Hong Kong Central and Hong Kong Island – Cityscapes

Construction Worker, Hong Kong

I fell in love with Hong Kong, when I was wandering through the alleyways and navigating the circumspect and meandering hallways of its endless apartment blocks. The city present infinite options for those looking to get lost. It’s an artist and photographer’s dream, an urban kaleidoscope. There are people everywhere, at all hours, usually ignoring you and your camera.

Back Bar, Hong Kong
Man on Bike, Hong Kong
Country Club, Hong Kong

The city has that odd dreamless quality that Manhattan used to have, before Giuliani kicked out all of the homeless and itinerant people and turned New York City into a tourist attraction. It never feels safe at night, there is always an element of discord, but it’s beautiful and shocking in how it surprises.

SoHo Alley, Hong Kong
Tourists, Hong Kong
Mirrored Skyscraper, Hong Kong

The odd juxtapositions, of rich and poor, foreigners, ex-pats, Cantonese speaking locals and the influx of mainland Chinese speaking Mandarin makes Hong Kong an incredibly diverse and miscegenated city. The intense competition for real estate on a tiny island keeps the price of owning a home out of the reach of most, but that is in turn what leads to the maze-like halls and paths of the city’s clustered apartment, stacked and teetering like so many matchboxes over above the bay.

Cafeteria, Hong Kong
Photo Crouch, Hong Kong
Ex-pat Girls, Hong Kong

As always, all my illustrations are available for purchase as prints. If you see one you like, contact me. Thanks for reading, and get in touch.

The 5 Most Beautiful Bookstores in the World

This post is for the bibliophiles. If you find yourself wandering around the stacks of a second hand bookshop in a city you don’t live in, after midnight and a few glasses of wine, this post is for you. Title is self-explanatory.

1.Shakespeare and Company, Paris, France

Obviously, this is the sexiest bookshop in the world, the history of Joyce, Stein, and Hemingway. The inspiration and setting of many a Hollywood romance, if you haven’t been you’re missing out. Also, Sylvia Beach was a legitimate groundbreaking and rule breaking publisher, which is beautiful in and of itself.

2. Cafe Pendulo, Mexico City, Mexico

Cafe Pendulo is a booklover’s wet dream, a place where you can have a cappuccino or a glass of wine. There is a veritable hanging garden and incredible collection of Spanish language and foreign books; also, the location in Polanco has got to be one of the poshest bookstore in the world.

3. Munro Books, Victoria, BC, Canada

This one is a bit of an outsider, like Canada, it’s a bit drab and plain, housed in a turn of the century bank converted by the Munro husband and wife. Munro Books is famous now for its former shopkeep, short story writer of New Yorker and later Nobel laureate notoriety, Alice Munro. It is a bit out of the way, and beautiful in a very understated Canuck way, but if you find yourself on Vancouver Island, it is worth a visit every time.

4. Spoonbill & Sugartown Booksellers, Brooklyn, NY, USA

This is one that probably shouldn’t have made this list, and definitely wouldn’t have made the list, if it was someone else’s list, but I love the place. Less well known than the bigger Strand on Broadway, these lovely booksellers in the heart of hipster Williamsburg always have a gorgeous collection of art and coffee table books, and there’s usually another cute page flipper or two around, to catch eyes with while you peruse.

5. City Lights, Chinatown, San Francisco

If this list were about the best, or most valuable or important bookstore in the world, I would definitely have City Lights Bookstore at number one. Home to the readings of Kerouac and Ginsberg and the Beat Generation’s founding publisher, Lawrence Ferlinghetti has a street named after him, and if you’re lucky you might still see him hobbling around North Beach. It’s not just a venerable institution, though, the upstairs reading room, looking across Jack Kerouac alleyway at his old haunt, Vesuvio’s bar, really is beautiful.

The wildcard: Libreria Acqua Alta, Venice, Italy

I’ve never been to Libreria Acqua Alta, but by all accounts it is the bookstore of mine and your dreams. Gorgeous, on the canals of Venice, you can drift lazily up, ferried by a gondola to the front door, with espresso in hand, to have you pick of the day’s paperbacks.

Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido: The scenic road over the mountains through San Jose del Pacifico.

This a trip I’ve taken a half dozen times or so in the last decade. It can be absolutely magical, or it can be you stuck in a cramped eurovan with people puking out the window. I don’t think there is a rhyme or reason. But the views from San Jose del Pacifico, so named because you’re supposed to be able to see 120 kilometers to the ocean from the top of the mountain, make the drive worthwhile. You can fly if you want, but don’t believe the nonsense about a “big highway under construction to the coast”, connecting Oaxaca city to Puerto Escondido. This is bullshit, they’ve been talking about it for a decade or so, and if it eventually happens, it will ruin some of the appeal of Puerto Escondido by mobbing the small city with crowds of local tourists.

You can catch minibuses from any number of companies, all of which leave pretty early, stop a bunch on the way, and have parking garages where they depart a few blocks from Oaxaca’s centro.

Oaxaca is a beautiful city, so if you never want to leave, don’t bother. But there are parts of Puerto Escondido, especially around Las Puntas that have great, laid back, zero fucks beach vibes.

If you’re driving yourself, you can stop in a few towns known for art, black barro negro ceramics and alejibres are both made in Oaxacan villages. There isn’t much too see on the road before you hit the mountains, but most drivers will stop somewhere for a snack, usually fruit or packaged goods, maybe a home cooked meal at a stand. Through the mountains, if you don’t get swallowed up in the frequent fog and the torrents of rainy season, there will be gorgeous vistas peaking out from hairpin turns and switchbacks that cut up the ascent.

There are regular pick-ups and drop-offs, as many of the villagers this far south in the state don’t own vehicles, and have to rely on the transports to get to work, or to go into town for doctors, markets and any kind of entertainment.

As always, all my illustrations are available for purchase as prints. If you see one you like, contact me. Thanks for reading, and get in touch.

A Curious Visit to Beijing 798 Art Zone – Dashanzi Art District

I’d been thinking about making the trek up to the Beijing 798 Art District for my entire week in the old city. I spent most my hours circling around the historical remnants of ancient empire, which was gorgeous but obviously collecting dust under the museum glass within the old city’s walls. Then I wandered the traditional hutongs in search of what it meant to be a Beijinger today, looking for bars or noodle houses that would shed some light on a completely different culture than the one that had raised me, I was curious to see the new or edgier parts of the city, or to find out if they even existed.

Where were the youth and the upstarts hiding? So far I’d only seen them at the immense nightclubs, getting out of flashy Italian cars at valet stands and disappearing into VIP rooms.

I didn’t know much about 798 Art Zone, (Chinese: 798艺术区; pinyin: 798 Yìshùqū). It was about an hour or so north east of central Beijing, about fifteen or twenty kilometers away – too far for a moped rental, and too expensive for a taxi. But the subway in Beijing is full of bilingual signage and easy to navigate, as long you don’t travel during the immense crush of rush hour.

789 Art Zone started out as an artist collective in army factory 798. After it had fallen out of use, the artists moved into the cheaper and abandoned industrial zone. It’s a pattern of urbanization that happens all over the world: old meatpacking districts in Toronto and New York have gentrified, likewise the infrastructure of former government industry in Berlin and Beijing and Poland has become cool and desirable after its property value plummeted.

I’d heard that at one time Ai WeiWei and all the international Chinese art stars of his generation had got their start in the district, but it was currently occupied by international gallerists who’d moved in and were making a killing selling to the nouveau riche of Beijing. If you didn’t know, Beijing currently has more billionaires than any city in the world. There is more than enough buying power to support a thriving art market. But I’d also heard that the famously inconspicuous eviction notices, which appear before rezoning, had started popping up in the 798 Art Zone.

What I found was interesting, almost like a fine art community, but community is the wrong word. It was more like a showroom, a grand outdoor fair, or an elaborate centerpiece to show off to a new guest. Tons of galleries packed in a walkable 6 or 7 block area. No traffic and pedestrians strolling and relaxing on the patios of restaurants and casual bars. In other words, totally unlike the rest of Beijing, it felt like a Western art theme park.

Lots of the galleries are big names, PACE, Ullens and bla bla bla to name a few, and there was, to be fair, lots of beautiful work being shown and, of course, sold. Leaning into the tags on the walls, it wasn’t out of the question to see prices in six figures, which is admirable. I respect an artist getting their share of a cultural glut and financial windfall. But I was left wondering just exactly who or what was the main draw at 798 Art Zone?

Go see for yourself. 2 Jiuxianqiao Rd, Chaoyang Qu, Beijing Shi, China, 100096

All illustrations on my website are available for purchase. Message me through the form on my Contact page for pricing, sizes and shipping info.

El Balcon de Zocalo Restaurant – Centro Historico, Mexico City

When I first moved to Mexico, I was broke. Not like, I was only eating tacos and drinking six packs of beer and staying in hostel dorm rooms, I mean literally, I had no money. I was young, in my twenties, and I had saved a few hundred dollars in cash doing odd jobs after winning a scholarship to write a book, which I never finished. I decided to go by train south from Canada to Mexico, mostly because I was going through my first really bad breakup and, also, because I didn’t respect myself enough to care what happened.

My heroes were the poets of the beat generation, Kerouac, Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and their crew. I knew that they had all at various times escaped the realities of America by heading south. I was enamored by the Infrarealists of Mexico City, who roamed the streets of Distrito Federal at night, slept all day, then wrote poems at the cafes every evening. I would do the same. My first stop was El Paso, Texas. I decided not to cross over to Juarez direct from the train station because the lineup of Mexican labourers on day visas returning home was too long. It was nearly sundown, the light low over that famous bridge to Juarez, which was more dangerous and violent than Iraq at the time.

I met some homeless, punk girls from Kentucky, and we had a few beers at a truck stop bar, then went to a parkette across from a Bank of America that was being gutted, post-2008 crash, and drank from the gallon of honeyshine they’d brought from home. Some local meth heads came by to smoke and started a scrap with us after trying to steal a knapsack. I ended up in a rundown flop house, sleeping with my cash rolled up in my fist and my clothes on. If I hadn’t heard about the ‘Couchsurfing‘ website, from a young drifter who’d been crashing on a boat in San Francisco, I have no idea what I would’ve have ended up doing. My first few months in Mexico, I was blessed with free beds and I subsisted entirely on bananas and instant coffee, both of which cost pennies.

The point is, I spent years in Mexico, eventually learning the language, living in a house full of college students and artists it was hard not to become fluent with a little patience. I fell in love, got a job teaching English at a small college, and later, much later, became comfortable enough that I could afford to do the expensive, touristy things that most travelers do everyday on their holidays. It’s hard for me to say if El Balcon de Zocalo is actually as good as I feel, but I love it. It’s a sentimental spot for me. It’s on a rooftop, at the height of excess, it’s full of “rich” people, and foreigners. But it does, without a doubt, have my favourite view of the Cathedral and Zocalo looking through a porthole. And it’s one of those places, where the Chef has clearly decided that every plating has to be equally as beautiful as the environment, which speaks to me as an aesthete. I’m a sucker for beauty, and the food here is beautiful.

Whether it’s dressed up octopus tacos, tacos de pulpo, or breakfast, avena y semillas con frutas, or one of their many gorgeous salads, this restaurant aims to make the guest feel luxurious. It serves cocktails on wood blocks, and tacos on marble slates. It’s one of those places that was instagrammable before photo apps were a thing. So, if that’s your thing, and you’re a selfie shark, then you should at least stop by for a light lunch.

On my first visit, I was with a rich friend from Vancouver, whose parents have oil & industry money. He treated me to guacamole peppered with grasshoppers, and overpriced Coronas, while we watch a youth soccer match. I was being spoiled, and I enjoyed it. Since then, I have returned many times over the years, my girlfriend once got violently ill after ordering raw tuna here, but in general, it’s a bad look to order raw fish in a landlocked Southern city.

In a sentence, if you want a nice setup for your photo collection, and you want to be pampered a little, El Balcon de Zocalo is your spot. But skip the fish, there’s two coasts in Mexico, and the city ain’t on either. Unless, you can get a reservation at Contramar.

Prints of all the illustrations on this website are available for purchase, please use the Contact page form to contact me directly for pricing, sizing and shipping information.

Angkor Wat by Bicycle – Infinite passages and paths

Angkor Wat is one of those magical, timeless places, a doorway into another era and yet ever present. I’ve never been that interested in guided tours, the controlled timing and static narrative doesn’t allow for discovery or surprises. I like to walk and stroll around ruins and archaeological sites at my own pace, but Angkor Wat is so big, it’s footprint literally that of an entire city. The solution: rent a bicycle. You could, also, hire an elephant or a tuk-tuk, if that’s your thing.

Like Palenque in Mexico, or Copan in Honduras, Angkor Wat is covered in the stories and narratives of the cultures past. Originally built by Hindus, then converted to Budhism centuries later, the temples are a palimpsest of ritual and spiritual meaning. Intricate stone carvings bevel and emboss the walls of every passageway and corridor. No surface is flat or unadorned. There are an infinite number of angles and routes to choose from, no two quite the same. Over the week I spent exploring the grounds, I biked well over a hundred kilometres, circling and spiralling between buildings and walls, over bridges and moats and through massive arched gates.

I’m a very tactile person, my sense of a place and its beauty necessarily involves touch. Museums and galleries often leave me cold and disappointed, everything forever out of reach, encased in glass, walled off from context. Being able to retrace my footsteps and bike route each morning, after having a coffee in Siem Reap and pedalling down the road, gave me a deeper sense of connection, of being able to feel how the inhabitants of the city connected with the place, and its spiritual connections to Vishnu and Budha.

The story of Angkor Wat as a tourist site, as a place visited and crowded and trampled by the commerce of European foreigners is, also, a very long one. In the 1860s, Frenchman Henri Mahout wrote of the lost city of Angkor Wat in his bestselling memoirs, inspiring everything from Indiana Jones to Tomb Raider. But even before that, in the 16th century Portguese explorer, António da Madelena, described the city as “of such extraordinary construction … that it is not possible to describe it with a pen, particularly since it is like no other building in the world. It has towers and decoration and all the refinements which the human genius can conceive of.”

It is one of those endlessly lost places, even though it is flooded with tourists. As a foreign visitor, a tourist, I realize I am walking the footsteps of colonialists, and I realize that I am taking part in an economy that commidifies a holy site. But Angkor Wat is still the largest religious site in the world, and if you believe your interactions with the holy are based in your own faith and spirit, well, then it’s probably best to wake up at the crack of dawn, and to go alone down the road. There is no replacement, no substitute for watching the sun rise over the red flats of the Cambodian soil and the verdant green of the jungle, from the top of one of the many temples.

There is nothing quite like it, no way to describe it in words, to see the beauty and the stature of a culture trying to speak with their god through art and sculpture so powerful that it still speaks directly after a thousand years under the sun.

Prints of all the illustrations on this website are available for purchase, please use the Contact page form to contact me directly for pricing, sizing and shipping information.

The Rice Fields of Ubud, Bali

Ubud, Bali is one of those stunning places, even more beautiful and Gauguin-like in its lush, verdant greens and washed out sunny glow falling over the rice paddies than what you’d read it in the travel guide. I didn’t know much about the place before I went. I had seen Eat Pray Love and read the book.

I’d read a funny piece by Geoff Dyer, one of my all-time favourite authors, in his new classic travel book, Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered To Do It, which the NY Times called a loiterlogue. But what did I expect?

Not much: a bunch of new age-y places, yoga retreats, vegan food. And there was all of that, a ton of loitering ex-pats, mostly women, some of whom were feeding the booming buy a guy industry among the young Balinese men in town. But I also eased into a place that was redemptively gorgeous. It needed to be nothing but itself.

My travel partner got paralyzingly sick from something she ate at a hostel in Denpasar, and while she was laid low by the famous ‘Bali belly’ and got hit on while bedridden by the boy who slept the lawn every morning, I rented a moped and clipped around, looking for places to wander.

I’m lazy by nature, I love to loaf days away, to read flat on my back or floating in a hammock. Ubud was the kind of place where a walk at dawn, then a coffee and a few hours on the laptop and in the journal are enough. After that, it’s ping pong and reading, munching on the granola and salads with other tourists in elephant pants, or visiting the monkey garden and a spa.

At night, chill out or go to one of the Balinese dance theater and dance shows, or down drinks with other travelers, if that’s your thing. I found a lady standing on the side of the road with a deep fryer cart, selling paper bags full of crispy-skinned chicken at dusk that I can still taste back home in Toronto. I hope you find her one day as well.

Prints of all the illustrations on this website are available for purchase, please use the Contact page form to contact me directly for pricing, sizing and shipping information.

A Perfect Day in Mexico City – CDMX dream itinerary

On the February days when winter feels the longest at home in Toronto, I often find myself reminiscing for the years when I lived in D.F., the city of eternal spring, Mexico City, the capital, El Monstruo, the largest city in North America, and for many of us, the most beautiful. Then I imagine my perfect day in Mexico City. At sunrise, I’d walk from my flat off of Alvaro Obregon to Plaza Rio de Janiero in Roma Norte and have a cappuccino at the Cafe Toscano.

Cafe Toscano at Plaza Rio de Janiero

After the first coffee of the day, I’d walk around Roma for an hour or two, strolling back toward Alvaro Obregon and then on to the Plaza Luis Cabrera to see Javier Marin’s statue and linger around the fountains. I’d eat a pan and maybe grab a second coffee at Cardinal, then read or sketch, relaxing for an hour or two and enjoying the screen time out.

Fountain at Plaza Luis Cabrera

Lunch absolutely has to be at Maximo Bistrot. It’s beautiful, delicious and unmatched anywhere in the city, serving a completely unique take on Mexican inspired French classics by Chef Lalo. It is hands down my favourite restaurant, especially in the day when it’s quieter and the sun is out on the patio. A great place to drink a bottle of dry white, like an Albarino, or to pop a frizzante at noon.

Dessert at Maximo Bistrot

Siesta. Then we take an Uber south to the super wealthy enclave of San Angel for a visit to Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s compound. They built separate studio houses, with a tryst inspiring Romeo and Juliet walkway bridge spanning the gap between them, and distinct his and hers red and blue colours. It’s a much quieter and more personal museum than the more famous Casa Azul, where Frida was raised in Coyoacan and her whole family lived (you should visit there as well, but this is what I would do in a day).

Diego’s studio with cactus fence

Afterward, I’d head back to Roma for a siesta and pick up a few cervezas for a sundown on the rooftop. Because of the earthquakes, there isn’t much of a skyline in Mexico City, but the lack of showy architecture means almost any 3 or 4 story walk up in the city will give you a panoramic view. There’s usually access to rooftops of most residential buildings because everyone air dries their laundry. So if you can find a way up, you will be rewarded for that one fleeting yet magical moment when the sun slips below the haze and sits perched above the hilltops on the horizon.

Sunset over Mexico City

After you finish your beers, and the light disappears, have a few cocktails at one of the many bars along Alvaro Obregon, and then take the train or an Uber to the Centro Historico. The central part of the city used to be a bit janky, kind of sketchy and barren after dark, but it’s slowly making a comeback since Billionaire Carlos Slim started gobbling up real estate. There’s a ton of good taco spots, but I’d go to my favourite hipster spot, pizza del perro negro, which is the perfect juxtaposition of fresh, uninhibited cooking and stunning, classical architecture in the courtyard of a historic 16th century building at 66 Donceles with a gallery upstairs. There are going to be a lot of mezcals and cervezas throughout the night, and the tacos will inevitably arrive on plastic plates sheathed in cellophane, eaten standing at the corner like the street meat they are, but before a heavy night out, I want something starchy and what better than a pizza pie.

Hipsters making video of making pizza. My kind of place.

I’m not going to list a bunch of cantinas and bars in Centro, that’s a post of its own. My only advice would be to keep eating all the free food they offer you while ordering drinks, and don’t be afraid to Uber from bar to bar, it’s easy to trip on the five hundred year old cobblestone streets.

Prints of all the illustrations on this website are available for purchase, please use the Contact page form to contact me directly for pricing, sizing and shipping information.

Wan Chai Heritage Trail & Pak Tai Temple – Hong Kong

Tram tracks in Wan Chai

The Wan Chai Heritage Trail was one of those happy accidents, I found while Googling ‘what to do in Hong Kong Central’ one morning. Wan Chai was one of the first areas in the city to be built up, the shipyards arrived, then industrialization and eventually rich Europeans and colonials. The trail is a loosely marked architectural circuit of the area with a stop at Pak Tai Temple, an old temple nestled between the shadows of skyscrapers.


The Pawn building
Happy Cake Shop

I got a coffee, then stopped for a bun at Happy Cake Shop. I’m not great with maps, but have a solid sense of direction, and I ended up looping around Wan Chai enjoying my morning off as I got to know a piece of the city and its history. I walked up to Stone Nulla Lane, past the recently renovated Blue House to stop at Pak Tai Temple.

Blue House, Wan Chai

I don’t know if it was luck or synchronicity, but I arrived in Pak Tai Temple, after stopping to take in the view of the beautiful trees in the courtyard, and watched as they lit the massive spirals of incense hanging from the ceiling and wafting blue smoke into the morning light .

Tree in the courtyard
Incense hangs from the ceiling
Lighting the incense at Pak Tai Temple

After the trail, I circled back down past Blue House and toward the Wan Chai Market, to look for something to eat before I returned to my hotel. It was a great walk, made more curious and interesting by the nooks and crannies and loops between the buildings of Hong Kong, and the slopes and hills of the city that force you to take it slow.

Prints of all the illustrations on this website are available for purchase, please use the Contact page form to contact me directly for pricing, sizing and shipping information.