#1949 | The 24hr Guide to Hipster Hongkong.

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

Hong Kong and I go a short way back. My first trip to Hongkong was midway through first year of uni, and I was there with my family on tour. Now God knows why we decided to go on tour given that exactly 0 of us liked being shuttled into a bus at 6 in the morning and zipped off to irrelevant diamond factories, but that the fact remains that we did and hated it. Thus my first impression of HK was such: Mickey Mouse speaking to me in Cantonese in Disneyland HK, the musty inside of a bus, and a whole cluster of touristy things I would never voluntarily sign up for again.

When Skyscanner and Hong Kong Tourism Board approached me and proposed a trip to Hong Kong, I have to say, part of me was apprehensive. The other part jumped at the chance to change my impression of Hong Kong, to redo and blank over past transgressions. In this way we boarded our flight to Hong Kong at 6am one sleepy morning, excited at rediscovering a city half-familiar to us, ready for adventure, heart set on steering clear of all tour-bus attractions. And thus the 24hr Guide to Hipster HongKong was conceived.

We tried to cover Hipster HongKong over the span of one full day so as to jam-pack the itinerary in for people looking to get the most out of a really short weekend trip, so here goes:

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Mornings in Hong Kong

We hit HK smack in the middle of their summer, which meant long, hot, days, and 5am sunrises. Start the day early if you want to tick off most of your HK bucket list items – and you’ll find that you’ll be limited more by stomach space than anything else.

We begun the day with breakfast at Australia Dairy Company. It’s one of the things that my friends swear by, and I was feeling left out, hearing Emmanuel rave about the best eggs he’s ever had nonstop, so ok, fine, eggs it is. ADC is walkable from the Jordan train station and looks nothing like the hipster cafe one would imagine it to be, given it’s westernised name. It’s more a old school coffee house, and it’s famous for great eggs and bad service. Perfect!

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To be fair, the eggs really are fab. I dont know why they decided to put spaghetti in soup, and wasnt too keen on that myself, but it came in a set… so I suggest getting the eggs, the milk, the milk tea, and a milk pudding ala carte to share. The milk pudding is out of this world.

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There’s usually a pretty long queue, but if you go in the afternoon you’ll get a seat almost immediately, so it’s up to you. An alternative is Yee Shun, which is ADC’s direct competitor shamelessly selling almost exactly the same things with friendlier service, but we tried both and agreed that ADC is still better.

Australia Dairy Company
G/F, 47-49 Parkes Street, Jordan
佐敦白加士街47-49號地下
Mon to Wed & Fri to Sun: 07:30-23:00
Closed on Thu

Share everything you buy, because..

Right next to ADC is Mak’s Noodles, a famous chain of legendary wonton mee stalls. Another must-try, but expensive for what you get, so split it.

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The wanton mee you get in HK is done in a specific style unique to Hong Kong. I say this in the most neutral of terms because I haven’t decided if I like it or not yet. I do have friends who adore it though, so I’m not writing it off. The noodles are firmer and tangier than the ones I’m used to, which is what threw me off, but the broth was delicious and the prawns used in the wonton dumplings were fresh and very generous. Definitely worth a try is what I’m saying.


Mak’s Noodles

G/F 51 Parkes Street Jordan, Kowloon 佐敦白加士街51號地下 (MTR Jordan Exit C2)
Tel: +852 2736-5561
Opening Hours: 12:00pm-12:30am

After that, it’s time to walk it off. You’re near enough to the famous Tsim Tsa Tsui district, so just make the ten to fifteen minute walk over to digest your food. You can choose to explore the area, or take a train out – which is what we did – to the Central Train Station.

Afternoons in Hong Kong

So here we go: most of the great things to do (read: eat) span the distance between Central and Sheung Wan train station. Get ready for a whole lot of walking uphill and cursing, and take comfort in the fact that it is at least a mild form of exercise..

All that walking is incredibly hot and tiring, so you can start by taking a break and charging up at the most old school starbucks in Hong Kong. This Starbucks outlet is famous for being done up in the traditional style of the old school bing sutt, which means coffee house. The coffee options are more or less the same, but the food has a local sort of twist to it. Worth it just to sit and take refuge from the heat for awhile though, because it’s so nice and cold and gorgeous.

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This outlet is along Duddell Street, and is halfway up a long flight of stairs. Pretty soon you will find that most of Hong Kong consists stairs or 45 degree slopes, so leave your heels at home and come in sneakers or flats if you dont want a broken ankle. The reason for this is because Hong Kong Island itself is basically one huge mountain, which is why everything is sloped and you always feel slightly off balance..

Duddell Street Starbucks
號, 13 Duddell St, Central, Hong Kong
+852 2523 5685

After you feel sufficiently ready to leave Duddell bux, it’s only a few minutes walk to Tai Cheung Bakery, which is where you can get the best egg tarts in the world. Like seriously, these things are life changing. They cost about 7HKD a pop, and no, they dont get cheaper if you buy more of them, unlike most pastries in HK with bundle pricing. This shows you how confident they are that people will pay for boxes and boxes of them anyway – and we did.

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Tai Cheung Bakery

G/F, 35 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central
中環擺花街35號地下

From Tai Cheung it is but a short stroll downhill the next street over to Pololi, a Hawaiian Poke Bowl Cafe. Pololi isn’t exactly traditional HK food, but it’s one of my favourite things in HK because SASHIMI, OKAY?

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When you walk in, a cheerful tanned girl chimes Aloha! and then takes you through the ordering process if it’s your first time. A Poke Bowl is basically a salad/rice bowl topped with marinated sashimi, and it’s a type of Hawaiian dish. The owner herself isn’t Hawaiian, but has family in Hawaii and returns every single summer, and she said she loved Poke Bowls so much she had to bring them back to HK. Well good on her, because they’re freakin amazing! She lets you try the different flavours before deciding on what you want, and it’s about 90HKD for a 100g Poke Bowl, and 60HKD for just the Poke without the salad/rice.

I had a salad topped with both thai style and avocado marinated sashimi, and it was incredible.

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If you’re not into raw fish you can get this wrap thing called Musubi – it’s like sushi, and has egg and spam in it. It’s warm and really freaking good. It’s 20HKD for that, and I 100% recommend both.


Pololi

35-39 Graham St, Central, Hong Kong

Right up the slope from Pololi you have a wall which I presume is famous because people kept taking photos with it. Like, there was an actual queue. So yes, being tourists..

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Walking on. The street is a straight walk down the most amazing alternative gastronomical experiences in Hong Kong, but more than that, it’s actually a really bustling and interesting street to be down. We popped into a bunch of strange looking shops, though we didn’t actually buy anything. Here’s what your route will be like if you follow what we did and walked from Central to Sheung Wan station, in geographical order:

Duddell Bux -> Tai Cheung -> Pololi -> PMQ -> Little Bao -> YardBird -> Teakha -> Kau Kee Beef Brisket Noodles.

This is the most convenient way of doing it, but it’s well worth noting that because Little Bao only opens at 6pm and Teakha closes at 7pm, you’re probably going to have to choose one or the other. Otherwise do them on two separate days. Of the two I prefer Little Bao, but ok, you’ll see.

We actually did Teakha on a separate day. Teakha is a new hipster teahouse which is all the rage on instagram right now, but it’s a bit of a hassle to find. The interior is pretty and reminds me of taiwanese cafes, which is strange given that I’ve never been to Taiwan. It’s also very popular – the entire time we were there, people were streaming in and out.

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We had everything recommended, that is to say – their famous matcha cheese cake (good), the thai iced milk tea (just tasted like every thai milk tea ever honestly), and the hibiscus tea (which was refreshing and wonderful but tasted exactly like ribena).

Not bad, the entire experience, but unsure if I would return given the hassle and also the fact that I can get chilled ribena for fifty cents anywhere else anyway.


Teakha

18 Tai Ping Shan St, Hong Kong

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PS. One other thing we wanted to hit but couldnt was this drinks stall called Mum’s Not Home. It’s closed on Thursdays, which was the day we were doing the writeup for this feature, but you know it’s the ultimate hipster place because 1. it’s located in someone’s home 2. they only sell strange drink concoctions and no food, and 3. you can freaking get your hair cut there. Which I dont recommend, because Adrian went and said everyone who got their hair cut came out looking like they had an inverted bowl on their head. But hey, yeah, no one said hipster things had to make sense. In fact, they rarely do.


Mum’s Not Home
1/f, 302 shanghai st
Yau Ma Tei, Hong Kong

Evenings in Hong Kong

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Dress: Topshop Hong Kong

You start your evening with digesting your food by browsing PMQ for a couple of hours. PMQ stands for the Police Married Quarters, which was what it was back in the day, but it’s since been refurbished and now it’s a complex full of pop up stores and exhibitions catering to local budding artists. Entry is free, and you get all sorts of stalls in there, ranging from really indie local artists to international ones like Vivienne Tam and Goods of Desire.

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The entire complex is seven stories and divided into two wings, so trust me when I say you can spend a considerable amount of time in there. You can also get coffee and cake – they have cafes littering the lower levels. Pretty interesting.


PMQ

No.35 Aberdeen Street, Central
7am-11pm

Once it hits 5:45pm, I suggest going out to perch by the door of Little Bao. It opens at 6pm, and if you’re not one of the first people in, the wait can be quite awhile. It seems to be a thing in HK where really popular hipster places deliberately rent really tiny shop spaces, possibly to force the creation of a queue… or yknw, because of rent. Whichever.

Little Bao is one of the places that lived up to it’s hype for me. Little Bao does western favourites with an Asian twist – think truffle fries with shallots, burgers with bao instead of buns. It’s not cheap, and even borders on expensive – a bao the sized of your palm, which is organically sourced and made in front of you, is slightly under 78HKD, which is approx 15SGD. And it’s tiny. But it’s good.

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We had the pork belly bao, and it was pretty good IMHO.

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The fried ice cream bao was 48HKD. Would not order this again because it was confusing, rock hard (read: hard to eat), and also hurt Cindy’s braces. Plus tiny.

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Truffle fries were approx 98HKD. These were amazing – and the serving was huge. Even before they set it down in front of us we could smell the truffle wafting over, and when we actually saw it my first thought was that they gave us the wrong order. Because this mountain of stuff looked nothing like fries – but ok, they turned out to be buried under the pile of truffle, mushrooms, and shallots. Very interesting and delish, but definitely a dish to be shared.


Little Bao
66 Staunton St, Central, Hong Kong
Mon-Fri: 18:00-23:00
Sat,Sun: 12:00-16:00, 18:00-23:00

Because Cinch and I shared everything, we still had space for small bites, so we walked down to Yardbird, which is known for serving legendary Yakitori sticks. You’ll know it’s good because the place was overflowing with people – and the rest of the stalls on the street with similar dining concepts were half empty. The wait for Yardbird can be quite crazy but we were blessed enough to be seated within ten minutes because there were only two of us and we were both there – they dont let you sit unless all members of your dinner party is present, which is why we could bypass so many people waiting in line.

I think everything we had at Yardbird was good. We ordered four items to share – Chicken Thigh Skewer, Chicken Wing Skewer, Korean Fried Cauliflower, and the seasonal item: Scotch Eggs.

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The Korean Fried Cauliflower deserves some kind of special mention. It’s not pretty but it was mind-blowing – I never knew cauliflower could taste like that! I don’t even know how to describe it, which is just as well since I dont identify as a food blogger anyway, but lets just agree to call it intense. 10/10 would recommend.

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Everything was done to perfection and I just have zero issues with anything at Yardbird – the staff were polite, friendly, and I suspect they only hire good-looking people. Ah well.


Yardbird

33-35 Bridges Street
Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
6pm to 12am

Walking down from Yardbird we tried to route our way back to the train station, and the nearest was Sheung Wan. By this time it was nightfall, which meant half the shops were closed, but the ones which remained open were really quite interesting. There are a lot of lifestyle shops down that route, and there’s even a Superga Spin Shop, where you can buy a pair of supergas, pick your ink colors, and then put them in this machine which spins and splashes ink artistically onto your brand new sneakers. Yeah, don’t look at me. Apparently it’s a cool thing to do. Clean sneakers aren’t in anymore. Whatever.

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It was about 9pm when we passed by Kau Kee Beef Brisket Noodles. Now, I’m not sure if that’s the actual name of the shop, but there are the words Kau Kee in it somewhere and it is famous for beef brisket noodles, so there you go. I read online that the queue for this place can stretch up to an hour, but we were seated immediately because we were there during supper-timing. The trade off is, some items will be out of stock if you choose to go late. But I didn’t mind because I hate queuing and whatever that was in stock was very good anyway.

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We shared a bowl of Beef Brisket Soup Flat Noodles. I think that’s what it’s called. There’s an english menu, which they offered us after seeing us majorly struggle with the HK one, so ask for that immediately. The beef was incredibly tender and the broth was great – we didn’t finish the noodles, but those were good too.

We also got iced lemon tea which was legit ice lemon tea. I really adore iced lemon tea in HK because they take the drink at face value and really whack all the lemon in the tea, not like the sugary syrup nonsense you get elsewhere. I actually think I prefer HK iced lemon tea to HK iced milk tea because it’s lighter and more refreshing, which is very necessary when all you do is eat in HK..


Kau Kee Restaurant
G/F, 21 Gough Street, Central
中環歌賦街21號地舖
Mon – Sat 12:30-22:30

From Kau Kee it’s a really short walk to the train station, where you can conclude your day.

Wrapping up

If it seemed like the whole day was just walking from food place to food place it’s because it was true. HK for us really was a case of too many things to try, too little stomach space. In Hong Kong, the meal doesn’t stop when you’re full, the meal stops when you hate yourself. Still, I preferred this way of seeing HK much more than the tour-bus route I tried the last time I was here – much, much more. So make your peace with that, try everything, then work out pre/post trip accordingly.

Alright then, I hope this guide was helpful to those of you who are planning trips to HK in the near future! And for those of you who identify as hipster and take offence at this guide because it’s not actually hipster enough for your tastes, take it easy. We had a great time, and at the end of the day, isn’t that what matters? Trust me, you will too.

A more general guide to Hong Kong is to come, but till then, thank you for sending us on this trip, HKTB x Skyscanner! Thank you for the opportunity to rediscover Hong Kong in a much lovelier way – it was entirely too enjoyable. x

x
♥jem

#1948| Jemma for Airbnb: Keeping with the Kyotians

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imagesKyoto, Japan.
All photos taken with the Nikon D5500

Right before coming to Kyoto I picked up Memoirs of a Geisha from a book sale, which I promptly devoured within a night. There’s just something about historical novels that enchant me – long time readers will be familiar with Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl, another favourite of mine. The result: a fascination with Kyoto way before stepping foot in what would eventually be my new favourite Japanese city.

We came down to Kyoto from Osaka on the train, guided via LINE chat by our Airbnb host Wakana, and found ourselves at our new place just a couple of minutes’ walk from the station down a rustic old street. Already I loved Kyoto. We’d booked a place in the centre of Gion, Geisha town, and more than that – we booked a traditional Japanese apartment – we wanted the full experience.

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They maybe had too full an experience.. they got fake-married.

We already knew the apartment would be gorgeous from the pictures on Airbnb but it didn’t stop us from squealing when we walked in like overexcited teenagers – I think this is possibly my favourite airbnb place to date! All of Gion felt like living in a movie set, and this apartment was the cherry on top of the pie. Just look at how gorgeous it is:

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Gorgeous natural lighting by the bay windows

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This space transforms into a wall to wall futon covered wonderland at night

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This apartment also comes with smiley faced girl (Don’t these cupboards remind you of scenes in Doraemon?)

I wanted to stay in all day (wouldn’t you?) but we only had a couple of days in Kyoto – my friends over at y5buddy are huge fans of Japan and they strongly advised against just a day trip, which is what most people do. We booked a 3D2N stay and it seemed like a lot at the time, but when we reached Kyoto itself we never wanted to leave…

How do I describe Kyoto? *cue Mean Girls Regina George sequence* But really, how? I don’t even know what I loved most about Kyoto. The place was incredible. The low rise burnt wood houses were a film fanatic’s dream. The entire Gion district smelt of wood, water, and slow roasted aburi sushi. Every morning takes you across the river, strolling along the district that’s split in two. Each new corner is a bamboo lined discovery. And when night falls, the sun spills over the city in the most beautiful way.

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Sunset in Gion, Kyoto

We didn’t know where to begin. All right, well, we did. We came to Kyoto with three things on our agenda: 1. temple hopping 2. kimono wearing and 3. all the eating. We started bottom up.

Food in Kyoto

Like every other Japanese city, ever, you never really feel hungry in Kyoto because you’re always snacking or eating something. There’s just too much to try! And forget three meals – most people average five or six a day. It’s sad but it’s true. Diet accordingly before flying over.

The most memorable meal has to be the insane kichi kichi omu-rice experience we had for our first meal in Kyoto. I love eggs, which stands to reason that I’ll love omurice, but the ones I’ve had thus far tend to always fall short somewhere – they’re a little dry down the centre, the egg is thin and flaky, the rice is uninspiring.. not this one.

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The exterior of the shop

Kichi Kichi is actually kind of famous. We made a reservation for lunch there even before reaching Kyoto because the entire restaurant only has eight seats and you either get it or you don’t. For such a famous restaurant though, it’s surprisingly hard to find. It’s seven minutes walk from our airbnb apartment, and tucked away in a tiny, tiny alley, and you’d miss it if you blink. So keep your eyes wide open, because this is a meal you really freakin can’t miss.

The chef doesn’t speak a word of English, but he’s incredibly charming and cheerful. We picked what we wanted (omurice, obviously, and supposedly famous bread rolls) and he started the performance.

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That’s right – he doesn’t cook, he performs. It was incredible to watch. Look, I took a video.




Look at how that egg splits right open

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No, really, look.

I feel like half of your meal money goes towards watching this crazy performance and to catch him splitting the egg open so perfectly. The other half is spent marvelling at how amazing your omurice is. It was the best omurice of my life, hands down. No shadow of doubt whatsoever. Following the most amazing omurice in the world was the most intense food coma I have ever experienced. I spent the following hour zoning out – all of us did. It was hilarious.

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This is all your fault cute Kichi Kichi chef

While we zoned out, he started showing us his youtube channel and past TV appearances on his iPad! Unfortunately I was too zoned to register anything except being vaguely impressed. Candice fell asleep at the table though, so I think I did ok.

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The meal was about 30-35SGD each accounting for exchange rate, which is not bad at all for something so legendary. TEN UPON TEN WOULD RECOMMEND.

Kichi Kichi
185-4 Zaimokucho, Sanjo Pontocho-dori Kudaru,
Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture

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Walking along the streets of Kyoto you also find many street food stalls. Soft serve is super popular – Kyoto has amazing matcha soft serve ice cream – but beyond that there are so many snacks available that just puts the franchises that pop up in Singapore to shame. Pictured above is something that I only know as the stuffed fish pastry. This was a random store we chanced upon, and we tried the crispy variation in chocolate custard. It was so good we nearly cried.

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Another popular snack is the meat bun, which you can find on your walk up to the Kiyomizu temple.

We also chanced upon this random store in the centre of Gion that only opens at night, selling some delicious smelling thing we couldnt identify. The queue was incredibly long, so being Singaporeans, we joined it. It turned out to be burnt mochi balls dipped in sticky syrup and peanut shavings. Yet another incredible gastronomic experience. The moral of the story is you cannot eat something bad in Japan. It simply isn’t possible. Everything is amazing.

Another thing I suggest ending your day and starting your night with is a good Izakaya meal. Izakaya establishments basically serve drinks and jap-style tapas to go with your meal. There are plenty of izakaya places in Kyoto, but the one I went to was recommended to me by Roz (my co-host on Hype Hunt) who I trust wholly with these recommendations because her boyfriend is Japanese!! So yes, local recommendation represent.

And it was damn legit – we nearly gave up looking for it because it was so hole-in-the-wall, but when we did finally find it we were so happy because it was brimming with locals while every other izakaya store on the street was still relatively empty!

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A bit too brimming, actually, we had to wait for quite a long time before we got our table. But it was WORTH IT.

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Yuki (that’s the name of the place) brews its own sake, and normally I would have gone for the umeshu but Roz insisted I order sake – and I’m so glad I did!! It was the smoothest sake I’d ever drunk in my life. So tasty and incredible and oh my word.. I’m dying now, remembering it. So great. The different dishes were great too, but being tapas style, they’re not really meant to fill you all the way up I think. We had a sampling of everything recommended, then headed for sushi at a conveyor sushi place.


Yuki, Gion

111-1 Tominagacho, Higashi-ku | Okamura Bldg.1F, Kyoto 605-0078
Kyoto Prefecture

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The conveyor belt sushi that won our hearts this round is called Chojiro Sushi, which is located slightly off the main street of Gion. We queued about half an hour for it and as usual it was worth it. I’ve never had sushi as fresh… or worth the money. I had sushi once since coming back from Japan, and it was dismal and expensive. :(

Chojiro Sushi
Japan, 〒600-8011 京都府京都市 下京区橋本町103−2

Another must-do for meals, I think, is to hit a local departmental store’s food hall and then organise a night in. Japanese food halls go on discount after seven PM and close at eight, so that hour’s window you’ll have to rush and sort through the variety of things on offer. We went to Takashimaya, which was just by the train station, and bought a whole load of stuff back to our airbnb apartment.

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Takashimaya fare

Those of you who follow me on snapchat (snapchat:jemmawei) might remember one night we all looked completely drunk, with background audio of maniacal laughter. There was no alcohol had that night, you guys, but I think we *might* have been high off how good the food was…

Everything on the table was from the Taka food hall except the instant ramen. The instant ramen – get this – was instant ippudo ramen. As in, Ippudo, the really freakin famous and expensive ramen chain that they also have in Singapore’s Mandarin Gallery, which cannot match up to this three minute instant noodle variation. It’s embarrassing. Ippudo and 7-11 Japan collaborated to release a line of Ippudo instant mee, and it is AMAZING. It comes with actual pork slices, I don’t even know how that happened. We topped it up with the convenience store runny eggs that I’m so obsessed with. It was a good night all around :)

After laughing and digesting our food via laughter, we went out again the same night. Kyoto at night is a wonderland. We were intending to go out for drinks (again lol) but it turned out we were too full, so we just took a long stroll and hoped to get lucky geisha-spotting (we didn’t).

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One last thing – as far as last things can go with regards to eating in Japan. Gyudons, or beef bowls, in Japan are out of this world, and the Japanese people are so used to them being out of this world that they’re also cheap.

Gyudons are generally sold in 24hr chain eateries, and the three at the top are Yoshinoya, Sukiya, and Matsuya. The best (imho) is Matsuya, but you cant go wrong with any of them..

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This is what Matsuya looks like – doesn’t have an english translation on the signboard so just lookout for this!

You order and pay at a vending machine, then sit by a long table to eat. Crack one or more eggs into it – you have to order the eggs too – and mix it in. It’ll be the most amazing thing you’ll ever eat for four dollars.

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Gyudon from Sukiya

Alright, so that’s it for food. All the places above mentioned were walking distance from our airbnb place, which made it extremely convenient to pig out. Now, for the second thing on my list: Kimono wearing..

Kimono Rental

Renting a Kimono in Gion, Kyoto is one of those once in a lifetime things you kind of just have to do. There are plenty of shops all over, but to be honest the prints and choices can be a bit depressing. We got super lucky though, and chanced upon a small sign pointing to this shop at the fifth floor of a deparmental store.. so not the kind of place you would expect to get to rent a kimono. It was the best thing ever.

We were the first people into the store and I highly recommend waking up early to kimono hunt. About ten minutes after we strolled in the next customers appeared and started eyeing out kimonos (which were obviously the nicest designs in the store). Very stressful because one of the other ladies actually came up to Penny and tried to convince her to rent a different kimono so she could have Penny’s baby blue one!

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Renting a kimono is a pretty interesting experience, really. It’s about 3.5-3.8k yen to rent per day, depending on where you go. Guy kimonos are slightly more expensive. And you can pay to get your hair done, which I initially resisted but then went what the hell, it’s once in a lifetime. The hairdo is about 1k more, if I’m not wrong. Add ons if you want hair accessories, which I didn’t. My total cost was about 43-45 SGD.

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Getting our hair did in the massive shop space

Like I genuinely feel like we got really lucky with this shop, given that we were prepared to just go to one of the random ones on the street that we spotted the previous day. Most of the shops we saw were really small and cramped, and had really gaudy designs (again, imho), but this one was huge, air conditioned, came with a salon, and we had fantastic Kimonos!! We were really pleased with ourselves all day because our kimonos were such great quality and looked so much better than all the loudly printed plastic looking shiny ones we saw on the streets lol.

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The name of the shop was Kimono Rental 141, in the Shikata building, 5th floor. It’s along the city centre’s main street. I recommend this place ONE HUNDRED PERCENT because it was such a great experience and the shop people were so cute and they even took a picture of us when we were leaving – we thought it was just for their personal keepsake and what not, but when we came back to return our kimonos they gave us print outs of our group picture!!!! Best shop ever.

You can see more kimono pictures in my previous post here.

Cultural things in Kyoto

Kyoto is known for it’s temples – it’s known to be quite the cultural heritage town. We went to three temples in our three days there, and because it was our first time there they were the three most famous temples, so no undiscovered gem here for you guys, sorry! Still, the famous temples are famous for a reason and that reason is because they are awesome.

1. Kiyomizu temple

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We headed to the Kiyomizu temple the same evening we arrived in Kyoto. It’s the only one that’s actually within walking distance and in Gion itself, the rest require a twenty minute and up train ride. It stands for water temple or something, and it offers a fantastic view of Gion because you walk uphill for a damn long time before reaching the temple.

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A thing that you do there is queue to cup flowing water and also drink it and wash your hands and mouth with it. It will apparently make all your dreams come true! So I am expecting to be gifted a Mercedes S class anytime now.

Entrance to the temple is about 300 yen.

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The walk downhill at sunset


2. Fushimi Inari Shrine

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Keihan Line, approx forty minutes from Gion

The Fushimi Inari shrine is really famous for it’s thousand orange gates, and there we took the same photo that every single other person who’s been to Kyoto also has. Entry is free I think, but it’s really freakin crowded. How we got the relatively empty photos: we cut through the garden area to the other end of the gates which is coming down from the hill (the gates loop around) and hustled and blocked everyone coming down from the top so we could get our picture. We were a public nuisance, yes, but we got great photos, and after we did that everyone else started doing it too, ok?? Singaporeans know where it’s at you guys.

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You can also buy overpriced fruits with fruit juice in them right outside the temple. It is so hot that you probably will.

3. Bamboo Groves at Arashiyama

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“Welcome to our lovely abode!”

We couldn’t go to Kyoto and not hit the bamboo groves because they’re like, the bamboo groves, you know? The famous bamboo groves are located in a district called Arashimaya, which is like a little town all on its own. It’s about twenty minutes from the thousand gate shrine, and the bamboo grove was as crowded and majestic as expected. What we didn’t expect was the area surrounding it to be so lovely.

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Also, it had great ice cream.

Entry is free, and walking around Arashiyama would have been really wonderful I think, if not for the fact that it rained when we were there halfway :( Would have really loved to pop into one of the traditional matcha tea houses to people watch and cozy up with a cup of green tea, but we didn’t have time.

Getting around Kyoto

According to Roz, the best way to get around Kyoto is to rent a bike and cycle. Plenty of the airbnb places we saw listed also came with a bicycle that we could borrow, and there are many rental shops around with rates along the lines of 500yen/day, but we didn’t get to do it even though we really wanted to because no matter how much willpower you have, you cannot ride a bike in a kimono. You just cannot, okay? Yeah. So we walked everywhere – thankfully our apartment was central enough to allow for that, and Gion is so gorgeous anyway I could walk around in it all day and not be sick of it. When we needed to leave Gion, we took a train – it was ok, efficient, and relatively inexpensive.

Your favourite part

Wrapping up, you guys, because this post is getting way too long and because some things should be left for one to experience personally anyway. As with the last time I hit Japan, I spent a couple of days shopping and picking up gifts for a mini airbnb x jemma giveaway back home. And as with the last time, Airbnb has graciously risen to the occasion and matched it with a SGD 100 airbnb voucher plus a bag of Airbnb goodies :)

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Included above: the amazing instant ippudo x 7-11 instant ramen!

All you have to do is pick your favourite Japan listing on airbnb.com and comment on the airbnb x jemma FB post letting us know how you would spend a typical day in your airbnb apartment. Giveaway runs a week from today, 2359 on 5th July, so chop chop! Another great reason to while away the afternoon browsing dream listings after dream listings – you are welcome x

x
♥jem

#1947 | Jemma for Nikon: Picking your first DSLR

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With the D5500 in Japan

I’ve always been a bit of a, fine, lets say it: camwhore. My first camera was a dinky little pink thing that I bought when I was fifteen for four hundred dollars after starving for months to save up. It was a fujifilm compact which I lusted after for ages, passing by the camera shop display window everyday after school. I bought it without prior research, enchanted only by the deep pink shade of the thing, strong in my faith that all cameras are good cameras. It was wonderful and I must have taken a thousand photos of it within the first month alone. Unfortunately, it passed away two years later, which i discovered was apparently a common issue with all cameras of the same make after desperately googling for revival solutions on the internet. And that, kids, is the reason why you should always do your research on how durable your camera is before buying it instead of just choosing it for color.

When it came to my first DSLR, I was a little more discerning. I trawled forums like clubsnap and asked boyfriends of friends who owned DSLRs what they thought. Armed with the opinions of twenty pimply teenaged boys whom I trusted based solely on the fact that they could afford DSLRs, I went ahead and spent all of my first month’s pay post A levels on a second hand Canon 500D. A wonderful entry level DSLR of its time, but close to obsolete today. Me and my Canon, baby, we had good times. We travelled the world together. Great pictures were taken. Unfortunately, all cameras are subject to wear and tear and this baby was already second hand when I got it, making it really old and cranky. Right about the same time it started breaking down, I started working with Nikon Singapore and was fortunate enough to be able to try out a whole array of different cameras – and given the number of questions and emails I get regarding my camera information and recommednations (even though its right there in the sidebar you guys!), I thought it was about time I penned this post for all of you looking to purchase your first ever DSLR!

Disclaimer

Many of you who’ve been following me on twitter or instagram know how much I’ve fallen in love with the new Nikon D5500, which is a recent offering by Nikon in the entry level DSLR market. I’ve been recommending it left and right to friends and family because I genuinely love it, and it’s been the one behind all of my recent pictures, starting from myPhuket Trip in March. Still, this isn’t a post specifically to promote that particular model, but it is the most relevant entry level camera I have on hand so the post will somewhat be based on it. So, I’m going to try and list qualities I think one should look out for when purchasing a new DSLR, which have been useful to me and that can be applied across the market. :)

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Phuket’s Sunset on the D5500, AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G ED lens

DSLRs: Full frames or cropped frames?

I had to have this explained very explicitly to me because I didn’t get it at first. To me, a full frame just meant a more expensive, heavier, camera, which produces somewhat better pictures. That’s somewhat it, really, but the specifics are a little more intricate than that. I wouldn’t say I understand it to a T, given that I’m not a professional photographer myself, but i do have friends who are, so after many lengthy discussions with them here we go: something as simplified as possible:

Full frame cameras are pro cameras.
Full frame cameras are very heavy, but more serious, give you better depth of field, and generally perform better in low light and extreme conditions. They are much more expensive than entry level cameras – you’re looking upwards of $2.5k for the body alone, and the lenses tend to be pretty expensive on their own.

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Beautiful details captured on the Nikon D610, a full frame camera

Cropped frame cameras are entry level cameras.
Half framed cameras are lighter, snazzier, and come with slightly flashier functions in general (like in built filters, etc etc). They have a crop sensor, which means things appear closer than they do with the same lens on a full frame, as if the camera is permanently on zoom mode. They are also way, way cheaper. You’re talking about the lower half of a thousand dollars for a brand new one.

The full benefits of a full frame camera can really only be experienced when you’ve learnt to shoot on manual, which takes a lot of trial and error and experimentation. In general, this means that unless you’re pretty familiar with photography already, if you’re just getting started and you want to learn DSLR photography, your best bet is starting with a entry level, crop sensor camera :)

Things you should look out for when purchasing your first DSLR

1. Photo quality

Obviously. This is something that can be quite subjective, and it varies from camera model to camera model. Essentially, going through forums to get sample images from the camera models you’re considering should be quite safe, or reading reviews from tech websites (I do that a lot). Your photo quality also depends on things like ISO performance, camera sensor size, and the lens you use, which will be elaborated on later.

2. Wifi Offering

Given how advanced camera technology is now and how many cameras offer this feature, I really don’t see why you should get a camera that doesn’t have wifi unless it’s got very compelling other features. DSLR wifi is really a game changer. Previously, you had to get an eye-fi SD card which is about 80 bucks, to even wirelessly transfer pictures direct from camera to phone. Now that’s becoming obsolete because so many of the new cameras have wifi – the entry level DSLRs and prosumer cameras, especially.

The D5500 is the first DSLR I’ve had that has wifi, and it’s been a total dream. I used to have to plug in my SD card to the computer every night, and ever since getting the D5500, I haven’t done it more than ten times total.

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Transferring photos wirelessly from the D5500

3. Low Light Performance

Important because you’ll use your DSLR at night more than you realise.. once again, this is something that can be researched on for details specific to the camera model, but in general you want a camera that’s not too “noisy” at low light. The low light performance of a camera is affected by the generation of the sensor (newer camera = better sensors = less noisy pictures) and the pixel size (larger pixel size = better light capture). A lot of how your low light pictures turn out also depend on the lens you use, but that’s going to cost extra, so the best way to get nice low light pictures IMHO is to get a camera known to perform decently in low light, then master your shutter speed – because shutter speed is super important when you talk about pictures taken in less than ideal lighting conditions!

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the D5500 in the evening.

4. High ISO Performance

This is somewhat related to the previous point because a high ISO performance gives you better pictures in lower lighting too, but a camera that can perform well at a high ISO will also give you better/steadier pictures when shooting action/indoor/street light shots, or when shooting in places that dont allow flash photography.

5. Size, Weight, Grip

Even if you’re looking to purchase it online, I suggest that you dont ever buy a DSLR without first holding it in your hands once. Go down to a retailer that sells it and pick it up, turn it around in your hands – you need to be sure that the size is comfortable for your hands. Given that we’re looking at cropped frame DSLRs here, you probably won’t run into the problem of having a camera that’s too big for your hands (a legit problem I have faced before), but you might wanna try out holding a few different ones to get a feel of which camera you feel has the best balance between being sturdy and lightweight – coming from someone who’s had shoulder cramp from carrying a DSLR around too much, I must say, DSLR-weight is important!

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Shooting on the D5500

6. Live View / Tilting Screen

I find that these functions tend to work best together. Live View basically means having whatever you see in your viewfinder fed to your LCD screen, much like how most compact prosumers work. A tilting screen just means an LCD that can either be pulled out and flipped, or tilted to a degree so you can view your pictures from a less awkward angle if you’re trying to shoot over a crowd or something. I love the Live View function because it’s indispensable when you’re trying to take a flat lay shot – it’s just easier to position your picture when you dont have to be standing on a chair, peering into the viewfinder from above. Most cameras have a Live View function anyway, but I thought I’d throw this out there.


A note on lenses

Most entry level DSLRs come with the 18-55mm kit lens, which is a great lens for what it offers. It’s a normal zoom lens – the numbers mean the range at which you can shoot, 18 being the widest, 55 being the closest. A zoom lens, in the most basic of terms, means a lens that you can zoom in and out with by twisting the ring on the lens. Most of the pictures I took with the D5500 were taken on the kit lens even though I did have the 35mm on hand, because I felt like the pictures the kit lens offered were great enough not to have to switch out anyway :)

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The D5500 on the 18-55mm kit lens, capturing a sunset in Kyoto

In addition to this, most people want to get one other lens, and the most common one is the 50f1.8 prime lens. A prime lens is a lens that cannot zoom in and out, so it has a fixed focal length, but it gives you better image quality and sharpness. The 50f1.8, for example, has great bokeh/ background blurring, which is what many people love. It’s great for food and portrait photography!

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Here is a picture of a sandwich on my old Canon 500D with a 50f1.8 prime lens.

Alright, so that’s about it from me. Some things to look out for when getting your first DSLR. Obviously the two kings of photography are Nikon and Canon, and in general, DSLRs from both camps are guaranteed a certain level of decency, but other brands like Sony and Olympus are also making their rounds, so do your research for the models you’ve shortlisted to see which one suits your needs best! Also, this goes without saying, but good equipment doesn’t make you a better photographer. It just gives you the tools you need to take better photos. Most of your end product is a result of months of experimentation and tinkering with your camera, so tinker away. x

x
♥jem

#1946 | this is what dreams are made of!

I recently re-discovered hilary duff on spotify and i’d forgotten exactly how much i used to love her as a kid!!!! I never had cable, ever, so i didn’t grow up watching lizzie mcguire – i lugged tons of the serialised books home from the library and spent my afternoons wondering what she saw in ethan (that’s his name, right? that hunky dory shell of a boy?). When i finally got to watch the lizzie mcguire movie (my kindergarten best friend had the dvd) it was all HEY NOW, HEY NOW ~~ and then bam she kissed the cute dorky gordo and it spoiled dorks for me forever. And yes that was my childhood in a breath.


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So anyway, when i was browsing spotify recently i stumbled on hilary duff’s new song and ended up listening to all her old ones and MAN! Dem feels!!! I remember going on this duff-spree and watching a bunch of her other movies and I freakin loved Another Cinderella Story!!!! I almost want to rewatch it but I won’t, because i spoilt the beautiful memories of another bunch of truly terrible movies for myself that way. Rewatching 13 going on 30 at the age of 21 really ruined it for me because as a kid i thought the movie was amazing and when i rewatched it i wanted to yank my brain out of my head in giant slimy spools.

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I’m telling you, H.duff really got my life


What was my point? Right. Ok. Yes. Anyway so I was having a spotify karaoke party in my room as usual and as i was listening to all these ancient songs it suddenly struck me: when did music become so different? I mean, when I was a kid, listening to a song telling me that hey now hey now this is what dreams are made of ~~ was the bombdiggity! And scandalous was hilary duff singing about going out on a saturday night. (I was really addicted to that 2005 hit single Wake Up.) Nowadays everyone just bops along to songs that sing about .. i don’t even know, anacondas? And nobody bats an eye. And when another kid comes along and starts singing about a weekday – y’all know I’m talking about rebecca black – everyone goes batshit crazy and starts laughing at her. I guess that formula died with h.duff, but man, it makes me nostalgic.

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x
♥jem

#1945 | The Broke Student’s Guide To: Shopping Abroad from Home with Airfrov

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Some visuals from shopping streets around the world

So, without beating about the bush: I travel a lot. I’m very blessed and fortunate to be able to travel so much. It’s something I love doing, both exploring new places and writing about them, and I’m very grateful to have been given the opportunity to sustain myself doing just that. On the other hand, this is a rather recent development: it wasnt always like this. I remember post-A levels, wanting to take a trip to Bangkok with some of my JC girlfriends. Such were the arguments for and against the trip:

For: Everything will be SO cheap there! A top will cost about fifty cents!
Against: Some of the girls in the group don’t really want to spend so much on an overseas trip.
For: But everything there is really really cheap and we can go shopping crazy!
Against: But it evens out once you add in airfare and accommodation…

We didn’t go.

To be fair, it didn’t make sense to go – we had just finished our A levels, and had spent all our money on starbucks during study sessions (studying is expensive business you guys). No one really had money to go. Still, we had dreams..

But yes. My point is, traveling is expensive. It can be done in an affordable manner, but it’s still a relatively pricey venture in this day and age, which is why I do my broke student’s guide, because the pain is real, eh. Still, the world is becoming smaller everyday – more budget airlines are popping up, running promotions, and putting traditional carriers on edge, people are more mobile now, and travel innovation is moving faster than ever. Airbnb is pure genius and it was started only less than ten years ago. We used to all rely on travel agents and now fare comparison sites give us the ability to plan our trips to the tee. Upstarts like me write guides on how to survive on a hundred bucks per city. There are a zillion apps to show you the best things to do, where to do them, and a million alternatives that are cheaper and just as popular. Things are moving in the travel sector, and fast.

One of the recent innovations that caught my eye was this new service-based website called Airfrov. I first saw it on Facebook, and then when they emailed me to invite me to try out their site. The idea behind it is basically the creation of a portal for travellers to earn an extra buck out of their spare luggage space, and for consumers to hitch a ride or tompang a traveller to get something for them that cant be found in their home country.

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Sorted by country – you can browse people’s requests and what other travellers are buying back

The idea itself isn’t new. So many times I’ve asked a friend to carry back some fairy lights from Bangkok for me and vice versa – because those things are about four bucks SGD in Thailand and have you seen how expensive they are in typo?! Twenty five bucks is how. Airfrov just took the idea and tinder-ed the hell out of it, matching up travellers and shoppers online like some form of shopping cupid.

Now, for broke students, this works two ways..


If you’re broke and have no money to travel

But you really really want something you cant find locally, you can pay someone to buy it back for you. This is especially useful if none of your friends are going to the region, or if you don’t foresee yourself heading back anytime soon.

An example:

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don’t judge ok

This is my own request. I really freaking want another LINE bunny phone case because mine spoilt sometime last month (the ear tore off, wear and tear, etc) and they don’t sell it anywhere in Singapore. This drives me nuts because it’s so damn cheap in BKK but I don’t think a 99BHT phone case justifies a 150SGD flight to Bangkok, no matter how badly I want it.

So.. tada! I post a request for it, specify that I’ll pay 15SGD for 2 of them, and all the people who have registered as travelling to BKK soon get a notification. Whoever takes it up then buys it back for me and I pay them. The minimum offer is SGD15, which is why I specified that it’s how much I’m willing to pay for 2 of them, because honestly, they cost about a sneeze in Bangkok. And now all I have to do is wait for someone to hopefully travel to BKK, see them, get them, and bring them back for me! 😀

And truth be told, if people start selling these in Singapore they’re probably going to cost a bomb because of how cute they are, so I really don’t mind paying seven bucks for the case even though the BKK cost price is about 3-4 dollars. I still see it as saving money.

Or, if you’re travelling and want to alleviate some of your travel cost..

How it works is, if you already know you’re going somewhere and you dont mind sparing some luggage space for cash, you can post that you’ll be travelling to this place and till when. Then when someone wants something from HK and posts a request, you get a notification and you can decide whether to take it up or not.

This is never going to apply for me because I never have enough luggage space even for myself, let alone someone I don’t know, but I imagine it’d be useful for people who do have extra luggage space and want to earn some money. I mean, look at this:

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Walao look at how much people are willing to pay for Mcdonald toys??

Some people apparently really want those toys. The difference between the amount the two guys are willing to pay for it just shows that even if the cost price of the toys are about 50 bucks, some dude is going to earn 30 bucks just by carrying it back because another person in Singapore is willing to pay a premium for it. If you’re a student, well, that’s pretty decent money for a tiny square of your luggage space, no?

PS. Ever since composing this post, the offer for these toys have gone up to 120SGD.

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I registered the fact that I’m in HK right now and I’ve been getting notifications for people who want things from HK, like the one above from this dude with cash to blow.

What if you just want to get something special for an upcoming occasion but don’t know what to get?

Go and browse lor. The fun part about Airfrov is basically that it’s like an open market, where people are posting requests and waiting for them to be taken up. You can even see when the request has been completed or undertaken. If you want something special or unique for, say, a family gathering, but dont know what to get, you can always go browse the requests to see what other people are getting. Eg. it looks like mcDonald nano blocks are a good idea if you want to wow your guests right now.

Alternatively, Verified travellers can also post recommendations for a place to give you ideas – this is mine:

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Bc it’s really the best egg tart ever, ok?

I think my suggestion is damn good because if you have these life changing egg tarts at your party or whatever everyone will forever think you are damn cool and throw super parties because YOU CANT GET THEM IN SINGAPORE. But yeah I dont have luggage space to offer to carry it back for cash so I just recommended it and someone else can offer to bring it back for people who might be interested haha.

One last thing:

Safe a not ah?

Well I’m still waiting for someone to take me up on my LINE BUNNY PHONE CASE Offer, so I haven’t completed any transactions yet. I asked Airfrov about this and this is what they said:

Me: So if a traveller accepts the request, does he/she pay for the product out of his/her own pocket first?
Cai Li (from Airfrov): Once a requester accepts the request – the traveller will have to fork out the money first before getting reimbursed after delivery. The money will have been deposited with Airfrov though, hence peace of mind for both parties.

So you can quote them on that.

So, a little something to help you get started

Airfrov is a relatively new service, so they have very generously offered the first twenty of you who sign up a SGD25 credit voucher to use on your purchases and requests! Just enter this code: ULK3S into your AIRFROV Credit and you will get $25 off your next purchase. No prior purchase necessary. Just for reference, if you refer a friend to Airfrov you get five bucks credit once they complete a transaction, and while that’s cool it means I am the best friend ever because I am worth five friends hahaha.

And when you get the credits, you know what to request for.

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They are really damn good ok??

Alright then. Chop chop everybody, it’s fastest fingers first.

x
♥jem