Matthew Frame on overcoming anxiety to illustrate India

Matthew Frame on overcoming anxiety to illustrate India

Matthew Frame plunges us unapologetically into the jungles of India from the turn of a page.

His illustrations in Speaking to an Elephant and Walking is a Way of Knowing, published by Tara Books, have gained critical acclaim: described by The Times of India as “visually celebrat[ing] the teeming richness of the tropical forest and its many creatures.”

Every illustration is decadently overgrown. It immerses you in native plant life, tumbling fruit, larger-than-life crickets and snarling panther jaws. It’s ready to swallow you whole and spit you out in the speckled shadows of a forest floor.

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It’s difficult to believe that this artist could ever question his incredible talent. However, Matthew reveals that he spent the months leading up to his six month residency at Tara’s headquarters “worrying that I would be ‘found out’, that I couldn’t draw, that I was totally talentless and that there had been some sort of terrible mistake in inviting me there.”

This “perpetual state of anxiety” can be read in Matthew’s drawings, which are precise and overwhelmingly detailed. No space to ask questions. No room for error. Each piece of work – from the 8-storey mural commissioned by Zap Architecture, to the album artwork for Pete and the Pirates – share the same barrage of information. As a recent client Dr. Piyush Pushkar put it: “You see the strokes of Frame’s marker pens, and then feel yourself pushed backwards as far as possible to grapple with it all.”

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However, in Matthew’s newer illustrations we discover a distinctly looser style. In fact, some of the drawings featured in Walking is a Way of Knowing and Speaking to an Elephant are taken straight from Matthew’s sketchbook.

Matthew’s experience in India where he illustrated the two books – working with limited tools from his bedroom, getting ink all over the floor and enduring the worst monsoon Chennai had seen for 100 years – sparked a new, liberating perspective in his abilities. “I […] realized that my artwork isn’t about the things I have around me – I don’t need anything to be able to work effectively, I just need me.”

Since returning to the UK, Matthew has worked on many ambitious commissions, including a mural titled The Marisolysian Fields which celebrates the joint Indian and British heritage of baby Frederic Pushkar. He is now starting a new chapter as a professor of BA Illustration at Portsmouth University and MA Illustration at Falmouth University.

Matthew says: “My one bit of advice to anyone reading this would be to be constantly putting yourself in situations where you feel slightly out of your depth […] Nothing will compare to the sense of achievement you get when you have completed what you thought to be an impossible task.”

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This article is one from my artist feature series, showcasing the work of professional UK-based artists whose work I love. Let me know what you think to the article and Matthew’s illustrations, which you can find more of here!

– Karis

Cyndi Speer and the Artist’s internal conflict

Cyndi Speer and the Artist’s internal conflict

Prepare to be thrown off balance. Cyndi Speer making her artwork both progressive yet accessible is a balancing act as dizzying as her paintings.

This Suffolk-based artist re-imagines local countryside into a waltz of the senses: her paintings bridging the gap between the familiar and the fantastic. One moment you’re turning your collar up against a frosty moon, the next you’re soaring up with swallows, only to tumble down meadows into the pale arms of a sandy beach. The animals depicted flow with the same energy as their habitats: climbing impossible slopes and settling in the nooks of fictional valleys.

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Breaking new ground is a deliberate choice for Cyndi, avid to keep her practise fresh and innovative through artistic growth. “In a way it’s not a case of me choosing art – art chose me,” she says, adding: “I don’t want to just create work that is expected of me, because that would stifle me – I want to keep progressing. If you don’t push anything forward, nothing new will happen. And if we did that, all art would stagnate.”

Driving this progression is Cyndi’s experimental techniques. Blending water-based and oil-based mediums, she often starts by pouring a puddle of paint on a canvas, tilting it to form her signature curves and swirls, and letting the result dictate the final composition. Never static, Cyndi works on multiple artworks simultaneously due to the lengthy drying time of each layer of paint. For her, this recurrent discovery is the most exciting part of the process.

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Although her paintings have widespread appeal, Cindy describes how difficult it can be staying on the straight and narrow in terms of advancing her style. “There is a constant battle for all artists between trying to be true to themselves and their practice, and trying to make a living making work they know will sell well. Lots of tourists come here [to my studio], and it’s tempting to be drawn into creating landscapes which I know they’ll like.”

To combat this, Cyndi is bringing in a touch of portraiture alongside an inspiring new body of work to her next exhibition Dream and Reality in Quay Gallery, Snape Maltings, Suffolk this October.

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Cyndi’s yearly schedule is choc-a-bloc with exhibitions and sculpture trails – including making two pigs for the prominent Pigs Gone Wild art trail organised by Wild in Art, where a passel of painted pigs took to in Ipswich in 2016. Cyndi’s personal highlight was contributing to St Elizabeth Hospice and getting her artwork out of the gallery space into the minds and hearts of the public. Whilst not pandering to commerciability, Cyndi thinks that art should speak to a wide variety of people, and sculpture trails are an effective way to do this. “Art should be accessible for all, not just for the privileged few.”

From her studio deep in the Suffolk countryside, Cyndi’s passion continues to push her practice forward. Art lovers can be reassured that creativity will never be stifled in this artist, as Cyndi adamantly declares: “I will probably die with a paintbrush in hand!”

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Cyndi and her painted pig for the Pigs Gone Wild sculpture trail

Discover more paintings by Cyndi on her website and read about more incredible UK artists and their own personal battles – including Matlakas and his imaginary fight, and fellow Suffolk-based artist Juliette Hamilton.

– Karis

Elisa Artesero makes art conveying sleep, that has never made us feel more alive

Elisa Artesero makes art conveying sleep, that has never made us feel more alive

Elisa’s powerful installations take us from the neon rapture of a dance stage into the quiet bliss of a floating word garden. And how? All through the power of words and light.

Although her recent pieces explore the various states of dreaming, these artworks wake us up better than a cold bath and a bloody mary. Her recent project saw 10 dancers perform against human-sized mirrored lettering spelling out the word DREAMERS, which was the title of the piece. This ambitious installation and dance performance showcased the collaborative efforts of the artist, a sound producer, choreographer, director and dance troupe, taking viewers “from sleep into dream, a dance in the liminal space of twilight to the edge of night.”

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Other notable pieces include the Garden of Floating Words, a cluster of poetry that floats delicately in Jubilee Gardens, London, and A Solid Wish Scatters, which throws a poem from the pavement onto the famous concrete wall in Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester. At the moment, Elisa’s very own solo exhibition Building Text commissioned by Broadgate, London and curated by Rosie Glenn is open to visitors: spanning three buildings in the area until 26th October 2018.

Though based in Manchester, Elisa’s commissions have taken her across the world: from the Faroe Islands to illuminating the mountain sides of Seydisfjordur, Iceland. In 2014 she was commissioned as a Red Bull Creative to create an installation in their studios, and since then has been shortlisted for the international Darc Awards in 2016 and 2017.

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However, enlightening the world with her artwork is not all Elisa does with her time. After all, we are talking about a woman whose nail varnish matches the RGB colour palette of her lighting tech.

Whilst in the winter months Elisa creates brilliant installations, in summer she co-directs the biennial Manifest Arts Festival. Last year the festival showcased over 250 artists in open studios, events and exhibitions for 5 full days across venues in Manchester, Salford and Bolton. She is currently coordinating the next festival which will run on 11th – 20th July 2019.

Elisa commented: “I’ve personally always had the split between artistic practice and curation. Even when I was studying at Manchester School of Art, I ran The Link Gallery for 2 years, curating weekly exhibitions alongside developing my practice as a Light and Text Artist.”

Elisa acknowledges it can be very challenging to balance the two disciplines since planning such a large festival can take time away from her personal artistic practice. However she also commented, “Festival planning isn’t always serious. Sometimes you get to climb a beard!” (This is a true story: she has indeed scaled Engels’ beard in Salford.)

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See more of Elisa’s impressive work on her website here.

This is another article from my artist feature series, researched and written by myself on UK-based artists I admire. You can read more about how to become a full-time artist through equally illuminating articles about Richard Day and Juliette Hamilton.

– Karis

Ambrin: jewellery scholar with the golden touch

Ambrin: jewellery scholar with the golden touch

Ambrin is a fearless, fifth-generation jewellery designer heralding jewellery as the boldest art form.

Ambrin’s fiercely lavish pieces reflect current socio-economic events, to bring perspective to the concept of wealth, worth and privilege. Her golden touch transforms everyday objects – from tampons to beer bottle lids, bubble gum to contact lenses – into opulent wearable treasures that artfully tell the story of our times. Ambrin says: “I love bringing things into the jewellery world that feels like they don’t belong there…I think that’s an interesting way to progress jewellery as an art form.”

Delectably inedible, her piece Gold Bar – a gold-plated Kit Kat – explores the fact that chocolate was exempt from the new sugar tax introduced in the UK in April 2018. In another piece Pretty Penny, Ambrin works directly onto a copper penny, embellishing the queen’s portrait with gold jewellery. By elevating the insignificant coin into a precious item, Ambrin challenges us to reconsider our attitude towards small change.

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By reflecting on contemporary issues in challenging sculpted pieces, Ambrin brings this formerly considered craft irrefutably into the fine art sphere. The duality of Ambrin’s work as both a stand-alone sculpture and a wearable work of art gives its message extra poignancy – since as a wearer you can directly engage in the play of wealth and power that the artwork itself is undermining.

“There’s a lot of room for more contemporary jewellery in exhibitions and it’s often missing from the fine art space. Just because an object can be used as jewellery doesn’t mean it can’t also be a sculpture or considered as a piece of art […] just because it’s jewellery it shouldn’t be excluded or overlooked.”

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Ambrin crafts her pieces using 100-year-old tools and knowledge inherited from her family’s jewellery business. She draws upon her extensive training from studying Jewellery Design at Central Saint Martins, and many experiences since including the Galerie Marzee International Graduate Show 2016 in Nijmegen, Holland, creating a bejewelled bee for Bee in the City, and spending a year as the Jewellery Scholar at Swarovski Foundation Scholarship: gaining key industry insight at many events including the British Fashion Awards.

Ambrin is bringing her enlightened perspective to the rest of the world as she embarks on becoming a key part of the global jewellery-making community. For example, she has just completed a residency in Peru, learning from local jewellery experts how to create traditional Inca jewellery.

Watch this space as Ambrin changes the way we approach adornment and carves out a place for jewellery in the global fine art world.

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Discover more delights from Ambrin on her website and Instagram. Hope you enjoyed reading another of my artist feature series!

– Karis

Juliette Hamilton on how to become a successful full-time artist

Juliette Hamilton on how to become a successful full-time artist

Manchester-based sculptor Juliette Hamilton is the tirelessly industrious human you’d dearly like to be. I’d be surprised if she has ever uttered the word ‘procrastination’ in her life. As I interview her, she doggedly irons clothes ready for her holiday to New York tomorrow, but still finds time to fill me in on her incredibly inspiring life as an artist and how she accidentally got there.

Juliette makes a living creating realistic animal sculptures out of willow and other mediums for clients ranging from green-fingered locals to Hollyoaks, the BBC, and Bollywood films. Her creations stand proudly in museums, heritage centers, halls, gardens, farms, galleries and festivals all across the UK and beyond. As well as doing commissions, she also coordinates three weaving workshops a week and sells her wares at fairs and events throughout the year.

You may ask how does can she possibly get so much done? The secret is her lifestyle. And two pints of tea every morning.

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Juliette wakes at 5:30am everyday like a songbird, and gets straight to work creating sculptures from her studio at the bottom of her garden. Powered by a questionable amount of caffeine, she weaves for a minimum of ten hours a day, six days a week. It’s no wonder she has an strict no-work-on-holiday policy, though she insists that her routine and the process of creating is very enjoyable. “I don’t feel like I’m working at all, it never feels like a chore. Many people who go to my workshops comment “time just disappears” – and it’s true! It’s often a very therapeutic process.”

Despite being very happy with her lifestyle as a sculptor, Juliette remarks that becoming a full time artist was purely accidental.

After being cajoled into joining a weaving workshop by a persuasive friend, Juliette discovered a knack for the craft that soon attracted the attention of local art buyers. Everything snowballed from there. She says: “to be honest I had no intention to do this for a living but it crept up on me […] It took a few years to realize that that’s what I was doing for a living now – that creating sculptures was now my full time job.”

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Currently Juliette is creating stock for the Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair and working on a shire horse commissioned by the Manchester council – one of her most challenging projects to date.

The horse, which will stand proudly next to the canal in an effort to rejuvenate the walkway, is reinforced by a metal skeleton – unlike the wood that Juliette usually uses to fortify her sculptures. She says this is so that the horse can be remade when the willow eventually biodegrades, with the added benefit of being able to withstand the weight of a human incase any cheeky visitor fancies a horse ride.

After half an hour discussing the perils of ironing and the joys of a creative life with Juliette, it’s difficult not to feel more motivated by her. Perhaps not wake-up-at-5am motivated. But I’m definitely game for drinking 2 pints of tea before noon. How about you?

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See more sculptures from Juliette on her website here

This article is part of my artist feature series, showcasing the work of professional UK-based artists I admire. Let us know what you think below!

– Karis

“Fuck it and be an artist”: how painter Richard Day makes a living

“Fuck it and be an artist”: how painter Richard Day makes a living

For full-time artist and entrepreneur Richard Day, being an artist is a business, his paintings are products, and his life is golden. Richard brings home the bacon by selling commissioned artwork through his online Etsy shop: shipping paintings from his studio in Norwich to homes, restaurants and offices around the world.

Richard’s painting style is as fearless as his mindset. A carnival of colour with the unfettered energy of a rock anthem, his pieces combine graffitti with traditional portraiture in striking pop-art designs. The backgrounds are often filled with vibrant splashes of spray paint and scuffs of colour; the foregrounds daubed liberally with oil paint, depicting cultural icons, musicians and historical figures. Creating them can take anywhere between four hours and four days depending on the complexity of the design.

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Richard started freelancing full-time in March 2017, and is already building up a storm with over 32k followers on Instagram and hundreds of clients. He’s also taken part in numerous events including live painting – his performances always leaving audiences agape (and asking for his number).

One would think that if being a full-time creative was as easy as Richard makes out, half the population would hand in their resignation to start a cookery school or knit tea cosies for a living. So why aren’t we writing to our bosses right now?

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For some, becoming a full-time artist is a perilous step into the unknown. For Richard Day, it was a necessary manoeuvre to be free of bosses, gallery commission, and menial routines. “I always knew I wanted to work for myself but I never thought being a full time artist was an option.”

Richard admits: “Information isn’t a problem – we have an abundance of information that tells you how to do pretty much everything including how to be an artist. I’m sure there are people much more qualified to give people advice on the topic. My advice would be to just smash it – be very, very stubborn and say fuck it, I want to be an artist. And just go for it.” He adds: “You can champion good qualities such as perseverance, self belief and all that, but for me, stubbornness is key.”

Richard goes onto say there are things you need to take into account when working for yourself. For one, meticulous record keeping and sticking to deadlines is essential. “I’m very aware how many paintings I need to sell to make rent etc. and that is always something I need to consider.” Richard says the most difficult thing he faces is shipping the artwork out, which can often be delayed during the journey.

At the end of our chat I asked Richard what he thought he’d be doing for a living if he wasn’t an artist, to which he replied: “That’s a bloody good question. I have no idea. To be honest, I’d probably be working a shit job trying my best to be an artist.”

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You can find – and commission – more of Richard’s incredible work on his online shop here.

This article is the second in a series of artist features, researched and written by me with many thanks to Richard for the great interview and photos. 

– Karis

Matlakas and the imaginary fight

Matlakas and the imaginary fight

Matlakas is a dyslexic artist with a six-pack who doesn’t like ice-cream. But moreover, he is an art activist fighting for cultural and political unity in a world full of imaginary borders.

More passionate than Picasso, Italian-born Matlakas covers himself in automatic umbrellas in the name of art on the regular. Onlookers observe as he treads the streets of London, Cape Town, Seoul, Naples and the Jeju Island wearing a crown of barbed wire and roses, which he slowly dismantles along the way. He’s taken Melting Borders – a performance piece involving real ice-cream with natural, edible colours melting slowly in the sun – from Armenia to the North Korean border, and participated in the Moscow Biennale 2010 and the Gwangju Biennale 2014. The artist brandishes a battlecry in every area he visits: “Now it’s the time. It’s the time to melt away all flags. Accept the variety of all colours. To accept cultural differences, to win together.”

Matlakas says about his performance work: “As I look up my head is tilted upwards because I have a dream. So many dreams, and many dreams […] that [are] obstructed by inhuman rules.” According to the artist, these obstructions include passports, fences, laws, permissions, weapons, violence, and barbed wire.

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This idea is symbolically expressed in all of Matlakas’ work, including his energetic life-size paintings created from his studio in London. These pop-art scenes with expanses of yellow and blue and cages of dense, black lines bring in motifs from childhood and modern life. A piece might feature lego men besides books and birdcages. Classical sculptures with laptops and lasers. Paper planes and sailor suits. They wallop you with colour and tickle you back to life with whimsy.

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However, these fantastical scenes draw us into the imaginary world of borders and their very real consequences: the confinement of refugees, the conflict of human desires, and the freedom of a borderless future (should we ever reach it). As Matlakas put it: “how come something so imaginary leads us to fight, and fight back?” And from that he suggests the question: why is it so important to continue to fight?

As he prepares for more performances and residencies across the globe, Matlakas continues to combat these fictitious borders in society by creating art that makes you sit up and listen. Or stand on a car bonnet holding a protest poster, one of the two.

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See more of Matlakas’ work here.

This article is the first of a series on professional UK-based artists I admire, researched and written by myself. I hope you enjoyed it and please feel free to share your thoughts on Matlakas’ work below!

– Karis

How to be Vegetarian in Japan

How to be Vegetarian in Japan

Although people had warned me that it might be a struggle to avoid meat and fish in Japan, I must admit I didn’t quite appreciate just how difficult it would be to find vegetarian food there before I went – that is to say, vegetarian food which constituted towards full, wholesome meals. For the first half of my trip I really struggled, and mainly survived on rice balls and pizza flavoured crisps (don’t tell Grandma). However, after slowly discovering more and more vegetarian and vegan options hidden in the corners of menus, by the end of the holiday I was fuller and fatter than ever.

I wrote this blog article so that you know what to eat if you’re planning on going to Japan and avoiding meat or fish when you’re there…there’s no time to be hangry when there is a beautiful country to explore!

Your Basic Vegetarian Food Groups

1. Onigiri

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Whenever you’re stuck for something to eat, get yourself to the nearest Family Mart or Lawsons and pick up some rice balls. They tend to either be plain rice with a small amount of filling wrapped with seaweed, or flavoured rice without the filling or the seaweed. Both versions are delicious and provide a great lunch or snack. The vegetarian flavours in the filled onigiri are seaweed (two varieties) which have a green label, or pickled plum. The rice balls without a filling tend to all be vegetarian – in any case you will be able to tell if there aren’t because you’ll see the bits of meat mixed in the rice from the outside.

2. Sushi

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Famously sushi often contains raw or cooked fish (apparently tuna mayo is extremely tasty) however you can usually find veggie versions in both supermarkets and restaurants. I really recommend conveyor-belt sushi restaurants for eating out – you can clearly see from the menu what you’re getting, and even better the vegetable sushi is the cheapest going! Keep your eye out for sushi with cucumber (my favourite), pickled radish, spring onion and egg, which seem to be common. Just whatever you do, don’t go for the bean stuffed sushi, it is terrible.

3. Inarizushi

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So technically this is a type of sushi, but since it is so delicious it deserves its own category. Inarizushi is made of abura-age (fried tofu pouces) stuffed with vinegared rice and flavoured with soy sauce. It has a pleasant sweet taste and is very moreish! You can find these in supermarkets on their own or in mixed bento boxes, making it very convenient as a picnic food, and are also found in some restaurants. This was my favourite savoury snack in Japan!

4. Vegetable Tempura

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I was told about this dream by my sister before going on holiday, and we discovered it on our second night there. Simple and effective, tempura is literally something on a stick which is deep fried, giving it a crisp batter and is often accompanied with a dipping sauce or salt. It turns out you can make tempura out of anything, including shrimp, sausage, meat, tofu, aubergine, potato, cheese, asparagus, onion, tomato and quail egg. At more casual tempura restaurants you can choose precisely what selection you want – giving you complete veggie freedom – however if you go to restaurants with set menus, sometimes they will only have an option for mixed tempura (including shrimp). I found that in this instance you can ask for only vegetables and they will happily accommodate your request, but it would be worth checking this before you all sit down and order drinks.

5. Okonomiyaki

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Basically a pancake made with the usual ingredients of eggs and flour as well as shredded cabbage, this dish makes a very hearty meal. It is often sold as a street food, but can also be ordered in special restaurants where you have designated hot-plates in front of you to cook it the way you like it: an extremely messy and fun experience! Hiroshima Okonomiyaki is another version of the pancake with added yakisoba noodles. You can find both of these pre-prepared in some supermarkets too – just be careful that they aren’t hiding pieces of pork, which are sometimes added for flavour.

6. Instant noodles

When you’re in dire straits, and you just need a big hot meal, turn to instant noodles. Japan has the biggest selection of instant noodles in one corner shop that I have seen in my lifetime, you are honestly spoilt for choice. Some have meat in, but if in doubt the curry flavour is a safe bet for since it only contains vegetable stock. There are also some pot pastas which are conveniently titled in English so you can get your tomato and basil fix too, and you can fill them up with boiling water provided by the supermarket. Convenient!

7. Tofu alternatives

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Japan doesn’t really do vegetarian meals on purpose, however often they do it accidentally by including tofu in dishes as a protein alternative to meat. Keep an eye out for these dishes, especially as part of soups or sides, because you are sure to find them on a few menus.

At our ryokan (traditional inn) the chefs kindly swapped my fish for tofu however with a week or so of warning – above is the delicious meat-free meal they made for my breakfast, featuring fried tofu.

8. Tomato Ramen

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This food is not particularly common, nor easy to find, however if you come across it you must try it, because it will change your life. A mash-up between Japanese and Italian cuisine, it basically features ramen noodles, vegetables and other ingredients in a tomato-based broth. Since being vegetarian means you can’t sample traditional ramen (which is made of a broth using meat or fish) this is a great alternative to try some of the food you’ve heard so much about, in a strangely familiar fusion dish. You can also add cheese, satisfying the dairy craving you’ve had since arriving!

9. Sweet Treats

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The deserts are to die for in Japan, and happily usually vegetarian friendly! Although the soft textures can take some time getting used to, the subtle sweet flavours are heavenly. I recommend shaved ice with syrup to cool you down in the hot weather, which is a traditional snack, and to have a matcha tea with a cake in a traditional tea house. It is a must-have for any stay in Japan!

Recommendations for vegetarians

1. Eat at western-inspired restaurants

I know you came here to sample the “authentic culture” and the “local cuisine”, but if you’re tired of accidentally eating bits of fish, then treat yourself to a nice big meal in an Italian restaurant or British pub (yes, they have those, and they are hilarious). There will always be a vegetarian choice of pizza, chips or garlic bread on the menu, and you will be very grateful for it despite being able to eat the same meal in Britain any day of the week.

2. Eat the sides, not the main course

Often in restaurants you can order your main meal and choose from lots of extras, just like in the UK. If you don’t mind confusing the waiter, order lots of sides instead of a dinner. You can make up a good meal out of grilled vegetables, salad, rice and noodles this way if you can’t find anything appropriate on the main menu.

3. Cook

One of my favourite meals there was when we tried cooking our own dinner in our apartment using the ingredients on offer at the local supermarket. It was loads of fun to work on something together and we saved some spending money too. Get yourself some sake and have a wild night in…

4. Bring a meat-eating friend

They will never get tired of eating free food, trust me. It’s super useful to have someone on your team willing to try the weird and wonderful things you spontaneously buy, and give them the okay. I really appreciated my sister taking on my unwanted food when I bought the wrong stuff, I hate wasted food!

5. Explain yourself

Don’t assume that restaurant staff know what ‘vegetarian’ or ‘vegan’ means – it is not a well-known diet choice in Japan! Always explain yourself fully when ordering food and be specific about what you want.

6. Your enemy…

…Is dashi (fish broth) and bonito (fish flakes). They are used in loads of dishes in Japan and are to be avoided at all costs if you want a pure veggie diet. You should be able to tell if a dish has them in though because of their smell.

7. Go pescatarian. Yes I said it.

If you’re not too fussy over what you want to eat, and want to concentrate on more important stuff than searching for a restaurant you can all agree on, then being pescatarian for your holiday would certainly make your life a lot easier. Since the Japanese diet is heavily based on fish, it would open up your options to accommodate most of the menu in any restaurant. However, using the pointers above you won’t have to go to this extreme if you don’t want to.

Useful Phrases

It’s worth learning these phrases before you go to save yourself some unpleasant mouthfuls…

I am vegetarian. Watashi wa bejitarian desu

Is this vegetarian? Kono bejitarian wa?

Does this contain meat or fish? Kore wa niku to sakana ga haitte imasu ka?

Does this contain fish stock? Kore wa sakana no dashi ga haitte imasu ka?

I don’t eat meat and fish. Watashi wa niku to sakana wo tabemasen

I don’t eat meat, seafood, eggs and dairy products. Watashi wa oniku to shīfūdo to tamago to nyūseihin wo tabemasen

Or if you can’t remember that: No meat or fish? Niku mo sakana mo nai?

Yes, it is okay. Hai, daijōbudesu.

I’ll have this please. *point at menu* kore kudasai

No thank you. Kekkō desu.

Obviously I was only in Japan for two weeks and have only scratched the surface of what delicious foods they have to offer the vegetarian community! If you have any tips and foodstuffs to share, please let me know.

Thanks for reading.

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A Guide to Modern British Manners

A Guide to Modern British Manners

British etiquette is often difficult to understand and put into practise for people who have not spent long in Britain (and for a good portion of the British population too). However, being polite is important in any culture to communicate properly and to be able to get what you want without hassle. Although these manners are flexible and do not apply in more informal situations, they are still worth knowing for this reason.

I have written what I consider to be the important rules of politeness below. Hope you enjoy and feel free to give me your take on what British manners are in the comments below!

The Three Golden Rules

• Say the magic words. If you ask for anything, say “please”. If anyone gives you anything at all, whether it is your change, a cup of tea or a car, you must always say “thank you”. In British culture, you cannot say thank you too many times. Ideally you should be saying it before, during and after someone gives you something in order for the message to fully get across.
• Apologise. British people will apologise for the smallest thing, including for apologising too much. Sometimes, you say sorry not to acknowledge your own mistakes, but to acknowledge that someone else’s mistake is okay. For example if someone treads on your foot, you should say “sorry” to communicate “I acknowledge that you didn’t mean to hurt my toe, and I’m fine with that”.
• Don’t make a scene. Staying respectful and calm is an important part of fitting into British culture. People often comment that British people are more reserved than other cultures, and that’s mainly because talking loudly, squealing with laughter or arguing in public is seen as inconsiderate in the UK since it can bother other people around you.

Out and About

• Do not stare at people…unless you are having a conversation with them, in which case you should make eye contact when they are speaking.
• It is considered extremely rude to spit on the street, cough up phlegm, cough or sneeze on someone, and otherwise do something which could create mess or spread germs in public. Overall, personal hygiene is considered very important in Britain and being clean and presentable in public is essential to fit in.
• When on public transport with few seats left, it is polite to offer your seat to elderly people, or people with wheelchairs or babies, who would benefit from the seat more.
• It is polite to make room for other people. Being aware of your surroundings, and allowing for people to get passed you, is key to being the perfectly mannered person. For example, it is considered kind to hold the door for someone, to let other cars waiting at a junction onto the road, and to allow people to queue in front of you if their needs are greater than yours. Even the most subtle of movements to give other people more room will be noticed and appreciated by most British people!

How to treat strangers differs in different places in Britain – for example in the south strangers will rarely strike up a conversation with each other, whereas in the north chatting to people you don’t know on public transport is quite common. People in the countryside are also much friendlier than in cities. If you’re unsure, smile at someone and say hello, and allow them to make the next move.

Eating

Often these rules aren’t followed, especially when eating with peers. However if you’re in a fancy restaurant or with people you want to impress, sticking to these guidelines means you can’t go wrong:
• Use a knife in your right hand and a fork in your left for main meals, and a spoon in your right hand for pudding.
• Make as little noise as possible whilst eating, because is extremely annoying to British people when they can hear someone chew!
• Eat with your mouth closed. No-one wants to see your food after it has left your plate.
• Keep your elbows off the table (quite an old fashioned rule, but some people still follow it).
• When eating out, always try and pay for your meal. If someone offers to pay for your food, it is customary to have some back and forth conversation saying “I’ll pay”, “no don’t be silly”, “no I insist”, “well I am happy to contribute” etc. before someone submits. This is because often British people will offer to pay for someone else’s meal out of instinct when they don’t actually want to – this dialogue is essential for figuring out whether they are making a genuine offer or not.
• Get the waiters’ attention my making eye contact – not by waving your hand around. In Britain it is polite and expected to treat restaurant staff as equals, not as servants.
• Tipping. It is not essential to tip in the UK, although if you’re eating in a nice restaurant it is polite to give the waiter / waitress 10% of your meal price, which is usually a pound or two per person. If you are eating out around the Christmas period, it is nice to tip more, since these people are giving up their holidays to earn money.

Visiting Someone’s Home

Adults in Britain will often socialise by going to each others’ houses during an evening and having a meal there. I’m pretty sure that this kind of thing will apply to most cultures, but here’s a few tips for what to do in this situation in Britain:
• Bring something to the table. It is customary to bring a small gift for the host when visiting someone’s house. A good gift is food or drink that you can share around during the event, for example a bottle of wine or a box of chocolates. Note: the host will probably have cooked a dinner, so don’t bring something which would affect the main course.
• Take your shoes off when you’ve entered the house.
• Compliment their home – this is a natural kind thing to do when entering someone’s home, although the compliment obviously has to be genuine.
• Engage in conversation (don’t look at your phone for long periods of time).
• Help to clear the table, and if you’re feeling particularly polite offer to do the dishes.
• Don’t overstay your welcome. You have to realise that the host can’t go to bed before you leave! Don’t stay too late, and look out for clues that the host is tired or is hinting for you to leave.

General last pointers

• Never insult anyone. It is extremely rude and inconsiderate to point out someone’s flaws both to their face or behind their back in Britain. For example, you should never call someone fat, ugly, annoying or boring. British people are quite sensitive and will take these things very personally. Of course people still do insult others, but it is generally considered petty.
• Don’t ask personal questions. If you don’t know someone very well, don’t ask things such as what their age is, how much they weigh, how much they earn, or their opinions on politics. When you’re friends with someone, naturally the closer you are the more you share this kind of information.
• Listen during conversations. Don’t interrupt what someone’s saying, and ask the person you’re talking to questions, or as some people call it “passing the ball in conversation”. To talk about yourself for long periods of time if considered bad etiquette in British culture.

British manners, like in most cultures, comes from a combination of tradition, old superstitions and consideration for other people around you. They are not set in stone and are adapting all the time.

Please comment below if you think of any more manners to add to the list!

If you like learning about my take on manners, read the article I made on Cambodian Table Manners! If you want to read more about my thoughts on culture, I have written a few articles including one discussing selfie culture and its roots in Are Selfies Bad? and about cultural stereotyping in Susceptibility to Single Stories.

Thanks for reading.

Susceptibility to Single Stories

I recently watched the TED Talk The Danger of a Single Story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in which she discussed how vulnerable we are to believing in single stories. A single story is one view of something which is repeated until it is accepted as fact. She described how in the past she has bought into single stories, and was in turn stereotyped due to other people’s belief in them about her native country Nigeria.

Adichie vocalised for me what has been at the back of my mind since returning from overseas. It is the worry that I not only believe in single stories in my day to day life, but more significantly that I have inadvertently created one.

From February to May 2016 I went to live with a family in a rural village in Banan District, Battambang Province, Cambodia. Since then, my friends and family have asked me about my experience: mainly what I ate, what the people were like, whether it is a very poor country, and how the locals reacted to me as a foreigner. I could potentially be their sole source of knowledge about the country, putting me in a sensitive position. What I say to people about it could be taken as fact – as a true and whole representation of the country rather than just my limited opinion.
The fact is that everyone is in danger of being an author of a single story – not only about the people and places further afield, but also about their home.

For example, when I was living in Cambodia my Cambodian friend Mony and I would often exchange information about each other’s culture. Mony originally knew very little about Britain, just like I knew little about her country. What she heard about it from me and the other UK volunteers may be the only information she would receive about it for a long while. From what we talked about, she probably got the impression that British people eat burgers every day, are mostly vegetarian and wear baggy, patterned trousers all the time.

When I was talking to Mony, I realised how much I summarised the UK in order to give her a broad idea of the place. Besides this, she had an idealised image of Europe and I didn’t want to admit that my country was not as nice as she imagined it to be. I gave her a story of a developed, secure nation which is a good place for a woman to live and have as many boyfriends as she likes. Despite having lived there all my life, I was not able to give Mony anything other than a single story about Britain.

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Shrines at a Buddhist pagoda: there are at least two sides to every story

Single stories are dangerous because they reduce a group of people down to one thing. Whether they appear kindly, such as: ‘people in Cambodia are really friendly,’ or harmless like: ‘British people love drinking tea,’ they feed into reductive stereotypes and do not acknowledge the broad variety of people who live in every community.

Someone who goes to a country having heard just one perspective about the place may have a certain perception in mind, and treat people differently because of it. For example, in Cambodia I was amazed when I met a monk who lives alone on a hill top, bathes every-day in a stagnant pool, and yet who owned a smart phone and whose passport was filled to the brim with stamps from all over Asia and beyond.

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

Single stories are also destructive since they dehumanise the people who are within the stereotype. It is much easier to ignore the suffering of a kindly, ambiguous mass of people than an individual like Mony, who is funny, playful, hardworking and in her fourth year at Battambang University. Adichie describes this eloquently in reference to America’s single story of Africa:

“In this single story, there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her [Adichie’s American roommate] in any way, no possibility of feelings more complex than pity, no possibility of a connection as human equals.”

How to Avoid Spreading a Single Story

1) Remind yourself, when hearing about another person, country or community from somebody else, that what the person is saying is just their own perspective of it, and does not account for the whole picture. Look beyond what is being said. It is impossible for one person to create a true representation of an entire community and every person within it. There are always multiple perspectives that are equally valid.
2) Be aware that, when you talk about a place or population, that you do not make sweeping statements such as ‘the people are very poor’. Instead describe specific people you have met, giving them humanity.
For example, when I talked about Cambodian people I tried to describe my host family specifically – who, by the way, I found to be kind, biased, hospitable, cheeky and shy, who ran out of water several times in the dry season but also hosted amazing parties and paid for their children to go to private school.
3) If you are confident enough, challenge misconceptions and stereotypes when you come across them. This doesn’t mean ripping the person who is talking to shreds, since anyone can support stereotypes without realising what they are doing. Kindly nudging them in the right direction, or mentioning that you encountered something that doesn’t fit into that stereotype would work more effectively.

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A group of monks taking a selfie

This article is also a disclaimer on my part. In my blog posts I have written a lot about Cambodia and my experiences of it – but I would like to express that my experiences are wholly subjective. I only lived there for three months in one relatively small community. My main intention when writing these articles is to share what I, as a Westerner going into South East Asia for the first time, have discovered so that you can get a glimpse of Cambodia from my perspective.

“When we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.”

 

Thank you for reading.

Quotes from The Danger of a Single Story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at 4:48, 9:25, and 18:16.