Whitechapel to Cambridge Heath

A Freecycle encounter. Lovely to say hello to a stranger and she handed me a cork board. (Whitechapel)

Walked along Cambridge Heath Road to north, dropped by Natwest and HSBC, checked out York Hall gym, noted a few cafes and restaurants along the road, dropped the cork board at East Tub, and ended up in Footnote Cafe on Vyner Street.

Lady was happy to see I use a keep cup. Delighted to find a maker space Machines Room behind where a Scapitar workshop is taking place. 

This city still delights me so unexpectedly. I just never stop discovering new things. Just walk along the road and you’ll see.


Riding Waves 2014

2014 had been a ride.

I have not been back home (to Malaysia) this year, focusing most of my energy in work and recovering from a breakup.

In hindsight, perhaps it has been tough – the 60-hour work weeks and returning home feeling all on my own. But I asked myself to live through every moment of exhaustion and heartaches, of fear and panic attacks, of making decisions that I didn’t fully understand and mending mistakes that came shortly afterwards, of loneliness and building new relationships, of being confused and angry, and of doing them again, and again, and again.

Before this, I thought I knew myself well enough – and boy how much more that I’ve actually learnt! Or was it simply that I changed to become someone else through this process? Perhaps it was what they say, “still growing”?

Who knows, people, who knows? All we could do, is do it first, make sense later.

This year / particular period of my life, I call it: “Trying to be an entrepreneur”, because I was thrown into the deep end to be one.

My biography as an entrepreneur will never start with a story that goes like this: “When I was young, I bought sweets for 20p a bag and sold them for 50p each.” I was too optimistic and had too much gratitude for life to feel that I want to or can change the world; I was embedded in the beauty of art and rainbows enough to feel that money and politics were least of my concern. I thought, even till September 2014, that entrepreneurship was not in my bones.

Now we are three weeks away from 2015, and I began to wonder: maybe, just maybe, what needed to pull me through the past 49 weeks was exactly what would make me an entrepreneur. I’m far from being an instinctive one, but there was something in me that made me live through this journey with no regrets.

Sometimes I think about the only two times I learnt to surf. There were the unforgiving waves, the vastness of the ocean, and the disappointment of easily being washed onto the shore. I remember how small I felt and the fear when looking at the 2-3 metre high waves came crushing down; the glimpse of a mini rainbow right in front of me a second before the waves hit me and I went tumbling around; and how I just kept paddling out with only one thought in my head: “I will ride this wave.”

I truly loved that moment of purity – just all forces of nature, my physical self and my determination. Nothing else mattered.

2014 felt that same: amongst all the things that could engulf / had engulfed me, there was this little me with a stupid stubborness to keep paddling out, knowing that one day, through practice and experience, the fearful forces will become my best friend.

One day near future, I will be riding waves.

Ars Electronica Festival 2014: an interpretation

Here is an abridged version of the English Highlight guide tour that I gave on Sunday 7th September at Ars Electronica Festival 2014 (AEF). Thank you to the 6 wonderful audience members I had and that €2 tip really made me happy.

I was at AEF for 3 weeks from 23 August till 13 September 2014, thanks to the Sampad European Placement Programme for Digital Learning funded by Leonardo da Vinci Mobility Programme.

A little bit of history

Ars Electronica started as a festival in 1979 by 4 people – the head of Upper Austrian Regional Studio, a cyberneticist/physician, an electronic musician/composer and a music producer. The genesis of this has not changed much 35 years later where the festival is still a meeting point of people from all sorts of backgrounds, gathering together in the name of electronic art and whatever that means to them.

Prix Ars Electronica was established in 1987 to recognise the achievements of these people and projects; many household names from Pixar to Wikileaks were winners of this award that is the industry equivalent of Oscars. 1996 saw the opening of the permanent home for the organisation (later refurbished and reopened in 2009) – Museum of the Future / Ars Electronica Center (AEC) – as well as the start of its R&D / Production department, FutureLab.

Today, the Festival, the Prix, the AEC and FutureLab are the DNA of the Ars Electronica brand.

The now is future

What amazed me was how many of the festival themes were still as relevant right now – “Information society”,  “The higher the technology, the higher the need for contact. The more we introduce technology into
society, the more people cuddle together.” “Artificial life” “Humanum – the fifth cultural technique” (on being human, versus computer). These were the festival themes between 1982 and 1990, and still topics of discussions I had just a few weeks ago.

I particularly liked the key word of 1989, “Openness”. It has one of the shortest opening remarks of the all, but has, to me, poetically responded to at least two of the key moments in that year: the revolutions of 1989, and the 20th birthday of the internet.

(Ars Electronica made all their festival catalogues freely available on their Archive. I highly recommend reading this and this.)

My interpretation of  “C… is for change”, AEF 2014

Here is my take on how to make sense of the many sights, sounds, concepts – familiar and not. There were some topics that appeared repeatedly in the many exhibitions of the festival, and by giving them headings, perhaps would help us formulate questions and respond to the festival theme: “What does it take to change?”


1. Social activism: Using technology to comment or take action on a social issue

The guys at Perpetual Plastic Project designed and 3D-printed a festival egg on the last day of the festival using a filament made of recycled plastics

The guys at Perpetual Plastic Project designed and 3D-printed a festival egg on the last day of the festival using a filament made of recycled plastics

My favourite examples:

2. The return of the analogue

Wall installation “In Search of Lost Time” by Nataša Sien?nik.

My favourite examples:

3. Awareness of the human senses – related to “the need of human contact” (theme of 1984), how artists try to bring back awareness to our own self and the human body, rather than the screens

My favourite examples:

  • Touchy (the only way you could go round touching people because it was a genuine need)
  • Planted (have you ever wondered what you will hear if you were a plant in Linz? Definitely not music or podcast from your earphones)
  • Sonotopia (Even buildings sing)

4. Human-Machine relationship – how much do you trust machines? Are machines trustable like humans? Are machines like humans, & vice versa?

"Das Vergerät" by Boris Petrovsky

“Das Vergerät” by Boris Petrovsky

My favourite examples:

  • The Collider (run towards a closed door. Run without hesitation and the door will open at the last minute before you hit it)
  • Learn to be a Machine (you thought you are controlling an interactive video of eyeballs, but they are actual eyeballs of a human being hidden under the bench you’re sitting on)
  • Das Vergerät (household machines play a symphony)

5. Virtual / Real – How do you know what is virtual and what is real? Does it even matter anymore?

The last thing you'd see of Mirage performance. Think again.

The last thing you’d see of Mirage performance. Think again.

My favourite examples:

  • Mirage (this is so fake it’s real)
  • Smiling Buddha (smile is infectious. Look, even videos of people will follow you)

(6). Of course, there are always the projects that are technically out-of-this-world brilliant

"Walking City" by Universal Everything

A big fat blob that WALKS from “Walking City” by Universal Everything

My favourite examples:

  • Walking City (I want to be a fat walking man if I can walk to that soundtrack everytime I walk)
  • Spaxels (DANCING DRONES)
  • Clouds (…I was using the Oculus Rift for so long the usher had to politely ask me to leave)


It’s only hair!

When I said I wanted to do this, only two people said go for it. Most were shocked, some asked why, some said “go ahead but I’m not helping”, and some tried to stop me just like when I wanted to cut my hair short about a year ago.

But it is only hair and all I wanted to do was to break a social and cultural construct – it wasn’t even going to be permanent.

What about those with terminal illness who fought or are fighting the battle, and their loved ones? What about those who lost their lives innocently in MH17 and the countless wars – old and new – that I do not fully understand? What about those who are not respected and treated as human beings just because of their gender, sexuality or ethnicity? Thinking about these things, I simply could not put conforming to social expectations ahead of any of them.

This was done during Shave or Style for Macmillan campaign,  so please donate.
Money is not everything, but it helps – help me help those who need it.
I have also donated my hair to Little Princess Trust.
(Thank you to all those who will donate or have donated money.)

And can I ask that when you look at me again, please also donate your thoughts to those who had no choice but to lose hair, to those who were victims of someone else’s war, and to those who had to suffer from inequality for just being themselves.

Humanity could really do with one less piece of judgement based on myths that no longer matter, and make “women with no hair” one of them.


1. Thank you to Ki Lee, Creative Director of Hurwundeki (Hackney, London) for supporting the cause on the spot, provided professional shaving service to me in kind and said, “This was the best shave I’ve done in my entire career.”

2. I imagined the shave to be much shorter – near bald – but wavered because Ki suggested a longer length… This was already a notch shorter than he originally suggested, so I thought let’s just leave it as that for now. If I do not get enough donations, I will shave it all off myself.

3. I am more than just lucky because neither I nor my loved ones have experienced cancer, terminal illness, plane crashes, war or inequality. I have choices and friends with gold hearts and make miracles. Tango, Adam, Martin, Izzy, Filip & Tim: I am eternally grateful for your friendship.

4. Thank you, Tango, for all behind the scene materials:
– An unedited video of the head shaving process: http://youtu.be/RhULfW4Px2k.
– An edited video: http://youtu.be/c9uM-yhh-9U

Before and after of head shaving

Before and after of head shaving

My name and why am I Chinese not Malay?

I wrote this as a Facebook note on 16 February 2007, five months after I first arrived in the UK. It was for my university course mates and housemates who were just plain confused. The tone makes me cringe (I was 19!), but I thought I’d preserve this so it serves as a reminder that I was once, you know, young.

I sometimes get confusions about my name and my .. “origins”??? lol i know some of u know but i’m bored now so let me just explain these issues to u yea? 😛
I’m pretty glad people are calling me Jia-Xuan. But don’t worry if you’re used to calling me Alexa, it’s my bad.

For those who don’t know, it’s pronounced as:
Jee-ya Shoo-anne (as written in profile)
Hon (as in “horn” not “honey”)

First name: Jia Xuan
Last name: Hon

1) In Chinese names, we honour/acknowledge our parents first. That is why in my passport, my name is “Hon Jia Xuan” (not Jia Xuan Hon).

Make sense? Good. 🙂

2) Jia Xuan is one word like “Fiona” “Alexandra”. It’s written with a space in between, purely due to the nature of Chinese language/words. To avoid confusion, I replaced the space with a “-“, but that seems to not be very effective… 😛

Still make sense? Ok…

3) Calling me Jia is like calling Alexandra “Dra” or Fiona “Ona”.
If you want to call me like calling Alexandra “Alex” or Fiona “Fi”, then call me “Xuan” like my best friends at home do (sounds best in Chinese pronunciation. I’ll teach u in person if you’re interested lol).

4) “Xuan” is not my middle name. I do not have a middle name. Although on my bank cards it’s written “Jia X Hon”. Oh well..

5) Can someone tell me why there are middle names? They seem unimportant. Anyway, the least important element in my name is “Jia”.
Just think of your English middle names.
Clare M Cody-Richardson: nobody calls her M.
So it’s the same,
Hon Jia Xuan: Call me “Hon” or “Xuan”, but nobody calls me “Jia”.
(Well, not in malaysia lol)

PS: Special thanks to fi alex and clare’s names. 😀


So you think I’m Chinese, speak good English and I tell you it’s because I’m from Malaysia. (lol, the reason-cause is illogical)

Anyway, don’t panic, I AM chinese and I AM from Malaysia.

Why do I address myself as “Chinese” not “Malay” if I’m from “Malaysia”?

I’m not sure if in English language, “Chinese” is a nationality.
To me, “Chinese” is more like an ethnic group.

My grandparents are from China (proper Chinese they are) but they migrated to Malaysia and gave birth to my parents. But my parents can’t say that they are “Malays” because they are not indigenous ppl. So from that onwards, we are Malaysian Chinese.

We are still Chinese, not Malay. We eat like China Chinese, we speak languages from China, we follow customs and traditions originated from China. Hell, we even look like Chinese. lol.

So yea, next time I am not Malay ok? 😀

Hack the Barbican: a personal reflection

Hack the Barbican officially launched on Friday 9th August 2013, exactly a month since I first joined its Org Team. It continued to run until Saturday 31st August, making the remaining time almost as long as when I first had my hands on it till to date.

Organising Hack The Barbican was organising an event, not unlike putting together a stage performance, but it was so damn different, because there was space to breathe.

Artists talk about letting their work breathe. A writer should be brave of leaving his/her first draft and only come back a while later. In making art, “efficiency” is never a featured concept unless necessary which is normally related to time and financial circumstances.

What happens when there is no more efficiency in management? It becomes a fascinating process.

I vividly remember the first Org Team meeting I joined (it was open to anyone interested), the team was in a situation where a debate needed to happen as it related to integrity of HTB. To sidetrack a little: when I refer to the team, it really did not refer to a fixed list of people but rather referred to whoever was there at that point of time. Back to the story – I didn’t know or know of anyone. At the end of the meeting – despite how intense it was – I raised my hand and said I was happy to take on the responsibilities of doing X and Y, and so they were.

It was an immense act of trust and an unconditional sense of acceptance that I would not forget.

Further down the journey, one point, the dynamics of the team put me in an uncomfortable place. I felt that I wasn’t able to go ahead with doing my part well (in my standards) without the help of another team member who was under much more pressure than I did. Understandably I felt bad pestering him, but at the same time my perfectionist self had myself asking again and again. Yes, I was frustrated because it wasn’t good teamwork in my books, but I refrained from doing something unnecessary – showing the frustration.

It must have been one of the many times where we just had to believe that things would sort itself out – and I suppose it needed a certain degree of wisdom.

As the month went along, the things that needed doing were just as it sounds – things that really needed doing to keep the project going. The practical stuff that need people to get down and get their hands dirty and the number of people willing to do so was far and few – it drove us crazy.

When the month ended, I was beyond relieved. No more using one day as two, no need for explanations of why things were done so because they were set up in an unconventional way. I was exhausted, and I felt it was so for the rest of the people who spent a large chunk of August in the Barbican. The supposedly closing party performance was cancelled on the day and there were about 10 of us who turned up in the last two hours on the last day. We sat around a table and spoke a bit about our reflections, but the discussion did not take off – we ended up playing toy guns and a remote-controlled toy car that could breakdance instead. Just before I left, I wrote on the famous wall of HTB for the last time: “Goodbye #htb2013, we will miss you.”

In the later days and weeks, I tried to not use use the phrase “Hack The Barbican” as much as I can (it was instead I referred to it as “the thing at the Barbican” wherever possible). The only time I spoke to someone about it in its entirety was to a wise theatre producer friend. Even so, it was not a complete reflection. I talked about its organisation, what we did practically and how things could have been different if done another way; it wasn’t until now that I started to get an idea of the value of putting on HTB and placing it in a wider context.

The real value of Hack The Barbican lies in its chaotic nature. More importantly, to me, was the fact that there were no labels attached. When I first joined, I kept calling it a residency, based on the description that was given; at the end, it was referred to as a festival and in all honesty, I still don’t know how to refer to it.

Without labels, Hack The Barbican spoke to wide range of people. The number of people I met and found interesting in many different ways through the project was more than a handful. In a project, there normally is a something that binds all its participants together – an interest, a belief, an industry, age group, an end goal etc – and everyone is there for that particular reason. Hack The Barbican did not have that. We were there because of our individual reasons to be at this platform.

This particular takeaway for me continued way beyond the project itself.

Note: Hack the Barbican started way back in January 2013, so me joining at a very late stage meant I had already missed out a long, long journey. Whether there was a “neutral”, agreed-by-all definition of HTB, I am not sure. After this reflection was written, I learnt a little more about the background of the main initiators and I now try to consolidate what it was a little more and hopefully it makes a little more sense – HTB took a Hackspace approach, and it was an experiment of fostering a self-organising community in a short space of time. Will there be another HTB? How would it look like? We don’t know. After all, it is all self-organising i.e. for whoever who wants to do it, don’t wait for others, do it now.