#2031 | summer sun

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I dont know what possessed me to think that wearing a knit sweater out on a thirty five degree day was acceptable or even a legitimate idea. This is the problem that is real and happening when you get dressed in an air conditioned room – you think the world will adapt to your chilled ideas of how it should be, nice, cool to the touch, unflustered. And then you step out and the humidity assaults you and it is too late to go back and change and you have to fake-smile in all your photos when you’re really crying inside. Still, it is a cute sweater. And really, this is a privileged problem. Complaining about temperature differences between airconditioned room and the outside world: really, Jemma? This is a new level, even for you. Ah well. These internal monologues might serve to check one’s privilege, but can they also double up as an amusing blogpost? Yes. Yes they can.

x
♥jem

#2030 | Matcha Mondays: Cha Cha Matcha

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Mocha Mondays is a new and semi-regular feature on cafes and how workable they are, for freelancers or students looking for a place to park themselves at while getting work done. It may or may not actually feature mocha.

Apologies, guys, the Mocha Monday series that I was so enthused about at the start of last year seems to have taken quite the hiatus. The semi-regular in semi-regular feature being taken far too literally, if you will. But here I am again, and all I have to offer you by way of apology is this: a scathing sense of sarcasm, and also a gentle reminder that everything on this blog is free to read, FREE, i say! So, chill, yknw?

Anyway. I hit up Cha Cha Matcha on my last day in New York. It opened my last week there, actually, and immediately instagram was hit with a flood of pictures from the place, which looked like it was built to cater exclusively to hipsters and instagrammers. And indeed, when I stepped in, my first thought was: this is where hipsters go to die.

The first warning sign? Cha Cha Matcha is card-only, which means it doesn’t accept cash, at all. Because cash, ugh, you know? So mainstream. And in this cashless, trendy cafe, walls are decorated solely for the purpose of being backdrops to your perfect instagram photo – pink and green chairs, leaves, coffee cups. You can’t fault them for that: it’s working. People have been snapping this place nonstop since it opened, and it’s not tough to see why. The place is decorated like Malibu barbie’s pad on drugs. Like Katy Perry’s california girls song became a person and threw up all over the walls.

Was it too much to hope that a beautiful place like this would serve good matcha as well? Apparently so.

Came for the Instagram photo #honestinstagramcaptions #doitforthegram

A photo posted by Jemimah James Wei (@jemmawei) on

Our matcha tasted like nothing. It didn’t taste bad, you understand. It just didn’t taste like anything. Confused? So were we. We ordered both the classic matcha latte and the coconut matcha latte and they tasted exactly the same, which is to say, like an empty drink void of taste, that kind of left a little bubbly feeling on your tongue. The soft serve fared a little bit better, because you could actually tell it was matcha flavoured, if largely because it was half green. But if you’ve actually tried any decent matcha before, this brings nothing new to the table.

It left me wondering: what was it? Why were people raving about this place? Were they all brainwashed by the cute interior? Or had they simply never tried proper matcha? Or – best case scenario – were we the unlucky ones who got a dud batch, and did everyone else get heavenly tasting brews? Our answers were granted a week later, when another girlfriend went to CCM after seeing my snapchat. Jem, she texted me, Cha Cha Matcha sucks. Lol. Fullstop and all.

The real question, I suppose, is: does it matter? In an era where taste is fleeting and photos are forever, it seems that the six bucks you pay for a crap latte is really an entrance fee to the hippest photo prop for instagram right now. I sure paid my dues. Don’t we all? My only hope (and a fervent one), is that this doesn’t become a trend – substandard kitchen fare giving way to the perfect pastel paint job on the wall. Is it too optimistic? Or are we already there? Say it isn’t so!

When all is said and done, will one lonely pessimistic review on the net make a difference? Of course not. People will still flock to the place for it’s pink walls and green decor, and I don’t blame them. Ah, this instagram life! So be it.

Cha Cha Matcha
373 Broome St, New York, NY 10013, United States

x
♥jem

#2029 | Upstate New York: Roadtripping to Catskills

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If I said I were the outdoorsy type, I would be lying. One with nature I am not. I prefer my day to day life regulated, with reliable transport, data, and stimulation: addicted to the grid, I am 100% a city girl. But occasionally I get cajoled into trying new things, and so my first ever outdoorsy roadtrip with friends was hence decided on, and last year end Georgie, Jackie and I did a weekend out of New York City to the Catskill Mountains.

This is not my first road trip – I’ve done a few of them back when I was living in Germany, but they were always to neighbouring cities like Berlin, or countries like Amsterdam, Switzerland, etcetera. There are two ways you can road trip abroad – rent a car, or carpool. *TIP*: Generally the more people you have the easier/more cost-efficient it is to rent, but if youre non-licensed and/or road tripping in Europe alone/with one other person, you might wanna check out blablacar, which saved my life (aka finances) over and over again in Europe! :)

Anyway. Carshare-roadtripping isn’t as common in the States as far as I know, and also, a thing that is common in the States is the Hollywood trope of people getting into unfamiliar cars and dying in all the movies, so, no thanks. We rented a car. It’s not hard to rent a car in New York City, they have a ton of random pop up deals that give you huge discounts on last minute car rentals or whatever, so all you have to do is a quick google search. And off we went!

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Airbnb in Chichester, New York

We stayed in this lovely Airbnb in Chichester. I don’t know how to describe what Chichester is, exactly, it seems to be a small settlement that’s just a little outside of Phoenicia, a small town that is really one long street where you can get food, takeout, or take a yoga class if you so desire. But all these things: shops, towns – they’re just functionary, for you to get food, groceries, rent a video, that kind of thing. The charm of Chichester lay in the surroundings, and much of how amazing this trip was had to be credited to our Airbnb cottage. The cottage itself was a self-contained place with cooking facilities, a restroom, a double bed, and a sofa bed. Very cozy. We watched horror movies at night (Cabin in the Woods, anyone?) and played a ton of monopoly, which I have to say, I am a champion in. Self declared.

But the really amazing thing about it was how the cottage opened up to the stream – we had a private swimming hole, and although it was too cold to swim, it was still amazing to look at. We cooked breakfast (*TIP*: Always book an Airbnb with a kitchen!) and brought everything down to the stream – there were giant river rocks just waiting for us to perch on. Perfect.

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Bit of a balancing act – see how the coffee in the huge mug is slanted?

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One of the best ways to take your coffee in the morning…

Incredible. Would stay again in a heartbeat, but my very adventurous girlfriend decided it would be a great idea to go see a waterfall, so we cleaned up after breakfast and off we drove.

Our Airbnb listing here.

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The Kaaterskill Falls

She didn’t tell us it involved hiking so I turned up in boots and a leather skirt, and Jackson wore dress boots and a peacoat. And everyone laughed at us.

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But ok, the waterfall was quite pretty. There’s another smaller waterfall on the hike up, and when I saw that about five minutes into the hike I was like ok cool here we are. But noooooo, the real hike was much longer, and Jackie and I were wearing totally unsuitable footwear so we (or I?) nearly slipped and fell several times. It can get pretty rocky and steep so at some points you’re nearly on your hands and feet! But the view payoff is really good, so I guess I’m not complaining – I would say it’s even prettier than the Rheinfalls in Switzerland, possibly because you dont have to pay a ton of money in entrance fees to get to it.

The rest of the weekend was spend gamboling around the mountains and trying not to fall into a swift-coursing river and die. AKA it was great! Internet access is pretty awful when youre on the roads which means your personal bonding is awesome. We hit another small town on our way out and had some of the best soup I’ve had in my life. It’s all so random but isn’t life? Life motto kids, write it down.

It always amazes me how Americans (and Malaysians, and Australians, and Europeans, and I guess anyone who isnt in Singapore) can just get a car, drive a bit, and hike a mountain or roll around in some nice scenic field or something. The option to do so is not one I would exercise often, in all honesty, but it’s nice to have the option. And when you do do it, it turns out to be breathtaking.

Till the next one x

x
Jem

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#2028 | Random thoughts on the Ten Step korean skincare regime

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GPOY one week into trying the ten step skincare routine

Ola friends,

I’m here again instead of working (as I should be) on my masters thesis (a slow, painful journey) because I must have had too much caffeine and my brain is jumping around, JUMPING, I say! In any case it is bad and I know it is bad because I am looking at my hands and they are shaking. I only had a cup this morning so I have no idea what is up with me, perhaps a lack of sleep? But I feel okay, sleep wise. So I guess the conclusion is, I dont know what is up.

Anyway the thing I have been thinking about writing about on the blog is a thing that I don’t quite know how to talk about: it’s the korean skincare regime. Being neither korean nor a skincare expert, I wonder at how accurate anything I have to say about their regimes are. But a combination of k-drama watching (thanks, DOTS) and marketing images (thanks, laneige) have had me obsessed with 1. getting that same kind of dewy glowing skin that they all have and 2. wondering if it’s all photoshop.

But no – I have korean friends, and their skin is ace. So there must be something there. Recently the boyfriend went to Korea on a work trip and came back with a haul of skincare for me (seriously, this boy is A+) and also, sent me a link to the KOREAN TEN STEP SKINCARE ROUTINE which is his way, I suppose, of telling me that he wants me to wash my face properly. At first I was all, don’t tell me what to do with my face! because, you know, feminism. But I really wanted to look like Song Hye Kyo. That woman has stupidly good skin. It’s so irritating. And I must have it.

So I’ve been on the korean ten step skincare routine for 2 weeks now. Do I look like Song Hye Kyo? No. But my skin is markedly better. And there is something strangely soothing about a routine, even if ten steps sounds a bit loca to be doing everyday.

Basically, these are the ten steps:

1. Wipe your make up off with a wipe. (I’m using the face shop brown rice wipes that shane bought me from korea, but i think you can get them here in singapore. Or else the Biore ones are very good.)

2. Wash your face with an foam cleanser. But I don’t like foam cleansers, so I swapped this out for an oil cleanser. I swear by oil products! They have changed my life forever. I used to use only the Erno Laszlo oil + dead sea mud bar, but that one is a little hard to travel with, so I switch it up between that and the the Shu Umeura cleansing beauty oil, in the yellow bottle variant (because it was the cheapest of the lot). I bought it on Roz’s recommendation and it’s really good but it is ridiculously expensive, like over a hundred bucks. But I figure you spend lots on make up, so you better also invest in washing it off! Also it works great for me and for Roz and for a bunch of other people I know, but I think it really depends on your skin because I have another girlfriend who swears that it makes her break out. Plus it’s really a working woman’s cleanser because it’s so damned expensive! If you’re a student I would say get a cheaper version, like the NIVEA mud cleanser (I did a test + review on that here). I’m actually really pleased with the mud cleanser because even now, a year on after that review, I still have people coming up to me on the streets saying that they used the mud cleanser and had it work great on them. Nivea is actually a really great drugstore brand lah, it’s just that after my cleanser finished I wanted to try something new because I was curious. Lol!

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3. Remove your eye makeup and swab your skin once more to make sure all traces of your make up are gone. Technically the Shu umeura cleansing oil does this for you, but I still go once more with a cotton pad soaked in the Micellar water, and sometimes if I didn’t wash my face properly the first time there’ll be some gunk left over. You’ll be surprised how hard it is to get all your make up off thoroughly. Most make up brands have their own version of the micellar water, but the one I’m currently using is from Nivea. Micellar water is nice because it really doesn’t leave your skin feeling oily or sticky, although it is technically made up of oil molecules. What! I told you I swear by oil products. And I did some research on this, and a LOT of people swear that micellar water changed their lives.

To be honest I think steps 2 and 3 are basically very similar, but the koreans do it twice, so ok lor, do it twice. Actually you could just pick one and stick with it.

4. Exfoliate once a week. I’m using a black sugar scrub that (again) the boyfriend bought for me from korea. I think it’s from the face shop. Or innisfree? Something like that. Basically he has a korean friend who brought him to all the places and showed him what products are really popular amongst the korean girls, so it must be the best, etcetera etcetera.

5. Swab your face with toner. So usually I do step 1-4, then shower, then after the shower, do step 5. I use the Son & Park Beauty Water that the boyfriend bought me from korea. Ok, now I’m starting to feel a bit guilty because when writing this post I realised that he bought me most of my skincare, and he really did a lot of research on it because when he presented me with each item he had a long list of instructions on what to do. HAHAHAHA. The Beauty water is apparently always sold out, so I’m quite glad he got it for me lah. It’s a korean miracle product that they use backstage for shows, celebrities use it, etc etc. It’s some multitasker that cleanses, tones, exfoliates, and hydrates. I dont know about exfoliating, because it’s very watery, so it doesn’t really feel like it scrubs the skin. But if you google it, people go batshit bananas over this water, and my skin really feels better, though I’m using so many new products now that I’m not sure what exactly to attribute my new skin to exclusively.

6. Essence. Essence is the cornerstone of korean skincare, but to be absolutely honest I am not really sure what the big difference between essence and serum is. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that they are essentially the same thing, even though most brands will tell you they target different things, and I suspect they’re basically marketing terms. None of my American friends know what an essence is, they all use the word serum for that step in your skincare routine. Besides, I dont think there are any miracle serums/ essences that target EVERYTHING, and each serum is supposed to do something specific (brightening/ peel/ soften skin/ intensely hydrate/ etc etc), so I think you should just pick one that targets whatever youre concerned about.

And for goodness sake, pat on your serum. Because if you rub it all over your face youre just pulling your skin around. I’m using the Laneige ultimate white plus renew serum because SONG HYE KYO, ok? And also because I only started using sunscreen at a very late age, and I’ve been trying to fix all the sunspots I have by using brightening serums, so most of my skincare is geared towards that. But to be honest I switch up my serums and moisturisers a lot. So right now I’m using the laneige, I used to use a different variant of the laneige serum, and even before that I used a Kiehls serum. And once a week I use the Kiehls Nightly refining Micro-peel concentrate, which works like a peel to make your skin softer. But you serum can never be used without a moisturiser, so..

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7. The sheet mask. I cant imagine that anyone uses a mask every single night, but apparently the koreans do. This is my least favourite step so I always skip it, I would say I do a mask once in two weeks if I’m lucky. I hate it because when you stick a mask on it is COLD AS HELL, and then you cant move around or it might fall off, and before I did lasik that meant i had to just lie down for twenty minutes cos i cant wear glasses over a mask, it feels and looks weird, and that means for twenty minutes while doing the mask I cant even read or watch TV cos I can’t see. I don’t really have a favourite mask either, I just use whatever my friends give me or those sample masks you get when you buy stuff at korean skincare shops (they give out samples nonstop!!). Generally I leave the mask on for 20 minutes (no more than that, or it actually works to dehydrate your skin for some reason), then move the mask to my neck for 10 minutes, then rub the remaining serum on the mask into my hands / feet if theres extra.

8. Moisturiser. Doesn’t the sheet mask also moisturise? Koreans, do you have too much time?? But I have committed to following the korean routine and follow it I must. I use different moisturisers depending on what I need. I like the Erno Laszlo Hydra-Therapy Memory Sleep Mask because it’s VERY hydrating with this gel like texture, and when you wake up in the morning you feel AMAZING. Despite the name, it’s a gel moisturiser, not a sheet mask, so it’s more convenient to apply. The only con that I can note about this moisturiser is the price point: it’s pretty expensive, and I have it because a dear friend from NYC gifted it to me. Now that I’m working I could probably buy another one when this one runs out, but if I were younger/ still schooling, it’d be pretty tough. I (and my mom) also love the Laneige water bank, which everybody swears by – it’s cheaper as well. And whenever I travel to foreign countries I bring the samples along to give to friends who all love it too.

9. Eye cream. I only started using this this year because everyone, and I do mean everyone, was yelling at me about it. Apparently you can never go back from wrinkles around your eyes.
I was like: so what? Embrace it! I don’t mind having wrinkles.
And my older girlfriends were like: you are an idiot.
So fine, I started using eye cream too. I use the Laneige white plus renew eye cream, it has a cooling metal applicator so it massages the area around your eye to decrease swelling. I’m not sure if the metal thing really works, but it feels great. After this round of Laneige ends I was thinking of buying a L’oreal eye cream because it’s much cheaper and it’s supposed to be really good, but we’ll see.

10. Sunscreen. I assumed this was for the day use only, but apparently koreans apply sunscreen at night too. Why? Because your computer screen emits UV rays. That is a bit much for me, but ok. I use a Sunplay sunscreen (SPF50++) which is a watery sort of gel as the last step of my skincare in the morning before make up, and then I periodically spray on a layer of sunscreen during the day (the Biore UV perfect SPF50 spray) on top of my makeup.

*And then I use a completely different set of skincare when I travel, skincare that comes in travel sized bottles. That’s a post for a whole other time.

Tada – ten steps!

So after being on it for two weeks I had to sit down and ask myself if I honestly felt it made a huge difference to my skin, and if the time spent on it was worth the difference.

Before going any further, full disclosure: I’ve always had good skin. I don’t mean to be annoying, it’s just that it has been a combination of my mother’s home brewed herbal soups as a kid as well as genes, I suppose. But at thirteen, good skin is a gift. At twenty three, it’s a commitment. The recent years have been pretty sobering for me in coming to terms with the fact that I cant just use and abuse my skin anymore: it started going downhill when I moved out of home to live on campus, and it got worse ever since I started travelling so frequently. Airplane air is the worst, and your skin’s consistent readjustment to new climates and temperatures really messes you up. When I came back from Sydney last year, my skin was at its worst. For all its beauty, Australia’s weather is one of the most messed up I’ve been in – you can experience four seasons in a day, and it’s a total nightmare for skincare.

Ever since there it’s been an uphill climb. One of my greatest regrets as a kid was not being told how important sunscreen is – I dont think anything can reverse the amount of sun damage my skin has been put under, and it’s something I’m just going to have to live with. Do I have bad breakouts? No. But my skin used to have this healthy glow (which now I’m thinking, might have just been the glow of youth. And innocence. Too dark? Ok never mind) which it no longer has, and that’s what koreans somehow have managed to recreate, bottle up, and sell, in both skincare and makeup. I mean, not all the products I use are korean, obviously, but what I tried my best to follow were their steps.

And the difference? It’s there, that’s for sure. My boyfriend asked me if I’d been using the products he gave me.

Yes, I said, whats up?
It’s just, your skin looks great, he said, in a tone that suggested that what he really meant was I told you so.

(Ok I kid, he’s actually very nice and would never say that. Ok, maybe once. Or twice.)

I still don’t look like Song Hye Kyo. And I still dont really know if all ten steps are really necessary. Do you really need to wash your face thrice?! All ten steps take me a combined total of about fifteen to twenty minutes to do, more if I’m using a mask that night, which isn’t bad all things considered. But ten steps: that’s a minimum of ten products, and we all know the beauty industry doesn’t come cheap. It’s an expensive routine.

So why spend the time on it? The answer surprised even me: because I liked spending time on a routine. It’s relaxing, at the end of a long work day, to come back and slowly work on cleansing, toning, and moisturising your face, and feeling the difference every morning when you wake up, combined with the overall difference you feel over the time span of a couple of weeks. I have better skin now than I did before I started my ten step routine. People comment on it regularly. And when you have good skin, as cliche as it sounds, you feel good.

But I wouldn’t swear by it. And I dont think I’d lose any sleep if I cut short a couple of steps each day. At the end of the day it feels like an enjoyable routine with visible skincare benefits, but one that is a luxury. If I had to pick, I would say in order of importance what you HAVE to do would be to 1. clean your make up off really thoroughly, 2. SUNSCREEN and 3. Moisturize. Everything else, to me, is great, but not hardcore essential. And of course there are plenty of really great products out there that double up and do more than one thing: the beauty water, for example, tones, hydrates, and cleanses. Obviously your skin gets better with more layers of skincare (that’s the korean mentality, skincare layering), but it really depends on how important it is to you to have that kind of really translucent, dewy skin. I think a clear complexion is pretty swell already, and the korean glow is another level, a level which you have to pay to access. Obviously.

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Unexpected side effect of the 10step routine: you selfie a lot more because you want to show off your skin..

Ok, that random thought-vomit turned into a really long wordy post. On the plus side, I no longer feel jumpy because of the coffee. I guess that means I know what I should do the next time I cant focus: write a 2,800 word blogpost. What a great adjustment mechanism, am I right. More content all around!!

Actually speaking of content I’m pretty excited lah, because I have a bunch of ideas for things I want to write/talk about in the upcoming posts. I don’t know why I suddenly have so many things to say, it’s like my brain is getting talkative. It must be all the coffee. But it’s been great, things have been great, and it is truly a privilege to say this because to be honest I am coming out of a period of EXTREME UNCREATIVITY and UNPRODUCTIVITY, which is not to say that i hadnt been doing work, but to say that I havent been feeling happy with the writing I’ve been doing. Uninspired, is the term. But a talkative brain is a good sign, it is a sign that things are a-changing. And I welcome it with open arms.

Till the next post ~

x
♥jem

#2027 | The Broke Student’s Guide to New York

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imagesNew York, America

Oh, New York. This Spring marked my third time in New York, the city of my dreams. I can’t really explain why I love New York so much even if I tried – so you’ll just have to take my word for it when I say there’s just something about the city…

And that something, magical as it may be, is probably subject to tax and a twenty percent tip.

I love New York so much but there’s no denying that this love is an expensive one. The city is pricey to begin with, unashamedly so, and on top of that there’s the tipping, which will kill you if you’re not used to it and also, not used to math. I check both boxes. And if there ever were a city that needed a BSG, it’s this one.


Getting to New York

I wrote a post on this last year: Let’s go to America! Broke Student’s Guide to Pre-Trip Planning. Just an add on to that – I’ve heard from friends that prices for tickets can drop to as low as 1.1-1.2k during the less popular timings, like in Jan or Feb. Post festive season, plus the weather’s mad cold. I have a friend who actually made it there for 1.2k on ANA, which is a fantastic deal.


Accommodation in New York

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Accommodation will be the main thing that kills your budget, I think. I have friends in New York that I stay with, but otherwise I think the best option is Airbnb – I’ve checked, and if you book early enough you can get a place for about a hundred a night. If you’re on an even tighter budget, you might want to consider couchsurfing.. my guide on that is here. Still, that’s really down to character – some people aren’t comfortable doing that, or are worried about safety, so I’d say it really takes a healthy mixture of courage and brokeness to go for it.

On that note…

New York gets a bad rep from the movies, but I’ve found it to be really safe as long as you have common sense. You know. Don’t walk into a pitch dark park at night. Don’t do stupid things. Etcetera etcetera. But I always get questions on where to stay, so I would say generally anywhere in Manhattan from the Upper West downwards is safe-ish. I’ve stayed in both the Financial District (super safe) and East Village (really fun), and would recommend both. Even staying in Brooklyn is great because it’s cheaper and it’s got it’s own vibe and stuff going on. I wouldnt stay, however, in Queens, the Bronx, or Staten Island, because they’re just too far from whatever you’d want to get to. You actually have to take a ferry to Manhattan if you stay in Staten Island. It’s just not worth it. I also wouldn’t stay in Harlem – a personal choice, I just dont find it as safe.


Money Exchange

How much to bring is up to the individual. But as for changing money..

I’ve never actually changed money in New York before, purely because the culture there is so much card based. People tend to just sign for everything, so bring your Visa, and do your research on what’s the best card for your needs. I used the FRANK OCBC Visa Credit Card almost exclusively on the trip, which I initially applied for because I get a really good rebate for “entertainment” spending in Singapore, which is basically, you know, food. Movies. Karaoke. But when it comes to travelling, the card also has a 6% rebate for online shopping with a minimum offline spend that’s really easy to hit if youre travelling, and the US is great for online shopping (hello next day delivery!) so it made a lot of sense for me at the time.

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Plus the FRANK by OCBC card is so pretty…

As for cold hard cash, you pay cash for things like random snacks from food carts, maybe small purchases, a coffee run.. but people mainly pay with card. I actually went to a cafe where it only accepted card, no cash at all. That was modern, even for me. If you call a car service though, that’s paid for with cash only. I usually just change my money at the Simei Eastpoint basement, which I find has the best exchange rate in the east, but I have a friend who changes a fixed amount every month for the number of months leading up to her trip, because then she gets the average best exchange rate. It’s more effort, but I guess it makes sense if you’re going somewhere expensive, like the states.


Transport in New York

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This depends on how long you stay, but generally getting around New York is a mix of walking and training. You get a metro card and top it up to take rides. The train rides cost about USD2.75/ride no matter how long or short your travel distance is, a weekly pass is $31, and a monthly pass is $116.50. I got the monthly pass all three times I was here because I’m always in New York for about a month or two per time, but honestly, it only evens out if you think you’ll take upwards of two rides a day. Up till now I’m still not sure if that was the wisest choice for me, because half the time if I’m out with friends, we’ll end up splitting an uber or cab.

Which brings me to..

Private cars
. Cabs, Ubers, and Lyfts are available through New York City. Generally, it’s not a huge difference if you take a cab or an uber, but I’d say the most savings you’d get is if you’re alone (which I usually am) or with one other friend, because then you’re eligible for Uber Pool and Lyft Line.

Uber Pool and Lyft Line are car pool services, which basically means you pay a fixed fare that’s pretty low, lower than if you’d take a normal uber or cab, but it also means you might be sharing your car with other passengers going the same way.

Between Uber and Lyft, the price differences lie in the discounts you get. From experience, Lyft is always cheaper, because they’re forever giving out free codes for 50% off rides, $10 off your first ten rides each, etcetera etcetera. If you’re a new user, you’re going to get a ton of credit for use, which is pretty great. And if youre there over some random festival or something, they’ll give out more free credits too – I was there over Memorial Day weekend this time, and all rides were 50% off!

The great thing is, they’re always engaging in price wars because of this, and the last week I was there, Uber Pool launched a $5 flat fare for commuting hours, which was, you know, pretty great.

Another app people there use is Gett, but I’ve not tried that one. But it’s an option, so just throwing it out there!

Note: if you’re doing this, you should get a NYC number, because it’s really difficult for drivers to contact you if you dont have a working number, and if they get annoyed and just leave, you still get charged.

Note II: A useful app to have is NYC Subway, which is a free offline map for the new york subway. You can enter where you are and where youre going, and they’ll show you the best way vs the fastest way vs the most direct way to get there. Anyway it’s handy to have around!

Note III: If you’re going out of New York, you don’t travel by metro so your unlimited pass wont work if you’re thinking of taking a train to, say, Atlantic City or something. I’m not sure if trains even go there, to be honest. But yeah, depending on where you go, you have to buy separate tickets from the terminal. Google it depending on what day trips you want to make!

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Traveling on the NJ transit to Linden to meet a friend..


Data/ Sim Cards in New York

New York has three main service providers – Verizon, T Mobile, and AT&T.

If youre using a non-US phone, chances are you can’t get a Verizon card. It’s not compatible or something like that.

I got an AT&T card the last time I was here and I absolutely hated it. It was about USD80 for 4GB, which ran out in NO time. This time, I got a T-Mobile unlimited data card, which is unlimited everything (data, call, text) for thirty days, and costs about a hundred bucks. Given how much I had to pay to top up my stupid data the last time whenever it ran out, I thought the Tmobile deal was a lot better, all things considered.

Data is expensive overseas, ok? Get used to it. There are definitely a lot of cheaper options if you dont need as much data as I do, but because so much of my work is based online, it makes more sense for me to just invest in an unlimited plan. I had a look and there are prepaid sims for as low as $30, so dont freak out – there are cheaper options, as long as you know what you do and dont need!


Eating in New York

Food in New York is pricey once you eat out, but as with every destination, there are cheaper options for everything. Generally, if you sit down and eat, you’ll have to tip about 15-20% of your meal price. But if you go to, say, a deli, you can eat from their Hot/Cold food buffet, where you pay by the weight of your meal. Basic things like Pizza and Hot Dogs are cheap, but they dont have to be bad – there are a ton of really fantastic pizza joints around the city, my personal favourite being Bleeker Street’s Pizza.

Bleeker Street Pizza
69 7th Ave S, New York, NY 10014, USA

Other than that, I’d say keep an eye out for lunch deals. Lots of restaurants around the city do lunch deals from 12-2pm, which is basically a set meal of a main, a soup/appetiser, and a drink, for maybe ten bucks or slightly more. It’s the best! It’s definitely something you need to lookout for, because they’re going to be way cheaper than if you get an ala-carte main. I assume its to cater for working people around the area, but it’s a great thing either way.

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And if you’re really feeling the pinch that day, check out the food carts all around the city. Because they’re grab and go, you dont have to pay for tax, and there’s just an optional tip jar where, realistically, people just leave their spare change. Prices for food carts depend on what you want, but say, the Halal Guys (super famous meat+rice NYC street food) would set you back about six or seven dollars, and a hot dog might set you back about two.

One more thing – always ask for tap water. Tap water is safe to drink in NYC, and some restaurants will just ask if you want sparkling or still water, both of which are chargeable by the bottle.

I’ll be doing another post soon about the different meals you can have in NYC – New York is so amazing when it comes to food options, that deserves a whole post on it’s own!


The Regular Bucketlist

New York is famous for several things, the tangible things, like the statue of liberty, central park, the rockefeller, etcetera.. and while I personally believe that the charm of New York lies not in the things to see but the things to experience, it still stands that people are gonna want to see what they want to see. And the good news is, most of these things are free.

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Walking the Brooklyn Bridge, going on the High Line, hanging out in Central Park, and even brushing the Statue of Liberty – all these are free and very iconic activities you can do. For the Statue of Liberty – you can take a free Staten Island ferry from the FiDi that goes past it, so you can go close enough without paying to get on Ellis island. It’s a pretty good way around the Statue of Liberty admission rate, I think.

Things you do have to pay for include entry to the Top of the Rock, but I hear that if you’re not fussy about having to go in the day, or to the very top, you can just go for drinks at the Rainbow Room that’s in the same building after dark and get the equivalent view.


Activities

I really feel like one of the best things about New York is how much there is to do, all the time, and for any interest, age group, or budget! New York is a playground – not just for people with money, but for everyone. And yes, it’s an expensive city, but it’s full of creative people, talented people, and resourceful people – so when you put all that together, you have a ton of stuff to do, and a ton of ways you can find out about them.

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With Sierra Borges and Alex Brightman from School of Rock the Musical at the (free!) Stars in the Alley concert

My favourite website for New York activities on the cheap/free is The Skint. Their tagline is Free and Cheap New York, Everyday. So, you know. Basically my life. They update their site every single day on whats up around the city for free or cheap to do around the city. I’ve been to cheap comedy shows, free exhibitions, and attended pretty fun activities just by seeing it on their site. They also list when certain museums have surprise free entry days, or when there are random events that happen around the city for free. Eg. Bryant Park has free dance classes depending on the season, and some places do free movie screenings. There are lots and lots of really great events that are free as long as you RSVP, and all that is on the website.

You can also google Time Out New York for whatever is happening for the day. Whatever appears on Time Out tends to be a bit more commercial/mainstream, though that’s not to say it isnt still really great. It’s just that events listed on The Skint are really, really local.

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New York is also really huge on fitness, so you can get free dance lessons during the summer at the parks, or do random marathons for different charities. A really popular thing to do also is to take a Pay as you wish Yoga class from Yoga to the People. Renting the mat is $2, but other than that you can pay whatever you want.. really great for broke students. Lol!

Yoga To The People
Website
Classes are an hour long, mat rental $2
Suggested donation: $10, but it’s basically pay as you wish

As for musicals, plays, and shows..


Comedy

Comedy Cellar
is a fantastic experience for anyone who’s into comedy (or even for anyone who’s not, really) because it’s the place where lots of famous comedians started, and it’s a bit of a legend by now. The entry fee is $14 and there’s a two drink minimum.

But! If you’re on New York on a Tuesday night, I’d suggest checking out the weekly Sweet Comedy Show at the Slipper Room. It’s hosted by Seth Herzog, the opening guy for Jimmy Fallon. He’s so freaking great, really. We went for this the last time I was in New York, and it’s definitely comparable to Comedy Cellar – plus it’s $7, with no drink minimum. It’s really a bit of a local’s insider secret, so you’ll rarely get a tourist there, I only went because I had a friend who was a friend of Seth’s, and recommended it. Otherwise it’s practically impossible to hear of it – I googled it and it said the show’s run had ended, which obviously is untrue since, you know, I was there.

Like Comedy Cellar, they occasionally have celebrity appearances, but they dont announce it before hand because it’s a surprise. I dont know enough about the comedy scene to recognize anyone except Tina Fey, but I was lucky enough to catch comedy celebs both times when I went to Comedy Cellar and Sweet.

“SWEET”
TUES
The SLIPPER ROOM
(SW corner of Orchard and Stanton)
Doors at 8, Show at 9
$7

Note: If you’re new to comedy, I would definitely recommend that you attend at least one show in New York. It’s a fantastic experience, but go in with an open mind. They will pick on you, especially if you sit near the front. But it’s all in good fun, so don’t take it personally, and you’ll have an amazing time. Audience interaction often makes up a really fun part of the show, so just go with it!

Musicals

Ah, Broadway. The love of my life. Growing up as a choir girl, musicals have a really special place in my heart – but full priced tickets could give you a heart attack. I hear Hamilton tickets are going on the black market for about $900 each now…

The one thing you must know about Broadway is how to Rush.

Rush is basically slang for getting Rush tickets, or cheap day-of tickets. You can only buy them on the day of the performance at the box office, and they often go for about thirty bucks, as compared to the usual rate of, say, eighty? It’s great but not all shows have them. Phantom, for example, is so popular that it never goes on rush. Ever.

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But to be honest, I’ve never watched a bad musical in New York. Everything has been absolutely fantastic. I have my favourites, of course, but I cant imagine any musical you catch being bad. On my last week in New York, I randomly picked a musical to buy rush tickets for, and it turned out to be one of the best musicals I’ve ever watched!!! The musical in question is called Something Rotten, by the way. I went in blind, had no idea what it was about, and had such a great time. 10/10 would recommend.

You can get the full list of musicals on Rush here. Some places do a student rush as well, which is slightly pricier than general rush from my experience, but comes in handy when general rush tickets are sold out. For this you need a valid student ID, so bring yours if you’re young. You know what I mean.

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*A personal tip I have for if you want to catch Phantom is to go early and buy box seats. They go for $69, which is a really, really great price for such premium seats. They’re at that price because it’s supposed to be a mildly restricted view, but honestly, there’s no difference I think. These aren’t rush prices either, so you can buy them days in advance.

Shows

A great alternative to Broadway is to, well, catch off-Broadway performances. They’re cheaper, less mainstream, but normally just as good. I have no idea why they’re considered off-broadway, maybe because they appeal to a different audience? But my experiences with off-broadway have also all been great. One of the best night’s I’ve had in New York was spent off-Broadway at a Drunk Shakespeare performance in a hidden library off West Broadway. That’s exactly what it sounds like. Shakespeare, but played by actors who get increasingly drunk. I’ve never laughed harder in my life. Such talent!

The Drunk Shakespeare Company
http://www.drunkshakespeare.com
THE LOUNGE
300 West 43rd St, Level 2
Near 8th Avenue

I recommend this so hard I can’t even. You’ll also find that you can normally find groupons for shows like these. Which brings me to..

A Random Tip: Embrace the Groupon.

The groupon culture in New York is serious. Lots and lots of things have groupons that just stay on forever. I think it just helps with publicity for them, and it’s kind of a lifestyle thing. I know in Singapore we tend to feel like groupon deals can be a bit of a scam, but the attitude towards groupon is completely different in the States. You can find groupons for everything – meals, shows, experiences, even gym memberships. I bought a month long gym membership for a gym near my NYC place for $14, half the normal price of a monthly membership. Worth it? I think so.

An alternative to Groupon is LivingSocial. It’s like groupon, same concept, just might have different deals. So I would suggest scouring these two sites if you have something you know you want to do, or if you’re just looking for ideas.

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Did I mention that the gym membership also came with free classes, a movie room, a sauna, and free tanning sessions? Not too shabby for 14 dollars!


Museums

Some museums have a fixed entry rate, but to be honest, you can get into most museums for free or a really, really low rate. The Met, for example, is entry by donation, so you pay whatever you want. There are suggested rates, of course, but it’s up to you at the end of the day. You could even pay a dollar – I’ve seen people do it, and no one even bats an eye.

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The Met is one of the most breathtaking museums I’ve stepped into..

Other museums have timed free entry. MoMA is free on Fridays, and the Guggenheim has free entry during certain hours on Saturdays. It differs from museum to museum, so google dat shit.


Lastly.. getting back home

So you’ve had a great time in New York, the place where honestly, no time is enough time. There’s always more to do, more to see, more to fall in love with…

But I digress. All dreams must end, and parting is such sweet sorrow. You have to head back to the airport to go home, but cab rides to JFK are a flat fare of $59 before tip. It’s expensive, and you’re feeling even more broke by the end of your trip. So what do you do?

The cheapest way to get to the airport is the JFK Air train. It’ll set you back about five bucks, and plus the transfer from whatever previous train (probably the Long Island Rail Road) you had to take to get to Jamaica station which is $6.25 on weekdays (except rush hour in the peak direction) and $3.75 on weekends (CityTicket), you’ll spend about ten or fifteen dollars in total.

If you don’t want to pay almost seventy bucks for a cab (that’s nearly how much it is after tip, basically) but also don’t want to struggle with luggage and a train, then the way to go is a chinese car service. These private car service operators are usually located in Chinatown, and will get you to the airport from Manhattan for about $40, cash only, before tip. There are a bunch operating in NYC, the more popular ones being Good Luck car service, or New Golden Horse car service. Call in advance. They say you get a better rate if you speak in Mandarin, but I don’t know. Maybe my mandarin is so bad they can’t tell I’m speaking mandarin. Anyway. It’s significantly cheaper than taking a cab, so yes, would recommend this!

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Santacon in NYC, last year end

It’s always so hard to wrap up any travel post, but posts about New York.. just writing about it makes me feel like I’m back there again, and it’s always such a shock to look up from my screen and realise that I’m back home. Don’t get me wrong, I love being home too, it’s just that New York.. is where I’ve left half my heart. And the other half is always clamouring for a way to get back to it.

I have a bunch of plans for other New York posts coming up, but really, there’s no right way to do New York. It’s not the type of place that you go into with a roadmap of things to see – you do, but it’s not what makes it special. Rather, the city radiates a unique vibe that really envelopes you – either you love it or you hate it, but you cant deny that it’s, well, something. The city is so random, I made incredible friends with people just by standing beside them in a queue, I had a mini concert once in a yoghurt shop where a lady and I started harmonising randomly to a song on the radio which turned into a swing dance number, and I’ve heard life stories from countless Americans, the city always surprising me with how warm and open they are with their lives. And all I can do is go in with my palms open, waiting for something to happen, excited, trying to record whatever happens in a way that does it justice, and often failing.

But New York, oh, New York. You never do regret New York. It really is a city that breaks hearts, but never quite lets you go.

Till we meet again –

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x
Jem