#2020 | a tale of two portos

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Porto, Portugal

Because we had taken a walking tour in Porto the city split in two. There was the Porto we had learnt about, culturally, historically, through the eyes of an enthusiastic and underpaid woman in a red polo shirt, shackled to the city by familial connections despite her advanced degree which could be traded for a better life just a little down the railway line. Then there was the Porto which was a series of beautiful encounters, enchanting meetcutes, the Porto that caught us off guard at each sharp turn with bent sunbeams and street music. Perhaps being with someone you love adds a sort of hazy filter to the world, a filter that wraps your surroundings around you, bestows upon you a half-belief that the circumstance you find yourself in was made specifically for you.

We were hand in hand in the Museu Romantico, within the Jardins do Palácio de Cristal, a place seeded and tended to with the sole purpose of embodying romance, each birdsong and wildflower echoing in the faces of the bodies strewn haphazardly across the grass, in some peaceful measure of sleep or dreaming. We were wondering about the woman we had spoken to the day before, the enthusiastic and underpaid one who’d made an appearance in sentence two of this post, and how she dropped her old salary as a teacher in a conversation as if it were nothing. How as she explained the cost of living in Porto it slowly took on the shape of nothing. How in the cracks of her voice we heard a bittersweet love for the tourism that had elevated Porto, decrepit city of her childhood, to a point of interest, attraction, to the outside world, and the accompanying way it revised her critical self analysis of her home. The tourism that created a revitalisation of the city center, a city center the locals refused to set foot in because it was too run down and too seedy, that now had restaurants playing jazz and fado by the waters at one point five times the regular prices. The tourism that lifted their property prices, up up up, so that once upon a time, when her mother had told her: don’t buy that building, eighty thousand euros worth of trash, she had listened, and it created not only the most haunting missed investment opportunity of her life. It had created also the story compressed into anecdote for the same tourists who now moan slightly as she tells them the story of how she chose to rent, not buy, and that building she once passed over for eighty thousand euros which is now worth what, two million euros. Stories, anecdotes, that her tourists lap up, which on some level, she also laps up, as a tour guide.

At the start of every tour gathered under the statue of Pedro the fourth (or Pedro the first, if you’re Brazilian) she does that little speech where she reminds them that this is a free walking tour and they get paid by no-one, not the city not the company not the government, but they subsist off the tips of the tourists who decide how much their work is worth. So the stories she tells are not just stories of her life, they are also the stories that get reinvested in her tour track, that contribute directly to the enjoyability of her tour, of her repertoire, and ultimately of her take-home. There is no villain here, only the cyclical movement of life and economics. There is no villain, only players – the people who come, the people who go, the people who cannot. The tourists, of course, another key figure in the game, the ones that we are not unaware we are part of. Hand in hand in the Museu Romantico this is what we are talking about, for a while.

While we converse other things roll in my mind. I cannot stop thinking about the girl who had the piercing on the left upper corner of her lip. Who told someone else in the group that she had come to Portugal spontaneously because the city she had been travelling to was too expensive so she had to find somewhere cheap. Who said this kind of loudly, within earshot of the guide, who’s smile never slipped, within earshot of the Brazillions in the group, whose economy is also in a pickle, within earshot of an Irish man, who later shook the guide’s hand very passionately, saying he understood exactly what she meant, being priced out of a market you grew up in. The girl who for two hours and fifteen minutes was really super loud, but whose voice evaporated in the last twenty minutes. Did you see where she went I asked the boyfriend, did she stay till the end. But he doesn’t remember and honestly, I cannot say for certain either.

I cannot stop thinking about one more thing. The bright and hard way the guide’s eyes doesnt leave ours as she takes our tip in her palm, never looking down at it, slipping it immediately into her jean pocket. I watch her later as she greets everyone else who gathers around her to thank her for the tour, pressing crinkly notes of various colours and denominations into her hand. Her eyes never dip past a person’s nose.

Porto for us was split in two. New sense of life past the visitor-friendly veneer will do that to a city, close two or three fingers around a tourist’s heart. Still, as we think about this, we cannot help but marvel at the view. How beautiful the city is. How mesmerising. How very, very charming.

x
Jem

#2016 | Apple of my eye

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An apple by any other name…
Pic one: Table 65
Pic two: Akira Back

I had two apple themed desserts of late, leading me to wonder if this belies a new trend, or if it has been the classic dessert option all the while, the only variable being my mild nosing into the specific echelons of dining circles that would blowtorch sugar into beautiful, fruit-shaped crystals. Regardless, they were both excellent.

Table 65 Van Oostenbrugge’s signature Apple, which was made famous in Amsterdam’s restaurant Bord’eau, serves up a sour green apple sorbet under a transparent sugar dome, the whole thing perched atop a pastry flaked to perfection. One bite and you can’t imagine there being a more apt finishing dessert to balance the meal out, also, it’s prepared enchantingly before you, open-kitchen-concept style. Dinner and a show.

Akira Back’s Apple is a tantalizingly glazed sour cherry apple granite, filled with dense cream cheese with an apple compote middle, surrounded by ice cold champagne jelly which is my new favorite kind of jelly. Cutting into it is its own kind of satisfaction, watching the dessert knife sink cleanly into the soft glaze.. and then you get to the actual eating and you’re blown away.

Interesting to me also is how they’re named – nestled amongst names that conjure fantasies and images of gastronomical flight, both dishes are just – Apple. Almost a punctuation in the menu. Perhaps both places, unaffiliated as they are, had the same thought: stripping the dessert to its main descriptor, and letting it speak for itself on the plate. It’s a strategy that certainly works.

x
Jem

#2015 | under the weather again

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As I’ve been relegated to the couch, here’s my unhappy bedfellow

No romanticism about it, I’m just sick again, and it sucks. I saw two doctors this time and they are divided on what it means, but agreed on the point of it being non-contagious, meaning technically I can (and will) continue working. The bottom line is, I’m either the victim of a random viral attack, or have developed a tragic late-life allergy to shellfish. Please, Lord, no.

The worst part is, sick me is delirious me, aka totally hallucinatory me. The medicines have hit me hard, and I’ve been living life in a blurry haze the past week. I keep dreaming up plans that I’ve made, or texting people based on conversations I thought we’d had… it’s embarrassing. It’s funny, when I first read My year of rest and relaxation by ottessa moshfegh i didn’t like it at all, but I suddenly find her character’s Ambien induced wooziness extremely relatable, if not desirable. The difference for me, is that life, by both necessity and circumstance, must go on.

x
Jem

#2100 | toit – lululemon vs iuiga tights

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lulu sisters in hongkong

Hey guys,

Good thing this is a personal, and not a professional blog huh, where I can freely express my opinions on workout tights without being mistaken for a professional fitness guru. Tehe.

Anyway, I’ve been getting a ton of DMs regarding my lulus, which I got in January this year. They’re my first pair of lulus, and I find it hard to express just how much I love them – I’ve basically abandoned all my other tights on cardio days, because nothing has matched up to the lulus since. For context, I go to F45 Orchard, which was instrumental to my morning person switch last year, and we do cardio on mon/wed/fri, and strength on tues/thurs. I find that tights are super important for cardio, whereas for strength training youre not as aerobic so the tights dont matter as much. And for cardio, you’re essentially looking for a pair of tights that dont slip – because you’re doing a lot of jumping and lunging, and it’s irritating to have to keep pulling up the waistband of your tights.

The lulus that i got were the fast and free asia fit tights, and there’s just so much to love about them. They have POCKETS. Pockets by the side, mini pockets in the waistband. They don’t slip. They have a lot of fabric tension so they hold your muscles together really well and dont bulge randomly. The material doesnt get patchy when you sweat. And for some reason, you never, ever get a camel toe wearing them.

The only problem (and it’s not a small one) is the prohibitive cost – lulus run upward of 200SGD. They’re pricey for sure, though they apparently last forever, something I cant verify since literally, no one would consider the span of three months to be forever… unless one were stuck in a dead-end relationship or job. Haha. Still, that makes them one of the priciest tights on the market, with no-brand tights (from decathlon?) starting at maybe 30 bucks, and more technical tights (from adidas/kydra?) going for about 80-100+. Double still – despite having tried tights from a variety of brands, I still find the lulus to be heartbreakingly the best. So I wash them the minute I get home on mondays and hang them out till they’re ready for wednesday’s cardio, etcetera etcetera, dreaming of the day i can afford a lulu for every cardio day.

All my waxing on about my lulus had people DM-ing me for reviews, etc, but one person in particular highlighted the existence of a ~lulu dupe~, available on Iuiga. For the uninitiated, Iuiga is a Singaporean brand professing to sell products from the same manufacturers as Samsonite, Muji (which later sued them), L’oreal .. and yes, lululemon. I’m not sure how they’re getting away with blatantly claiming to sell essentially the same products as copyrighted brand names, but that’s a whole other issue.

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Iuiga’s lulu dupes are called ONYX Powerfit training tights, and claim to be from the same manufacturer as lululemon, at a fraction of the cost.

To be fair, they dont claim to be a dupe of the exact model i have, the fast and free tights, but it’s pretty clear if you check out their pictures and so on. I went ahead and bought both this and their ONYX powerfit sports bra. Total damage was about $50+. I got it a week later in the mail and tried it out for a couple of weeks, and long story short, the tights are pretty good, but they’re not really lulu dupes in anything other than name..

The thing about clothing dupes is you can have the same material and superficial cutting, but the devil is in the details, especially for workout gear where technicalities are everything. The ONYX tights are a really decent pair of workout tights, and they feel great (in terms of tactile feel), they have the same side and waist pockets, and the same 7/8 length cut. But that’s about where the similarities end – the fabric elasticity isn’t the same, and the material feels thinner. As a result, you dont get the same compression tights feel as you do with the lulus, and you definitely dont get the same tummy tuck effect, two main differentiating factors between lulus and other brand tights. If youre not someone who works out regularly/everyday, you may not feel a big difference, but if you’re a regular cardio person, especially if you do HIIT, it’s a significant step down. Of course, the price is also a significant step down, so this seems to be one of those get what you pay for situations.

TL;DR, good tights, but not lulu dupes. You can use these as backup tights in between washes for your lulus (if youre an existing lulu person), or if you’re doing non-cardio workouts.

Anyway, if you are getting lulus, go to the store and request a fitting. Lulus expand a bit in the wash so size down when unsure – you dont want to spend 200 bucks just to have tights that are too big! You can wait for sales but those arent guaranteed – though lulu does have a “we made too much” page where they sell their excess products at a major discount. Also, if you’re headed to aussie, the tights are cheaper there, going for about 168AUD (and the AUD is now pretty low, about 1-1 to the SGD, making them way cheaper).

Or – if you happen to be in the states in May, Lulu apparently has an insane warehouse sale. Insane referring to both the discounts and the crowds. You could ask a friend in the states to brave the insanity for you, of course, but would you do it? I wouldn’t.

x
Jem

This post was written sans affiliation to lululemon / iuiga.

#2099 | a desire for amateurism

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bali, indonesia

Roz and I were on set for a new travel show in Bali last week and I found myself thinking of languages and how lacking I am when it comes to fluency. I want very badly to be good at languages, it was a dream of mine when younger to be multilingual. But no – years and years of Chinese tuition, months of intensive German class, a failed fart of a Korean stint, and a disappointing semester of French lessons have unequivocally showed me that different people have different strengths, and language is not mine*. My brain just isn’t wired that way, and as I age I am starting to realise there are some things you just can’t force, and that your body can continually surprise and disappoint you by turns and these turns are just another contour of a nuanced life.

My own envy becomes particularly apparent to me when I spend time around people who are naturally gifted at languages like Roz is. As I lie on her couch I watch her switch effortlessly between Indonesian and English, then Japanese as we dine with her husband, Mandarin as she orders for us, and then Indonesian again when we are threading our way through the streets of Bali, getting us the local, not the tourist price. She will deny it if asked but she has a talent for it. And as I watch her in not-so-quiet admiration I feel both a sense of pride (misplaced, I’m sure, as I have nothing to do with her abilities) and jealousy, I want to be able to be a verbal tourist to cultures in the way language allows you to, I want to linguistically access the heritage of my people in order to understand the decision to expunge it (like yiyun li) or embrace it. Someone I follow on instagram posted an excerpt from Kato Lomb’s Polygot: How I learn Languages recently and it really resonated with me, in particular this line: if someone knows how to play the violin only a little, he will find the the painful minutes he causes are not in proportion to the possible joy he gains from his playing. The amateur chemist spares himself ridicule only as long as he doesn’t aspire for professional laurels. It is true: I have no aspirations for a career in literary translation. I simply would like to converse.

I told myself I would give myself one last shot. It was a university dream of mine to try and learn Malay but I failed four semesters in a row to get a slot in the introductory class. It is supremely embarrassing that as someone living in a multiracial country I cannot speak our national language (which is Malay, not English, contrary to popular belief), all I can do is count to ten and not very consistently at that. Already I am incomprehensible in my own mother tongue, to the disappointment of my very chinese grandmother. Don’t even get me started on dialects. But I have never been someone embarrassed by failure, having developed an unusually thick skin over the years. I guess what I am saying is that I am on my way to becoming a very amateur Malay speaker. I am amassing a repertoire of broken languages. I have a list of things I have failed and am failing at, and that is okay with me.

x
Jem

*hot tip: hacking university life is all about taking classes that would cost a fortune otherwise, I can’t believe it’s free in Singaporean universities to just take whatever classes you’d like. In this way I have diversified for basically no money, which is just as well, since it has only revealed to me the variety of things that I am bad at.