Great Wall – movie

Last summer my boyfriend visited me in Beijing; we went around the city and I took some sunny footage of the Great Wall. Jiankou, this section of the wall that has not been refurbished, is dangerously gorgeous (see my photography post on the great wall covered by magical pink and white blossoms). I can only hope that hikers and explorers continue to value the wall and protect it by not damaging the natural environment through human waste, a fate that has unfortunately befallen so many great cultural sites in China.

Kawaii Couture – Cherwell Fashion Outtake

One of the most prominent features I will remember from meandering through the busy streets and alleyways in Tokyo is the vibrancy of the fashion in the city. It’s impossible to miss the (somewhat stereotypical) features of Japanese style, as depicted in trending anime and manga prints over the world. There are many recognizable ‘looks’, such as the controversial Kogal or ‘schoolgirl’ style, the ‘Lolita’ (a cross between Victorian and French late-Baroque Rococo fashion), as well as countless products featuring rounded handwriting, Hello Kitty or Pikachu icons. These are all elements under an umbrella of an aesthetic coined as kawaii.

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Kawaii may be translated as the element of ‘cuteness’ or ‘adorability’ in Japanese culture. The origins of this style, seen as pom-pom hairpieces or even full wigs and costumes for the committed fashionista today, dates back as far as the early 11th century. A classic piece of Japanese literature, The Tale of Genji, by Lady Murasaki, used kawaii to refer to the “sentiment of pity and empathy”, as well as people who inspired this feeling. According to John A. Lent in his ‘Themes and Issues in Asian Cartooning’, the use and context of kawaii evolved over centuries from being tied to the vulnerable aspects of human bodies and emotions to be more firmly related to the attraction of children and females who were pitiable, sensitive and compliant.

For most Japanese women, being called kawaii is a compliment. Commercially, kawaii was, and still is, a hit – merchandise labelled as kawaii can extend from stationary and styles of handwriting to toys and fashion. Alongside kawaii outfits exhibited on young girls and women walking around bustling city streets alike, is the style of burikko, the appearance and in particular, behaviour, of a helpless and cute young girl. Burikko was coined in the 1980s by Seiko Matsuda, an idol in Japanese popular culture, and emphasises the childlike behaviours associated with cuteness displayed by many Japanese girls who dress in kawaii fashion. Whilst this appearance may be controversial in its sexual implications of being attracted to submissive, innocent girls, it is nevertheless apparent in many Japanese girls’ everyday attitudes and fashion choices. Categories of ‘cute’ fashion such as Lolita and Sweet Lolita feature ribbons, bows and lace, pastel colours and ruffled petticoats in imitation of innocence and beauty. Childhood characters such as Bo Peep, fairies and baby dolls serve as inspiration and affect the mannerisms of those who subscribe to these fashions.

Tokyo street style is embedded with cute culture, displaying a bold array of fashion characters, and serves as inspiration even to high fashion brands. Designer Shigeki Morino’s A/W 2015 Collection, whose target customer is the sensitive ladies’ man, takes from 1970s Tokyo street style in colourful striped suits and delicate tailoring derived from the essence of masculinity in female clothing. But the majority of kawaii fashion remains on a more affordable level, as numerous street fashion labels have adopted Lolita-inspired lines, with many Tumblr and Pinterest accounts dedicated to these styles.

However controversial the cute, submissive kawaii female is in popular fashion and culture, it has nevertheless served as inspiration to generations of Japanese young adults. Kawaii continues to be one of the most defining features of Japanese culture in general, and a fascinating phenomenon in fashion in particular.

Cycle Series I – Florence

Florence is famous for its picturesque cityscapes where every step is postcard perfect, steeped in art and history. It’s also the home of some of the most enticingly succulent food Tuscany has to offer (Florentine steak!) The city itself is inevitably touristy, but no less beautiful; the sights and sounds and smells – and tastes – are not to be missed, and crowds can be avoided by planning your trip beforehand. But after 3 full days of intense sightseeing, I was ready for something different.

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My family and I stayed at a boutique hotel (Ville Sul’Arno), a 45-minute walk from the city centre and closer than most hotels to the surrounding hills. Our aim was to cycle to a town called Fiesole famous for its views over Florence, Roman baths, ruins and houses of prayer.

Being a history geek at heart, I quickly wiki’d the town and discovered that it was (probably) founded by the Etruscans, a pre-Roman civilisation of Ancient Italy, and had been conquered in 283BC by the Romans before they built Florence. Its strategic and scenic position on the hill makes for an absolutely breathtaking view, and I can definitely see the attraction in the beautiful bath town where the sweeping vistas were inspiration for any site of faith and contemplation. 
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Although Fiesole is a short bus ride away from the city, I set off with my father and brother to brave the hills on bike (leaving my mother in the spa below!) We’d heard it was a tough climb, but in the 30+ degrees heat, the 40 degree hillside was almost unbearable.

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We pushed past the monument to the Giro d’Italia (Italy’s answer to the Tour de France) about halfway along our route, and were overtaken by notoriously rowdy Italian motorcyclists screeching around the vicious mountain road bends, terrifying us helmet-less and timid tourists. Even as someone who likes to stay active and adventurous, it took a good 2 and a half hours and a hell of a lot of willpower for me to get to the top without giving up!

Yet a lot of sweat, endurance and a refreshing gelato (or two!) later, we had parked the bikes and could admire the view.

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Above, the central plaza. Below, the gorgeous pastel buildings that frame the sloping lanes that lead to a viewing platform that surveys the valley.

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The iPhone and Gopro photos I took at the time cannot do the view, the breeze and the massive sense of achievement I felt, half the justice it deserves. All I can say is, even when you’re on holiday and not necessarily aiming to be travelling adventurously, throw something – an activity, a challenge or a physical goal – into your trip, and it will be all the more satisfying for it. I promise.

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Botanical Wonders – iPhone Photography

Growing up in Cambridge, the fondest memories I have of junior school were lunchtime trips to the University Botanical Gardens. Captivated by the scents and exoticism of the carefully nurtured natural wonders there, I watched nature programmes like BBC Planet Earth, Blue planet and promptly fell in love with David Attenborough. With the revival of Planet Earth II, I was reminded of the reason I became fascinated by botany in the first place.

 

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(above: Cambridge desert, mountain and jungle greenhouse sections)

The combination of human and natural aesthetic is what really draws me toward the greenhouses especially. I love how the skeletal frame of the metal and glass contrast – and complement – the softer colours and shapes of the natural fronds and flowers that are cultivated inside.

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(above: Oxford jungle, corridor and water greenhouse sections)

I visited Cambridge in April and Oxford in July, so although the external displays are seasonal, the greenhouse interiors stay pretty constant throughout the year. I even recognised some of the same plants and layouts in Cambridge as were there 10 years ago!

Overall, I prefer the Cambridge Botanical Gardens – although there is a certain degree of nostalgia for me when visiting, the gardens themselves outside of the greenhouses are bigger and more ordered with a greater variety of areas and diversity of plants than in Oxford, which is smaller and modelled more like an English Garden than a Botanical one.

Great Wall 2015 – iPhone Photography

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Organic, jagged, untamed, private. These are not words used often to describe places near Beijing, a body-packed engine of commercial drive. But the ‘Wild Wall’ at Jiankou, a 2 hour journey from the capital, is just this. Rising out of the rock, the wall is slowly being reclaimed by the craggy mountains, leaf by leaf. It’s truly an artwork, a synthesis of natural and manmade powers have forged this Wall.

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‘Jiankou’ itself is the lowest point of this part of the Wall. Nestled in the heart of a valley above a small village, it is a half-day hike west of Mutianyu, a refurbished section that has become the most popular tourist destination in the area.

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Colours are perhaps my most vivid memories of the Jiankou pass. The rocks along the pathways here have been polished white with hikers’ footsteps. In summer, it is lush green from head to toe; but in April, for 1 week each year, you may be lucky enough to witness the blooming cherry and peach blossoms blanketing these peaks.

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