Saturday, August 28, 2010

Bangkok Bangles

Hi Suze,

Imitation may be the most sincere form of flattery, but I doubt that our friend, jewelry designer Matt Laurenza, is pleased. "Inspirations" of his beautiful bracelets are available in markets and malls all over Bangkok.

To be fair, these copies can't begin to compete with the real thing. Upon close examination, most are cheaply made and the stones don't have the bling of the sapphires and precious stones used by Matt.

Take a look at the photos... Bracelet number one, with gold plating, was displayed in the window of a fancy jewelry shop in an upscale mall. It was very expensive (close to $900) and as far as I know, Matt doesn't use gold. I found the second one in a discount clothing store. It was offered to me at a "special discount of 50%", which brought the cash price down to about $58.

I also found very cheap imitations on the 5th floor of the Platinum Fashion Mall (next to Panthip Plaza) for 450 Thai baht, or about $12. When I tried to photograph these beauties, I was asked to put my camera away!

MCL Design jewelry is available at Lane Crawford in Hong Kong, and at Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman in the US.

with hugs,

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Bug Balms in Bangkok

Hey Suze,

I hope your flight from Honkers to San Francisco was, uh, a "breeze" and that you're now safely home in Paso with Tof and Junior. Please give the boys big hugs and tell them that I miss them!

After saying "fly safe" to you at HKG, I boarded a quick AirAsia flight to Bangkok and arrived at the Peninsula Hotel mid-afternoon. My dinner date with Chef Philip and Kunchalee was set for 7:30 at the Pen's riverside Thiptara, so I had time for a quick trip to Watsons (the Hong Kong chain of chemists). I was on a mission - to find mosquito repellent.

Do you remember the outdoor dinner we had in Chiang Mai a couple of years ago? The one where we feasted on Thai curry while the mosquitos munched on our legs? Hoping to avoid a similar situation without being obvious, I bought two anti-bite products. I knew the black rubber bracelet would look chic with my Matt Laurenza bracelet, and the green skin patches would be hidden by my dress.

Little did I know how potent these products were... When I got into the elevator on the 32nd floor to go down to dinner, the other occupants gave me dirty looks and started sneezing! By the time I arrived at the table, I was tipsy from the smell and my arm was starting to itch, so I ripped the bracelet off and placed it discreetly on the ground.

As it turned out, there was no need for precaution. There are (scent free!) anti-mosquito devices hidden in the folliage around the restaurant. Our Thai dinner was fabulous and bug-free.

More soon,

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Stanley Revisited

Old China Hands will remember when the fishing village of Stanley was fun to shop and actually had bargains. It's so touristy now that Haagen Dazs ice cream cones cost $5 USD for one scoop and the international tongues we overheard went from French to German to Hebrew in a matter of seconds.

Things are cleaner and brighter and wider and more costly than ever before; weekend crowds are hard to bear. IT was interesting to see how many families were out and what fun teenagers seemed to be having. They were not born to shop and will have to be taught.

Our favorite store there is still Sun-Moon, a jobber where we always buy Tommy Bahama overruns-- a men's silk sirt costs $15. The taxi there was another $15 each way and the ice cream was $5 each so the shirt really cost $50, just about what it would cost at a real Tommy Bahama store.

Wan Chai

Tragedy in the Lanes

We returned to Hong Kong after a delay in Manila but an easy-breezy flight on Philippine Air in a big 747. Manil really is the perfect weekend getaway from Hong Kong, although our stay was us a final weekend in Honkers.

The Conrad Hotel was waiting, a luxury reminder of why we love this brand and how good it is to have a view of the harbour from this side of Hong Kong and still be perched on top of a shopping mall (Pacific Place).

The glories of shopping Central beckoned our notebooks, so we set off for Shanghai Tang and Blanc de Chine on Pedder Street (both still great) and then headed to The Lanes to checkout Sam Wo, a handbag broker (so to speak). Alas, Sam has moved from his basement shop up to the 6th floor (room 601) of the building above and frankly, he should have waste his, or our, time. It was pathetic. Old fans of this store may consider a good weep.

Further down the Lane used to be a shop called Ribbon Company that sold junky Chinese souvenirs at everyday low prices. They have either changed their name or been bought out by Elegant Tang, but the stores are in the same locations and much the same.

The Lanes are much changed over the past years (as is all of HKG) and have little charm left.

Lunch in the Time of Peninsula

For our final lunch in Manila, we decided to return to Spices retaurant at the Peninsula Hotel in Makati City where pan-Asian food is served and where we had our first meal in Manila and were knocked out by the glamour and the flavors.

We still haven't learned too much about the local dishes, but we are very happy with Thai and Viet Nam dishes that we already know and love and which are available on many cartes in assorted restaurants around town-- Spices in jsut one of the it is built in the round with a koi pond surrounding the glassed-in pagoda eatery and a view outwards to the plush landscape.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

RIIR and the New Creativity

Perhaps the most amazing thing about shopping in Manila is the out-there all price ranges. Accessories are especially works of art, but the growing fashion business here is using local materials and going every which way, especially in the fiber arts.

One of my favorite new discoveries is a brand called RIIR, meaning r to r or rags to riches. This lind of accessories is made by street people and sold for their benefit. I loaded up on several different sizes of zip pouches made from potholder worms for $5-10 each. I bought in solid colors, but there were some multi-color combos, just like the potholders we made when we were ten years old.

I then bought some hemp pouches in the market at the Mall at Green Hills, for about $2 each-- these in plaids that would co-ordiante with the potholder weaves to make charming gift sets.

Memo to Mrs. Marcos

Dear Imelda

Perhaps you do not remember me, it was about thirty years ago that we met and you knew me as Suzy Kalter when you tried to bribe me. Well, perhaps bribe is too strong a word. It was 1980 when you offered me a first class ticket to come to Manila to judge a fashion show. I know, I know, it wasn't me, it was the fact that I worked at People Magazine and you thought you could buy a little extra favor or status for your usband's regime and your fashion shows. Alas, I was not tempted then and it took me this long to realize I needed to come shopping in Manila.

In doing so, I have new empathy for you and am so sorry at the way the world has treated you and sneered at your shoe collection. Having been here for three days and been to countless stores and malls, I understand that Philippines has amazing accessories and that you were probably just doing your patriotic duty to buy from everyone.

Surely I have never seen so many shoes and bags. In fact, there's a Shoe Mall. There are cheapie brands; there are3 expensive brands. There are handbags that are so important you want to salute. This is a ocuntry made for accessories and history has misunderstood you, old friend.

I do wonder how many handbags you had in those famous closets; frankly, I find the handbags totally irresitable. One store in Greenbelt 5, Celestina, has the most incredible croc, shagreen and antique bags, clutches and purses that you could weep from their spector. Or pray. Yeah, that's your mottot, eat, pray, shop...I get it!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Dinner in the Bag

Having moved to the InterConti Hotle in Philippines, we are now in a more commercial district of Makati City, the high end enclave of Manila. Down the carpark from our hotel sits an arcade of local fast food eateries. When we passed by yesterday, enroute to Rustan's the Saks Fifth Avenue of Manila, we looked into the windows and got greedy with desire. For dinner last night, Sarah headed out to the Noodle Shop North Park for take-out. You can also dial 73737 for delivery.

When Sarah returned to the room, she was carrying a flat box so I thought she had decided on pizza instead of noodles. Nope! The noodles are sold dry and laid out flat in a logo-encrusted pizza box. You crumble them up, or pour over, the sauce and then add an assortment of spices to taste. Here in our swanky hotel, we did not have the dishes for serving, so Sarah drumbled and dunked.

I spent the meal digging my chopsticks into a tub of garlic rice, my new favorite dish here in Manila. The garlic rice at The Pen was the best ever, but this was OK. Dinner cost about $18 and consisted of noodles and sauce, rice, a tub of spare ribs and a tub of sesame garlic fried chicken parts.

There were many items on the menu that we did not recognize; Tagalog not being one of my ten languages. Alas, we have no idea what Bola Bola Siopao is or even ried Savory Taho Squares.

Although I do take Ambien to sleep when I am on the road, I clearly remember getting up in the middle of the night to finish the rice.

Hallelujah! Glorietta!

We've had to give up our beloved Peninsula Hotel int he name of our work but tumbled into the just as beloved InterContinental, also in Makati City. Across the street, we have all five of the Glorietta Malls, including a Krsipy Kreme, Auntie Anne's, Marks & Spencer, Debenhams, several local department stores, and the local version of Borders, called National Book City ...and so much more.

The gem of the area is the department store Rustan's, which I would liken to Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman-Marcus or maybe Barney's. Especially important is the 4th floor with its home style as well as its corner nook for local fashions, most of them made from the national fibers and many looking as if they were created by the Issey Miyake line Pleats, Please.

Greenbelt in Shopping

We have explored Makati City's Greenbelt series of shopping malls and find ourselves blown away. Very often women tell me they have earned a black belt in shopping; none has ever mentioned a green belt.

The Green Belt of Makati City is an artificial park laid through the center and surrounded by small fancy malls, each with a number. Greenbelt 5 is the most chic, but Greenbelt 4 houses Hermes and plenty of big name designers, so it is right up there in the fancy-smancy department. The attitude seems to start as you get into the higher numbers, Greenbelt 1 is actually the beginning of the complex and consists of the five-part Glorietta Mall. This is decidedly real-people with a branch of Marks & Spencer and Krispy Kreme.

The InterContinental Hotel-- the first hotel built in Makati City -- is located across the street from the Glorietta buildings as well as the famous Rustan department store and its separate Fresh! Supermarket. There's also a National Book Store in the area, various fast food joints (as mentioned in another blog entry), the SM department store (Attention Walmart Shoppers) and a bevy of the exact same stores you will find in Greenbelt 5. The difference, besides a few miles, is that Greenbelt 5 is extremely fancy. Even the M&S there seems like a different store from the branch at Glorietta.

Greenbelt 5 is closer to The Peninsula end of the Makati City area and also close to the Shangri-La, another luxury 5-star hotel. Most of the hotels have free shuttle buses that make the circuit. Shoppers note: shuttles usually begin at 10:30 AM and run every two hours. Stores do not open until 11AM in most cases.

The Green Belt itself is a meandering park with its own chapel and various art works. Cafes edge the park and sidle up to the malls; there's not only Starbucks for coffee drinkers, but several local coffee brews.

Greenbelt 5 hosts an entire floor (2F) of local designers; jsut go from store to store to see the most amazing fashion and accessories at everyday low prices. Sarah and I each bought handbags for under $100 a piece-- very chic handbags. Mine is glazed golden linen with embroidered beads and Sarah's is navy rattan with navy leather trim.

If you feel you cannot walk between the various malls, you can take a taxi from any of the luxury hotels here, it costs about $1 to be dropped at the Greenbelt of your choice. You just have to make sure you know how to get there. Our last taxi driver said he knew where the Greenbelt was, but not where the various numbers began or ended. Sheesh!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Manila Vanilla

I went to Douglas MacArthur High School in San Antonio, Texas...this is perhaps the only explanation I have for making a trip to Manila. I am not returned; I am a first-timer, so read my lips: OMG.

Arrived late last night and fell into our beds at The Pen, what a crazy travel day from Shenzhen to Hong Kong and then to Manila. Woke up with the notion of heading to one of the fancy districts for shopping but suddenly got the inspiration to go to the Green Hills Mall, about 30 minutes from the swank of Makati Ctiy (where The Pen and all other luxury hotels are located) and past much urban sprawl, beyond the second largest mall in Asia (that's for tomorrow) and right into a most amazing shopping destination.

After a quick tour of the shoe portion of the mall (after all, this is Manila) we headed into the main hall which is half junky fakes' dealers and half jewelry mart with an emphasis on South Sea Pearls. Sarah went mad with yearning for pearls, while I turned my attention to jewel encrusted headbands for $5 each...I hope I didn't overpay!

There was more Harajuku Lovers merchandise, just as in Shenzhen, but some of it in different patterns. I couldn't live without one more addition to my collection but endured serious and rugged bargaining to get the price from $15 to $10.

Most of the fakes looked, uh, fake, but the jewelery was sensational. Behind these alleys of shopping strips, there was a local handicrafts market, a department of Our Lady religious souvenirs (this appears to be a very religious country) and then an electronics and appliances showroom, for washer-dryer, fridge, large screen TV, etc. Surely there were people selling DVDs, but I never heard them singing.

But then, it's only lunch time.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

On the Go with Van Gogh

Although I kept saying we were off to Darfur, what I really meant was Dafen, the village of artists that is so famous that television series have been filmed to document the phenom and I have been dreaming of my own version of the Mona Lisa with my face painted into it. Hey, don't laugh, you can be in the Last Supper, you can have your dog in a Warhol pose, or perhaps even Lichenstein with cartoon bubble speak.

Dafen (say Dah-fen) is a suburb of Shenzhen, not a quaint little Chinese fishing village filled with thatched huts or anything else dreamy that you are imagining. You get there on highways; you pass a few greenbelts, but mostly there is urban sprawl -- the New China. Now here's the really cute part: our driver mistakenly took us to the wrong part and so we ended up with some insider wholesale places before he came running after us, waving arms and barking in Chinese, tugging at our arms to retreat to his waiting taxi. We thought perhaps he had run into a 'cousin' with a great deal for us, but in fact, he took us to what was, we immediately realized, the village we were seeking.

Dafen art village is behind a Checkpoint Charlie kind of barrier, but its arm is a hand holding a paint brush. The village is very Greenwich Village 1970's and cute, with Chinese high rises towering behind. There are coffee houses and bistrots and little lanes, all chockablock with stalls and shops selling orginal art, resin sculptures, calligraphy, antiquities as if from Xi'an, painted koi in ponds on oil and more Van Gogh that even a madman would imagine. The only thing missing is Elvis on velvet.

This Band of USB

We have been to the electronics malls in Shenzhen before, so we were looking forward to another visit with much anticipation. My son Aaron needed a Christmas gift, and maybe a birthday gift as well, and I always like to see what's ticking, even if I can't figure out how it works...or what to press.

Low Down on Lo Wu

To many foreign visitors to Hong Kong, Shezhen means Lowu Commercial Center, a mall of elaborate stalls selling fake everything. While Sarah and I have learned there is a lot more to Shenzhen than the Lowu border crossing and this tacky mall, we still have to pay our respects.

We now cross into China at Lok Ma Chau, a gorgeous new border crossing and taxi to our hotel. We began this journey at the Ritz-Carlton in Futian Fiancial District. After unloading in our gorgeous suite, we fled luxury for the down and dirty. We've learned to make many visits to Lowu rather than try to tackle it in one day, so we headed out for Visit Number One, with our Parisian bought fabrics in hand to find our regular tailor and see what was new in the world of copyright infringement.

Tomorrow we will head back, but our number one taught us this much:
* Cath Kidston is the new Louis Vuitton;
* Harajuku Lovers is hotter than chili powder;
* Chanel resin watches are hidden in the ceiling and cost $20 each. Who cares if they keep time?


OK, so we're upgraded to a suite in the Peninsula Hotel in Kowloon, and there,on the desk, is this little card that says that people who book suites get three free hours in the hotel's new Mini Cooper Stretch to go shopping. Did someone say shopping?

The Pen, of course, is famous for their Rolls Royce fleet, painted a deep hunter green that is now known as Peninsula Green. The custom minis are the same green,fitted inside and out with custom details and Rolls cognac leather interiors and a stretched frame to fit you and your shopping and a friend or two.

Along with the car, comes the use of an iPhone which is already programmed to the driver, the hotel and the hotel concierge. You jsut push or slide the button bar and voila, someone is there to help you. Our driver, Philip, waited for us and even walked us up hills and around Central and Hollywood Road as we did the town and the tunnels up proud. We asked him to drive us to Paris, but alas...

The minis were unveiled in Honkers this year and will soon launch in the US as well as other Asian cities. While the luxury group will open a hotel in Paris in 2012, the driver still couldnt figure out how to get us there from here. Oh well.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Sarah hits the Streets of Honkers

Born to Shop Editorial Director Sarah Lahey got to Hong Kong several days ahead of me, having not injured her L4-5 vertabrae in the process. She tested new hotels, went to some outlets and had a wild time in the name of a serious research trip, leaving me this note on the pillow when I arrived, three days later:

Welcome Home to Honkers, Suze

What a trip so far! As you know, one of my travel tricks when flying home from Bangkok (always on that 6am United flight through Tokyo) is to book my final night at the BKK Novotel Hotel. It's five minutes from the terminal and has a frequent shuttle right to United's check-in counter. It's also a fab 4star hotel, with secret ties to the Peninsula Group.

Since you weren't meeting me for a couple days, I decided to give the Novotel Citygate hotel in HKG a try, this one five minutes from the international arrivals gate at HKG. Not only was it covenient to Hong Kong's airport, but the Citygate outlet mall, (Hong Kong's only outlet center) begins just off the Novotel lobby. My flight arrived in the evening, so I hobbled off the plane, onto the hotel shuttle bus and was in my bed, dreaming of the next days' outlet adventures within an hour of touchdown.

After a great sleep and even better buffet breakfast, I headed straight to the shops. It was late Sunday morning and the mall was in full swing. Little did I know that this outlet center is a weekend destination for Hong Kong's young trendy fashionistas and families. It was mobbed! I began to weave through the shoppers, and decided that while there were bargains to be found, Sunday wasn't the day to do it.

Most of the clothing was small; US sizes 0, 2 and 4 were the norm, but I did find larger sizes in the two Max Mara outlets. The Aerosoles shoe store had current styles for about the same price as in the US.

The problem was that all the shops were crowded and jetlag was making me grouchy, so I had no patience for waiting around for a fitting room, or standing in a queue of 10 or so people to pay. Exhausted, I headed to the lower level to Taste, the big upmarket and of-the-moment-chic supermarket. This was where I bought my Sunday dinner - sliced roast duck, French cheese, fruit and a baguette - all for about US$13.

I went back to the hotel, packed up my bag and picnic and transfered to the Novotel Nathan Road in glorious downtown Mong Kok, on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong. It's a boutique hotel, much smaller than the large stay-and-fly hotels, and the location is perfect for shopping Kowloon. It's a five minute walk to the Jade Market, five minutes to the Temple Street Market, and five minutes to the Jordan MTR.

Now that I was in the Heart of Hong, I had the brilliant idea to leave town. That's right, I decided to hop on the MTR to return to the Citygate outlets on Monday morning. I felt I hadn't given it a fair shot on my first visit, as the crowds and jetlag made me crazy. I'm so glad I did. Weekdays are the way to do this mall.

My second visit to the mall was fun, successful and easy;it was a 25 minute ride from the Jordan station on the MTR to Citygate station which is located right in the middle of the outlet center.

The Citygate complex –more than 90 shops in all-- is the first and only outlet mall in Hong Kong, where most shops offer discounts of 30 – 70%. The mix includes international big names such as Burberry, Escada, DVF, Kate Spade and Bally. There's Mango and Pedder Warehouse, a local firm that sells mostly catch me if you can shoes and bags. I found great prices on last years' bags at Lancel.

If you like American style malls, this one won't disappoint. Having just traveled to Europe to visit the stunning Chic Shopping Outlet villages in Barcelona, Brussels and Paris, it was difficult and unfair to compare the two styles of shopping.. I was disappointed that I didn't find more clothing in larger sizes (for big gals, like me)at Citygate, but afterall, this is an Asian market. All said, however, I'd go back to Citygate. Combined with a convenient first or last night at the airport Novotel, it's a good bet.

Head to the E-spa and meet me for tea in the lobby of The Pen,
love, Sarah

First Class Flyer

So here we are in our suite of the glorious Peninsula Hotel in Kowloon, watching the sun dance like diamonds across the Harbour and desperately trying to figure out how to pack for todays adventure into the PRC-- four nights in Shenzhen followed by four more nights in Manila.

I'm not at all certain how I got here. Something about taking the bus to SFO, asking for an upgrade to business class, being laughed at and settling into my extended economy seat 22K with the good luck of an empty seat next to me. I attempted to inflate my brand new First Class Sleeper device, but failed miserably -- perhaps Vicodin takes your breathe away. Found a giant hunk of football player sized guy in the row ahead of me, dreamed of an episode of House wherein the germs are passed by him blowing on my gasket and asked him for a blow job, so to speak.

I told him not to go all the way, but he did anyway and the giant life raft of a contraption could not fit into the seat along with a perosn, or even a mouse. I let out some air (hey that' wasn't me!) and tried again-- still too bulky. After take off and a few magazine and clicks of the Kindle, i wedged the First Class Sleeper into the space between my body and the window (I always book a window seat for long haul) and slept blissfully for ten hours. The gizzie worked as a shelf for my head and kept me level and comfy. It was worth the $29 after all; bought on with free delivery to my home (not the airport).

Was meet at the gate in Honkers by my wheelchair attendant as well as a golf cart from the Peninsula Hotel. They didn't even know I was wounded, they do this for all their guests! Went through a separate, private line at immigration, a red coat got my bags and I was rolled into my waiting Rolls. Pas mal, as we say at home. Now that's first class.