2069| July’s To-watch Recommendation – Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling

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Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling

The second season of GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling) dropped on Netflix a couple of weeks ago and my word it is excellent.

I fell in love with GLOW last year – it was released quietly (relative to other Netflix originals like Stranger Things or 13 Reasons Why) but quickly gained a loyal following for its 80s-rewind retro vibe, fresh concept, and satirical take on showbiz and women in hollywood. The show follows Alison Brie playing Ruth Wilder, a failed actress who auditions for a new women’s wrestling reality TV show called GLOW. The season chugs on at full speed as the cast of diverse actresses hired to play the worst stereotypes of their racial profiles come together and try to film a successful pilot episode, and there’s a lot of glitter, hair spray, and chokeslams. But the real heart of the show lies in the conflict between the two main leads, Alison Brie’s Ruth and Betty Gilpin’s Debbie, long time best friends who fell out because Ruth slept with Debbie’s husband (twice).

Season one establishes the story in a fun and dynamic way, but it never loses sight of the fact that sequins and spandex aside, the story is about the fractured relationship between the two leads. At the end of the first season, after a successful show, Brie asks Gilpin out for coffee, only to be rejected. “We’re not there yet,” Gilpin says, and it’s disappointing, but realistic – a splinter that deep does not get redeemed over the course of one season, closure be damned.

So, season one was great. I would have been ok if it ended there. Second seasons are always dicey, and I didnt think GLOW needed to risk undoing everything with a sequel just for the ratings. But I am so, so glad it got renewed, because the second season is even better than the first.

Season two is not perfect – ambitious and consequently uneven, but it is stunning in its efforts.

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One of my favorite episodes in season two centered around the relationship between Gilpin and Kia Stevens, who’s ring-persona is the offensively titled Welfare Queen

The female friendship between Brie and Gilpin was the anchor of season one, and in season two it is explored even more painfully. It reminds me of Ferrante’s brand of female friendship, one that is not afraid to explore the toxic and competitive tension between women, one that poses realistic yet difficult questions. It is to the showrunners credit that we are never truly able to take a side – because the characters are both so flawed, so deeply real, that you cannot help but empathise. This anchor branches out throughout the season to comment on the modern #MeToo movement, the way female power in the workplace is framed by male authority, the struggles of balancing motherhood and career, and the commodification of women in hollywood.

But beyond that, season two wrestles with larger issues like LGBT acceptance in the 80s, child support and teenage relationships, and it even manages to work in an arc about AIDS, which is present without being ever mentioned explicitly. That is a lot to take on for a ten episode season, which results in aforementioned unevenness. But the attempt to fully flesh out every topic they touch on as well as give all the wrestlers more back story, more show time, more character development, is so earnest that one can forgive the occasional missteps – which occur primarily in the show’s pacing, and not the actual storyline anyway.

It’s sobering that the issues faced by the characters in the 80s are still so relevant to the world today in 2018, and perhaps that is kind of the point. It’s kind of amazing that despite dealing with all these huge issues, GLOW never turns preachy (a problem Orange is the New Black, also by Jenji Kohan, suffered from in Season 5). Instead, it tackles them in the best way possible – by acknowledging the issues, slapping some glitter on, then jumping into the ring with them. The result? Taking season two into account, GLOW is now one of the best shows on Netflix. Watch it.


Season Two of GLOW is now streaming on Netflix.

Looking for more entertainment recommendations? You can read the rest of my monthly pop culture recommendations here

x
Jem

#2068 | yabasic

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Georgina’s 26th

We threw G a super basic birthday party last year to celebrate not just her 25th but also her homecoming after years and years of living in the big apple. One year has passed and she’s still as basic as ever (she brought like, gouda pizza to our christmas party when we asked for pepperoni, and ordered my fried-chicken-lovin best friend an avocado on toast for brunch when he wasnt looking..) and so we thought, same theme, bigger party, more basic.

Rose gold foil balloons, basic bitch catch phrases, matcha dark chocolate cake, cheese and meat platter with wine on one end of the room and fried chicken and nuggets on the other.. of course she loved it. And we love her. Happy twenty sixth, G. Although when she was insisting that she was only 16, we all exchanged looks: who’s going to tell her that pretending to be ten years younger than you are is like, so basic?

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x
Jem

#2067 | adventures in hong kong – sham shui po

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Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong

It is summer and I am in Hong Kong, city of asian ambition and frenzy, flour and dough and neon lights. I’m staying on the other side of the river this time, the Kowloon side, which is new to me because the last four times I was in Hong Kong I was freaking out over 1. Disneyland 2. Dim sum and 3. Lan Kwai Fong. The classic tourist experience, in other words. But this time being based in Tsim Tsa Tsui it seemed a good chance to visit the Hong Kong of locals, going deeper into Kowloon than I’d ever been before. So a couple of days ago I hopped onto their MTR (Hongkong’s train system is so extensive and fast, it’s seriously convenient) and headed in the direction of Sham Shui Po.

Sham Shui Po is one of Hong Kong’s oldest neighbourhoods, a dense residential hub that, like most of Hong Kong, doubles as a bustling end-all. When I was in a bar a few days before, the locals described it as the place to go for anything you needed. Phone wires, leather strips, beads.. Why would I come to Hong kong to buy beads?! I asked, and they looked at me. You wont know you need it till you see it..

Alright, I was intrigued. Off I went to Sham Shui Po, apparently bead city, and here I am with the things you have to check out the next time you’re in Hong Kong. And yes, they do include beads:

1. Hong Kong Kung Wu Beancurd Factory

But let’s get to the beads later. This Michelin-recommended tofu shop was hands down the best thing about Sham Shui Po for me because I love Soya bean milk, I love tofu, and I adore the traditional asian ones too, none of that vegan western variation. Even within Asian culture, tofu varies. The Taiwanese like it chewier, the Chinese like it softer, the Japanese like it in their skincare products. Me, I hold that all tofu is good tofu. Like most chinese people, I grew up eating tofu, and to me, tofu isn’t just quick comfort food, it’s nostalgic because everyone I knew grew up eating tofu and soy pudding with our families. It’s local, it’s cheap, and it tastes like family memories.

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Blocks and blocks of tofu for eating in or take out

So of course I had to hit up the beancurd factory. Kung Wu is a super retro little shop, brimming with locals, very affordable. You hustle for a table either inside the store or along the back alleys, and most of the time you share a spot with other tofu seekers. Your order gets taken almost immediately, so think fast. And then within minutes you’ll be digging into some kind of soy.

Despite earning a nod from the Michelin guide, the place is still very much a local haunt and hasn’t been overrun by tourists. I might have been one of the only two tourist units in the shop, everyone else seemed confident of their space the way locals are. The woman we shared our table with told us she lived upstairs. I eat here every day, she said. Morning, before work, night, after work, afternoon, snack. All good.

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Back alley seating outside the shop

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Soya bean milk, Mixed deep fried items (deep fried tofu, tofu puff and golden fish, soya cake), Traditional tofu pudding

I was with a girlfriend and we ordered a bunch of things to share. Everything was excellent. It was all fantastic – simple, yes, but the soy tasted exactly like what God intended soy to be. The soy pudding was silky and smooth, with the option of raw sugar added on top DIY style, the soya milk was a very precise kind of sweet, delicious without being cloying, and the fried tofu smeared with fish pastes and such were so, so, so good. We also ordered carrot cake, which i dont think has anything to do with soya, but it was phenomenal.

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One of my favorite dim sum dishes – the asian carrot cake

Kung Wu is just one of those places that proves you dont need to spend a bomb to have damned good food. The tofu pudding was 12HKD (2SGD), the soya milk 10HKD (1.70), and the mixed platter 15HKD (2.60). My girlfriend later commented that she would travel from Hongkong Island to Sham Shui Po exclusively for the tofu. It was that good.

Kung Wu Beancurd Factory
Hong Kong, Un Chau, Pei Ho St, 118號號
MTR Sham Shui Po Station, Exit B2.
830AM – 8PM daily
Phone: +852 2718 0976

2. Traditional cakes and nuts

Rifting off the theme of food, the traditional face of Sham Shui Po really shows itself in the little homemade cake and nut shops that you can find walking around the neighbourhood. These shops are catered exclusively to the locals, it seems, and they’re mainly family stores. The one I visited was in the center of Sham Shui Po, sandwiched in between a medicine shop and butcher, hidden behind colorful tents selling socks and the like on the main road. It was recommended by a friend who lives in Hong Kong, but she had no idea what the shop was called. She only had a photo of the interior, which she forwarded to me, with the caption they dont make em like this anymore.

No name, no problem. Adventure, as they say, is out there. I downloaded the photo onto my phone and accosted a friendly neighbourhood policeman who had no choice but to smile at me and walk me in the right direction. After a couple of wrong turns, I found the shop staring back at me, a vibrant manifestation of the photo I had on hand.

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I immediately took a photo of the signboard for reference. The shop, I later translated, is called San Lung Cakeshop

They truly dont make em like this anymore. These chinese traditional cake shops are rare even in Hong Kong, and finding this was a delight. In a short conversation with the owners, limited mainly by my incomprehensible grasp of mandarin, I established that they not only bake everything in house, they also roast the nuts themselves.

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Some home made pastries and cakes

The shop is stocked full of sticky steamed cakes, traditional mochis, sugar sponge cakes, sesame rolls, soft fried dumplings, peanut glutinous rice rolls, horseshoe rolls, wife cakes, cococnut cakes, roasted peanuts, chestnuts, fish skin nuts… goodness. It was like the ultimate Asian candy shop.

I really had to confront my not-so-inner fat kid here. Stop it! I told myself. You literally can not eat the whole shop. But my word, i certainly wanted to. I ended up buying some small items to snack on, and a bag of nuts and mochi for a friend I was to meet for dinner later in the day. As I bit into the red bean mochis and lingered outside the shop, considering if I should get more, I thought to myself how obvious the difference in quality is when something is handmade vs factory produced. This, again, is a big thing in Chinese culture especially, because food is never just food to us, it is care and concern and a way of showing love in a verbally conservative culture, and somehow that gets transcribed into the pressed dough of dumplings, of buns. It’s something we’ve always subconsciously known, but recently started thinking about out loud more I guess, thanks to the short film Bao that’s currently screening before each showing of The Incredibles.

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Red bean sesame mochi, regular red bean mochi

生隆餅家 San Lung Cake Shop
Hong Kong, Sham Shui Po, Pei Ho St, 68號
7am – 8pm daily
+852 2360 1359

3. Craft

Lest you think Sham Shui Po is all about food, let’s get back to the beads that brought us here to begin with. It turned out that beads were just an easy way of referencing the hundreds of craft shops in the area, chock full of leather, string, diamantes, buttons, lace, tape, and yes, beads. Sham Shui Po is actually known for its cheap shopping and craft shops, which are at every turn and corner. The cheap shopping is literally just cheap clothing shops, which I’m ambivalent about because my interest in shopping comes and goes, but boy oh boy, the craft shops. Those are intense.

At first I thought you would have to be some kind of hardcore scrapbooker to be interested in these shops, but now I think anyone who is even remotely competent in DIY craft will find Sham Shui Po to be a dream.

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Multicolored crafting frenzy

What would this place hold for me? I wondered. Probably just some curious sights. But no – I left with some leather cord for a forgotten charm I bought awhile back, assuming that at some point I would find a chain for it and turn it into a necklace, then never stumbling upon any. Well, till now.

If I had more time I might have bought some furballs and turned them into keychains, some leather to bind a book, some sticky diamantes to adhere to the back of my phone… but more time is always the limiting factor, and so, dazzled and bedazzled, I moved on..

4. Electronics

And into more frenzied territory. I caught sight of the Golden Computer Arcade, and remembered that Sham Shui Po was also known for its electronic wares. So I ventured in and immediately was swept up in an insane mass of bodies, all scrambling for wires, chargers, and more obscure gadgets that I never thought I needed but made total sense. Hong Kong is an expensive city in general, but for some reason, electronics are known to be cheaper here, cameras, phones, the like. Many photographers I know to go Hong Kong to buy their lenses for this reason, and while I didnt do a side by side comparison, the prices in the complex seemed pretty decent.

I left without buying anything – crowds make me slightly panicky, and as it is, I have way too many wires for my own good at home, I’m a bit of a hoarder. I dont think I would come to Sham Shui Po specifically for electronics, but if you’re already here, and happen to need an extra phone charger, the electronics crowd sure is an experience.

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Mad squeezy for pretty cheap

Golden Computer Arcade
Golden Building, 146-152 Fuk Wa St
+852 2729 2101
11AM to 10PM daily

5. Dumplings

It seems that we have come back to food. I was very impressed by some vegetable dumplings in Sham Shui Po, and when I mentioned this later on to some hongkong-based friends, they told me that the area was known for dumplings. It is starting to seem like Sham Shui Po is known for everything, a jack-of-all-trades sorta thing. But I’m not complaining. This only reinforces the idea that Sham Shui Po is extremely local to me, the idea of multitasking and diversification quintessentially in line with the idea of Modern Asian City.

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Pan fried dumplings

We visited Yuen Fong Dumplings, a traditional Shanghainese restaurant known for their dumplings. It seemed the prevailing online opinion that despite their rather extensive menu, dumplings were the only thing worth trying, and anyway, my friend and I had come from the Soya eatery and were pretty full. So we ordered just one serving of their pan fried vegetable dumplings and were instantly impressed – they were excellent. Obviously freshly made and fried to perfection. Yum, yum. Later I realised that this shop was also a stop on HongKongFoodieTours’s Sham Shui Po tour, which I assume means it’s one of the more prolific dumpling shops in the area.

Yuen Fong Dumplings
Sham Shui Po, Fuk Wa St 104
9am to 10pm daily

6. Ha Ji Mian

Another local recommendation – 蝦子麵; pronounced as “ha ji mian”. I didn’t think I could be surprised by noodles any more but here I was staring down an unfamiliar variation of the noodle family. Ha Ji Mian basically means prawn roe noodles, the ha ji referring to dried shrimp roe. It’s used as a seasoning, and as the shrimp roe dries and shrinks, the flavor intensifies. Scattered generously over a serving of dry noodles, and then served up with a side of fresh wonton soup, the final product is a hit amongst many. And if you’re in Kowloon, Lau Sum Kee is the place for your hit.

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Lau Sum Kee – a local legend

The shop itself is tiny, as usual, and the walls are plastered with photos of supposedly famous people eating there. The place is listed on several foodie lists – Time Out, That Food Cray, even Vogue has covered Lau Sum Kee for their handmade noodles. Almost everyone else in the shop is having the Ha Ji Mian, so I felt assured in my choice. And it didn’t disappoint. It’s an intense experience if you don’t know what to expect – I’m used to my noodles slick with sauce or drenched in soup, and I nearly sneezed on my first bite because of the powdery shrimp roe. Your first bite tastes overwhelmingly like condensed shrimp, but as you chew, the flavors separate, and you can taste the springiness of the noodles, the bite of the shrimp roe. The noodles are served al dente, kneaded using a bamboo pole, and again, the difference between handmade and machine made food prevails.

It’s new to me, and it took awhile to grow on me, but it definitely lived up to what it was supposed to taste like – shrimp roe noodles. And the fresh shrimp wonton was delicious – an actual whole shrimp wrapped in dumpling skin, as opposed to the usual ground meat variation.

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This was pretty spectacular

Lau Sum Kee Noodle
48 Kweilin St, Un Chau, Hong Kong
1130AM-930PM daily

7. Blind dates

Ending off with a twist. Just as I was about to leave Sham Shui Po, I was alerted to the presence of a blind-date vending machine ten minutes out from the train station. Whaaat? Of course I had to hunt it down. Some google mapping and navigating later, and voila – I found myself outside a reptile pet shop in a decidedly more residential part of the neighbourhood, staring down the Fate Capsule vending machine.

The vending machines were created by the young owner of the pet shop – called BT Reptile and also worth a pop in, if only for the snakes and giant turtles. How it works: people sign up online and input their particulars and fun facts about themselves. They are then curated by Ben (the owner) and his girlfriend, verified for authenticity (he adds them all on WeChat to prevent spammers and also filters out the weirdos at the same time), then each individual profile is printed and put into a capsule ball. For the low low price of HKD20 (SGD3.46), you can choose from the male/female machines and get a capsule with your potential date inside.

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Fate Capsule vending machines

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Here’s a picture of the reptiles in the shop for good measure. Hopefully your blind dates arent as cold blooded as them!

It’s a very old school idea of blind dating, putting the novelty of surprise back into the interaction. The rationale? “If you meet your boyfriend on dating apps and tell your parents, most likely they will doubt if he’s reliable; but imagine you meet him via a capsule toy — they will probably be like: how cute is that!” (Interview with Coconuts HK)

Part of the idea’s success draws from the fact that it is supposedly very hard to get a decent date in Hong Kong, especially since there’s still a tinge of traditionalism that creates a resistance to dating apps. The chance factor of the machines, I think, appeals to the romantic inside each individual. In any case, it’s become so popular that there’s actually a two week waiting time for men to get their particulars into the system – and they’ve had to cap the number of capsules sold per day, to, in the owner’s words, “slow down” the process, make it seem more like traditional blind dating. The day’s limit was already reached when I visited the shop, but even if there were leftover capsules, I dont think I’d have bought one because I cant help but think it’d deprive some hopeful heart out there of their blind date!

BT 爬蟲 (BT Reptile)
偉 志 里 2 號 金玉 商場 208 號 地舖, Hong Kong
Shek Kip Mei neighborhood
1-7pm daily
Enter “BT Reptile” into Google Maps to navigate
https://www.facebook.com/fatecapsule/

Wrapping up

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From blind dates to dumplings, leather cords to soya milk, Sham Shui Po really does seem like a melting pot of Hong Kong’s local quirks and culture. I hope this guide helped you plan out your own trip there – just remember to show up hungry, because man, those dumplings.. that soy pudding…

Don’t forget – Hong Kong is only a three hour flight and a couple hundred bucks away. I booked my tickets (full fare, economy flight, thank you very much) by running a search for my dates on Skyscanner, a metasearch engine for travel. If you’re new to it, I also have a guide to Skyscanner written awhile back – which shows you how to get the cheapest tickets to the destination of your choice. And since I am mega helpful, here is a direct link to pull flight prices to Hong Kong across all carriers so you can easily compare prices. You can also find more on things to do in Hong Kong during the summer at the Discover Hong Kong site. As you can tell – it’s all about pre-trip planning, you guys.

Till next time –

x
Jem

This post was brought to you by Skyscanner and the Hong Kong Tourism Board

#2066 | the broke student’s guide to warsaw

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Warsaw, Poland

I arrived in Poland fully expecting to love it and I was not disappointed. I also arrived in Poland fully expecting to pen one or more Broke Student Guides, and you will not be disappointed. High hopes, high hopes, you guys. Here we go.

Getting to Warsaw

Poland’s national airline PLL LOT launched their SG-WARSAW direct flight last year, which takes 12.5hours and costs about a thousand dollars. I ran a couple of random dates and got prices from 800 to 1100SGD, so I think if you’re flexible with dates you should be able to get a round trip to Warsaw at about 800 bucks.

To and fro the airport, you can take a cab or uber. Our taxi ride from the city center to the airport cost us 32Zlt with a 20Zlt surcharge because we requested a big cab (lots of luggage). That’s a total of 52 Zlt, or 19SGD, which is really affordable, especially if you split it with friends. Even cheaper if you dont have a ton of luggage like us! Haha. It only took ten minutes, even thought google maps said half an hour. Stranger things have happened, but it was a nice surprise regardless.

Oh yes – one more thing. You do not need a visa to go to Poland, you can stay for up to 90 days as a tourist.

SIM Cards

You can buy a SIM card from most convenience stores around, I got mine at the airport. There are many options but I went with ORANGE because I read that it has the best coverage throughout poland. It was mad cheap too. It was 7zlt (2.50SGD) for a sim card, 30 days validity, and with SEVEN GB of data. M A D N E S S. For reference, in Germany the month before I paid freaking 25 euros for a lousy 2.5gb of data. That’s almost 50 bucks!

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this is what it looks like

It was so cheap that i bought 2 sim cards, one for each phone (i have 2 numbers). Haha. It’s a plug and play system, so put it in, wait awhile, and it should start working without much fuss.

If you’re going to be staying a week or less, there’s another service provider called PLAY that offers UNLIMITED data for 19zlt, but the sim is only valid for 7 days. Also, we saw this other SIM that offered 10GB of data for 5zlt, but Christabel bought it and said it didn’t work as well, so nevermind that.

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too good to be true? she said it didnt work well outside warsaw, so maybe keep that in mind if youre going to be travelling to different parts of poland

Cash, Credit, etcetera?

Poland uses their own currency, the zloty. The exchange rate is about 2.74 in our favor. If you change your money literally anywhere besides the airport, you’ll get a pretty decent rate. But it’s worth noting that Poland is super credit card friendly, even random pushcarts selling coffee are likely to have credit card machines, so I’d only change a small amount of zloty and charge the rest to a miles card if I were you. This is also because the chances of being able to change zloty back to SGD is pretty low, Singapore doesnt even stock the zloty so you’d have to change it to euro then from euro back to SGD.. it’s just a whole hassle.

Most places also have paywave enabled, so if you have a paywave card youre basically just tapping as you go, it’s mega convenient and way better than trying to sort out your zloty. The only things I needed cash for were those random toilets that charged entry fees, luggage storage/lockers, and like this one super obscure hot dog stand that only accepted cash.

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Coffee-selling push cart? Accepts paywave too.

Whenever I write Broke Student Guides, I always get at least one person emailing me asking me how much money they should bring. The answer is, how should I know? Everyone is different! My coffee habit, for instance, means that I’ll spend slightly more than someone who doesnt drink coffee. A shopaholic would spend way more than I do because I dont care much for shopping. Etcetera etcetera. I can only tell you what I did: I changed 120Eur to Zloty for 2 weeks in poland, then paid for everything else using my credit card. I did just fine.

Accomodation

Because I was on a press trip, I was put up at a pretty sweet hotel that would not be in line with any broke student’s plans whatsoever. (It was pretty sweet though, it was the Sheraton warsaw)

But I ran searches on alternative accommodation options – and there are plenty of hostels and airbnbs for really good prices (considering youre in europe). I actually extended my trip and spent an additional night in Warsaw Hostel Centrum, which I thought was pretty great because it was near the main railway station, had free wifi, had a 24 hour check in desk, and offered free luggage storage on the day of check out till 11pm. The 24hr check in was important to me because I was coming from Krakow and would only arrive late at night, and the free luggage storage was important cos my flight out of Warsaw was only late at night the following day and if I could save some money on a locker it’d be ideal. I found the hostel on hostelworld.com, which is my go-to for hostel searches when I travel!

I also hear good things about Oki Doki hostel, if youre wanting to stay in the old town 🙂

You should be able to find beds for under 20SGD a night, and then depending on how much privacy you want, the price goes up from there.

Getting around

– Uber, Bikes, Walk, Bus

Warsaw is significantly bigger than Krakow and Wroclaw (the other two cities I visited on my trip) so you’ll have to figure out your preferred method of transport, whereas in the other two cities I essentially walked everywhere. Ubers are very affordable, I dont think I paid more than 10-12zloty for my rides.

If you want to cycle, the city’s bike system is pretty extensive, and their bikes look way more sturdy than the regular Ofo/Obike ones you see in Singapore/other countries. Also, check out the prices:

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you can find these stations all over the city!

This means that if you can get from one station to another in 20 minutes, your ride is free! Free, I say! The trigger word of broke students all over the world! I actually love biking around cities, when I was in Vienna last month I cycled everywhere and it was awesome. But this time round I was on a press trip so it wasn’t possible. No matter, here’s the info anyway.

If you rather just walk, that’s totally possible too, it just takes more time. The way Warsaw is structured, most things just sit on this one really long route called the Royal Road. So if you walk down the entirety of the road you would have hit a whole bunch of things that you might wanna see.

Things to do

I’m going to preface this section with a disclaimer: I think there is no visiting Poland without being minimally aware of its history. Poland is its history. The country’s background and the current way in which it engages with its past is what made me fall in love with Poland, because if we don’t engage with the stories of each destination we visit, then aren’t we just staring at old town simulacrums over and over?

Neon Museum

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the neon muzeum

Warsaw is split by a river, and on the other end of the river you have the Praga-Soho district. We were there for lunch, and while waiting for our reservation time we popped into the Neon Museum, which I really recommend. Neon signs are a relic from the Cold War era, a socio-cultural symbol of economic success in a post-Stalin time. Basically, Poland wanted to compete with other metropolitan cities from the West like London and New York, but still wanted to differentiate themselves from capitalist cultures and modes of advertising – birthing the era of neonization, which was unique to Poland at the time. Most of these signs were commissioned by the communist government that was then in power, and the signs were seen as a kind of socialist advertising (apparently the look of neon signs relayed dependability and trust?). This, combined with the fact that Poland has historically had a strong emphasis on graphic design, resulted in some of the most unique and gorgeous neon signs in history.

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how incredible does this look!?

I love that these signs appeal to people on multiple levels – they’re aesthetically pleasing to the man on the street, but they also carry cultural value in their neon manifestation (see above re cultural socialist symbols). On yet another level, these signs are rooted in graphic design, and graphic design has always been a reflection of the artist’s aesthetic and social values. It seems no coincidence that the neon era happened in Poland over anywhere else in the world given its unique political history, and in terms of cementing Poland’s place in the ecosystem of design, the Polish school of Poster Design was also strong influence on the international development of poster art down the road.

Unfortunately, neon is really mad expensive to maintain, so a lot of the signs fell into disuse and got tossed out after the fall of the eastern bloc. This museum is a privately owned passion project that is one of, if not the only, remaining places where you can see multiple signs all in one place. It has also become synonymous with any mention of the neon era in Poland, and the museum is super beloved by locals and tourists alike. Because it’s privately owned, your ticket price goes towards their piggy bank for restoring yet another neon sign they have in storage. If you have the time or opportunity to, talk to the owners and ask them questions! They’re a really interesting couple, Ilona Karwinska is a world culture photographer who used to work as a photojournalist in Lebanon before opening the museum, and David Hill, her husband and co-founder, is a graphic designer who totally geeks out over the incredible typography at play in each of the signs. He walked us around the museum while she tended the ticket booth, and it was evident just how much of a passion project this museum was from the loving way he spoke of each sign.

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David Hill, co-founder of the museum, explaining the origins of a sign to us. There are also little info cards next to each sign if you’re wandering around the museum yourself.

Neon Muzeum
Soho Factory, Mińska 25, Praga District, 03-808 Warsaw, Poland
Open 12:00 – 17:00, Sat 12:00 – 18:00, Sun 11:00 – 17:00. Closed Tue.
Entry: 10ZLT

Do a free walking tour.

I did not do this because I was with a tour guide as arranged by the Polish tourism board (I was on a press trip), but I checked, and there is a free walking tour available in Warsaw. I like doing walking tours because they’re a good way to get a crash course on the city, they often reveal interesting facts that you would not have been able to discover if you wandered around by yourself, and they usually start in the mornings and last only an hour or two, giving you lots of time to do other things that day.

The free Old Town Walking Tour in Warsaw begins right underneath Sigismund’s Column and departs every day at 10.30am. It’s a two hour tour. Please note that although it’s a free tour, you are expected to tip your tour guide, and you should, because they’re providing you a service!

History of Jews in Poland Museum

This museum is now one of my favorite museums in the world. I visited it on tour with the press group, and returned by myself the week after because I wanted more time to go through each section. It was incredible. As per the name, the museum focuses on the history of the Jews in Poland, from their settlement to the Holocaust, and it extends also into post-war territory exploring the emotional trauma and identity crisis of the Jews after the war.

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Like I mentioned in my opening, any meaningful engagement with Poland must necessarily consist an understanding or at least, some interest, in the history of the country. Most people know Poland as the site of the Auschwitz concentration camps, the world’s largest death camp where over 1.3million people were unceremoniously executed, resulting in arguably the worst crime against humanity in recent human memory. But why Poland? Why Jews? How do we even make sense of what came to past? I’ll answer one of those questions now: while Poland wasn’t totally blind to the Jewish/local divide, they were certainly the kindest and most hospitable to Jews relative to the rest of Europe, leading to a large number of Jews choosing to settle there. This is also why Auschwitz was selected as the location for the death camps, because the jews were already in the area, and it made more sense to the Nazis to deal with them in Poland itself vs shipping them somewhere else……… And for the rest of the questions, you’ll really have to visit the museum to see. It’s not because I’m clickbaiting you, mind you. It’s that the full answer cannot be comprehended merely in words – it’s an answer that must be experienced. And so experience it in Poland you must.

The museum contextualises the experiences of the war in an impressively nuanced and thorough way. Better, it doesn’t only focus on the Holocaust, silently nodding to the frequent lamentation that the trauma of Auschwitz has been the all-encompassing Jewish identity for years. It explores the trauma of Auschwitz, yes, but also expands past that, so that you leave the museum seeing the Jewish Poles as more than just their trauma – something that I think is crucial when discussing any sort of trauma in relation to identity today.

It’s not just the content of the museum that makes it excellent – it is also the thoughtful way the entire museum is structured, which aims to bring you through an emotional journey through the years and forge an empathetic understanding between the modern tourist and the persecuted Jewish people throughout Poland’s history. There is no randomness in the way the exhibits are sequenced, and yet, walking through the museum, the flow from era to era feels natural and totally absorbing. I spent about 3-4 hours in the museum each time, and I hear it spans about 5km underground. Trigger warning: you may tear up; I certainly did…

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Just some pictures from the museum

Visit the Łazienki Palace grounds

Also known as the palace on the water, the neoclassical Łazienki Palace is situated in Warsaw Royal Baths park, the largest park in city. The Germans apparently wanted to blow the castle up when they occupied Warsaw but never got around to doing it / couldnt bear to because it was so beautiful? Either way. I didn’t actually go in, but you can, for the following prices:

Admission 25/18zł and comes with headphones, free on Thursdays. Children and students up to 26 years of age pay 1zł.

Once again, it literally pays to be young. 1 Zlt is about 30 singaporean cents.

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ballsy peacock

Even if you dont go in, the park is a pretty nice place for a stroll because not only is it beautiful, there are peacocks roaming around, and these peacocks aren’t scared of humans at all! One actually walked right up to me and scared me.

Lazienki Palace
Agrykoli 1, 00-460 Warszawa, Poland

It’s also worth mentioning that this park has a Chopin monument (Chopin was polish, FYI) and holds free concerts called Chopin in the Park from mid-May to the end of September, with performances taking place twice on Sundays – at 12:00 and at 16:00. And even if youre not there on a Sunday, you can visit the Chopin monument and check out the music benches, which are dotted all over the city. They look pretty much like regular benches, except they have some chopin-related fun facts inscribed on them, plus a little button that triggers classical chopin music to play from speakers located within the bench. Aka, Magic!

Vodka Museum

It was a fortuitous coincidence that we were in town on the day their Vodka museum opened! I’m not really much of a vodka drinker myself, but this was interesting still because Poland has long contended with Russia for the title of WHO INVENTED VODKA?! (PS. Poland insists it’s them.) As a visiting asian I gotta say I’m keeping out of these european politics, but I do think vodka lovers will enjoy this. Or anyone interested in breweries, distilleries, that kinda thing. I dont think it’s a super must-go place, but if you have the time why not? Unfortunately they don’t stock my favorite Polish vodka, Bisongrass, but you can get that rather easily in the city center for the excellent price of about twenty bucks a bottle.

Oh yes. If you do decide to go to the Vodka Museum, you NEED to look out for the drunk goggles they have on display. Wearing these goggles simulates what people see/feel under the influence of different kinds of whiskey (all for sale at the museum, of course), and it leads to a lot of giggles and hilarity.

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Me n all the vodka

English tours go by the hour.

Prices:

Individual tourists – 19 zł
Guide services for group up to 6 people – 45 zł
Guide services for group above 6 people – 95 zł
Individual tours with vodka testing (3 varieties of alcohol po 25 cl) – classic alcohols – 39 zł
Individual tours with vodka testing (3 varieties of alcohol po 25 cl) – premium alcohols – 75 zł

*If you go with the vodka tasting option, they give you a little certificate at the end which I assume means youre a vodka connoisseur now! Unfortunately, the cert is in Polish, so I have no idea what it actually said. I’m just guessing.

Polish Vodka Museum
Szmulowizna, 00-001 Warszawa, Poland
http://muzeumwodki.pl/en/


Uprising Museum

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Yet another museum, this one dedicated to the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. It was an uprising orchestrated by the Poles in an effort to overthrow the Germa occupation, a heroic effort, but a doomed one nonetheless. This is widely recognized to be one of Poland’s best museums, and it spans three floors, with a giant bomber plane sitting in the middle of the first.

This is definitely a more interactive museum, the exhibits are structured to be less conventional while still being educational (there’s actually an exhibit where you can pretend to send messages in morse code using a machine to war allies elsewhere). I think if you’re travelling with kids/ younger students, this would be a better museum to visit, but I personally preferred the History of Jews in Poland museum. Of course, if you have the time, visit both!

Warsaw Uprising Museum
Grzybowska 79, 00-844 Warszawa, Poland
Admission 25/20zł (children under 7 free). Sun free.
Audioguides for 10zł per person.

Climb the clock tower

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Most european cities will try to cajole you into climbing some clock tower or the other in their old towns, and Warsaw is no different. Warsaw’s marked advantage, though, is that their bell tower is only 4 stories up, as opposed to, yknw, the usual 30. The view from the clock tower is pretty fantastic as well, apparently the best view in all of Warsaw.

Ticket prices:

– Standard admission: PLN 6
– Concessions: PLN 5*

* Available to children aged 4 or older, school-aged children and youth, students under the age of 26, retirement and disability pensioners, and individuals aged 65 or older upon presentation of a valid ID or other relevant identification.

That’s basically 1.80-2SGD to climb the tower. Totally worth it, I recommend you go during sunset because it’s truly breathtaking when the golden rays hit the city!

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gorgeous. and not that tiring to get to either. Haha.

In conclusion..

I feel like I could go on for way longer, but this post is already pretty lengthy as it is, and I do feel like the beauty of travel is also in the moments of spontaneous discovery upon arrival. I do think it’s pretty obvious that I really enjoyed my time in Warsaw, and a big part of this was because I found Poland’s story fascinating on a historical and emotional level. I strongly urge anyone who’s considering Poland as a destination to make plans to visit their museums, and even read up a bit on their history before heading over.

If you’re not someone who likes nonfiction/historical reads, theres something else I like to do (although I dont always have the chance to) which is to read at least one novel set in the country I am visiting prior to going there. This is partly cos I love reading anyway, but also because I think it’s nice to have established a kind of preliminary familiarity with a voice from that country first. It makes the country more personal to me, somehow.

My recommended reads for Poland:

Flights by Olga Tokarczuk
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

Warsaw was the entry point for the rest of my Poland trip, which spanned Krakow, Zakopane, and Wroclaw, and I do think that it’s an excellent place to start off if you’re planning a longer trip. All these cities in Poland have their own unique history within Poland’s larger narrative, and uncovering this as I went along was like being between the pages of a book. (Man, modern history is so great.) But yeah. There’s so much to do in Warsaw, and I feel like I’ll definitely return some day in the future. And for the rest of you, hope this was helpful in your trip planning!

Till next time. x

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Jem

#2065 | Focaccia in Folgujemy, Wroclaw

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Wroclaw, Poland

Hello from the obscure highways of Poland, with names i cannot hope to pronounce, all grass and wire, somewhere in between the town of Wroclaw, where I am coming from, and Krakow, where I am headed to on this 5.90Eur flixbus. I have literally had, just two hours ago, the most incredible focaccia, and i felt it my civic duty to open up my chromebook and wax lyrical about the wonders of carbohydrates once the bus had been settled into and was well on its way. And it is. So here we are.

Right across the street from where I stayed there was a tiny cafe called Folgujemy, recommended by my Airbnb hosts via a little printed note I found on my rented desk upon check in – please be quiet from 2200 to 0800, laundry machine is in the adjacent building, folgujemy has wonderful food. Listed like yet another fact of their listing. I briefly considered checking it out yesterday but I was distracted by the rest of the city, I thought, so what if I dont check out one cafe in a sea of many, no big deal. But this morning I woke up, lazed around in bed for a bit (a luxury!), and after packing my bags, realised that i had too little time to venture back to the Old Town for one last stroll, and too much time to do nothing at all before catching my bus back to Krakow. This and that and somehow I ended up dragging my luggage with me 200m across the road to the cafe in search of sustenance and coffee.

I was on the phone with Shane when the waitress came over to take my order, so i just pointed at one of the only things i recognized on the menu – shakshouka with grilled halloumi and toasted focaccia. When it arrived I was still on the phone and so i absentmindedly broke off a piece of the focaccia for dipping and put it in my mouth. Then it registered. Hold up, I told Shane, I gotta go. I gotta eat. Talk to you later. He was used to it; we exchanged affections, and returned to our own lives.

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Shakshouka with added Halloumi (additional 6ZLT), as well as an iced cold brew. Total: 35Zlt/ 12SGD

How good, you must be thinking, can a piece of bread be, to compel one to hang up on one’s partner? After all it’s just bread. The simplest of carbohydrates, tying with the potato for Most Basic Carb. But this bread was not just bread. It was crumbly crust, fragrant, denser than regular bread, yet lighter than cake. Obviously freshly made. I swooned. I am not a fan of bread in general becuse it has such a high propensity to disappoint, but I have been known to sniff the air around bakeries furiously, like some kind of beagle, also, do you know how amazing freshly made bread is, of course you do, when it’s done well it is a revelation.

The main point of the dish was the shakshouka, not the focaccia, but the focaccia stole the show for me. The shakshouka was very good though, one of the better ones i’ve had in recent years. I love eggs so it stands to reason that I would naturally take to shashuka. It’s not that prevalent in Singapore, for some reason we prefer eggs benedict as a nation, which i roll my eyes at, because most places don’t even poach their eggs ben right. Give me shakshouka any day. For those of you unfamiliar with the dish, it varies from place to place but generally means poached eggs in tomato sauce and various spices/herbs for flavor, and it’s usually served in a hot pan. The dish originates from Tunisia and is popular in the Middle east, which is where most of my favorite brunch foods are from, and in recent years I’ve noticed it as an option in many European cafes, finally finally finally. This particular variation was served with grilled zucchini and chopped spring onions, all of which i love. LOVE. The pan fried halloumi was excellent as well, which I think is partly because the chefs just really know how to handle their halloumi (it can go both ways, I’ve had really dry and tough halloumi in places), and partly because poland as a country produces lots of cheese, and enjoys having it as part of their culinary repertoire, so in general you wont go wrong ordering a cheese dish in Poland.

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The mythical focaccia, dipped in shakshouka

So yes, what I mean to assert is, the shakshouka was superb. But I have come to expect excellence from eggs. Bread, though, bread is a wildcard. And this bread, ugh. It was like striking the bread lottery.

Later on as I got up to pay I tried to send my compliments to the kitchen, miming delight since I couldn’t speak Polish. The cashier replied in perfect English: Glad you liked it, we make our own focaccia in house. Ah. In more ways than one, I was enlightened.

Getting on the bus and penning this post I wondered at the point of writing a whole post about a tiny cafe in a corner of a far away city nestled 4 hours out from Krakow. But it is a city worth visiting, and a cafe worth hunting down for its bread. My faith in the carb is renewed, and for what? 35Zloty? A small price to pay for such delight. Thank you, Folgujemy. You will now forever be the standard to which I hold all bread to.

Folgujemy
Kniaziewicza 16, 11-400 Wrocław

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Jem