Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Hard Candy

Only read this if you've seen the movie.

Fuck, do I feel sorry for Jeff? I should hate him with a passion and want him to be castrated. Hey, only a few weeks before watching Hard Candy I said to my friend, "all peadophiles should be castrated." I don't understand why, when Hayley was about to cut his balls off, that he didn't confess to her that he was at the girl's murder. Why did he only admit it at the end of the film, long after his balls were cut off and incinerated? I was nearly going to throw up in the castration scene. I'm just glad they didn't show it.

Jeff is a good looking, stylish guy. How could he be a peadophile? Gosh I cringed in the first scene when he met Hayley at the cafe and brushed the jam off her lips. Oh and when she was changing into her new t-shirt and she flashed him, to which he then said that he was getting excited. There were so many clues throughout the movie to indicate that he was a peadophile. How can we question otherwise? What about when he asked her flirtatiously, "What use do you have in mind for me?" What about when he was tied up to a chair and said "If this is how we were going to play, I should have gone first." Despite all these indicators, I still felt sorry for him in the castration scene! I also hated Hayley in some parts of the film, even though I should have been cheering her on.

This was the mind fuck of the movie. There was no antagonist or protagonist, or you could say that these roles switched throught the movie. In some parts I wanted Jeff to be punished, but in other parts I felt sorry for him. Should Hayley have just let the police handle Jeff as opposed to torturing him herself? We all know that some people get away with evil deeds if they have a good lawyer. Is the best form of justice doing onto others as they did to others? So, should Jeff have been tortured in that way because he raped/molested (?) and murdered the girl?

After Jeff revealed his wrong doings, I concluded that he deserved everything Hayley gave to him. The line I liked the best was in the end rooftop scene, when she said "I am every little girl who was molested."

I wonder if I would have felt as sorry for Jeff if he was an unattractive loser?

Disturbing films

I think all of these films are brilliant because they go where no other scriptwriter has gone before. They are challenging and I was left thinking about each one for a few days after watching them. WARNING: THESE ARE NOT DATE MOVIES (or at least clear it with your date first).

1. Hard Candy
2. Mysterious Skin
3. Happiness
4. Requiem for a Dream
5. Looking for Mr. Goodbar

I think Saw would be on this list if I had seen it. Since I watched Hard Candy last night, I think I'm ready for Saw. I was reluctant to watch Saw because I heard there was a scene where a man's leg is sawed off, and I'm a wuss when it comes to amputation. I didn't expect there to be any amputation scenes in Hard Candy so I watched it. Now that I've been traumatised by what I've seen in Hard Candy, which I think is much worse than a leg being cut off, I can now watch Saw.


A chicken stuffed in a duck stuffed in a turkey, with a layer of stuffing in between each meat. When I head about this I thought it was a joke. But I saw a turducken on an American Christmas food special today. This is what a turducken looks like:

An amusing article on how a turducken is made: http://www.blacktable.com/turducken031217.htm

When I go to America I HAVE to see one and taste a bite. I probably won't eat a whole serving though, only because I hate duck. I'd love to see Martha Stewart make one.

What about a Laef? Lamb stuffed into beef. What about Latton? Lamb stuffed into mutton. What about stuffing chicken eggs into a chicken? What about a qupiturducken? A quail stuffed into a pidgeon into a chicken into a duck into a turkey.

Another rainy Melbourne Xmas

The rain and mild weather of the past few days was a welcome change from the few unbearably hot days last week. I can't think of a Christmas I've had in Melbourne where it didn't rain and the sky wasn't grey. It's a comforting feeling. I love the smell of the rain clouds building after a hot day.

I spent the day cooking then sitting on my mum's couch with my cat watching Xmas specials on TV. The station was mostly stuck on the Discovery Travel and Living Channel. I learnt all about (gaudy) American Christmas decorations and food. I'm really looking forward to experiencing my first white Christmas in Toronto or New York next year. I'm not even worried about the snow anymore. It'll give me the opportunity to dress up in cute layers, coats and gumboots.

Oh one of my neighbours is throwing up outside. Yup, it's a Melbourne Christmas.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Chumscrubber

WATCH THIS if you liked:

- Thumbsucker
- Donnie Darko
- The Safety of Objects
- Garden State

By the way, did anyone laugh at the scene when Billy was running out of the house with his bleeding eye? The music over that scene made it seem comical. I couldn't laugh because I'm queasy to bleeding eyes. It was a bit of a tradegy too because it meant Billy couldn't be a pilot, but on the other hand he deserved to be punished for being a bully.

Favourite song of the year

I didn't think would've been possible for me to pick a favourite song of any year, but one that I haven't got sick of is Midnight Juggernauts "Shadows". One of the best live music moments of my life was dancing to this song at the Parklife festival. The concert was in a park, it was sunny and I was surrounded by good friends. A stranger captured a photo of my group because we looked like we were having so much fun, going crazy to this song. I wish I had that photo!

I was not all that interested in electro music up until this year. So picking this song as my favourite of the year has come as a shock to some of my friends who knew me as the rock chic.

The Station Agent

A film about a dwarf, Finn, who inherits a house in a small town. He wants to be left alone but two people, Joe and Olivia, won't leave him alone even though they too want to be left alone by the town people. Joe is an extrovert and always feels the need to be talking. He comes across as the annoying neighbour or friend who always needs company and doesn't take no for an answer. Although he was always eager for the company of Finn and Olivia, it seemed like he didn't want to hang out with just anybody. For instance, in the scene when two of the town rednecks invited him to play softball with them, he seemed reluctant to want to go. Olivia was more reserved and never wanted to answer her phone, as opposed to Joe who was always yakking on the phone. Despite not wanting contact with her friends and ex, she took a shine to Finn and didn't mind being with him. She didn't even want to hang out with Joe either at the beginning of the film. But eventually, due to Joe's persistence and enthusiasm, the three of them became friends. It's a story about three lonely people connecting, then getting hurt, then wanting to be left alone again, then returning to each others company. Choosing to be alone is a safe choice because if you never get close to anyone, you will never be hurt. However, having caring people around makes for a happier life. So you can be bitter and alone, or happy with the imperfect but caring people around you.

My two favourite actors in the movie were Raven Goodwin, the inquisitive fat black girl from Lovely & Amazing, and Bobby Cannavale, who I remembered playing Will's cop boyfriend in a few episodes of Will & Grace, but was also in Six Feet Under and Oz. I had to IMDB if the actor who played Finn was the grouchy dwarf in Living in Oblivion, and he was! His name is Peter Dinklage.

In summary, the movies you must see are:
- The Station Agent
- Lovely & Amazing
- Living in Oblivion

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Birdman Eating

Rating: 3.5/5
Address: xxx Gertrude St, near Smith St. A few doors down from the Roti Chanai restaurant, opposite Alia bar.
Prices: $8 - 15

The unique menu was the drawing card for me. I was especially curious about the papaya and coconut toast with lemon and lime marmalade. They used dried papaya and we could smell the coconut as the plate was placed on our table. The toast was rich and despite the small slices, one slice alone was substantial. The lemon and lime marmalade was a beautiful accompaniment.

Next up was black pudding. This is something I've always read about but never tried. I always ask anyone who has ever been to England if they've tried black pudding. This was the first restaurant I've been to that had black pudding on the menu, so I did not hesitate to order it. It was cut up like sausage and fried. It was slightly crispy outside and almost mushy soft, like tinned corned beef, inside. The texture didn't sit well with me. It tasted like sausage. I'll be sticking to actual sausage next time.

Finally we ate a salad with crispy bastirma. Bastirma is cured, air dried beef that is flavoured with paprika and then slithered. The bastrima was fried and tasted like strong bacon. I loved it! The salad dressing was kind of like tzatziki and the vegetables were cucumber and lettuce.

The cafe is modern and cosy. This is often a hard balance to strike, because many modern venues come across as soulless. The waiters were friendly but they didn't bring our $5 change to our table! Did they just assume we were going to give them a tip? We sat there for awhile waiting for the change, but eventually we left as we were too chicken ask them for it. It's pretty much because of this that I'm giving Birdman Eating 3.5 instead of 4 stars.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Shane Warne's retirement

Today we will mourn the tragedy that is Shane Warne’s retirement. He has made a significant contribution to the careers of journalists, paparazzi and Advanced Hair centres around Australia. There will be a different Shane Warne memorial poster everyday for the next two years. Articles will be written about what Shane Warne is doing daily in his retirement and how the public are coping with this significant loss. There will be a national outcry. A barrage of letters of grief will be sent to the media over the next year. Nice timing Shane, will it be a coincidence that there will be an increase in suicides this Christmas period? Kids will leave their cricket bats to collect dust under their beds. They may become completely un-Australian and play basketball instead. What is Australia without the cricket industry? How do we define our nation now? Shane Warne was our king. If aliens were to land on Australia today, they would think Shane Warne was our ruler. It’s anarchy out there now. I’m afraid to leave the building.


December sucks for several reasons:

- The weather is the most moody out of any other month in the year. It can be 37 degrees one day and 16 the next. It can't decide if it's winter or summer. I leave the house in the t-shirt but need a winter coat at the end of the night. This erratic behaviour is not good for my health! I have a cold now.

- People always give away chocolates as gifts. I'm not a big chocolate fan, I don't know what to do with all the chocolate I've received from various people. Why can't people give away nice tea instead?

- Gluttony. In addition to all the chocolate, there are lots of breakfasts, lunches and dinners to attend. I love food but I have a problem with self-control. My OCD makes me want to sample everything at a buffett. I haven't been able to get this sickly feeling out of my body since the first week of December.

- Because certain people in the office give cards to EVERYONE, I feel obliged to return the favour. Buying Christmas cards in December is the biggest hassle in the world. I don't want to give out generic cards either. I try to personalize every gift and card I give away. I've even resorted to designing my own cards on Photoshop and printing them on cardboard at work. I run around the city like a mad woman looking for the perfect gift to give each person. I know that most people won't even put as much thought into what they give me and won't go through the same hassle. I'd rather not give someone a gift if I can't find the right one that lets them know that I've been thoughtful of them.

- Money drains away with all the presents I have to buy and functions I have to attend.

- My birthday. I've never had a memorable birthday. The birthday drinks I had this year was nice, but I've had much more fun with the same people on other nights of the year. It was the first time I brought together my friends from different areas of my life. It's taken me so long to do that because I hate doing it! It's not a way I like to socialize. I spent the whole night worrying that I was neglecting certain people at the drinks. I'd rather spend quality time with a few individuals than have a big group of people together. There is so much pressure to have fun on my birthday!

- New Years Eve. Another day when people are pressured into having fun. I've never had a memorable New Years Eve either. This is in fact the loneliest day of the year for me. I've never been invited to a NYE celebration (except for this year, because I've finally made friends in Melbourne). The past five NYEs were spent at home watching TV! Although last year I was out until 6am on the 30th, and neither of us could be fucked doing anything on NYE.

- The 24th-26th can also be the loneliest days of the year for people who aren't close to anyone. This will probably be me in the future.

Although December is good when:

- I receive great presents, such as a Tiffany's silver necklace from my mum and a $250 Myer gift voucher from work. I can replace my broken MP3 player now!

- My mum cooks a nice Christmas lunch. If she does one this year, I hope the pudding is glistening and chewy and the pork crackling is crisp.

- I get a few official time out days from the world.

- I receive thoughtful birthday cards from friends and random "Happy Birthday" text messages from people who actually remembered.

- The TV shows cheesy 80s Christmas movies (especially made for TV ones) and cartoons.

Favourite gigs of 2006

I've seen over seventy bands perform live this year. I've attended two festivals (Big Day Out and Parklife) and been to thirty-one concerts. When I remove the support acts and festival bands that I didn't like, I've enjoyed about fourty-three bands.

My top five were:

1. Cornelius
2. The Strokes
3. Sonic Youth
4. Yeah Yeah Yeahs
5. Gomez

Other highlights were:

Big Day Out @ Princes Park (Kings of Leon, White Stripes, Franz Fernidad rocked)
Sleater-Kinney @ The Corner
Iota @ The Retreat
Jens Lekman @ Northcote Social Club
Ian Ball (Gomez) @ Northcote Social Club
Martha Wainwright @ The Forum
The Grates @ The Corner
You Am I @ East Brunswick Club
The Bellrays @ Hi-Fi Bar
Vasco Era @ Hi-Fi Bar
Parklife festival @ Birrung Marr park - Midnight Juggernauts, Who Made Who, Mixmaster Mike (Beastie Boys), Mattafix
Joan as Police Woman @ Northcote Social Club
Kylie (I'M SERIOUS!)

When I move to Canada next year I think I'll go broke seeing all the great gigs they have over there. I would probably also make trips to NY to see special shows. Live music is a major reason why I want to move to Toronto. Sure, Melbourne is the live music capital of Australia, but certain international musicians don't do frequent tours here (e.g. BECK!!!) or come here at all. I hope to finally get a chance to see Beck and Arcade Fire in Toronto.

My favourite albums/EPs 2006

Oh no! I resorted to doing an end of year list!!! I'm shite at music reviewing. What the hell are guitar layers and pop hooks anyway? I'm basing this list on the albums I could not stop listening to for more than a week.

- Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Show Your Bones
- The Grates - Gravity won't get you high
- Lily Allen - Alright, Still
- Lady Sovereign - Public Warning
- Jose Gonzalez - Veneer
- The Raconteurs - Broken Boy Soldiers
- Kings of Leon - Aha Shake Heartbreak (Ok, technically this was released last year, but I only discovered it this year!)
- Lupe Fiasco - Food & Liquor
- Midnight Juggernauts - Secrets of the Universe

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

I work in educational publishing but...

I found this letter on my computer at work, left behind by it's previous user who was an admin lady:

RE: Complaint made on our dog/s creating excessive noise by barking.

Dear Mr Butler,

I am writing in regards to the letter received on Tuesday 14th December 2004 Reference No. 151543 (CRS 242329). A complete was put through from someone by our naiberous that our dog/s are creating excessive noise by barking and aren’t securely confined onto the property.
I would like to bring forward in regards that my dog/s on the excessive noise by barking
Further more in regards to t locked up at the back on our property at all times of the day. If by any chance my parents or myself takes the dog/s for a walk it is put on a leash.

She was born and educated in Australia. Her family is European but they don't speak English at home. Apparently she finished high school. Her letter makes me laugh but feel angry at the same time. How could they have let her get through the school system?

She spelt "great" as "grate" in EVERY e-mail she sent out, as her sign off was "have a grate day". Not one person, including the managers whom she communicated with, bothered to correct her. She also spelt "brief" as "brife" and "their" as "thier".

Using proper spelling and grammar in an EDUCATIONAL PUBLISHING company, no matter what your role is, should be as mandatory as pilots having 20/20 vision. We publish books on spelling and grammar goddamit!!!

By the way, I was told she only had one dog/s.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

High pitched voice

Why do some women feel the need to speak in an extra high pitched voice when talking to children and retards? At the moment in the park across the road from my house, a bunch of special people and their helpers are having a Christmas picnic. I can hear the shrill voice of one of the helpers calling out the names of each attendee to collect their Christmas present. All of the picnickers are all fully grown adults! Do mentally disabled adults need to be spoken to in that concending tone? I hated it when people spoke in that squeaky tone to me when I was a kid. I thought, "Hey, dude, I have ears and I understand English, there is no need to speak to me like I'm a deaf baby."

Thursday, December 14, 2006


Kylie at Rod Laver ArenaYes, Minogue. I got a free ticket to see Kylie Minogue at her Show Girl concert. It was a four year old Lee-Ann’s dream come true. I had to mentally remove my grungy Cons at the entrance and strut in pink diamante stilletos instead. I would have never thought of going to see Kylie in a million years, and I’m still in a state of disbelief about it. But how could I pass up a ticket to see an Australian icon? I went with the intention of hearing her 80s songs - the ones I loved and sung along to as a toddler, such as “I should be so lucky” and “Locomotion”. I had a slight bit of hope that she would sing “Where the Wild Roses Grow” and that Nick Cave would make a surprise appearance, but I highly doubted it, given the Show Girl theme of the concert and a large audience of young girls and gay men who preferred “pop Kylie” over the mid-90s “alternative Kylie”.

Her singing was not great but I was highly entertained throughout the show. Seeing Kylie was a dream for any camp gay man and little girl. She even managed to throw in a line from “Where the wild roses grow”, which was mixed in with another song. This was sung during the segment of the show that was devoted to her darker, lesser known songs. During this segment most of the audience sat down, but eagerly stood up again and danced fabulously once “pop Kylie” re-emerged.

Kylie sitting on a moonThe most magical part of the show was when sitting on a glittering, silver quarter moon suspended from the ceiling. She wore a glittery red sequined dress and sung "Somewhere over the rainbow". My friend said that all the gay men in the audience would be creaming their pants now. The midnight blue visuals in the background of the stage were speckled with golden stars. This is a picture from another concert. Same moon, different dress.

In another part of the show the stage was set up like a 80s disco. She asked the audience “Who went to the disco in the 80s?” and a few older women around me stood up and started dancing. She sung her 80s hits, including, to my excitement, “I should be so lucky” and “Locomotion”. In the final encore she brought out “Especially for you” and asked the audience to sing along with her, since Jason or Kermit weren’t there!

Kylie and KermitKylie and Jason, 80s soulmates

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Mr Natural Gourmet Vegetarian Pizza

Rating: 4/5
Address: 469 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
Phone: 9481 7775
Leaflet blurb: We use only low fat rennet free cheese, fresh vegetables and 100% wholemeal flour.
Prices: Small - $7.50 - 8.50; Medium - $11.00 - $12.50; Large - $13.00 - 14.50

My they really pile the toppings on here. I was a bit sceptical about eating rennet free cheese, but it had the same bite as regular cheddar cheese. I loved it because the cheese was melted to a golden brown colour, which gave it even more umph. The base was thin but strong enough to support the ample toppings.

They could do with offering pizzas with less toppings, such as a simple potato, rosemary and onion combination. The toppings were rightly balanced, so there was no overpowering taste of garlic, herbs or the base sauce. I could actually taste the brocolli and spinach. This is a rare find in vegetarian meals.

Jamie T

Is it just me, but doesn't Jamie T sound exactly like the Artic Monkeys? Why are all the music reviewers and radio DJs (*ahem* Richard Kingsmill *ahem*) going nuts over this guy? I never understood the big fuss over the Artic Monkeys either. Give me The Streets over any of these two bands any day.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Shanghai - love you long time girls

There aren’t as many fugly, old white guy and sexy, young local girl couplings as there are in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. Most of the interracial couples I saw looked genuine. My mum said that SPGs (Sarong Party Girls) weren’t as common in China because not many girls speak English. The funniest thing I saw was a card advertising pretty, scantily clad “masseurs”. Men were handing them out in front of my hotel. I wanted the whole collection of these scandalous cards written in broken English.

This was my favourite card. It says on the bottom - "Our aim is to think of what you think, anxious of what your worry". So I'm quite worried about global warming and the reemergence of Pauline Hanson in politics. Wouldn't it be great if this massage girl could carry this anxiety for me?

Our aim is to think of what you think, anxious of what your worry

The girl in the lingere does not look happy. It looks like she is being forced to pose to prevent her family from being killed by the pimp's hitmen. This is sad but true. Put a smile on your face darl, you are going to have an illustrious career of massaging overweight white men.

Shanghai - Lost in Translation

I felt like Scarlett Johanssen in Lost in Translation while I was walking aimlessly around the city and hanging out in my nice hotel. I thought the film was overrated when I first saw it in July last year, but I have a new found respect and love for it now since I watched it again on the plane ride home.

Because I am Chinese, the locals in Shanghai of course spoke Chinese to me. My white friend had to be my translator. The English speaking levels in Shanghai are very poor. No matter where I go in Asia, people will probably speak their local language to me. Well, I guess that makes sense. In Australia we don’t change our language when we come across someone who speaks a different language.

Shanghai - nightlife

Sitting at a bar or restaurant along the Bund is a pastime of rich locals and expatriates. All the bars are pretentious and expensive, except for one that I read about in the local bar guide – the Captain bar. The Captain bar is above the Captain Backpackers hostel. The bar is dark, relaxed and cosy. The balcony of the bar is modelled as a ship deck. Sit here to enjoy the view of Pudong and watch advertising projected onto buildings and on billboard sized TV screens floating across the river on boats. The Captain Bar is probably one of the cheapest bars along the Bund, but the prices are the same or even slightly higher than any bar on Brunswick Street. This is the view that can be seen from the Captain Bar:


Cheaper drinks can be found in other areas of town. Trent told me of a bad nightclub called Windows, where we could find really cheap drinks, sleazy twenty year old American frat boys and slutty local girls.


chiggerI was curious to find out how bad it was, so we headed to Windows. It was full of trendy young locals and a few expatriates looking for a local girl with a white fetish. Yes, the drinks were cheap, but it was one of the worst nightclubs I’ve been to. Ok, so urban (i.e. hip-hop and R & B) nightclubs are not my scene at all, so if you enjoy being slutty and trendy while grinding to “The Best of Hip-Hop: 1990-2006”, Windows is probably for you. Hip hop, R & B and hard electronica are the most popular music genres amongst Gen X and Y in Asia. The nightclubs in KL played the exact same set list as Windows, and Trent said they played the same set in Tokyo too. The set always features “Hip Hop Hooray” by Naughty by Nature, Destiny’s Child, “Birthday” by 50 (“fidy”) Cent and “Gold Digger by Kanye West. I have a few theories as to why urban music is the most popular amongst Asians. Firstly, they aren’t exposed to a wide range of genres. The local radio and MTV play Chinese music or top 40 from the U.S. which comprises mostly of urban music. Secondly, Asian Americans and Asian Australians relate to the African Americans in being a marginalized society. Thirdly, mainstream urban music is all about the bling and logos. Watch the videos, listen to the label name dropping in the lyrics. Asians are extremely materialistic. They can relate to or aspire to be like the polished upper-class urban artists more than dishevelled white rockers. The young Chinese don’t want to look grungy, otherwise they’ll be perceived as poor.

Shanghai - sightseeing

The Yu Yuan Gardens is nothing but a block of replicated buildings from the Ming Dynasty. It looks like a Disneyland version of China. The best dumplings in Shanghai can supposedly be found here. We would have waited for over an hour to get our serving, so we gave it a miss. How much better can a dumpling taste anyway? The queue for the dumplings comprised of Chinese and Western tourists. I read on a website that this is where locals buy dumplings too, but this statement was written by an American who probably assumed that the Chinese people lining up were from Shanghai. I knew they were all tourists by the cameras hanging around their necks and the Chinese tour buses. At the Yu Yuan Gardens you can also buy traditional Chinese foods such as a Big Mac, Kentucky Fried Chicken and an Iced Mocha Frappachino. There were plenty of souvenirs for sale too. The Yu Yuan Gardens was pretty much a shopping centre set in a traditional Chinese building, with a food court too!

Starbucks at Yu Yuan Gardens. A traditional Chinese beverage venue.

I experienced old school China a few blocks away from the Yu Yuan Gardens. We walked down a narrow street that comprised of a row of tiny 4-seater restaurants and fruit shops. The wooden window shutters of the apartments above the shops were blackened by the dirt accumulated over the past centuries. Now this was the China I wanted to see.

Another few blocks away was the French Concession. The French Concession is a maze of tree lined streets and European architecture. Many expatriates live here. There are many cute boutiques that are less of a headache to browse through than the Xi Pu market, but of course, sell the same clothes at a higher price.

You don’t need a taxi to get around Shanghai. I walked from Nanjing Road West to East to get to the Bund at the end of the road, and from Nanjing Road East to the Yu Yuan Gardens and then the French Concession, that connects back to Nanjing Road West. It is a fair distance to walk, but it is a better way of exploring the city than travelling in a cab.

The Bund features a mix of old European and American architecture. They were impressive buildings, but they didn’t take my breath away like the upper end of Collins Street does. The Bund is along a river and on the other side is the town of Pudong, which is primarily an area full of business buildings and one of Shanghai’s two Hooters. Pudong is attempting to rival the glittering skyline of Hong Kong, with new building being erected every few months. Pudong is also in competition to build the tallest building in the world.

Here are some pictures of the Bund:

The Bund
In a little street off the Bund.

This is a man cleaning a bridge along the Bund. Work safety regulations in China are non-existent.

I desperately wanted to see some evidence of the opium hey days of Shanghai in the 1920s. Unfortunately I did not find an opium den, but I found a plaque on a hotel with the word "opium" on it.

Shanghai - hotels

During the first four nights I stayed at the 5 star JC Mandarin on the posh Nanjing Rd West. It was nice but not the best 5 star hotel I’ve stayed in. The lobby had a beautiful building high Chinese mural that bordered the elevator entrance. Housekeeping was very quick to respond to calls. They did not vacuum the carpet or mop the bathroom floor with each daily housekeeping duty, and they did not replace our used towels with new ones. The shower over the bath was low pressure and there was a weird shower mat that left a black stain on the bath. It was the first hotel I’ve stayed in that used shower mats. I thought it was odd and unhygienic. The sink took quite awhile to drain and the air conditioning was not working well. The hotel breakfast was decent but not great. The Bircher muesli, fresh fruit, pastries and bread was good. However, the American breakfast was greasy and bland. I’d give the JC Mandarin 4 stars rather than 5.

JC Mandarin lobby

I then stayed at the “4 star” Dong Hu Hotel in the French Concession. I was supposed to stay for two nights but only tolerated one. Despite the clean sheets and bathroom, the mahogany carpet was dirty and air conditioning noisy. The lobby had a weird smell. I don’t normally trust hotels with an unpleasant lobby smell. The staff’s English was not up to par, but they were still courteous and helpful. I’d give this give this hotel 2.5 stars out of 5.

Finally I checked into the beautiful heritage listed Art Deco Jin Jiang Hotel. It was 1000 yen cheaper than the other 5 star hotels, so I checked the room before reserving a place to make sure it was ok. The room was gorgeous and very, very clean. I immediately booked it. I became intrigued with the hotel after having dinner at the Yin restaurant there the night before. I’m obsessed with Art Deco. All the staff I dealt with, even the bellboy, spoke very good English and they were all very courteous. I returned to my room in the evening to find a “Goodnight” card on my pillow with next day’s weather forecast. My bathroom had a separate bath and shower. The Jin Jiang is definitely worth 5 stars.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I have a 5 star hotel habit. The first time I switched to a 5 star hotel was when I was 10. I hated the red and white tiled motel that my parents chose on our holiday on the Gold Coast. It looked like something out of the set of Problem Child 2. I insisted that I could not stay there even for one night (the toilet seat was red!), so we checked into a 5 star hotel instead. I was happy. Since then, I’ve done this on nearly ever holiday I’ve been on. Sure, I will book a 3 or 4 star hotel first to save money. But they always look cleaner on the internet than in person. I really don’t care about the amenities. I can do without a pool, gym and business centre. I just want to stay in a comfortable room that is spotlessly clean. People with OCD can’t go backpacking. Maybe I should start a backpackers hostel chain for people with OCD.

Shanghai - food

I was most looking forward to eating steamed dumplings. The Shanghai Dumpling House restaurant in Melbourne gave me the impression that Shanghai was renowned for dumplings. The dumplings, otherwise known as xiao long bao, were nice but no better than the dumplings I’ve eaten in Melbourne. I became sick of eating dumplings after two consecutive days of eating them. Although the food was cheap (I bought a bowl of homemade soup noodles for $0.50), it was mostly too salty, oily or sweet.

xiao long bao

Shanghai does not have as much street food variety as Malaysia. The most common finds were chicken wings and Muslim Chinese lamb kebabs. Steamed bun stalls were quite uncommon unfortunately. I found a few spring onion pancake stalls. They crack an egg on the pancake and smother it with chilli. Fried buns were everywhere too. Imagine what would happen if you deep friend something that wasn't meant to be deep fried - that's how I felt about the deep fried buns. It was a thick dough with a hard, not crispy base. I wasn't used to eating food of this texture.

Spring onion pancake stall
The fried dumplings with the weird texture

I observed that not many Shanghainese ate rice to accompany the salty stir fries. I did not understand how they could do without rice to balance out the saltiness of the dishes. All servings were massive and a lot of food would often go to waste.

There were many bakeries that sold buns and pastries that made me worry about developing diabetes. I took advantage of the cheap bananas by eating one a day. The tastiest meal I ate was at a Chinese restaurant named Yin. I was apprehensive about going to this restaurant because it was located in a hotel, which meant the food would be less authentic. I liked the place the moment I stepped into it. It was furnished in rich, dark wood and jazz was playing in the background. It had a Manhattan basement jazz bar from the 1920s feel. The menu claimed that they did not use MSG in their cooking and they did not use as much oil and salt as other local restaurants. This suited me, as it was difficult to find a healthy meal in Shanghai. My Chinese friend said that the food at Yin, even though nice, was catered to foreign tastes. And here I was thinking that my taste palette was Asian so I was an authority to tell people where to eat in Melbourne’s Chinatown. Yin had a few of these mahjong lamps, which I loved:

Mahjong lamp

Shanghai - shopping

The Marc Jacobs and Gucci stores across the road from my hotel. Two totally different brand personalities living in harmony next to each other. Marc Jacobs being the sweet, cute, quirky girl and Gucci being the sexy, ball breaking woman.

The only two things that excited me were the Marc Jacobs store and the cheap leather bags. Shanghai is a paradise for fake designer bags, but to get the good quality leather versions you need to venture a bit out of town to Xi Pu market. It consists of two five-storey buildings that have rows and rows of tiny clothing and accessories shops within them. I had never seen that many clothes in my entire life. I didn’t buy any clothes because it was all winter stuff and I felt overwhelmed with all the choice. The clothes on display was mostly tacky, colourful, bad quality embellished sweaters and jeans. The Chinese really love embellished jeans with ugly washes and creases.

tacky embellished jeans

Outside the shopping centre we were approached by a man who showed us a folder of photos of fake designer bags, watches and t-shirts. I refused to go, because I am opposed to fake designer products, but my mum wanted to go so I had to follow. It would have been impossible for us to find each other in the maze of the shopping centre. The man led us through the maze and into one of the tiny stores. The shop keeper pushed the back wall to reveal a small room of fake designer bags. My mum bought about four bags from this shop. The man then carried my mum’s shopping bag for her and took us to another secret room of fake bags. I actually found three uniquely designed leather bags that were not the typical Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Chloe, Hermes, and Fendi rip offs. In typical style, I managed to pick out the two most expensive bags in the store. They were one of a kind designs and were not covered in logos. I hadn’t seen those two bags sold anywhere else. I couldn’t even find them on eBay when I got home. We bargained my bags down to $125 each, which is a bargain for a unique leather bag. My three year search for the perfect leather bag was finally over. My mum bought another six bags from this store. Now we had three massive shopping bags to carry throughout the shopping centre, but the shopping guides carried them for us. They didn’t even ask for money at the end of our shopping journey. We offered to buy them lunch, but they were reluctant to accept it. We bought it anyway so they were forced to eat. I think they are paid commission by the shops.

On Nanjing Road East, the main shopping strip in town, we were also approached by hawkers selling fake bags and watches. My mum followed two of them (she can’t say no to fake bags), and they each led us through dark alleyways and into blackened apartment blocks that were hundreds of years old. They took us to small rooms that hid the fake goods. One shop had a video camera set up in the alley so they could monitor if the police were coming.

Nanjing Road East

Nanjing Road East

Nanjing Road West is where all the international designer shops were. In addition to my favourite Marc Jacobs store, there was Gucci, Hermes; massive Louis Vuiton, Prada and Christian Dior stores; Lagerfeld Gallery, Marni, Missoni, and many other American, European and Japanese couture designers. It was disappointed that the Anna Sui store was not open yet.

In terms of mid-range brands, there was Zara but no Top Shop! H&M was going to open next month. I guess it was good there was no Top Shop, otherwise I would have blown my budget!

The French Concession had rows of cute, slightly upmarket boutiques that featured a range of local and international styles of clothes. Many of the shops stocked clothes that were sourced from Xi Pu market, but sold at four times the price. I found a few boutiques that had international designer factory samples, sold at bargain prices. Of course, most clothes are made in China, so it would be easy to get samples from a range of international designers. I found a Viktor & Rolf jacket for only $90! I doubt it was a fake – Viktor & Rolf are not that well known of a label to justify making fakes. I was really delighted and surprised to find the Alice McCall for Target dress that I liked. Unfortunately the only two for sale were both in size 10.

A few people were selling Groucho Marx style face masks that had a whistle attached to the nose.

Groucho Marx mask

People still balance these things on their shoulders to sell fruit:

I come all the way to China only to find a Jeans West.

Jeans West on Nanjing Road East in Shanghai

Shanghai - beggars

On my first night I walked past one of the most pitiful people I had ever seen. This man suffered from third degree burns. His skin melted into his eyes, so it looked like he had no eyes. His hair was singed off. He hands were burnt off too. He was a real-life vision of what I have nightmares about. In Malaysia I had seen a whole assortment of disfigured beggars, but none as horrific as this poor man. We gave him money. I only give money to severely disabled beggars. Many of the other beggars, especially though with a cute kid in tow, choose to beg and some make more money than white-collar workers. Although, in Malaysia, some of the disabled beggars are forced to beg by gangs. The gangsters drop the disabled beggars off in various locations each morning, then collect the money from the beggars at night. I wouldn’t be surprised if this happened in Shanghai too.

Some of the cute kid beggars were kidnapped from villages. The kids are usually four to six years old and do not understand what they are doing. They think it’s a game. We found a man passed out in several pools of vomit in front of a Japanese restaurant (there was an all you can eat and drink deal). When the coins fell out of his pocket as Trent lifted him off the street, a little girl beggar rushed to pick up the coins, and the old lady with her tried to pickpocket him before an old man beggar stopped her. Just as I was beginning to think that there were genuine beggars in Shanghai, the old man asked Trent for money for helping him to get the drunk guy off the street.

Shanghai - customs

It’s too crowded to say sorry

The streets are packed with rushing people. If the citizens of Shanghai had the custom of apologizing to everybody they bumped into, their mouths wouldn’t get rest. The flow of conversation may be lost if you had to say sorry to every person you bumped into, which is bound to occur at least once every five minutes.

A typical crowded Shanghai street

Cover your mouth when you use a toothpick, says the Shanghai Lonely Planet…

…but you can spit on the ground, even if it’s indoors, and even if it’s carpet. At the Super Brand Mall, a modern eight story shopping centre where you can find one of Shanghai’s two Hooters, a lady at least had the decency to spit in the rubbish bin instead of the polished floor. There is progress for you. A “hhrrrruuuuugggghhhhhh” sound still preceded her spit though.

Photos alone will not do justice in capturing the essence of Shanghai. You need to record the sounds of people spitting and the constant beeping of horns. It’s not as smelly as Malaysia, but it smells like an Asian grocery street or Chinatown in any Western city.

Red means go

Cars, buses and trucks will NOT stop for pedestrians. This is when your dodgeball skills come in handy. Supposedly, if vehicles had to stop for everyone crossing at a green pedestrian light or zebra crossing, they would be waiting forever because there are so many people crossing the street (duh, China has the largest population in the world). Green pedestrian lights run for longer than they do in Melbourne - at least three times longer than Flinders and Swanston Street crossing, one of the busiest intersections in Melbourne. There is even a timer at each pedestrian crossing. It did feel like pedestrians were given more time to cross the street than the cars though, so maybe that’s why the drivers were so impatient. The locals are desensitised to horns because they are tooted so frequently. So if you are crossing the street and a bus is inching towards you and beeping, just ignore it. I wouldn’t be surprised if crossing the street was one of the most common killers in Shanghai. I couldn’t relax on my trip because I was walking around trying not to get run over or spat on. Walking on foothpaths was not safe either, as motorbikes would often speed onto them to overtake the cars on the street.

Cars going through a green pedestrian crossing.

The proper way of driving in Shanghai is to go as fast as you can while continuously overtaking cars and changing lanes, so you can get to your destination in the quickest time possible. In one taxi ride, the driver attempted to squeeze through two buses that were in ADJACENT LANES. He saw a gap between the buses and took it.

I’ve never been so scared of buses in my life. They speed and take sharp turns. I had the cheaper option of riding in a bus to the airport, but I chose a cab instead. I had too many pretty leather bags to show off back home to risk crashing in a bus in Shanghai on the way to the airport.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

New blog coming soon...

To the handful of old readers (i.e. Khadeeja and Ezther), I deleted all the posts from my blog and changed the format. There was too much baggage in the old blog and I needed a change. But thank you very much for reading my old blog. Your comments made my day, and it has really been the best way for us to keep in touch. =)

My new blog will have more pics and will be more humourous and lighthearted. If I ever feel the need to write dark, personal stuff again, I'll save it for an anonymous blog!

(P.S) I saved all my old posts in Word. Two years worth of blog posts took up 225 pages and 3.2mb!