Tokyo Coffee Diary (i)

The tea culture in Japan is a strong one - it has been rooted in tradition ever since introduced from China in the 18th century. However, it seems as though the coffee culture has been catching up in recent years. Of course, recent trends can't keep up with centuries of history and tradition - the true test of a fad is its' staying power - but given coffee's track record, I think this one might be here to stay. 

In Tokyo, you'll find that few cafes that claim to be "specialty coffee houses" exist, and the few that do carry out what they do with great finesse, both in the coffee and brunch department. More prevalent are the true specialty coffee houses, the kissaten, solely dedicated to the art and science of brewing. Purists stick to traditional drip coffees and the occasional filter brews; while the progressive ones (largely inspired by the West) go for espressos. What remains consistent is the quality and dedication to the bean - their focus does not shift. This commitment to a singular pursuit is quintessentially Japanese; and is something I greatly respect and admire. The Japanese are true craftsmen indeed.

The preferred roast in Tokyo is a dark one, based on observation and the numerous websites I've scoured through for reviews and other 'best coffee guides'. I've found that darker roasts provide a larger room for error when it comes to the actual brewing of the coffee, resulting in consistent coffees all around. My mom and I both enjoy the simplicity and the sweetness of a dark-roasted coffee, and around Tokyo we went, hunting around for some of the best coffees in Tokyo. Thankfully, good coffee spots in Tokyo are not few and far between. 

1. Bear Pond Espresso

I hate that I have to reuse photos, but I consider myself lucky to even have a shot of this dirty espresso (how punny). This coffee stood out due to how unique it was, both in terms of taste and texture. Even the experience itself was quite unlike any other. Bear Pond is the result of years of development and experimentation from its' humble beginnings in New York eighteen years ago - I would think that all of it has paid off. So let go of your pride as you step in; and as you take your first sip of your coffee you will begin to understand, and maybe, just maybe, it justifies the air of arrogance and superiority that pervades this little cafe. 

Full review here.

Bear Pond Espresso
2-Chome-36-12, Kitazawa, Setagaya, Tokyo 155-0031
Nearest station: Shimokitazawa (take the North exit)
Open Wed-Mon

2. Lattest Omotesando

Beautiful and intricate latte art is probably a given at each and every one of Hiroshi Sawada's cafes. After all, he is the first Asian to win the world latte art championships back in 2008. Visiting at least one of his cafes was another must for me when I was in Tokyo, as I have actually had the privilege of meeting Hiroshi himself when he was in Singapore for the Cafe Asia exhibition. I even did an interview with him which you can read here

Unfortunately, Hiroshi wasn't there when I visited, but I still spent a lovely afternoon hiding from the rain in the warmly-lit Lattest. It's very cosy. I sat at the high table in the middle of the room, where a bunch of magazines were located. If only they were in English. Instead, I continued my book (PoDG) and sipped on my cappuccino. It tasted somewhat like Liberty's speakeasy blend, albeit slightly burnt. The amount of milk in that large cup couldn't quite hide it. It wasn't a bad cup, though it certainly paled in comparison to the cuppa Hiroshi made for me when he was in Singapore. On another note, the service staff there are cute. 

Lattest Omotesando 
3-5-2 Jingumae, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo 150-0001
Nearest Station: Omotesando 
Mon-Fri:
10:00–19:00
Sat-Sun:
12:00–19:00

3. Little Nap Coffee Stand

I made my way there on another rainy morning, taking a wrong turn out of the subway station. If only I had known to simply follow the train tracks. Anyway, Little Nap is absolutely adorable. It's a tiny shopspace filled with knickknacks that can accommodate 10 people, maximum. It was empty when I arrived, so I took a window seat and people-watched and journalled. It's also situated right across Yoyogi Park, so I got a lovely glimpse of greenery, too. Such a tranquil and dreamy space. 

Accompanying me that morning was a cappuccino. It made me feel all warm and toasty inside, and it felt much like reconnecting with an old friend. I also received a wonderful caffeine kick, which is always a good thing. 

Throughout the morning, a steady stream of regulars came for their coffee despite the rain and it was lovely to watch them interact with the barista. I entertained a little daydream about being one such regular someday. Tokyo Summer School, maybe? 

Little Nap Coffee Stand
5-64-4 Yoyogi, Shibuya-Ku 
Nearest Station: Yoyogi-Koen 
Open Tues-Sun, 9am-7pm
 

4. Fuglen Tokyo 

Decorated just like a living room, Fuglen Tokyo is a cozy space with a rustic interior and coffee to boot. Bonus: all the furniture pieces are for sale!  I visited on a rainy Thursday afternoon with a friend that I am really thankful to have crossed paths with. Friendships like these really remind me of how life and things have a way of working out - sometimes you lose, but you never know cause you might have gained something (better) instead. 

I had a cortado, and what I liked best about it was that you could customise the amount of milk to your liking! So the barista would pull the shot (I had a single shot) and steam the milk, and pour the milk into the cup until you tell him/her to stop. The coffee here is by far the lightest one I've had on the trip; but I hear that light roasts are typically Scandinavian, which is where they come from. On hindsight, I think I should have added a bit more milk to balance out the acidity of the coffee, which turned out to be quite overpowering. Fuglen also serves up a pretty decent smoked salmon sandwich from their small menu of food offerings, so do go for that if you're after a light bite (really, this is very light - it's quite tiny). 

There's just something so wonderfully intimate and unpretentious about Fuglen that makes you want to stay there with a good book or your laptop and chill for hours. The rain seemed to accentuate this, giving the cafe a warm and homely vibe. Good vibes, indeed. 

Fuglen Tokyo 
1-16-11 Tomigaya, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo 151-0063
Nearest Station: Yoyogi-Koen 
Cafe opening hours: 
Mon-Fri: 8am-7pm
Sat-Sun: 10am-7pm
 

5. Bills Omotesando

Bills is actually from Sydney, Australia - where I was just a month before my Tokyo trip! However, I failed to make a trip to Bills when I was there, so I decided to pay a visit to the Tokyo outpost instead. Oh, the irony. Anyway, if you want to make a trip here, you better be a morning person, if only just for a day. We got here at 8:45am, and the place was more than half full. By the time it was 9:30, we could see a queue going out of the door. When we left just after 10, the queue went down the steps all the way to the floor below. 

Bills is incredibly airy, well-lit and it's one of those really pristine spaces that you can't help but spam pictures of because it's so gorgeous and minimalist. I was delighted to see that the coffee here was from Single Origin Roasters - I loved their coffee from Three Williams while I was in Sydney (read here)! 

The coffee here is pretty decent. I enjoyed my flat white - it was smooth and sweet, easy on the palate. Like a taste of Australia in Tokyo, albeit with less of a kick. Of course, one could not expect it to taste exactly the same, but it does the beans justice, at the very least. Now, Single Origin Roasters, will you please come down to Singapore soon? 

Bills Omotesando 
4-30-4 Jingumae, Shibuya-Ku, 7F Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku 
Nearest Station: Meiji-Jingumae/Harajuku Station
Open daily 830am-11pm

That's all for part one, part two's coming up soon! :-) 
 

Bear Pond Espresso

This was what I had initially typed for Bear Pond in my (upcoming!) Tokyo Coffee Trail post, but after spending practically the whole day trying to put all my thoughts into words, I decided to just heck it and give it a post of its' own. 

Bear Pond has been on my coffee shop bucket list ever since I watched A Film About Coffee, in which it was featured. This is probably one of the most prominent espresso shops in Tokyo, with good reason. Here, you can always expect (and are most likely to receive) a good, solid cup of coffee, especially given the number of rules put in place to ensure consistency in every shot. For one, only one person is allowed to pull the shots in this tiny space - and that person is none other than Katsu Tanaka himself, owner of Bear Pond Espresso. Secondly, coffee is only available for a few hours a day - typically from about 10:30am (when the shop opens) to 2pm, which is when a daily flux in the power grid messes with the machine. It is also the time of the day when the shop gets too busy for Katsu to give each and every shot of espresso his 100%. 

To be honest, I'm not sure how this third rule contributes to the consistency of every shot of espresso, but I'm thinking that the constant use of cameras in his presence may be distracting. Or the irresponsible use of flash photography. Whatever it is, photography seems to be strictly prohibited in Bear Pond. If you wish to snap a shot of your espresso (like I did), you'll have to go up to the counter lady to ask for permission to do so. I was kind of surprised when she gave me the go-ahead to take one, though. The service here is not exactly the friendliest, which is surprising given the typically good service found in Japan. I felt a tad uncomfortable sitting there sipping on my dirty espresso, reading the picture of dorian gray. Almost unwelcome. Based on reviews I've read though, I think it depends on the mood of Katsu and counter lady - basically, your luck. But that's not the main focus here, and don't let it be.

Now, this is. I'm still struggling to put this into words. This dirty espresso is basically a shot of espresso layered with some whole milk, followed by another shot of espresso. It felt like a delicate balance of flavours and textures. I've never had any coffee quite like it. In my first sip, I could already taste the notes of chocolate in the coffee. 80% espresso and 20% milk, to be exact. (According to Katsu here). Bold, dark and sweet. As the espresso and milk began to blend, the flavours became increasingly complex, eventually shifting to a 1:5 ratio of espresso to milk (basically, a reverse of the above). How precise; and how fascinating. The espresso was thick and viscous, making the milk feel more like a complement rather than a distraction to the taste and mouthfeel of the coffee. Very sexy indeed. This magic was over too soon. I wanted to have an espresso, but I had gone down on a Wednesday, and they did not sell their angel stain espresso on Wednesday. The disappointment was real. 

I meant to go back sometime, but Shimokitazawa is not exactly one of the most convenient locations, and there was so much more of Tokyo to explore. But I promise, I will be back one day. Just not on a Wednesday. 

Bear Pond Espresso
2-Chome-36-12, Kitazawa, Setagaya, Tokyo 155-0031
Nearest station: Shimokitazawa (take the North exit)
Open Wed-Mon

 

June in Film ⚓︎

It's that time of the month again! June began with two rounds of travelling, to Sydney and then Bangkok, respectively. It was then followed by rag practices and catching up with friends, and work. A good half of my pictures (or more) from this batch of film is from the two rounds of travelling I did, I think, and the rest from all over the place. 

This post is kind of overdue. Maybe kind of is an understatement; we're already (almost) midway through July (oh no oh noooo). Time is going by at an astonishingly fast rate. :-( 

One of my favourite pictures from this roll. Took this through the glass window from my room on the 25th storey. I had an amazing view. 

View of Darling Harbour, taken on our first morning on the way to the aquarium. It was a beautiful morning :-)

A train station // Shoes found hanging on a power line

And I’ll be here by the ocean just waiting for proof that there’s sunsets and silhouette dreams.
— You Be The Anchor, Mayday Parade

Bondi Beach, where we watched the sunset and watched waves crash against the rocks. I tried to capture the breaking of the waves, especially the larger ones, but it wasn't always successful. (Evidently)

The Grounds of Alexandria. Altogether a lovely place, and I like the whimsical touch film gives it. 

One thing that I really like about the Taronga Zoo is how it is a sort of safe haven from the city, a place where the animals are given the space to roam (relatively) freely and just how open it all is. So close yet so far. The view of the city is stunning, especially at the giraffe enclosure. 

Shots taken while walking around the city/relaxing on the grass. I love the abundance of beautiful grass patches in Sydney, and I miss how the sun wasn't harsh and unrelenting; but gentle, as it casts a soft glow over the city. 

A block of HDB flats in Dakota. 

My two favourite uncles ever, on our trip to Bangkok. I wish I'd remembered to use my film camera more while we were there, but all I've got are these two pictures (and a few other painfully underexposed ones).

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Path to school #1!!! 

Taken in the Jalan Besar area after a lunch one day; tried to capture the flowers (??) in the photo on the left but didn't expect to get so much of the road in the background oops. 

CBD sights 

Marina-ish. Undoubtedly, one of my favourite ares in Singapore. 

Ending off with the momentous cap-throwing to mark the end of the POP (Passing Out Parade)! It's a very proud moment, and I'm glad that I was there to experience it despite having to brave the insane rain. :-) 

So that's the first half of the year gone by in a flash, and here's to an even greater second half! In other news, my dad is currently hunting for his old Pentax film camera (the one that all my baby photos were taken with) to send for repair so that I can use it!! A little excited to be moving past my incredibly amateur disposable camera, although I really like this baby as well. The cost tho :-( 

Sydney Travel Diary (i)

I'm really enjoying this break I have before University. Almost halfway through the year and I daresay it's been a pretty good year thus far. Trying to learn not to sweat the small stuff and have a good detox before school starts. I'm also very privileged that I get to travel a fair bit during this period as well, breaks from Singapore are doing me good (especially since I will be spending the next five years studying here instead of my original plans to go to the UK)...

So. My first trip out of the country this year was to Sydney, Australia! This was my fourth trip to Sydney, and the last time I was there was in August 2012, over the long weekend from Hari Raya. When I was in Grade 10, we took our Chinese IGCSEs in May, while we took the rest of our exams in November. I had decided to challenge myself (lol) and take First Language Chinese. It was a bit of a risk as no one in the previous year had scored an A or A*. As a result, my mom told me that she would bring me on a trip to Hong Kong if I managed to score an A or A* and miracle of miracles, I did. But I went to Sydney instead of Hong Kong as my dad was going on a business trip there so I could just tag along. :b

On this trip, I travelled with one of my best friends of mg, Stace :-) We were accompanied by Ryan and Leonard (Ryan's friend who stays and studies in Sydney). It was a wonderful break from the heat and humidity of Singapore - the weather in Sydney hovered around 11-19 degrees, save for the first day when we were greeted with "the coldest morning in four years". What a welcome. 

We flew over via British Airways, and we had a very pleasant flight there (at least I did). It was a night flight, so I slept for the bulk of it and watched two and a quarter episodes of the Great British Bake-Off. We were lucky enough to get front row seats, although getting the entertainment screen up was a bit hard as the button was so stiff! Stace and I tried so hard before giving up and asking one of the stewards to help us, upon which he effortlessly pulled the screen up. Magic, he called it.

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We headed to the fish market for breakfast after dropping our bags off at Leonard's. It was a lovely walk from his place (albeit a very cold one). We made a pit stop at a cafe called the Pigeonhole along the way, where Stace and I got coffee and Ryan had tea and an almond croissant which was the best almond croissant that I have ever tasted.

Onward to the fish market! It was just as I remembered it from my last visit. Ryan and Leonard got most of the food. I only had one slice of sashimi (which was fresh and lovely) but I have come to the conclusion that sashimi is best not eaten in the morning... My tummy felt a little funny after. 

After the fish market, we went to the Sea Life Aquarium to see the friends of the fish we just ate. The aquarium was painfully underwhelming... It might have been the effect of the complete lack of sleep (for Stace and Ryan) and an insufficient amount of sleep (for me) as well as the fact that pretty much half of our time spent in the aquarium involved walking up and down numerous ramps to get from one exhibit to another, surrounded by oldish, industrial-looking walls, painted a grisly, dismal blue. 

We walked back to the apartment after, but not before stopping by a playground with a spider structure which we played on, and Woolworths', where the guys bought an ice cream called golden gaytime (for real). After which we slept most of the afternoon away. :b 

Dinner for the day was at Rockpool Bar and Grill, our most expensive meal of the trip. The wagyu bolognese that Stace and I had was pretty good though (and the cheapest thing on the menu) heh. OH, and this was the restaurant at which I got carded. We ordered wine and I was asked to show my ID as I guess I don't look 18... At least it means that I look young? 

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Walked back, and that was the end of our first day! 

The effects of the night flight stayed with us (or me, at least) and resulted in me getting up at a horrifying 10:45am that morning. At 8:45am in Singapore it would have been okay, but as Sydney is two hours ahead of Singapore, 10:45am is horrifying, especially while on holiday. What a waste of the morning! 

The guys got up early to cook breakfast for us, which we ate before renting a car to go to the Adriano Zumbo Patisserie! This was one of the places that ranked pretty highly on our to-go list, as Adriano Zumbo is a famous patisseir from Masterchef Australia. 

We didn't realise that the patisserie had no seats, it was a takeaway concept so we decided to just buy a number of different things back to the apartment to eat. We ordered a lot of things to try, pictured above and arranged by Stace, Leonard and I! 

Of everything we ordered, I liked the cakes the best. We had the V8 passionfruit (the orange-yellow square at the bottom of the picture) and the 'Ed, it's been a long time' cake which was like an opera cake (to the right of the passionfruit cake). I loved them both, they had a lot of different textures going on and tasted fantastic on the whole. You have to eat the different layers at the same time to get the full experience!! 

The zonut and the palmier were from the bread and pastry display. I felt that the zonut had too much sugar on the top, and I felt like I was just eating plain sugar at certain points. The custard inside was good though, creamy and it contrasted with the crisp texture of the zonut beautifully. I liked the palmier; it reminded me of TBB's Kouign Amann. I think some would find it too sweet though. 

The rest of the desserts weren't that amazing (to me, at least) - I didn't eat much of the quiche but the guys seemed to like it a lot, I think I would have enjoyed the one bite I had a lot more if it was hot. The lemon meringue tart was weak, both in terms of the filling (a tarter, more lemon-y one would have been nice) and the pastry - the meringue felt too light; the crust too soft. Stace and I had the zumbarons at night, and they were ok to me - I heard that they were disappointing for some but I guess having little-to-no expectations of something helps. I had the salted-butter-toast one or something like that and I quite liked how it tasted faintly of butter toast. Ryan had the salted caramel popcorn one the next day and he discovered that taking a bite of the macaron/zumbaron along with a sip of champagne is a delightful way of eating it. I can attest to that. 

After our pretty-much-a-pastry-and-dessert-lunch, we took the train down to Circular Quay, with the intention of visiting the Taronga Zoo. Unfortunately, by the time we got there it was 2 something and we were told by the ticket man that there wasn't much of a point in going, as the zoo would close at 4:30 that day. 

So we hopped on a bus to Bondi Beach! It was a 45-minute journey (I think, I can't quite remember) from the city, but it was a lovely journey. My favourite part about road trips, bus rides or train rides above ground is looking out of the window, admiring the sights and just letting my mind wander. It's one of life's simple pleasures. 

Bondi beach is beautiful. (Loving the alliteration going on in that sentence). I've come to realise that I do love the beach, and I love the sea - I just don't want to swim in it. I think the idea of swimming in the sea with fishes and all is a lot nicer than the actual act of swimming, maybe until you see these animals up close but I'd rather stay dry. This might change in the future, but right now, this is how I feel about it. 

This is the part where I'm going to spam photos because you can never have enough pretty photos of the sea. 

We decided to stop by at a cafe for some fish and chips while walking along the beach! Bondi has a lot of street art (or beach art?) lining the walls just on the outside of the beach, and some of them really are pretty cool. 

We had initially planned to go on the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk which was about 6km long and would have taken us about an hour or so, but by the time we were done with our late lunch/tea we were advised by the kind service staff at the cafe that it would be better to walk another day as the sky would turn dark before we could finish the walk. 

And that's how we ended up on the rocks, watching the sunset. It was quite a lovely sight. 

When the sun set, we made our way back to the city to try Pancakes on the Rocks (for dinner, because breakfast for dinner is the best thing ever), where we were greeted with a line that snaked out of the door. Well, expectations were certainly raised then. Did you know that Pancakes on the Rocks was a 24/7 joint? We only found out when we reached the front of the queue. If only we had known just a bit earlier... To be fair, however, the queue did move rather quickly! 

I had the Pancakes with sausages, grilled tomatoes and scrambled eggs. I really wanted to try the banana pancakes, but I needed something savoury after all those sweet treats in the day. I quite liked what I had, my scrambled eggs were sufficiently runny, and the grilled tomatoes were delicious. I don't think they're very consistent, though - Ryan's side order of scrambled eggs arrived dry and looked overcooked. Also, beware of the bacon - I didn't try any myself, but the others agreed that it was very salty and it was alluded to as the trigger for Stace's cough. The pancake itself was very much like a McDonald's hotcake, but fluffier, larger and with a little more flavour. Good thing I like hotcakes. The serving is huge, by the way - I could only manage one pancake! 

The journey back to the apartment was an incredibly cold one, it was unusually cold that night. Stace even had to stand outside a restaurant's fire display to warm herself up, much to the amusement of the family waiting outside. :') 

I've decided to split the trip up into three parts since it was a six day trip, so I'll cover two days per post! And in other news, after spending the whole morning on Corel Painter, I've finally managed to get my blog header done! Really pooped but feeling fulfilled at the same time. Sad to say, technology is not my best friend. Still trying to touch up various odds and ends and this is still a site-in-progress, but I think it'll be worth the effort when I'm done. :-) 

A week in stuff

In hopes of not losing touch with my life and forgetting what I've done (in pictures), I'm going to try to upload some pictures of stuff that goes on, on a weekly basis.

Also to keep this thing alive. Been trying to get my baking spark back, but time is always a constraint! Funny how I thought I had so much time to do things with this break, but time is actually running out... At a really fast pace...

Lunch at Equinox with Mommy

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Walking around the CQ; Havelock area

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So daddy came back with two blocks of chocolate cream cheese one day as they were on sale and expiring soon... I tried to bake something with them - it was a little hard and I was honestly quite afraid to as I had never even tried chocolate cream cheese for myself before.

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Chocolate cheesecake with salted caramel & bananas on top

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And the next day, I made cinnamon rolls!!

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Initially, I added waaaaaay too little flour to the dough (I misconverted the cups-to-grams thing as I didn't convert it for bread flour), and essentially messed the whole thing up. So, I had to start again from scratch. Going to try baking these (or at least, a variation of it) again, sometime this week! Will share the recipe once I've worked the kinks out. Really happy with how these turned out, though! Especially for a first attempt.

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Cinnamon Rolls

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Solo lunch trip to The Bravery after collecting my passport one morning, makes me wonder why I don't do this more often

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Went for a walk with mommy at Hort Park one morning, walked to Gillman Barracks where we had breakfast at the Red Baron (a new cafe!!) 

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Post-lunch surprises with the best friends at Rise and Grind Co - another new cafe! 

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xx

Artistry x SAM

What was meant to be a regular brunch turned into a rather artsy-fartsy day. We met at Artistry, one of our favourite cafes where I waited for about half an hour for his arrival (but it's ok because he brought a portable charger which had juice for me hehe). Had a nice chat with Sue and Gerard while waiting, though! The Artistry staff are really lovely people, and this is just one of the many reasons why I love this cafe so much.

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They had only just started doing this piece of art the day before I came, but it looks great already - I can't wait to see the finished product!

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And of course, I had their Peanut Butter & Jelly french toast! I had been craving it for ages, and it was an amazing feeling to be able to satisfy my cravings! This is definitely one of the best french toasts in Singapore, no doubt about that. The layer of peanut butter and jelly in the middle is simply divine, yet the toast itself retains its moist, eggy texture. The berry compote is a great accompaniment, as is the vanilla ice cream and the speculoos crumble. I just wish that ice cream didn't melt at such a rapid pace in our hot and humid country.

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Darryl had the baked eggs which were oh-so-spicy but also oh-so-creamy-and-good. I should have let it cool a bit before taking a bite though, for I could practically feel smoke coming out of my mouth because it was so hot.

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Raspberry-and-mint-infused water!!

Had a great chat over food and coffee, and we went to buy some dance stuff for Darryl before heading to the Singapore Art Museum (SAM)!

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We also visited the new exhibition at the Queen's Street branch of SAM, Imaginarium! It was mostly about children and their imagination, and it really made me miss my childhood quite a bit. Although I was never quite the imaginative kind, it was nice to look at these artworks and draw bits of inspiration from them.

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One thing about my childhood though - I never did learn how to ride a bike properly. Like, the two-wheeled ones. Ooooooop. I do wish I didn't have to rush off for an interview that day, but no matter! Darryl also told me about a few more art exhibitions around Singapore so I might take a day to go and visit all of them.

Soon, soon.