Adventures In Watercolor 7

These may be the last watercolors I’m going to post in a while. I really should start painting again – I can feel myself getting rusty – but these past few weeks have been so insanely busy that I didn’t have the time or feel the inclination to take my brushes and colors out.

Anyway, here are some landscapes I did a while ago. I’m still struggling with shadows and reflections, as you can see. (These are all copies of existing paintings).

Back in October-November, I had enough free time to take another watercolor class, with a focus on landscapes, and the results certainly look better than the ones I did on my own:

I guess I’ll just have to keep practicing, or take another class if I can!


A Year In Review: Books Of 2018

(I didn’t post on Christmas, so it seems appropriate to bring back this book tree for this post, doesn’t it? Happy Boxing Day!)

I want to do a different “Year in Review” for the books. As opposed to just rounding up the favorite books of 2018, I got this list of questions from Kezzie, which I think is a fun way to look back at my reading of the year. Here we are:

Best books you read in 2018:

– Children’s fiction: I didn’t read any that can be comfortably called children’s fiction (the closest is The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly, but it is too dark for a kid’s book), so I guess none.

– Crime fiction: Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Michael Sullivan. Actually I prefer Altered Carbon, but it belongs to a different category (see below).

– Classics: I didn’t read a lot of books in this category so Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee pretty much wins by default.

– Non-fiction: The Radium Girls by Kate Moore. It’s horrifying but uplifting at the same time.

– YA: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. The Book of Lost Things deserves an honorary mention, though again, I think it’s not a true YA book. More like a fantasy for adult featuring a kid as the main character.

– Dystopian fiction: Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan. I’m not sure if this is true dystopian, but it’s definitely better than the “true dystopian” book I read this year, Red Rising.

Most surprising (in a good way) book of 2018: The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. It sounds like a typical ghost story at first, but it ends up haunting me even now.

Book that you read in 2018 that you recommended most to others: A Cook’s Tour by Anthony Bourdain, The Little Stranger, any Discworld book.

Best series you discovered in 2018: Either the Takeshi Kovacs series (Altered Carbon) or the Daisy Dalrymple series (Death at Wentwater Court) by Carola Dunn. Both are crime series, though they cannot be more different – one is set in a futuristic, Blade Runner-like world, and the other is set in the upperclass British society of the 1920’s – but they’re both enjoyable in their own ways.

Favorite new author you discovered in 2018: Mary Roach. I have read Mary Roach before, but this year solidifies her position as my favorite science writer. When I pick up one of her books, I know I’m going to enjoy it. The list of authors whose books I always enjoy is very short – Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, and Bill Bryson – so I’m glad to add another author to it.

Book you were excited about and thought you were going to love but didn’t: Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly and Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton. Hidden Figures is merely disappointing, but Margaret the First absolutely infuriates me with how bad it is.

Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre to you: People who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry. It’s not the first true crime book I read, but it’s definitely more modern and sensational than my usual fare, yet it turns out to be really well-researched, well-written. A true page-turner.

Book you read in 2018 that you’re most likely to read again: A Cook’s Tour. I like to reread travelogues whenever my wanderlust hits me, and I always like to read about food, so a book that combines both is naturally going to be reread multiple times.

Favorite book you read in 2018 from an author you’ve read previously: Monstrous Regiment and A Cook’s Tour.

Best book you read in 2018 that you read based SOLELY on a recommendation from somebody else: Death at Wentwater Court. I picked this up after reading about it on Kezzie’s blog, so thanks, Kezzie!

Favorite cover of a book in 2018: Margaret the First. Too bad the book isn’t good.

Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2018: The Nature Fix by Florence Williams. I’ve always loved nature, but this book has made me a lot more aware of my relationship with nature and made me resolve to spend more time in nature.

Book you can’t BELIEVE you waited until 2018 to read: Speak. It’s such a classic YA book, and I like the movie and also enjoy the author’s other works so I didn’t know why it took me so long.

Book that had a scene in it that had you reeling and dying to talk to somebody about it: The ending of The Little Stranger (the entire book, actually, especially the interpretation of who the “ghost” might be).

Favorite relationship from a book you read in 2018: the friendship between the soldiers in Monstrous Regiment.

Most memorable character in a book you read in 2018: Sergeant Jackrum of Monstrous Regiment (if this was the Oscars, then Monstrous Regiment would be the movie that sweeps all the categories before winning Best Picture).

Genre you read the most from 2018: sci-fi/fantasy (of course) and non-fiction (surprisingly).

Best 2018 debut: Tell the Machine Goodnight by Kate Williams (it’s not a debut book but at least it was published in 2018. All the other books were published earlier).

Book that was the most fun to read in 2018: A Cook’s Tour and The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson. Bonk by Mary Roach is funny as well but it’s just too gross sometimes.

Book that made you cry or nearly cry in 2018: Monstrous Regiment.

Book you read in 2018 that you think got overlooked this year or when it came out: The Road to Little Dribbling, maybe? I don’t know if it’s “overlooked”, but it’s definitely not well-received as Bill Bryson’s other books. I still enjoyed it though.

Total number of books read in 2018: 40 (with some rereads).

If you guys want to do something similar, feel free to grab these questions. I can’t wait to read your round-up!

Adventures In Watercolor 6

It’s been a while since I posted my watercolor paintings, and the truth is that it’s been a while since I painted too – it’s the end of the semester, so I’ve been too busy with work. Luckily, I still have some paintings that I haven’t posted, so here goes.

These paintings are a little special – the story is, before I moved home from LA, I bought a pad of watercolor paper from Michael’s with the intention of practicing on it. Flash forward 6 years, the pad has been forgotten in the back of my desk drawer until I started taking watercolor classes and finally remembered it. However, by this time, it has gone moldy and absorbed water too quickly, so the paint can’t spread like it should. Being the cheapskate that I am, I refused to give them up, so I looked up ways to salvage them. I didn’t find any straight answers, but I did find some instructions for making your own watercolor paper, in which you can use gelatin to “size” the paper (i.e. coat it to make it less absorbent). I decided to give it a try.

The result was… OK. I didn’t get my paper back to how it was, but at least I can paint with it now. It doesn’t take well to wet-on-wet, so I mostly use it for still life and food painting. It allows me to understand watercolor a bit more (I never knew about sizing paper before) and gives me a chance to practice different techniques, which is fun.

These are supposed to be eggs but I got impatient with shading each individual one…


Book Reviews: November 2018

I reread Bill Bryson’s At Home earlier this month, so I only managed 3 new books, but they’re all quite enjoyable. Here goes:

Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett:

Continuing my Discworld read from last month, I picked another one-off book (it features supporting/cameo roles from some familiar characters like Sam Vimes and William de Worde, but the main characters are one-off). The story is set in the small country of Borogravia, which is always at wars with its neighbor, and revolves around a very special regiment made up of a girl disguised as a boy to find her brother, a troll, a vampire, an Igor, and several other eccentric characters. It starts out a little slow, but the pace soon picks up and it ends up becoming something quite profound and moving – not just a funny story about girls dressed up as boys, but also about the nature of men and women, about war and religion, and about finding your place in the world (with the help of a well-placed pair of socks). 5/5

The Last Hero by Terry Pratchett:

This is often listed as a Rincewind book, though Rincewind plays more of a supporting role in this one. The main character is Cohen the Barbarian, who, along with his Silver Horde, decides to embark on one last quest and return something stolen from the gods by the first hero – fire. This threatens to destroy the entire Discworld, so Rincewind has to reluctantly step in to stop them. This book is quite short, but to make up for it, it is gorgeously illustrated by Paul Kidby. I think people tend to dismiss the Rincewind books as goofy adventure tales and not as “deep” as the other Discworld books, but I dare you not to smile and cheer at the end of this one. 4.5/5

Bonk by Mary Roach:

To be fair, I only read this because it is mentioned in At Home, but I’ve always enjoyed Mary Roach’s books, so why not? As the title says, this is about the scientific study of sex, and I have to admit, it’s more information that I ever wanted to know. I constantly made this face while I was reading it:

and occasionally this face:

But at least it was entertaining. 3/5

So what did you guys read? Check out my friend Mike’s reviews here!

South Korea Diary #2: Seoraksan

Part 1 can be found here.

After 2 days in Seoul, our South Korea tour took us to Seoraksan, a mountain in the east of the country. Most of the tour packages I’ve found only take you to the usual places like Seoul, Busan, and Jeju Island, but as this is a “fall foliage” tour, it’s natural that we got to visit one of the places with the best and earliest fall colors in South Korea – they reach their peak in mid-October, just in time for our visit.

Our first destination is the Seoraksan National Park, with its entrance in a beautiful valley surrounded by brilliantly red and yellow forests, made all the more vivid by the craggy rocks and dark green pines scattered amongst the peaks. The valley also houses a Buddhist temple, Sinheungsa, and a large bronze statue of the Buddha.

Entrance to the National Park

Sinheungsa Temple

Next, we took the cable car up the slopes of Seoraksan. My fear of heights didn’t let me enjoy the views as much as I would like, but despite that, I could still see how gorgeous it was. From the cable car station, it is a 15-minute climb to the mountain peak, but in truth, it took me nearly an hour because I was stopping so often to take photos of all the foliage. I’ve had my share of fall colors when I lived in LA, but that was just little pockets here and there. I’ve never seen such a concentration of fall colors before, and it was truly too spectacular for words. It was difficult to pick which photos to feature in this post, because they all look good!

The view from the cable car and the view from the peak (my aunt had to coax me into taking this one!)

My scarf matches the background perfectly

Fall is also the season for cosmos flowers in Korea, and on the way back to the hotel, I managed to snap some photos of a blooming field. More gorgeousness!

Before heading to the airport, our last stop is Ojukheon (House of the Black Bamboo), a historical site and museum. It was the house of Shin Saimdang, a 16th-century Korean artist and poet, and her son, Yi I, a Confucian scholar (their images are on the 50,000 and 5,000 won notes, respectively, which show you how prominent they were.) The museum and the house are just okay (though the display of Shin Saimdang’s paintings and calligraphy is quite nice), but the main appeal – for me at least – is the surrounding garden, full of persimmon trees ladden with fruits and golden ginkgo trees.

And that concludes my trip to South Korea. Despite the time constraints of a tour, it has given me a good taste of the country. Hopefully some day I can come back and explore it at my own pace!

South Korea Diary #1: Seoul & Nami Island

Last month, I just went on a 4-day trip to South Korea with my aunt. It was an organized tour, which is my least favorite form of travel, but my aunt asked me to accompany her, and I never turn down the chance to travel to a new country, so of course, I accepted.

We started out in Seoul, with a tour of the Gyeongbokgung Palace and the Blue House, the presidential residence. The Blue House we only got a glimpse from afar, but the Palace is beautiful, with traditional buildings surrounding spacious grounds, dotted here and there with trees full of fall foliage or stately evergreens. We also got a short visit to the National Folk Museum, which is located within the premises, and learned about the traditions of Korea.

The Blue House

Entrance to Gyeongbokgung and a corridor inside the Palace

A pavillion on the grounds

Another fun thing about the Palace is that you can see a lot of people wearing hanbok (traditional Korean dress), both tourists and locals. You don’t have to worry about cultural appropriation here – apparently, you can visit the palace for free if you wear a hanbok! (The tour also included a package for hanbok rental, though I didn’t wear one; I much prefer taking pictures of others.)

The maine square of the Palace

These kids did an entire reenactment… it was quite cute to watch

Traditional meets modern

Later in the day, we went to Everland theme park, South Korea’s version of Disneyland. You need at least an entire day here, and besides, I’m too much of a wuss for some of the rides (it has the fourth steepest roller coaster in the world. Just hearing the screams was traumatic enough). I ended up wandering around the flower gardens of the European Village with my aunts and other elderly ladies of our tour group (I guess I’m an old lady at heart!) and enjoying the Halloween decorations.

Main street of Everland

The Cupid Garden and Cottage Garden of the European Village

Everland at night

The next day, we got to see more of Seoul in the form of the Dongdaemun shopping district. Shopping is actually a huge part of the tour – most of the women in the tour group came back ladden with Korean beauty products – but I’m not much of a shopper, so I used that time to wander the nearby streets and people-watch. Later, we headed to the Namsan Tower, where you can have some magnificent views of the city.

The National Assembly Building

Seoul City Hall

A temple on the street of Seoul

Dongdaemun Design Plaza, where you can see a lot of street style photo shoots

The road to Namsan Tower, and the Tower itself

The famous “love locks” of Namsan Tower

Panoramic view of Seoul from Namsan Tower

Finally, to round out our Seoul trip, we went to Nami Island. It is not an actual island but just a river islet about an hour from Seoul, which gained popularity for being the filming location of “Winter Sonata”, a famous K-drama. I don’t watch K-dramas, but the island itself is very beautiful, with tree-lined walks and glimpses of the river through the branches. It was full of tourists, of course, but if you venture down to the river bank, you can find a lot of quiet pockets to relax in, after the hubbub of Seoul.

A little rice paddy by the river and the famous ginkgo-lined avenue of Nami Island

The squirrels and chipmunks of the island are so used to people that I could go right up to this guy and he even posed for me!

My only complaint is that we went there a tad early, so the leaves haven’t changed colors yet. But that would soon be rectified, because our next stop would be a national park in the mountains. Stay tuned!

Book Reviews: October 2018

Happy Halloween! Fall is a good time for reading, isn’t it? I don’t think there’s anything nicer than curling up with a good book and a cup of tea. And it was a good month of reading for me too, with all the books being quite enjoyable, more or less.

The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu:

This is the second book in the silkpunk epic series Dandelion Dynasty, which I describe as “Romance of the Three Kingdoms meets Game of Thrones“. I’ve read the first book, The Grace of Kings, a while ago, so I don’t remember much of it, but that’s OK, because they can more or less stand on their own, and it only takes a while to get caught up with the story. This one revolves around the next chapter in the reign of Kuni Garu, his children, the power struggle within his court, and the threat of foreign invaders (who are clearly based on Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire). As with the first book, the world-building is great and the science interesting (such as when they discover electricity and use it to fight the invaders’ dragons, resulting in some epic air battles.) However, just like the first book, character development remains Liu’s weakness – the characters are either flat and boring or unsympathetic. And the romantic subplot is a joke (it’s – mild spoiler – between two women, so one gets the impression that the author includes it only for the sake of representation and not because it makes sense for the story.) 3/5

Tell the Machine Goodnight by Katie Williams:

I got this from a Buzzfeed quiz, something like “What Book Should You Read Next Based on Your Favorite TV Show”. I picked Black Mirror, and got this, which is perfect, because it could’ve easily been a Black Mirror episode. It takes place in the near future, revolving around a machine that can tell you how to be happy, with an ensemble cast – a “happy technician” working the machine, her co-workers and clients, her anorexic teenage son and his friends, her pretentious artist ex-husband, his current wife who’s harboring a dark secret, etc., with each chapter focusing on one of their stories.The world is fascinating and the characters, though deeply damaged, are relatable. However, the story never becomes as powerful as Black Mirror, because there is very little conflict, and when things do get resolved, it feels too easy. 3/5

Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee:

This memoir consists of a series of unconnected chapters detailing the author’s time growing up in the Cotswold during and after World War I. Actually, they don’t “detail” much; they’re mostly just fragments of memories and impressions from his childhood. I would’ve preferred some more details and descriptions of life in the village, but the writing is lyrical and beautiful to read, and it perfectly captures both the random, innocent memories of childhood and the nostalgia we feel when we look back upon them later in life. 4/5

The Truth by Terry Pratchett:

I’m reaching my Discworld phase in the year – it’s when I suffer what I call “reader’s fatigue” and just want something fun that I know I will enjoy, so I return to Discworld. This particular book, which deals with the arrival of the printing press and subsequently the newspaper in Ankh-Morpork (it belongs in the same category as other “Industrial Revolution” books like Moving Pictures and Going Postal), has a slow start, but once the pace starts picking up, it becomes very enjoyable. The main character, the aptly named William de Worde, may not be quite memorable (though he does come to his own toward the end), but there are some funny side characters – like a reformed vampire photographer and a pair of hitmen straight out of Pulp Fiction (there is even a parody of the “Royale with cheese” scene). And even though it was published 18 years ago, the story is still very relevant. The bit about a Patrician candidate, an unscrupulous businessman who wants “a return to the values and traditions that made the city great”, is eerily prophetic. 4.5/5

What did you guys read this month?