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Review: Shopping At Malaysia’s First Don Don Donki Store @ Lot 10, Kuala Lumpur

Earlier in March, Japanese discount chain store Don Don Donki opened its first outlet in Malaysia at Lot 10 in Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur. Needless to say, the crowds were massive, with people queueing for hours just to get into the shop.

It’s been a month and the hype has died down a little – so I thought it would be a good time to check out what they have in store.

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I went on a weekday afternoon, and thankfully there was no queue. The entrance is on the second floor, so you’ll have to go up a couple of escalators. I suggest parking at Fahrenheit 88 nearby and walking over. It’s also advisable to go to the toilet beforehand, as there is no toilet inside the store and the toilets at Lot 10 have a 50-cent charge.

For the uninitiated, Don Don Donki (or Don Quijote as it is known in Japan) is a popular Japanese discount chain store with over 160 shops nationwide, and a strong presence in Asian Pacific markets such as Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and now Malaysia. They are known for being open till late (some shops are open 24 hours), and for having a distinctive retail concept which features aisles packed from floor to ceiling with goods.

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I have been to a Donki store in Tokyo, and it can be overwhelming for a first-timer – what with the explosion of colours, loud posters and merchandise everywhere. The Malaysian outlet has a similar design, with narrow aisles filled with all sorts of products imaginable, from toys and clothing, to cosmetics and snacks, most of which are imported from Japan. Unlike hypermarkets where there are clear signages indicating the sections, Don Don Donki’s layout is a jumble: everything here seems to vie for your attention.

If you’re lazy to scroll, here’s a video! And while you’re at it, don’t forget to subscribe. 🙂

Entering the store, you will come to the household goods and kitchenware section, and an area selling gym equipment and Donki merchandise such as plushies, toys and bags. The kitchen is located on this floor as well, and you can watch the staff preparing the food through glass windows.

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Don Don Donki’s mascot is a blue penguin called Donpen.
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Be prepared to have the Don Don Donki theme song stuck in your head after your visit. They play it on an infinite loop through the loudspeakers.
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The aisles here are very narrow, so even when there aren’t too many people, the place can feel cramped and claustrophobic. I don’t think SOPs were followed strictly (or should I say, it can’t be enforced due to the tight space?). At the snack aisles, for example, there was only room for 2 people to walk through, and I had to back-peddle out of the aisles several times whenever I saw people coming from the other end – there was simply no room for me to squeeze through.

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Some of the more unique items on sale. Be prepared to shell out a premium.
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Cosmetics section with vanity mirrors.

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The second floor wasn’t really my thing – I was more interested in the first floor, which is where they sell fresh produce and food items. When going down the staircase, the Don Don Donki staff will ask if they can help with your basket or trolley, which is a nice gesture.

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There is a wide selection of produce to choose from, including meat and vegetables, and of course, seafood. Following the design theme, every inch of this floor is packed with products – even the ceilings are filled with decorations. They also have these giant monitors playing interviews with farm owners / fishermen, which may tell you more about how the seafood was caught, or how crops were cultivated before they ended up in store.

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The store carries many common ingredients seen in Japanese cuisine, but may be more difficult to find in local hypermarkets.

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Assorted beef cuts. They also carry wagyu platters.
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The ready-to-eat section is an island counter laden with items such as chicken karaage, kaki furai (fried oyster), tori nanban, donburi bowls, fried squid, and more. The food is kept under heated lamps to keep them warm, but you can also reheat them upon checkout. Some of the food contains alcohol (such as the unagi don), so remember to check the labels if you’re unable to consume alcohol.

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 They import the seafood here from Toyosu Fish Market in Tokyo. Inset is Yasuhiro Yamazaki-san, the company president of Yamaharu Co., Ltd, whom I interviewed for an assignment a couple of years ago.
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The sushi and sashimi section. They have otoro (tuna belly) here, which is quite rare to see outside of premium Japanese restaurants.
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Uni (sea urchin)
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Humongous oysters, scallops and octopi
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Moving on to the ground floor, there are more food items including a section for fruits and dried goods.

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The aisles before checkout are also packed with easy-to-grab goods, to get customers to get a couple more items before payment. There are a lot of checkout counters, so payment is fast. They also bag up your items for you. If you’ve purchased food, you can proceed back up to the first floor, where there is a dining area outside the shop.

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Fried squid. Forgot to reheat it so I just had it cold. It wasn’t crispy anymore but the flavour was pretty good.
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Coming here is an exercise in self control. There are so many interesting things to buy, but if you’re not careful, it can blow a big hole in your wallet. I wanted to keep my budget below RM50, so I only got the above: the most expensive item was the tonkotsu instant noodles (RM12+), followed by the baked cheese cake snacks (RM9.90), the caramel corn snacks (RM8.50) and two cream puffs (RM5.90 each).

So how was my experience at Don Don Donki Malaysia?

While the selection of products is not as extensive as their outlets in Japan, I think there is still plenty to see and buy here, especially food items. Prices are premium, but that is to be expected, given that most of the goods are brought in from Japan, and you do get some unique things that you won’t be able to find in local grocery stores or hypermarkets. The displays are very colourful and attractive, but it can get tiring after awhile due to the visual and sensory overload.

That being said, there are a few things that the shop can improve on. The aisles are narrow, so getting people to follow SOPS is a challenge. It’s also not comfortable to take your time and shop, as it can get crowded and stuffy. I would suggest coming on a weekday, if possible. If not, then maybe come earlier on the weekend. Store opening hours are from 8AM – 12PM.

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Kedai KL, Mahsa Avenue – An Artisanal Marketplace for Homegrown Creatives

If you’re looking for a place to hangout over the weekend that isn’t a crowded, cookie-cutter mall, drop by at Kedai KL, a cool hidden gem tucked within Mahsa Avenue in Petaling Jaya. A project by Mahsa Group (which owns and runs Mahsa University nearby), the artisanal market was launched in late 2019 as a space to “bring local entrepreneurs, artists, makers and designers together under one roof”, whilst also giving visitors a curated retail and lifestyle experience.

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Please watch my video and subscribe. I spent six hours making this. D:
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Kedai is located at Block B, and spans two floors, on levels two and three. Inspired by the concept of a street market, the spacious centre court (called The Lorong, or ‘alleyway’) hosts cosy beanbags and low tables and chairs that are perfect for lounging. On weekends, the space is used for pop-up booths, bazaars and activities.

There are about 60 shops at Kedai, mostly featuring homegrown products and businesses; you can find a hodgepodge of products and services here, from shoe shops to stores selling accessories and clothing, chic cafes, a tattoo parlour, a creative workshop space, a digital art gallery, and more. The shops are all really tiny by the way, measuring between 220 to 440 square feet.

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Window display at Mossybola Kokedoma, which sells decorative indoor plants

Social media has changed many aspects of our lives, including how and why we travel – and the last couple of years have seen a rise in “Instagram destinations” – places that are designed to be aesthetically pleasing for the Gram (because Malaysians are obsessed with taking photos). Kedai is one such place: you’ll be hard-pressed to find an ugly corner. The folks at Kedai know this too, and they actively encourage visitors to take lots and lots of photos.

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One of the shops that I found really interesting was Lampu.kl, because it was essentially a showroom with no staff. The shop sells customized neon lights, and there are a couple of setups within where visitors are encouraged to take selfies with. Next to the neon signs are QR codes that you can scan for more info on the pieces, as well as the price. Of course, you can find their social media handles on the posters around the room. Maybe this is the future of shopping.

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Shops are laid out in a rectangular grid, which makes the space easy to navigate. The corridors on the top floor are rather narrow, though. Fine if there aren’t too many people, but it might be difficult to maneuver through when crowded.
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A pink staircase and elevated walkway connects the two floors, and there are dozens of fairy lights hanging from the ceiling. Definite Insta fodder. Unfortunately, I did not have an Instagram boyfriend on hand during my visit.

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You’ll find lots of Japanese-themed decor outside Kai Tattoo House, including a Japanese woodblock print of two cats at the entrance.
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Reka is an artist space that regularly hosts creative workshops.
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At the far end on the 3rd floor is a Digital Art Gallery. The space showcases new media art from promising new media artists in the region. There was an audio visual exhibition going on called Guli, so I popped in for a peek. Entry was RM8. The show was basically a collaboration between local multimedia artist GrassHopper, who made the visuals, and musicians Iwan and Gan, who created the accompanying soundtracks.

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All that walking made me thirsty, so I got takeaway from Degree. They specialise in Dalgona drinks. Prices are very reasonable – my Dalgona milk was only RM7.90.

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Dalgona Milk – fresh milk with dalgona toffee. The toffee has the crumbly texture of honeycomb candy; you stir it into the milk and it melts, creating a sweet and refreshing beverage.
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I was actually surprised that the place was relatively empty during my visit, especially since it was a weekend. My guess would be that not many people know of the place yet; it opened late 2019, then there was the whole pandemic and movement restrictions throughout most of 2020.

KEDAI.KL is open from Tuesdays to Sundays from 10AM – 6PM. You can park within Mahsa Avenue for RM5, but do note that parking spots are limited.

KEDAI KL

Block B, Level 2 & 3, MAHSA Avenue Jalan Universiti, Off, Jalan Ilmu, 59100 Kuala Lumpur

Opening hours: 10AM – 6PM (*I made a mistake in my vid, it’s 10AM, not 11).

https://www.mahsaavenue.com/kedai/index.html

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An Eggs-traordinary Easter With Hilton Hotels

If you haven’t made plans for the weekend, Hilton welcomes you to celebrate Easter with a sumptuous spread of Easter delights and fun activities, to make the season a memorable one.

Rooftop Bar, Hilton Garden Inn KL South – Easter High Tea Specials

Gear up for an afternoon of sipping and feasting with the accompaniment of the KL skyline at Rooftop Bar. The high tea buffet has plenty of mouth-watering fare to dig in to, including special highlights such as Red Devil Egg, Sweet Potato Congee and Meatloaf with Crockpot Potato & Carrot that are guaranteed to delight one’s taste buds.

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4 April 2021 | 12pm – 3pm

  • RM99 nett per person
  • RM169 nett for 2 persons (inclusive of 2 welcome drinks)
  • RM299 nett for 4 persons (inclusive of 4 welcome drinks)
  • RM50 nett for kids (below 12 years old) & senior citizens

For reservations, call +60 3 2771 6888, email KULMY_FB@hilton.com or visit www.eatdrinkhilton.com.

Vasco’s, Hilton Kuala Lumpur – Easter Day Luncheon

Celebrate Easter weekend at Vasco’s as they bring you an exciting line-up of festive delights and activities. The chefs have decked up an Easter feast, featuring premium gourmet specialties such as Slow-roasted Victorian Lamb from Australia, Egg Benedict with Smoked Salmon Caviar on Brioche, Mac n’ Cheese Soft Shell Crab Slider and Crispy Wanton Noodle with BBQ Duck. Children will be thrilled to join in the Easter egg hunt, egg-painting and get their faces painted as well.

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4 April 2021 | 12pm – 3pm

  • RM158 nett per adult | RM68 nett per child (aged 5–11)
  • Option to add on RM120 nett for a free-flow of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.

Prior reservations required. 20% discount applicable for in-house guests and partner credit card holders.

For reservations, call +60 3 2264 2264 or visit www.eatdrinkhilton.com.

Axis Lounge, DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Penang – Easter High Tea

Bring the whole family to Axis Lounge for a fun time together. The Easter Sunday High Tea includes some notable highlights such as Chocolate & Strawberry Sandwiches, Grilled Medallion Beef with Mushroom Sauce and Easter Deep Fried Egg. The Little ones will be thrilled, as they’ll get to take part in a treasure hunt and egg-colouring activities too.

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4 April 2021

  • RM88 nett per adult
  • RM44 nett per child (Kids below 6 years old eat for free for every full-paying adult.)

For reservations, call +604 892 8000, email to PENMB_FBD@hilton.com or visit www.eatdrinkhilton.com.

Tosca, DoubleTree by Hilton Johor Bahru – Easter Brunch Buffet

Famed for its rustic Italian fare, Easter at Tosca will wow you with an abundant spread of exotic delights such as Seafood with Pepper & Cocktail Sauce, Roasted Lamb Leg with Rosemary Sauce, Boeuf en Croute with Tuscany Vegetable and Italian Pizzas. Let your little ones try their hands at artsy activities such as DIY pizza and egg painting, before having a splash at the poolside.

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4 April 2021 | 11am – 2:30pm

  • RM118 nett per adult | RM59 nett per child (aged 5–11)

Prior reservations required. 20% off for selected credit card holders and TABLEAPP bookings.

For reservations, call +607 268 6868 or email us at JohorBahru.FB@hilton.com or visit www.eatdrinkhilton.com

Caffé Cino, Hilton Kuching – Easter Goodies

Bright flavours and ornate decorations are par for the course with Easter desserts. Indulge your friends and family with adorable treats such as homemade Easter Cookies, Bunny Strawberry Sponge Cake and Bunny Chocolate Sponge Cake at Caffé Cino. Bound to add the perfect sweetness to your Easter holiday.

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29 March – 4 April 2021

  • From RM15 nett per item | Pre-order is required two days in advance.

For reservations, call +6012 496 3500, email KUCHI_FB@hilton.com or visit www.takeus-home.com.

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How To Gain Weight: CNY Edition

Happy Chinese New Year!

This year’s festivities are much more subdued due to the pandemic, but I still had an enjoyable time bonding (and eating!) with the family over the weekend. To save on the hassle of preparing an elaborate meal for our reunion dinner night, we decided to have hotpot/barbecue out on the porch. We bought most of the ingredients in advance so we wouldn’t have to rush to the market on the few days leading up to CNY.

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Aside from the quintessential pork belly slices (you can get these from the local butcher nicely packed), our hotpot ‘buffet’ also had all the other essentials: chicken and fish slices, pork balls and fish balls, needle mushrooms, squid, seafood cheese tofu, fried beancurd sheets, and for carbs, udon noodles. Moomins opened a celebratory can of mini abalones – they’re especially cheap this year due to a dip in demand.

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We bought a 2-in-1 BBQ/hotpot stove from Lazada, just for this.

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The soup base we used was from Hai Di Lao. We bought the shrimp flavour thinking it would be mild, but it was actually quite spicy. It also had preserved vegetables, which gave it a sour tang. Personally, I prefer something milkier and sweeter, so I will probably go for another flavour the next time around.

I know processed foods aren’t the healthiest, but seafood cheese tofu and bursting pork balls (above) are my favourites whenever I have hotpot. Seafood cheese tofu is usually made from surimi, so the texture is bouncy, and it has bits of creamy cheese within; while bursting pork balls are so called because there is hot soup in the centre, so caution should be taken whenever you bite into them so the juices within don’t spill everywhere and burn your tongue.

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My parents weren’t keen on the pork belly slices, so my brother and I ate most of them. I can safely say that I ate my fill lol. I prefer mine cooked in the hotpot, because they tend to get crispy and hard on the grill (I like mine to be soft so you can taste the texture of the fat and lean meat). Dip them in some soy sauce and chilli, and voila! Magic. We rarely have hotpot at home, so this was a very satisfying experience.

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By the time we finished dinner and the washing up it was nearly 10pm. We had initially planned to have our yee sang right after, but everyone was too full, so we watched Bad Genius on Netflix and waited for midnight.

Instead of the usual salmon yee sang, we got a fruits version this year. My cousin and his girlfriend are doing it as a part-time business, so it was our way of showing support (I also sent two sets to friends). It was basically a fruit salad consisting of green and red grapes, strawberries, mandarin oranges, carrots, pomegranates and dragonfruit (we didn’t add this in because it was too soft and watery), plus toasted pumpkin and sesame seeds. In place of plum sauce was honey.

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All in all, good, albeit on the sour side despite the addition of honey.

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After all that feasting on reunion dinner night, our first day of CNY was tamer affair. Traditionally, many families will observe a vegetarian meal after the extravagance of the previous night – we had a simple meal of udon and mock meat with fried egg for lunch. Also spent the afternoon playing mahjong. Everyone was rusty, because we only do this once a year lol.

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I received a nice surprise on the morning of Day 2: my friend H sent me a CNY package!

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Went out in the afternoon with Pops to Moon Palace Restaurant, to pick up our order of poon choi. For my non-Chinese readers, it’s basically a Cantonese dish comprised of a pot filled with luxurious seafood and meat items, which are then poured over with a rich sauce. Due to the large portions, it is meant to be shared, and you’ll often see it at festive occasions like Chinese New Year and weddings. I’ve only had poon choi once or twice during food reviews, never with the fam, so it was a first for all of us.

Our poon choi came with abalone, dried oysters stuffed with fat choi (a type of cyanobacteria with the appearance of human hair – it sounds gross lol but tastes like seaweed), roast duck, poached chicken, brocolli, huge shiitake mushrooms, abalone mushrooms, prawns, yam, scallops and roast pork. The oyster sauce that was to be poured over coagulated slightly from the cold, but otherwise everything was excellent. I especially liked the abalone mushrooms: they were thick and juicy. It’s no wonder people use them in making imitation meat – the texture is very similar.

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And finally, to round up our 2nd day, another round of yee sang; this time vegetarian.

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Bonus: Air-dried clay Mandarin Oranges my brother made for fun.

While this CNY lacks the cheer and pomp of yesteryears, I think I actually enjoyed it more. The weekend was spent bonding with the fam, playing Divinity 2: Original Sin, embroidering (new hobby!), and just eating. Like a lot. I think between Pops, the brother and I, we finished five cans of snacks and a dozen canned drinks. Also, I got no exercise in at all, so it’s not surprising that I gained 2kg.

It’s back to the grind tomorrow, and I’ll be getting back into my workout routine as well.

Hope you all had a good celebration!

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This “App” Calls Out Auspicious Sayings For Chinese New Year – So You Don’t Have To

Chinese New Year is just around the corner (the first day falls on 12 February), but with the pandemic still raging in many parts of Southeast Asia, celebrations will definitely be more subdued. In Singapore, for example, gatherings will be limited to eight people, no CNY company dinners are allowed, and shouting during lo hei (the act of tossing yusheng, a ‘fish salad’ often served in Malaysia and Singapore during CNY) is also discouraged. Understandable, since no one wants Fourth Uncle’s spit flying all over the place (even before the pandemic, but I guess back then it was… tolerated). Here in Malaysia, the government has yet to announce an extension of our Movement Control Order, but it seems likely to be extended for another two weeks.

I wrote a piece recently about how certain traditions and practices might be observed differently this year, including e-hongbao and online shopping for clothes – and now we can add one more to the list: an app that calls out auspicious sayings like ‘HUAT AH’ (prosperity/good luck) and BU BU GAO XIN (steps to success). If you think about it, it’s actually quite a brilliant solution for lo hei – since saliva is more likely to fall into food what with all the shouting and yelling of auspicious phrases. Also, since many people won’t have the luxury of visiting their relatives, the app is a fun way to liven up the atmosphere – minus the worry of spreading COVID-19.

Created by a kind soul going by the pseudonym DJ Beng, the ‘app’ (they’re calling it an app but it’s really more of a web page, since it only works on Google Chrome) contains 15 auspicious sayings, which you can tap on for the desired phrase. Some of these include the customary “Nian Nian You Yu” (Luck every year) and Huat Ah. There’s also a separate tab for toasting, ie Yamseng. What I find really cute is that the longer you press the “yamm” button, the longer the audio plays: the effect is really reminiscent of actual toasting during Chinese gatherings, where everyone tries to shout yammmmm as long as possible. The audio even includes the typical ‘out-of-breath’ effect you get from people trying to sustain their shouts, so it sounds very realistic!

Best of all? There are both Mandarin and Cantonese options for the lohei. For Cantonese speakers like myself, this is a joy. Canto is being eroded these days in favour of Mandarin, and it’s always nice to see your own language being celebrated.

You can have a go for yourself at djbeng.com/lohei.html. Note: It only works on the Google Chrome browser on your phone.

*Cover image: Getty Images

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Experience A Hong Kong Christmas, No Matter Where You Are in The World

A couple of weeks ago, the highly anticipated Hong Kong-Singapore travel bubble (initially set for November 22) was shelved after a surge of cases in the region – much to the disappointment of many. Some hotels and shopping centres, had, in fact, tailored special holiday experiences – ready to welcome their first leisure travellers after over a year of travel restrictions. 

While that obviously hasn’t worked out, that doesn’t mean Christmas has to be canceled. Hong Kong retailers, businesses and artists alike have banded together to bring an immersive and innovative festive season to people all over the world – using the power of technology.

Take a 360-degree virtual tour of Hong Kong’s festive Central Business District 

Hong Kong’s Christmas celebrations are widely considered to be some of the best in the region, with vibrant Christmas markets, stunning displays, fun activities and more. The Hong Kong WinterFest, an annual fixture organised by the Hong Kong Tourism Board, has been a major tourist draw each year – and although visitors might not be able to attend physically this year, they can still expect a veritable wonderland through their screens. 

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Go on a tour of Christmas Town – a snow-kissed virtual CBD based on Hong Kong’s very own Central Business District – which ‘starts’ off at Statue Square, a historic public space in the heart of Central. From there, visitors are free to choose their own adventure: you can learn how to make festive DIY crafts such as aromatic wreaths, ornaments, pop-up holiday cards or candle holders via video tutorials, download holiday-themed Whatsapp stickers designed by famous Hong Kong illustrator like Din Dong, Dustykid and Messy Deck, or tune in to beautiful Christmas carols. If you prefer to just soak in the sights of the CBD’s iconic skyscrapers (which will be all decked out for the holidays), a towering tree and festive Christmas lodges, let Uncle Siu – a popular English educator known for his charming voice – lead you through the innovative 360-degree experience, and make fun, interactive stops along the way. 

The virtual tour of Christmas Town is part of the 2020 Hong Kong Winterfest, which will run until 3 January 2021. 

The world’s first “AI Butterflies Illuminating Interactive Art”

Enter a playground of light at Lee Tung Avenue in Wan Chai, where a seven-metre-tall, stained-glass butterfly and over 350 little LED butterflies have taken up residence. Dubbed “Butterflies of Hope,” it is the world’s first AI-powered butterfly art installation,  created to inspire, uplift and remind visitors of the hope, love, beauty and positivity we have in this world.

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If you are in Hong Kong, afternoon is the best time to visit, as the glass installation refracts natural light onto the ground, painting the boulevard in a myriad of colours. Evenings are a magical affair, with a music-and-light symphony that sees the butterflies taking flight as they ‘dance’ to the sound of music using artificial intelligence.

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The Lee Tung Avenue atrium is also home to a stunning, 12-metre-tall Christmas tree, with some powerful special effects. Combining touchless interactive technology and a special shadow projection technique, the tree projects butterflies onto the clothes of visitors – a feat of art and technology. 

Enjoy the festivities at Lee Tung Avenue until 10 January 2021.

Get lost in the Asia debut of Globoscope, a light showcase from France

K11 MUSEA, a new cultural-retail destination and arts hub on the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade, has turned up the Christmas spirit this year with A Very MUSEA Christmas Village. The village spreads joy and wonderment with a roster of artistic cultural experiences, including the Asia debut of Globoscope.

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Globoscope debuts in Asia at K11 Musea

Created by Collectif Coin, a renowned French art lab, the site-specific immersive light show stretches across the Bohemian Garden, a roof-top open space. A 20-minute private experience can be reserved to enjoy the surreal, sensory light exhibit with family or friends. It’s a sight to behold: Glowing spheres dance and swirl in choreographed light movements, while the dramatic Hong Kong skyline shines in the distance.

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Adding to the festive vibes is K11 MUSEA’s gorgeous Christmas Forest, featuring glistening golden trees in the mall’s atrium. Also not to be missed is a special Santa Muse Parade and a Christmas Market.

Experience A Very MUSEA Christmas Village through 3 January 2021. 

“Christmas Every Day” goes high tech with virtual Santa Meet & Greets

For the past 50 years, Harbour City has marked the holiday seasons with larger-than-life Christmas installations and festive surprises. This year is no different: it’s “Christmas Every Day” celebration once again promises unforgettable holiday memories, complemented by a roster of online experiences. 

Harbour City_Online Santa Meet & Greet-medium

Take a virtual tour of the incredible decorations throughout the mall and “check-in” on social media or share your Christmas wish list with Santa during a virtual Meet & Greet. For the little ones, Harbour City has created an interactive online colouring game, where children can dress up their “Monster Friends” – adorable 3D cartoon characters illustrated by Dutch artist Eva Cremers – and then watch their masterpiece come to life!

The holiday extravaganza continues in person. At the “Christmas Lighting Garden” on the Ocean Terminal Deck, you can wade through a sea of illuminated LED clovers and dandelions and enjoy the “Christmas Lighting & Music Show” every evening with the stunning Hong Kong skyline as a backdrop.

Enjoy Harbour City’s “Christmas Every Day” online and offline experiences until 3 January 2021.

*Photos courtesy of Hong Kong Tourism Board.

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I Interviewed My Husband on his Typhoon Ulysses Experience

November has been an awful month for many Filipinos. 

The island nation has been battered by consecutive storms and typhoons, with five within the span of the last few weeks. Earlier this month, super typhoon Goni – one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded – devastated large swathes of Eastern Philippines, leaving 25 dead with thousands more displaced. 

And now another one has struck. 

Named after the Latin moniker for the Greek god Odysseus, Typhoon Ulysses made landfall on November 11 on the island town of Patnanungan in Quezon, before steadily carving a path of destruction across parts of Luzon with winds reaching up to 105 kph. As of November 13, Reuters reported at least 42 dead and over 75,000 packed into evacuation centres. Of course, this doesn’t bode well not only because of hygiene and sanitation, but also because of the current pandemic. 

Typhoons are very common in the Philippines,  so when I heard about the news, I asked N if his area was going to be affected. This was on Wednesday night, and he was pretty nonchalant about it, so I thought there was nothing to worry about. 

We  usually message each other the first thing after waking up, so when I didn’t hear anything from him at 11am on Thursday, I began to worry. Shortly after, I got a message from my sister-in-law, telling me that their house was flooded. Since there was no electricity, they were turning off their phones to conserve battery, and would update me on the situation as it went.

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She also sent me a few photos of the interior. I’ve been to N’s house several times, which is located in Cainta, about 12 kilometres from Metro Manila. Since it’s in a low-lying area, the house is prone to floods during the rainy season, so the main floor (living room, bedroom, kitchen) is slightly elevated above the entrance by about a foot. From the photos, I could see that water had already seeped into the upper level, so there was probably about three feet of water. 

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Water at its highest. You can see how much it rose compared to the previous photo.

Now.. this might sound super ignorant, but living on the west coast of Malaysia, which has zero natural disasters (we’re blessed), I’ve always imagined floods to be this super swift rush of water, obliterating everything in its path and sending people and things to a watery grave. This is the case in some scenarios, but there are also floods where the water level rises over time. Not that it’s any less dangerous; if anything, I think these are actually more deceiving – you think the water isn’t that high and boom! You’re suddenly stuck on the roof. 

Thursday was spent on tenterhooks as I waited for updates. Watching the news didn’t help, as media outlets showed devastating scenes of people stuck on rooftops, submerged homes and vehicles, uprooted trees and damaged infrastructure. I went to the FB group for residents of where N lives, and some areas were so badly affected, they had to use boats to get people out. 

I was relieved to hear that the flood waters had subsided by 6pm. N and my in-laws spent the night in the attic. It was very uncomfortable because they didn’t have electricity, but I was glad that they were, at least, safe. 

I didn’t hear much from N until Friday evening, when he got the electricity and Wi-Fi back.  He spent the whole day cleaning up; there was a lot of mud on the floor, and some items had to be thrown away – but the important thing is that him and his family are safe. 

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Kaya the doggo looking down from the attic.

During our call that night, my inner curiosity won out (once a journalist, always a journalist?) and I plied him with questions lol. It was actually a pretty insightful conversation and helped me to understand better what I should do in case of a flood (or any disaster for that matter). 

So, what actually happened? 

N: It had been raining throughout the night. I think the water started coming in around 6am. I was sleeping. 

What? How can you sleep through a flood? 

N: It happens all the time here. If it was serious my family would have woken me up, lol. I think they were also deliberating if they should pack up and go to a hotel, or stay behind. In the end they just started moving some of the appliances and stuff to the attic. I woke up around 9am and the water was about an inch-high in my bedroom. I helped my brother stack the bed up onto chairs. 

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Was it worse than Ondoy (2009)? 

N: In terms of wind strength, I think this was more powerful. But Ondoy brought a huge volume of rainfall with it, so the floods were worse. This house was almost submerged. I can’t really tell you how that was though, because I was living near campus at the time and wasn’t affected much.

So the waters were rising. How did you prepare? 

N: You should watch the Korean movie Alive. It’s on Netflix. 

Isn’t that about zombies? 

N: Yeah, but it’s still super useful for disaster situations. I learned that you should get your earphones, because the 3.5mm jack actually doubles as a radio antenna. If you don’t have a radio, you can use your phone’s radio function to tune into the news. My mom also has a small transistor radio for emergencies. The night before, when we heard that there might be a possibility of floods, we charged up all of our devices and power banks, coz we knew electricity might be cut. Then there’s the usual; batteries, flashlights, emergency first aid kit. Electricity companies will automatically cut off electricity, but we turned off all the switches just in case. 

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View from the roof of N’s house. Uprooted trees

What else do you think one should do when preparing for a flood? 

Perishables won’t keep if your fridge is submerged, so have some processed food and canned food on standby. The water wasn’t that high this time so we could still use the gas stove to cook all the perishables for dinner. As for clothes, you can pack them into waterproof bags. Previously we used garbage bags because they float, but the material is thin and if it tears your stuff will get dirty and wet. If you have a vehicle, you should remove the car battery. Also, if you have important documents, put them all in an envelope so it’ll be easy to carry and keep safe.  

What did you do while waiting for the water to subside? 

I went downstairs to observe the situation, my family stayed in the attic. I fell asleep again and woke up around 1pm. 

I am astonished you can sleep in the middle of a flood. 

Well, it happens all the time so I’m used to it. We get floods very often; I used to call it ‘annual general cleaning’ because we’d have to clean the house from top to bottom afterwards. I was a little surprised that the water rose fast though. Like two inches every 20 minutes. I think it reached about three feet. 

What did you do at night? 

Just had dinner, talked. We didn’t use our devices to save battery. It was very hot and difficult to sleep with everyone in the attic. S (niece) kept tossing and turning, so my brother had to fan her.  The next morning we started cleaning up. We couldn’t move the fridge because there was no place to put it. Thankfully it’s still working.  

Okay, I have to ask this. Since everyone is in the attic, where do you go when you need to pee? 

N: You pee in the flood water. 

Come again? 

N: You pee in the flood water. You can’t go outside because snakes might swim into the house when you open the door lol. And the toilet is flooded anyway. So you just kinda go downstairs and do your thing. You know, the first night, I had this overwhelming urge to poop and I kept holding it in the entire night. The next morning when I could finally go to the toilet, nothing came out. What the effing hell. I guess if you really need to do a no.2, there are plastic bags… 

Typhoons are so common in the Philippines. Do you think that the government should improve on their disaster prevention measures? 

N: I might get a lot of flak for saying this, but I actually think there isn’t that much the government can do. I think they’re doing okay with what they have.

(note**: While writing this, I read some articles about how more money should be allocated to improve housing for the poor. Many Filipinos from the low income bracket live in flimsy wooden homes, which are easily flattened by storms – as is the case with Haiyan in 2013. N and I did not discuss this, but I think we should expand on this after more research).

While the worst of Ulysses seems to have passed, relief might take a long time – especially with government agencies and facilities overburdened as it is from COVID and previous disasters. It’s 1AM and I’m still seeing cries for help on social media from areas like Cagayan and Isabela, which are located in the northern part of Luzon: there hasn’t been much media coverage and apparently aid is slow in coming, and many people are still stuck, with flood waters rising.

I’m glad N and my in-laws are safe, and that there isn’t that much damage to their home. -Ber months in the Philippines are when the La Nina phenomenon occurs, so I wouldn’t be surprised if another typhoon decides to make a visit. 2020 just sucks in general.

I know it’s a difficult time and there’s nothing that I can say that can help make it easier. But to those affected, please stay strong, and keep each other safe. For donations, Philippine Tatler has compiled a list of organisations that you can contribute to. Link here.

This photo of a dog stuck on a roof broke my heart. There’s a happy ending though – it was rescued and reunited with its owner.
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Big Bad Wolf 2020 – Malaysia’s Largest Book Sale Goes Online

Since 2009, Malaysian bibliophiles and book hoarders have made their annual pilgrimage to the Big Bad Wolf Sale, which is held every year around Feb/Mac or Nov/Dec and is touted as the largest book sale in the region. The last time I went in 2018, they had over 3 million titles!

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Buang balik #2018

Due to the pandemic, many events have had to be cancelled – so the BBW won’t be held physically this year. They are, however, having an online sale, so you can still shop for books from the comforts of your own home. The sale went live at midnight on Nov 4, and will run until Nov 11 (which is shorter than the usual BBW which usually runs for 2 weeks).

Now, although BBW and BookXCess (BBW’s parent company) has been around for some time, they’ve always been more of a brick-and-mortar business – as evidenced by their bookstores, which are all beautifully designed as ‘lifestyle hubs’ where you can sip on a coffee, work, study, etc. There is of course nothing wrong with this; I personally prefer physical bookstores and the joy of finding an awesome book hidden in a corner shelf , getting to inhale the smell of paper, touch the sleek edges of the page. Hmm.

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The BookXCess store at Tamarind Square, Cyberjaya is the largest bookstore in Malaysia, and it operated 24 hours a day (pre-pandemic)

But we are living in uncertain times, and many businesses have had to accelerate their digital processes and shift to a more online-centric model to cater to shifting consumer needs/demands. BBW’s first online sale will be a test as to how well it’ll be able to cope. So far, there seem to be a lot of teething problems.

Since going live at midnight, many users have complained that the website is inaccessible – probably due to the sheer amount of web traffic which is overloading their servers. When they do get in, some have problems creating an account, while others can’t browse because titles are not showing up on the pages. Still others have said their cart turns up empty after they’ve selected the items they want to purchase, and some users haven’t been able to checkout at all.

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I’m part of a local book group on FB, and these are just some of the frustrated comments:

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Curious, I went to the website myself at around 11AM today. It loaded fine at first…

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But upon trying to register for an account:

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Tried again at 12.40PM and managed to get a form to fill up, but after filling it up and pressing ‘create account’, it cleared my data and requested for me to fill up my details again.

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BBW has at least acknowledged they’re having problems on their page.

Now I’m not trying to be mean here or say that they’re doing a shit job – I’m sure their IT department is working round-the-clock to resolve these issues, and despite how some people have commented that “Oh you should have been prepared knowing that there will be many people surfing your website”, I know Murphy’s Law applies – you can prepare for every possibility in the world, but things that will go wrong will go wrong.

But I also understand the frustration on the consumer’s side – one comment said it took them an hour to register an account, an hour to browse and select their books, and another hour to checkout because they had to keep refreshing the page – a total of four hours. In a digital-savvy world of instant gratification and convenient online shopping, four hours just doesn’t cut it.

That being said, there are also customers like these – which is when you know you’ve done something right with your brand:

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If you do manage to get in, BBW 2020 does have great discounts, up to 90% off on 40,000 titles and with over two million books on sale. They also provide free shipping on orders above RM180. If you’re buying above RM300, you’re entitled to a further 10% discount with the code BBW10% off.

Anyway, I hope they manage to sort things out soon because I do think that they are doing a good thing – which is bringing books to customers. There are also many pros to going online, namely avoiding the crowd of shoppers and the massive traffic jams that are a signature of BBW sales every year.

PS: I initially wanted to browse some of the titles, but perhaps this is for the best seeing as I have a TBR pile from AS FAR BACK AS 2013 LMFAO I HATE MYSELF WHY AM I LIKE THIS LOL.

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These were from 2018. I have only managed to finish the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time wtf. Kill me.

Have you ordered books from the Big Bad Wolf Sale 2020? How was your experience?