Monday, August 24, 2009

Our Last Day in Honkers

This is our last morning in Asia, and our only day to wrap things up in Hong Kong. We each made a list on the airplane of things thatmust get done. I am also repsonding to a reader who asked for a Birkin, or two.

So first we went to Maylin which used to make the best Birkin this side of Hermes. No more, they are still making fine bags but none are in the style of the Hermes brand. I am not looking for a fake but a good quality inspiration. I thought $300 USD would do the trick (my reader's budget) but alas, everything I am pricing today is $500 for the 35 cm size and $580 for the 45 cm size. She also has a list of needs per color of hardware, length of straps, etc-- all which point to having a bag custom made.

I've already been to Shenzhen and cannot possibly get across the border and back in time to make my dinner rdv and she rally doesn't want anything shoddy or illegal. Ricco from the New World Centre, has great bags, but alas, they begin at $500USD. Ashneil has the best handbags in the world, but would have to make the bag to order. Sam Wo's quality is now so low he must be Low Wu.

And so we're off to try a few more sources before we give up and cry. The saddest part of all is that years ago, in the pharmacy inthe basement of The Pen, they had the best Birkin copies for $250. Alas, the pharmacy is now a jewelry store and Hong Kong keeps on moving.

We've been moving rather quickly ourselves-- we began the day with room service breakfast in our suite in The Peninsula, we ate overlooking the harbour and savoring our final day. Then we went first to The Jade Market where we needed to compare prices and quality with items we'd seen in China (favorable here in HKG!) and then on to New Fei Optical to get another pair of glasses made and to learn about the charade of the first pair, done totally in mime and Chinese in Shenzhen. Today's pair cost three times as much, but appear to be promising.

Then we hit the InterContinental Hotel-- we go there just about every day whether we are staying there or not-- and checked out the handbag sources per above. Lunch at McDonald's -- back on my diet tomorrow!-- and then a quick nap before heading out tolook at more Birkin wannabes and then hit the Fa Yuen Street market followed by the Ladies market.

The hot new item all over Fa Yuen is a visor gadget that snaps in place across your face (think Darth Vader) to serve as a pair of sunglasses. They cost about $3-5, depending on the vendor, the quantity you buy and your bargaining skills. We were tempted by someof the doggy squeak toys, but they were very expensive and settled instead for some very expensive Chinese silk sacs in which to nestle some of the gifts we bought on the trip. Alas, no silk sac is big enough for the Birkin.

More From Bangkok

Our perfect Sunday just began with the flower arranging class.Then we had a Thai tea tasting, an afternoon at the spa and dinner with the chef. Words and pix to come.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Sunday in the Market with Noi

Through most of my adult life, I have ascribed certain rituals to Sunday, making it a special day, an unusual day, a day of treats not enjoyed on other days. So it seemed fitting that today, Sunday in Bangkok, we enroll in Peninsula Academy Flower Arranging Class to celebrate not only the day, but our arrival last night at one of the world's most glam hotels.

For the un-enlightened, each Peninsula Hotel around the world offers culture and enrichment classes themed to the local environment. Each offers an experience with an expert that cannot be enjoyed unless you are a guest of the hotel and sign up in advance. Fees vary with the class and the location.

Today's class was about $100 per person and simply the best value for money experience available in travel. Neither Sarah nor I will ever look at a flower the same way, we've had an incredible adventure and even learned some tricks to bring home and test and twist into an American lifestyle. We may not have lotus leaves at home, but I have heaps of calico fabric which I can cut and wrap for a different but interesting look. The best part of seeing an idea, is translating it into something you can make your own.

Class began at 9AM. We stuffed ourselves at the breakfast buffet-- a gorgeous treat in its own right-- and then waddled off behind Noi, the head florist, and assorted Peninsula Academy helpers. We were taken a the hotel's custom van to a site across the river where the Pak-Klong Talad flower market lines two sides of a street and fills many alleys.

This market is open 24/7 and is most busy from 7-10pm when new shipments arrive and the professionals do their shopping. Noi explained that in the evening, the market is twice as large as what we are seeing, much more hectic, and has all sorts of flowers and produce spilling into the streets and walkways.

With Noi as our guide, we prowled around and explored; we learned that flowers from Holland cost too much here, so imported flowers come from China-- which Noi says provides the same quality as Holland. (Note to the world.)

Because he had already bought flwoers for our class, all we did was look, touch and gawk. Between the colors, the prices (low everyday prices!) and the characters in the market-- why is that little girl trying to beat up a kitten with a stick?-- we were mesmerized. We both decided to move to Bangkok, live in Peter Greenberg's house here and become the local version of Jeff Leatham, the Four Seasons' Hotel's Creative Director, the man who changed the face of floral decor for all the world. I am certain Peter will be delighted I want to move into his house.

Back in the van, were were given cold, lemongrass scented towels and cold water as we headed back to The Pen. Then we went into the treehouse alongside the river for class and learned how to do all sorts of things to lotus flowers. This is a sexual awareness class as the lotus flower must be peeled back in the same way as a man I once knew, and the same motions in the wrist make flower arranging go so much more quickly.

After many different instructions, and after the pineapple and banana smoothie was served, we tied on our aprons and set to work creating our own arrangements. Sarah was the star of the class, but I flunked as my styrofoam was showing. I guess I willl never make it as a petal pusher in Old Bangkok.

Friday, August 21, 2009

A Little Prick

Many, many years ago, my photo used to be on the cover of each edition of a new Born to Shop book. The pix were taken by my dear friend, the famous Time-Life photographer Ian Cook, who travelled all over the world with me and while he is a photojournalist, and does not normally do portraits, he took my cover shots for the free trips.

Then one day, I will never forget it, Ian said 'Hey, knock it off, stop frowning!' Hmmm, but I wasn't frowning, I was giving it my best movie star smile. 'What's that big line between your eyes?' he asked. Uh-oh.

This was so long ago that no one had ever heard of botox. By the time we knew all about it, the Born to Shop covers evolved and I no longer had to worry about that line, or the hurt feelings I felt when Ian announced I was imperfect.

That is no longer the case.

Tonight we stopped in at one of those walk-in botox clinics that line the streets of Bangkok and I got shot up. First time.t's true, I have been a botox virgin up until tonight-- some 15 years after Ian first noticed the lines above my nose.

Sarah and I waited for about five minutes and then had our meetings with the doctor. The doctor told me it would take a week before I would see the results. I did not mention that I will be crossing the International Date Line in those few days, so I don't know if my face will fall back or spring ahead.

As a journalist, I have been a risk-taker for most of my career. I'm jsut lucky I never got 14 years of hard labor in Korea. In fact, giving birth to my son wasn't even hard labor. But the name of the doctor's office was the Porn Clinic (who could make this up?) and it was located in the PatPong hooker district. Frankly, I just couldn't pass by without at least asking a few questions.

Sarah asked most of the questions, such as 'are you a real doctor?'

We both signed up and paid with our credit cards. The doctor, a girl of about ten years of age, suggested that I erase my cares with fillers in the area around my mouth and, uh, jowls, but I just wanted to wipe out the memory of Ian's perky little British accent by erasing the two or three jagged lines between my eyes.

The cost? Just under $100 USD. The experience? Priceless.

Footnotes From Your Shopping Detective

I think it was yesterday (who really knows what day it is?) that I considered reporting that Toenail #2 is still intact and enjoying Asia. But I decided that you really didn't care and that after awhile, a joke isn't funny anymore. Sooooo I didn't put my foot in my mouth or trip over the punch line.

But now, well, now I have toe news.

Today Sarah and I were doing our rounds and hit the part of the local department store Paragon that is called Trendy (3rd F). We didn't stumble upon it, as we go here regulalry and have even brought Born to Shop tour groups here. This department store is the anchor to the Siam Paragon mall and is a thrilling place to shop, proving that when you travel, all of life is one big art exhibition.

Sarah got to Trendy before me (I was still in Japanese school supplies for my nieces) and was going nuts for press on fingernails with pearls and jewels and Japanese style designs on them, at $25 a pair. We bought a few pairs as gifts and were leaving when for some reason, I looked back (not in anger) and realized we had missed the press on toe department! Hmmm, the press on toenail department is more fitting.

While the nails for hands are sold with a set of ten (tough luck, Anne Boleyn), the toe nails come with only the pair of big toes. For an extra $1 USD you can buy the matching background color of polish for the rest of your little tootsies. Now let me see, this little piggy went to Bangkok, this little piggy went to Paragon ...and this little piggy went wei, wei, wei all the way home.

Prices on the toenails ranged from $12 a pair to $20, USD, based on how elaborate the design and the jewels are. The clerk said the toenails will stay on for two weeks, but I imagine that is if you wear flipflops or sandals, not bamboo socks as I do. Still, these are the most perfect resort item ever invented and could even be a fashion statement for those who prefer to remain barefoot and pregnant. I'll take the resort, thank you.

And yes, Elizabeth, Meredith and Jenny, of course we did.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Photos From Pantip

A rose is a rose is a rose, but a DVD may not be.

Pantip Mon Amour

As catnip is to cats, Pantip is to me...and any international shoppers who come to what is called the Computer & IT Market in Bangkok, but turns out to be HQ for all of Asian life.

We planned to simply work it-- you know, spend maybe an hour. We spent three hours and could have moved in. Here's what we bought and didn't buy:
* 1 Skype phone handset, $15 (I paid $24.99 for mine at WalMart in USA);
* 2 vials of copy perfume, $6 each in purse sized roll-on. I actually bought "Coco " which I have never worn before but since August 19 was Mlle. Chanel's birthday, I thought why not? Sarah bought Poeme, a Lancome scent I am pretty sure, that she's never heard of. Copyright and intellectual property appear to be things the vendor has never heard of.
* A few DVD's of hit movies, including Hangover, which was requested by a friend and The Proposal-- each a fixed price of $3. Ooops, I forgot. We didn't buy the DVD's, we just looked at them and when we were told you had to come back in 15 minutes, we left. Forgive the mis-information. And in case you are curious, illegal DVD's bought at the night markets go for twice as much. Hey, it's my job to ask these things and to go to night markets too.
* Legal CD boxed set of oldies, $30. Sealed with a Kiss. (Yes, it's gonna be a long, lonely summer.)
* Legal DVD set of BBC series for Tom's birthday next week so you don't really expect me to tell you what it is, do you? Cost: $15.
* 1 electrical adapter, UK to USA, $1.
* 1 computer screen skin-- this very confusing as prices for different brands varied enormously so I paid $6 for the top of the line. (I have CHUMP written on my forehead.)

There were ten million mice on sale, many mouse pads-- the cutest with animals and their names (as in rabbit, sheep, cow, not Ben, James or Sam) in Chinese, zillions of netbooks in fashion colors, camera and phones galore, flash drives in all sizes and many shapes. Memory cards for the camera were less than in China.

If you don't care what we bought (or didn't buy) or what we paid (or didn't pay),note that this market sells everything but is very very different from electroncis and IT markets in China. It's much more into trends, junk merch, bins of things, adorable this and that, programs, printers, ink and toner and Rosetta Stones. Best of all, is the giant sign that warns you not to buy fake goods...which we would never do. There's also handbags, vibrators and curling irons. If the vibrators don't curl your hair, then you maybe need the flat iron. Special for you, missy, look this way.

Air Asia & Beyond

We are now in Bangkok, or BKK, and working very hard. So this is to report the arrival as there could be useful info for other travelers who want to test what locals call the Southwest Airlines of Asia, Air Asia.(

Sarah has made this flight before, so she knew all the tricks-- this is important to note. First off, the tickets were bought online in the USA several months before our travel-- with this airline, as with others, the more lead time, the lower the price. We paid extra for reserved seats and yet another extra fee for the maximum luggage allowance, 25kilo per person.

We organized our trip as if we were really smart, buying roundtrip tix in and out of HKG so we could stash most of our luggage in Honkers and thus make the weight allowance. Sarah's bag weighed in at 17k and mine, an amazing 14! Since this is a working trip, we need to leave space and weight allowance for papers and press kits...and purchases.

Instead of booking the InterContinental's fancy car service, which we usually do (slightly over $100 per transfer) we took a plain old taxi for $30. The most difficult part of this was the discovery that Air Asia is not listed on any of the pre-arrival airline charts, so the driver did not know which terminal we required. This surely was not his fault; we bounded out at Terminal One, praised Sir Norman Foster one more time for giving us such a wonderful airport and never once complained about the trek over to Terminal Two where Air Asia is at the P and Q stations, hidden off to one side.

Since our roundtrip tix for two people totalled just under $250 we couldn't complain about anything and tried to stop grinning with delight. We are always sad to leave Hong Kong, but knew e'd be back soon and a trip to Bangkok is always worth doing, especially at these prices. Air Asia does not have a wide network from HKG but they do serve a lot of cities and even go to Austraila and London from other destinations.

The shopping in the HKG airport is heaven, as you probably already know. A brand new Muji To Go store opened across from our gate; we went to the Taiwan Noodle Shop for dinner and bubble tea. I had to browse at Muji without my handbag as I wanted to buy everything...except maybe the freeze dried pickle soup.

Then we boarded and sat knees to chin as every seat was filled for the almost three hours flight. We thought the flight was two hours, but alas, we had to spring ahead with a time change. Or did we fall back?

Once airborne, pax are invited to pay for drinks or snacks; no peanuts are given out as on Southwest Airlines because they save them for the elephants of Thailand. We shared a Snickers for dessert and I ate a bag of gummy worms. Here's to you, Dumbo.

Naturally, the plane landed in New Jersey as landing rights there must be less expensive than gates in BKK. We were bussed into the terminal and suffered enormous high steep steps on and again off (duh) the bus-- I have no idea how they help the handicapped. Finally we arrived at immigration and entered the country, retrieved luggage, hit the ATM and found our driver. Since it was past midnight local time (and later on our body time) we splurged for a hotel transfer from the Sofitel Silom, $70 USD. Also, truth be told, we didn't have a taxi card and had not downloaded a print out of the hotel address in Thai.

We adore this hotel-- incredibly chic and much fun to say Namaste Bonjour each day. We are so delighted to be here that we paid 200 baht for a tuk-tuk ride that should have cost 50. Since 200 baht is $6 and the driver couldn't stop chatting with his delight over his coup for the day, we decided to sit back and enjoy the carbon monoxide poisoning.

Tonight we're off to dinner with Marion from Anantara Hotels & Resorts-- we'll take a taxi for that one.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Home Sweet InterConti

I have been unable to blog for several days as I could never get back to the blog site while within the PRC. Now I am in the Club Lounge at the InterContinental Hotel in Hong Kong, overlooking the harbour and the skyline of Victoria Island and feeling not only at peace with the world, but so in love with this hotel. More importantly, with the delight in explaining to anyone who travels why it makes sense to go to the same hotel year after year after year.

It's not only that they know me here. It's that they go out of their way for me and I have a comfort level when I am imposing on the hospitality, a comfort you don't get to except when you are with family and old friends.

After three days on non-stop shopping in Shenzhen, we dragged our heavy suitcases into the hotel, re-packed in the luggage room, sent some bags over to The Peninsula Hotel, our next destination when we return to HKG next week, and then snuck into the Club Lounge. Actually we didn't have to sneak, we ere escorted by Carlos Souza, one of the managers we've known for years, who has more charm than any one hotelier should possess and has made us feel welcome, despite the luggage, the re-packing and, uh, the Starbucks paper cups.

In an hour we will collect two of our six suitcases (we began with only two!) and head to the airport for our flight to Bangkok. We arranged our entire journey to pivot around this stop, and the friendly atmosphere of this hotel, because intra-Asian luggage allowances are lower than long-haul and we could not bear the idea of schlepping and paying and going nuts with all the extra bags. Our sanity has been saved by hotelier friends and loyalties-- they are more important to road warriors than you can ever imagine.

The New China

Our directions were simple ones-- instead of crossing the border into the PRC at Lowu as is my custom all these years past, I was to take the train to Lok Ma Chau, the new station at the port of Futian. As dumpy and ugly and dirty as Lowu is, this station is modern and clean and inviting.

Before you get off the train, you have a chance to look out across the river at all the highrises and towers of Shenzhen and to remember this is the star city of The New China.

Shoppers have been heading to Shenzhen for years, mostly to the Lowu commercial centre- a giant mall packed to the gills with fake goods of every kind. Over the years, the merch has gotten more and more ratty since there have been serious crackdowns on fakes. It takes a lot of time and energy to find a decent fake, then some serious bargaining and then the lingering doubt that follows you for days afterwards that perhaps you were cheated. It's hard to call the pot black but you begin to feel like a chump and wonder what's real, what's fake and what day it is.

Mere tourists do Lowu as a day trip from Hong Kong and never see more than the mall or the fake bits. I have been to SZ-- as it is written-- for a long weekend at the InterContinental Shenzhen Resort when it opened about two years ago and got hooked on the other parts of the city, the Non-Lowu Experiences, if you will.

Sarah Lahey, BTS Editorial Director, and I chose the brand new Ritz Carlton Shenzhen for our stay. It is directly across from the new Exhibition Centre and closer to the new border crossing, so we didn't even have to enter China through Lowu. How now, Lowu!

As we rose up to the 25th floor and our glorious junior suite, we knew we were in the fanciest and most lush hotel in town. Yes, a Four Seasons is coming; true, a Hyatt is also being built...but this hotel is not only glam slam, but the service has touches I have never seen elsewhere. On the desk were two photos, one from San Francisco (Sarah's hometown) and one from Vaison (my home in France) with a nice note hoping we were not homesick!

The information sheet about the TV channels was printed on a bamboo scroll in the Chinese fashion (but in English) and the Club Lounge was so high into the neon that we could almost reach out to touch the extravagant colors of the other towers around us. There was HBO on the TV; the room service menu was varied and the wifi was free!

True to our old habits, we went straight to Lowu Commercial Center, but this time not for a fake Bottega. Instead, we had brought garments from home for the tailors to copy and we had brought with our own Shanghai tailor, Peter Chan, to guide us to the best in show. We had great success in Hanoi last winter, so wanted to be able to test the tailors in Shenzhen so readers of the next edition of Born to Shop can know what to do.

We chose three different tailors and handed out three different types of work. Tailor Number One was recommended by our friend Muffy, an Old China Hand. She sent with a pair of trousers with a zipper, a button closure, a drawstring, side and back pockets; I chose linen for six more pairs and then left town with the promise that all would be ready in 36 hours at a cost of $8 per pair (without fabric). No money was collected until the work was done. While the trousers were made, pressed and gorgeous at the right pick-up time, they lacked button we had to wait 90 minutes more. Still, Muffy is gonna be one chic little lady.

Tailor Number Two is named Mei, she comes to us from my most trusted sources in Hong Kong and Peter went with Sarah to vet the entire experience. He reported that her women's clothing on display was well made but the men's was not. Sarah brought with a somewhat complicated jacket that she wanted made in a lightweight wool. She chose the fabric from the swatch book and prepaid a total of $70 for fabric and jacket in advance.

The jacket was finished on time; it was copied perfectly. The stitching had many puckers. We asked Peter's opinion of the finished product and he sort of laughed, but announced it decent value for money. He explained that his tailor shop uses Italian fabrics and that the Chinese fabrics are of inferior quality. His shop would have charged $500 USD for the same project.

There were several problems with stitching; Mei agreed to the problems (no fighting, at least) and said she would fix them...if we had time. We did not. Sarah can put a Chanel camellia over the worst of the stitching and no one will notice, but we are all dissapointed in this resource.

Tailor Number Three, a few sewing machines past Mei, made trousers for me for $8 a pair and added in pockets since the sample I gave him had no pockets. He did an excellent job, but the fabric is heavy and bunchy-- my fault, not his. I would use him again, but the job was so simple that it's hard to consider it much of a test.

In the end, we say Tailor Number One is the winner. And then we ate a big fat duck and lived happily ever after.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Blogging From the PRC

Excuse gaps in reportage but I have been unable to get onto the blog and thought perhaps I was in Dutch with the Chinese, but today-- voila, here we go!

I'll try to catch up in order as it's now Monday morning (very very early, love that jetlag) and we are in Shenzhen in the most glorious hotel suite Ritz Carlton ever built. But I digress.

Our hotel suite at the InterContinental in Hong Kong wasn't shabby either. So I will flash back to a few days ago and fill you in on what you've missed.

I've been going to InterConti since it was The Regent. It's the same room I've enjoyed for a period of almsot twenty years and it is wonderful to come back to a hotel where they know you, where you have certain rituals and habitsnad ways of working. Even thugh we had horrible, terible, miserable jetlag for the first days, the InterConti made it much better. And gave us the first lesson in how things are changing in town, in just tiny details. Instead of Bulgari amenities in the bathroom, we had l'Occitane, nothing wrong with that, bien sur, but seems like someone is trying to economize. There was no personalized letterhead waiting for me on the desk as in years gone by. Everyone who is still in business is cutting back.

Hmmm, maybe that's not true. Shanghai Tang is going gangbusters and has opened several new stores, including an adorable one built from an old police station next to The Peninsula Hotel on Salisbury Road in Kowloon and alongside a new, glitzy mall and hotel-combo called Heritage. There's also a new Shanghy Tangy in Pacific Place Mall.

Few seem to be doing as well as Shanghai Tang and there is much down-sizing going around. This is the motto for all of Hong Kong-- stores that haven't closed have moved, downsized, tried to re-invent themselves to live to fight another day.

I've told you about the wonderful new showroom that Wah Tung China has in Western; then we found that Sam Wo-- a handbag guy-- moved from his basement hovel in The Lanes to the office building above, 5th floor. There's less stock and little that looked amazing. Still, his prices are in the under $100 USD range for those who want an easy shopping experience.

The Lanes also used to have a wonderful junky touristy Chinese stuff shop called Ribbon Store. That is gone but a few doors away is Silk Dynasty-- a similar kind of place. This is where you load up on cheapie souvenirs and $5 diamond rings.

We headed forlunch at Sevva, the hottest new 'in' table in town, right there across the street from the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. This cafe, owned by Joyce Ma's sister Bonnie, reminds me of the old Joyce Cafe, for those Old China Hands among you. The restaurant is enormous, with wrap around terraces providing views of Hong Kong and the harbour. The style is glam boudoir, with petit sitting areas, cubby holes for more private dinning, stacks of art books, little tea tables, wrought iron candle-labra filled with votives and beautiful people everywhere.

Best of all was brunch-- I ordered French Toast Dai Pai Dong style. A dai pai dong is a street vendor with a cart, so this must be a popular street food that I have never dared to test. Between the two pieces of fried bread rested a layer of peanut satay sauce. It was all served with fresh butter and warm maple syrup and changed my life. I will try to re-create this for friends and family and I think surely Alain Ducasse.

After our meal, we fell into birthday celebration mode and a cake of green tea slathered in butter cream and meringue arrived at the table, with one candle and a pouf of hot pink cotton candy on top. It was not only a don't-miss-it-for-your-life experience, but the best argument ever on why we travel.

We ended up at Times Square, a mall beloved by teens in the Causeway Bay area of Honkers. We spent two hours prowling City Souper-- a gourmet grocery store that also sells health and beauty, novelty items, gifts and was pushing back to school items. I found a selection of 3M branded TM scotch tape dispensers in the shape of chocolate donuts (who could make this up?) and bought them as gifts to take home. The Shopping Detective never rests. Unfortunately, they were sold out of the chocolate scented tape that goes with it.

We had dinner with dear friends Glenn and Lucille Vessa of Honeychurch Antiques on Hollywood Road and only got there because some where in the back of my brain I remembered the address in Chinese. Years ago, Glenn taught me how to get there and once I saw our driver head off toward Kennedytown and way off base from where we needed to be, I knew I had to say something besides 'oops, wrong way, buddy.' I spoke Chinese, he understood me, and we were saved. Amen, brother.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Bags on Blogs

My visit to Ashneil in Hong Kong, oh my!

The View From Here

Kowloon Harbour is spread beneath me, somewhat gray and choppy, as I sit in the Club Lounge of the InterConti Hong Kong, watching for the first glint of diamonds on the water, of sun across on Central, illuminating the towers. Instead, I am content that there is no rain.

We woke yseterday to such a rain storm that I feared we would swim to North Point and never need find a ferry. But the day cleared up, dried up and offered a humidity of such richness that you could breathe deeply and know you were in Asia in August.

After a meeting with the magazine editors of Discovery Magazine, the inflight for Cathay Pacific, we went to Western and met up with the guys from Wah Tung. For those silly souls who do not know this brand, Wah Tung has been the kingpin in local procelains and dishes (and even lamps) on the scene here for over 100 years. They just closed their warehouses in Aberdeen (6 floors of overwhelming wonders) to open a brand new showroom in Western.

The new Wah Tung showroom is much more user friendly than the old one-- it's on one floor so you can see everything and remember what you saw, or go back to it. The showroom has various rooms with an organizational scheme, so there's a Blue & White room that will knock your socks off, a monochrome room that is especially big on celadon, and a room of smalls and gift items. When you walk in, you almost immediately see a table dressed with wonderful gift items-- all under $100 US.

As usual, they wrap for you to carry, they deliver to your hotel or they ship for you. The warehouse, as all warehouses should be, is in an industrial complex, so you need a tiny bit of brave to get here if you are a first timer.

You can call Wah Tung and they will send someone to escort you or pay for your taxi; the new showroom is conveniently located right at the mouth of the new Western Tunnel-- so it's directly across the harbour from theW Hotel, the site of the soon to be opened Ritz-Carlton Hotel and is just five minutes from the Four Seasons Hotel and IFC Tower & Mall. There is a map on the web You can also get here on a variety of buses, which is a fun adventure.

The china wares are mostly reproductions from famous antiquities and/or pieces seen in Sotheby's catalogues. There's vases, platters, bird cages, dishes and even plain white wares. In the past years, I've had lamps made and shipped, sent giant ginger jars to rest on my mantle at home and bought small jars to fill with bath salts as gift items for the luxury set. Expect to spend at least an hour here.

Then you can pop into a taxi, pop right through the Western Tunnel, and pop,pop, pop upstairs and into Ashneil, the most famous handbag guru of all Hong Kong, maybe China. What makes this man different from all others and why isn't he a fake, a fraud or a scholockmeister?

To begin with, his goods are all legal, no cheap fakes. Then there's the fact that they are made in Italy, not in China and made with high grade leather-- not fancy PVC meant to trick the eye or hand, as elsewhere. With the average drop-dead designer style being $1000 and upward in the US, Ashniel offers stunning choices beginning around $250 and going over $1,000 but usually more in the $350-550 range.

His latest trends are python and skins; ask him about 'pythons on botox', hot colors (I got a raspberry bag) and still the metallics. There's lotsa demand for Bottega woven styles, for soft, crushable leather, for linings made of buttersoft suede as well as evening bags in tubes with trick clasps.

The selection is so mind boggling you will think you are in heaven. Then you remember this is what Hong Kong is all about.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Breaking News

* Toenail #1 fell off two days after application, while still in U.S.
* Toenail #2 is going strong and has made it across the ocean and shows no signs of jetlag. It's possible this good luck is related to a new product I bought at Long's Drugs in Mill Valley, California where I bought a pair of Japanese bootie socks made of bamboo. They claim to be moisturizing.

Normally I wear French medical (you need a Rx for them and they cost about 100 euros but are made of chain mail) compression hose to keep the blood clots at bay, but decided that we all needed to know what moisturizing bamboo felt like. The answer? Slime. But nice slime.

I washed them out when we got to our hotel, the InterContinental Hong Kong, but they were not dry this morning-- so bamboo may not wick well. Who knew?

And so, we are off and,uh, limping:
* get SIM cards
* get directions to all errands written in Chinese
* send some of this downpour to Texas where we are having a drought
* find that new press-on eye shadow they're all talking about here

In short, another day at the office.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Shopping Detective Gets Nailed

This story begins in Provence in June. It is a true story, bien sur. I specialize in true stories.

So one fine day, I was routing around for something or another in the closet in my house in Provence and before you could translate your brain's reaction, an old fashioned, cast iron Singer Sewing Machine leapt off the top shelf, hit the floor and bounched onto my foot. Thankfully the force of the blow was muted in the bounce, or I might not be alive today. I limped away with a hysterical shriek.

Three weeks later, the toenail on my big toe on my left foot fell off. I was lucky my toes were not severed off and did understand that a new toenail would grow in within a few months. Furthermore, I saw the savings in being able to miss a few pedicures. Hey, times are hard, pedicures cost $28 where Ilive and that's without the tip.

Now I am off to Asia and unable to take sandals, which isn't the end of the world, but requires some changes to wardrobe. I thought about asking at Lady Nail May I Help You? if they could do a prosthetic toenail and pedicure, i thought about simply painting over the skin, I thought about world peace. I didn't feel that I needed to act on any of these issues.

This gets us to yesterday, a Saturday afternoon spent in my local WalMart where I needed to touch all the beauty products one last time before leaving the country for three week. And believe it or not, what I found there was a large business-- many brands, quite a selection-- in fake toenails!

Not only natural style toenails, but a variety of novelty nails, many in French formats be it a pink and white or the one I bought, with a hot pink band of color across the top. I bought the Diva, but noticed that Kiss also has their own line. I paid $5.79 for a kit with an orange stick, a tube of nail glue and a handful (excuse the expression) of toenails.

The directions say there are a variety of sizes, so you can make a match for a proper fit and that the glue job will last about a week if you bathe regularly. God only knows what the chlorine in the swimming pool will do. Probably curl my toes.

Nonetheless, I easily applied only the big toe on my partial big toenail and then gave myself a little pedicure with a bright berry pink Orly Razzle nail varnish. (Less $ than OPI; bought at Sally's, $4.99)

Because of the glue, I cannot carry-on the repair kit when I travel and will have to pack it. I just hope that when i take off my shoes at secruity, we don't have a toenail malfunction.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Truth About GiGi: The Shopping Detective

PARENTAL WARNING: The content of this blog is somewhat raunchy and is probably not suitable for children under the age of 13.

It seems like I have pink bubble gum in my crotch. Seems is the operative word here, because it is not really bubble gum, it just looks and feels like it. Today, with a silent sigh of 'Thank heavens for little girls' I applied a product called GiGi Creme Wax. The confessions are going to be, uh, sticky.

I do not have a lover. During my many years of living in France, a few times a year I plunked down 15 euros, and received what is called 'la piste' -- a bikini wax that left behind a landing strip. In Brazil they take it all off; in France, they leave you a little tuft or two. And the price is modest because this is a normal service. I am a high maintenance woman. I like a simple look, no matter what in takes to achieve it.

In the U.S., I have been paying $35 for the wax and then $5 tip for a similar wax-on-wax-off. So now, as I head to Asia in August, where I promise to wear a bathing suit and swim laps every day, I decided it was time to try this myself...and save money. If the U.S. government is giving cash for clunkers, I figured the times were ripe to some work on the chassis.

I went to Sally's, I spent a half hour studying the products and, with tips from other women ringing in my brain, I bought products that most resembled the ones I was used to in France and here in Texas. There was a kit of microwave wax and assorted other sample sized products that screamed 'try me'. For $18, I calculated the savings and dove in-- which does not, I repeat not, make me a muff diver.

This morning was the day, so I used a magnifying glass to read the little brochure, I examined all the little products and thought them odd-- concealer for your crotch? Excuse me? I zapped the Bazooka pink goop in my microwave and then I slathered it on. The first rip was not painful enough nor fruitful enough. I zapped the wax to a creamier consistency, more like yoghurt.

I attempted three different depilatory actions on three diverse portions of a very small area. I was more interested in the top than the sides, and I was terrified of serious consequences if there were any dripping or smudging on the sides, so I stayed in the valley of the V in my upper thighs.

Since I do not care to be too graphic, nor have I looked up the word hematoma in my medical dictionary, I will spare you a description of the immediate results and the dime sized purple splatters of veins or skin or bruisemarks.

There was some wax removal creme in the kit; I applied it. Not much improvement. I took a shower and ruined two brand new, expensive kind of razors -- totally clogged 'em with bubble gum. I got out of the shower, didn't dare dry off as I feared towel fuzz would add to the density of the remaining forest, and went directly for nail polish remover.

Unfortunately, I do not have acetone as is easily acquired in Europe and would surely have solved the problem. Nail polish remover just managed to ruin my manicure (another $20 down the tubes... so the speak)and get some of the bubble gum smeared around more evenly. An attack with a petite pair of scissors did not help enormously.

Then I had to choose a pair of knickers that I could abandon or cut away from me if needed and a pair of teflon lined jeans. We won't even discuss the still-burning sensation of have from the acetone that got away.

I happened to be watching The View last week, when one of the hosts, Sherry, went for a wax and was shocked to find she had been booked for a Brazilian. "I'm a grown woman" she kept screaming, "and I look like a little girl now."

God knows I remember how I longed to have pubic hair; how proud I was when it finally burst onto the scene. Now I spend a lot of time and money trying to get rid of it or tame it. I know that some women actually have laser removal, but I know that is dumb. I had a total Brazilian once and all I can say is there are places that Botox cannot go and middle aged women do not want to be bald, if they can help it.

So here it is, Sunday afternoon. I know another journalist in San Antonio, she goes by the name Heloise, although the original Heloise was her mother. I'm wondering if I can call her and see if she has any helpful hints for this problem.