Study Spot: Teapot Review

I go out a lot.

So I thought, instead of simply having them take all my money, I’d squeeze some purpose out of these pleasure trips. I’m starting a new series of posts where I review random places, cafes, restaurants, study spots, etc., I’ve been checking out.

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Name: teapod
Location: 31 Shad Thames, SE1 2YR
Purpose for the trip: hunting for a new study place

Experience:

The entrance caused a slight confusion, it is located between two false doors that are locked and up a small ramp. But the initial surprise quickly faded as Norah Jones met the sweet smell of caffeine. More than a dozen containers of every-flavoured teas sits dutifully on the shelves behind the waitress as I ordered my white Americano. Pay. Sit. Order’s Up. They bring it to you.

Four other small square tables of customers, the speaker right over head, and the noise level was just a little too above ambient to bare. As much as I like the songs drifting off of the playlist, I plugged my earbuds in for some less distracting Spotify sounds.

The menu holds a wide variety of drinks ranging from tea of every colour, black, green, red, green, herbal and even blue, to the usual assortment of coffees, plus smoothies (with real fruits!) and iced drinks. Little “LC” (Low-Caffine) and “CF” (Caffine-Free) signs tell you just how much caffeine you are feeding into your body.

Flip the menu over and you get a nice selection of breakfast and light lunches. If you like meat with your first meal of the day, perhaps this isn’t the place for you. They offer pancakes, bagels, tea and toast! (exclamation mark included), oats and yogurts with dancing honey, strawberry, and bananas. Midday delights promise potatoes, salmon and cream cheese. Lots and lots of cream cheese. If you want to be soup-ed up, they have daily specials (for that day, it was pea & ham, or leek & potato, healthy stuff). But if you want a little something different, why not try their curry stew. Sounds like a palette adventure!

Of course, no cafe or tea house can exist without sweets! Brownies are a must and so are muffins and cakes of all kinds. Here, they promise to be all “home-made”. Big shoes to fill.

I started out with my usual white Americano. But two hours in, and I was ready for my midday snack and tea. So I asked to be served up with rosepedal green tea, although I’m going to have to come back and try the beautifully named “Jasmine Dragon Pearls” (green) and “Light Spring Darjeeling” (black), not to mention the “Pure Rose Buds” herbal tea. Tea! Give me tea!

Now probably the most important aspect of any cafe, especially for a student like myself, is the wifi. How strong is the force? Very. The wifi is fast and glitch-free. Just ask one of the three waitresses/waiters for the password and you are ready for a few hours of inside the black hole that is the Internet.

Service: Average, smiles once in a while.

Noise Level: Earbuds needed.

Would I come back? Yes. It’s close to home. It’s affordable. It’s not too crowded. It’s warm. And it has tea. Lots and lots of tea.

Final Verdict: 3/5

Best for: Tea-drinkers, wifi-users, afternoon chatters, and if you have the noise-defiant earbuds like I do it’s a good place to spend an afternoon reading or studying away.

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06. I am Chinese.

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The first impression I usually make on strangers is that I’m westernized, so much so that I am only Chinese in appearance.

I shrug this off most days. I don’t care because I am comfortable in my multicultural identity. Yes, I possess an obvious spectrum of Western outlooks and mannerisms, but I am also solid in my Chinese roots, history and values.

However, catch me at a moment of weakness or identity crisis and this comment of my westernization will irritate the living day lights out of me. And you can bet I will defend my Chinese-ness until you back away slowly in hopes of not being injured by the shrapnel that is the remains of the bomb you just set off when you uttered those words.

Don’t worry dear readers, there are no shrapnel here. This post is not a result of someone blatantly, inconsiderately verbalizing their unprocessed inner thoughts to me. It is inspired by Lianne Yu’s “17 Signs You Were Raised in a Chinese-American Family“.

Although there are millions of little signs that make up that special part of identity, I doubt you’d be interested in reading through that. So I’ve picked out 10.

A little disclaimer before we get started. Don’t mistaken these as me generalising them as Chinese and nothing but Chinese. Many other societies and cultures retain similar customs and characteristics. Plus, everyone is idiosyncratic. These are merely what I see as originating from my own Chinese background and upbringing.

1) I shower at night. I cannot get a good night’s sleep without being squeaky clean and moisturized. This is especially essential in the cold winter months because crawling into bed with cold toes and fingers are not acceptable. My bed is a sacred place of clean sheets and lavender scents, ain’t no outside dirt gonna get up in there!

2) I have to handle “interesting” family expectations. I was recently made aware that my entire family’s biggest New Year wish for me is to find a suitable boy. My grandmother has become so desperate she’s lowered her expectations and has explicitly told me to not to have high standards. I’m pretty sure they already have plans to matchmake me, Chinese-style. So, my face and all my personal details and credentials will be put up in some random park in China with hundreds of other singletons’ leaflets in hopes that someone will find my qualifications up-to-par. They’ve probably began talking to their friends and colleagues about potentially pulling together their single daughter and their single, eligible sons. Who knows, maybe I’m already engaged and I don’t even know it. Either way, the push is strong with this family.

3) I still get red envelopes full of money. But as long as I stay single and unwed, I can use my family and family friends as cash cows come Chinese New Year, every year. Mom and dad, if you want me to get married, you should ban this tradition from my life. Money is the ultimate disincentive for that put-a-ring-on-it call.

4) I have a Type-A tiger mother. My room is quite clean according to the standards of people my age and older. You can see all of the floor. My desk is neatly arranged with tons of room to spare. My bed is always made. My clothes are stacked in their proper places. But my mother would walk in and be exacerbated at how unkept my space is. Our house back in Vancouver is always, always clean and dustless. She would also prefer I have my life mapped out down to the minute. When she plans something, there’s nothing that will stop those plans going forward, not even an alien invasion or a zombie apocalypse. But I wouldn’t have her any other way. Love you mum! (Oh, in case you’re wondering, yes I have inherited many, many of these neurotic type-A traits, but dialled down a few notches)

5) I am all about avoiding trouble. Videos of Chinese people standing around or walking swiftly pass a guy who just got severely beaten up or a little girl crushed under multiple vehicles is infamous around the world now. This type of behaviour could be attributed to the indifference of the society. It could also be a result of the fact that getting oneself involved with situations that have nothing to do with you could get yourself into trouble as well. For instance, helping an old lady up from a fall, she turns around and accuses you of tripping her in the first place and then sues you for everything you’ve got. Rare. But it is nonetheless, a story some Chinese tell themselves and their family to scare each other into inaction. So, it is better to stand off to one side and/or ignore it. Don’t “inconvenience” yourself. This is, unfortunately, something I’ve internalized and tend to practice. Don’t start screaming at my inhumane, apathetic behaviour now. I am changing, slowly.

6) I speak Chinglish. I attribute my horrible but still intact ability to speak Chinese to the fact that I have to speak it to my father whose English is elementary. This is probably the sole reason I can even still speak Chinese, so thanks dad! But even when I do talk to my dad, quite a few English words still slip out. With my mom, the flood is overwhelming, and the few Chinese vocabulary that have not been drowned out is barely afloat. Still, there are certain terms that are just easier to say in Chinese instead of its inadequate English counterpart: mafan (inconvenient), fanren (annoying), diulian (losing face), and all Chinese produce and condiments. The other day, I just couldn’t think of the word for nashou, the english equivalent of which, as it turned out, was forté. So in the moment, I used Chinglish on a flatmate of mine who didn’t speak a word of Chinese. Not going to let that stop my proud-to-be-Chinese march!

7) I eat rice, all day every day. Chinese food in general. I eat it for every meal. My toast is not buttered, it’s lathered in Chinese spicy sauce (gross to many, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it). I cannot go more than two days without rice and spicy food. Even during my sickest days, I indulge in hotness.

8) Red is my lucky colour. Ask anyone who knows me well, they will say I am unhealthily obsessed with the colour. It is my absolute favourite colour to wear. I don’t walk out the door unless I have something red on me. I know it’s pure superstition and irrationality, but that colour keeps my confidence and fortunes above water. I have been referred to as a communist for loving red so much. They’re just jealous that my complexion goes so well with it.

9) I am completely uncomfortable with discussing sex with my mum or any member of my family. Sex education in China is infamously bad. There’s no birds-and-the-bees talk tradition of any kind in families. Schools don’t teach the subject properly. Any public (ie. TV programmes, sexualized music videos, posters, etc.) display of anything close to sexiness is banned (ie. recent dynastic drama banned from airing due to too much “cleveage”). This tense and forbidden atmosphere surrounding something so basic to our nature has wormed its way into my relationship with my family. It’s probably going to stay this way. My mother will probably ask me to take this point down. Sorry mum!

10) I know my parents love me, without ever hearing an “I Love You”. Don’t be fooled by the exorbitant amount of times I complain about my family and all their craziness. No matter how much I rant against them, you will never ever convince me they don’t love me as much as I know they do (and probably more). I have never heard this love verbalized in the explicit “I love you”, but we Chinese all understand that their nagging, their excessive worrying, their “put on a sweater or you’ll catch a cold” and “be vigilant” because you’re in a foreign city they’ve never been to, are all implicit expressions of their unconditional love for us. We are reminded every day of this love even if that word is never uttered.

No matter how long or how short this list is, most of these are all just superficial really. None of it matters because all that matters is that I feel Chinese. I am Chinese, and proud to be.

05. Not Another New Year Resolution

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I am the type of person who makes resolutions.

But this year, I am giving them a different name: New Year Goals.

Yes. Goals.

Goals say they are detailed and more attainable. Goals say I’m not your typical New Year Resolution Making basic chick. Goals say…

Basically the same thing as resolutions.

But I’m hoping to fool my brain into actually, actively and consistently pursuing them instead of spending a day seriously thinking about them and then promptly go on to forget every last one of them before the first week of the new year has even unfolded.

So, my 10 goals for 2015 are as follows.

1) 30 books before 12:00am 2016. Once again, I am pursuing this. If I keep at it, eventually, I’ll wear it down. Right? Also, a sub-clause (because that makes it sound substantial and serious): 5 of these have to be non-fiction.

2) Exercise at least 3 times a week. This will consist of me trying to outrun the jogging machine, and then promptly falling on my face because I am an uncoordinated idiot. But that will still keep me healthier than sitting all day. Plus, squats, all day every day!

3) Study French in half hour blocks at least twice a week. My struggle with this language has been eight years going on nine. French might hate me, but it has got to admit, we were meant to be together (unwilling) forever.

4) Study Japanese at least twice a week. A new language to fight and wrestle with. Yey.

5) …And Chinese for at least twice…a week…as well… 

6) Graduate. I mean, this is what I should be achieving anyway. But I thought, why not throw it in here for good measure.

7) Be financially self-sufficient by end of summer 2015. This include being able to pay my own rent and shopping impulses, while still keeping myself fed.

8) Make new friends. Yes, another one of those, I-should-be-doing-this-anyway. But it’s here to remind that that it’ll be much, much harder to make new friends once I’m out of school.

9) Make one big life change. Vague. Now this sounds like a resolution pretending to be a goal. So I will give it a bit more substance. What I mean are things like, have my own place (proper place, not student dorms, not a makeshift living-room-to-bedroom kind of situation), or be in a stable relationship, or settle down in a city (instead of moving all over the map like I’ve been doing for the last four years and a half), or write a book (ha! as if), etc. etc. Feasible, foreseeable changes that can and might happen if I put in buckets-load of effort and with a little bit luck.

10) Develop a passion. Also a resolution pretending to be a goal. Some details: this year I want to focus on one of my passions, most likely writing, and put some meat on it. What a weird expression. Let’s try another. I want to give it some volume, pack on some weight, plant some seeds. I give up. Anyway, you get the point. Grow it, practice it more often, develop it professionally. This will most likely lead to more blogging. Yey! You now have more horribly-written and uninteresting posts to look forward to. That’s my new year present to you. You’re welcome.

Happy February!

04. 2014 in Review: A Bibliophile’s Take

“You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.” -Charlie Jones

That’s a pretty big responsibility for the books I choose to determine who I become in five years. So, although I was 6 short of my 30 books challenge for 2014, the 24 books I have now added to the substance that comprises my future self is worth a look back on. Here’s what I’ve learned from some of them, in brief.

Matilda by Roald Dahl


Books are magic. No matter how young, how small, how powerless you are and may appear to be, with courage, kindness and a little bit of tricks up your sleeve, you can change your fate.

The Circle by Dave Eggers


Google is evil and planning world domination. I still want to work for them.
Also, stories don’t always have to end with the protagonist seeing the light and doing the right thing. They could be written to be just like us: foolish, gullible, and insufferable.

World War Z by Max Brooks


Don’t automatically write off things that you think you might not enjoy. Always give it a try before stubbornly refusing it.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera


It’s OK to not like a classic. It’s OK to not grasp its depth. All the more reason to return to it when you are ready to. Or not. If you really didn’t like it and didn’t find much value, move on. That’s alright too.

Factory Girls by Leslie T. Chang


“They” are not mere numbers. “They” have girlish quirks, aspirations, midnight conversations, outlooks just like I do. We are simply born to different life circumstances and environments which have made one fortunate and one not. Immensely humbling.

Harry Potter VI & VII by JK Rowling


You are never too old to read this. It is not just some children’s series. Stop taking yourself so seriously and give it a whirl.

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

Everyone you meet has their struggles, some heartbreaking and tragic, others small but no less profound. So always stay open, and listen.

On Writing by Stephen King


If I ever have the courage to pen my own story, this will be the book I return to for guidance and inspiration.

The Gum Thief by Douglas Coupland


Stories don’t have to take place in extraordinary places filled with otherworldly adventures. Sometimes, the most ordinary spaces house the best tales. Sometimes, a Staple’s store can contain the most ordinary, extraordinary people. What matters are the writing and the thoughts of the characters, the small details that makes you pay attention.

03. On Top of the World

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This was the view last Friday.

Welcome to the Sky Garden, ladies and gentlemen.

It’s a newly-opened space up on the 35th floor of the Walkie-Talkie building across from the Shard on the North Bank.

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For those unfamiliar with London’s landscape, the building was famous a little while ago for melting nearby cars and heating up shops due to its top-heavy structure that bent and concentrated sunlight at a specific spot on the ground.

After much renovation, it now no longer poses a magnify-glass-threat, and instead stands with one of the best 360 degree perspectives on the city of London and beyond.

The rush to reserve the free visitor passes began a few weeks ago, and I was fortunate enough to grab two of them.

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After having our bags and bodies scanned, my water bottle was detained and never to be heard from again. The tragic loss left me looking for a remedy, which is exactly what I got when the elevator doors pinged open on the 35th floor to this.

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Two sets of glass doors lent itself to a beautiful space, holding a cafe/bar, the Sky Pod, in the middle. It is framed on both sides by the “garden” with two staircases leading up to the back, where a close-up-and-personal view of the Gherkin and the Cheese Grater stood before me.

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Here, I met a further few steps up to the most expensive restaurant the Sky Garden holds: Frenchurch. The one underneath it, Darwin, is a more affordable brasserie option for those of us with near-empty bank accounts.

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The different levels of the three establishments seem to correspond to their price range.

My friend and I entered this magnificent haven at 2:45pm. Half an hour of walking around, gawking and drooling at every angle and item there was, and we finally settled down enough to each order a giant cookie and a warm drink for high tea. Get it? Get the pun?

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It took us a good part of an hour to nibble through those pizza-sized goodies. By 4pm, exhausted from our efforts to eat through macadamia nuts and chocolate chips, it was time for the reward of a fancy cocktail.

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Most cocktails stand at 11.50 pounds. They came with edible flowers, “edible”. I couldn’t eat it. I could barely chew it. But it nevertheless added a beautiful touch a delicious mix, every bit as deserving as their beautiful names: “Chelsea Garden” and “Princess Jasmine”.

Day turned into night, and our drinks disappeared along with the sun.

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The sun then gave way to a quick rainstorm, in good ol’ fashion London style.

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Even in the dreary grey, I was still in love with this place. Now if that’s not true love, I don’t know what is.

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Like the cool, mysterious, handsome guy at a party, the rain rolled it and rolled out, leaving behind a marvellous trail of colours and light, and two wonderstruck girls.

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“Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”

Well said, Samuel Johnson. Well said indeed, sir.

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02. 2014 in Review

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It has been another extraordinary year. I have done a great many things. I have learned a great many things. I have come to love a great many more people.

Here are my top 10 moments of 2014, in no particular order:

1. Being with family on Chinese New Year. It was the first time since 2012 and only 2 times out of the 14 years since I’ve moved to Canada that I’ve been able to spend Chinese New Year with my grandparents and extended family. Although my parents couldn’t fly over, making dumplings and having my grandmother fall asleep halfway through the CNY show with her Asian glow are some of my fondest memories of 2014.
2. Sitting out in the courtyard at 10pm, eating ice cream. On a beautiful, spring and early summer’s evening, there was nothing better than calling a friend or two out, buying some Magnum’s and enjoying each other’s company.
3. Ordering 10RMB cafes and getting the second refill for free. On days that seem endless because of deadlines, on mornings with a hangover to nurse, these cups of coffee were lifesavers.
4. Curling up in bed to start movie nights Towards the end of the second semester at Peking U, there were many of these. It wasn’t so much the films as it was the company. One particularly fond night involved fried chicken delivered from McDonald’s at 2am.
5. Eating breakfast at 4 in the morning. Whether that’s due to a night of great partying or a paper that has just been conquered, 4am at the Bridge is when the early-bird discount starts. They make a pretty decent American and Continental breakfast.
6. Taking walks around Weiming Lake at midnight. Sometimes, when my room gets too crammed and my head gets too congested, these late-night walks are a must. You don’t encounter much people, and the ones who are there are either swirling in their own little worlds or are needing to quietly air out some thoughts just like you. It was some of the best and most beautiful solitary moments in the city.
7. Hanging up fairy lights in my London room. One of the very first things I put up in my new abode. It signalled the beginning of my London adventures.
8. Sitting around the kitchen with all my flatmates for the first time. These guys have made my time here a hundred fold better than it would have been. They are so social, vivacious, brilliant and quirky. That first meeting in the kitchen would be the start of a beautiful year.
9. Crossing the Waterloo Bridge everyday. The sight of the Thames, flanked by the Eye, Parliament and some of London’s glory made me smile, even on some of my worst days here. It still does, to this day. It is true, “when you get tired of London, you get tired of life.”
10. Being here in this cafe. This cafe, and several others littered around campus, will be where I spend most of my time outside of my room. It is where I will binge eat cake. It is where I will fall sleep on couches. It is where I will nest and accomplish majority of my academic milestones this year. It is where I will have countless conversations light and deep over a steaming cup of tea. It is where some of my fondest memories of 2015 will emerge, hopefully.

These and so much more.

Thank you for a great year. Thank you to all my friends, old and new, for being in my life and dealing with my weirdness. Thank you to my mum and dad for sponsoring me and for loving me no matter how bratty I get. I hope I’ve helped make some great memories for you too.

If not, there’s always 2015!

Book 01: A Tale for the Time-Being by Ruth Ozeki

Of course the new year’s second post would be a book review.

Courtesy of Goodreads

Title: A Tale for the Time Being

Author: Ruth Ozeki

Genre: Historical fiction, magical realism, cultural,

SummaryExcerpt from Goodreads

In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying. But before she ends it all, Nao first plans to document the life of her great grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in ways she can scarcely imagine.

Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox—possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future.

Edition: Penguin Canada Books Inc., 2013, paperback, 422 pages

Eaten Thru On: January 7, 2015

Thoughts:

One of the many aspects of Japan that I loved and still love is its harmonious blend of Eastern and Western culture and practices. Japan opened itself up to Western influences without it completely undermining Japanese traditions and belief systems. This book is immersed in this East meets West and West meets East basis. I also absolutely loved all of the Japanese terms, cultural practices, and traditions that this book was infused with. Be warned, although the writing, especially on Nao’s part, might sound like that of a teenager, the themes and incidents that arises are dark and heavy. Let’s just say I learned quite a bit about Japanese customs surrounding the idea of death and dying and spirituality and religion.

Nao’s story was captivating, heartbreaking and brave. The transitions and rough terrains she had to walk through as her family moved from one country to another is deeply relatable since I went through an uprooting, and several more after that as well. But of course, although I had received very minor bullying in elementary and high school, it is minuscule and incomparable to the horrendous and terrifying experience Nao had to go through.

Ruth’s remorseful and concerned tone was just enough to be irritating. I appreciated her interpretation of Nao’s story but I could have done without it. It felt to me as if the author (coincidentally with the same name) wrote herself in so she could guide the reader on how best to view Nao’s words. However, I like to read partially because I love the freedom to shade the stories in my hues, the unique hues that have been blended and produced by my own experiences and values. This is perhaps why the books are always better than the movie adaptations (at least for me). Film adaptations are a particular person’s reimagining of the book come to life, and since everyone is idiosyncratic, that adaptation will usually not match up to our own vivid interpretations. Not to say one is better than the other, but we tend to favour our own portrayals.

In any case, Ruth’s interjections and the whole fantasy dream sequence at the end is part of the reason for the two missing stars in my rating. In general, I have never read such a strange, almost mythical piece of writing. Entertaining and educational nonetheless, I’m sure I’d understand a lot more and pick up on a lot more symbolic entities if I knew more about Japanese folktales and folklores.

Final Verdict: 3.5/5 crows

Recommend for: anyone curious about Japanese society, culture and customs, and folklore.

Next Target: All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerk