Saturday, January 10, 2009

Don, Don, Don, Dooonki!

I can’t believe I haven’t written about Donki in my posts about my recent trip to Japan! How could I forget about Donki?

I’m referring, of course, to Don Quijote (Donki, in local parlance), the Japanese chain discount store with locations in Japan and Hawaii – this store can kick Wal-Mart’s butt any day. I suddenly thought about them yesterday, when the company’s song (which plays on a loop in the stores) popped up in my head, unbidden – must be the subliminal advertising working. It goes:

Don, Don, Don – Dooonki! Don Quiiii-jote!

Upon further research, I’ve found that they actually have a Wikipedia page, as well as an English version of their site, although there isn’t much there besides a cute picture of their mascot, the penguin - but it escapes me as to why they didn't use a donkey instead.

What I love about this store is that they sell absolutely everything at a discount, but the quality is really decent, especially since many of their goods are brand name. If there’s anything you need that you can’t find at a 100¥ store (which I also love), it’ll be at Donki, at a discounted price. They have cheapie, no-name goods, right alongside Calvin Klein undies, T-Fal cookware, Haagen-Dazs ice cream, Rolex watches (no, really!), Givenchy scarves, Chanel makeup, Dior jewellery, LV bags...I once saw a brand new Kelly bag (albeit a model in just basic, boring, tan leather) at a Donki store for the low, low price of 3.6 million yen. (sarcasm)

Why do they have all these authentic luxury goods available? Well, first of all, they aren’t cheap, even though they’re technically on sale. Luxury goods are typically more expensive in Japan because they’re usually imported. But most importantly, the turnover for such products is very quick. In Tokyo, like in many other Asian cities, it’s not good enough just to be rocking designer duds – what you’re wearing and using has to be in season. That’s why a lot of office ladies carry classic monogram bags – it’s way harder to tell which season they’re from, they’re more timeless – and you can bet your passport they are real. It’s the culture. Same goes for Hong Kong.

If you’re claustrophobic, you might not enjoy yourself there, because there is stuff absolutely everywhere. Space is precious in Japan, and so the store is stuffed to the brim with merchandise, on shelves climbing up the walls, towering over people in rows in the middle of the store, and there are hanging signs everywhere that’ll brush your head if you’re taller than, say, 5’8”. And because everyone loves Donki, it’s gets really crowded in there – you have to be patient with the traffic inside, because the aisles are narrow.

When I go to Donki, I stock up on food items that I can bring back, like candy (Japanese candy is the best!), spaghetti sauces and instant curries, which cost significantly less than what I’d have to pay to score similar products, with less choices, at J-Town in Toronto, this huge emporium of imported Japanese goods - if the ticket to Japan is just not feasible, J-Town is a perfectly good option. They also have an awesome toilet, if you ever happen to go there.

Now if only Donki would expand to Canada! Below is a video of someone making their way inside – claustrophobics, beware!

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Are you keeping in mind the lessons you learned in 2008?

This time last year, I was getting over an abusive relationship I’d just left. Of course, I saw all the warning signs in the beginning, but I chose to ignore them because I was chasing after certain ideologies that I now understand aren’t real and aren’t healthy. It lasted way too long. And towards the end, like in any abusive relationship, I’d wavered about leaving because it was such a significant part of my life for so long, something I’d put my entire self into, but really, each day more was too much because I was dying inside.

I learned how dangerous blind faith is, and how prevalent it is in the world. I learned that I need to take better care of myself. I learned not to make one thing the sole epicentre of my life, because healthy living involves a balance of many enriching things and experiences. And I learned how completely dedicated and devoted I can be. I keep trying to remind myself that this is what I took away from that experience, this positive, new knowledge. That instead of mourning what was gone or being angry about it, I should move on and apply the lessons I learned to the rest of my life.

I think this is worth mentioning because someone I love very much is in a bad relationship right now, which is having an awful effect on her. Her significant other has turned her into a person I really dislike, at least 75% of the time. I don’t want to come off too strong in my opinions, because I know she’ll just defiantly cling harder to the soul-sucking jerk she’s attached to right now, but regardless, I know she won’t ever get out of that relationship, for the following reasons: Firstly, she’s made it pretty permanent. Secondly, she has self-esteem issues, and she probably thinks that she won’t be able to do any better. I disagree, but what I think doesn’t really signify. Thirdly, she wants so badly to believe that she’s happy. And finally, her uncouth, piece of garbage significant other wouldn’t ever make it even remotely easy.

If you’ve ever had a similar experience, you know how detrimental an unhealthy relationship can be to a person. How do you know if your relationship is good or bad? Here are some signs:

1.) Your significant other (SO) makes you feel bad about yourself.

2.) You find yourself becoming alienated from your family and friends, the people you are closest to, while becoming closer and closer to your SO, until you feel like no one can better understand you or make you as happy.

3.) In your darkest hour, your SO won’t support you.

4.) Your SO treats the people you love like crap.

5.) You rarely have any disagreements because you always, always get your way. It’s not obvious, but this is a signal of an ulterior motive. Who always wants to acquiesce to someone else?

There are more, but these are the big ones I can think of, based on my own experience and that of the person I love. I wish she would see this, but the truth is, she probably does and chooses to ignore it – I’ve been there before. But even though I can’t do much to help her, I want to alert you, my readers, about this, and I wish you all a year of wonderful, positive, and healthy relationships!


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Next Trip to Japan

That's right - I've barely been back a week, and I'm already planning my next trip to Japan. It's that awesome. There are some places in the world where one visit will cover everything nicely (like Nice, in my opinion, although my Japanese uncle disagrees), but there are others that you just want to go back to, again and again. Japan is one such place.

On my next visit, I want to:
*have curry at a curry restaurant (didn't get to do that this time)
*have tonkatsu (fried pork chop) at Meisen again
*have spaghetti and strawberry shortcake at Capricciosa again
*replenish my stock in candy, spaghetti sauces, instant curries and fried rice mixes at Donki (more on that store later!)
*visit all the department stores (I wouldn't let my mom shop at them this time, insisting boutiques are superior, when on the last day, we walked into one just to have a look and discovered that Japanese department stores are way cooler than their North American counterparts - they are like lots of cute boutiques set in a building, like superchic malls)
*have tempura, rotating sushi, unagi don (bbq eel on rice), udon, sukiyaki and ramen
*gorge myself on strawberry shortcake
*be able to speak and/or read some basic Japanese so that I can at least communicate a little bit at restaurants and stores
*take more street fashion pictures
*go to Harajuku on a Sunday again to see more "weird people," as my uncle calls them
*visit my Brand Name Dermatologist

and most importantly(!)

*have the girl stuff to say hi if I see a superhot kakkoii who's been eyeing me back all night

Let's hope I'll get to do all this sooner rather than later!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

No Detoxing with Gravel Juice

Every winter, it’s like my goal to get fat during the holidays, not so much because I particularly enjoy how I look in that state (although I certainly don’t mind it), but more because it’s how I naturally become when I am well-fed, well-rested, free of stress, and therefore happy. I think it’s probably my natural state to be round and soft all over. Then when I get back to school, I have to get rid of my holiday poundage, which usually isn’t too hard because when I am in school, I’m typically less well-fed, less well-rested, and not free from stress at all.

According to the January edition of Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP newsletter, which I don’t subscribe to but heard about, she too has holiday poundage to work off. I call bullshit, but hey, it’s everyone’s prerogative to have an opinion. The food featured in her newsletter is the most unappetizing stuff I have ever seen - the teriyaki chicken literally looks like a log of crap, and the blueberry smoothie looks like gravel juice. If that’s how they look professionally-styled and photographed with flattering lighting and everything, I know I’d never want to put the real things in my mouth. And of course, that little detox regimen is so practical for women who have to work or go to school or take care of their kids full-time and have no personal chef (or nanny or housekeeper). Of course it is.

But I don’t have to zap any holiday poundage this year, because I went to Tokyo – this is what I’m comforting myself with in my post-holiday blues.

The beauty of Tokyo (and Hong Kong too, come to think of it) is that even someone with such a sluggish metabolism as myself can pretty eat as much as I want and not gain weight. Heck, I’d probably lose weight living in cities like that. It’s pointless to have a car because the public transit system is so good, so you end up doing a ton of walking, and you don’t realize it until the end of the day when your feet suddenly hurt. And you don’t feel all the walking because there are a ton of interesting things and fashionable people to stare at.

I think I’m going to go home a lot more svelte, because apart from not having holiday weight to get rid of, there’s nothing good to eat (that I can afford, anyway) here...

Monday, January 5, 2009

Retiring Twitter

Back in November, I decided to be adventurous and to try out a new form of social media - Twitter. It's been over a month, and I haven't really fallen in love with it; I don't really want to be telling everyone what I'm doing at any given moment. Besides that, it's still not very popular in my corner of the world. So I've decided to retire my Twitter - I'm not going to get rid of my account, but I just won't be using it anymore. I may resume using it in the future if I think it's worthwhile, and if I do, I'll let you know!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Half Birthday Strawberry Shortcake

I’m back in Nice! And it’s our half birthday!

I say this a lot, but it’s worth repeating: thank you, thank you, thank you for your continuing support and for reading me. This blog began as a portfolio of writing samples and then it quickly morphed into more of a personal blog – I guess my inner narcissist took over. Who knew that anyone would find my life interesting but me? In just six months, over 1150 unique visitors have been here, from 44 different countries. I am stunned and grateful!

If I were still in Japan (*sigh!*), I’d celebrate the occasion with half of a strawberry shortcake from Capricciosa. Preferably all to myself.

You know how I said that no one makes toilets like the Japanese do? It’s more accurate to say that there are a LOT of things that no one makes like they do – including strawberry shortcake. Japan is all about quality over quantity. Everything is tiny (except produce and toilets), but the quality is top-notch. Things tend to be on the pricey side, but you know that you’re getting what you paid for.

Take this shortcake I keep bringing up. I sampled many during my trip, and I’d say that the average price for a slice was about 450 to 600 ¥, which at the time of writing this, is about $6.50-8.50 CAD – comparable to Canadian prices, especially at chicer places. However, the size would be equal to about a half to two thirds of a slice of cake in Canada. But it’s totally worth it.

I don’t know how they make cream in Japan, but from every establishment, without exception, it’s literally light as air. It just flutters on your palate, and it’s not too sweet. The cake part is unbelievably fluffy. And the strawberries! How do they cultivate the produce that they have in Japan?

All of their produce, their fruit in particular, are massive. Like, enormous, which is the opposite of the sizes of everything else. When I first saw the kiwis sitting on my aunt and uncle’s window sill, I thought they were fuzzy potatoes. The average size of an apple is the size of two of my fists put together. And every piece of fruit I had was very sweet. Admittedly, I probably just got what was in season, but I didn’t even really have to choose my produce, because every single fruit looks perfect. The strawberries, especially, are sold in little, clear-wrapped boxes, all perfectly lined up in a single layer, pointing upwards. They look so perfect and perfectly red, they almost look fake. And of course, they are all super sweet and packed with a strong, strawberry flavour.

I asked my uncle if all the produce in Japan are genetically-modified, because otherwise, how can they be so amazing? But he doesn’t think they are, because Japan has really strict laws about things like that, especially when health and safety are involved. My aunt, who is usually not so gung-ho about policies in Japan, agreed with him on this, and she thinks that the produce there is like that because scientists have put a lot of work into cross-fertilizing the best plants with the best plants to come up with a superior fruit, kind of like breeding animals. I don’t know how scientifically-sound that explanation is, but I wouldn’t write it off.

My favourite strawberry shortcake is the one from Capricciosa because, as you can see, there is an enormous wad of cream in it and on it, and it’s full of strawberries. It’s the perfect conclusion to a delicious spaghetti meal at that restaurant!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu.

明けましておめでとうございます。 (Happy New Year!)

I didn't get to see any fireworks this year (except when I saw My Kakkoii in Kamakura), so here's a picture of part of the award-winning winter light display in midtown Tokyo, in Roppongi (which is not the same as Roppongi Hills), instead.

I wish you all, my dear readers, good health and happiness and success in all your endeavours. Rock on!

P.S. Am flying back to France tomorrow - will be back on Monday!