Kilometre Zero Proust Questionnaire: On heroes, authors and death

Last week, on my last day in Paris after a work trip, I had one free afternoon in the city before I was due to fly home. Having spent the morning getting a hair cut I’d planned to spend the afternoon at the Institut du Monde Arabe. The idea was to walk from the 1st to the Institut as it was one of the nicer days in Paris and on my way I passed the Shakespeare and Co book store. Surprisingly, there wasn’t a queue so I stepped in for a quick look and what was meant to be a 15 minute browse became a two hour activity. Frankly, it wasn’t entirely unexpected. The new poetry wing at the back of the store houses two very, very comfortable velvet upholstered armchairs and my quick read to see which of the five extra volumes I really wanted to buy in addition to the seven I’d already bought turned out to see me past lunch time.

I left the bookstore at around half three at which point I felt slightly peckish and having left round the back till, I came out by the bookstore’s cafe. Stepped in to see what was there and amidst all the vegan muffins and 6 euro granola bars, I decided to have scones and Postcard Tea. Nothing can go wrong with clotted cream, except clotted arteries but hopefully I can offset that with a positive attitude… or something. Also love Postcard Tea. They have a shop just off new Bond Street in London and my favourite is the French Peppermint.

Anyway, as I was eating, I looked down to see ifthey had wasted paper by printing some sort of unfortunate advertisement for tray liner and what sort of product it was hawking. Instead I found this Zero Kilometre Proust Questionnaire – much better! So I took care not to get it sticky with jam or oily with crumbs or cream fat. The questionnaire was a bit much on a hungry and slightly sleepy afternoon so I pocketed it to do on the plane or when I got back.

This morning I did it with a friend of mine and we skipped a couple questions because the questions are quite broad and we were lazy, but I thought I’d write them all down here because the writing of it would mean that I’d get the chance to think a bit about all of them. So here you go. I expect though, they’re questions of this moment. Like Proust’s own answers to his questionnaire, I’m sure when I go through radical or perhaps even not so radical change, the answers will change with me so it’s nice, I think, to have them help me capture, well, me, in this slice of time.

Feel free to do yours in the comments!

1. What is your present state of mind?
Happy and calm but also slightly anxious.

2. What is your favourite way to spend your time?
Traveling, reading, thinking about the way the world has changed through clothes and retail and having chats where you really feel like you’ve exchanged souls and opened one another’s eyes.

3. If you were an animal, which one would you be?
An owl

4. What book makes you want to live in a different era?
Most of the Agatha Christie novels but probably the Poirot series more. I love anything to do with the golden age of travel when everything was being discovered and the idea of the British aristocratic country home, city townhouse life.

5. What's the craziest thing you've ever eaten?
Okra. I’ve had like sea snail sperm or whatever but I will never be able to get over the texture of okra.

6. What is your favourite journey?
I did this with a friend and we scaled the journeys to trip and plane ride. Because what is a journey anyway and specificity means you can prevent people from copping out with cliches like ‘the journey of life.’

Post school would probably have to be Zimbabwe last October which was wonderful for many many reasons, one of which was that my sister could come along with me and sunrises don’t look that way anywhere else in the world.

I also have a pre college one which was Egypt. Seems like every great journey begins on the African continent. We slept under the stars in the Sahara within the confines of our little jeep enclosure and out of them. We had spit roasted goat and chickens for dinners. I had never really seen the sky the way I saw it in the desert at night so it’s a million times unforgettable.

In terms of a plane journey it was this one time I was flying back to Hong Kong from New York and was told my entertainment set was broken. Of course it was Cathay. They gave me some pittance in apology credit, which I’ve lost and not used – it was really a rather insincere amount but it was a really fantastic opportunity for me to write and read which I did for all 12 or 16 hours of the journey. I can never remember how long flights are. This information always seems so unnecessary to store in the brain so I’m always impressed when I meet people who know exactly how long their flights are. The longer the better I say. Long haul is the best time to be alone.

7. Who is your hero in real life? Who is your hero in fiction?
Diana Vreeland. Edmond Dantes.

8. Which word or phrases do you most overuse?
Lol. What? Really? Oh

9. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
To have true and clear purpose and to never be misunderstood.

10. If you could spend the rest of your life with a character from a book, who would it be?
Maybe Matilda Wormwood? From Roald Dahl’s Matilda. This was a question I definitely ignored the first time round because it was much too difficult to choose and it still is.

11. What is your theme song?
Vivaldi’s Four Seasons played by Anne Sophie Mutter. If life as I want it to be had sounds, that entire work interpreted by Mutter is it.

12. Who are your three favourite writers?
Joan Didion, Agatha Christie, Geoffrey Chaucer. This is a really difficult question because they’re not necessarily the authors of my favourite books of all time but I prefer their bodies of work over other bodies of work. Like Milan Kundera doesn’t count because I really only like The Unbearable Lightness of Being and not the rest of it, which is a bit of a pity.

13. Where in the world would you most like to live?
I’d most like to not have to live in one place all the time so I’m going to choose Cape Town, Lisbon, Paris (or London, it’s hard to make up my mind between the two) and Hong Kong.

14. On what occasion do you lie?
Marketer calls. I tell them I don’t speak Chinese and they usually hang up themselves.

15. If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Soups. Any and all kinds of soup.

16. Which poem makes your spine tingle?
Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night —Dylan Thomas but also Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold and The Second Coming by Yeats.

17. What is your favourite smell?
Clean babies or orange blossom water on clean hands and to have the scent wafting through cool summer breeze.

18. If you could ask the leader of your country to read one book, what would it be?
Not really a book but The Last Czars on Netflix. It’s quite new actually. Also while we’re at it HBO’s Chernobyl.

19. What's your favourite hiding place?

20. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Every time I’ve been able to let go because I’m really pretty much absolutely not someone who lets go. But also probably just having survived all the bullshit I’ve lived through to get me to where I am and not be admitted to an asylum.

21. Which book do you have on your nightstand but know you'll never read?
I don’t really have books on my nightstand but probably Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. There are so many footnotes and I hate interrupting my reading flow because I have to flip about. But it’s too bad really because I’d love to read it and it certainly seems a much better use of time than reading Joyce’s Ulysses which I’ve read cover to cover for school and basically had no feckin’ clue what it was about at any point.

22. If you could have any superpower, what would you choose?
Mind reading.

23. What was your favourite book as a child?
Every. Single. Nancy. Drew. Book.

24. Do you have a recurring dream? If so, what is it?
I never dream. I sleep soundly and deeply and could probably do so through a nuclear explosion. But I do get the very rare nightmare that really reflects the state of my life at that moment. One time I dreamt that I was in a darkened warehouse something like Costco, which is actually my heaven, but it was stacked high with rats with only a sliver of daylight right at the top of the building where they didn’t seem to have sealed it properly and it wasn’t covered with glass – so to me it was a sliver of hope, light, escape etc. Anyway, and all these rats were falling on top of me and I had to fight to the top of it or they’d drown me. That was pretty terrifying but I googled the meaning of rats in dreams and it reflected pretty well the state of where I was in my life at that moment.

25. What to you is the most beautiful word or words?
“All sorted.”

26. What's the worst book you've ever read?
Lord of the Flies - William Golding. Don’t care what anyone says. I think it’s awful.

27. Who would play you in the movie of your life?
Bette Davis. If anyone then tells me that I can’t choose her because she isn’t Chinese, I’d probably suggest they turn around, go home and think about their limited and provincial view of life and reconsider their ideas about race and humanity.

28. What is your motto?
“Fuck it.” And basically any variation on that like perhaps fuck this or fuck you. It’s actually not something that has come instinctively but what is instinctive is that I know I’ll feel better for facing things this way and so I exercise that attitude every day to make sure it’s strong and healthy.

29. What's the most romantic experience you've ever had?
A long time ago when someone I was with gave me a bowl of cereal. It was the first time he’d done it and it was less about the cereal as sort of the context and the way in which it was done. I think I wrote a piece about that moment for my university’s literary journal and it got published. That adds to the romance of it a bit, I’d like to think. And also how interesting is it that that tiny little quotidian thing made such an impact on me yet it made zero impact on him, and something that might have touched him will have been totally forgotten by me.

30. How would you like to die and in what form would you choose to come back?
I’d like to be maybe 105 because as someone, I’m told, who does everything to 150% all the time, I’d like to go beyond the 100 mark. Would preferably have never lost my faculties and am a sprightly old thing even at such a ripe old age. I’d have had a laughter-filled, raucous night with my family and friends maybe celebrating the anniversary of a book I’d written or something or other, maybe a great great grandchild’s birthday (though maybe great grandchild is good enough, wouldn’t want my progeny to have teenage pregnancies) and then drift off to night eternal softly in my sleep. I realise this is really quite the opposite attitude to my favourite poem by Dylan Thomas but I think if you’ve had a grand old time, then it’s ok to go.

And I’m not sure I’d come back. Hopefully my body of work will leave something behind that touches people and I’ll live in some kind of collective memory instead. Though sometimes I tend to look out the windows of various forms of transportation and feel real fomo that I’m sort of trapped in the era that I am and there won’t be any way for me to find out what happens next. And I’m someone who really doesn’t mind a good spoiler.

A few days in Paris

My boyfriend lives in Brussels and if you've ever been to Brussels or read the relatively meagre guides to the city, you'll know that aside from the incredible food scene, there's not much to do and after a weekend the itch to branch outside the city definitely sets in. And branch I definitely do – to Paris, a city where I can eat, drink, and play to my heart's content. Which is what I did last week. Seeing as I was only there for a quick moment with lots of playdates that I forgot to document in between, I'll give you a quick and easy list of places we ate, drank and saw. Quite a few of these are annual repeats so everything comes with a big fat seal of approval from me.

Standard Eiffel Tower pic. I have a better one from a previous trip but it's on my instagram and the embed code didn't work. So here we are with this aggressively average shot. But one Eiffel Tower pic is better than no Eiffel Tower pic.

Standard Eiffel Tower pic. I have a better one from a previous trip but it's on my instagram and the embed code didn't work. So here we are with this aggressively average shot. But one Eiffel Tower pic is better than no Eiffel Tower pic.


For a bougie, cosy Franglais experience, book Hotel Providence (make sure you are VERY close to your roommate if you're staying in the standard room or below). The larger rooms are spacious and stunning, with a Parisian terrace and the works. The smaller rooms are beautifully decorated with stunning Madeleine Castaing fabrics, so it's mega lush but the bathroom and room are essentially the same room. We made this mistake and quickly upgraded. Beds in all rooms are top notch and the restaurant/bar downstairs makes you want to hang around and pretend to people watch over plates of charcuterie, cheese and glasses of wine (or in my case, delicious delicious non-alcoholic ginger beer on ice).

Our favourite hotel, and the one we try to stay in if we remember to book in advance is Les Bains. Read my review of it here. It's an old communal bathhouse turned club that's seen the likes of Andy Warhol to Naomi Campbell to Kate Moss and Johnny Depp turned hotel. Sheets are a dream, the bathroom is heaven and the bar is to die for. It's tough to leave this place. Everything is made to draw you back into its deliciously appointed den. But leave you will, because it's perfectly situated between the Marais, bustling Saint Denis, and a good brisk half hour walk away from sights like the Notre Dame and Shakespeare and Company.


Oh god, where do I start? My boyfriend and I always laugh about the fact that the first thing we do when we go to Paris is figure out which days we can go for our favourite Japanese and Chinese joints for udon and, equal favourite, Sichuan noodles. It's not because I'm Chinese and have a hankering for Asian foods (although frankly, soup noodles are really hard to beat – David Chang should probably do an Ugly Delicious episode on this) it's because these two places are just so damn good.

Sanukiya is perfect after a stroll by the Tuileries or shopping down Rue St Honore (though frankly, that's not where I like to shop, just too many people). The queues are insane and you kind of have to go just after the mad school rush next door so like a late lunch or a very early dinner. Otherwise prepare to queue. Once we queued for 45 minutes and even at last order, there was a line of probably 40 people that they had to apologise to and shoo away. This place is INTENSE. It's run by Japanese expats who do things the very precise Japanese way. I'd say even more so because don't habits either get distilled or watered down when they're away from their home environments? This one got mega distilled. All sorts of people come here from kids in Paris to v wealthy women in full Chanel. Good Japanese noodles know no boundaries, ya know.

Troi foix plus de piment is the Sichuanese noodle place, run by Sichaunese peeps. I always get the soup noodles. Pro tip: They open Tuesday to Saturday evenings at 7 and Sundays 6:45. I have this memorised because we go to queue up like 20 minutes before they open and there are always at least ten people ahead of us already. The space is small and the food is insanely good. Once there, opt for sugary drinks. I don't think they have milky options. Don't go for coconut water because that makes the spice worse. They offer heat levels from 1 to 5. I'm pretty big on my heat and I opt for 3. My boyfriend is a solid 2 and wants to die when he tries 3. Don't overdo it because it can probably kill you. But in a delicious way. Always in a delicious way. I'd share the soup dumplings and pass on the appetiser shui jiao. But actually foreigners might prefer the saucier shui jiao. Dunno, just try it out. They're all amazing.

My boyfriend is 100% anti-Gwyneth Paltrow and had I told him that it was a GP rec the first time I brought him to Glou, he would have turned around and marched straight out the door. As it transpired, I had the good sense to omit this detail and have since had many amazing times savouring what is probably the best rendering of contemporary French cooking we have found in Paris. Wines are always good. The cheese options are impeccable. One time there was a St Marcelin doused in olive oil infused with rosemary – unbelievable, so yummy. This time was a perfectly executed burrata. So. Damn. Good. There's razor clam and octopus. Usually when we go to Glou, we've had our fair share of entrecote and lambs so we stick to seafood but I distinctly remember having incredible meats in the past as well. Prices aren't steep and the best seat in the house is upstairs by the window if you're a party of 2. You're welcome. Oh, and I do this occasionally very obnoxious thing of like, running to a shop after we've placed our orders to browse while my boyfriend sits there with a book. He's a saint, I know.

Cafe Marly is kind of a tourist trap and also kind of obnoxious but I MUST GO EVERY TIME I am in Paris because their salmon tartar is crack. It's a melange of fresh, fatty raw fish, its glisten enhanced with sesame oil and a citrus-y spritz. There are herbs in rice for you to mix all that goodness up in. I want to fly back now just thinking about it.  I do not know how the rest of the food tastes. Could be crap for all I know but I sit outside on the balcony overlooking tourists going into the Louvre and make the best of this very overpriced yet addictive dish. And if you want more value, I guess you can do it for the 'gram. I generally do not do this because the waitresses are in sky high heels, all black, generally imposing so you don't want to be 'that person'. 

It's dark rum based but I've forgotten the name, sorry!!

It's dark rum based but I've forgotten the name, sorry!!

I got too drunk to take a picture of my food at Marie Celeste, which is unfortunate because aside from remembering that it was all very very good - especially the oysters (they're known for this), the octopus and the braised beef cheek that my boyfriend was really into, we have no evidence of what we ate nor if what we recall is at all accurate. The cocktails are fantastic. You'll see that the one picture I have is of my first delicious rum (dark rum only) based beverage and the rest was kind of a blur. Oh also, the only lost ship reference there is here is the copious alcohol selection should you wish to drink like a sailor (ahoy hehe) and many huitres of the sea.


My hands are getting a bit tired because I talk a lot and therefore type a lot so here's a quicker list of places we also frequent: Le Relais de L'Entrecote, Candelaria (tacosssss and behind the taqueria is an AWESOME-OUS bar, not bigly, quite smally, but very deliciously), Les Enfants Rouges (the market for different stalls and the restaurant of the same name, a bit more upmarket – 4 courses and the like but both are so delish).

I will not mention all the stuff that seems tantalising on Chef's Table because well, duh, they're on Chef's Table, nor the obvious or fancy places because you all know them and unless you're super game to splash cash going to them again and again, I'm recommending places I like to visit all the damn time and unlike trois foix plus I am not willing to spend money I can otherwise buy a new pair of shoes with, on three dinners at Pierre Gagnaire (although guys, I really quite love him contrary to what a couple people I know say about his over wrought food etc.) But now we're on the subject, Alain Ducasse at the Plaza Athenee is pretty great. For fancy dessert go to Cedric Grolet.

Oh, but Frenchie Wine Bar is a great alternative if you, like me, are really incapable of booking anything in advance of the day you go. Only go to Angelina at the main store for her white choc hot choc. If you love butter like me this is HEAVEN. You must go in and sit down for it though so a bit of a faff unless you're super keen, which I can be sometimes. And for brasseries who can miss out Bistrot Paul Bert (so I did a bit of research back in the day on who Paul Bert was and I think he was a raging racist which put me off going a bit but if you're unaffected, the four course meal is great, but I mean, maybe you should be at least a bit affected because racism is pretty shitty in this day and age) and Chez Janou?


My frolics generally include shopping. I'm not the hugest fan of department stores even though to Parisians and if you've ever watched Mr Selfridge, Paris and England consider its advent as the great democratisation of consumption for the middle and lower classes. But no matter how gorgeous the escalators and ceilings, nor how gilded the moulding, the fact that I lose sense of time and day gives me a sense of claustrophobia that's only growing as I get older. Never mind huge queues and just general hordes. I say this but obvs there is an amazing selection at Le Bon Marche, which is my first choice, if forced to choose. Then Gallerie Lafayette. But the latter is a bit stressful. I generally avoid, avoid.

Anyway, some areas I like to go are St Sulpice (don't go on Sundays though, it's dead). Rue Madame is around there. You can pop into the cathedral in the square as well. It's a very active cathedral and it's quite humbling to see the city communing in such a beautiful space even on a random weekday. 

The APC outlet is right beneath the Sacre Coeur so you can hit up TWO houses of worship in one fell swoop. 

I also LOVE the Marais (DEFINITELY go on a Sunday - it was the old Jewish quarter and so didn't observe Sunday as a day of rest). If you're there on Sunday, the streets will be lined with buskers. This is my favourite thing about Paris. The city's people are so proud of their past, tunes from the golden jazz age whisks you right into your very own Midnight in Paris. There are cafes around every corner. Glou is there. All my favourite shops are there. I've got the bug so badly, it's sometimes difficult to think of Paris beyond my favourite arrondissement. 

Go to Merci when you're there. Go for breakfast, have the eggs and soldiers. There's home wear, menswear and womenswear alongside the used books coffeeshop. Ladies with their significant others. Plop them in the coffee shop, amidst the furnishings or dishes, trays and goblets, or the menswear section and go crazy. Remember to bring your passport and ask for detax.

Then museums. I wrote up this list in bullet form before I started going on and on and it's as if all I do when in Paris is go to the museums when I'm in town. We've been to all of these more than once. Buy the double pass and go to the Orangerie in the morning. It's a manageable museum where the curvy walled Monets (aka waterlillies) are (haha art history majors, I am a savage and I like it). The basement is definitely worth a peek. There are Modiglianis alongside Cezannes and one of my favourite artists Andre Derain. Errybody's there.

After this, take a stroll through the Tuileries and cross the bridge to the D'Orsay. It's huge but my favourite sections are the Van Gogh bit where everyone goes. I'm not as keen on the Impressionists but they're definitely worth the visit because the collection is supreme. There are these steps that you can take to the Impressionism floor which talks about the architecture of Paris which was actually one of the best bits of my most recent visit. I'd previously only taken either the lift or the escalator. Right at the bottom is the Oriental(ism?) section. It's a section of these beautiful paintings of Persia. I know nothing about art really but those are masterpieces. Buy tickets in advance. Most of the time, the queue to the D'Orsay is MENTAL. And trust me – do coat check.

As you may or may not see, it's taking forever to talk about each museum. So leave enough time in your day to walk through them, they're all massive.

This is a Derain

This is a Derain

Actually while you're on that side of the river, walk over to the Notre Dame and Shakespeare and Co. The latter is the first English language bookstore in Paris. The interiors are lovely. Remember to go upstairs to check out all the little nooks and crannies. Rare book store next to it, part of the same group is brilliant. Rare books and Shakespeare make my inner nerd so very, very happy.

The Louvre. What to say about this place that everyone goes to. Oh, when you get tired, def go to the Angelina cafe inside. It's stunning and trust me, you'll need it. If, like me, you're not so into statues, ask for the entrance to the great master paintings (that is probs not a term but I'm sleepy now so that's what we're calling it). It's where the Mona Lisa is. Go there and don't faff around. Once we went all through Egypt and the basement etc and by the time we got to the paintings we were 300% knackered.

Also go to the Rodin Museum obvs. Seeing the Thinker and the gate of hell is something you'll always remember. It was a while ago since I was there though, but go, everyone should ponder over a pensive bronze figurine at least once in their life.

There are two museums that I really want to go to but have not yet been. The Palais Galliera (FASHION squee!) and the Middle East Museum, which I'm told is stunning and might not be there for much longer. Something akin to the Elgin Marbles issue happening to just about every piece in there I'm told. It's kind of funny that we pay admission to look at stolen goods most of the time in wealthy Western nations. Whenever my boyfriend and I walk past things we like in museums we say, 'would imperialise'. Getting into the spirit of things and what not.

This time, I took Conor with me to Crazy Horse because I had tickets and well, why not? I totally went in after I had interviewed the creative director thinking that when she said oh we use light as paint on their bodies to mean that perhaps contrary to popular opinion there would be no boobs and such. And well, I was wrong. It was a nice evening of a great many breasts all lined in a row but I have to say the execution was beautiful. And Conor? I think Conor had a great time.

Now hopefully, it's your turn to book your ticket and have a good time in the City of Lights too.

Oh there are Sunday markets and vintage stores too but I'm too tired to type now!!