Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Japan's Finest

What a year! I've lived in France and visited Germany and Japan. Here's to another year of adventure, fun, good shopping and good food! This is what I ended 2008 off eating:











Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Props to the Porcelain Goddess

I need to show some love for Japanese lavatories. No one makes toilets like they do here. I was really pumped to take bathroom breaks here, having used a technologically-advanced loo in J-Town (formerly Heisei Market) in Toronto.

The first night I was here, I pored over the button menu on my aunt and uncle’s toilet (picture above), just pressing everything to see what would happen. I find that Japanese toilets, like German toilets, are very environmentally-friendly – there’s always two flush buttons to conserve water: one for number one, and one for number two. Thankfully, I can read Chinese (Kanji in Japan), so I know to press the button labelled “Small” when I take a leak and the button “Big” when I take a dump – pardon me for TMI. There's also a button with a picture of a bum on it for the bum-cleaning spout, and a button with a picture of (presumably) a lady on it for the bidet feature. The smart thing is, those buttons don’t work unless you’re sitting on the toilet...so I put my hand where the sensor is, and promptly got water all over the bathroom floor. Good thing I tried that out before making a video of it! And when you flush, the little faucet at the top releases water into the basin so you can wash your hands – space is at a premium here, you know.

I came across a particularly fun toilet at Shunbou, this stellar Japanese restaurant in Grand Hyatt Tokyo, located in Roppongi Hills. First of all, this restaurant is amazing. Very classy, and the service is incomparable. When you first get seated, they fold up your coats for you, set it in a chair and cover them with this supersoft fabric to protect them. The servers and managers are very attentive but inconspicuous. And the décor is very tasteful and beautiful, with an open kitchen and ornate, handmade pottery laid out across the main counter. The food is good and very fresh, but not stunning. But I’d go there (provided I could afford it) just for the beautiful surroundings, excellent service and the toilet.

Anyway, after the meal, I decided to skip to the loo, and at first, I was a little turned off at how dim it was in there, even though it was beautiful. There’s art with its own spotlight set into the walls in one of the stalls! The toilets were huge and pink and metallic. I went into a stall and was about to open the lid, when suddenly, it opened by itself! My jaw dropped in delight – I’d heard of automatic toilets before, but I’d never seen one. It was very clean, so I made myself comfy, and of course, the seat was warm. I can’t decide if I like the seat-warming feature because it sort of feels like someone had just recently vacated it, but it’s nice not to get that shock of cold. As is the standard with toilets here, there’s a bidet feature, a bum cleaning feature, and you can control the water pressure as well as where it sprays. However, this particular one also had a blow-dryer for you to use after you’ve used the bidet/bum cleaner. I used it just so I can tell you all about it, of course, but I found that it wasn’t very effective because even after a few minutes of dryage, I still felt the need to follow up with toilet paper. When I was done, I pressed the button to close the lid of the toilet, but I couldn’t resist walking up to it again to re-open it. I know - I’m so mature.

However, I noticed a button on some public toilets that features a picture of music notes. I pressed it, and the toilet emitted this enormously loud flushing noise. You can adjust the volume, but I didn’t really understand what it was for. I guessed that it was for women who were suffering from urinary tract infection (UTI), to inspire their wayward muscles to relax and go. I asked my aunt and uncle to verify, but apparently, that’s not what it’s for. The real purpose of those buttons is to conceal the sound of urination. Apparently, some women are embarrassed by the sound of themselves letting’er rip, so they would keep flushing while they peed to conceal the sound. However, it’s a very wasteful thing to do, so the toilet engineers created this button to save water – isn’t that hilarious?

According to Benjamin Wallace, the most expensive toilet in the world can analyze the contents of the bowl and send the results to your doctor – I wonder if I’ll ever get to see one of those?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Naked Revelations

I did it. I visited a hot spring, where I had to be butt-naked in front of a lot of strangers and even worse, my aunt and mother. And it really was a healing experience.

Honestly, I hadn’t been looking forward to it at all, because of the nudity thing. I’m really self-conscious about my skin – I’ve had a skin condition called eczema since I was a toddler, and it’s left really awful scars, discolouration and some unsightly rashes all over me. My face was free of it during my childhood, but then I hit puberty and it moved north, much to my chagrin. Now that I’m older, it can heal when I’m perfectly comfortable, stress-free and happy, but as soon as any kind of stress (or even just hormonal changes) hits me, it basically explodes and takes a long time to get better. Combine that with the fact that my aunt, like many other caring adults in my life, likes to scrutinize my skin every time she sees me to see how I’m doing – no, I wasn’t looking forward to it at all.

But hey, I don’t come to Japan all the time, and I knew that I’d regret it if I deprived myself of a new experience just because of my hang-ups, so I decided to just bite the bullet and go.

We took an hour-long train ride to the mountainous region of Hakone, where a bunch of hot spring resorts are. The one we went to is quite well-known, and it has a very good reputation among both foreigners and locals. We took a bus up the mountain to the site (best 100¥ spent - I wasn’t about to subject myself to that steep hike!), and we arrived at this picturesque series of very traditional-looking buildings. It cost about 1000¥ to enter, and I think you can stay all day if you want to, which is what some people do. The men’s and women’s areas are separate, so we said goodbye to my uncle, and went on our merry way. There are three series of lockers that you can use: one for your shoes, right at the entrance, one for your coats, right before the entrance to the change rooms, and one in the change rooms, for your clothes.

My aunt walked us in after the second set of lockers, where a wave of humidity hit me, and suddenly, naked women were everywhere, just casually sauntering around. I was told to strip down to my birthday suit, and I was thisclose to chickening out, but I got naked, and tried to cover myself as best I could with the teensy towel I brought – towels, like everything else in Japan, are especially small here, and the ones the resort gives out are the size of hand towels, so I opted to use my own. We went to the shower room to shower, because it’s a courtesy to get clean before using the springs. There are a bunch of little stools set up in front of mirrors and showerheads, with free shampoo, conditioner and soaps in shelves – all the showers I’ve used here happen to have mirrors, for some reason - isn't that weird?

After scrubbing down, you’re free to use any of the five or six pools. There’s one in the shower room that is piping hot – I lasted about one minute in there. Then outside, there’s a nice, milky-coloured one that’s just the right temperature, two really, really warm ones, a hot one that’s in a grotto, and a freezing cold one. Each pool had a plaque by it that explained what it's good for and what kinds of minerals are in the water. I tried all of them except one, because it was really full, and I liked the milky one the best, because the temperature was really comfortable. The bathhouses were beautiful, and I really would have loved to take a picture outside, if I didn’t have to worry about being mistaken for a pervert.

I didn’t get completely comfortable with my public nudity, but I definitely felt better throughout my visit. I didn’t like being naked with all these people (particularly the two I knew!) but no one batted an eye. Everyone was just as naked as everyone else, and they were bodies of real women, so it was no big deal. No one really stared at my skin, except my aunt, but she was obviously making a valiant attempt not to. But then she later took me to her Brand Name Dermatologist, and my skin's been a lot better since, so I'll let it slide.

And I came to realize that my skin isn’t as bad as I think. My other imperfections aren’t as bad as I think. Being surrounded by women with real bodies showed me that people really do come in all shapes and sizes and real people don’t look anything like celebrities or porn stars. And apart from my imperfections, I have some great features that a lot of people would love to have. So really, being naked wasn’t that big of a deal, and more importantly, my imperfections are pretty insignifant, too. I just am how I am. The beautiful thing was, I think I came to term with years’ worth of insecurities that day, and that in itself was priceless.

After soaking in the hot springs, some people opt to take a nap on the straw mat-covered rest area, which is open to everyone, while others visit the restaurant. Sitting in a hot spring accelerates heart beats, so it has a similar effect on the body as a workout would – some get tired, and some get hungry. We had some really tasty pork shabu and the best udon I’ve had here at the restaurant, then we took a break in the rest area while we waited for the next bus to come take us back down the mountain.

It was such a novel adventure, which is why I think that hot springs are a definite must-do in Japan. My visit really helped me to put things into perspective, and that made it a truly healing experience.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Twitterpated in Kamakura

Mercy, mercy me! Whenever I see a strikingly handsome boy, I feel like I never left high school. Apparently I turned bright pink at dinner, when I eyed this drop-dead gorgeous Lee-Hom/Takeshi Kaneshiro hybrid.

You see, today we headed to the very old and lovely district of Kamakura for our token cultural outing to see a Shinto shrine and the Daibutsu (Great Buddha), after over a week of lots of shopping, pavement-pounding, and eating ourselves silly. We started the day off on Komachi-dori, this quaint street that’s lined with lots of food shops that give out free samples – pure joy! I had fish balls, mochi, fresh senbei (rice crackers), a fresh red bean bun, taiyaki (fish-shaped pastry) filled with black sesame paste, ice cream made with Meiji milk (this Japanese brand of milk that my mom’s a little obsessed with)... It’s a delightful street, and my mum had a field day in the pottery stores.

After shopping, and visiting the shrine, where I accidentally drank the water instead of just gargling with it, we took a taxi to see the Daibutsu. I was a little disappointed that you have to pay to see it – when did we come to commercializing faith? – but it was a good experience. Then again, we totally supported the commercialization of faith by buying omamori (Japanese amulets) outside the shrine. For 20¥ you can go inside the Buddha and climb up the stairs (his back has two windows) but it was too late, so it was closed.

Night had fallen by then, so we decided to pick a place to have dinner. My aunt and uncle wanted to show us this really popular okonomiayki place because we’d never had it before, so we headed back to Komachi-dori. The restaurant is called Horetaro, and it’s sort of out of the way, with the entrance on the side of one of the buildings on the street. It’s really popular because they have this meal that’s a great deal – all-you-can-eat (and drink – non-alcoholic, of course) for 2100¥, and you have 2.5 hours, which is rare, because most casual eateries in Japan (like in other Asian places) kick you out as soon as they can in order to speed up turnover.

Anyway, when we first went into the restaurant, we were told that we were in for a long wait because the place was full. However, as if by a turn of fate, we were seated just minutes later, when my aunt and uncle went off to see if another okonomiyaki place might have room. We were placed upstairs in a special section of the restaurant, where it looked like everyone was sitting on the floor but really, there were holes under the tables for leg space.

When I walked in, I saw him right away, and it felt like I got smacked in the consciousness. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a superficial jerk or if it’s just because he was so outstandingly good-looking, but he instantly caught my attention even though he was sitting in sort of an obscure spot. He had this almost collar-length, slightly layered hairstyle that’s so popular now in Asia, highlighted to about the same colour as mine, a natural brow with piercing brown eyes that were devoid of eye makeup (a rarity here in Japan), a very straight, perfectly-formed nose and this beautiful smile that framed his straight, white teeth. He had perfect skin and a great jaw that sported a hint of a 5 'o-clock shadow. He was long and lean, and he wore a sort of rugged white shirt with some grey design screen-printed on it, under this loose, charcoal grey sweater that was open in the front and rugged jeans with a few zippers, which fit him perfectly – not too fitted and not too baggy.

And he had these beautiful hands! I am a huge sucker for beautiful man hands. I wonder if he’s a musician or an artist. He had long fingers, and while his hands were masculinely-shaped, they kind of had a fine quality to them, his skin pristine. They were very sexy. I can just imagine him running his fingers through my long hair while he holds me – the visual is so, so right. It just totally makes sense. And it was very distracting to watch him cook – he was a total Alpha male, taking charge of the cooking and serving the food to his friends, and then cleaning the grill afterwards.

Okonomiyaki is this Japanese dish that’s sort of a cross between pancakes and omelettes. A bunch of chopped up veggies (chiefly cabbage) is mixed with some sort of meat, seasonings, an egg and some batter. The mixture is poured onto a teppan (a hot, flat griddle-like mechanism that’s built into the table), flipped when the bottom is cooked, then topped with sauce, katsuobushi (fish flakes), seaweed bits and sweet mayonnaise. We also had cook-it-yourself fried soba noodles with pork. It was fun, but the food didn’t really wow me. There are much yummier things in Japanese cuisine, and besides, the smoky smell of the grill stank up our hair and clothes so that we had to rush to shower and do the laundry when we got home.

So he was sitting across and facing me, four seats over to the right, beside the wall. I told my mom that I thought this guy was cute, so of course, she told my aunt right away. I kept glancing at him, and I wonder if he noticed, because within minutes, he moved two seats closer to me, in the same row (basically everyone in that room except us belonged to one huge party of friends). Then a little after that, he moved another seat closer, which put him technically right beside my uncle, who was sitting directly across from me. My aunt joked that he might be trying to move to sit beside me, and that if he does, I should say hi to him. I said I wouldn’t – what would I say afterwards? My mom said that I should ask him if he speaks English. But of course, I wasn’t going to.

Well, wouldn’t you know it? Minutes later, he moved across the table and sat beside me. We were separated only by the strip of floor between us, although with him there, the vantage point for checking him out was not as good. My mom and my aunt kept urging me to talk to him, but thankfully, they were speaking Chinese, which he most probably didn’t understand. But I didn’t make a move because 1.) My mom, aunt and uncle were there – while I’ve made the faux pas of flirting with a boy in front of his mother, I’m not stupid enough to flirt with one in front of mine 2.) I’m leaving in less than a week, and 3.) I just can’t function properly in front of a boy that has totally bowled me over. One look from him and I’d be paralyzed. Well no, that’s not technically true, because we had some very brief eye contact when he caught me checking him out, but if we had any eye contact that lasted more than three seconds, I’d have been finished.

When we were close to leaving, one of the girls in their group came over to mack on him, but according to my aunt, who had a better view of him as she was sitting across from us, he didn’t look impressed at all, which was probably why she disappeared shortly. Then, too soon, we had to leave. As I was putting on my coat with my back to him, my aunt said that he turned his head 90 degrees and was blatantly checking me out for a decent chunk of time. Boy, was I glad that I was having a really good hair/skin day. But I had to leave, and I probably wouldn’t ever see him again, so...nothing happened. I didn’t say anything, and he didn’t either. I took my time when I got up to finally leave because I wanted him to turn around, I wanted to see him one last time – but the server cleaning up our table was in my way. I left the restaurant with my family, and I kept turning around on the street like a total loser, hoping to see him, because his group was paying at the same time we were. I ended up having to use the washroom when we were close to the mouth of the street so I did, and then I insisted on buying dessert at this divine cake shop. When we left the shop a group of young people were right outside, and there he was! It was him! We didn’t approach each other, but I did get my last glance of him, as his friends walked to the subway/train station and we walked to the parking lot.

Now I’m a little sad that I’ll probably never see him again, but I’m thankful that whatever little happened did happen...

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Cheers!

Happy Holidays from The Soap Heiress!

Thank you so much for reading me and for all the support - especially if you've left me comments and/or sent me e-mail! You rock my world. I wish you all, like me, are lucky enough to be spending this holiday season with people (or just someone) you love very, very much.

Will be back on Friday - have lots of good food for me?

XOXOXO

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Japanese-Italian Cuisine vs. Food Authenticity

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a food snob. Okay, I’m a snob about many things, but I have especially high standards for food because it plays such a key role in my life. But recently, I’ve had a bit of a paradigm shift.

You see, I have a thing against fAsian food because of the issue with authenticity. FAsian food is “fake Asian” (Americanized Asian) food, like the stuff you get at Mandarin and Manchu Wok – you know, sweet and sour stuff, chicken balls, chop suey and so on. It’s not yummy to me, and a big part of it, flavour aside, is because it’s not authentic.

But here on my trip, I’ve stumbled across this spectacular phenomenon that is Japanese-ified Italian food, which is SO GOOD, particularly in the form of spaghetti. Italian food that is adapted to the tastes of Japanese people is incredibly delicious. Tomato sauces are sweeter and less sour than their Italian counterparts, cream sauces are more savoury, flavours are more intense...I don’t even know exactly how to describe it, because it’s nothing like the kind of Italian food I’m used to of. You can say it’s not authentic Italian food, but I think that it’s a side to Japanese food that is little known. Japanese cuisine isn’t just about sushi, tempura and teppanyaki, you know? And herein lies my point – what is authenticity, anyway? If someone takes a type of food that was invented by someone else and completely re-works it to create something completely new with its own character and is very popular with local people, who am I to criticize it? I love to use the brilliant Jennifer 8. Lee’s example to illustrate this point: If our benchmark for Americanness is apple pie, how often do you eat Chinese food? How often do you eat apple pie?

My favourite Japanese-Italian joint is Capricciosa, which is located in the North Tower basement in Roppongi Hills. They have a variety of Italian fare, but I am obsessed with their spaghettis (as well as their strawberry shortcake, but that’s a whole other post). Their pastas are cooked perfectly al dente, and their sauces are to die for – especially their tomato sauces. But I’ve also tried their crème, olive oil and squid ink sauces, and they are all fantastic. The pricing is also very reasonable, considering the fact that it’s smack dab in the middle of a very trendy part of downtown Tokyo – at the very least, it’s definitely way cheaper than eating in Nice, and the food is also way tastier, in my opinion. And the service, just like almost anywhere else in Tokyo, is stellar.

So if and when anyone makes a trip here to Tokyo, please be sure to check out Japanese-Italian pastas! Don’t make the mistake of only having sushi, sashimi, ramen, etc.!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Konichiwa!

Can I just stay here? I want to just stay here. I love being in Tokyo! No, actually, I’ve been to a couple other cities, which I’ve also liked, so it’s more accurate to say that I love being in Japan. It’s totally beyond words.

Got here Thursday night, local time, and I’m totally in love. Have been downing Japanese candy (strawberry chocolates in particular) like it’s my job and I’m so happy to see my mom again!

And because I just got here from France, I can’t help but compare. Like Europe, the women here put a lot of care into their appearance, except the Japanese aesthetic is more detailed – and more deliberate, if you will. They are perfectly coiffed and made up, and their outfits are stylishly elaborate. Tokyo is so chic, and I love to people-watch here. I’m not even just talking about the eccentrically attired gyaru and Gothic Lolitas in Harajuku – the street fashion is mind-blowing. So creative and full of character! How much time does it take to look like that every day? A lazy person like me wouldn’t know. Plus in the evenings there are occasionally women who walk around in their beautiful kimonos, no doubt on their way to some special event or other.
The people here seem to love dogs as much as the French do, particularly of the compact variety. All the outrageous makeup and subculture apparel in Japan can’t bring as much attention as a couple dogs. We were taking my “cousins” (my aunt and uncle’s two pugs) out for a stroll, and people would be totally enraptured by them, walking by us, stopping to play with them, squealing, “Kawaii! Oh, kawaiiiiiiiii!!!” A lot of people have little canine friends here, but Tokyo is way cleaner than Nice because pet owners actually pick up after their dogs, and there are signs every so often both in English and Japanese asking that they do so. My aunt and uncle even bring a bottle of water when they walk their dogs to dilute their pee after they’ve gone.

Am also a huge fan of the subway system – it’s so developed and you can literally get anywhere you want in the city. I wish the TTC were like that. It sort of seems confusing at first both because of the language barrier and because there are like, a million lines, but it’s not hard to get the hang of it. The seats are cushioned and warm, and the hanging handles are way easier for me to reach than their North American counterparts – hee. Plus there are LCD screens that clearly illustrate the line, where your next stop is, how long it’s going to take to get there, which side the doors will open on and which lines connect to the one you’re currently on. And the announcer that recites all this information speaks both Japanese and English. Everything is really precise. The subway cars also stop in exactly the same spot every time, and there are markers on the platforms for where each individual subway car stops, so you can line up to get into the car that will be closer to whichever exit you will get off on later.

Monday, December 15, 2008

We Have A Winner!

Congratulations to Nicolette R! You're the winner of the SWS Holiday Giveaway! You've been contacted by e-mail and as soon as you send me your mailing address, your gorgeous desk calendar and magnets will be on their merry way.

Thank you so much to everyone who applied for the wonderful response and for the continuing support (and readership!) of The Soap Heiress. You rock my world.

And a HUGE thank you to Sarah of she was stunning, who sponsored this giveaway, is the sweetest person, and who has supported TSH from Day One. Thank you for believing in me. Like we say here in France, GROS bisous!

Also, I'd like to wish a very happy birthday to my girl M, who is a faithful reader of this blog, and is the hottest nurse-to-be in all of Toronto (along with my boy R). Miss you!!!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Culture of "Draguer"

I just had the best night ever on Friday. Actually, the whole day pretty much rocked, and it culminated in a night of fascinating conversation that shed some light on the culture of draguer – refer to this post for a good example of what that means.

After having a supersatisfying meal at McDonalds right beside the Mediterranean, I went Christmas shopping in Vieux Nice and became very, very broke. Because I was such an efficient shopper, I was done a lot sooner than I'd anticipated, so I went home to chill before buying two yule logs and heading over to the dinner party at the beautiful villa I stayed at when I first got here.

I was excited to see my friends and to have another cooked meal - I'd been eating like an anorexic monkey for over a week because my kitchen sink is plugged and I refuse to cook if I can't do my dishes. The evening began with four of us girls, then the birthday boy (whose room I'd stayed in) arrived with his friend, and then one of the girls' boyfriend joined us from Italy. We talked about everything under the sun, there was often four different languages going at the table (so cool!), and I'm learning to use alcohol like a European.

Let me explain. At school in Canada, nine times out of ten, we drink to get plastered and act like a fool, often in public places, like bars and clubs. Here in Europe, there are certainly people who do that, but with the people I've met, the whole point is the conversation and enjoyment of the beverage. Like, we have a nice wine with dinner, or we have a good beer at a terrasse, and we're there to hang out and talk. And well, if or when the alcohol takes effect, we shed our inhibitions a bit and it makes the conversation more interesting, but no one gets completely sloshed. That's considered stupid and of poor taste. I really enjoy and respect that.

So a big theme of the evening was cultural differences (for example, Birthday Boy thinks it's sexy when North American girls pronounce the word "beaucoup" with their anglo accents) and the topic rolled around to the subject of draguer.

"You don't know what that is?" asked the Birthday Boy (BB).

No.

"It's when...when you see a beautiful girl, for example-"

"Or just an interesting girl." interjected his friend.

"-and you take the time to talk to her, you ask her how her day was, perhaps pay her a compliment..."

You mean you bother her?

"No! That's just- You see? That's exactly it. American girls are terrified of men." said BB. (You have to pardon them - most Europeans refer to all North Americans as "Americans," even Canadians, who they generally like better.)

I was quick to defend my fellow Maple Leafettes - I only speak for Canadians. We're not terrified of men, but it's weird and creepy for people you don't know to approach you randomly on the street to tell you you're beautiful. What are their ulterior motives?

Apparently, when European guys approach you on the street and try to chat you up, they're not purposely trying to creep you out but they think that they're showing appreciation for your presence, or something. This reminded me of a discussion we had about gender roles in my 18th century French literature class, where our teacher/co-ordinator (who knows BB incidentally, and has invited him to take us on outings in the area, which he's seriously considering doing next semester) that this practise of draguer probably stems from some archaic chivalrous code, where men think it's their duty and take it upon themselves to let the ladies know that they are desirable.

I still think it's kind of weird, especially for young boys to be doing it too, but I guess I can better understand why. But I also think that superficiality plays a part in this. I haven't been interested in any approachers so far, but if Gabriel Aubry or Josh Holloway were to come up to me to ask me how my day was or to tell me how beautiful I am, you bet your Christmas presents I'd be giving them the time of day!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

My Christmas List

Before we get to my Christmas list (and it's not to get married, in case you were wondering), a quick update on a couple things:

1.) You know the Facebook group I mentioned on Tuesday's post about the bubble tea joint that was giving their customers a lot of attitude when they found cockroaches in one of their drinks? It's up to over 5300 members now - and counting. The group started on Monday. That's more than 1000 new members a day - absolutely incredible. And the discussion boards are utterly fascinating. Nothing brings people together like scandal, and scandal is such fun when you're not the party involved!

2.) Have you entered my holiday giveaway yet? If you haven't I really hope you do, because I'm giving away a superchic 2009 desk calendar and magnets from she was stunning. The winner will be announced on Monday - go apply now!!!

So yesterday I was doing what I do best - bothering my brother over MSN while he's at work, when I deftly reminded him to get me a present by asking him what he wants for Christmas, like I do every year. He unfailingly gave me his standard response:

"Oh, yeah, you have to send me your list."

You see, my brother's awesome. He never gets presents wrong because he asks me what I want and he sticks with my list. I always get so miffed at relatives who ask you to send them a wishlist and end up buying nothing on it because if they weren't going to get me what I wanted anyway, they shouldn't ask at all. And I always include items that fit all sorts of budgets, from the super modest (under $10) to, well, more expensive things.

Anyway, that was when I came to the shocking realization that I don't have a list this year. This is weird because I've always been unapologetically materialistic, being the daughter and grand-daughter of two self-identified Material Girls. Normally, by November or so, I'll have already compiled one, usually a selection from what I wanted most out of my ever-growing To Buy list, which is like a long, 7-page list of my life goals, ranging from the attainable to total fantasy items.

I can certainly refer to the list now, which I haven't really expanded for months now (also rare), but there isn't anything that I particularly want, that I'm especially hankering over. Living in glamorous poverty in Nice has sort of reduced me to this state of commercial indifference, where I can go shopping and see the most stunning things or the best deals, and not feel the urge to get it, because I'm so poor that I shouldn't be spending any money at all if I could help it. Just providing myself with necessities is already perilously close to doing me in, financially.

There's really just one thing I want this year, and it's not an actual material item, but it's something a lot more precious and sentimental. All I want for Christmas this year is to see my mom. I really, really miss my mother. And thanks to my aunt, who invited us to visit her for the holiday, I will get my one wish for Christmas, and I'm so, so excited. It's going to happen in less than a week! EEE!

Okay, all I want for Christmas is to see my mom, but I wouldn't object to some really good food either, which I'll probably come across in Japan on my trip. You see, the kitchen sink in my apartment has been completely plugged, and I absolutely refuse to cook if I can't do my dishes. So for the past week, I've been living on bananas, clementines, tea, and the occasional baguette or slice of prosciutto. It's really sad. I really miss cooked food. And when I walked into my building today and smelled someone making what I'm assuming was grilled steak, I was ready to sob into the baguette I was lugging home.

6 more days...

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Good News Travels Quickly

Yes, those are two dead cockroaches floating in a cup of hot chocolate, and I apologize in advance for upsetting anyone's stomachs.

Over the last seven hours or so, I've witnessed the immense power of social media firsthand - it's staggering.

So on Sunday night, a bunch of young people went to this semi-popular tea/coffee lounge in uptown Toronto known for their overpriced drinks and deplorable customer service, when one of them was greeted with the lovely sight above after taking several sips of the drink. When they notified a waitress, she offered to take the tax off the bill. Yep, they still expected them to pay. But it gets better.

Naturally, the customers weren't satisfied, so they asked to speak to the manager. After lots of hemming and hawing, the waitress says that the manager's not there, and that they could waive the drinks bill, but they have to pay the food bill, because the kitchen and bar are completely separate, so their food was fine.

The customers then proceeded to parade around the store, showing other customers the offending drink, taking videos of other customers saying the date and time to be witnesses to the event. I think that taking evidence was smart, but making a scene was not.

The waitresses, upset, of course, tried to detain them and wouldn't let them leave until they'd delete their pictures and videos. Eventually, the police was called to sort out the mess, but even then, they insisted that the manager wasn't there.

One of the customers left her contact information for the manager, and after some back and forth, they got in contact. The manager claimed that she wouldn't discuss this matter any further with the customer because she's a 22 year old student and therefore immature. She also said that she would only speak to someone who speaks Mandarin or Cantonese. So the customer got her Chinese-speaking friend to call the manager, who hung up on him and later broke a promise to call back.

So the miffed clients took to their computers, began a Facebook group about the event, started a thread on RedFlagDeals.com, this forum about bargains that's really popular for Torontonians, and have threatened to take the issue to the media. They've also notified the Health Department, who said that they will conduct an investigation within 48 hours.

And news of this event has spread like wildfire! In about two days, the Facebook group has collected over 2100 members and counting. I've never seen a Facebook group grow this quickly before. I'm all the way here across the pond and I found out randomly over Facebook. As soon as I read all the materials through, I messaged my brother, who told me that he'd just gotten an e-mail at the same moment about the same thing, and he sent me the forum link. You can bet your Christmas presents that at least 80% of the people living in that part of town (and their friends and families!) now know about this scandal.

This is the power of instantaneous information.

The corporation that owns this restaurant threatened to take legal action against the creator of the Facebook group if they don't take down the group within 48 hours, which has galvanized a bunch of strangers into action, including law students, and other people who have consulted their lawyers and lawyer friends over whether or not a defamation suit can actually be built, which it cannot.

But the fascinating Facebook group has also shed light on why the customer service is always so deplorable there - according to several former employees, the management is complete garbage and the servers get treated and paid very poorly. In addition to the bill, 10% of it has to go to the company, and the servers keep whatever's left. So if a party leaves an 11% tip, the server only gets to keep the 1%. And if a party leaves less than 10%, the servers have to pay the company out of their own pocket. What kind of ridiculousness is that? So the servers who work there routinely lose money - after all, they're always pissed, so the service is always awful, so people probably usually pay 10% or less. Their managers also routinely pretend to be absent whenever sticky situations arise, apparently.

Now, I don't think the corporation will take a fatal hit for this, because they own a bunch of other establishments that are also reasonably popular. And even after this, there are people who say that they would still go to the other location of this restaurant. But really, they must not have benefitted from Andy Lau's public service announcement several years back - This kind of service just won't cut it anymore. If they had just apologized profusely and waived the entire bill, they wouldn't have all this negative publicity and potentially lose a profitable asset such as this restaurant. And their questionable practices would never have gotten this much attention.

But the Facebook group creator's claim that they don't intend to tarnish the restaurant's reputation? I call bullsh!t. Classic butt-saving disclaimer, although I'm not blaming them at all.

By the way, today is a very special day, scandals aside, because it's my honey's birthday! Happy Birthday, Handsome! I miss you! XOXOXO

Monday, December 8, 2008

Fighting Distraction and Love for Savage

I think I pretty much won the Friend Lottery. I've always been blessed with friends who have incredibly big hearts. My besty (like many of my close friends) is a huge environmentalist; two of my best friends are studying to be nurses - one of them even after his mom contracted SARS as a nurse on the job during that whole terrifying event, and one of them is this supersoftspoken girly girl; and now, one of my best friends in university just discovered a newfound passion in social issues. She's started this blog called Fight Distraction With Action, which features her very articulate articles on a range of topics pertaining to social issues like slavery, violence and gender issues. Her writing shows such a depth of thought and it has made me re-examine my attitudes on these topics and what I can do, as well as how my range of ability can make a difference. Huge props to her, and go check out her blog!

On a different note, I've been nursing my ailing self all weekend, willing this awfulness to go away before my trip, and while I was holed up in my room in bed just keeping myself alive, I discovered Savage Love, Dan Savage's internationally-syndicated sex advice column for The Stranger. You see, I was getting my daily dose of Lainey Gossip, when I watched this vid she posted of Ashton Kutcher who happened to be on Bill Maher while he was interviewing Dan Savage (clip below). And I just instantly loved him because, my faghagness aside, he's hilarious and really well-spoken. So I found his column online and have been spending hours and hours reading back issues of it - I almost finished 1999 in a day, and let me tell you, that's a lot of reading. Thank goodness I only have one exam left (for now, anyway), and it'll be over soon.

Dan is really funny, and frank, and open, and he's heard it all, and I think he spreads a really positive vibe about sex and sexuality. He's all about consent, playing safe, and being good, giving and game (GGG). I also love when he puts people in their place when he receives letters that are obviously fake. Definitely check out his column for a devilishly fun read.

A note to Dan himself: You are so much better than Ashton Kutcher!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Sugoi!

I'm heading to the land of peace signs and slammin' electronics (Tokyo) for Christmas! SO EXCITED!

My Aunt K has been dying to see my mum for ages and I was whining to her pathetically about having to spend Christmas alone, so she invited us to go visit her and my uncle. I'm so pumped to see my mom I can't even tell you. It's almost a little embarrassing. And I'm incredibly thankful that I won't have to stay in one of those cells in walls as seen in America's Next Top Model, because my relatives have a house there.

Tokyo is such a fascinating city because the culture is so unique. I mean, people say that Toronto mirrors New York and Montreal/Quebec are a little like Europe, but Tokyo really is in a category all its own. The fashion is so interesting and the food is so good. During my two weeks there, I plan to:

*people-watch in Harajuku
*go shopping in Shibuya and Roppongi Hills
*see the Christmas lights at Shinjuku and Shiodome
*soak in a natural spring
*pick up some Japanese phrases
*eat my way through the city!

Any other suggestions?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

My Butt Song

When I first saw the apartment that I’m living in, I was hesitant to take it because it’s on the third floor (which in France actually means it's on the fourth), and there’s no elevator in the building, and ceilings in most French buildings are higher because most of the buildings are really old. I’d have to hike up 60 stairs every day to get home! But I was starting to get desperate, and the location was really stellar, so I took it, comforting myself with the thought, “At least my butt will be amazing by the end of the year!”

Now, nearly a semester later, I don’t really think my butt is much different from how it was in September, but I’m sure the exercise is good for me.

So I wrote this a while ago, and I think it might have made someone fall in love with me at the time. It can be sung to the tune of “If I Only Had A...” from Wizard of Oz:

Oh, my hips would sway so proudly,
To the music playing loudly,
Please forgive my being crass.
How I covet a healthy jiggle,
When I give a casual wiggle,
If I only had an ass.

I'd encase them in hot jeans
Befitting a siren queen,
I'd stop walking - I would strut.
I'd be so enamoured,
Of my posterior glamour
If I only had a butt.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Rape of Nanjing 71st Anniversary

Today is the 71st anniversary of the Nanjing Massacre, which went down during World War II and which, as I always say, doesn’t get mentioned nearly enough. We don’t learn about it in school here on the other side of the Pacific Ocean unless somehow we happen to take some courses in university that might brush on it. It’s not good enough.

I’ll bet most people haven’t heard of Unit 731, a secret biological and chemical warfare research unit that killed hundreds of thousands of civilians – regular men and women as well as the elderly, children and pregnant women alike – under the guise of “epidemic prevention.” People were vivisected without anesthesia, infected with bacteria and viruses and left to die, subjected to amputations and ridiculous surgeries like having limbs implanted to different parts of the body, starved, and tortured in countless other gruesome ways.

It can’t even be argued that the information gleaned from the research was useful. Like my professor said last night, although she was referring to the Holocaust in Europe, all this was carried out on people who were abused and already sickly. Finding out how long it takes an emaciated person to freeze to death in icy water doesn’t really tell us how long we have to save a regular, healthy person from hypothermia. The reason of “research” was just an excuse.

I highly recommend that everyone educate themselves about what happened during the world wars on the other side of the world – meaning Asia. A lot of disturbing things went down there that you’d never even be able to imagine, that are still unaccounted for, not apologized for, and written out of history books to assuage a nation’s shame – the biggest slap in the face to all the victims and survivors and families of the people involved.

We need to remember all this happened. We need to teach our kids about it. We need to educate everyone we know about it so that this event becomes as well-known as the European Holocaust, and not only do we need to be talking about this in the mass media, but we need to delve deeper instead of just mentioning it in passing. And I say so not to perpetuate hate and anger in the world, because I believe that later generations are innocent, but we need to really understand this and be aware of it so that the same, horrifying mistakes hopefully won’t ever be made again.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

I Love New York

No, I haven't been to New York lately, but my best friend just zipped down there from Toronto for a day. And why? For a concert, of course. She's a super grounded, calm person, but for a concert with greasy, sloppy musicians clad all in black and pants so tight you can almost see exactly how they arrange their privates, there's almost nothing too crazy that she wouldn't do. Granted, thanks to her obsession we got into this awesome party in June, but I'm just sayin' - the girl would probably miss my wedding for what she would consider an amazing, exclusive concert.

So she asked me the night before what she should do in New York since I love the city and she would have many, many hours to kill before the event starts. Naturally, I was baffled that she'd ask me because what I would consider fun is almost the opposite for her, but I appreciate that she wanted my opinion, despite the fact that she seemed almost delighted to refute every single suggestion as soon as I said it.

I told her that if I only had a day in New York, I'd spend it in SoHo looking at expensive things and befriending salespeople, which is exactly what I did in March when I went down to Manhatten for a job interview. Happiness is sauntering down streets lined with wrought-iron buildings and interesting stores, you know - see why I'm so happy in France?

According to my journal entry entitled "Kirna Zabete Smells Weird," these were the highlights from my day in SoHo:

Balthazar Cafe
Right off Spring St subway station there's this cute little bakery attached to a restaurant called Balthazar. I saw the word "boulangerie" from across the street and it drew me like a bee to honey. The bakery/cafe part of it was teensy, which made the place look a lot busier than it actually was. I ordered a Hazelnut Cocoa thinking it would be a hot chocolate with perhaps a shot of hazelnut flavour in it but alas, I think it was coffee. I also ordered a "pain au chocolat" because it was on the menu, and it was handed to me with a "Here's your chocolate croissant" by someone whose eyes clearly communicated, "Here, you pretentious cow." The cashier had a French accent so I asked him, "Etes-vous francais?" Turned out he was a fraud! I thought it was hilarious. Why was he feigning an accent? Commitment to the atmosphere of the restaurant, maybe.

Kirna Zabete

Apart from Jeffrey New York, this was the one place I was totally worked up to see, because I've read about it in my fashion books before. I must've asked almost 10 people how to get there after getting out of the subway station but no one could tell me! But it wasn't suprising once I actually made it there because it was not special at all. I was completely UNDERWHELMED. Firstly, the place smelled funny. Secondly, the interior design was really lacking. Sure, they had very expensive products, but it was decorated like any old store at the Eaton Centre. The displays didn't tiltillate me or make me ache that I can't afford any of it. Thirdly, their salesgirls sucked. When I walked in there, there was a guy dropping off his resume there. He explained that he was actually an opera singer (he even broke out in song) but he needed a job. All the girls were very nasty about him after he left and I thought, is that really necessary? I mean, there must be a ton of people like him who went to NYC with big dreams and couldn't make it. But everyone needs to survive somehow. And there's never any reason to be rude. I felt really bad for him. So yeah. Not worth visiting, everybody.

Anthropologie
I liken it to a more sophisticated version of Urban Outfitters - perhaps an Urban Outfitters for an older crowd. Filled with interesting clothes and cool knick-knacks. I especially liked the small selection of books. I enjoyed myself there.

Vosges haut chocolat
A super fancy chocolate-cafe kind of store. Beautifully decorated and upscale, with a number of fancy kinds of dark hot chocolates you can drink. But what caught my attention was the collection of odd chocolate bars. There was a Thai one, with curry and coconut milk in it. There was a Japanese one with wasabi, ginger and sesame. There was even a white chocolate with olives! I wasn't really interested in eating or drinking anything in there, but it was cool.

Kiki de Montparnasse (!!!)
Oh my God, it was such an experience being in this store. If only I'd been gutsy/rude enough to take pictures of the interior! It doesn't seem right to call it a sex store, exactly, because that would denote crassness and vulgarity, two things that don't apply to this shop at all - but it was a store that sold all kinds of interesting things that have to do with sex. I've never seen anything like a lot of their products before. Sex is an art there.

A very sultry version of Besame Mucho played in the background. Walking inside, you'd think at first that it's a lingerie shop, because there are these gorgeous displays of lingerie that can only be desbcribed as art. Super ornate $700 panties, crystal-encrusted nipple caps and tassles... Then you walk in and see all the toys and books, then there's a beautiful showroom at the back with more lingerie. The dressing rooms are particularly sumptuous - trying stuff on there must be such a pleasure. They are huge and surrounded by this lush curtain.

But the toys! I consider myself pretty cool about things, not easily fazed, but those toys made me all agog. There were cock rings made of jade that, the sign read, could double as necklace pendants, that could cost over $3000 depending on the size. They were graduated, of course, because jade doesn't stretch. Being Chinese and seeing jade on babies and old ladies all the time - well, let me just say that I would never have thought of using jade this way. There were also cock rings that were strands of pearls - obviously more for decoration than for the normal purpose of cock rings. There were paddles covered in croc skin (I love croc!), glass dildoes displayed like art in shadow boxes on the walls, $5 single condoms individually wrapped in fancy paper boxes, massage candles that you melted and then poured on someone, which would then work as massage oil, these incredibly heavy metal things that I was too afraid to ask the purpose of... My God, it was so overwhelming to the senses.

It was one of the most beautiful stores I have ever been in. The decor was truly breathtaking. Plus there were these really pretty salesgirls that were as kind as they were gracious. Everyone who ever goes to New York absolutely must see this store!

Plus I went to this fake sample sale that was strangely reminiscent of the "sample sales" at school, except the clothes were real. But the change rooms were actually an open changing area, so shopping there wasn't a particularly dignified experience.

I had so much fun looking at beautiful things and schmoozing up sales people today. I also learned some smart tricks - a gentle, sweet boy who worked at the Steve Madden store told me that if I ever need directions, the hot dog vendors can tell you where everything is. And in New York, you don't just get street meat - you can also get shwaramas and falafels and fresh candied nuts and all other kinds of cool food off the street.

Plus I loved that I was going to all the actual flagships of companies. I went into a couple, thinking that I'd seen their retailers in Canada before, but here were their home stores! But I wonder how many flagship areas one city needs - there were all the high end stores that are also on Fifth and Madison avenues.

I'm really going to miss the warm weather here - it's above zero and there's no hint of snow on the ground. I was perfectly happy in my leggings and ballet flats, and it was totally warm enough for me to stand on the sidewalk outside on Greene St to do my makeup (I walked into Prada, took a look at myself in the mirror and made the horrible realization that I forgot this morning). I was told that there were really only two big snow days here.

Am totally besotted and enamoured of this place. Must move here, even if it's just because it's warmer!

Monday, December 1, 2008

She Was Stunning | Holiday Giveaway!

The giveaway is now closed. Thanks to everyone who participated!

I think that womanhood is universal. No matter where we’re from, what our backgrounds or beliefs are, we’re connected by a sisterhood based on our similar experiences, especially the challenges we face. We can all relate. That’s why I firmly believe that we should all support each other – and also why I love my friend Sarah’s artwork, which she has transformed into a business of magnets, greeting cards, luggage tags, and most recently, desk calendars.

she was stunning offers these products featuring beautiful black & white photographs of women depicting the stories underneath. The inspiration for SWS came from an assignment Sarah was given when she was studying photography at the Alberta College of Art and Design, where she had to produce a series of ten images that pertained to a theme. The original portfolio was made of metal, with magnetic poetry spelling out the captions. It was awarded “Most Outstanding Portfolio” by her peers. That was four years ago, and she was stunning was born soon after. Now, there are also lines of products featuring just the inspirational phrases, artistically arranged in the company’s signature colours.

The stories were inspired by Sarah’s own experiences and those of her friends. She wanted to portray women just as we are, with our strengths and insecurities, our ups and downs. I think she’s done a very good job of it, because it’s the relatability of the stories that caught my eye in the first place.

I remember I was helping my mum out at a trade show, when I started exploring the venue on a break. Sarah’s booth caught my eye because it was decorated in my favourite colour combination – hot pink, black and white. I sauntered over to have a look, and when I saw a picture of a girl’s legs rocking killer d’Orsay stilettos with the caption, “The night was hers. All hers. She could feel it right down to her three-inch heels.” I thought, That’s me! That’s exactly what goes through my head every time I make myself pretty and go out. I read over all the other stories, identified with them too, and proceeded to gush to Sarah in the most embarrassing way about how much I liked her work. She was so sweet, and since then, we’ve kept in touch.

I loved her magnets first, but I also adore the desk calendars, which is her newest line. They’re so chic, and the magnet-letters, apart from looking cute, are a neat little homage to Sarah’s original idea, and what got the SWS ball rolling in the first place.

Her business has been doing really well; in just a few short years, she’s signed on with a national distributor and her products can be found in over 100 retailers from all over Canada – and counting. You can also find her products online at Orangefish, Ravensara and Two Wolves Trading Company.

And because Sarah loves The Soap Heiress, she will be giving out a desk calendar and a couple magnets (pictured below) to a lucky reader for this holiday season! To enter, send me an e-mail at thesoapheiress(at)gmail.com with “SWS Giveaway” as the subject. Entries must be received by 12:00 AM (Eastern Time) December 14th. The winner will be notified by e-mail and announced here on Monday, December 15th’s post.

For more information and to see the product catalogue, visit http://shewasstunning.com.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

This Is So Cute!

Madagascar 2 is about to be released in Hong Kong, and they hired Jin Au Yeung to do the end-credit song for the film. He's a Chinese-American rapper whose career I've sort of been following ever since he won seven battles straight on the Freestyle Friday segment of BET's 106 & Park and entered the Hall of Fame. Any kind of improv just blows my mind.

Shortly after kicking ass on BET (clip below), he had a brief stint with Ruff Ryders, and then was featured in my dream man Lee Hom Wang's song, Heroes of Earth. Then he made an awesome Cantonese album independently and signed on with Universal Hong Kong this year.

Apologies to anyone who doesn't understand Cantonese - in the clip above there's about three English words, more for the rhythm than anything else. Anyway, he basically says over and over, "Move your body, twist to the left, twist to the right." Hope this dampens your Sunday Blues! :D

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends, and a huge Happy Birthday to the original Shoe God, Manolo Blahnik!

As you may or may not have noticed, I added a Twitter column to the right. It's something of an experiment. You see, I'm a huge fan of all forms of social media, but sometimes, the trend just hasn't picked up where I live yet, or within my circle of friends - MySpace, for example, never really caught on. Now with Twitter, only maybe two RL friends of mine have it, but they've stopped using it months ago probably because there wasn't enough of a network for them to build on.

So! I'm going to give it a test run for a month and see how things go. If you're a Twitter (or a LinkedIn) user, feel free to add me, ok?

XOXOXO

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

One of A Kind: Golden Goose Natural Products Co

Today is a day for shameless self-plugs - forgive?

My last pick for my One of A Kind series is, of course the one that's closest to my heart - my mom's all-natural, handmade toiletries business, Golden Goose Natural Products Co.

Shortly after emigrating to Canada, when I was just a baby, I developed this really uncomfortable and unsightly skin condition called eczema. We suspected that this was probably due to a combination of genetics, the sudden change of environment, and the dry Canadian weather. The doctors assured us that I would eventually grow out of it, just like most people.

But when I showed no signs of doing so, even after going to every kind of doctor imaginable, my mom started doing a lot of research to see if there was anything that might make me feel better, since the products out there on the market clearly weren't helping me. In fact, I developed an allergy to oatmeal because over the years, all the dermatologists I'd seen made me use the full range of Aveeno products, and I guess my body had had enough. I can't eat or use any products with oatmeal in it anymore.

Anyway, so my mum read somewhere that handmade soaps are much better for you, especially for people with eczema and psoriasis, so she set out to make her own soaps. Using family and friends as guinea pigs, she got a lot of positive response. Best of all, it was the first soap I'd ever used that didn't make my skin feel tightly stretched and dry. That's because she doesn't skimp on her ingredients - all of our soaps are genuine castile soaps, made of 100% vegetable oils, with the main ingredient being olive oil. Thus, the idea for her company was born.

She did her first craft show in 1997. Over a decade later, we're still going strong, and my mom is a proud vendor at the One of A Kind, the biggest and most presitigious craft show in Canada. Now, she's expanded the company's lines to bath bombs, bath salts, soy wax candles, and more.

By the way, I adore our candles - they're probably my favourite product. They're very environmentally-friendly because they are made of soy wax, which is a renewable resource, and natural, lead-free cotton wick. They also burn clean, so they won't soot up your ceilings and walls. They're scented with essential oils, and because the burning temperature of soy wax is lower than, say, beeswax and paraffin, the scent of the essential oils don't burn away as easily and can gently permeate a closed room quite nicely. Besides all that, they are aromatherapeutic and they are super chic, since they are uncoloured and are only decorated with a kiss of botanicals at the top. And each of the big ones shown here can burn at least 35 hours.

If you go to my school, please keep an eye out for my article on eco-friendly soaps in the Spring/Summer 2009 issue of The Style Review, our campus fashion magazine. I'll also have a cultural profile in there on the city of Nice from a student's perspective!

And of course, don't forget to go see my mum and smell our products at Booth E-38 at the One of A Kind, which opens tomorrow!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

One of A Kind: Domistyle

I'm going to come home a slammin' cook - not so much because I'm so inspired by all the gourmet French cuisine I get to sample all the time, but more because I'm dirt poor living in glamorous poverty and can't afford to go out, like, ever, which necessitates excerising my culinary muscles chez moi. My brother was complaining that I have no pictures of food in my photo albums (he thinks I'm eating like Jeffrey Steingarten or something just because I'm living in France now), but I told him that he'll have to content himself with pictures of my cooking, because it's way too expensive to eat at restaurants.

However, I have this charming habit of cooking in my jammies, which I find dramatically increases the frequency of my having to do laundry, so I finally decided to look for an apron - and, my goodness, how I wish I could get a Domistyle apron here! They're the cutest. I think every woman should have two - one to cook in, and one to entertain in. My top choices are the ones in the pictures above (the one on the left says "will cook for shoes" - hee!).

Domistyle was founded by Jessica and Vanessa (Jess and Ness!), a pair of childhood friends who wanted to don cute aprons at a get-together they were hosting together. When they couldn’t find anything, they decided to start their own business, and they’ve become the rock stars of chic-apron-dom. The pictures are hand-drawn and silk-screened onto their products, which are made of a poly-cotton twill. These aprons make the perfect gifts, because they're gorgeous, they are low maintenance since they're machine-washable, and they're one-size-fits-all, so you can't go wrong. Their designs also range from elegant to funky, so there's a lot to choose from, no matter who you're shopping for. They also have an adorable children’s line that caters to both boys and girls and is as chic as their grown-up counterpart.

Domistyle aprons can be found in stores all over North America and at a number of online retailers. To see a store list, pictures of other designs, or just for more information, visit http://www.domistylegifts.com/. Also, remember to go check them out at Booth C-10 at the One of A Kind!

And below is a photo of my famous white wine seafood pasta in tomato cream sauce, which I'm really proud of, because it's better than a lot of pastas I've had at restaurants! Trust me, if you could only taste it, it would totally rock your world.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

One of A Kind: Rustichella


Last year at the One of A Kind, my best friend J told me that I “absolutely have to try something!!!” Prone as she is to the occasional passionate outburst, I wasn’t particularly excited, but I followed her insistent tugging on my arm, anyway. She took me to this simple, but elegant booth that featured bottles of brown and green stuff, where there was a mini gazebo-like structure at the front with a table full of tiny paper cups holding drops of brown liquid. She took one and shoved it in my hand, commanding me to sip it. I asked her what it was, and when she told me that it was balsamic vinegar – I won’t lie, I was skeptical. But being the fervent believer that I am of the One Bite Rule (meaning you’re not allowed to write new foods off without at least trying one bite of it), I tasted it, and oh, Cosmos...I was so gone. I was instantly, helplessly and irrevocably hooked to Rustichella’s infused balsamic vinegars.

Rustichella offers 12 flavours (and counting) of infused extra virgin olive oils as well as balsamic vinegars. I like the oils too, but I especially love the vinegars because they’re so delicious you can actually drink it – slowly, of course. Last year, they had a cranberry one, a fig one, a smoky-flavoured one, and maybe one or two others that I can’t remember. I convinced the best friend to get the smoky one, and I wanted to get the fig one because the flavours are really intricate and multi-layered, but I ended up getting the tangier, sweeter cranberry balsamic because my mum likes it better. Either way, all three are so, so good. I want a fig one this year though, and I’m putting in my order so someone at home can get me a bottle. The one inconvenience is that they don’t have any stores, retailers, or a web site and they do the One of A Kind exclusively, so there are only two opportunities a year to buy their products which means you have to stock up.

The kind gentleman who sold us our vinegars also gave us a hand-written brochure full of creative ways to use the product, besides the traditional salad dressing and bread-dipping. You can use it to marinate or cook meats, mix with fruits (I like to use strawberries, but I was told that Italians traditionally like to use watermelons), and even drizzle it over vanilla ice cream. That last one sounds iffy, but I promise it’s really tasty because the dairy in ice cream mellows out the tartness of the vinegar, and the infusions just bring a whole new dimension of flavour to the palate. And I find that it’s always a treat to use it on meat (especially pork chop!) because it just makes the dish taste a little more spectacular. I especially like how the sugars caramelize as the meat gets cooked – divine.

Be sure to try a sample at booth C-20!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

One of A Kind: Barbie's Basement Jewellery

“I’m so gay, I sweat glitter,” says my favourite fashion blogger, the fabulous BryanBoy. As a gay man in a woman’s body, I can kind of relate. There’s just something about sparkly things that gets me right there, similar to the effect of the colour pink on me. That’s why every year, I’m inevitably drawn to the Barbie’s Basement Jewellery (BBJ) booth at the One of A Kind.

BBJ is run by this really nice couple, Robin and Ange, who’ve been together for absolutely ever; I remember seeing them at my very first One of A Kind Christmas show! Some years ago, Robin was facing a possible layoff at her really boring full-time job, so she decided to turn her hobby, jewellery-making, into a business. She sold beaded jewellery at first, but then she conceived the idea of making glass bubble rings with a piece of text underneath over a bed of glitter. Later, she came up with the idea of featuring pop culture images in her jewellery, and another line began. Then in 2000, her partner/future wife Ange hurt herself badly at her day job, and when she was recovering, she decided to join BBJ as Production Manager in 2001. Since then, they’ve expanded to making cufflinks, magnets, key chains, belt buckles and lots more. Their belt buckles are particularly popular and Jessica Alba wore one in the movie Honey. Robin and Ange’s work has also been featured in a bunch of magazines.

My favourites are the glittery pieces, of course, which I really wish I could find a picture of so that I could show you. I got my first one from them a few years ago, and I can’t even tell you what a hard time I had picking something out, because I always just want to bring their whole booth home every time I see it. I ended up choosing a bright red glittered ring with the word “rebel” in it. The following year, I began eyeing these two supercute necklaces – one that says “uptown” over light pink glitter and one that says “downtown” over hot pink – get it? At the last Christmas show, I decided that I was going to get one, and I decided to get “downtown”, despite the fact that I’m really an uptown girl, just because I liked the hot pink better. But there weren’t any more necklaces in the style I wanted, so Robin, who is super sweet, custom-made my necklace with exactly the shade of glitter I wanted, despite the fact that she was in the middle of the demanding show and was probably really busy. The next piece I’m aiming for is the charm bracelet, with five charms on it! I just have to decide exactly which charms I want, which will be a challenge...

Go check them out at the One of A Kind beginning next Thursday at booth N-48! You can also find BBJ products at retailers all over North America, at their secure online store, and at Snazzygirl.com. Best of all, they welcome custom orders if you’re looking for something specific!

For more information, visit their website at http://bbj.ca.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

One of A Kind: Karen Wilson Hand Bags

Hello, friends! Please pardon my week-long hiatus – it’s been a tough one. A friend in my program just received some very bad news from the doctor and has to go home. I hope she gets well soon – and that she drinks a ton of Second Cup Green Tea Chillers (or Lattes) for me when she gets home. The last time I hung out with her, she was telling me how excited she was to read my One of A Kind series because she loves going to the show with her stepmom every season, so the following series of posts is dedicated to her. XOXOXO, girl!

You know how there was this air of finality when Anna Karenina threw her beloved red velvet handbag into the railroad tracks? A woman who throws away her favourite purse and banishes it to the dirty ground evidently has lost the will to live. This perfectly describes the sacred relationship between a woman and her handbag.

Unlike Anna, however, I don’t subscribe to the idea that there is The One. I’ve long since decided that a harem full of gorgeousness is much more suited to my depraved appetite for prettiness. And the bag I have my eye on for the next addition to my bag harem is a Karen Wilson original.

Every year, Fashion Girl and I make at least one trip over to Karen’s booth at the One of A Kind to stare admiringly at the newest collection. I can’t be there in person this year, but I’ve checked it out online, and let me tell you, Fall/Winter 2008 looks divine. Each season, Karen Wilson Hand Bags releases a new collection of beautiful purses in the 10 styles she’s known for, including functional market totes, elegant gathered frames, fun evening bags, and more. Her pieces are especially well-made and every design is made in limited edition, to keep them special and exclusive.

Go check out Karen’s work at Booth J-25 at the One of A Kind, opening next Thursday, November 27!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

LinkedIn: Facebook for Grown-Ups

I just discovered the awesomeness that is LinkedIn, which is basically Facebook for professionals, for the purpose of networking - which means that you're allowed to care about it and spend time on it. Cool, right?

Your profile on LinkedIn is basically your resume, and it's really user-friendly to format. Instead of posting on people's walls, you can write each other recommendations. And it's much more secure, because they really encourage that you only add people you know, and they ask for your password whenever you make any major actions. There are even groups (although they're all closed groups that you have to be approved to join) and applications that you can add, although I haven't looked into them yet. But one of my favourite features is seeing people's connections (aka friends list) because it's really useful for networking, although there are people who make it private so you can't see.

Plus there are job listings, and my brother told me that he's gotten job offers from people on LinkedIn before. As a matter of fact, there were more people than I'd thought I knew on LinkedIn, including my Aunt Karin, who has no time for anything, so I'm assuming this must be useful in some way. And I found my long, lost Uncle Kevin on it. You see, one night, when I was taking a break from writing my essay, I decided to search all the working people I could think of. I found someone with my uncle's name in his general area, but I didn't know if it was him because it was at a different company. So I went into that firm's website, which thankfully had a database of profiles for all of their lawyers, and when I searched for him, there he was! Super cool.

So! I highly recommend every to get on LinkedIn, because it's a really useful career tool. And if you know me, please add me! Just search for my "real name."

Cheers!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Forgotten Holocaust

“You’d think they’d make a bigger deal of it, since it all happened here,” a classmate said to me, regarding the comparative lack of fanfare (most notably, the lack of poppies) for Remembrance Day, or as it’s called here in France, Armistice.

Um, no – it didn’t all happen here. It happened everywhere. That’s why it was a World War.

I’m not saying this to disparage her, because it’s really not her fault. From my experience, I find that the history program of the Canadian public education system (at least in Southern Ontario) is severely incomplete. We’re pretty much taught that the World Wars centered in Europe, and then North America reacted in support. That’s such a limited view of what happened.

All the way on the other side of the world, in East Asia, lives were equally affected and devastated. There was a massacre in Nanking (what has been dubbed The Forgotten Holocaust) – a veritable genocide, where hundreds of thousands of innocent people were killed in the span of six weeks. All kinds of atrocities took place beyond that city as well. Civilians were killed, raped and tortured in the most gruesome ways. My grandmother told me how she and her sisters had to cut off all their hair, smear their faces liberally with dirt and dress like boys on the very rare occasion that they absolutely had to leave their hiding place, for fear of being captured by invading soldiers to be used as comfort women. My grandfather had a brother who disappeared one day during the war and resurfaced three days later, insane, after being tortured by soldiers.

But unlike the Holocaust in Europe, what happened in Asia was never apologized for. In fact, to this day, there are still government officials in Japan and other authority figures who denied that it ever happened. They’ve even gone as far as writing the entire event out of history books and downplaying the death rates, despite the efforts of lobbyists all over the world, including local Japanese groups.

Like I said, in North America, what happened in Asia during WWII hardly gets mentioned, especially in mainstream media. There are people who think that the movie Lust, Caution was all about sex. But we’re making progress, and I feel optimistic.

I’ve been told that material on WWII in Asia has been approved and added to Canadian textbooks and that there are tours now taking teachers to Asian countries to educate them on the subject so that they can teach it. That’s a huge step in the right direction. Then maybe future parents won’t feel the need to do what my mother did – she gave a copy of Iris Chang’s The Rape of Nanjing to my teacher when I was in grade five because she thought that the scope of what I was learning from history class at school was too narrow.

So today, let’s remember the World Wars for what they were – events that devastated the entire world – so that we don't downplay the suffering and the courage of millions of others.

Lest We Forget.