#1963 | Jemma x Airbnb Osaka: All your Ghibli Dreams come true..

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imagesOsaka, Japan.
airbnb.com/jemma
All photos taken with the Nikon D5500

The stuff my childhood was made of: Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Laputa, My Neighbour Totoro, and so on.. there’s something about Studio Ghibli’s charm that endured all the way through till adulthood. A friend of mine wrote her thesis on how Miyazaki specialises in creating fairytales for adults, so maybe there’s something to that. Still, I’m getting carried away..

We spent one night in Osaka of transitory nature, an in-between night after the bulk of our Japan trip was done. Post Kyoto, one night in Osaka while preparing for our early morning flight out of Osaka’s Kansai International Airport. And one night out of the city centre, where living in a Miyazakian creation was suddenly and completely possible. We booked a huge traditional Japanese mansion in the outskirts near the airport on airbnb for a fraction of the price it would have been in the city centre. Just for scale – it was about $65 for a huge house catered for eleven people – and there were only three of us. Not the kind of place you would book for the entirety of your trip (the journey to the city centre would have been about half an hour each day), but the kind of place you stay in for experience’s sake. To be honest, I dont think we were expecting much of the place given that it was more of a stopover night for us, but once again Japan turned around and surprised us, as it does.

Where do we begin? Firstly, the mansion was situated in a quiet suburb, the kind of place you imagine families reside away from the dust and noise of traffic and towns. Walking to our place, we barely saw anyone, and then out of nowhere, like in a pop up book, a bright and completely random soft serve stand:

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Of course we bought our strawberry soft serve cones. I dont think anyone could pass by the ice cream stand and not buy anything – and we were as interesting to them as they were to us, the schoolgirls manning the booth got incredibly excited when they heard that we were from Singapore and demanded a selfie. I know – what? Already the place was starting to take on a dreamy sort of quality, the type of haze you get while watching a Ghibli film roll on..

We turned in after the soft serve stand and crossed a bridge where a dozen little turtles were sunbathing. When we got excited and started calling out to each other to point out the turtles, the tiny fellas rolled over and dropped into the stream as though they couldnt be bothered with us humans and our disruptive noises. I think that was it, really, the entire time we were in the suburbs I felt as though we were just visitors to a sleepy little set that couldnt be bothered with our existence. It was pleasantly calming.

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The turtles came back after an hour or so..

We reached our mansion soon enough. When I say mansion, I do mean:

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The place was huge – it must have had seven different rooms across two floors. It was the kind of house you see in scenes right out of My Neighbour Totoro, with animated children running across the house scattering giggling dust bunnies everywhere. In other words: I loved it.

When we reached, our host was happily hacking away at a tree growing out of the garden. “It’s out of order,” he explained cheerfully, then let us in the door while hacking at more branches. “I’ll be done in half an hour, then I’ll be on my way. Just close the door behind you when you want to check out tomorrow.”

“Is that safe?” We asked.

He looked confused for a moment, then shrugged. “You can leave the key in the mailbox if it makes you feel better.” Obviously neighbourhood safety wasn’t a major concern in these parts. I shook my city-bred head and tried to get used to the confidence of sleepy towns.

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It was like nothing I’d ever experienced. Even when staying in quiet towns across New Zealand, I’d never been afforded access to such a luxurious expanse of space. I think it might even have been a bit of a waste, having just the three of us stay – we barely touched the second floor. And so traditional! Before, we’d lived in snatches of tradition in rectangular apartments atop the city centre. But here, this was the real deal.

There wasn’t much to do in the suburbs, and even the train station seemed like a bit of an afterthought. However, when booking the place, we did some preliminary online scouting and realised that it was barely a couple of train stops away from the Rinku Outlet Village, which was right in between our apartment and the airport, so after checking in comfortably, we headed off to take a train to the outlet village.

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Now, I’ve been to outlet villages all over the world, so I think I’m more or less qualified to say that the Japanese, once again, have taken this as a sort of challenge to out-awesome all the other outlet villages in the world. Most outlet villages just consist a huge compound or space with “houses” playing store to different brands. The Rinku Outlet Village in Osaka had electronic children playpens, giant food compounds, a ferris wheel, and yes – a village of outlet stores. It was insane.

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Why do you need a ferris wheel in an outlet shopping mall?!? Beats me.

It seems like they took the idea of a village to mean family amusement park. And the best things is, the place was huge and accessible. I dont mean location wise, though it’s relatively easy to get to by train. I mean in terms of purchasing power. I dont usually enjoy outlet shopping because I’m not crazy into luxury items, and discounted luxury goods is basically still a really expensive bag that makes no sense to me. At the Rinku outlet village, though…

I dont even think I’ve ever bought so many things at an outlet compound before. There’s a huge GU there, which is basically the Japanese version of H&M on a budget. Quality of the clothes are great, the styles are timeless, and the clothes are – lets face it – unreasonably cheap for what you get. The other outlet stores go beyond the ordinary chain brands and include plenty of Japanese designers, which Candice loved. And if you got tired of shopping, the food options were so much better than any other outlet compounds I’ve been to: the queue for Godiva snacks snaked round and round.

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Us though, we went for Bagel & Bagel, a chain bagel eatery in Japan serving INCREDIBLE burger style bagels. The cream cheese used in the bagels.. were something else. 100% recommended.

We stayed all the way till nightfall. Rinku is situated at the edge of Osaka, I think, so if you walk all the way to the end of the shops and lean over the railing you can see the sun setting slowly over the sea. While waiting for Edwin to buy up his sports gear, I settled against a railing and watched. A few more stragglers wandered over. In the end, about fifteen of us stood there, watching the sun spill over the sea in slow motion. And you know what the incredible thing was? Not one of us took out a smartphone or camera to snap a picture.

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At the end of the day there we were, back in our apartment, having our last bowl of Japanese instant noodles and partaking in our last cans of shared fizzy beers. As most trips conclude, there’s always a lingering vibe reeking the absence of closure, last gasps of a country lamenting not enough time spent there. This time, however, we eased into our leaving through our transitory night in the Osaka outskirts. A bittersweet sense pervaded the house – but it was time to go home, and we were ready.

See you soon, Japan.

All apartments on this trip and more available at airbnb.com/jemma
x
♥jem

#1962 | Love Never Dies.. But should it?

Get ready for a long and rambling post.

I caught Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre on my last night in London. I can’t imagine myself ever being in London and not catching Phantom – as a twelve year chorister, I grew up with it, it’s my favourite musical, and London makes the arts so accessible. I mean, dollar for dollar, being able to catch an international classic at twenty pounds? No wonder creatives and creativity both breed like rabbits on heat. But I digress.

I’m a bit of a mess when it comes to Phantom – I sob violently the minute the curtain rises all the way till the last note is sung, and I obsess over the little details in the musical. This time round I found myself getting slightly angry at the orchestra for their liberal interpretation of the score and how their pacing stifled the swell of the music (I was so annoyed at this that I just had to say it although I know this is just rambling for anyone who hasn’t grown up in the performing arts), but all the same I suffered from intense musical hangover after the show and cried all the way back to our apartment. Actually – I cried all the way home to Singapore, with the soundtrack on repeat the entire plane journey home, giving a few air stewardesses quite a bad scare. I did say the musical put me in a mess..

Anyway. The point of this post is, upon returning to Singapore I was overcome with the urge to rematch the musical again and again, and started searching tour dates online, which is when I realised that there is a sequel to Phantom of the Opera. I cannot believe I never realised this before, given how much I love the musical, but okay. It opened 2010 on West End, and closed to largely negative reviews, before being reworked and opening in Australia for a short run. The name of the sequel is Love never Dies.

Obviously, I had to watch it.

Unfortunately, it was showing nowhere in the world mostly because everyone hated it, but they did have it filmed during their Melbourne run and released in blu-ray on youtube, with Ben Lewis and Anna O’Byrne playing Phantom and Christine respectively. The musical is set ten years after the events of Phantom concluded, where Mdm Giry and Meg (“Christine, Christine – where in the world have you been hiding?”) have smuggled the presumed dead Phantom to Coney Island, America. He runs a freak show carnival/ theme park, with Meg playing the onstage lead belting gaudy showtunes and kicking up in short skirts, trying to gain the Phantom’s approval while he secretly pines away for Christine. Man, that girl can not catch a break.

On the other hand, Christine is now married to a very grumpy Raoul, who has apparently spent all his money on gambling and drugs (really?). Their kid is ten, except it’s not their kid, it’s Christine and Phantom’s secret love child (really?). Apparently, they had one steamy night together before Christine got married, and Phantom pulled a disappearing act the morning after because he feared rejection. This, obviously, led Christine to assume he was dead (again, really?). The musical picks up where the world-famous soprano Christine arrives in America from Paris to sing at a gig, under invite by an unnamed theater owner. No prizes for guessing who.

In many ways, the musical is a bit of a disaster. First things first, it gives no regard to continuity or logic. Secondly, it reads more like a musical piece of fan fiction from an Phangirl who rooted for Phantom and Christine to end up together after POTO. Thirdly, in terms of musicality, the arrangement is a bit queer – the musical opens with it’s best song (“Till I hear you sing once more”), which is basically setting itself up for disaster. Also, although LND is musically proficient, it is lyrically a bit of a disaster compared to POTO. Lastly, and possibly the most fatal problem LND faces, the characters dont feel like the same characters anymore. I get that it’s been ten years and they’ve changed, but they’ve changed so much that a lot of their original qualities have been rubbed away. I mean, Raoul as a violent grumpy drunk? Really? Also, the musical ends with Christine dying. Because Meg shot her. Really?!


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But despite the technical failure of the musical, I found myself loving it. The score isn’t on the same level of musical proficiency as POTO’s score – I dont believe any other musical comes close to Phantom musically – but it has an enduringly haunting effect nonetheless. I sat in my bedroom and cried, listening to the soundtrack, and then I watched the filmed musical and cried some more. There’s a lot to love for the LND soundtrack if you consider it independent of the original Phantom score, and many of the songs work in Phantom chords to create a sense of musical, if not logical, continuity in the show. The Love never Dies soundtrack is available on Spotify here:


If you’re not watching the musical, I suggest reading the lyrics when listening to the soundtrack.

In terms of storyline, I read a zillion reviews online for LND hating on the musical. There are even fan pages against the musical called Love Should Die and Paint Never Dries, which is both hilarious and sad. I get that Phantom purists feel that the sequel somehow taints the original, and I agree with most of the points raised – I was upset that the Phantom’s original dangerous quality which gave him this unhinged edge was rubbed away and he became a moony lovesick man in the sequel. I didn’t like that Raoul became a drunk – that was a cheap shot, to me, a kind of easy way out. But the things I liked about the sequel I liked a lot.

For example, lets talk about Meg. I love that the sequel delves deeper into Meg’s psyche, which matches up so nicely with the fact that the last act of the original POTO closes with Meg discovering the mask and turning to face the audience.


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Meg discovering the mask at the end of POTO

Instead of just being a supporting showgirl in the Phantom canon, she turns into a complex character with a lot of believable motivation that carries over from the original POTO. She craves the same care and tutelage the Phantom gave Christine ten years ago – makes sense, since in POTO she was bugging Christine about her new teacher. She finally headlines her own show, only to have Christine show up and overshadow her with a new aria penned by the Phantom – and the way the older Meg was written really brings out the struggle between wanting the best for her old friend and feeling the resentment that one feels when something you’ve worked so hard for comes so easily to another. I mean, damn, they made Meg human. You really feel for her in the sequel.

And although I hate that Raoul became a drunk – again, a cheap shot, because stamping him with the label useless gambling drunk immediately signals to the audience that he is not the one you should be rooting for instead of trusting the audience to be intelligent enough to choose as with in the original musical – I can totally get behind the reason why his marriage is falling apart. In one of his solos (“Why does she love me?”), he details the reason for their eventual growing apart – he can’t give her the rush that music brings, he knows she yearns it, and he couldnt deal with that so he responded in bitterness. The exact line used: even as she sings/ and soars above me/ i try to clip her wings. Which is a shitty way to behave, but again, it is human. People can be little shits about their insecurities, and it echoes the couple’s exchange in the original musical (“Notes/ Twisted every way”) where Christine insists the Phantom will always be singing songs in her head and Raoul replies that unless they kill him he will haunt them until they are dead.

I’ve always been a Phangirl (can’t believe I’m using that term), because I strongly believe that at the core of every performer burns a desire for that which makes them tick – dance, music, theatre, etcetera.. which is why despite the Phantom being an obvious psychopath, I’d always felt like Christine should have gone with him because no one else can give her the music she needs, and I use the word needs because it is the fuel that makes her, who is in essence a performer, tick. This is why dancers date dancers and composers date sopranos. It’s all very Gone Girl. Cue Amy: What other girl has killed for you? You’ll never be able to go back to a normal, boring relationship, Nick Dunne. Our love is like the world’s sweetest cancer – it can go into remission, but it’ll never go away. Ten years later, Raoul links Christine’s music to her relationship with the Phantom and this insecurity causes him to act out bitterly, ergo, their marriage is failing. I see it; I believe it.

But what’s the point of this post? I guess at the end of the day what it is for me is this. A topic I’ve always hotly debated with all my friends post-musical is the If you were… one, ie. if you were Christine, would you choose Raoul or the Phantom? Interestingly most answers are unexpected. The people I expected to empathise with Phantom chose Raoul, and plenty of people who value stability above all else chose the Phantom. Which is to say that at the very least, it’s an interesting topic that carries the musical on to immortality, by keeping it alive in thought and conversation. But the question is answered by Andrew Lloyd Weber in his sequel, which to some extent, stunts the audience’s imagination. Despite the fact that I enjoyed the musical sequel, and that I enjoyed the soundtrack.. at the end of the day, should it have been made? I don’t know.

Regardless, if you’re a Phantom fan, then I think you’ll have to watch it to find out, even if you already know you’re going to hate it, just like how we ran straight into the trainwreck that was the later instalments of The Princess Diaries while knowing they sucked.. just to know everything that there is to know from what the canon contained.

The full musical is available on youtube, here’s part one:

After all, even if you do hate it.. it’s the kind of musical people either love, or love to hate. Either way, it guarantees a strong reaction, mostly of the teary variety.

All that typing has made me want to catch the original Phantom of the Opera onstage again. Ah well.

And to everyone else: yes, we return to regular, non ranty posts next week.

Till then –

x
♥jem

#1961 | Being Fancy in Hong Kong

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One of the things I really enjoyed in Hong Kong which I wanted to talk about but that didn’t fall into the brackets of hipster or broke student’s guide material was a really fancy night out at The Pawn. It was a rather spontaneous thing – when she saw that I was in HK from my instagram feed, Alison from CatchOn & Company reached out with an generous invitation for a personalised tasting at The Pawn, which sounded lovely and looked lovelier.

The Pawn is named such because the building used to house a pawn shop, but it has since been refurbished and is now a fine dining restaurant and bar helmed by Michelin starred chef Tom Aikens. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always had a soft spot for rooftop / outdoor bars because of the great view you’re afforded when dusk sets in. There’s just something about enjoying a mojito in fresh air while overlooking busy traffic that gets to me.. and The Pawn is known for being a favourite hangout for locals and expats alike.

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We wanted something casual, so instead of going full fine dining, we lounged with drinks, bar snacks, and good conversation by the balcony. Still, everything served was so delicious that what was originally meant to be a pre-dinner snack ended up stuffing us well and good for the rest of the night. Special mention goes to the salad, which tasted exquisite and like a Michelin starred salad, and to the pork ribs, which were done up so tender they reminded me of pork belly buns. It was all very casual and fancy and delicious at the same time, and surprisingly relaxing for such a classy establishment. And of course, the place was beautiful.

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The Pawn
62 Johnston Road Wan Chai, Hong Kong

After the meal we wandered back to our hotel, picking our way through the busy streets of Hong Kong which, in the evening, carries a certain old school charm. Too many Wong Kar Wai movies, I think, have softened and romanticised the city for me. We made our way back to the hotel and collapsed into an exhausted bundle on the soft white duvet as the city blinked and winked at us from the huge windows. Mira Moon hotel – another unexpected luxury we were so blessed to have received.

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x
Jem

#1960 | READY FOR PERFECTION: EPI-LASIK I

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Today we have the most tragic love story ever told – between me and my eyes. Since young, my eyes have been plagued with issues, always getting too dry, or red, or scratched up.. from The Accident last year till now, I’ve been in and out of the hospital five or six times for my eyes. It’s a classic love hate relationship. This tells you two things – that my eyes are ridiculous, and that I have a penchant for the melodramatic.

It really is the most ridiculous situation: me crying please, I just want to love you and my eyes going tough shit, love before making my life really, really painful. The amount of time I’ve spent in the hospital this year is so crazy, it can’t even be flipped into some sort of anecdote or joke. I’m so tired of the hospital, I said, wearily. What can I do? My doctor stared at me over the sterile eye testing machine and shrugged: You should probably start considering lasik.

I’ve been brought through the benefits of LASIK many, many times. I have friends who have done it and now swear that it’s changed their lives completely. My doctor thinks that it’s a good idea for me to do it young, to get more years out of it before longsightedness sets in with age. It might even clear up my chronic dry eyes. I know all this, but I’ve been holding out because the thought of paying for LASIK on top of repaying my student loans just put me off…

… which is proof that good things come to those who wait. Somewhere along the way, Sophie, the angel that she is, took pity on me and linked me up with Clearvision Eye Clinic & LASIK Centre, Singapore. (Clearvision, in short.) Wandering along the streets of Tokyo alone, I got a text from Clearvision and the rest, as they say, is history.

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Going contact lens-free so my eyes can rest before my LASIK surgery

Given my history with my eyes, it comes as no surprise that I’m a complete chicken when it comes to my eyes. I went down to meet Jolene from Clearvision half excited and half convinced that I wouldn’t be suitable for the procedure. Jolene, to her credit, kept a completely straight face while explaining the different types of LASIK procedures to me, despite me literally quaking. If you think I’m kidding, imagine this – everytime she mentioned the laser or blade or anything that would come near my eyeball, I flinched visibly. In the end she had to calm me down by telling me that she just did LASIK herself with Clear Vision last year end, and doesn’t she look completely alive and well now?

I am such a wuss.

Anyway. I keep referring to it as LASIK, when in reality, there are three different types of procedures that can give you perfect vision. LASIK itself refers to conventional LASIK, which is the first ever type pioneered, the type where they use a blade to surgically slice a flap off your cornea, operate on the tissue underneath, then replace the flap. It’s pretty safe but there’s a small possibility of post-op complications due to flap misalignment, dislodging, or something getting under the flap but it makes no difference to me because once Jolene said they use a blade.. I went YUP, NOPE, NOT DOING THAT. And yes, I flinched the entire time I was saying so.

Told you I was a chicken. It’s just as well anyway, because Clearvision doesn’t do conventional LASIK anymore in favour of the more awesome EPI-LASIK, which is what I decided to do in the end HURRAY.

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The colourful cheery Clearvision clinic is located conveniently right behind Paragon Shopping Centre on Orchard Road

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The official line on Epi-LASIK is that it’s a non-invasive, surface based procedure, safer procedure that is suitable for almost everyone, even if you have been rejected for LASIK. Basically, what that means is that it’s bladeless, takes about five minutes per eye, and will not cause dry eyes post-surgery, unlike LASIK. Also, more interestingly, it allows for future corrections to be made. From what I understand, LASIK is pretty much a once in a lifetime thing, but since Epi-LASIK cuts much less of the cornea tissue, it leaves the option of corrective surgery again in the future open.

There’s a lot of literature on epi-LASIK available online, but i’ll save it for when I’ve actually done the procedure so I can document my personal experience down on here. Right now, though, lets go back to the actual consultation session. Jolene also detailed a more recently developed procedure called ReLEx SMILE, but with it being so new, I’m a bit half half on trying it out because it isn’t as tried and tested as Epi-LASIK, which has been around for over ten years. So yes, I opted for epi-LASIK in the end.

Even then, I wasn’t sure if I’d be suitable for the procedure, especially with my eye history in mind. I went down to the clinic on a separate day for a Pre-LASIK evaluation, which all patients have to do, for them to check my eyes and decide if I’m suitable or not.

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During one of the eye-tests

The pre-LASIK evaluation takes about two to three hours, and involves a ton of tests that measure your cornea thickness (if its not thick enough you can’t do LASIK/epi-LASIK), subjective refraction, and so on. They dilate your eyes before the tests, so I suggest you don’t drive to the evaluation or make any major plans afterwards. I went for an event after the evaluation and looked like an idiot the whole time because I was squinting at everyone I spoke to, muttering it’s too bright it’s too bright the whole time.

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There’s also a waiting room lined with Dr Tony Ho’s multiple certifications and awards, to put you at ease knowing that you’re in good hands.

After all the tests (fun fact: turns out I have a pretty thick cornea lol), I went up to meet Dr Tony Ho, my eye surgeon, to let him personally check my eyes for any conditions or issues that the other tests may not have picked up. Dr Tony Ho founded Clearvision, and I believe he conducts all the operations himself. He also holds clinic in Mt. Elizabeth, right next to Clearvision, which is where the consultations are held. The entire time, I was jittering because the verdict was still not out on whether I was suitable for Epi-LASIK..


.. But as it turns out, I am!

*throws confetti around*

Everything was a bit of a blur after that. I remember heading from Mt.E back to the Clearvision clinic to make my appointment for surgery – initially for the following week, but we rescheduled it later on because my eyes started acting up again during my exam period (see what I mean?) and we decided it would be good to let my eyes recover fully first before doing anything to it. But because you have to stop wearing contact lenses for a couple of days before your evaluation and surgery, most people schedule them one day after the other, to minimise the number of days you need to be off contacts.

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Me, I’m playing it safe and sticking to glasses till the surgery :) I’m super excited, because beyond superficial convenience concerns (I mean, come on guys, not having to carry your glasses or contact lens case everywhere?), I travel so often that it’s actually a legitimate concern for me that my eyes might act up while I’m abroad and I won’t have access to medical support. I actually carry a ridiculous arsenal of eyedrops and medication when I travel, and I can’t wait for the day that I won’t need to do so anymore!

Sound good? To find out if you’re suitable for epi-LASIK, you can book an appointment by calling their LASIK hotline at +65 6100 2020 or by dropping them an email at doctor@clearvision.com.sg.

Address:
Clearvision Eye Clinic & LASIK Centre
6 Nutmeg Road
Singapore 228337
(Behind Paragon Shopping Centre, Orchard Road)
www.clearvision.com.sg

And if you quote my name, you get $120 off the entire eli-lasik package because i told you reading my blog is good for you, guys! Ha ha ha.

If you’re a scaredy cat like me who has always wanted to do epi-LASIK but #scared, you can hold on till I document a blow by blow account of my epi-LASIK procedure here once I actually do it! So, till then, I’m going to be eye dropping and resting my way to surgery, and I’ll see you guys on the other side. x

x
♥jem

#1959 | The Broke Student’s Guide to Hong Kong

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imagesHong Kong, China.
All photos taken with the Nikon D5500

Another one for my BSG: Asia segment. It really was a matter of time, before I hit HongKong. We did HongKong at the end of June, as part of a collaboration with Skyscanner and HKTB, which is something I am very excited about because I’ve been using Skyscanner forever and to finally begin a professional relationship with them is something I’d never even imagined could happen! If you’ve read my 24hr guide to Hipster Hong Kong, you’ll already know that my first brush with Hong Kong was less than ideal. This trip for me was a way of redoing a semi-familiar place in a way that would make it my own unique experience – not something set out and dictated for me by a tour agency – and it turned out so well that I couldnt have asked for anything more :)

Let me first say that I wasn’t particularly frugal on the trip. At least, it didn’t feel that way. I budgeted 400SGD for a 4D3N trip, and it was more than enough – which I think is decent given how most of my trips to Bangkok see me spending over a thousand dollars. The allure of four dollar tank tops that fall apart after two washes are too much to bear. Given how HK is more metropolitan and expensive than BKK, I think 400SGD expenses and below is pretty workable for most students looking for a short getaway – I even had spare cash left over after the trip.

Pre-trip planning

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Best fare comparison site ever

Skyscanner covered my flight and accommodation, so I didn’t have to worry about that, but usually when planning for a trip my first step is always to use Skyscanner to run a search across all airlines and airfares. I dont know why more people aren’t aware of this, but Skyscanner is a completely free search/farecomparison service that doesn’t take a cut off your booking – in fact, when you make payment you’re actually redirected to the airline site itself. You can also book hotels and hire cars off it, but my primary use for it remains flight searches. You can also run a search for the lowest fares across a whole calendar month, which is what I usually do if my dates are flexible – it’s much easier to get the cheapest possible fare that way.

Getting to and fro the Airport

Hong Kong is one of the most efficient cities I’ve been in in terms of airport accessibility, which is more important than one would think because it makes for a very stress free travel experience.The Airport express train will cost you 100HKD to Hong Kong Station (it’s the name of a train stop), and is extremely comfortable – it gets you to the city in about 45 minutes, so I definitely recommend this over taking a cab. Note: Some hotels offer free coach transfer services from Hong Kong Station itself, so check with your hotel on that.

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HK International Airport

When getting back to the airport, make use of the HK In-City Check in service, which is a stroke of pure genius. HK Station has an airport counter which caters to most, if not all, airlines that fly in and out of HK. You can check in, drop off your baggage, and then go walk around the city centre some more till it’s time to train in to the airport for boarding. Genius!!!!!! I dont know why more cities dont do this!

Transport within HK

Transport within HK is relatively affordable, about the same as in SG, I think. You pay for your rides with an Octopus card which looks nothing like an Octopus, so I think that’s just HK trying to be cute. We topped up 100HKD for 4D3N and used less than half of it, not counting to and fro the Airport. You can use the Octopus card to pay for purchases at some stores too, like 7-11 or whatever, so you can just drain your card of value there if you’ve got leftover cash at the end of your trip.

Popular modes of transport in HK include the train, bus, tram, ferry, and taxi. The train is the fastest, the bus is the most scenic, and the tram is the most classic. Ferries are supposed to be really really cheap, like 3-4HKD/trip, but it’s a huge regret of mine that we didn’t manage to take one this time – there just wasnt time. Taxis are great if you’re looking to go out and about at night, because they’re relatively cheap and don’t have midnight/peak hour surcharges to the best of my knowledge.

Accommodation in HK

I don’t have any cheap recommendations for this but I put this section in anyway because I know people will ask. My accommodation was covered by Skyscanner, and they put me up in this amazing 4.7star hotel called Mira Moon which I absolutely adored but which I believe isn’t cheap either, so if you’re looking for cheap accommodation you might need to trawl travel forums or ask around for this.

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The luxurious Mira Moon hotel..

Food in HK

Let’s just say it: Food in HK isn’t cheap. It’s not outrageously expensive, but it’s just not cheap. I dont know if I’m doing it wrong, or something, but most of the places I hit were recommended by locals so I dont think so..? But I felt like it was more expensive than Singapore to eat out in HK – a basic plate of rice with roast meat costs about 30++HKD, which is about 7SGD, whereas you can get a decent plate of the same in Singapore for 3-4SGD.

On the other hand, it is loads cheaper to drink in HK. The hotel we stayed in – Mira Moon Hotel – had a 250HKD champagne buffet every evening for two hours. That’s 45bucks for free flow champagne. Unheard of. A local also recommended this place in Kowloon which I dont remember the name of (lol sorry) where you can get oysters and wine for an incredibly cheap price. They just have really, really good deals for fancy night outs is what I think.

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Champagne buffet at the hotel we were staying at

Things to eat in HK include Dim Sum, Roast Meat Rice, Beef Brisket Noodles, and HK Pastries. Besides what I recommended in my 24hr Guide to Hipster Hong Kong, here are some other things we enjoyed:

1. HK Pastries: Egg tarts from Tai Cheung and Wife Biscuits from Hai Heung.

I’ve already waxed lyrical about the Tai Cheung egg tarts, so on to the wife biscuits. I’m personally not a fan of Wife Biscuits because I dont like the sticky insides, but these were so strongly recommended that I had to try them. Hai Heung is a chain that is apparently better than all the old established brands according to some of my friends’ parents who are HK-frequenters, so I trust them because #respect. The most convenient outlet is the one in Sogo’s basement, the mall connected to Causeway Bay’s Train Station. It’s pretty inexpensive and besides buying them home for my family, I bought one to try on the spot and I think it’s safe to say that it’s the only wife biscuit I’ve ever enjoyed in my life, ever.

It also does very good char siew triangle pastries which I feel sorry for because I think they deserve more credit instead of just being overshadowed by the wife biscuits.

2. Roast Meat Rice

We were recommended quite a few places but the reality of travel is, most times you can only make it to whatever is nearest to you, recommended or not. If you live in the city and have all day to travel to wherever, that’s a different story. Anyway, we collapsed into this random eatery near the train station in Sheung Wan, and it turned out to be really good!

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Yum

Ok la to be fair on the way out we saw that it was on the Michelin Guide. But yeah, moral of the story is, even if you duck into a random place for HK roast meat it can turn out to be pretty decent too 😀

Unfortunately this rule does not apply to dimsum, because we popped into a random restaurant (all the ones we wanted were closed wtf and we had a flight to catch) and it was quite dismal. On the plus side, now we know that Swee Choon in Singapore can make better dim sum than some HK places.

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Cindy is not impressed

Things to do in HK

On the plus side, the things to do in HK were relatively cheap. I’m particularly proud of this road trip we did to Stanley, a whole different part of the island, given that both of us can’t drive. Yeah, well, whatever. We took a bus from Exchange Square (6 or 6A will go), ran like kids for top-deck seats, and then took a two hour loop journey around HK, to Stanley, and then back to HK Central. We got to see the mountains and beaches and the bay area and it cost us seven HKD. Plus, it was damn hot in HK when we were there and we saw the island from the comfortable air-conditioned bubble of a bus, which was super awesome, okay?

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Sights from the bus

Most of our activities included just walking around the city to sight-see on foot, and popping into interesting corners without actually buying anything, haha. Hollywood street was an interesting area, chock full of strange looking shops – you can spend an entire afternoon just being mesmerised by the weird and interesting things on sale.

One of the things that also stood out to us was the former Police Married Quarters, shortened now to PMQ, which I also mentioned in my 24hr Guide to Hipster Hong Kong. It’s now a complex full of pop up stores and exhibitions catering to local budding artists, and it was really interesting to just spend a couple of hours browsing the place!

Special Segment: Reader Suggestions

HongKong was really a case of too much to see, too little time. I was especially touched because this trip, some of you sent me really awesome suggestions that I really appreciated but didn’t get to see due to a lack of time/ stomach space. One reader even sent me a super long email full of suggestions because he had stayed in HK for three months on internship before! Gan dong si le. So I decided to just include a list of suggestions that stood out, from all of those sent to me, so that any of you headed to HK can decide whether to include them or not when planning :)

HK local options

A few people left comments on my instagram raving about dimsum at Prince Edward – I believe a place called One Dim Sum serves really good and cheap dimsum, which we really really wanted to go to but which was too far out of the way. Other places recommended to us include Dim Dim Sum at Causeway Bay, Che’s Restaurant at Wan Chai, and Social Place in Central. And one reader swears he discovered his love for dimsum in Sha Tin, in the Wo Che district, where apparently there’s a small place only open till 5pm which serves amazing liu sha bao. Map your way to Wo Che Estate Cooked food stall and it should be right beside it.

HK cafe options

Capitol Cafe down Mong Kok apparently had really good truffle egg toast, as recommended by Xiaoqi, but we never managed to make it there.

HK non-local options

A reader swore to me that the best korean BBQ he ever had was from a place called Kaya, at Causeway Bay. Pricey, but really yum. 6/F, 8 Russell Street, Causeway Bay. Also, apparently ramen in HK is better and cheaper than in Singapore, though I didn’t get to put this to the test.

If you’re a fan of macarons, there’s also a Pierre Herme Paris outlet in the ICF mall 1, at Hong Kong Station.

HK coffee-drinker cafes

Here are a list of cafes sent over by Pamela from Skyscanner, recommended by their HK office:

o Café DeadEnd (with really good outdoor seats, good ambience, away from the crowd but actually in city centre)

o Common Ground

o Elephant Ground (quite small, but special as it is like a hipster shop combined with a coffee shop, and home made ice cream cookie)

o Fuel Espresso (but it’s inside a mall not very fancy)

o 18 Grams (became a chain coffee shop already)

Nightlife

Lang Kwai Fong is apparently the place to be if you want a taste of local nightlife. It’s quite a polarising place – you either love it or hate it. We didn’t actually get to hit LKF because we were very lame and old and fell asleep for four hours in our hotel room when we went back to freshen up, but we did want to hit this particular bar recommended to us by Ian, who works in Mira Moon Hotel, called Insomnia. Apparently it has fantastic live music.

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Hanging out at the IFC

Wrapping up

Alright, so that’a about it from me. One of the things that stood out for me on this trip was the outpouring of warmth and helpfulness from everyone around me who knew that I was headed to HK – I’ve never gotten such enthusiastic recommendations for any other destination before, and the reactions I got when I announced my impending trip to HK on instagram were really heartwarming! It was honestly touching to receive so many detailed recommendations and lengthy emails that I could tell took effort to write, so that’s something I was really grateful for on this trip and I hope I did a decent job on passing the recommendations on, even if I didn’t get to hit them all myself, bc sharing is caring, people.

Thank you to all of you who left me recommendations and suggestions and who wrote me emails – I genuinely appreciate it! And thank you to HKTB and Skyscanner for sending me on this trip as well :) Till next time, Hong Kong.

x
Jem