. Numerous gaming consoles are in play here, including Nintendo 64, Sega Saturn, Xbox 360, and Atari 2600. Between gaming sessions, the café boasts a number of Asian comfort foods. I enjoyed vegetable and pork steamed gyoza, a cup of Instant Noodles, and a warm mug of green tea as I chatted with the staff, who were eager to talk about the store and what made them interested in Asian gaming and animation.

Meeting fascinating people and testing the limits of the soles of my shoes, Glasgow is a city I’d happily wander around with camera in hand and an eager smile.

The Long-Ago Charms of Valletta

Starting off our island vacation with the slow, easy pace of a turtle with time, we began our first full Maltese day at noon. Leaving our accommodations, the weather was wonderful. The sun was high in the sky, warm rays of light causing us to shed off our coats. A strong wind kept things interesting. In response, our steps were steadier, filled with the determined purpose of people with places to go and things to see. We joined many others in waiting for the ferry to Valletta. Arriving every fifteen minutes, we had just enough time to spread our arms wide and engage in photosynthesis. Even in the middle of December, many people were exploring the beautiful island. I couldn’t blame them. While temperatures remained comparable to Europe, the sun and the stunning sights made it feel like summer. The ferry ride was all we could have hoped for. Short and stunning, at the low cost of 2.80€ for a return ticket, we certainly got our money’s worth simply by wandering around.

Valleta is a district to be enjoyed at all angles. From street view to sky, there is always something to captivate you. The rolling nature of Valletta’s steep streets gave us a proper workout. We were both glad to have worn shoes fit for the task. Our walk around the district comprised of many short breaks. Stopping to admire and capture the beauty of its architecture, the day was spent discussing our favourite parts of each building and imagining the charmed lives of the people who had the good fortune to call this island home.

Alongside exquisite residential architecture, Valletta is a place proudly preserving its cultural past. Of these gems, our favourite was St. John’s Co-Cathedral. Located in the city centre, the Roman Catholic Co-Cathedral was constructed in the late 16th century between 1572 and 1577. Unique to St. John’s are its inlaid marble tombstones. Covering most of the flooring, these tombstones celebrate the lives of Knights of the Order, as well as illustrious aristocratic families of Europe. Immaculately preserved, these marble slabs are cordoned off, lest the details get worn away over time.

Most impressive were the portraits detailing the ceiling. Framed in gold and with shocking detail and expressive colours noticeable even at ground level, the ceilings were a tribute to the artistic talents of the 16th century, a solemn nod to the painters and carpenters that made such awe inspiring works bring even more life and admiration into these houses of worship.

After a day of admiring the beauty that Valletta had to offer, we stepped back in time for dinner. A space enshrined in the beauty and simplicity of the 1940s, Jubilee’s Café was exactly what we needed. Reasonably priced, most of the dishes came at under 10€ each. I ordered the lampuki – a fish native to Malta’s waters , more commonly referred to as mahi-mahi – pie and an infusion of ginger, lemon, and green tea. After a long day of walking and photographing, this hearty meal hit the spot. So hungry after our wandering, we finished our meals in half an hour, heartily thanking the staff for the energising meal.

If cities that belong in fantasy novels are your cup of tea, Valletta is definitely a place to see.

Thank You for Your Wonderful

Adopted at birth, I’m eternally grateful for the good fortune that united me and my family. In my twenty two years, I never felt out of place among my loved ones. Their  warm personalities, loving hearts, and individual spirits were an absolute joy to grow up with.

To our parent’s relief and our delight, we weren’t the sort of siblings that were constantly at each other’s throat or denied the other’s existence. My sister, a loving sibling and wonderful friend, encouraged my independent and adventurous side, challenging me to do and be more than I thought I was capable of. She was always there to give advice, gently tease, and hang out with for a few hours in her cool, grown up room decorated with music posters and funky figurines. Even when I did the typical annoying little sibling things – ‘borrowing’ her clothes, playing a tug-o’-war for the remote, or tagging along with her and her friends – she never made me feel unwanted. I couldn’t imagine growing up without her.

Always ready with a smile that lit up his eyes, my father took to Monty Python’s advice and always looked on the bright side of life – a magnificent trait that continues to this day. Many of my cheery memories, filled with big laughs and matching smiles, are thanks to him. He’d walk around the apartment with me on his shoulders, my tiny hands gleefully touching the ceiling at this dizzying height. Some days he would surprise me at primary school, showing up to drop off my lunch bag. And he was always happy to share his hobbies with me, taking me out swimming or hiking. I wouldn’t have smiled quite so widely without him.

Fitted with an open mind and generous heart, I never doubted that I could count on my mother. Working a full time job, she never let that prevent her from attending every parent-teacher day, every talent show, and every extracurricular demonstration. Always able to read my moods, she listened without judgement and hugged with complete abandon. I can count on her for a chat; be it the light day-to-day catch up, or deeper conversations whose responses required serious thought and consideration. Giving me well wishes and believing in my dreams, I’d be lost without her.

The adage, ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’, is a tried and true one. Though I miss them dearly, the miles that separate us make the times that we do have together absolutely wonderful.

The Romance of Classic Stationary: Oxford’s Creative Gem

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Taking its visitors into a world that blends the beauty of English and Italian design; Scriptum Fine Stationary has proudly showcased the best of independent European craft in the world of stationary since 2003. Moving to Turl Street, their current location, which I happily lost myself for an hour, Scriptum’s dedication to classic craftsmanship is something to be revered.

Selling personal stationary largely sourced from small businesses in England and Italy, the romance of its timeless objects emanates throughout the cosy space. On the first floor, feathered ink pens, dyed marbles, leather bound journals, and ornate magnifying glasses bring to mind polished oak desks and wide windows overlooking the countryside.

The aesthetic joys continue on the second floor. Hanging models of hot air balloons hover overhead. Venetian masks, in a myriad of colours and sizes, are neatly arranged on a wooden shelf in the side. Decorated papers intended for personal letters are bordered with neat swirls and blooming flowers. Most exciting, a series of vibrant folios stand on display.

Their spines decorated with swirling text and enchanting illustrations, it’s difficult to ignore their siren call. So I didn’t. Choosing Volume One of Andrew Lang’s Fairy Tales from Around the World, I left looking forward to the fantasy realm Scriptum had made available to me.

Going Around the Getty: A Beautiful Day Seeing Art in LA

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With the sky a perfect shade of blue and the occasional breeze complimenting the warm rays of the sun, my Saturday in LA was too lovely to stay indoors. Easily making my way to the hillside site of the Getty Centre, a free tram system led visitors from the foot of the hill to the museum entrance. Even though I arrived half an hour prior to opening time, the line was considerably long. People mostly came in groups, and all wielded a camera to capture their favourite pieces for posterity.

What I enjoyed most about the museum was how it shifted between eras and genres of art; from Renaissance theistic art to Roman-Greek statues, furniture from Versailles, a modern installation on the changing nature of the written word, and even a cactus garden. There was something for everyone, and not a soul I passed was without a smile.

There is always something to be gained from exposing yourself to the past. In art, something fantastic and awe-inspiring can be discovered in any and all forms. There is always wonderful to be discovered within weird. Through enjoying varieties of art, maybe you’ll find a way to enjoy parts of yourself you’re less certain of.

Wandering Around Oxford: The City’s Best Walking Route

During my fleeting four-day stay at Oxford, every single adventure began and ended with walking. Though I was staying at a friend’s house that was almost an hour from the city centre on foot, I didn’t tire from all the traipsing around. There was too much to see, from the classic architecture to the variety of life being lived in this fine university city. Students rushing from class to class, tourists armed with expensive cameras and comically large guide maps, stall keepers selling jewellery and collectibles designed to catch the eye, and crooning buskers who gave a smile to anyone who stopped and took the time to listen to the music.

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With all this walking, naturally my mind decided upon its favourite routes taken. Funnily enough, these three routes were all taken on the same day, one leading directly into the other.

The Oxford Botanic Garden & Arboretum, charging a small fee to visitors and students alike, is well worth the price of admission. Glasshouses hosted flora originating from tropical climes. The gardens were coloured with a myriad of flowers and herbs. Sturdy trees, their leaves expressed in the form of either a wide umbrella or arms lazily swaying in the air, provided plenty of shade and comfort. Everyone I passed by was in good spirits, enjoying this little piece of heaven tucked away in the city corner.

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Leaving the gardens, I headed along Dead Man’s Walk. So named for its medieval history as a processional path for Jewish funerals, its sombre past did nothing to diminish the peace and tranquility of the walk. Trees lining either side of the wide path kept the afternoon glare of the sun away. What light managed to filter through the leaves created wonderful shifting patterns on the dusty path.

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Christ Church College greeted me at the end of the short walk. Perfect for lovers of history, fantasy, and beauty, Christ Church was one of the filming sites for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, its grand staircase utilised in the scene where harry met Draco Malfoy for the first time. In the College’s Great Hall, another fantasy world is brought to life. Housing the infamous Alice Window, all of Lewis Carroll’s most popular characters are immortalised in stained glass, from Alice’s signature sky-blue dress to the Dodo Bird’s brilliant plumage.

To all who have little time to enjoy the fascinating city of Oxford, I highly recommended walking along this path.