Yap Seow Choong

Yap loves design, travel and everything beautiful in life. He writes for various media about travel and design and has published works, including Wander Bhutan and Myanmar Odyssey. Formerly publisher of Lonely Planet (China Office), Yap is now Chief Content Officer of Youpu Apps, a Beijing based travel app company.

Livable cities

02 2019 | Issue 31

After arriving in Chicago from central South America, I had no choice but took shelter indoors as the weather was just not friendly in the city. It was still snowing outside in April when it was supposed to be warm.

Chicago was reborn in a famous city-wide fire that almost burnt the entire city into ashes 150 years ago. But the crisis turned into an opportunity. Chicago was given a chance to rebuild. Its famous skyscrapers were all built after the fire. But the weather here in Chicago is quite extreme. The wind is very strong and it feels like somebody is telling you to go inside of the buildings to discover the hidden gems. It was the case for me. If it wasn’t for the wind, I wouldn’t have discovered the amazing interior design of the skyscrapers.

At the riverbank stands an almost transparent glass building with a very familiar architectural style. It is a new Apple flagship store designed by Norman Foster. The building has a simplistic design and adopts lots of glass materials, a design that preserves the original scenery of the riverside. Rest area is designed both outside and inside of the store. People can come shop for gadgets or just enjoy the river scene. Without the bad weather, Chicago is quite a livable city. To experience just how livable the city is, I paid a visit to The 606, an elevated greenway converted from a train rail. The 606 not only connects different neighbourhoods but also provides people in Chicago with a good destination to relax. The project also lifted Chicago’s commuting pressure. Many people ride their bike to their workplace through the greenway. Of course, different people will have different standards for evaluating whether a city is livable or not. I always feel that if you can ride a bike, jog, or just walk to your workplace, then that is a decent city.


If you are travelling to Chicago someday, you have to visit the renowned Art Institute of Chicago. Originally, I was planning to visit the museum for half a day, but I realised I could only have a glimpse of what the museum has to offer even after a full-day visit. The Chinese collection at the museum is also very impressive. I saw many china artefacts from the Song Dynasty. The china artefacts from the Song Dynasty seem to have a simplistic design at first glance, but they actually integrate many details and boast complexity without distracting colours or shape. It is like they are confident that they will be noticed for their true beauty without making a scene. The Chinese exhibition area has many amazing collections. But I was attracted by some seemingly mundane items. For example, I came upon a simple-looking scissor from the Tang Dynasty. I would wonder how many people had used it for cutting their hair. It reminds me of Museum, a poem written by Polish poetess Wislawa Szymborska, saying “Since eternity was out of stock, ten thousand ageing things have been amassed instead.”

The paintings in the museum’s collection are famous artworks known by many people. I have seen them on media platforms many times but seeing them in the flesh truly moved me. Perhaps this is also what it feels like when you are reading a physical book and a digital book. Monet’s Water Lilies is also stored in this museum. Only when you actually see the masterpiece will you realise just how sensitive artists are to light and shadow. Good artworks are timeless and can reach people in different parts of the world. As you have a close look at the painting, you can see the sparks that Monet painted and they seem to radiate different light. If you appreciate the painting in a distance, light and spots will merge and become a scene of water lilies.


Edward Hopper’s famous artwork Nighthawks is also in the museum’s collection. I love Hopper as a painter because of the loneliness radiant from his paintings. There are four people in the painting. They seem mute, quietly sitting in a restaurant. Perhaps this is the biggest loneliness one can experience. You are surrounded by people, you can’t live without people, but people do not care about you. Humans are social animals. But it is true that we tend to feel lonely easier when in a crowd. The painter used niabsurd colours and layout to illustrate the contrast. When you are travelling, there will be a special moment when you feel like you are in love with that place and decide that it is a good trip worth remembering. For me, the special moment in Chicago is this.