A day in Zhujiajiao

In early May, I took a trip to Zhujiajiao with visiting family members. It was a Fong (and Morkels) affair. We drove out to Zhujiajiao, a watertown about an hour outside of Shanghai to watch Tan Dun’s Water Heavens, a music-dance-show held in a renovated old house in the town that overlooks the monestary. To be honest, the show went a bit over my head, too alternative, too artistic.

Zhujiajiao (which to this day I have trouble pronouncing) is pretty if touristy. Apparently it’s not even THAT bad, which kinda scares me regarding the other more “famous” watertowns. But it was a good day out and by private car, not at all a hard trek out.

Anyone heading there should NOT go to the Illy Cafe. It sucked balls both service and coffee-wise.

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I went to Seoul and all I bought was skincare

(surprise surprise)

There wasn’t really much time to shop in Seoul, which made me a bit sad given how well I did about three years ago shopping in Seoul. Doesn’t matter, I plan to go back. Anyway it’s my Year of Poverty so I shouldn’t be overspending anyway.

But there WAS a Duty Free near our hotel and a friend had asked me to get her some skincare. And Korean skincare shopping is FUN. I really wasn’t planning to go that crazy with it but when everything’s in US dollars ($10 for a pack of masks??), the numbers just seem so small!

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I wanted to be practical and just buy what I needed – basically a face scrub and a BB cream. Instead, I ended up with a new scrub, new cleanser, new toner, new BB cream, a BB compact (?) and also a random eye liner. Not to mention the bajillion SAMPLES I picked up a long the way. Seriously, why haven’t other brands outside of Seoul jumped on this “give free stuff to gain customer loyalty” train? 62-6_DSkin Food is always a reliable cheap option for products. Sometimes I find them a little drying but generally they seem to work, smell nice and have pretty packaging. I’ve generally enjoyed their products (a sticky peppermint mask and egg white pore pack come to mind). So far, my new Brown Sugar face scrub and foam cleanser are both working out nicely. The scrub feels a little harsh but I do sometimes think my skin needs a harder cleanse, especailly in smoggy Shanghai. def_image_400_1410_1242013203102Haven’t tried this Royal Honey Toner yet but they recommended it for my dry skin. It awaits me in Shanghai.

Hanskin is my favourite BB cream brand but they don’t sell my simple, lowest of the range anymore. So I had to upgrade to this premium thing. Gotta keep reminding myself to use it sparingly because otherwise you end up looking like a geisha. And it can feel a little thick. It has SPF 30 tho which is definitely a plus and I think once I get used to it it should be fine.

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I also went a little upscale for a friend and bought a bunch of things from Sulwhasoo. This premium Korean brand based on the benefits of Korean ginseng is super nice. I’ve tried their samples before, and their facials, and they’re great – though you have to like the medicinal scent that comes with it. My friend who uses it has ridiculously nice skin, so she’s basically a walking ad for the brand.

amoresulwhasoobasickitThe salesgirl made a mistake the first time I went to make the purchase so when I went to exchange it, as an apology they gave me even MORE samples. I’ll be excited to try these out. Though given this is my Year of Poverty maybe I should consider selling them…any takers? No nevermind. They’re mine.

Whisky daze

Getting sent to Seoul to cover a golf tournament wasn’t something I thought I’d be doing ever. It definitely wasn’t something my golf-loving dad thought I’d ever do but off I went. What have I learned from covering my first golf game? Well, there’s a lot of walking to do. Don’t diss golfers! They have to walk the whole damn course (I think).

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I managed interview last year’s winner without hopefully sounding too stupid and golf-nooby, which was posted here (he was cute). When Bernd Weisberger won last year’s Ballantine’s Championship, he went to Scotland and created his version of the Champion’s Blend, which sounded pretty fun. They only make like 10 bottles of the stuff so we didn’t get to sample that, but I did go on a mini tour of Seoul’s nightlife and spent three evenings downing copious amounts of alcohol, mainly whisky (which you can also read about here! This blog post has become a shameless plug of my “real” articles.)

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We did a sampling of four 17 year old blends of Ballantines’ named for four different regions of Scotland at a bar called Parity Bit (after some computer thing, address is: 7-19 Nonhyun-Dong, Gangnam-gu, no website). The four blends were Original, Glenburgie, Scapa and Miltonduff and each was paired respectively with dark chocolate, white chocolate, vanilla and orange to bring out the flavours. It was an interesting lesson in colour and taste and we proceeded from there to hit up one more bar that night, and another two the night after. Basically by the end of two days I was dunzo.

And then we went back to Blackstones and did this, at 11am in the morning.

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This time we got to sample  a 17 year old, 21 year old., a limited edition and a 30 year old. We also had a lesson in the finer points of tasting whisky (add water so that the aroma comes out more) and learned about the different tasting notes of each. At the end of the day, I have to say that my uncultured palette preferred the 17 year-old (which means the youngest whisky in the blend is 17 years) – obviously this goes towards my preference for youth. The taste of Ballantine’s 17 year-old is more subtle and sweat, with the spice coming from the highlands and the floral coming from the lowlands (so say my notes). The 30-year-old was probably the most impressive, with a lingering taste which was very rich and oak-influenced.

I wouldn’t say I’m a whisky expert by far after this trip but I’ve definitely learned to appreciate it more.. I’d even go so far as to say I’ve learned to appreciate golf more too! At least I know a bit more about how it works and a little more about the personalities of the game (this was largely in thanks to Alex, editor for HK Golfer who had to put up with me on most of the trip, http://www.hkgolfer.com). All things considered though, it will probably will be awhile before anyone asks me to write about golf again, but hey we can always hope on the whisky front.

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Fried chicken for the Seoul

So the internet in China hates me…actually I’m pretty sure it hates everybody with an independent thought. For me though it just seems to hate uploading my pictures to my blog, VPN or no. This just means my all of 3(?) readers will get radio-silence every few months when I’m in China. That or a lot of boring text.

Earlier in May I went up to Seoul to cover the Ballantine’s Golf Championship for LifestyleAsia. I figured since I’ve taken some golf lessons in my time, and I do enjoy whisky (in a really, uncultured kind of way unfortunately) I would be relatively qualified.

I also really really like THIS:20130422_234004

The whole bird flu thing here in Shanghai, much like the whole North Korea thing in Seoul, seems to largely leave the local population unperturbed…but the one thing I have tried to do is avoid chicken. Which after pasta is like my favourite food of life. I basically checked into the Grand InterContinental Parnas, waited for my fellow traveller and then told concierge to point us in the direction of the nearest Korean Fried Chicken. He totally seemed more than happy to oblige.

20130423_001945We basically walked down this street till we got to this:

20130423_001937And in we went! And it was wonderful. I felt so chicken deprived I think I literally ate half the chicken. We chose one (in case you can’t tell from the picture) that was drowned in garlic sauce and fried to ultimate crispy goodness. We were there till about midnight and there were still lots of people going strong. If this is eating in Seoul I think I’d fit right in. That’s probably not a good thing….

Anti-gravity yoga @ Bodywize: we came, we tried, we flew

This is so overdue…blogging is so hard in China because for some reason getting pics to upload doesn’t always work…but anyway, here goes.

I’ve been talking to Lisa Mak, founder of Bodywize spas in Happy Valley about anti-gravity yoga for a looong time. They brought in the practice/sport end of last year and officially launched it early 2013, and I finally had a chance to try it, well, fly it this week back in Hong Kong.

Exercise and I have never had a good relationship. I know I should do it, and I want to do it…but I’m so lazy. And now it’s been a good six months that I’ve been gym-free, so I’m even LESS motivated to do anything. Nevertheless, it sounded fun and my sister goes (she’s an ex-gymnast and cheerleader so already I should have been more weary) so I figured why not.

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Anti-gravity yoga involves using a stronger-than-it-looks hammock to take most of the stress of balancing poses away. It also involves inversions, or in easy speak, flipping upside down. In these moves it’s important to trust the hammock, I have trust issues with people, so inanimate objects meant to keep my face from smashing against the floor was a little tough.

This is definitely a full body work-out, particularly if your body (like mine) isn’t generally that used to working out. I like that you have to use your arms just as much as your core to pull yourself up and swing around on the hammock. Inversions, which are obviously a highlight for most people, were not my favourite thing. I don’t like the feel of blood rushing to my head but I’ve been told it gets better after a few times.

I was told that no one leaves the class without laughing and that’s exactly what happened at the end. In addition to some flying moves where we got to swing (in unison, so as to avoid any collisions). We also did a parachute-like move where all the participants (all five of us) held hands and swung as though we were free-falling, sky diving style. I felt like that sort of gave a sense of togetherness for the class.

It was definitely worth checking out and an interesting new way to do yoga. For those who might be more interested in the more traditional yoga (that might be me), Bodywize has excellent traditional classes as well including hot yoga and Hatha.

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And here we are flying.

G/F & 2/F, 1 Wong Nai Chung Road,
Happy Valley, Hong Kong

http://www.bodywizeyoga.com.hk

Tried this: [comfort zone] renight vitamin integrator

[comfort zone] is an Italian skincare brand, quite popular with spas in China and in Hong Kong. I haven’t seen it yet in Singapore. One of my favourite spas in Hong Kong, Bodywize, uses it a lot and I remember having a really awesome facial using these products the first time I ever visited them.

This vitamin regenerator night oil comes from their renight (everything is in lower case, this is not bad grammar on my part) line which also includes a wrinkle filler and cream. I’ve played around with the wrinkle filler before but probably didn’t use it enough to see results.

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The renight oil contains Goji berry which is packed full of vitamins and antioxidant properties, there’s also vitamin E, lycopene, rice and jojoba oils for hydration and restoration. I use it every night in Shanghai where the air is quite dry (and where as we know, the water contains all sorts of pig properties…). I’m used to heavier oils, and my dehydrated skin probably needs that more, but at least with this one I can use it in all three countries I tend to find myself in and I can mix it up with serums and what not. I’ve been using it in Singapore (yes, hot, humid Singapore where face oil probably isn’t that popular) and I haven’t found it too oily.

http://www.comfortzone.it

Yoga at Koh Samui’s Absolute Sanctuary

In February I was in Koh Samui for the wedding of a good friend of mine. Said good friend was obviously concerned about our wellbeing as pre-wedding, she booked us all into a yoga class at Absolute Sanctuary.

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Waking up at 8am is not  my idea of a good time, but after arriving at Absolute Sanctuary, I could see it was going to be worth it. Before the class we had a chance to use their pool (and stare at all the healthy-looking people who were obviously there to really detox), and after a few dubious-looking clouds, we jumped into the pool and relaxed.

The class wasn’t that strenuous, amongst us was one pregnant lady and a bunch of yoga noobs, so my friend had chosen a Gentle Flow class which I, surprisingly, found I could follow quite well. With floor-to-ceiling windows (and no air-conditioning) I found the whole atmosphere very relaxing.

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We weren’t allowed to take pictures in the yoga class (and I don’t think any of the girls would have appreciated it anyway!) but basically it took place in the building in the picture above. Gentle Flow basically included a few short series of asanas (I think) using positions I actually recognised (Warrior 1 and 2…the one where you balance on one leg…uh yeah).

Yoga and I are generally strange bed fellows. I love doing it, but if I do it too often…I tend to get bored. I love the feeling of getting a good stretch and balance, I feel like it helps to focus my mind but I don’t find I can do it very often. This class however felt great. I’d just come off a week of non-stop eating from Chinese New Year (not to mention dumpling heaven in Shanghai) and it was good to be reminded that once upon a time, I had muscles.

http://www.absolutesanctuary.com

Skinceuticals facial at The Spa Artisan, Fullerton Hotel

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So this was my second Skinceuticals facial at one of Jazreel Low’s gorgeous Singapore spas. The first one I did was at Aramsa the Garden Spa in Bishan – which seriously, doesn’t even feel like it’s in Singapore. The downtown location of The Spa Artisan at the Fullerton Hotel is a lot more accessible and while it doesn’t have Aramsa’s garden zen, it’s done what it can to keep the atmosphere cool and calm. In fact the spa just won an award for Best Luxury Boutique Spa in the World Luxury Hotel Awards, so it’s not just me who thinks this brand is going places.

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I think after two facials, I have to say I’m pretty much a convert to Skinceuticals. Both times I’ve done their facials, I felt a bit of tingly-ness (is that a word?) but both times I’ve walked out with glowing skin. This time round I tried the Cell Regenerating Facial which included two cleanses, an exfoliation, a massage and a mask. What was interesting was that the exfoliation took place without steam, my therapist told me it’s because my pores don’t need to be further aggravated. Kind of sounded like they were just sitting there wide open, inviting in the dirt…but I have to say she really cleaned them good tho.

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One day on and I feel like my skin really looks and feels better. Skinceuticals products have a great reputation and they’re definitely a brand I’d like to try more of. I have got my grubby little hands on their Physical Fusion UV Defense as well as a Phloretin serum so those should show up here on the blog (eventually).

http://www.thespaartisan.com

Tried this: SCO’s conditioning face cream

So when I was in Singapore back in October, I did a story for AsiaSpa Magazine for their Singapore/Malaysia supplement on skincare in Singapore. I still think this is a super interesting topic and there are quite a few cool brands in the Lion City.

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That’s not Russian, the label’s just rubbed off

This one to be fair, didn’t start out in Singapore. SCO is originally from New York but from what I understand was bought over by Cynthia Chua of Spa Esprit/Strip fame and is currently sold at Beauty Emporium at Dempsey. Starting with a base, a range of different botanicals/ingredients can be infused into the cream depending on your skin type.

Of course this also means that the cream is organic and doesn’t last long. A little sticker tels you when the cream was made, and when it’s best used by. Even though the Best By date is listed on mine as 12/27/2013, I was anxious to get at it since I have a tendency to hoard things and just…leave them in my magic skincare drawer.

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Made just for me

My custom SCO cream contains green tea (rich in antioxidants, prevents moisture loss and reduces cellulite, tho I think the day I have cellulite in my face is the day I become a crazy stay-at-home-spinster), growth factor (sounds scary but is supposed to improve hydration) and soy (rich in proteins and amino acids). I’ve been using it this past month in Shanghai and I love the smell and texture. It could probably be a bit heavier for winter…but actually when I went back to Shanghai  in March I didn’t realise it would still BE winter. So that’s not the cream’s fault. It was great in Singapore though and is still great in Hong Kong. I think Shanghai just has to warm up a little and then we’ll all be happy.

Beauty Emporium is at House at Dempsey http://www.dempseyhouse.com

Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont Peace Hotel

I know it’s a little silly, but I swear I fell a little in love when I walked down the hallways of the Fairmont Peace Hotel. It’s just so gosh darned pretty!  I am generally a sucker for old buildings, I love the history and the feel of them. And this one, built in 1929 by British businessman Victor Sassoon, is a key example. Even the spa, which is brand spanking new, has an old world feel. Maybe it’s because I’ve been so spa-deprived for awhile…whatever, I loved it.

20130321_131145 A rare empty hallway, quickly snapped.

I also really really enjoyed my Stress Relief Massage. I find that Chinese spa therapists tend to have really good hands…they know how to use pressure just right and where to press, hard. For this massage, I really wanted to focus on my upper back. For some reason, it’s been giving me a heck of a lot of problems lately (sigh. age. sad.) I wouldn’t say it was the most soothing of massages, and I barely slept during any of it (which is rare for me), but that’s because I was reveling in the feeling of knots coming apart all around my spine. The treatment used Aromatherapy Associates’ Muscle Gel which warms to the touch and further soothes muscles.

Willow Stream at Fairmont Peace_suiteBefore the massage I spent some time in the steam room for an upcoming article I’m doing. Usually steam/sauna isn’t my thing, but after doing all this reading and research I was beginning to understand how much it helps to detox and sweat out toxins etc. I had been falling sick before the treatment, so actually I found it really helped, especially the light scent of eucalyptus that was in the steam room. I’ve also got to say I am a big fan of the Willow Stream’s in-spa products, the bath gel smelled divine as did the moisturizer, all with a faint scent of Chinese herbs.

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I hope they let me come back and swim.

http://www.fairmont.com/peace-hotel-shanghai