Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Japan and Taiwan Trip 2018: Instances of Slightly Unexpected Spending

Photo via K, whose phone takes better photos than mine! I think this was at Tofukuji Temple.

At some points during our recent trip to Taiwan and Japan, I was starting to feel like we hadn't done a very good job of planning. It was a slightly more eventful, less smooth trip than we're used to, and that was a shock to me, as I pride myself on being somewhat well-traveled and pretty good at packing and preparing for my trips. Some of the complications were, of course, due to weather, and that was entirely outside our control. The biggest unexpected expense of our trip was, unsurprisingly, needing to book extra time at our hotel in Kyoto at the last minute when our trip was delayed by Typhoon Trami. There was no real helping that one, and the price was also a little higher than when we booked our original stay around two or three weeks ahead. (It was ~$250/night, as opposed to the ~$206/night we were originally charged.)

By separating out all my thoughts about the more troublesome details of our trip into their own post like this, I may run the risk of sounding like a huge complainer. That's definitely not my intention! I absolutely loved my trip, and already have a rather long list of ideas for a next trip to Japan someday,  which will hopefully not be too many years from now, though it'll likely be a while. I think I'm just not accustomed to needing to plan a big trip in such a hurry. We confirmed our travel dates and booked plane tickets and hotels within a month of our departure date, and I found that stressful. I'm definitely the type of traveler who strongly prefers to have tons of time to research all the options, and I wasn't used to such last-minute travel.

Also via K's phone, from our trip Fushimi Inari, where my shoulders definitely got tired of carrying my tote bag.

Plus, to my consternation, I found that I may now be someone who needs to, or at least strongly prefers to, carry a backpack if I plan to tote around much more than just my wallet, phone, Kindle, and passport for a full day of touring on foot. All I really added to those bare-minimum daily essentials was a water bottle, light jacket, small portable power bank, pocket wifi, a small folding umbrella on rainy days, and some of the small souvenirs we purchased throughout the day, but ack, things started feeling rather heavy, and my shoulders a bit achey, towards the end of each long day of walking! (If I ever get a professional backpack that's a bit smaller and sleeker than my gigantic North Face from law school, I'll probably be bringing it along on future vacations.) I wasn't fully prepared for how much walking we did pretty much every single day of our time in Japan, and carrying all my things in a tote bag probably added to how tired I got each evening.

Before I get started with my fussing, here is one more generally applicable and potentially money-saving tip (most of the other small issues that arose for us were idiosyncratic). Although many sources make it sound like a Japan Rail ("JR") Pass is something almost every international tourist buys for just about any trip to Japan, that might not actually be the case. For itineraries like ours, involving rather long stays in a small number of cities, with only a few not-too-far day trips to surrounding areas, a JR Pass might well be significantly more expensive than just buying separate train tickets for each leg of the trip. (I dabbled with an online JR Pass calculator and was able to quickly verify that we definitely did not need JR Passes.)

Oh and I must sing the praises of luggage forwarding services, though it's not, by definition, a money-saving choice. It cost us ~$15/large suitcase to send our luggage from our hotel in Tokyo to the one in Kyoto, which I found to be totally worth the price. It does require a bit of advance planning to factor in the time it takes for delivery (~36 hours for us), or if you're staying in an AirBnb, as you may need to do some research into drop-off and/or pick-up locations. I'll admit, I'm probably unusually wimpy about dragging suitcases around a crowded subway or train station or trying to find space for them on trains. Regardless, I found luggage forwarding to be indispensable for our shinkansen trip from Tokyo to Kyoto, and I think most other people would agree it's helpful and worth it unless they packed very light. (Keep in mind that Tokyo Station is unusually large and extremely busy, enough that it was overwhelming and a bit stressful to someone accustomed to traveling through the likes of Time Square, Penn Station, and Grand Central in NYC during rush hours. Also, they schedule the trains so tightly and efficiently in Japan that, even in Kyoto or Osaka, train platforms were sometimes so crowded as to also have the potential to be a bit overwhelming if I had a heavy and unwieldy suitcase with me.)

Please follow the link below to read about the things I wasn't always good about planning ahead for!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

October 2018 Shopping Reflections

I was going to say this month was a fairly low-shopping one because I was traveling, but then I realized that it's already been nearly a whole month since I got back from Japan. Time sure passes by quick! Things have been a a bit busy at the office in the weeks since I got back. K and I have also had a few houseguests, which, given our slight tendency towards housecleaning delinquency, resulted in needing to spend a good chunk of weekend time cleaning. In the months since that post, our cleaning skills have improved slightly, though that's added extra time to our cleaning routine, which now requires a bit more energy. I may be close to the point where I would vote to hire a service to come in once or twice a month, even if our space is quite small and a thorough cleaning still doesn't take K and I that long to do together (maybe two-and-a-half to three hours total, with each of us tackling different areas of our place, depending on how recently we last did a big clean).

This month, all I shopped for was jewelry, and I bought a single piece. As I mentioned in my previous monthly budget/shopping post, I've only recently become much more conscious that now is totally not the right time to shop for most clothing. So I won't, or shouldn't be, in the market for much until I know if I'll get the go-ahead for certain plans or not. 

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There are still a few things I could be in the market for in the next few months. 

First is a very small thing. I may need another pair of tights after I recently ripped a pair of Wolford Neon 40s (due entirely to my own clumsiness, not any problem with the product). There's a jagged edge on one of my desk drawers at the office, at the exact height where my knee often bumps into it while I'm working away at the computer. All my tights that I currently wear, from Wolford, Falke, and Uniqlo Heattech, have survived many encounters with this edge of the desk drawer without any real issues up until now, only a tiny snagged thread or two that doesn't show any signs of developing into a real tear. This time, though, I bumped into it much harder, at the exact angle and with the exact motion to rip right at the fabric. The damage that time was immediate and dramatic, as seen below.

Second is a niche in my wardrobe that is currently unfilled. I've been mulling over wanting a pair of comfortable-enough-for-weekend-wear, non-denim pants; probably in black; probably with a skinny or straight leg, so that they can easily be tucked into boots in fall/winter; and probably in a fall/winter-friendly fabric, definitely not silk or linen. Recall that company policy changed to disallow jeans on casual Fridays at my office this past March. Now that the weather has started cooling down, and I can no longer wear jeans like I did last winter, I'm starting to miss having comfortable pants I could wear to the office on Fridays. However, I'm extremely averse to shopping for pants, it's hard to find ones that fit well through the hips and thighs, and it's also a total pain when one is short enough of leg that even some petite pants are slightly too long, at least when one is also quite lazy about going to a tailor. Chances are, I'm not going to start seriously looking for these pants for months. The only idea I have for where to look, gleaned randomly from a r/femalefashionadvice comment about comfortable outfits for air travel, is the Athleta Wander pants, but that's a half-formed idea at best.

Third, I'm also kind of kicking myself for not keeping that J.Crew Juliette Collarless Sweater Blazer in burgundy when I had the chance to get it on saleAlthough J.Crew's new marketing strategy appears to involve near-constant waves of 30% to 40% off sales on broad categories of items, that specific sweater blazer has been excluded from every promotion this past month without fail. It's such an impractical desire, given how many sweater blazers I own, and how I'd need to layer it under my coats as soon as the temperature drops to the low 50s Fahrenheit or below, as I recently discovered. (I often don't like layering thicker sweaters under my coats, as I start feeling too bulky very quickly, and I don't like feeling overheated if I'm walking around a lot.) 

Fashion - (TOTAL: $88.80)
  • Baroque Pearl Drop Earrings with 14k solid gold wires - $88.80* - This is the second pair of earrings I've bought on the recommendation of Kathy at Feather Factor, who has excellent taste! (I previously got a pair of Nordstrom-branded cubic zirconia studs that she also recommends, which usually only get discounted during the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale.) Before deciding on this pair, I spent some time researching other baroque pearl drop earrings on Etsy, and I thought this was the best size for my tastes. I also liked that I had the option of getting them with solid gold wires. (My earlobes can get irritated by earring posts that aren't sterling silver or solid gold, but I prefer gold-tone jewelry.) These are lovely, not too heavy, and a good size to be noticeable without being too showy. I'd be happy to wear these to the office a few times a week (though probably not to court or a job interview, where I'd definitely wear small stud earrings). I'd never paid much attention to baroque pearls before, but after seeing how Alighieri uses them (i.e. in these "Beacon" earrings or the "Infernal Storm" earrings), I started to appreciate their irregular, more organic-feeling shape a bit more. I really like these, and they're a bit more in my comfort zone than a pair of larger earrings would be, as I get unusually and maybe irrationally anxious about whether heavier, more dangly earrings could possibly get caught on something and cause injury. 

*Indicates that price included shipping charges and sales tax. 

How often do you find yourself needing new tights? With tights that are equivalent to 40 or 50 denier or thicker, I don't need new ones often. I generally got at least three years worth of fairly heavy fall/winter season wear from my Uniqlo pairs before they got stretched out and started sagging, or until elastic threads started coming out of the fabric. I haven't had my Wolfords or the Falke pair long enough to fully assess long-term durability, but they've been doing great outside of my recent mishap with the Neon 40s. (I often snag my tights a tiny bit on the zippers of my boots or booties, or on that desk drawer edge, and it's only caused a tiny loose thread or two, but no damage more serious than that, no rips or runs, except for that one time last week.) Have you noticed the changes to J.Crew's sales strategy? 

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Outfit Post: Autumn/Winter

Coat: Ellen Tracy Wool Blend Stadium Coat, 6P (similar from J.Crew)
Sweater: unbranded, from Taobao (no longer available)

I'm always taken aback by how quickly the seasons change here. Every year, it feels like I go through the process of relearning what clothing works best for each range of temperatures all over again. One day last week, I put together a desk-to-dinner outfit with my new J.Crew collarless sweater blazer (photographed here), one of my many work dresses, a light and floaty Nordstrom cashmere and silk-blend scarf (which still manages to be warm enough for me, even once winter really sets in), and some 50 denier tights (the Falke Matte 50 to be precise), only to be surprised to find that I was freezing in that outfit the entire evening. The wind cuts right through that collarless sweater blazer, even though I thought it was the right thickness for temperatures in the low 50s Fahrenheit. I still like my new sweater blazer, it clearly just isn't meant to be worn as a coat this time of year!

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Now that it's cooled down even more, it's definitely time for outfits that are capable of standing up to near-winter temperatures. I've had this Ellen Tracy Stadium coat for nearly three years now, after buying the 2015 version during the post-holiday sales in January 2016, and I still love it. In the years since I graduated law school, I tend to get a new wool coat about once a year. (Some of my far more frugal peers also do the same, and they comment that it's partially because it's the only particularly noticeable way to add interest to their outfits for most of the period from October through as late as April, as it's the only part of one's outfit that really gets seen while one is outdoors.) A few times, I've thought about getting the similar J.Crew Cocoon Coat in another bright color, and when I do, I usually take another look at that year's selection of Ellen Tracy Stadium coats too. I'm not sure if Nordstrom will stock it again, but they did in 2016 and 2017.

My "cashmere" turtleneck sweater is from a now-defunct Taobao listing. That's not an avenue I'd recommend anyone else ever look to for any kind of shopping, by the way. One just never knows what one will get, it's the wild wild West, and there are, er, also many listings for counterfeit products on there. Any listing or seller can say absolutely anything (not that I can understand most of it, with my extremely weak Chinese reading skills, ha!), and there's no way to verify any of it without having the item in hand. Plus, most US-based customers, myself included, shop through an agent like Superbuy, which adds additional fees. And international shipping is always a significant expense, of course. This particular unbranded sweater came from an listing that had a lot of positive reviews, as well as customer photographs of the real item, which can be helpful, but well, the idea of caveat emptor, or buyer beware, definitely still applies.

Sam Edelman may have officially discontinued my beloved "Petty" booties in leather (size 6M only still available at Zappos), though they still offer it in suede. The closest new style they make now is a slightly edgier pointy-toe design called the "Walden", which I don't think would work for the office as well as the round-toe design on the Petty, at least as far as my fussy tastes and preferences for office wear are concerned! I'm totally sad about this change in their product line because I love my old booties. I actually manage to have two pairs of the "Petty", my old, worn-in ones from around December 2014 and a newer pair, made in a stiffer leather, from around December 2016. I think it's well-established that it's generally a mistake to buy backups, even of the most well-loved items, at least until the old one is well and truly worn out and unusable. It wasn't until last year that I started wearing the newer pair, I held onto them in their box for an entire year without touching them. As of now, though, both pairs are getting tons of use. I wear my newer pair to court, meetings, and other more formal occasions in fall/winter and my older, well broken-in pair the rest of the time.

Have you ever bought an identical backup of a well-loved item, only to realize that it wasn't the right choice to do so? Did the backup item get any use in the end? 

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Against my Better (Shopping) Judgment

One very small part of our recent trip to Japan was dropping by Loft (the fun Japanese stationery and home goods store, not the women's clothing retailer) no less than three times while exploring Tokyo and Kyoto. That first trip, my eyes zeroed in eagerly on their wide selection of Hobonichi Techo planners. There wasn't much real practical reason for my interest. I have absolutely no desire to use a structured, pre-printed, and dated planner, given that I've been happily using a blank notebook with dotted grid pages (from Leuchtturm) as a planner and bullet journal for nearly a year now. Yet, I was intrigued by the Hobonichis because of marketing. Some had hailed it as the best planner ever, and because I remembered reading that coverage, I was intrigued. 

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That first time at Loft, I took a quick look, ran my hands over the pages of the samples, and found that the Tomoe River paper they use in the Hobonichis really is quite delightful, and fairly unique when compared to anything I've laid hands on before (which admittedly isn't much because I'm not typically a stationery fanatic). The paper is smooth, practically silky to the touch and quite thin, but seemingly in a good way. The planners are well known for being less bulky than many of their competitors because they use this very thin paper, but I'm told that it is still high quality, that most pens and ink generally will not bleed through. Because that paper was so lovely to skim my fingers over, I started to want to buy one of the planners, though I didn't have enough time to think it through on that first trip. 

I didn't necessarily plan on going to Loft again, but we did, a second and then a third time, while doing other shopping. Each time, I dwelled an unusually long time over the Hobonichi Techo display, comparing the various ones on offer (each Loft stocked practically the entire product range, including some covers) and feeling an urge to buy one (the prices were great, much better than any available if I ordered from the US, if I was ever going to buy one, it would have been best to get it in Japan). This was despite how there wasn't a single design that was likely to be a suitable product. There's only one style available in English, and its A6 size is definitely too small for me. 

The A5 "Cousin" size (available as either one or two volumes) is better, but it's only available in Japanese (which, to be fair, doesn't dissuade most international fans) and I still wasn't likely to get use out of a pre-dated planner. Also, the A6 and A5 ones are primarily a-page-a-day planners, which isn't useful to me, I simply don't need that much space per day, every single day. I prefer more flexibility. Also, much of the appeal of the Hobonichi-related content I'd seen on social media, which helped fuel my interest, came from the colorful pictures or pretty writing some people put in theirs. It's all lovely, but I'm hardly going to be producing that on a regular basis, or maybe ever! I don't even know how to draw! Oh, and I don't use a fountain pen (many Tomoe River paper enthusiasts are fountain pen users). I use fairly boring pens (Muji 0.38mm pens, to be exact, decent prices also on Amazon). The Leuchtturm paper is perfectly adequate for that, and I'm not sure I'd get anything special out of the experience of writing on fancy paper. 

So I was at Loft that second and third time, and each time I spent quite a while standing there, researching the Hobonichi product line on my phone, thinking about whether to buy something. Each time, it was a bit difficult to tear myself away. I was so very tempted to buy this thing even though I knew it wouldn't be of much use to me. I didn't end up getting one, which was the right choice, but I came very close. I'd ultimately decided that, if I were to get one, it'd be a Hobonichi Cousin and I'd need a cover. But Loft didn't stock covers for that size, so I might as well order it online directly from the company, even if there'd be a markup. I was even researching their product pages online in the days right after we returned from our trip. In the end, I decided to get a dot grid A5 notebook with Tomoe River paper instead. 

That's an extremely long and rambling introduction to what is ultimately a post about a fairly simple little thing I do somewhat often, even though I should know better by now. I sometimes develop a strange preoccupation with certain items that I know, with 95%-plus certainty, will not suit my needs or preferences and so probably won't get much, if any, real use. Except that I don't stop thinking about the item, I'll keep getting pulled back to admiring it and thinking about how nice or pretty it is, several times over weeks or months. It's not a thing that takes up that much of my mental energy in the end, it's just something in the back of my mind that rears its head every so often.

It rarely actually results in an unwise and impractical purchase. If and when I end up giving in to temptation and ordering the item online, actually trying on the item is usually enough to remind me why it won't, in fact, work for me. So I usually send it back. Still, I'll sometimes keep going back to window-shopping for the item, even, sometimes, when I've returned it before. 

Please follow the link below to read about some of the fashion-related items that have had such a hold over me, and the thought process behind each.