Monday, December 31, 2007

Manhattan, Meh

I'd always loved New York. All the museums, bars, and restaurants in Manhattan. Its diverse population. Even the attitude. Every time I went I fell a little more in love and dreamed about relocating there someday.

But this extended trip changed my view.

It was cold but not cold enough. Rainy but didn't snow. Crowded and lit but not festive. "Sale sale" everywhere but I didn't want to buy. It felt harsh and rushed and you could see the weathered look in people's faces.

The travel to and from was also a drag, especially the inbound flight. I thought I'd boarded Day Care Central - so many screaming, crying babies on the plane that I had to throw my coat over my head to block out it all.

Things started looking up as soon as I landed in San Francisco, however. On the drive home, the Sun was shining, no traffic on the freeway, air was cool and crisp - we're called the Golden State for a reason!

For once, I'm deeply grateful I live in San Francisco and not New York. This feels like, and IS, home.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Se7en Deadly Sins

Lust. Envy. Greed. Sloth. Wrath. Pride. And gluttony.

All names of martinis at the Fifty-Seven Fifty-Seven bar at the Four Seasons Hotel in midtown Manhattan (address: 57 E. 57th Street). True to their names, Lust is made of strawberries and champagne; Envy of green tea liquor; Greed with chocolate, and so on.

The bar scene isn't much to lust after, but still, the place feels classier than the W, and more modern than the Waldorf.

Does I, Lucifer come to mind, anyone? Ah, but I think in the book he was at the Ritz Carlton in London.

Sent from my iPhone


Didn't think these words would ever leave my lips - but I'm tired of New York. After ten days, the honeymoon is over, and I can't wait to head back to San Francisco.

Why? I'll elaborate tomorrow. Eyelids getting heavy....

Sent from my iPhone

Friday, December 28, 2007

Word, Play

NoLita and Greenwich Village both have some clever store names.

Rice to Riches sells nothing but different flavors of rice pudding with fancy toppings, and that, in fashion/figure-conscious Manhattan could be.... well, treading on thin ice. So what do they do? Their brilliant marketing minds have come up with catchy phrases and hung them around the store.

"Eat all you want. You're already fat anyway."

"The calories you consume here are yours to keep."

"We have an agreement with the bank. They don't make rice pudding, and we don't cash checks." ;)

Another phenonmennon worth mentioning is Pinkberry, who attracts long lines with its slightly tart plain yogurt and a ton of healthy topping selections. They have multiple locations in Manhattan - do yourself a favor, avoid the one on 32nd Street. It's unbelievably long. You'd think they're handing out free shares of Apple stock!

Pinkberry does face competition, in the form of Red Mango, who's opened up shop on Bleecker Street, and received rave reviews on Yelp. I had some from both places yesterday. Honestly, I couldn't tell the difference in taste. The girl at Red Mango was friendlier, though.

The entire Bleecker Street was a friendly place. If you took Fillmore and Haight from San Francisco and meshed them together, you'd get Bleecker Street in Manhattan. It has some reasonably price boutiques, and LOTS of Jazz bars and pizza joints, where you can get a slice for $3 (and I did). Their best Jazz bar in my opinion? Zinc Bar. Not in the mood for the blues from Terra Blues, and the atmosphere was definitely different - more tourist-sy, less intimate.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

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Frédéric Malle

Chatted at length with a sales person at the Frédéric Malle counter in Barnes New York. They claim to have enlisted the world's best noses to create perfumes with "no limitations". Translation? The perfumers had the liberty to pursue their "perfect" perfume, using whatever ingredients they desired.

"What do you mean? Isn't that how they normally work?"

"No," he explained. "Typically the idea of a new perfume would come from marketing. They decide who they'd like to target, the ideal demographic for the new product, the image they want to project, the appropriate spokesperson, and the price point, etc. It also cannot outshine what's already in the series - to keep an even playing field. The perfumer only becomes involved after the numbers have been crunched, and they must work within the set parameters. In a couple months, they whip up a dozen or so trials in tubes, and the company chooses which one they want to sell."

"At Frédéric Malle, however, we said the sky's the limit. The cost of ingredients is no object. Some of these took more than 600 trials and over two years to create."

I was particularly taken by the Lipstick Rose, courtsey of Ralf Schwieger, which reminded me of my mother's Chanel lipstick from when I was a kid. The whiff of the lipstick as she applied it before going out. Flashbacks. Chanel lipsticks don't smell powdery anymore, but I did save an empty tube or two from a few years ago simply because they did smell like that, the aura of old school, grown-up glamour.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Not quite. But a trickle would be nice.

Question - how would you even know if the Google Ads on your blog are making you any money at all? Go to

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The English

Atonement was one of the best films I've seen in 2007. Not one to be moved by another great-love-lost story, I found myself teary-eyed at the end nonetheless. Not because of the romance, but because of the guilt, and the chance and hopes denied. It's the what-ifs that we can't live with; the aspirations and anticipations we can't live without.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum sits the British TV Series the IT Crowd, wackier and edgier than its "predecessor", the Office. Word to the wise: don't watch the episodes on your iPod on a flight. They'll definitely make you laugh out loud and get you inquisitive looks - that is, if you manage to peel your eyes off of the screen long enough to notice. :)

Their food might make any diet entirely voluntary - "No, thank you, I'm full, really." - but the Brits certainly bring a healthy dose of sense of humor to the table, not to mention their command of the, well, English language (now THAT's a weird statement. Did I just write that?)

You just gotta love them!

View from Chelsea

My friend from college, L, is visiting NYC for the first time. Having grown up in Stockholm and spent the last few years in Tokyo and Vancouver, he appreciates the international flair of New York, and especially likes the Chelsea District, where we saw the movie Atonement this afternoon, and lounged around at a coffee shop.

The Chelsea Piers leading up to the Meatpacking District, however, felt deserted, and I missed the Embarcadero in San Francisco, where it's far warmer and more alive with shops, bars, restaurants, and crowds.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Je ne sais quoi....

I've said I love La Maison Du Chocolat, who originated from Paris, and also has locations in New York and Tokyo. A visit to their store is a must whenever I'm in NYC. Chatted with the sales woman as I ordered my usual - bittersweet dark hot chocolate - as she shattered my hopes with the statement that they'd never open up shop in San Fran. "Never? Why not?" "Because we enjoy the exclusivity," she said apologetically, but with subtle pride.

Hmm. Je ne sais quoi - there's something I like about it, despite the fact that it saddens me.

In parallel, perhaps there are certain things in life we should be exclusive and choosy about - what we read, watch, digest (both literally and figuratively); who we spend time with; WHAT we spend time doing; what occupies our minds. After all, our days are numbered, and each single moment counts, as we can never get it back.

On the Brink

"If I had my way, if I was lucky enough, if I could be on the brink my entire life, that great sense of expectation and excitement without the disappointment, that would be the perfect state."

- Cate Blanchett

Edge of your seat. Holding your breath. I like that.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Zinc Bar

I knew I came to the right place when the Brazilian Jazz seeped through the door as I descended down the stairs to the basement at the corner of LaGuardia Place and W. Houston Street.

Velvet curtains. Low ceiling. Dimmed lighting. A live band enthused in the corner of the tiny bar. A pianist, a vocalist, a bass guitarist, a drummer, and a saxphone player completed the set. Brazilian Bossa Jazz is rhythmic and care-free. You naturally get into the groove - it simply draws you in.

It's two-thirds full. A full bar lined with stools, and seven tiny little tables right across. If you manage to squeeze through the narrow walkway between the bar stools and the tiny tables, it'll lead you to the back room with half-empty private booths, where you can still hear the music, but can't see the live band.

This is a place to listen and be heard but not to see and be seen. It doesn't matter how you dress - no one can see the details anyway.

The band members are thoroughly approachable - in fact, they talked to me during the break. Lovely performance. You know they enjoy their art, which makes you enjoy their art even more.

Interested? Check out Miho Nobuzane's (the pianist) album. They also performed Aqua De Beber, of which Sophie Milman delivers a soulful rendition. Enjoy!

Also - tip from a fellow patron - check out the speak-easy at PDT (Please Don't Tell). ;)

Walking The Grid

In New York. Walked along 3rd Ave. this afternoon, all the way from 52nd Street to 90th - then crossed over to Lexington and backtracked. No agenda, no plan, just free roaming. The almost 40 blocks are peppered with shops shops and shops, of course, but only these caught my eye:
  • Barber shops - they still call them that? It's almost endearing.
  • Two puppy stores - miniature shih tzus selling at a whopping $2,500 each. Errr....ever notice there are equally great puppies you can adopt at the shelter for $60? Grrrr.
  • Bar and Books - cute concept. Too bad they were closed. I peeked in - it's an old-fashioned bar with leather armchairs throughout and bookshelves adorned with heavy hardcovers. Must....go....back.
  • Lorenzo and Maria's Kitchen - gave me flashbacks of Paris. Fancy window display for a cute neighborhood European-style deli. They're on 3rd Ave. between 80th and 81st. Didn't buy anything there this time 'cause I wasn't hungry, but their salad, fish, and sweets all looked heavenly. Plus, they'll be open even on the 24th, so I'm definitely going back.
  • Fig and Olive - they set the bar up high, but only literally. The limited wine selection leaves much to be desired. Sipped a glass of syrah while watching an episode of the British TV series the IT Crowd (thanks Jan!) on my iPod Touch. I just love appreciate the Brits' dry sense of humor - so much better than, say, There's Something About Mary.

Gotta relax now and then get ready a jazz bar tonight. Zinc Bar, Birdland, or the Village Vanguard? Hmm....decisions, decisions.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Merry Christmas

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas....

No, really, I am. I'm going to spend it in New York. Which, to a Californian who grew up in Beijing, with an unfortunate pitstop in Texas, feels like homecoming.

This has been an eventful, wonderful year. Summer trip to Europe. Successful jaw surgery. Satisfying new job with smart, friendly colleagues. Moving in with a man that I love - no, not THAT - one of my closest friends who happens to be gay, that is.

It's not all peachy, of course. Some health woes (not related to the jaw surgery). A break up. Nothing devastating, though. Which makes me think - a break up that isn't devastating is perhaps in itself devastating. Know what I mean? After all, I want something that MATTERS - don't you?

All in all, a wonderful year. It feels good to be comfortable in my own skin, with my own choices in life - and, dare I say, MORE than just feeling comfortable - but actually thriving.... and loving every minute of it, for the good AND the bad.

Christmas is still two weeks away - but for the first time, I feel ready.... and ahead of the game. Presents purchased and wrapped. Cards mailed. You can say the holidays have been tinted by commercialization, but I rather enjoy the spirit of the season: the warm and fuzzy, the giving, the gratitude and the thoughtfulness of it all.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Brandy's Beautiful Smile

Congratulations to Brandy on her beautiful new smile! Finally braces-free! :)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

One Is No Longer the Loneliest Number

A friend of mine told me that survey says the number one fear is the fear of traveling alone - it even tops the fear of public speaking.

My ears burn and cheeks flush if I have to speak to a large audience. It makes me anxious. In fact, I'm already stressing out about having to present at our company sales training in January - and it's more than a month away!

Traveling alone, however, is something I enjoy thoroughly. But it does have its inconveniences - not being able to share the cost of hotel stays, for example, is one of them. A New York Times article today perked me up - apparently, the travel industry has taken notice and expanded their offers to attract more solo flyers. Now THAT's good news.

I should also add that the comments are much more interesting than the article itself. I'd like to meet all the solo travelers out there! :)

Added on December 6, 2007:

Thanks for your comment, Bill. :) Nairobi, Kenya is definitely the most unusual. I'm not sure I'd even brave a visit, not to mention LIVE there. But like you said, people fear the unknown and the unfamiliar.

Here's my comment on the NYT article:

"It's so nice to read through the comments here and find people who are as addicted to traveling alone as I am. Some find it intimidating, but for this group it's an absolutely freeing and elevating experience. To be on your own, navigating through a new city or country, do whatever your heart desires, and make no comproises.

I had the best experiences in Sydney, London, and Kyoto. I agree with what most of you said here, that booking independently allows you more freedom AND saves you money. We have the Internet now - just go to the travel sites and start comparison shopping. Alternatively, if you have impromptu change of plans, get help from the local tourist information center. Those guys helped me get last-minute hotel rooms in Venice, Brussels, and Amsterdam, all for very reasonable prices.

The adventure, the risk, the uncertainty, and the chance meetings are all part of the allure. It's nice to have the option of pairing up with other solo travelers.... but those elements ARE the core of traveling alone. That's what makes it addictive.

— Kristen, San Francisco, California"

Christmas Party!

Christmas party 2006 Vs. Christmas party 2007.

The photo on the left was taken in January 2007, days before my jaw surgery. The braces had worsened my bite - re-positioning my teeth so that they would meet optimally right after surgery.

If I had to do it all over again, I would, in a heartbeat. Despite the cost, the pain, and the long wait. It's absolutely worth it to get a "normal" bite.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The Shopping Diet

A friend of mine told me about the "shopping diet". No, you don't lose weight as a result. You lose the clutter and save money instead. How?

The shopping diet means you refrain from buying anything that will take up space. Food is, of course, allowed.

As I scramble to load up on crap for Christmas, the shopping diet has started to sound better and better. In the past month alone I've bought:
  • A pair of earrings
  • A necklace
  • A cashmere blanket
  • A cocktail dress
  • Two DVDs
  • A goose-down puffer jacket
  • Two candles
  • A jar of lotion
  • Two lip glosses
  • A jacket

Sure, some are gifts. But the rest ARE for me. Now looking back, I'm thinking - wait a minute! Life was good BEFORE I bought these things, and it's no better AFTER. Why did I buy these? Grrrrr.

How can you go far if you don't travel light?

Got you thinking? Read about someone who did go on the shopping diet, for 365 days. Maybe I'll follow in her footsteps.

Why bad kissers don't get to second base

This CNN article overanalyzes what we already know: a bad kiss can be a deal-breaker. Forget how to "improve your kiss". Good kissers are natural born, not made! ;)