For the longest time, I've debated whether I should broach the subject of the recent death of a dear friend on the blog. To see one of my favourite bloggers, The Epicurean Dealmaker, do so so eloquently on his has given me the strength to attempt to begin to find closure through the blog.

It is not the first time I've talked about death on the blog. Way back in the spring 2011, I touched upon briefly how the post had been inspired by the passing of my grandfather then due to old age. This time round however, marks the first time that somebody I have known might have passed due to foul play. We still do not know why or how yet. The results from the autopsy were inconclusive. Police investigations are still ongoing. My dear friend shall remain nameless here as her death has already been thoroughly dissected, discussed and scrutinized more than enough times by the public. The reason why I wanted to acknowledge her on the blog, is because is it through this very blog you are reading that I got to meet her.

It started out with a few comments back and forth, which resulted in a series of exchanges of tweets, e-mails and Facebook messages. This all culminated in the most illuminating and rewarding four hour long chat in a coffee shop downtown Vancouver last year. This blog has succeeded above and beyond by allowing me to connect with wonderful likeminded souls, such as my friend. I count myself as one of the fortunate few who had the privilege of knowing her during her tragically short life.

I have spent the past weekend in utter shock. Surely they've misidentified her body? Perhaps they've gotten the wrong picture? All her e-mails and messages from when we last spoke are still there. I could almost will myself to imagine that she would be there to respond back to my messages. It is only now that news of her death – the brutal finality of it – has begun to sink in. If you are reading this from above (or anywhere for that matter) dear friend, know that you are sorely missed by friends and family alike. Rest in peace.

Please excuse my absence from the blog for the time being. I will return soon.

I am Not a Minimalist

Recently I have been linked to a group of bloggers under the label of "minimalism" largely due to my constant promotion of the virtues of curating your wardrobe. I am extremely flattered to be considered on the same level as some of my curating cohorts, however I would like to go on record saying that I am not a minimalist. What is the point of making such a distinction?

First it is easy to see why people view those who curate their wardrobe as minimalist by default. The ideas surrounding the process of curation is conducive to the simple modes of living that is encouraged by minimalism. There is nothing wrong with living simply. In fact, it's great. However, by pigeonholing all those that curate under the umbrella of minimalism, it does harm in discouraging those who are attracted to the idea of curating but otherwise don't necessarily consider themselves as minimalists. This also restricts the number of reasons why people should curate if they can. For me, it was an idea borrowed from menswear. For others it could be environmental reasons and others, financial budgeting issues. Curating is essentially a means to an end, not an end in itself. It is a tool that anybody can employ to achieve any goals they set for themselves, whether that falls under minimalism or not.

Secondly, by calling me a minimalist, it would most definitely muddy the name of minimalism and those who practice it. I do not know anything about minimalism per se, except for maybe getting rid of the excess. Less is more type of stuff. If I had any minimalistic inclinations, it would be through Buddhism understood through traditional Chinese culture growing up (a heady mix of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism) to eliminate desire and attachment to material objects. It's definitely appealing on a philosophical basis, however I have yet to putting his teachings to practice. I am still kind of a pack rat. I've stopped collecting trinkets but I have yet to be able to bear the thought of throwing sentimental things, like snail mail from Jada, away.

This all sums up exactly why I am such a strong advocate for curating. It's not a “lifestyle choice”– it's a way to save yourself time, money and trouble, along with whatever objective you may have. You can be minimalist, but you most certainly don't have to be.

A Wardrobe of Staples

Lumpy oatmeal sweaters. Washed out jeans. Worn out duck boots. A neutral warm palette. Inspired by Miss Sophie, this post features more or less what I wear nowadays. Even though I have the most wonderful navy pea coat, I still find myself gravitating towards my trusty old heavy duty G-STAR Raw coat. It's partially because I am so used to wearing it but also because it's so easy to clean and maintain. The pea coat is much less hardy and not at all suited for harsh winter storms (especially as of late).

It's been surprisingly difficult to identify what are my wardrobe staples this season per se post-curation, now that every item is indispensable and is regularly worn on a rotating basis. There are no extra leftover statement pieces that I wear only for the one event now and then. Interestingly, I guess this is how you know you've got the basics down pat that each piece of clothing becomes a true workhorse. 

Old Fashioned

I'm sorry if you were misled to think that this would be a cocktail recipe. After all the more serious writing of late, I thought everybody could use a break by taking a look at my friend Lillie Scheffey's photographs. The great thing about going to a liberal arts school is that you get to meet talented people of all different backgrounds and Lillie! One of the biggest reasons why I chose to go to my current LAC is for its strong art department and faculty. 

These are of her friend in the middle of the book making process. If you've been following my blog for a while, you'll know that I have a pretty bad font fetish. I have always loved all kinds of typography, as well as different kinds of lettering such as calligraphy. The old fashioned way of setting types is fascinating, in how both human and machine work as one to create a beautiful final product. 

I can talk about my favourites fonts, types and foundries forever so I'll shut up and late you guys pore over Lillie's wonderful photographs for yourselves. In this batch she used her Pentax K1000 (35mm SLR). For more of her work, check it out here. Thanks Lillie for letting me share your work :)

What's the Big Idea

This past weekend my friends and I were sitting around talking about the blizzard of all things, as school was cancelled Friday afternoon. Thanks to global warming, it had been a while since we had so much snow. I joked about how it'll ruin fashion week in NYC when someone replied, "well it's just clothes." I brushed it off because I am so used to people being entirely blasé about fashion and not giving a damn, even though we all know that Miranda Priestly will tell you otherwise.

Then an article on 'Explaining Fashion Week to People who Don't care about Fashion' on Four Pins popped up, which reminded me of the earlier incident. It got me thinking a lot more about fashion in general, as RTW fashion shows are only one facet of the entire industry. Why do so many dismiss fashion entirely, as something frivolous – a trivial pursuit of the wealthy and/or the superficial? Is it really "just clothes"or something more? What's the big idea?

First of all, we need just how "big" fashion is. If you look at the recently compiled Bloomberg Billionaires list in time for Davos, 5 of the top 20 richest people on Earth made their fortunes through either fashion or fashion-related industries:
  • Amancio Ortega at a net worth of $56.8B clocks in at #3, co-founder of the Inditex group, which is the parent company to Zara, Massimo Dutti, Oysho, Berschka and more.
  • at #16 is France's richest man, Bernard Arnault, head of luxury conglomerate LVMH, who is currently making headlines for trying to get a Belgium citizenship after the announcement of Flanby's tax hikes
  • directly after him at #17 is Liliane Bettencourt, Europe's wealthiest woman and owner of L'Oreal (which is the head company of Kiehl's, Lancôme, Garnier)
  • at #19 is Stefan Persson, chairman and largest shareholder of Hennes & Mauritz, affectionately known as H&M by everybody, which also operates Cheap Monday and Monki
  • To round out the top 20 at #20 is Mukesh Ambani, who runs Reliance Industries, a huge conglomerate which includes huge divisions in retail and textile (FYI: Uniqlo uses their fabrics)  
My sharing of this info is not an attempt that to lambast the 1% (or rather .00001%) for their wealth that is so popular after the Great Recession. No, it is simply to illustrate that fashion is BIG BUSINESS. It is not just about the fantasies of the your average tween shopaholic as much as people would like to believe. And this is just barely scratching the surface. I have yet to name many more major fashion players with deep pockets, such as Françoise Pinault of PPR and Phillip Green of Arcadia Group. Many other industries are also attached to the fashion industry in other sectors, whether it is in agriculture, transportation or technology. 

So fine, people say, it's not stupid, its a important industry but still, it's not a life or death situation here. Au contraire, I am sad to report that many have died to help sate's the world's continuous hunger for fashion. Just two week ago, reports of yet another fire in a Bangladesh factory came in, in which seven died. I am sure that such tragedies do not occur exclusively in Bangladesh but also in many other Southeast Asian countries, as well as in the world's factory, China. The fashion industry has done too well under globalization, as these "costs" are conveniently tucked far away from even the most well-meaning of consumers. 

Due to the far reaching influences of these fashion conglomerates, it is almost impossible to avoid them anywhere you go. Does this mean that you cannot buy anything from anywhere, without understanding 100% where they came from and how they are made? Ideally yes, but that would be so impractical that this would hardly be readily applicable solution. One of the many ways to inform people about the darker consequences about fashion would be to educate others – to not dismiss fashion as "just clothes." Start more conversations about fashion and what it means in the greater context other than the latest style or trend. Maybe also to learn how to curate and consume less...all in the manner of your choosing. 

Perhaps I should take my own advice and share my blog more readily to people around, to demystify the industry and discuss the grit and the grime underneath all the glamour; some food for thought and finally an update to the Curating + Collecting series that have been collecting dust for the past months. My apologies! I'm not trying to shame or guilt trip anybody and this is all hardly revolutionary but it's something that should be on the back of our minds when we make every new purchase.

Post Nemo

According to Gawker, I really shouldn't be calling it "Nemo." What the heck. After frolicking in the snow and eating a good hearty breakfast, today is the perfect day to finish up reading for classes beside the window with a good cup of hot chocolate in hand. It's also a great day to browse through Cereal, a new Kinfolk-esque alternative from the UK. In comparison it is by far more food and travel oriented. I first found the magazine with Sam in Hong Kong. I didn't get it then because it was seriously overly marked up. Check out parts of it on their website or get it yourself for just £10. It'll be interesting to chart the progress of the magazine and see if it'll make the same kind of waves Kinfolk did here stateside on the other side of the pond.

P.S. Happy Lunar New Year to all! 新年快樂. There's no lai see for me to collect YET AGAIN this year. Harrumph. That's what you get for studying in a small town in the middle of nowhere I suppose.

This is not a sponsored post; I was not compensated in any manner.

Exploring Sheung Wan

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I guess I'm still in the sharing mood. I don't want to drag out my Hong Kong posts so much that I'd have to keep writing about my experiences two months later well into the semester. Teresa (my now de facto HK tour guide) brought me to Sheung Wan, where she said there were a lot of art galleries and cute cafés. What is this, Brooklyn? Chelsea? I think not. My mum bought an apartment here a good while ago out of convenience (since we live in the what is basically the boonies of Hong Kong) for its proximity to the heart of city without Central/Causeway Bay's price tag. If you said Sheung Wan would become hip or chic back then, I would have laughed in your face. But here I stand, eating my words and corrected.

Though the galleries here are very new, most were well done and well thought out. It was quite pleasant to browse through all of them. I also manage to go visit the world's first stand alone Lomo store here – a place that Teresa used to frequent often. Another successful case of people branching out and exploring new places to open new ventures!

In this post, I happen to use to use a few image rollover so check my blog secret #2 at the end of my post!

Spillovers and Side Effects

Real estate developers usually charge a fortune for valuable retail space in their malls. Thus vendors selling more unconventional wares and merchandise have a hard time covering their high overhead costs. What's a poor shopkeeper to do in such an intensely competitive city? You get creative.

After dinner at a cha chaan teng in Tai Haang, Teresa brought me to Causeway Bay to do a little window shopping. We were so stuffed that we agreed we should try and walk it off. At first, to be honest, I was against going to Causeway Bay. I did not need to go to Sogo, Times Square, the streets near Hysan Place or Hysan Place itself again for the umpteenth time. Where's the fun in window shopping there?  Teresa replied, no we are not going there. But if not there, then where?

When we first approached a rather dilapidated group of buildings near Leighton Centre, I thought we were lost. But she looked confident and walked right ahead. What could she possibly want to find here?! It does not seem quite so scary in the photo, but I seriously thought we could get shanked in there (even though violent crime rate is pretty low in HK). It was then we found BUNKAYA ZAKKATEN (文化屋雜貨店).

Hong Kong Mall Culture

On my way to see the art studios in Fo Tan, I stopped by New Town Plaza in nearby Sha Tin to grab a bite with dad, as Fo Tan is an industrial area with little options for good eats. Unbeknownst to my dad, there's also another reason why I went (not too out of my way though) to the mall: nostalgia. I don't think of myself as too sappy a person, but everywhere I go or do in Hong Kong seeps with nostalgia. The reason that nostalgia is so strong for me in Hong Kong is twofold: 1) I only go back once a year or less and 2) the pace of development is mind-blowingly fast. You see those NYC subway commercials by the MTA about how they are updating train stations – the first big projects in half a century or more? In comparison, Hong Kong's rate of change is supersonic. Spend more than a year away from the city? Et voilà, a WHOLE NEW SUBWAY LINE. The speed at which Hong Kong (and by extension most Asian countries in general) develops is pretty unfathomable to your average American (and perhaps Europeans too? I have no idea).

Malls in Hong Kong are nothing like the malls of suburban Middle America. New Town Plaza is the place where I frequented most often after going to elementary school (5th-6th grade) and secondary school (7th-8th grade) near here. I didn't go out too often back then, but whenever my friends wanted to go watch a movie, get something to eat, window shopping or people watching, this would be the default place to go to. Sha Tin was not a poor district by any means, however it was still a far cry from the more posh areas like Tsim Sha Tsui or Central or Causeway Bay. Therefore the mall itself was not nearly as upscale as the Festival Walk in Kowloon Tong, Pacific Place in Admiralty and IFC Mall in Central. This was utterly fine by my tween self. The mall had everything I could possibly want: great cinema, inexpensive yet interesting eats, and of course those sticker photo booths that I spent way too much money on in hindsight.

A few years ago (around 2009 if my memory serves me correctly), the mall went through a massive facelift. There was extensive renovations done throughout the place and the mall noticeably felt a tad more upscale. Although some bigger brand name sorts have started to trickle in, for the most part the mall still felt familiar. The places that I used to frequent – the photobooths, the cafés, the bookstores, the cinema – were all still there. As I grew older, my friends wanted to hang out in different places so for the years since I have not been back there at all. Four years later, the place has changed entirely. Big flashy European brand name shops are everywhere, taking all of the big store spaces that used to be occupied by smaller shops. That alone though wasn't what threw me off entirely. What truly changed the entire experience of the mall was not being able to find any of the places I used to go to, save for the cinema. There is little difference to a lot of the more upscale malls I've mentioned above.

Such development to the mall can be ascribed partly to the shopping power of the Mainland Chinese (the term may have slightly pejorative connotations nevertheless I'm using it simply as a way to differentiate between local Hong Kong people and the China Chinese). In the past only the wealthy would take shopping trips in Hong Kong, for the low taxes and guarantee that you would buying the real deal. As the upper middle class got more "sophisticated" along with the ever growing middle class, an increasing number of Mainland Chinese came down to Hong Kong for their conspicuous consumption. The phenomenal rise of Chinese spending power (increasing number of shoppers compounded by the increasing amount spent per person) led to a rapid expansion of brand name shops in areas where traditionally its inhabitants would not have the kind of spending power to sustain such high end stores. I used Sha Tin as an anecdote here but similar transformations can be found even in less affluent districts like Tuen Mun and Yuen Long.

It would be a gross oversimplification still to say that the Mainland Chinese are the ONLY reason for the mass proliferations of malls, versus brick and mortar shops on the streets. Hong Kong have alway suffered from an insufficiency of space. Malls are a far more efficient in maximizing the little real estate Hong Kong has in accommodating more shops, restaurants, arcades, movie theatres in one giant hub. The malls are easily integrated within the existing urban fabric through linking up to mass transportation systems like the MTR and underground passages to other buildings via the MTR station. It is attractive to real estate developers because you can easily stack malls underneath office buildings or apartment complexes. To investors it is an almost guaranteed return on your money because of the sheer amount of traffic that would come through the mall.

As an economist-in-training, I should be fully embracing the idea of malls for maximizing both utility and scarce resources. However as a consumer, I much prefer shopping on the streets. While malls are one of the reasons why living in Hong Kong is so convenient and easy, the clinical interiors makes for poor window shopping experience. The clear demarcation of everything the mall has to offer lessens the sense of discovery and wonder. There is more of an immersive experience to wandering and getting lost on the streets – the loud neon billboards, old school mom-and-pop stores and the streams of cars honking on the road. That is not to say that there isn't smog, some pushing and shoving and many run-for-your-life moments when crossing the streets, yet life feels so much richer and more fully lived this way.