#2087 | Sleeping alone in a foreign city; a love letter to solitude, safety.

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Shoreditch, London

As someone who’s shared not only a room but a bed with two sisters her whole life I can tell you the peculiar feeling of having a room to yourself is a sort of quiet wonder. I was in London for a month and a half during the tail end of 2018, completing my editorial traineeships with Aitken Alexander Associates and 4th Estate Harper Collins London, and during that time formed an intense emotional attachment to my proverbial room of one’s own.

And what of this particular room? A month and a half was too long for any self respecting adult to reasonably impose on a London based friend, and hotels were out of the question (too expensive, too.. cold) and so short term apartment rentals were the way to go. I spent months prior scouring Airbnb for options and eventually settled on a studio apartment in Shoreditch for several reasons – proximity to both my workplaces, familiarity with the area (my best friend used to live on Liverpool Street), box-ticking all my requirements, and also just the fact that I really, really like Shoreditch for its buzzy vibe.

Over the last year in particular I’ve received many variations on the same email, asking how I ensure safety when travelling alone. That’s a post for another day, but here’s a little starter. Even though I’ve written a guide to picking Airbnb listings prior, the requirements obviously shift slightly when you’re travelling as a single woman, so some of the features that were especially important to me were:

double lock: one at the entrance to the building and the other being my actual door
corner room (so it’s harder for me to be followed even if someone else enters the building with me)
first floor room (so only one flight of stairs to tackle with my luggages)
bustling nightlife – I was actually living above a nightclub (so I would never, under any circumstances, be walking home in a totally quiet street)
washer and dryer (so I could do laundry frequently without having to leave my apartment at weird hours unnecessarily)

It was also important to me to have a place with some natural lighting because I’m a tropical plant who flourishes under the sun, much to the chagrin of my dermatologist, so the corner apartment was perfect for me. I rearranged the furniture once I checked in to create a little sunlit corner where I could get my work done, and the amount of love I have for it is kind of ridiculous:

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And thus I was all set! Many mornings I spent having a coffee there before work, shooting off Singapore bound emails, many evenings spent tap tap tapping off the keyboard whilst working on something or the other.

The kind of peace of mind one gets when living alone is unique in how all consuming it is, how it creates a kind of excitement that hums in your belly as you move about your new space. I read 29 books in London and hauled home another 65. With unprecedented space, both physically and mentally, I confronted a lot of work that had to be done. I signed up for two gyms – a 2 week F45 trial (20 pounds/week) a 13 minute walk from my apartment, and BLOK London (100pounds/30day trial), a 5 minute walk – and worked out from 630-730am every morning before work. I bought groceries from the co-op a 5 minute walk away, I cooked the same thing everyday and felt happy to have some kind of routine to hold on to. I set up my chromecast on the wall-mounted TV and used it only once, I set up my google home mini and spent most evenings reading to the background lull of sleep time jazz. I bought candles, I bought flowers (the columbia flower market a fifteen minute walk from me). I existed, happily.

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My queen sized bed (mine, mine, all mine!!) meant I could read on one end and sleep on the other: by the end of the month I was bed-sharing with about twenty books. The small bedside table was incredibly useful (i dont have one at home); I bought a little lavender packet from the flower market and left it there, I perched my night time skincare there on the table, lit a candle before bed each night. Tea, I drank a lot of tea in London. It was edging winter during my time there, so take the fuzzy feeling you get when imagining cozying up with a book with a mug of tea and a candle burning, and triple it.


I mentioned earlier living above a nightclub, which I was fully aware of before touchdown thanks to the multitude of airbnb reviews that you should definitely look at before booking any listing. I wanted to live above a nightclub: on one hand perhaps it provided a romantic grittiness, a sense of being in the hub of a city, on the other, it was a safety-related concern, which I know seems counter intuitive on first glance but actually made sense for me.

Having travelled both alone and in groups, I can confirm that one of the most terrifying things weaved into the female experience when travelling is a quiet walk home.. worse when it’s quiet and dark. I could more or less triangulate the location of my airbnb (they normally dont give you the exact location till you book) and prior to my trip had mapped the possible transport routes (for work, for socialising, for points of interest) outwards. There were two major busstops near my place (Great Eastern Street and Shoreditch High Street) which had brightly lit paths to my apartment, they also serviced so many buses that I could essentially get all around London without having to descend into the tube network more than cursorily if I so chose. This was a huge plus point for me budget wise because buses are significantly cheaper than tube rides, and it adds up. Same goes for tube lines – I was in between Old Street, Shoreditch High Street, and Liverpool Street stations, and had already determined that the paths from all of them to my apartment were main streets. Obviously nothing would guarantee safety, but all one can do is minimise opportunities for danger. Being a bit of an obsessive planner myself, these were all things I sorted compulsively before my trip, despite the slightly ditzy aura I know I carry with my person, leading to perpetual looks of surprise whenever I unfold my pre-travel mind maps..

The fact that I was above a nightclub (with another three or so in the area) meant it would always be noisy because in my experience, the concept of a weeknight has no bearing on a Londoner’s capacity to get turnt. This meant I would never have to walk home alone, there would always be security personnel outside the clubs (which is something people dont think about, ever), and even though I might have to sidestep vomit more often than I’d like, if anything serious ever happened, the sisterhood of tipsy partygoers would probably always come to my aid.

So at night: the chorus of partygoers formed my white noise, in the day: I got into podcasts, especially after discovering they could be casted to my Google Home. I listened to countless podcast episodes whilst making breakfasts and dinners, and then happily settled down to eat with a book.

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ingredients, tea, home made lemon water

It was a nice surprise that my studio came with an oven in addition to a microwave, washer, and stovetop, meaning I could bake salmon without having the smell linger in the room for days afterwards. I remembered thinking that this place was so perfect for one, and I remember with some embarrassment how I congratulated myself heartily on having located this place.

Really, there was very little of the studio that I think I could have improved upon. It was essentially self sufficient, meaning I was never forced out by necessity, and each time I had to leave it was because of something I chose to do – go to the gym, to work, grocery shopping, to catch a musical. Amenity wise I think it had all a girl would need in a tiny, compact space – a huge wardrobe with ample drawers, a mini couch for pre-shower eveningtimes, lots of power points, fast wifi, a very space efficient toilet.

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cold weather favs: laneige’s water bank series, elizabeth arden’s probiotic and retinol series, and the supergoop sunscreen which i now swear by!

(I’d always wanted one of those toilet cabinets that hide things behind a mirror!)

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And of course, also how damn well located it was.

Perhaps the most unexpected yet amusing part of my life above a nightclub were the one sided conversations I partook in, the fly on the wall persona I adopted. In the middle of the night (usually thursdays or saturdays), fragments of conversation would waft up to me in my half-asleep state. Once I heard a girl scream she’s not interested you asshole which made me smile because girls backing girls will always make me smile. Another time: Nah, man, I’m not tired, are you tired, which was so clearly a lie. Once a fight broke out downstairs and I rushed to my window to peep through the blinds, it was a lot of posturing on the streets, like a cockfight that attempted to impress the girls looking horrified. But my favourite was the one time I woke up to the distraught sounds of an alcohol addled voice: I wanna call him man, I wanna call him and the responding chorus no girl – take her phone – what’s her passcode – dont give it back – give it back!

Lying in bed, I shook my head, half smiled, and said: Don’t call him, girl.

No one heard me. I went back to sleep.

Book the same apartment here
SGD35 off your first trip when you sign up for airbnb at airbnb.com/jemma

x
Jem

#2081 | Another one from another life

Hi guys,

Another one of late. I knew I was going to be taking a break from entertainment for the year end to work on the literary side of things, so the months leading up to November were actually insanely busy, crammed with shoots and revisions and scripts and projects yet to come to fruition, but promising promising, busy yet still promising. I am equal parts excited and intimidated, the tension between the up down up down up down is enough to wreck. A. Girl. I’m telling you! And yet I would not have it any other way. I wake up everyday horrified at all the things I have yet to do. Everyday I feel like all I’m doing is catching up. And on and on we go.



Anyway here is what I was talking about, re: another one. I hosted the Secrets of Okinawa travel episode for Okinawa Tourism Board x Jetstar Asia, a 5 day shoot that ended in a typhoon (!!!). Which obviously didnt make the final cut. For reasons.

I adore Okinawa. It’s my second time back – the first I was also hosting a travel video, a mini travel series in three parts that was more lifestyle and fun. This one is a little more documentary style. I actually prefer this one because of the homestay I got to do, which let me really sit down and get to know my hosts even after the cameras stopped rolling. Also – the extremely uncoordinated me got to do some hiking, which I have steadily refused my entire life, just knowing I would fall on my face and have my front teeth knocked out.. well, I didn’t, which is a nice surprise, though all it really does is reaffirm the extreme paranoia I carry around with me. Etcetera. Aside: that’s one way to get me to do physical activity I normally refuse – have a client request it. Ah well.

Because so much happened in between the shoot and release date, I actually forgot all about it.. until I saw it online. And then the memories all came rushing back. I thought to myself: Gosh. I love camera work. I actually really love it. When I go on set it’s like a different version of myself surfaces, a more extroverted, excitable, playful version, and it’s like running on an adrenaline high. It is second only to writing – which brings with it a different, deeper, more settled joy. And then when the camera cuts I settle back into my regular person. I guess that’s why it always feels like I’m watching a self from another life when I watch my own camera work after it releases, that shock of uncanniness not entirely unpleasant, but not exactly comfortable either. But then again I have become accustomed to discomfort.

Till next time.

x
Jem

#2077 | the broke student’s guide to Wroclaw solo!

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Wroclaw, Poland

Hey guys,

I was in Poland for some work in June and extended my trip to venture off to Wroclaw alone – a place full of promise with a name i couldn’t entirely pronounce. No matter! Adventure called, and I answered. Off to Wroclaw it was!

Getting there

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Hello from the GORGEOUS town of Wroclaw!

I took a 3 hour busride from Krakow to Wroclaw, it stands to reason as usual that the earlier you book the cheaper it is. I booked 2 weeks in advance and paid 5.90Eur per way. This is by far the cheapest and most efficient way of doing it from my research, I used Flixbus and downloaded the app too so I could check in via mobile instead of having to print stuff out and keep it on hand.

The bus departs from MDA bus station which is right next to the main train station in Krakow, as well as a giant mall, so theres lots to do while waiting for your bus to depart. Because i lead a terribly exciting life, I found a cafe with free powerpoints immediately, sat down, and started checking my emails.

*Note – the bus ride actually took 3.5-4hrs although it was advertised as a three hour ride. Traffic, I guess.

Total cost: 5.90 x 2 = 11.80Eur / SGD

Luggage matters

My entire trip was 2 weeks and I was only to spend 3 days in Wroclaw, so I had to find some way of getting rid of my big luggage while travelling solo and therefore, light. Thankfully most main train stations in Europe have a left-luggage system (I also double checked this online) and the one in Krakow is no different. I needed not just a left luggage locker which would limit each storage period to 24 hours, but a left luggage booth. This was located outside Burger King near platform 5 in the Krakow train station, and it cost 6Zlt/day to store big luggages for up to 10 days. That is very well priced, it’s essentially 2SGD. Ive paid up to 30 bucks in other parts of the world for the same service!

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this is what it looks like

Total cost: 6 x 3zlt = 18Zlt / 6SGD. PAY IN CASH UPON PICK UP.

Money matters – Currency, Credit, Cash.

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 (30 euros maybe?) 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.

Connectivity – Data, calls, etcetera

As mentioned in my Broke Student’s Guide to Warsaw, data in Poland is very, very affordable. In fact, the only other city I’ve been to with such sick rates for data is Helsinki, which was 3.99Eur for unlimited 7 day data. For Poland, I paid 7zlt (2.50SGD) for 7GB of data with 30 day validity. The carrier I went with was Orange, one of the biggest carriers in Poland, and I got the SIM card from the Warsaw Chopin Airport.

Accomodation

There are hostels aplenty in Wroclaw, but I booked myself an airbnb because I wanted a private space for myself and the extra cost was worth it to me. I paid 89SGD/2 nights for this gorgeous space. Main considerations I had when looking for a space was that it had to either have an elevator or be on the first floor of the building since I was travelling alone and I’d pulled a muscle in my arm previously from trying to lug a giant suitcase up 8 flights of stairs lol. This airbnb was on the first floor (meaning just one flight of stairs up, they go by Ground, 1, 2, 3, etc) of the building, which was perfect for me!

Link to my airbnb: https://www.airbnb.com.sg/rooms/19632795.
***Kindly sign up for airbnb at airbnb.com/jemma to get 45SGD off your first booking so that I can also get money off my bookings and therefore fund future broke student guides thank you. ***

The average cost of a hostel bed in Wroclaw is about 18-20SGD / night but i wasnt in the mood to share a dorm with 11 other young men and women haha, some trips I dont mind but this time i wanted some quiet time. Either way its good to know the option is there!

Total cost: 89SGD

Getting around

Wroclaw is a very walkable city, otherwise there are trams and citybikes you can pay for. I dont know anything about those because I walked EVERYWHERE. I didn’t even have to uber from the train station to my accommodation, it was a 10 minute walk, and from my apartment, another 10 minute walk into the Old Town.

And Wroclaw is super pretty so walking everywhere is totally enjoyable! Just have to put this out there in case the idea of lots of walking is off-putting to some of you!

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The walk from my airbnb to the city center was super nice too

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Here are the prices for the bikes anyway

Total cost: Free

Food

The cheapest way of feeding yourself is to locate the nearest milk bar and start off your day there. Despite the name, milk bars dont actually sell milk, they’re a kind of Polish canteen that was popularised in the post-war period as an affordable alternative to the more expensive, and therefore, capitalist, restaurants. They were mostly state subsidized as part of the welfare system, and put in place so the poorer people had somewhere to eat. At some point there were milk bars everywhere in Poland, but after the fall of the communist system they started to fold. However, you can usually still find a couple in each polish city – and they serve traditional and often home made polish food, which is awesome!

And they weren’t joking when they said milk bars were cheap. The only thing though, is that they’re catered to Poles and not to tourists haha so everything on the menu is in Polish. I just randomly pointed at something on the board and hoped for the best. Turns out I got a drink, salad, soup with noodles, main course (pork cutlet) and side (potatoes), all for 14.90zlt. That’s 5.40SGD. Amazing. And everything was really yummy too. It’s not only affordable, it’s also mad filling, because there’s just so much food, so if you start your day off eating here you probably won’t get hungry again till much later at night…

The milk bar I visited was right outside Renoma, the biggest shopping mall in Wroclaw.

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Everything is in polish, so.. yolo!

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It really looks more like a nice cafe than a budget milkbar!

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Mystery juice. I still have no idea what this is.

Rozowa Krowa
Świdnicka 38, 11-400 Wrocław

Other than milk bars, there are also plenty of affordable food options around the city. I hit up this pub called Pre-war (Przedwojenna) on my first night there, which was so awesome. All the food and drink options were painted on the wall, and the pricing system was straightforward – 4zlt for drinks, 8zlt for food. That’s SGD1.40 for a beer and SGD2.90 for a main… Again, everything was in polish, so I actually mistook the entire place’s concept and thought they were some kind of tapas bar because of the prices. I accidentally ordered two main courses instead of two tiny side dishes as I expected..

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I feel like I gotta put the prices here just as proof or no one will believe me!

Prewar
Świętego Mikołaja 81, 11-400 Wrocław, Poland
Open 24 Hours

The only ‘expensive’ thing I did was splurge on a 12zlt beer in this nice sports bar, 1450 Smokehouse & Cocktail, because the Poland vs Senegal World Cup match was showing on a big screen and I wanted to catch it. 12zlt is pricey for a beer (to me) because I was comparing it to the 4zlt beer I had the night before.. But it’s still SGD4.30 for a beer, yknw? Haha.

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Fun!

Oh yes, and the day I left, I hit up a pretty great cafe where I had a life changing experience with some focaccia. While that wasn’t expensive, it also cost slightly more than the rest of the food I had on the trip.

Total Cost: I cant remember. Bahaha.

Things to do

Hunt Gnomes!!

This is an actual thing. It’s almost like Wroclaw’s national thing by now, to be honest. You see these gnomes on magnets and stuff! But yes, these little metal sculptures pop up all over the city, and they’re hilarious. As are the random tourists you’ll see chasing them down at most corners! I didn’t go out of my way to look for them but I did follow the trail of a couple of them, and I was pretty amused everytime I came across another. There are apparently over 400 gnomes in the city now!

Beyond being a fun quirk, the gnomes actually have a really interesting back story – they were created as symbol of anti-Soviet resistance group, the Orange Alternative, as a way of protesting freedom of speech amongst other things. Long story short, it made authorities look like fools every time they tried to clamp down on them, because theyre freakin cute gnomes, for goodness sake! Anyway, the gnomes now are so popular amongst locals and tourists alike that they have their own official website with backstories and dwarf gossip, HAHA. Here it is – http://krasnale.pl/en/

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Hello, you

Check out their modern art

I find modern art in Poland fascinating because it is so heavily influenced by their post-war identity. Wroclaw is especially interesting because it used to be part of Germany (Breslau), and so its identity is steeped in the fact that it was actually on *that* side of history. Wroclaw was actually a pretty pro-hitler town before the war, actually, and it’s something they confront regularly in their documentation of history and art. I went to the BWA Wroclaw Galleries of Contemporary Art and loved it! It wasn’t very big but all the exhibits were well thought out and fascinating.

If you have a student card this will cost 4ZLT instead of 8.

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As you can tell, I have been unabashedly abusing my student card

BWA Wroclaw Galleries of Contemporary Art
Wita Stwosza 32, 11-400 Wrocław, Poland

Check out the city museum at their Royal palace

The ex-royal palace has since been remodelled into a museum which houses cultural artefacts from Wroclaw’s history, detailing everything from fashion to furniture, from religious movements to Wroclaw’s involvement in World War II. I was actually really taken by the third level of the museum, which focuses on the post war Soviet occupation. I previously visited the Neon Muzeum in Warsaw which exhibits restored neon signs, relics from the Cold War era in Poland, and this kind of expanded on what I saw there.

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And of course, any history museum in Poland focuses in part on the war..

Entry: free
Website

Royal Palace, Wrocław (City Museum)
Kazimierza Wielkiego 35, 50-077 Wrocław, Poland

Total cost: 4Zlt/ 1.2SGD


Ending off

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Solo in Wroclaw = lots of selfies..

I absolutely loved Wroclaw and I’m so so so glad I decided to make a solo trip here instead of staying in Warsaw for a few more days! Don’t get me wrong, I do love Warsaw, but Wroclaw is very different in terms of character and charm, and a lot of this has to do with its history, I think. As with the rest of Poland, Wroclaw is relatively affordable compared to most of Europe, and if you’re in the area I definitely recommend making a two or three day trip here. Hope this guide was helpful and if you’re headed that way, and if youre not, make plans! x

*This Broke Student Guide was brought to you by me. Everything you see here was paid for on my own coin, in true broke student style. Enjoy!

x
Jem

#2070 | IZAWA Gyukatsu in Seoul

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Seoul, Korea

One of the best meals I had in Tokyo was preceded by a 45 minute queue winding down a tiny stairwell and spilling out into the streets of Shibuya. It was a katsu joint, but instead of them delivering a readymade katsu meal to you, you were served meat and a hot stone where you could sizzle the meat to your personal levels of perfection. The meal was so incredible to us that my sister ordered an extra 150g of meat despite being totally stuffed, and when I pointed out that she’d been complaining about totally overeating the entire trip, she told me to stop being a hater.

Good times, in other words. My sister and I sometimes remniscence about that meal fondly, but I never thought I’d be able to have it again unless I could somehow find my way back to Tokyo. Which explains why I was so suprised when I saw it sitting in a quiet alley in Myeong Dong during my trip to Seoul in March, and doubly explains why obviously I had to go in.

Now, I’m not sure if this is related to the Tokyo eatery I went to, but it shared the same concept. It was located in the basement of a building which was accessible by street level stairs, and you could order gyukatsu which came with a hot stone as well as unlimited refill of miso soup and salad. There were other options too, like pork donburi and beef bowls, but both Martin and I opted for the Gyukatsu because it was featured on the signboard and so was probably the signature item there.

I’m just going to say right away that Martin did not enjoy the meal, he was perplexed at the concept of having to cook his own food (“isn’t that what you pay service charge for?! The service of cooking!?”) and he likes his meat well done, so the option to control the level of rareness is pretty useless to him and just an additional step of trouble. Which are all perfectly fine reasons to dislike a meal. But I personally like my beef done medium or medium rare, and I also find it pretty fun to cook my own food because I like gimmicky things. So I loved this.

That’s all I really had to say about this place, I’m really just documenting this meal here because many people wrote to me to ask about it after I featured the meat on my instagram stories. It was a good meal for me and I would definitely go back. All the slices of meat I cooked tasted delicious to me and gave me a sense of validation that if I were ever to change career tracks, I would obviously have a great level of success as a chef. This may be a totally false belief, but the happiness I got from it was real, okay.

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I will say one thing about the meal, to end off this post. How on earth do they cook the outside of the cutlet to such great crispness while leaving the meat inside totally rare? I know I can probably find the answer pretty quickly by running a google search, but then some of the magic would be lost, methinks. Thus I continue to wonder occasionally about the perplexing complexities of culinary science, and life goes on.

IZAWA Gyukatsu Seoul
9-3, Myeongdong 10-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul 04537, South Korea

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