Thursday, January 31, 2008

A sign of maturity?

Two days ago, I accidentally stumbled into a big sale at How big? Well, there was an additional 30% markdown on sale items, and to give you an idea on how huge that is, a cashmere cardigan I have been eyeing that originally cost $175 was on sale for $69. A cashmere cardigan made in Italian mills – that, my friends, is a steal. Being 16 hours ahead of everyone in the West Coast (13 hours for those preppy peeps in the East Coast), I must’ve visited the site just as the sale BEGAN… practically every color was available in my size, including a cobalt one that would go wonderfully with many outfits.

So what happened? Am I now the proud new owner of a cashmere cardigan in cobalt?

Sadly, no.

I hemmed and hawed about NEEDING adding another cashmere piece to my wardrobe. Who NEEDS a cashmere cardigan? Sure, they’re soft and keep you warm, but it’s hard to argue that they are a necessity - especially if you live in LA where winter temperatures barely dip below 50 degrees farenheit. Exercising my newfound restraint, I held off and decided not to buy it. I already have so many clothes, I reasoned, and I already have a cashmere cardigan purchased from J. Crew two years ago (which I love!). Besides, it’s not like this is J. Crew’s last sale EVER – if it’s meant to be, another one will be one sale when the time is right (i.e. I have more money to spend). With that thought, a little voice in my head saying, “ooooh but it is such a good deal! And cashmere!” was silenced and I went about the rest of my day here in China, working away, making sure I met with everyone before I left on Saturday.

Around lunchtime the following day, the volume of the little voice in my head (now whiny and pitching a fit) increased, and before long I was visiting again to see if the cardigan was still there. It was not. It was probably one of the first colors to go, and another dress I had my eye on was gone as well. So much for sneaking in a J. Crew purchase while overseas!

In a way, I am relieved that those items were sold out before I had a chance to order them. I’ve had a bit of an impulse control problem the past two years, and holding off on purchasing things that I clearly do not need (but were priced so low!) was good for me. I am very proud that I am still here, cardigan-less, but more importantly, I have more money in my pocket by not making the purchase.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Last night I watched The Amazing Race Asia in my room. I’ve always had this fantasy of competing in The Amazing Race, and until recently, only US citizens could compete on the show. It was nice to see people from other countries competing in the program because I know how popular it is worldwide.

If you who haven’t watched the show it or ever heard of it, it’s a reality show that features a race around the world. It’s like a really long scavenger hunt that takes place in several countries, and the last one to arrive in each leg is eliminated.

I’m not usually a fan of reality programming but this show has always appealed to me because I love traveling, and this program shows off so many exotic locations and cultures around the world. It makes you want to get out there and visit all these countries! Unlike other shows like Survivor where people build alliances and plot/connive to secure their place in the next round, winning The Amazing Race depends on teamwork and a little bit of luck. It’s not to say that some TAR contestants have not built alliances with other teams in the past, but the true winners are the ones who make it through the race on their own terms.

I’d thought about becoming a race participant a few years ago, and for various reasons I never made it past the point of actually auditioning for the race. I think Rene and I would make a great team – he’d be really great with the navigation and physical aspect of the race while I’d be the one trying to figure out the clues and figuring out the best way to get to the next place. Plus, I can drive a car with manual transmission, which is a plus in countries where automatic is not an option.

So last night I caught an episode midway through the season and there are only five teams remaining in the competition (originally 10). For this leg of the race, they started in Prague and made their way to Budapest where they visited a farm, went canopy flying, and looked for a historical fountain featured on the 1,000 Forint bill. While I was excited to see TAR again after two or three years, and while watching the show last night it dawned on me that TAR might not be very fun at all. Sure, contestants get to visit lots countries during the race and meet people, but it saddened me to see that it was on a superficial level and not the in-depth and leisurely visit I prefer. The contestants spent a day in Budapest chasing clues and running from one place to another, and by the end of the day I don’t think they realized what Budapest is about. Having visited the place back in the spring of 2007, I had memories of visiting Castle Hill, taking leisurely walks, and dining out with friends. I felt bad that instead of admiring the scenery and exploring the city they were stressed out and concerned about not being eliminated during that round. To me, the best traveling experiences come when you least expect them. Sometimes it sneaks up on you when you are sitting in a piazza in Italy enjoying a gelato or when you are riding a bike in the rain in Amsterdam. It reinforces my belief that the world is full of wonderful places to experience, and you should fit in as many of these experiences as you can during your lifetime. Do I sound like a travel commercial yet?

I’m not saying that everyone should quit their jobs and purchase a ticket around the world but if the opportunity presents itself it should be taken. To me, this means visiting far-off locales you’ve always wanted to visit like Prague (where the above picture was taken) as well as local places in Southern California like the San Gabriel Mission. Traveling is a state of mind, I guess, and it doesn’t matter where you go but how you get there that truly counts.

Monday, January 28, 2008

When Starbucks really matters

On Sunday afternoon, I decided to take a stroll out in the cold rain-slash-snow and visit the Yuyuan Gardens. They have a pavillion in the middle of the gardens that serves tea, so I thought I'd combine my adventurous spirit with a hot cup of tea and take in the view.
That would've been a great way to spend the afternoon, and of course that's NOT the way it happened yesterday. Instead, I got confused between Yuyan Garden and Yuyuan Temple, also known as the city god's temple. I don't know how I would confuse GARDEN with TEMPLE but the name was the same so I didn't think about it. After following the Lonely Planet map and getting a little bit lost along the way to the TEMPLE (I only realize this afterwards), I found myself at a place like home - Starbucks. Yep, apparently Starbucks is more than just coffee around here - it's also a great place to meet other people who speak English and to get directions. Turns out that the temple was right in front of the Starbucks - a huge building that blended with the other ones, in the traditional Chinese architectural style. The only thing that distinguished it from the other buildings were the red walls, and it was easy to find my way to the entrance.

So, do you know what they do at the temple? Pray to the gods and ancestors. And not much else. Man, I stuck out like a sore thumb - a tourist with a little camera taking pictures. Everyone else was burning these large sticks of wood and bowing down to the temples. I was tempted to buy a stick just so I would look like I knew what I was doing, but with my luck I'd probably set myself on fire and make a big fool out of myself. I entered one of the minor temples and took a few shots but I was too intimidated to go into the big temple. It had a huge statue there, and because I didn't want to be disrespectul by taking pictures inside, I stayed out and peered in. Which probably made me look even more strange, but whatever.

I decided to call it a day and walk back to my hotel after twenty minutes. On the way back I passed several shops selling decorations for Chinese New Year. Most of the buildings out here are decorated with something red and festive, and it was nice to see entire stores decked out red. It's like Christmas all over again for me.

Anyway, I didn't do very much after my little sojourn to the temple. The rest of the day was spent defrosting and getting ready for my last week here in China.

More pictures here.

Hangzhou on my mind

It’s rained every weekend since I’ve been here in Shanghai – and it’s not the drizzle variety that you can survive without an umbrella. It’s either been pouring rain or snow. This weekend it was mostly snow, and since I am from a part of southern California where that never happens, it was a nice change from the rain. Hey, at least snow falls softly and makes everything look good.

This past Saturday a few guys from our Shanghai office were kind enough to drive us to Hangzhou (pronounced hang-joe) for the day. Hangzhou is about 115 miles out of the city, and was a formerly China’s capital back in the Song Dynasty (11oo's). According to Lonely Planet, Marco Polo visited this city 700 years ago and pronounced it to be “the finest, most splendid city in the world.”

Hangzhou’s claim to fame is its lake called West Lake. It is surrounded on three sides by hills with little islands that dot the lake. This would’ve been a great destination in the summer time, a great place to rent a bike and ride it around the lake. On the day we visited it was snowing in Hangzhou, and according to our tour guides from the office, this is the first time they’ve ever witnessed snow in this part of China.

It took us about three hours to get here from Shanghai because of the traffic – there was a lot of snow and ice on the road, making it hard to maneuver the roads. We arrived just in time for lunch at a lovely restaurant overlooking West Lake. As is the custom here in Shanghai, one person orders for the entire table lots of different dishes and everyone in the table gets to try all of them. We had tons to eat – bamboo soup, duck, beggar chicken, dried anchovies, shrimp with tea leaves, fried bean curd, steamed fish, and for dessert a sweet hot soup from made from fermented rice balls and sticky purple rice. All the dishes tasted great! To make up for all the food we ate, we took a leisurely stroll around part of West Lake and took some amazing pictures.

After finishing our walk, we headed to a traditional Chinese pharmacy, which was adjoined to the Medicine Museum in Hangzhou. The pharmacy was not unlike the ones we have in the US in terms of service provided but the medicines they gave out were made from plant extracts and crushed bone. Some ingredients were very commonplace like rose buds (I don’t know what it was used for though) and some were very exotic, like snow leopard bone or rhino horn. I didn’t see any of these exotic things on the counter but I imagine that these would be very expensive and hard to come by.

We entered the museum through the back of the pharmacy. The museum provided a brief history of Chinese medicine from its beginnings to today, but honestly I wasn’t paying much attention. I was too busy looking at all of the exotic animals they hunted (and maybe still do) for these medicines. They include tigers, rhinos, bears, leopards, and eagles. It was widely believed the ingesting bone or parts of these animals meant that you captured the essence of the animal, but being an animal lover I really don’t believe this to be the case. Still, it was interesting getting a glimpse of that world.

After the museum we made the long drive back to Shanghai, which also took three hours. By the time I got home I was exhausted and got into bed after a nice warm shower.

More pictures here.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Things to do on a rainy weekend

It’s not all about work here in Shanghai. I do get plenty of opportunities to catch my breath and relax, and when that happens I don’t want to do anything. During my downtime I am usually slumped in my sofa here at the hotel, watching TV or reading books, or else catching up on precious sleep. What’s more, the internet connection is excruciatingly slow and posting pictures and blogging has become an exercise in patience. Two weeks late (but better late than never), here is a recap of what I did during my first weekend here in Shanghai.

The rain ruined our plans to visit Hangzhou for the weekend, so my boss Claudia and I decided to visit the Shanghai Museum instead. We thought that perhaps the rain would die down, and learning about Chinese culture while waiting it out was a good plan.

The museum was organized according to art materials: ceramics, bronze, jade, textiles, furniture, etc. There were some very lovely things on exhibit in the museum but one couldn’t help wondering why a country with such a rich and varied history as China wouldn’t have more art to showcase. Someone at the office explained that a lot of art was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, and some were smuggled out of the country. It’s a shame really, because a lot could be learned by future generations from beautiful Chinese artistry. After approximately three hours in the museum (with a tea break after an hour and a half of walking around with an audio guide glued to our ears), we decided to call it a day. That’s when Prime Minister Gordon Brown walked into the museum, with about 100 people trailing him and crowding the escalators. We watched him ascend all the way up to the fourth floor before heading outside, and once there we were stopped by security and told to wait in the rain until he left. Apparently it was a big security concern to walk to the other side of the street despite fact that Mr. Brown was still in the museum. I don’t understand how that impacts his safety, but whatever – I did what I was told.

After visiting the museum, we visited the shopping center next door called the D Hong Kong mall. The mall is located inside an old bomb shelter, built in the days of the Cold War, and you could tell that it was indeed a bomb shelter by the low ceilings and poor lighting. The shopping wasn’t great but the location was worth a visit. The place was quite big, and you couldn’t help but wonder how many people they planned to stick in there when it was built.

Pictures are here.

Again, it was raining. Claudia, having had enough after walking home the night before (there were no taxis so we had to walk back to our hotel room), decided that she was going to stay in and rest during the day. I wasn’t thrilled with the idea spending a day at the hotel so I decided to take a walking tour of the Bund. The Bund is the business area here in Shanghai situated on the banks of the Hangpu River. There’s a nice promenade that stretches that showcases the buildings and history of Shanghai. I made the most of it by passing some landmarks and taking pictures of Pudong (still a part of Shanghai) across the river. I came home shortly thereafter and drank plenty of hot tea to warm me up again. I wouldn’t normally insist on talking a walking tour of anything during the rain, but there were other people there as well taking in the sights despite the horrible weather.

Pictures are here.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Grateful for the Little Things

I typically work harder when I’m working internationally. It’s not that the work itself is harder; it’s that there is more to do in a small amount of time. Long work days are the rule and not the exception.

That being said, traveling to a foreign country also has its perks. The one perk I am enjoying during my stay here is my junior suite at the Westin. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but I'd like to share my favorite things about my room:

This is called a rainforest shower head. When standing under it, it feels like taking a warm shower from a waterfall (apparently that is how people living in the rainforest take showers). Not a second is spent waiting for the warm water to envelop your body, and it is especially relaxing when taking a shower at night.

This bathtub is huge. Plus there’s ample room on the side to hold books and magazines while enjoying a soak in the tub.

Every pillow has a different consistency – some are firm, some are soft, and some are stuffed with feathers. I like the ones stuffed with feathers. The hotel also has a turn-down service where they close the curtains and pull down the bedding corner for you, like shown above. The only thing missing is the chocolate.

This is a magical device. It turns the lights in the living room, bathroom, and bedroom on and off and is conveniently placed on the nightstand. It’s especially helpful when you are suffering from jet lag and are desperate for sleep.

Room service - need I say more? Tonight I had seafood yellow curry with oatmeal cookies and warm milk for dinner. I think I've gained at least five pounds during this trip!

Even though I work some crazy hours, it’s nice to know that at the end of the day I come home to these things. It tempers the sting of hard days and makes the end of the day so much more rewarding.

Shanghai Observations

I don’t see many children here in Shanghai. The kids are either in school or at home during the day so I don’t come in contact with them. Since I’ve arrived I’ve seen only a handful of kids with their parents.

I have only seen three dogs since arriving the Sunday before last. Someone in the office explained that most people here live in high-rise apartments so it’s hard to have a pet dog, especially the larger breeds. This morning I saw a German shepherd being walked near my hotel.

When I first arrived in Shanghai I was surprised by how many signs are were translated into English, and how many people here at the office speak English. I shouldn’t have been fooled: not many people outside the office speak English, and it is hard to get around without a business card or the address in Chinese.

Most people my age don’t have any brothers or sisters because of China’s one-child policy. The bulk of their childhood is spent studying and preparing for exams, and some of them never had pets growing up. How lonely that must feel.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Dear Prime Minister

Dear Gordon Brown,

Please stop stalking me. It’s becoming embarrassing for both me and your entourage here in Shanghai.

First, you check into my hotel, which was fine at first. After all, it is a very nice hotel, and there are lots of English people staying here. I’ve even brushed past them on the breakfast buffet line trying to decide between bacon or sausages (or both), whether to try dragon fruit or stick to watermelon, and some adventurous souls having the Chinese breakfast. I didn’t even mind when the security staff at the hotel installed the metal detectors and x-ray screening machine on Friday night, when I had to wait in line for five minutes while fellow guests ahead of me where searched and patted down. Those machines are becoming commonplace now, and having experienced it just a week ago at the airport, it was no big deal. I also didn’t mind having to walk all the way to the back of the hotel to flag down a taxi the next day.

Now what I’m finding questionable is your appearance at the Shanghai Museum on Saturday, which happened to be the same time I visited. I saw you use the escalator to go all the way up to the fourth floor, and I must say that was a nice lavender tie (but you should’ve worn a red one, because this is China after all, and red is a very popular color). You might have seen me from the lobby as you were going up, or perhaps by the make-shift parking lot you and your entourage set up by the museum entrance. Thanks to you I had to wait ten minutes to get to the other side of the street, being told very curtly by the Shanghai police to stay behind the barrier. Thanks for making me stand out in the rain, Gordon. I like getting my pants soaked from rain blowing sideways.

I don’t understand the fascination with me, and frankly you’re not my type, but could we make sure to avoid future contact whilst here in Shanghai? I am planning to go to dinner here at the hotel, so please make other arrangements. It would just be weird and creepy to see you again. Don’t make me call security.

All the best,


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Sticker Shock

Last night one of the Directors here at the Shanghai office took us out for dinner. We went to a Cantonese restaurant near the office, located on the top floor of a nice shopping mall. We had to go up eight levels of stores before we reached the restaurant. Thank goodness for elevators – if we took an escalator and saw every floor we might’ve never gotten to dinner.

While waiting for the elevator I spied some lovely boots at a nearby store. I didn’t bring any winter footwear, and right now my warmest pair of shoes are my New Balance sneakers (I should’ve brought my flat brown boots!). I made a mental note to pass by the store on our way out, just to see if I could get something cheap to tide me over for the trip.

After a lovely dinner that included traditionally prepared Cantonese shrimp, pork, and duck (which was delicious), we made our way out of the restaurant and stopped by the store downstairs. After looking at several shoes on the floor, I pick up a boot that was simple in design and looked sturdy. After asking the saleslady for the price, I learned that anything resembling a name brand costs an arm and a leg here in China. The pair of black Clarks boots with a wedge heel and rubble sole costs 1580 RMB, or $205. $205! And that’s including the 20% discount! For $200 I better see a nicer name on the label like Coach, Charles David, or Cole Haan. Clarks? Are you kidding me? Clarks sounds like Charles David’s hick cousin.

What’s even more perplexing to me is that most of these boots are probably made in China, and you would think that because you are in China you’d be cutting out the middleman and paying a reasonable amount for these boots. But no – the price is even higher than the US. I would gladly pay $20 for a pair of decent-looking boots here but $200 is price gouging. And they weren’t even that cute!

Lookin' for Love in Shanghai

Shanghai is everything I thought it would be and nothing what I thought it would be. If that statement made you say “huh?!” please allow me to explain.

Shanghai is full of contradictions, and everyday I learn something new about the city, the culture, and the people. Apparently Shanghai is very different from the rest of China – it’s cosmopolitan and modern, which is reflected not only the city’s high-rise buildings but in its attitude as well. I’ve been told that most of China is very rural and simple, and finding someone who speaks English is highly unlikely (but not impossible).

I’ve been visiting warehouses and distribution facilities located an hour out of the city for the past three days (hence the lack of posts), and it is during these excursions that I’ve learned the most about Shanghainese culture. I met a girl named Jessica who had the task of translating my conversations with the warehouse staff. The warehouse staff had lunch brought in for us during both days, and while we ate lunch we had some time to chat about cultural differences between the US and China. Did I mention we ate KFC on Wednesday and Pizza Hut on Thursday? If the Chinese keep eating like this they might beat us as the fattest nation on earth soon.

I learned from Jessica that Shanghainese women are determined to make good use of their education and excel in their career but also have a strong desire to find a suitable husband. For Shanghainese women in particular, it is hard to find a husband who is as successful in their career and have the same family and educational background as the women. It’s very important to have an equal partnership so that family, education, career, and salary are carefully matched for an ideal marriage. For Jessica, good men are hard to find, especially with such vivacious females here in Shanghai.

I asked Jessica how one would find a husband, and she said that the most common method was to have blind dates set up by the man and woman’s parents. The parents would meet and discuss their offspring: where they graduated, their salaries, their interests, their goals, etc. If they found a good match, two would meet at a local tea house and get to know one another. If the date went well, they’d see each other again; if not, it was up to the parents to set up another blind date. To me, this sounds like an episode of the show Parental Control in MTV without the sound bites. Anyway, Jessica just had a blind date recently, and she said that it did not go well. Her date was too quiet for her and she wanted to find someone who could equal her conversation skills (which is a tall order because this girl talks A LOT). Jessica’s goal this year is to find a husband, and since she was born in the year of the Rat (which is the animal for this year’s Chinese New Year) she might get lucky this year.

Jessica also told me that ladies here in Shanghai love Starbucks coffee, Haagen-Dazs ice cream, and Louis Vuitton purses. She said that if men want to cheer up their girlfriends or wives, they take them to Haagen-Dazs for an ice cream treat. She also said that an appropriate gift for a 30-year wedding anniversary was a Louis Vuitton bag – sure, you can tell your wife that you love her, but giving her a Louis Vuitton bag proves it. I cannot make this up!

Louis Vuitton must be dancing in his grave.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Welcome to China

Flying to Shanghai
The flight to Shanghai went well. There was a little bit of turbulence on the way over but nothing crazy, just a few bumps here and there. Of course, I didn’t sleep on the plane until the last three hours before landing, which is an awful time to want to sleep because of everything happening around you. This is when the last meal is served and everyone is waking up and going to the bathroom, or organizing their stuff, or starting to get chatty with their neighbors. The passengers behind me were very chatty, and despite using the airline-supplied ear plugs and attempts to cover my ears with the tiny pillow, it was impossible for me to sleep.

The arrival process at the airport was a breeze – my boss Claudia and I went through immigration, collected baggage, changed cash, and passed through customs in about 30 minutes. The efficiency surprised me, considering there were so many passengers on my flight. We had a driver meet us at the airport and we got to our hotel about an hour. It was raining the night we arrived in Shanghai, which was Sunday, and there wasn’t a lot of traffic on the roads.


The Westin Bund Hotel was very nice, with a newly renovated tower and front entrance. Since I was going to be in town for the next three weeks, I was upgraded me to a junior suite, and now I have a living room-slash-office to call my own. The room also came with a master bath the size of my living room at home, which had two entrances like Carrie Bradshaw’s bathroom in Sex & the City: one right by the door as you enter the room, and one by the bedroom area. It’s a good idea, really, because after a long day at work the first place you want to visit is the bathroom before you crash into bed.

16 Hours Ahead
It’s been tough transitioning to the time difference, which is 16 hours ahead of my usual time. Right now it’s 5:38 am on Tuesday but I’m wide awake. I’ll probably crash a little bit around 4 pm, and recover in time for dinner. It’ll be like this for the first few days, and by next week I should be fully acclimated to the time here in China.

There will be more posts to come, hopefully more interesting than this one. My first day of work was tough, and the next few days will be no different. And the internet connection here at the hotel? It's really slow. It takes 10x as long to surf the net, never mind posting pictures at this blog. Click on the Flickr link above to see my first pictures of Shanghai.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Getting It Done

One of the things that make it hard for me to appreciate my upcoming trip to China is the amount of work that needs to be done before I leave.

I have to configure my new laptop here from work to make sure that it works and that all of the files I’ll need have been saved into said laptop. I also have to make sure that the laptop is configured for the internet; otherwise I am SOL when it comes to e-mail and access to the shared drive here at work.

I have to make sure that I have completed the planning phase by the end of the week. The planning phase is a really involved process, but since I’ve never visited this location I am making a few assumptions so that planning is done – which is to say, I am grasping at straws. I’m starting to get back into it today, but it’s already 3:51 pm and I need it by Friday afternoon.

I have to start making lists of all the things I need to pack, namely books to read, travel guides, work outfits, casual outfits, accessories, toiletries, entertainment (besides the books, i.e. DVD), and most important of all, travel adapters. You’d think that I’d have mastered this part of the trip by now but it’s always a race to the finish.

The only things keeping me sane are the Hello Kitty post-its. Who isn’t cheered up by that pink bow and cute face?

On to work…

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Of Cake and Molars

I am two days away from my two dental appointments: one with my orthodontist to change my wires and bands (courtesy of Braces Part II), and one with my new dentist for a cleaning. Given all the sweets I have been eating during the holidays - hey, who am I kidding - all of 2007, I may have a few cavities that need to be filled.

I've been to the dentist enough times during my lifetime - at least once a year for annual checkups and Braces Part I - that I don't even fear the dentist anymore. My most painful dental appointment was back when I was 16 and had 13 cavities. I got seven cavities taken care of during that visit (sans novacane) and came back for the remaining six the following week (again, no pain medication). At this point the pain is more uncomfortable rather than painful. I feel like I have an out-of-body experience when getting work done on my teeth: I just relax and think about something else. The work is usually done before I know it.

I was reminded of the dentist today because it was someone's birthday today at the office. As is our custom here, the whole department takes a break in the afternoon to sing Happy Birthday and eat cake. Today it was a fruit pie from Porto's Bakery here in Burbank, and last time it was chocolate cake. This is in addition to the donuts and pastries brought in for the birthday girl this morning. I may need to start buying new pants due to weight gain.

I think it's really sweet that people celebrate birthdays here and pass cards around for everyone to sign. I know it felt nice to have cake and a card on my birthday, and it made the day really special. I don't know if I can say the same about visiting two dentists on Thursday.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Swishing Around

I realized last Thursday that this past weekend was my last here in LA before I took off for Shanghai, China next Saturday night. It's a work trip, which means a business class flight with almost 180-degree reclining seats, offers of champagne before takeoff, great hotel, and generous meal allowance. It also means hard work and long hours, so I guess it all balances out.

Rene and I spent Saturday afternoon visiting the Tadashi Murakami exhibit at the MOCA David Geffen Contemporary our friends Erin and Jeff. I've been wanting to check out this exhibit since last year, when it was mentioned in an issue of Dwell magazine. Murakami popped into my radar a few years ago when he collaborated with Louis Vuitton for a series of limited edition handbags, which are probably worth more now than when they were first sold. For you designer bag fiends out there, these LV bags are featured in the exhibit and you will have a chance to purchase a limited edition Murakami bag for the low, bargain-basement price of $875.

I liked the exhibit - to me, it was like seeing Hello Kitty characters on crack. The little creatures portrayed in his art were sinister versions of Hello Kitty, My Melody, and that penguin character (can't remember his name). I liked the composition of the work and the colors Murakami used throughout, so I'd highly recommend a visit if you are interested in contemporary art infused with Japanese Anime.

After the exhibit we visited a shabu shabu restaurant in Little Tokyo. Shabu shaub (which means "swish-swish" in Japanese) is a dish prepared by submerging a piece of thin meat into a boiling pot of water infused with sea kelp and other vegetables. The meat cooks very quickly and is dipped in sauce before eating. We had a blast:

Four orders of all-you-can-eat beef shabu shabu please

Ingredients for shabu shabu: thinly sliced meat (check), hot pot (check), four orders of Japanese beer (check) (just kidding). Off to the other side are the vegetables and the sauces.

Erin swishing a piece of meat in the hot pot. It cooks amazingly fast!

Rene and Erin

The restaurant gave free champagne to people who were celebrating their birthday (within 10 days of birthday with photo ID). Since Rene's birthday was on January 1, we got a free bottle of Andre champagne.

A picture of my plate after we quit eating so much meat! We averaged about two plates per person, but I think Jeff and I ate the most. I hung in there until the bitter end.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

A Look Back at 2007

This morning I came across this questionnaire and thought it would be a worthwhile exercise. I'm thinking of doing this every year from now on, and maybe you should too.

1. What did you do in 2007 that you’d never done before?

Blogging! I've had the urge to blog since 2006 and have been lurking in several sites prior to starting my own back in July 2007. I have to say that starting a blog seemed complicated at first, but it turned out to be a piece of cake once I set up a Blogger account.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I didn’t make any resolutions for 2007 but I am definitely making some for 2008. I've already started jotting them down but need to flesh them out so that they are SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. I've got this from HR presentations but it truly is the best way to set goals.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

My friend Molly gave birth to her beautiful daughter Madeline in September.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Thankfully no.

5. What countries did you visit?

This year I visited France, Germany, Czech Republic, Spain, Hungary, Denmark, and Italy. This reminds me that I still have to blog about most of these places I’ve visited.

6. What would you like to have in 2008 that you lacked in 2007?

A work ethic – I seemed to have misplaced it and would like it back.

7. What dates from 2007 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

June 15 to 28: Italian getaway with Rene
July 9: Started new job
November 20: Started the last year of my 20's

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Paying off 25% of my debt.

9. What was your biggest failure?

Getting into debt.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Real or imagined?

11. What was the best thing you bought?

A little gadget called the iPhone. It revolutionized my life.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

My husband Rene – for being so kind, patient, and understanding.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

My own.

14. Where did most of your money go?

Bills, bills, bills!

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

During the first half of the year, traveling to Europe for work. During the second half of the year, seeing my credit card balances go down.

16. What song will always remind you of 2007?

Relax by Mika

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:? a) happier or sadder? b) thinner or fatter? c) richer or poorer?

Sadder, a little fatter, and definitely poorer - D’oh!

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?


19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Read gossip mags and gossip sites like Perez Hilton and Pink is the New Blog - these are major time suckers but oh so much fun to read!

20. How did you spend Christmas?

Christmas Eve with Rene's family and Christmas Day with my family, plus lunches and dinner with friends during the holidays.

21. Did you fall in love in 2007?

Yes - with my husband all over again.

22. What was your favorite TV program?

A tie between The Office and Lost.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

Nope, I’m not a hater.

24. What was the best book you read?

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?

My husband Rene is the musical explorer, and in my opinion his best finds this year were Yelle and Teddybears.

26. What did you want and get?

An iPhone - see #11 above.

27. What did you want and not get?

A DVD set of Felicity season 1 and a tube of Dior Show mascara.

28. What was your favorite film of this year?

I watch a lot of movies, so here are my picks for the year:

Live Free or Die Hard

Knocked Up
Rome season 1 (technically not a movie but worth a mention)

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I celebrated by 29th birthday with family and friends wishing me a happy birthday all day long, followed by a date with my husband in the evening. It's nice to have people remember you, even if it's just a greeting.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Having no debt

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2007?

Dressing in layers, and gaining the courage to wear flat shoes and skinny jeans.

32. What kept you sane?

Writing this blog and sharing experiences with other people via their blogs.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

I don't know about "fancy" - Britney Spears held my attention for the entire year. Like most train wrecks, it's hard to watch her fall further from grace but you can't help but look because you want to know how it ends (if it ever ends).

34. What political issue stirred you the most?


35. Who did you miss?

My friend Erin who used to work in the same building but moved away to another office in December. The distance makes impromptu coffee breaks hard to come by.

36. Who was the best new person you met?

The collective Blogshere. There are too many awesome people out there to name.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2007.

There are two life lessons I learned this year:

Each person is responsible for their own happiness.

We should all strive to be financially independent so that we can pursue our dreams.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

I’m not afraid of anything in this world
There’s nothing you can throw at me that I haven’t already heard
I’m just trying to find a decent melody
A song that I can sing in my own company
I never thought you were a fool but darling look at you
You gotta stand up straight, carry your own weight
These tears are going nowhere baby

It’s just a moment, this time will pass

Stuck in A Moment by U2

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Searching for the ONE

I think I have a problem.

As I was organizing my makeup case I realized that I own 11 tubes of mascara. Count ‘em:

Maybelline Full N’ Soft

Lancome L’Extreme (trial size)

Origins Full Story

Origins Fringe Benefits

Lancome Hypnose

Origins Underwear for Lashes (lash primer)

Maybelline Great Lash Waterproof

Maybelline Great Lash (curved brush)

Lancome L’Extreme Waterproof

Maybelline Sky High Curves

Lancome Definicils Waterproof

So I’m a little obsessed with mascara. For the past few months I have been looking for “the one” – one that will stay on my lashes and not form rings around my eyes, one that doesn’t clump, one that keeps the curl in my lashes. It takes a lot of time to curl my short and straight lashes, and after that’s done it’s important that they stay looking that way until I decide to take my makeup off.

Up until a few months ago I was using Lancome’s Definicils Waterproof mascara, which I thought was “the one.” I read in a magazine article that waterproof mascara helps keep the lash shape after curling and it lasts for hours. Definicils Waterproof definitely lived up to its name, but the thing I couldn’t shake was the waterproof part, and after many months of dealing with eye makeup remover at night, I decided to start my search for another mascara.

So far the best of the lot seems to be Maybelline’s Sky High Lashes and Origins’ Full Story, but I don’t think these are the winners yet. I have yet to try Dior Show mascara, and for all I know that could be the ONE.