Away From the Screen: Where Southeast Asian Founders Go for a Creative Recharge
Inspiration exists outside your office’s four walls
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Staring out your office window and ignoring the harsh lights isn’t going to help you solve that problem. Creativity isn’t an infinite resource and a weekend may not be enough to get you out of a rut. There’s no magic crayon to boundless creativity, but taking an extended break away from work and jumping into a new environment reportedly does the job.
“I really love the work that I do, but there are moments when I am just so tired and so sad... because of the same thing that I claim to really love. And it's those moments wherein I have to stop and acknowledge that I maybe just need a breather,” says Kara Pangilinan, Filipino artist and founder of Philippine art brand DetailsInk.
For Neal Moore, co-founder and content director of Click2View, a Singapore-based content marketing agency, “the key ingredient to a creative space is contrast, be it in the people, the weather, the decor, anything.”
“What I look for in a place isn't that inspiration per se. I just need a place that can calm my mind. There is always too much going on in there. I need to be able to hear my thoughts and breathe better,” says Pangilinan.
Whether it’s a sabbatical or just a 5-day vacation, here are a few places to consider for your next creative hiatus.
London is one of the most popular hubs in the world—for the arts, culture, finance, you name it, London is probably on that list. “London is a modern city with 2,000 years of heritage, where sparkling towers of chrome and glass rub shoulders with classical architecture hundreds of years old. Its character changes with the weather and the weather changes everyday,” says Moore.
He adds, “Favorite spots include the National Gallery, Royal Academy, and British Film Institute, not just for their world class exhibits but also their ambience. I rarely take the tube but walk between destinations because even the streets are a source of inspiration with one of the most cosmopolitan populations of any city.”
Ah Singapore, the central hub of Southeast Asia. “Singapore is young and has the arrogance of youth, which can be very liberating creatively. Sometimes in London you feel everything has been done, but in Singapore everything is still to do,” says Moore, who finds the Little Island Brewery in Changi, with its view, local beer, grilled meats, and location beside the Changi Village Food Centre, inspiring.
Roslyn Teng, co-founder of Singaporean subscription lifestyle service Made Real, looks for light-filled open spaces in Singapore to recharge, like cafes such as The Living Cafe on Sixth Avenue and Park in Holland Village. “We first came up with the idea for Made Real at the Living Cafe over a casual dinner. It’s an amazing space that’s conducive for discussions or catch-ups in the day, and transforms into a cozy destination as the evening sets in,” says Teng.
Teng also recommends a visit to Sentosa and the Tanjong Beach Club. Adds Teng, “Strolling along the beautiful marina at Sentosa Cove, plus people and dog-watching at one of the cafes along the strip, helps. I’ve had some amazing conversations about businesses, products, ambition, and inspiration there.”
Beijing is the capital of one of the world’s superpowers and most popular for Olympic architecture and ancient walls. For first timers, one might not think such a thing as the 798 Art Zone exists in the city. But amidst old industrial factories are contemporary art galleries, as the Lonely Planet describes on their feature of the place.
Yeoh Chen Chow, co-founder of the Fave group, describes a cafe on the third floor of a building “with tree leaves just above me, and glass floor below” in the fascinating district. “This place just makes me feel calm and allows me to collect my thoughts that I tend to not have time to prioritize when I am in the office,” he says.
More than the Destination
For Pangilinan, anywhere away from the city, particularly the beach, is a good place for a creative break. There is no one specific place she goes back to, but her annual mid-year trips (most recently to Bali with her brother) help her recharge. “If I can’t get away from Manila, I make sure to 'date myself' in a quiet restaurant. That's when I go on my 'life mode’, switch my phone to Airplane mode, take out my planner and just zone out for a while,” she says.
While visiting new places can spark new ideas, and be well-deserved breaks (even if they’re not in the budget), sometimes it’s not about going to a specific place at all.
For Philip Cheang, co-founder of Philippine software development and design firm By Implication, he finds movement—walking in particular—conducive to creative thinking. “I often stumble upon and note down interesting transit products, behaviors, and design while traveling, and perhaps this is also why I like walking: because it opens you up to random occasions of discovery,” says Cheang, who has a passion for transport.
“That said, when I am abroad or traveling, I do find inspiration unexpectedly…When I find something interesting about the public transit of other cities, I often take a photo or note something down. My photo album has a huge chunk comprised of random photos of trains, buses, signage, screenshots of travel apps, maps, and roads,” says Cheang, clarifying that these aren't things he actively seeks out.
For some, travelling for a creative break isn’t part of the annual budget. But as Cheang mentions, sometimes creative breaks are just about shifting your mindset to be open and present to the world’s every fascinating shift and evolution. At the very least, just get out of the office. No matter how much you love what it represents, those artificial lights and concrete walls can sure be stifling.