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Game Review: Ken Follet’s The Pillars of the Earth

Many fantasy RPGs use the medieval era as a backdrop or inspiration to build their worlds: think The Witcher, Dragon Age, Divinity, Dark Souls. But even without the dragons, magic, witches and warlocks, there is something inherently fascinating about the era – it was, after all, a dangerous time rife with political intricacies, brutal wars and religious dogma; a time of towering castles, jousting knights and tyrannical kings.

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Enter The Pillars of the Earth, a story-driven point-and-click game set in 12th-century England. Based on the critically acclaimed 1989 novel by Welsh author Ken Follett, the game is divided into three books spanning 21 chapters and revolves around several characters, whose fates and lives are intertwined around the town of Kingsbridge. There’s Tom Builder, the mason whose life’s dream is to build a grand cathedral that will stand the test of time; Philip, a kind abbey prior who inadvertently gets dragged into a war involving two English lords; Jack, a young outlaw who grew up in the forest with his mother; Lady Aliena, a disgraced noblewoman who finds love in a most unexpected place; as well as a whole host of colourful, secondary characters.

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The world of Kingsbridge is one of upheaval and strife from the get-go. The country is in the middle of a war after the death of King Henry I, as two opposing factions vie for the crown – and the characters you play will all be embroiled in it one way or another. You start the game as Tom Builder, leading your family through the woods to seek job opportunities elsewhere. Your wife is pregnant, it’s the middle of a harsh winter, and you’re low on food and supplies. As things go, your wife dies in childbirth, and out of grief, you abandon your baby in the woods. Yep, this game pulls no punches – and this is just a small taster of what to expect in the following chapters.

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The real ‘star’ of the story, however, isn’t in its characters (although they are certainly unique and rich, with multiple layers). It is in the building of Kingsbridge Cathedral and what it represents. Ken Follet himself in interviews has said that his inspiration for the novel came from his fascination of medieval communities and their obsession with church-building. In medieval England, building a large and beautiful cathedral was seen as an everlasting monument to God, a way for them to make meaning of their lives and show their religious devotion. But at the same time, the church itself was a place rife with corruption, where bishops plotted to murder. Playing the game, I felt as if the characters are there to tell the story of the cathedral, rather than the other way around. Characters would live and die – but the Cathedral, despite being destroyed and rebuilt time and time again, would endure; the task of building it taken over by future builders. All this is beautifully brought to life with hand-painted portraits, each bursting with detail that makes each scene seem alive.

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That being said, TPoTE is not for everyone. The pace is extremely slow, and there aren’t a lot of climatic moments – it’s really more like reading a historical novel than playing a game, really. There isn’t much to do apart from interacting with objects. Your choices are not that important when it comes to the overarching narrative, but they do matter in relation to the fates of several characters and whether they live or die. You don’t get to solve puzzles other than a few easy ones which have more to do with using items in your inventory to interact with certain things on the screen than actually cracking your brain. And of course, once you’ve finished the game, there is very little replay value. Still, it offers good value — I completed mine in 12 hours, and I since I bought it on sale on Steam for RM15, I can’t complain.

Rating: 6.5/10

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My First Book Subscription Box: Bookish Bundle

Subscription boxes were first introduced over a decade ago as a clever marketing strategy – but in the last few years, it has grown into a niche market of its own. I mean, who doesn’t like the idea of receiving a box filled with curated goodies? The mystery of its contents just adds to the anticipation and excitement.

In Malaysia, subscription box services are still fairly rare, with most of them centred around beauty or food – so I was surprised to find that we have one that caters to book lovers as well. Enter Bookish Bundle, a bi-monthly book subscription service which has been around since 2016. Run by a group of friends, the boxes are curated around a particular theme, and always contain a book plus various book-related goodies and artsy items, usually from local creatives.

I’ve been following their Instagram for awhile now, and decided to order their Skipping A Heartbeat box for the month of May. Based on the name, I guessed it had something to do with romance – a genre I do not typically read – so it was two firsts for me: subscribing to a box service, and also getting a romance novel for the first time. The box was supposed to arrive in early May, but due to delayed shipment, I received it at the end of May instead.

And here’s the unboxing! PS: If you haven’t subscribed to my Youtube channel yet, why haven’t you? 😛 #shamelessplug

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A quick look at the items fresh out of the box. So aside from a romance novel called Twice Shy by Sarah Hogle, the box also includes a cute poster of couples from popular literature, a photo frame with an art print, a bookmark corner, a thoughtful note from the Bookish Bundle team which doubles as a decorative card, an Amortentia (Love Potion from the Harry Potter universe) brooch, and a homemade butter cookie.

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A nicer photo taken during the day (minus the cookie, because I was hungry).

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My favourite item of the lot – super adorable design!

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I’m one of those monsters that dog-ear my pages – but I guess I won’t have to do that now that I have this bookmark corner. The constellation pattern is nice too. BTW, Mybookbudz is a small local business that makes book sleeves and table sleeves. You can check them out and support the biz on Facebook.

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I’m not really one for posters, but the illustrations are cute. I also don’t recognise many of the characters because as I’ve said, I don’t read romance/drama often. The only ones I recognise here are Peeta Mallark/Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, Ginny Weasley and Harry Potter, and Bella Swan and Edward Cullen from Twilight (latter I know from the movies, coz I didn’t read the books).

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The synopsis says it’s about a woman who inherits a house in the Smokies and goes to claim her inheritance, only to find that as part of the conditions, she has to share everything with a grouchy housekeeper. Haven’t had time to read this yet, but the summary reminds me of a Hong Kong movie from the 2000s called Summer Holiday.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with my Bookish Bundle subscription box – there are some items I like more than others, but they’re all nice in their own way, and it feels good to be supporting local businesses whilst getting something I can enjoy.

If you’re keen on getting your own subscription box, go to instagram.com/bookishbundle – they regularly post updates and when orders are open for the next boxes. Each box is priced at RM95 for West Malaysia, and RM100 for East Malaysia (inclusive of shipping).

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May 2021: Another Bath & Body Works Haul

Once in awhile, you come across a deal that’s just too good to pass up.

At least, that’s how I felt when I saw that luxury and lifestyle conglomerate Valiram was having a sale for brands under its wing, including Bath & Body Works. Last Christmas, I went overboard with my shopping so I still have a tub of body butter to finish, but I couldn’t resist getting more lotions – because you don’t get deals like these too often. “But aren’t you just spending money for things that you could have done without?” you ask. Perhaps, but since I AM going to use them, I don’t think they’re a total waste of money, so shush. 😛

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The order came pretty fast and was nicely packaged.

Video if you’re lazy to read. Have you subscribed yet? #shamelessplug
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Of course, buying things on sale means you won’t be getting the latest products or much variety, but I think that’s a fair trade – and if you haven’t tried something before, isn’t it essentially ‘new’? At their regular price, each bottle costs RM75, so 3 would have been around RM220+, but I got all of these for just RM56 (excluding shipping) – which means a 75% discount. Don’t you think that’s a steal?

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The Winter Candy Apple has been a Christmas staple since 2014. If you like fruity scents, this one will be right up your alley, with fragrance notes of red apple, winter rose petals and candied orange, formulated with shea butter and added vitamin E.

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My favourite among the bunch is the Lovely Dreamer, which has notes of fluffy musk, clean woods and fresh bergamot. The delectable concoction is whipped to luxurious perfection with coconut oil, shea butter and vitamin E.

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Last but not least, we have Forever Red. This is perfect for those romantic dinner dates (well, when we can go out again anyway), with top notes of fiery pomegranate, rare French peach and luminous apple, mid-notes of red peony, night marigold and red osmanthus, and dry notes of rich vanilla, velvety marshmallow and oak wood. If you’re envisioning a dessert of some kind, you’re not the only one. Dabbing some on before you sleep can help with relaxation; almost like aromatherapy.

With this, I am all set with my body care needs for the next 6 months!

Or at least until Christmas sale.

If you’re keen on grabbing some lotions, body shower gels or other pampering items, Valiram’s sale is still ongoing at valiram247.com. You can also shop for other luxury and lifestyle brands under their umbrella, including Michael Kors, Montblanc, Godiva, Victoria’s Secret, Tory Burch, Swarovski, and more.

Like this post? Please consider supporting my website by buying me a cup of coffee through Paypal. This will go towards hosting fees and ensuring that I can continue to deliver authentic content for your reading pleasure. You can also support me on Patreon. Thanks for stopping by!

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Review: Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 4G – Worth It?

Two months ago, I finally caved and bought a new phone. My old Samsung Galaxy A8 Star, which I bought in 2018, is still perfectly functional (albeit with reduced camera quality) – but since my mom was looking for a better phone and she didn’t want to buy a brand new one (she’s using a RM300+ XiaoMi that’s super laggy), I gave her my old phone.

I use my phone mainly to browse the internet, take photos and videos, and play simple games (nothing taxing like Genshin Impact or Ragnarok) – so right off the bat, I knew I wanted something with an above-average camera, but at a price that wouldn’t break the bank. My initial budget was around RM1,500; but most of the phones in this price range either didn’t offer the specs I wanted, or they were from brands that I have not tried before, like Oppo and OnePlus. I have been a Samsung user for the longest time – I used a Sony XPeria Z once, but it was a bad experience for me, so I was hesitant to try other brands. Unfortunately, none of the Samsung releases with the specs that I wanted were within my budget either. 😦

After a lot of deliberation, I upped my budget to get a semi-flagship phone: the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE (Fan Edition). It’s basically a toned down version of their flagship, marketed at an upper-middle price range. There are two versions available, namely the 4G and 5G variants, and there is a pretty substantial difference in price. I ended up getting the 4G, because 5G rollout is still slow in Malaysia (I can’t even get coverage in my own house, despite living in a highly urbanised area – thanks, Digi!).

Getting the phone was a challenge in itself. None of the outlets I went to had ready stock of the 4G version, and after trying several, I had to order online instead. It came fairly fast though, and setup was easy. At the time, the only available variant was the one running on the Exynos 990 LTE chip (which is what they use for phones in Europe), but Samsung Malaysia currently offers the Snapdragon 865 version too.

The phone cost me RM2,299 – the most I’ve ever spent on a phone. And guess what?

The phone is currently going for RM1,899.

Face. Palm.

Anyway, I’m not big on gadgets, and I’m not a professional reviewer – but I thought I’d share my experience with the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 4G so far. There are pros and cons, so it’s really a matter of what you think would best fit your needs, and whether some of the issues would affect your usage.

USABILITY

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My phone, in Cloud Orange

As mentioned, the series comes with two different types of chips; the Exynos 990 and the Snapdragon 865, with 6GB and 8GB RAM respectively. My G version is able to run most apps smoothly. However, I don’t think the Exynos is a good chip. The phone tends to overheat, especially in outdoor conditions (I was filming something once for five minutes and my camera shut down on its own because it was getting too hot), and sometimes, even when I’m just playing music in the (air-conditioned) car, it feels very warm to the touch. This is apparently a major issue with the Exynos, even for their latest flagship S21. Given how expensive these phones are, I think it’s unscrupulous of Samsung to not address the issue and still continue charging a premium.

BATTERY

When I first got my phone, the battery life was SO POOR I thought I got a defective model (it would drain like 1-2% PER MINUTE, and that was just with regular browsing). After looking up potential solutions online, including reducing the refresh rate to 60Hz, turning off always-on mode, putting all of my apps to deep sleep, and reducing the screen brightness to like 20%, it was still not improving by much – so I called up the service centre. They asked me to check the battery performance and concluded that it was caused by ‘usage of external third party apps’ rather than the phone itself, which was ridiculous to me because wtf would you buy a phone for if not to use third party apps? I mean, even Instagram is a third party app.. so I can’t browse social media on a phone that costs RM2,299?

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Box and back cover

I was panicking and thinking if I could get a refund, but thankfully, after a couple of days, the phone’s battery life seemed to stabilise (this apparently happens with new phones as they try to observe your usage patterns and maximise battery life for you) Light usage now yields me about 8 to 10 hours. Heavy usage, such as when playing games, will give me 3 hours at most. I still have it running at minimum – low brightness, deep sleeping apps, etc. to achieve this result. So, when compared to my old Samsung Galaxy A8 Star, which has excellent battery life and can last for days on idle, the S20 FE fares poorly. Again, this comes down to the Exynos chip, which has been criticised for poor performance and causing battery drain.

Another thing to note : the phone supports ‘fast charging’ at 25W, but it still takes an hour to charge from like 20% to full.

STORAGE SPACE

The 4G variant has a single SIM and 128GB of storage space, as compared to the 5G which offers up to 256GB. I think 128 is plenty for my needs.

CAMERA

The main thing I look for in a smartphone is a good camera, and this is where the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE shines. Boasting triple cameras at the back including a 12MP main camera, 12MP ultra-wide-angle lens and an 8MP telephoto camera with 3x optical zoom, it also has a 32MP punch-hole front camera. The photos and videos produced are crisp, with good detailing and colour, and the phone’s Full HD Super Amoled display helps to showcase the media you’ve snapped with perfect clarity. There are also many modes to choose from, such as Food, Panorama, Night (the night mode is pretty good too) and an interesting feature called Single Take, an AI-powered function that captures up to 10 photos per second while recording a 15-second video clip, then picks out the best moments and intelligently comes up with ways to present the captured content.

Sample 4K video captured using my Samsung Galaxy S20 FE
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LOOK AND FEEL

The 5G version offers more colours to choose from, but the 4G options aren’t bad either. They all have this fun, ‘pop’ like colour scheme with hues such as Cloud Orange, Cloud Lavender and Cloud Red. The back of the phone is plastic, but it feels solid. It weighs around 190g, which is not too heavy. The phone also offers a good grip, unlike my old J7 Pro which I destroyed because it kept slipping from my grasp and hitting the floor lmao.

OTHER PERKS

As befitting of a semi-flagship, it has water and dust resistance. The stereo speakers are good, with the sound filling up the space – but the phone lacks a headphone jack, so you’ll have to use wireless buds if you’re looking for some privacy.

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Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 4G (Exynos 990) is an okay phone. There, I said it. I love the camera, it runs smoothly, and I like how it looks and feels. But the battery life and overheating issues are major turn-offs for me. Perhaps the Snapdragon version would fare better – users have said that they don’t encounter as many problems as with Exynos. And since Samsung Malaysia is having an online sale right now for the S20 FE 4G Snapdragon, this might be as good a time as any to make the purchase.

Like this post? Please consider supporting my website by buying me a cup of coffee through Paypal. This will go towards hosting fees and ensuring that I can continue to deliver authentic content for your reading pleasure. You can also support me on Patreon. Thanks for stopping by!

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Who Is David Hockney and Why Is His Latest Work Getting Dragged by Londoners?

Up until this week, I had never heard of David Hockney.

“Preposterous,” I hear you huffing. “How can you not know one of the most influential British artists of modern times?”

Well, pardon me for being an uncultured swine, but while I like and appreciate art, it’s not exactly necessary knowledge for me to pay my bills. So yeah.

But I digress.

To the uninitiated, David Hockney is an English painter, widely considered to be one of Britain’s most celebrated living artists. His early works often featured swimming pools in Los Angeles — where he lived in the 1960s — and they were his signature for a long time. In 2018, a 1972 artwork dubbed “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)” broke records at a Christie auction by selling for $90.3million (RM3.7bilion) — making it the highest price at auction for a work by a living artist.

To put it into perspective, the Selangor state government of Malaysia (where I’m staying) had a revenue of RM2.32billion in 2019. Which means that Hockney’s one piece surpasses the revenue that the richest state in Malaysia makes in an entire year. (**If you want to see how a $90.3 million painting looks like, click here.) In recent years, Hockney has transitioned to creating whimsical digital pieces using his iPad.

Over the years, there have been numerous debates on why Hockney’s works are so famous, and whether or not they’re worth the price they’re paid for. Now, I know that art is a very subjective thing — what you like may not be appealing to others. Personally, I do like some of Hockney’s works — they have a very Picasso/Matisse-esque quality to them. But I also know how the art world can be… biased in their way of valuing things (more on this later) — and there comes a point where as an ordinary person, you seriously question if some of these artists (and those in the art society) aren’t just… you know. Trolling the masses.

Recently, London’s mayor unveiled Hockney’s latest work at Piccadilly Circus as part of the #LetsDoLondon campaign, to revive domestic tourism and encourage Londoners to get out and support local businesses. It certainly got people buzzing — but not all of the noise was positive:

British people had a field day in the responses. (Swipe right for more)

While the majority took the mickey out of the painting, there were also those that thought it was a smart and provocative move. Yet others believed that people were making much ado about nothing.

Meanwhile, young artists have also joined the conversation, calling the entire campaign a ‘missed opportunity’ for the mayor’s office to not only help struggling artists and businesses, but also showcase London’s diversity. Some have shopped works of their own onto the space where Hockney’s works are currently being displayed. *Look up the hashtag #letsdolondonbetter — there are some seriously amazing artworks here!

While Hockney’s piece was apparently done for free, the mayor did spend £7million on the entire campaign — which no doubt included marketing and the engagement of an agency and what not to a) promote and b) put up the posters. Which, to many artists whose livelihoods have been affected by the pandemic, is a double slap to the face because Hockney has not lived in the UK for a long time (he’s based in the US). Perhaps the only possible good reason for choosing him over everyone else is the clout that Hockney has — so in a way I guess the work achieved its purpose to create conversations, because like I said: I didn’t know who Hockney was until recently.

This brings me to the next point which I mentioned earlier: how we value art today.

If you’ve ever watched the horror/thriller movie Velvet Buzzsaw starring Jake Gyllenhaal, it’s a brilliant satire of the art world today. In the film, Gyllenhaal plays a seemingly independent art critic, who gets pulled into the world of price fixing after his girlfriend — who works for a prominent art gallery owner — discovers cache of haunted paintings by a dead artist. They decided to display the paintings, to great success, but as greed and avarice take over, the trade off becomes deadly.

While the story’s plot is pretty outlandish, its portrayal of price fixing — and how critics, gallery owners, and buyers are basically complicit in ‘valuing’ how much an art piece is worth — is accurate imo. Take Mr Hockney’s latest piece for example, and this article. It is well written, full of praise like “a great piece of public art” and seemingly thought-provoking points like how public art usually adheres to ‘safe, sterile taste of private developers keen to bring artistic flair to artificially created public realms void of people or life’. And it makes you think, hey, maybe there IS more to this. They sound like valid points.

But I guess if you asked a child what they would see — without the pomp and flair and fancy words — they’d tell you like it is: it’s a doodle. One that they could probably make, given the right tools and materials. Eg: 5-year-old Rob makes a painting. Parent: “It shows how artistic he really is. Look at the composition. The brilliant pairing of colours. It’s sublime and it expresses the human condition.”

“Why’d you make this piece, Rob?”

5-year-old Rob: “I dunno. I just like it.”

Anyway, what this environment creates is a small, select group of ‘elite’ artists whose works are considered extremely valuable, and you have the rest of the artists — whose works by the way are no more or less than others — but are undervalued and taken advantage of. I personally know artist friends who struggle to make ends meet despite how talented they are, because there are clients who constantly want discounts, aren’t paying them fairly, and think that art isn’t ‘worth’ anything. These same clients would gladly pay thousands for a prestigious piece from an artist who somehow managed to market themselves better.

A sketch I made. Value: priceless.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, the art world as we know it today has lost its true meaning and purpose. When they say art can be anything, I didn’t think these people would literally take it to heart and spin in that way lol. There’s that artist Maurizio Catalan who duct taped a banana to a wall and someone paid $120,000 for it. There are also a series of paintings at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art that comprise of completely white pieces. According to SFMOMA’s website, the primary reason for the artist’s creation was to “create a painting that looked untouched by human hands”. The site later goes on to say that they have an important place in art history as precursors of Minimalism and Conceptualism.

Yeah… you keep telling yourself that, buddy.

Maybe I’m dumb. I’m not a professional artist or an art critic. But what I see are blank paintings, and a lot of ways to describe why they’re revolutionary, ground breaking, amazing. It reminds me of the story of the Emperor and his New Clothes, where everyone was too afraid to call out that the emperor was parading around naked; instead clapping and applauding because everyone around them was doing so. It took a child’s innocent eyes to call it for what it was.

What do you think about Hockney’s work, and art today in general? I’d love to hear if you agree or disagree with my views, especially if you’re an artist. Let me know in the comments below!

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Walking Tour: Things To Do at IOI Mall, Puchong, Malaysia

PS: This is not a sponsored post. I just feel like sharing my favourite mall with you guys, Enjoy!

Old but gold best describes IOI Mall Puchong. Opened in 1996 when Puchong was still a relatively small township, it was originally a modest three-storey building, the main tenant being a department store called JUSCO (now AEON).

Over the years, the mall has undergone numerous refurbishments to keep it fresh and relevant. Today, the building comprises of two wings: the old wing and the new, which has four levels. The mall also boasts a good mix of tenants, from big brand names like UNIQLO, Victoria’s Secret and Levi’s, to local businesses and chain restaurants.

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Being a Puchong-ite, I have very fond memories of the place, and I’ve seen how the place has transformed through the years. I rode on the carousel here as a kid, hung out with friends here as a teen, and more recently, gone on dates with my husband here. One thing I like about the mall is that it’s never boring – there’s always something to see and do. So if you’re an out-of-towner, here’s what you can expect on a visit to Puchong’s oldest mall:

Subscribe to my Youtube channel if you haven’t already! I post walking tours and anything that catches my fancy. #shamelessplug

GO SHOPPING (DUH!)

The new wing was built sometime in 2009 and has four levels. Most of the shops are at the old wing, but the new wing has a pretty good selection of stores as well. Here you will find mid to upper-mid fashion stores such as Victoria’s Secret, Levi’s, Elle, Hush Puppies, Dockers, Cotton On, UNIQLO and Pedro, as well as optical shops, pharmacies (Caring Pharmacy and Watsons), and jewellery stores (SIMS Jewellery). Over at the old wing, you have mid to lower-mid brands like Giordano, as well as local brands like Nichii and Voir. Beauty enthusiasts will want to shop at The Body Shop, the newly opened Bath & Body Works kiosk (I always get tempted with the candles!), Sasa and Elianto. There are also a few watch shops (AWG Fine Watches, G-Shock) and more jewellery stores (Poh Kong, Tomei). DIY lovers can get their fix at Acer hardware, or buy cheap household goods at DAISO.

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The concourse area at the Old Wing. The design features skylights that allow plenty of sunlight to filter in.

FEAST

No matter what you’re craving, chances are IOI Mall Puchong has something to satisfy those cravings. There are lots of F&B options, so diners will be spoilt for choice. There’s a whole Food Street on the first floor dedicated to restaurants and eateries. My favourite picks? For non-halal, there’s Thai mookata restaurant BBQ Plaza, homegrown mee xian noodle experts Go Noodle House, and Japanese hotpot buffet Sukishi with its unlimited refill of meat. Wong Kok Char Chan Teng and its HK-inspired dishes (think cheese baked rice and spaghetti with ‘sock’ millk tea) are a good choice too.

For halal options, a must-try is the newly opened Seirock-Ya ramen that specialises in toripaiten (chicken ramen). Suki-ya and Sushi King both offer affordable and tasty Japanese food too, while K-fans will want to head to Kyochon for their chicken wings. And then there are the usual fast food chains like KFC, Pizza Hut, McDonalds and A&W. Snack kiosks like J&G Fried Chicken, Empire Sushi, Shihlin Taiwanese Snacks, Chatime and Daboba offer something for diners to munch/sip on while they shop.

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Oh, and if you’re looking to have a Chinese wedding or celebration, there’s Dynasty Dragon. I almost had my wedding banquet dinner here but the prices were a bit steep so we ended up somewhere else.

The mall is constantly getting new tenants, so even I haven’t tried some of the newer places like Haidilao and Honeycomb BBQ (a Korean BBQ resto). I’m also looking forward to trying Putien (their outlet in Singapore has one Michelin star) someday.

WORK OUT

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The new wing’s second floor houses a Fitness First gym. It used to be on the ground floor at the old wing, before shifting to the new premises. Before FF, Puchong did not have gyms, so it was always packed with gym-goers. Things are obviously much quieter now coz of the pandemic.

BEAUTY AND WELLNESS TREATMENTS

There is a slew of aesthetic clinics at the new wing offering beauty treatments like slimming and facials (Dorra, Yunnan Haircare, London Weight Management) on the first and second floors. If you’re looking for a relaxing massage, there’s Manjakaki Spa (traditional Malay spa) and the premium-priced Thai Oddysey.

BRING THE KIDS FOR SOME FUN

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IOI Mall’s star attraction when it opened was the carousel in its concourse area, complete with decked out horses, mirrors and bright sparkling lights. My brother and I have gone on many a ride in our younger years, and I always get a pang of nostalgia whenever I see it today. It gives me a fuzzy feeling knowing that some of my friends are bringing their kids on the carousel that they rode on in their younger years. Perhaps if I ever have kids, I’d bring them for a ride too.

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Not keen on the carousel? A train ride works too! You can go on this with your child just outside Popular bookstore.
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As a teen (and even during my college years), many an afternoon was spent at the arcade playing Rock Fever 3, shooting hoops on the basketball machine, dancing to DDR and shooting up zombies in House of the Dead. They’ve updated the machines so many of these games are no longer there, but it’s still a great place to take the kids for an hour or two of fun. The mall has two arcades; one at the old wing and one at the new.

CATCH A MOVIE

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IOI Mall’s Golden Screen Cinemas is where you can watch the latest movies. These days it is very quiet due to pandemic restrictions, but pre-pandemic, it was one of the most popular places in the mall, almost jam packed every weekend. The cinema spans two floors and parts of both the old and new wing.

SING KARAOKE

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Probably not the best time to go right now, but IOI Mall does have a Karaoke joint called Port. I hope they’ll last until everything tides over!

BUY GROCERIES

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For household goods and essentials, look no further than department store AEON. Aside from a section for groceries, they also carry everything from clothing and electronics to kitchen equipment, bedding, sports equipment, and more.

There are actually loads of other things you can get/do at IOI Mall. You can pay your phone bills or shop for gadgets at the old wing’s third floor, where they have all the flagship smartphone/telcomm operators like Digi, Celcom + Huawei, Xiaomi, Samsung, etc. You can sip on coffee at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, ZUS, Coffea Coffee or get freshly baked goods from Donutes. There’s a chiropractor and a physical therapist centre as well.

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This is by no means a comprehensive list, but hopefully it can help you get a better idea of what to expect. IOI Mall Puchong may not be the biggest or nicest mall out there, but it’s certainly close to my heart.

GETTING HERE

IOI Mall sits next to the LDP Highway and is easy accessible by car. There is ample parking outdoors, in the basement at the new wing, and on the rooftop of the old wing. Those taking public transport can hop onto Rapid KL buses 506, 600, 602, 671, T600, T601, T602, T603, T604 and T605 servicing the route. The IOI Puchong Jaya LRT station (Sri Petaling Line) stops just next to the mall and is a 2-minute walk away.

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PS: I filmed this before MCO3.0. Please do not travel unless absolutely necessary – save a trip for when things are better and it’s safe to go around again!

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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.

Like this post? Please consider supporting my website by buying me a cup of coffee through Paypal. This will go towards hosting fees and ensuring that I can continue to deliver authentic content for your reading pleasure. You can also support me on Patreon. Thanks for stopping by!

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Picking Up A New Hobby: Embroidery

I think I’ve mentioned this many times before on my blog, but i’m not exactly good with my hands. There are people out there who have a natural affinity for this sort of thing (painting, pottery, fixing lightbulbs, cooking, etc.) — I, sadly, am not one of them.

As a kid, I always had my nose in a book, and while I could spout obscure trivia about ancient Egyptian religions, theories on evolution and how dinosaurs could have gone extinct, I couldn’t make or fix anything to save my life. I also sucked at sports. In short, I was (and still am), a big nerd. In an RPG, I’d probably be the wizard or some sort of priestess; all brains and no brawn. INT5, AGI, STR and DEX 0.

The hobbies I enjoy (and can stick to) tend to involve pursuits of the mind, like reading and blogging. Also, being an INTP with the attention span of a goldfish, I tend to flit from one hobby to another — usually whatever catches my fancy at the moment (I dabbled in drawing comics, making figurines, soap making, candle making). My interest usually fizzles out if:

a) I don’t get the hang of it within 2 sessions, or

b) I find that it’s actually pretty easy, and I get bored lol (I do sound like a fickle and hard-to-please person, don’t I?)

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So when I ordered an embroidery kit a couple of months ago, I surprised even myself. The idea of repeatedly poking a needle and thread through a piece of cloth didn’t exactly scream excitement, but I was bored of being stuck at home (thanks, COVID!) and wanted to do something different.

A couple of weeks prior, I had ordered some air-dried clay in a horribly misguided attempt at making polymer clay jewellery. After the first few pieces ended up looking like they came out of Satan’s butthole, I promptly gave up. My embroidery kit seemed set to end up in the same place; at the bottom of a box in a corner, together with the rest of my failed ‘projects’.

But then…

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I actually found stitching to be… oddly satisfying. And it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, even for my sausage fingers. Sure, I couldn’t pull off dainty, tiny stitches, but the ones I made seemed good enough for ‘everyday use’, so to speak. It was challenging enough to keep my interest, but not difficult to the point where I’d give up.

One of my biggest weaknesses is wanting fast and easy results — if I don’t pick up something immediately (or within a few tries), I tend to get discouraged and lose interest. To prevent this from happening, I chose a piece with an easy pattern: one that used basic, easy stitches even beginners could follow, but would still look nice enough for display.

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The first piece came together nicely, and although I messed up some parts, it still looked pretty good. Knowing how bad I am usually with handicrafts, and seeing that it was my first time, I felt a tiny surge of pride at the results.

Which prompted me to order another kit. And another.

At the time of this writing, I have completed three pieces, with three more to go. Not counting all the equipment and thread I bought separately.

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My second piece had a bit more colour, and I learned a few different stitching techniques.

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While I enjoy embroidery as an activity for relaxation – there are a couple of takeaways from this new hobby of mine, which I think are good to reflect on.

It’s okay not to be perfect

I am a perfectionist, and I often think that whatever I make doesn’t match up to the standards that I have in mind (A lifetime of being told you’re not good enough will do that to you). As a result, I often miss opportunities to showcase what I have, because of my pervasive fear of rejection and failure. That, and I refuse to present anything short of (what I think is) perfection. I miss out on a lot of things because my lack of self confidence holds me back; even if I have a great idea, I overthink things and end up not voicing them out at all. It’s true what they say, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

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That’s just it though – in the real world, perfection rarely exists. Even when I was posting my second embroidery piece, I kept criticising my own stitching, despite other people telling me that it looked okay. It’s a bad habit, but being more aware of it means that I can actively take steps to prevent myself from getting into that head space. So yeah, it’s okay for that stitch to not be completely straight; I shouldn’t beat myself up about it. If anything, it adds character to the piece and shows that it’s made by a human, not a machine.

Practice

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As mentioned earlier, I have a short attention span and little patience. Unlike people who feel a sense of accomplishment when they reach a milestone after months (or even years) of hard work, the same concept when applied to me would just make me feel stupid and incompetent. I like to be able to grasp something quickly – which is why many of my projects have a great head start but run out of steam eventually. The reality is, many things require practice – Rome wasn’t built in a day. I have to constantly remind myself that it took years for masters to reach the pinnacle of their art, if ever.

You do You

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I follow many artists on Instagram, and it can be daunting to see how amazingly talented some people are. It can also feel like no matter how hard I work, or what I do (channeling some Rock Lee from Naruto here), I’ll never catch up to their level of genius – so why bother? This kind of apathy can be dangerous and soul crushing for aspiring creatives. Again, I have to constantly remind myself that I, too, can make good art and contribute useful ideas. Art is subjective, really – and there’s beauty in just the act of creating. Even if you’re the only person who admires your own art, as long as you’re working to create something and improving on your skills, then there is no such thing as ‘wasted’ effort. And that applies for things besides art. Like life, in general.

Currently, I’m looking to work on more pieces and if I’m comfortable enough, open up for commissions. Embroidery is a pretty expensive hobby when you count in the cost of materials and time, so I’m hoping that by doing so I can offset some of the costs. And who knows? Maybe this’ll be one of those things that will keep my interest as long as blogging has.

What are some of the projects that you’re currently working on? Have you picked up a new hobby during the pandemic? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear about them.

And if you enjoyed reading this, please consider supporting my website by buying me a cup of coffee through Paypal. This will go towards hosting fees and ensuring that I can continue to deliver authentic content for your reading pleasure. You can also support me on Patreon. Thanks for stopping by!