Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Thinking About: Olive Green Parka from Uniqlo

It takes a long time for trends to grow on me. I started wearing skinny jeans a good two years after they became popular, and it took me even longer to jump onto the leggings bandwagon. I don't think parkas are quite on par with skinny jeans and leggings in terms of being a lasting and widespread trend, but I've been seeing them in stores for a few years. There are other jacket styles (a trench coat, a leather jacket) that I've actually talked about on this blog as potential additions to my wardrobe, but recently, I've also spent my time browsing for parkas. They appeal to me because I've been leaning towards a very casual vibe with my weekend clothes.

Because parkas are so casual and not intended to be particularly fitted, I would only want to buy one at a lower, more fast-fashion price point. Especially with other jackets I want and the coats that I already own, a parka is not something that would see particularly frequent use in my wardrobe. There's still a good chance that I might try on a few more styles and eventually decide that I just wouldn't wear a parka enough.

I started at H&M because they typically have a wide range of parkas and other coat designs. I even had decent luck with H&M coats back when I was a student, generally getting a good two to three years of semi-frequent wear out of H&M's peacoats. The first problem there was that I didn't see anything in my size, and after comparing them to the styles at Uniqlo, I decided that the Uniqlo ones felt a bit higher-quality and for a price range that was workable for me, especially at the current online and in-store promotional price of $99.90, off from $129.90. Behind the cut, I have fitting room photos and impressions of one of Uniqlo's Military Jacket parkas.

Monday, September 28, 2015

September Shopping Reflections

I didn't have too much time to shop for clothes and accessories this month, though I did pick up two rather expensive things. One of those was the J. Crew Leavers Lace Pamela Dress pictured above, which is a bridesmaid dress for a good friend's wedding next March. That came out of my separate "bridesmaid fund," and I got it for 30% discount due to a promotion on select full price items. The second item, the Longchamp Miaou tote, is a rather out of character purchase for me, but I've gotten a fair bit of use from it so far. Outside of that, I'm still waiting for that breton striped shirt to arrive from J. Crew Factory, so that could appear in next month's budget. 

I did go a bit crazy again with skincare purchases, and this time I'm listing it out because they definitely weren't vacation expenses like with my purchases in Seoul. I had a Dermstore voucher from Gilt City, which gave me 30% off an order of $120 or more. I know it isn't good to buy into these deals because they can encourage more (often unnecessary) spending, but the 30% discount was the best way for me to get refills of some of my Paula's Choice staples (referral link) at a good price. 

Fashion - (TOTAL: $179.29)

  • Longchamp Large Miaou Tote - $166.39* - I got a 10% off promotion as a new subscriber to Neiman Marcus's email list, but the CA state sales tax ended up canceling out most of those savings. I wasn't initially sure about this. It took me a few days to decide on it, but I've been carrying it almost every day since then. Admittedly, this is partially because I had to send my Planetes tote back to Longchamp to repair the holes in the corners, a process that will apparently take eight weeks. 
  • Zara Winter Hat - $12.90 - I first saw this hat at a Zara in Malaysia, and I've been thinking about it since then. I ended up picking it up last week. As usual, I feel a bit sheepish when I shop from one of the super fast fashion retailers, but for things that I prioritize less when it comes to what I'm willing to spend, like socks and hats,  fast fashion is what fits my budget. I try my best not to overdo it. 

Beauty - (TOTAL: $106.37)
  • Dermstore Order - $99.41
    • Paula's Choice RESIST C15 Super Booster - This is my vitamin C serum of choice. I haven't had a bottle of this for a while because it ran out before my trip. Vitamin C serum will oxidize when exposed to light, air, and high temperatures, so I waited on a refill of this for a long time while I was traveling. 
    • Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid - I won't need a refill of this product, which I consider invaluable for fighting off acne, for quite a few months, but I was having some trouble getting to the order minimum for the coupon. 
    • Nuxe Reve de Miel Ultra-Nourishing Lip Balm - I've been curious about this item for a while, but was always dissuaded by how expensive it is in the US. With a 30% discount, it is still pricey for lip balm, but I've been liking it a lot so far.
    • Tarte Amazonian Clay Waterproof 12-Hour Concealer - I haven't run out of the Nars concealer I purchased earlier this year, but I definitely like this one much better. I find that I can only use the Nars one with makeup, but with this Tarte product, I can just use concealer and go without foundation. 
    • Cerave Moisturizing Lotion (not pictured) - This is one of my staple face moisturizers, and I actually did need a refill. 
  • Skinfood Black Sugar Strawberry Wash Off Mask - $6.96 - I picked this up during a special promotion from Jolse's Amazon store. It's a fairly popular item that comes highly recommended by a few r/AsianBeauty bloggers. This one hasn't arrived yet due to it shipping from Korea, but buying from abroad bascially means its final sale
*indicates that state sales tax was included in this purchase price

Linking up with Franish and the other Budgeting Bloggers this month. Be sure to check out what everyone else bought! 

Friday, September 25, 2015

Shanghai Cityscapes

View of the skyline from the Bund near Nanjing East Road. All photos by K.

Shanghai was one of my favorite destinations from my trip. The weather was quite rainy during most of our stay, which did prevent us from seeing quite as many tourist sites as we might have wanted. We stayed at the Grand Central Hotel Shanghai near Nanjing East Road's Pedestrian Street area, and we received a slight discount because I was able to book it during an Orbitz promotion. I highly recommend staying in that general area because it's close to two subway stations and a direct ride to several major tourist attractions, and I would also  highly recommend the Grand Central Hotel in particular. It was a rather fancy place to stay, and I thought the service was very good. They even gave us a cake on the night of K's birthday. 

The nighttime walk along the Bund to view the lit-up skyline was one of our favorite experiences in Shanghai. There are big crowds on the section of the promenade right near the intersection with Nanjing East Road, but the crowds thin out very quickly once one walks a bit further away from the intersection. One thing that surprised us was that the lights across the water and on Nanjing East Road start turning off by 11:00 at night. Because Times Square is a 24 hour kind of place, we were expecting Shanghai to be somewhat similar. 

A rainy nighttime walk on Nanjing East Road's Pedestrian Street. 

Shanghai is a very different city from Beijing, which almost goes without saying. Shanghai feels more similar to Hong Kong than it does to Beijing. Among other things, it doesn't have quite as many true historical sites. Some of the areas that market themselves as historical are anything but. We were at one "old street" area, but found that it was a rather commercialized tourist trap. The crowds of tourists, both international and Chinese, can also be quite daunting at most of Shanghai's major attractions. We quickly nixed the idea of going up the Pearl Tower because it would have been at least a three hour wait. We were able to go up to the observation decks at the Shanghai World Financial Center, and that wasn't half as crowded because it was a foggy evening. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Nightgown Dress

One of my clothing purchases in Korea was a navy blue tank dress almost exactly like the Madewell one pictured above, but for the color and, of course, the price. I bought it mainly for my many plane rides during the trip, but I've also been reaching for it quite often for day to day wear. It's not a look that I previously thought I would like. I've mentioned before that I generally don't like unstructured t-shirt dresses, and similarly unstructured tank dresses would seem to run the same risk of clinging in unflattering places. But the one I have is made out of a slightly thicker rayon fabric, not thick enough to be uncomfortable in summer, but heavy enough so that it skims nicely over the body. It is also a more casual look then I generally used to go for, especially when paired with those flip-flop sandal hybrids that I've been wearing all summer. 

In other news, I've found my new apartment! Move-in day is not until the end of October, though. I only have a bit less than two weeks before I start my new job, and I'm looking forward to just taking a break until then.  Cooler temperatures are also beginning to settle in, and I'm going to miss my super-casual summer staples. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Apartment Hunting in NYC

via Pinterest

Apartment hunting in NYC is a bit of a process, to say the least. It is an expensive and fast-moving real estate market, and there are just so many ways that extra, not fully anticipated (especially for first-timers like myself) costs can sneak in. Such costs to factor in could include, say, management companies being shady about security deposits and rent increases or the standard 10-12% broker fee, which could also go as high as 15%. I've spent most of the last week trekking across a few neighborhoods to look at different buildings, and I could potentially continue for another week or two. I'm lucky to be working with a price point that allows for a small but decent range of choices in a few neighborhoods I'd be happy to live in. The really hip, fun neighborhoods of NYC are off the table due to price, of course, which is generally the case for everyone I know. 

I am finding, however, that I am perhaps a bit too easily suckered in by the idea of more recently renovated kitchens and bathrooms, newer appliances, and fancier amenities. Those things are, naturally enough, generally only possible at the top end of the price range. As someone who has, historically, not been very good at keeping a close eye on finances and saving, I wonder if I am making poor choices by not looking harder for opportunities for rents that would potentially save me up to $125/month (in a one bedroom share). We're also including things like a doorman, laundry in building, and an elevator on our list of requirements. Those things are probably reasonable to hope for as a fairly high-earning white-collar professional (even one encumbered by student loans) in the neighborhoods at issue. I question my own judgment on this because of my general propensity to pay a bit more for convenience than is always warranted. The laundry in building part is probably nonnegotiable for us, though.  

I suppose one way to look at it is to focus on how much the savings could affect my student loan repayment. The year's potential savings of $1500 is less than one month's minimum payment at this point, and if I have no trouble affording both the loan payments and rent and various other goals, then isn't it a negligible issue? Then again, one of the lessons that I should have learned from my recent focus on personal finance is that every dollar (and certainly $125/month) is ultimately significant. 

What was it like when you looked for your first apartment or home? Did you have any qualms about whether the price range you had in mind was actually right for you? 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Lunch at Tin Lung Heen in Hong Kong

All photos by K.

To celebrate K's birthday, which occurred during our trip, I treated him to lunch at Tin Lung Heen, a two Michelin-starred restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong, a hotel which occupies the top several floors of the International Commerce Center (ICC) in Kowloon, Hong Kong. There are several one, two, and three Michelin-starred Chinese restaurants in the same general mold as Tin Lung Heen. They all seem to serve a largely Cantonese-style menu (naturally, given the location), seem to be priced about the same (read: very expensive), and are all located in fancy hotels. It was an experience I couldn't justify paying for in the earlier times when I worked or interned in HK, and it is still something that I wouldn't necessarily pick out just for myself because, well, fine dining for one is a possibly strange notion. Either way, I wanted to treat K to this type of special food experience while we were in HK. 

I made my reservation for our weekday lunch about ten days early, though as far as I could tell from the size of the crowd, a day or two in advance is probably fine for weekdays. Getting a window table would require reserving earlier or, possibly, being a guest at the Ritz-Carlton, and I wasn't able to get one. Reviews for both Tin Lung Heen and the Ritz-Carlton's bar, Ozone, suggest that both are too high up to actually get a particularly good view, especially after the generally hazy summer weather is taken into account. 

We had the executive set lunch, which was 598 HKD/person before 10% service charge and additional surcharge for tea, and came with either a glass of wine or juice. It includes five courses, each with two dishes except for the soup course, and it also includes a dessert course. Behind the cut, I've included photos of each of our dishes. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Fun with Korean Beauty Products

There's no denying it, Korean beauty products are so hot right now. There was even an interesting article recently about the role the Korean government plays in promoting this trend. I actually have some reservations about how the American market is approaching the K-beauty trend. My thoughts on the topic are not particularly well-developed, and I might write something more polished later on.

For now, I will mention that, as a western consumer, it's hard to know what products to try and how best to obtain them. It can be easy to get sucked in by online buzz surrounding a specific product or brand, buzz that was initially generated by just a small handful of people and their anecdotal experiences. In the 18 months that I've been following r/AsianBeauty, there have been several short-lived crazes that might or might not have perfectly matched up with the quality of the products at issue: Benton, the Su;m37 Miracle Rose Cleansing Stick, Mizon Returning Starfish Cream, Cremorlab, and CosRX. This is not to say that any of these products were bad, it's just that it's easy to forget that there's no universal miracle product.

Also, while I generally have much better luck with Korean and other Asian beauty products priced in the drugstore range than I do with American items at almost any price range, Asian products are not inherently superior. A lot of the biggest brands, even ones that market themselves as focusing on natural products, are heavy-handed with the use of added fragrance, which I generally prefer to avoid in my skincare products. Admittedly, the most popular brands right now don't have that issue. Also, I've had fairly bad luck with Asian makeup and generally prefer western brands, despite my Asian coloring. Among other things, I dislike BB Creams as a general category.

That being said, I'm a huge proponent of the East Asian approach to skincare, which is what Korean products are designed for. I have a few Korean products in my regular routine, and am working on incorporating a few more since my trip.  

For today, I just have a list of quick reviews of K-beauty products that I tried recently, mostly items that I purchased during my trip to Seoul or, in one case, received as a gift at the airport.  Behind the cut, you'll find a list of things I like and a list of things that didn't work for me. One important note: in all cases, I'm linking to US-based retailers where possible, but there is often a cheaper way to get it online from a Korean seller, whether on Ebay or the seller's website.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Planning for Fall/Winter: A Five-Piece French Wardrobe(ish)?

I've mentioned before that I have trouble sticking to rules when it comes to my clothing and accessories shopping. I didn't end up succeeding with my initial "shopping fast" plan in any real way, and while I've mentioned an interest in taking on more of a "Five-Piece French Wardrobe" approach in a few of my comments on other blogs, I don't think I can perfectly adhere to those rules either. I will almost inevitably see at least a handful of things a season that will end up being impulse buys. 

That being said, I think the general spirit of the approach works well for someone with my preferences, constraints, and overall closet situation: I have plenty of clothes for my needs, I'm trying to buy less stuff overall, and I do have a deep-set desire for buying nicer "investment" pieces while still sticking to my budget. To that end, I have five items that I will be in the market for in the next few months, and I'm hoping that I won't do too much extra shopping on top of that.

I am also feeling a bit of an inspiration deficit when it comes to clothes for Fall/Winter. From my inspiration board on Pinterest, it seems as if my tastes are evolving towards a more minimalist aesthetic, with an emphasis on wardrobe "basics." 

My potential big purchases for the upcoming Fall/Winter are as follows: 
  • Breton striped shirt: I have a similar top, but I'm hoping for one with a more classic look. I just put in an order for the J. Crew Factory one that Franish recommended. It's backordered, so I probably won't be able make a decision on it until October. I plan to be fairly picky about this item, and I might be willing to go up to the St. James price point, if needed. 
  • Jeans: My only pair of blue jeans is quite worn out from several years of wear and is likely to rip or develop holes in the next few months. Because I will only be able to wear jeans on weekends for the forseeable future, the designer denim price point is not for me. I will most likely be going back to Uniqlo for my replacement pair of basic straight-leg or skinny jeans
  • Leopard print slip-on sneakers: After experimenting with my striped Keds, I find that I like the casual slip-on sneaker silhouette. I've seen a few stylish people out and about with leopard print slip-ons, and I would like some of my own. Because these are also weekend-only items, I don't want to splurge too much. Perhaps this style
  • Down coat: I've been using the same random down coat from Amazon for three years now, and while it still adequately meets my needs, there are a few major flows. First, the hood just won't stay up, and my face and head are never as warm or dry as they could be. Second, fabric gets stuck in the zipper if I am careless when zipping it up, which happens about four to six times a season now. I've taken to keeping an old chapstick in the pocket, which helps with getting unstuck. While the coat could well last another year or more, but for this issue, I would not be surprised if, at some point (possibly soon, possibly not-so-soon), the zipper gets permanently stuck, such that I have no choice but to cut myself out. Canada Goose is probably the down coat brand in NYC, but that's not in my price range. The most likely candidates are the Columbia Apres Arson or the Northface Arctic Down pictured above. 
  • Dainty ring: This is something that I could easily swap out for another more practical item. I like the idea of having a small ring for everyday wear, but this is one of those purchases that's easy to put off in favor of something more useful.

I have a few other items that I am looking for in a more long-term way, including a trench coat and possibly a leather jacket. For those items, I think I'm likely to be so picky that I probably won't be buying either during this calendar year. I'm also generally in the market for sheath dresses for work. While I have a substantial enough number of those, a lot of them are "good enough" type items that have a small issue or two. If I happen to try on anything in my price range that I think is fantastic, I will make room in my budget for it. 

Monday, September 7, 2015

Shopping for Beauty Products in Taipei and Seoul

My haul on just the first day... Some of these items are gifts for others, though!

I went a little crazy with shopping in Seoul, and the vast majority of my purchases were skincare items, mostly sheet masks. I parceled out a variety pack of sheet masks for basically all of my friends and family, and I still have several months' supply left for myself (assuming a fairly heavy usage schedule of 3-4 masks/week). I also bought a not-inconsiderable quantity of items in Taiwan, but some products were French because the in-store promotions made the products in question a bit cheaper than they would be in the US, though still not as well-priced as they are in France. 

It'll be a while before I get around to personally testing most of what I bought. I will probably have a post in the next week or so with quick opinions on a few items, though. For now, here's a quick guide on what stores or parts of town I would go to in Taipei or Seoul to get my skincare shopping on.

Friday, September 4, 2015

A Sudden Obsession: the Longchamp Miaou Tote

The limited edition Longchamp Miaou tote is totally not my usual style, given my rather plain-jane handbag collection and my current preference for minimalist-ish, more versatile accessories that are office-appropriate. Even so, I fell in love with the Longchamp Miaou items in Malabar Pink when I glimpsed one of the totes in a Kuala Lumpur department store. In the absence of bright color and whimsical details, Longchamp totes are an item that I know I get an excellent cost per wear ratio with. My large Longchamp Planetes tote (discontinued, similar linked) is likely my single most worn item, and I had been thinking vaguely about getting a second, more casual, tote.

Sadly, I didn't realize how much I would want to try this item until the day after I left the department store. I've since been a woman possessed: I've been to four different Longchamp boutiques since, in three different countries, and the Miaou items were nowhere to be found. Only now that I'm back in the US do I realize that I probably should have checked department stores like Sogo as well. My original sighting was in a department store, and I think I saw one out of the corner of my eye at a Sogo in Hong Kong as well. Too late for that, though! Malaysia had excellent prices on Longchamp, similar to the French prices under the currently favorable US-MYR exchange rate, and I'm kicking myself a bit for missing out.

Now that it's been a few days, I think my ardor might be diminishing slightly. I put in an order at Neiman Marcus online before the tote sold out, and I should have the opportunity to try it on soon. If I end up thinking that it's actually a good item for me, it'll be in my next monthly budget post. There's also a possibility that I'll end up getting the medium size instead.

Do you ever find yourself suddenly wanting something that is dramatically not your usual style? If you end up buying the item, does it usually work out for you in the long run?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Shopping in Seoul (Myeongdong, Hongdae, and Insadong)

Shopping in Myeongdong in the evening. 

My two-night trip to Seoul was my first ever visit to South Korea, and I loved it! I stayed in Myeongdong and also visited Hongdae and Insadong, each of which focuses on different types of shopping. Certain things, though, such as the popular Korean beauty brands, are easily found in any of these areas. For today, my post focuses primarily on clothes, accessories, and souvenirs. I'll eventually post about my skincare and cosmetics purchases as well because, spoiler alert, I went a bit crazy with buying beauty products in Asia.

Shopping for Clothes in Korea

Because I rarely shop for clothes in other Asian cities, largely because the styles are too different from what I'm used to, I was surprised to find that I greatly enjoyed browsing clothes at street vendors and small shops in Korea, mostly in Hongdae (the trendiest area I went to). The clothing styles that are popular in Seoul have a different feel from those at similar vendors in, say, Taiwan. It's hard to explain what I observed, but popular styles include both a minimalist-ish aesthetic as well as a different, more feminine look with some nice prints, but not too much in the way of frills or other embellishments. To try and illustrate what I mean, I might point you to Zipia, an online wholesaler selling Korean fashion, though I don't think their offerings are perfectly representative of what I was seeing. I've tried to find some Tumblrs that showcase Korean style, and this one seems alright.

There was, however, a significant sticking point: at the shops I went to, most items are "free size" or one size only. Furthermore, there's no fitting room with street vendors or at many of the small shops. Even when a fitting room is available, it seemed that the norm was for shoppers not to try things on. (I've been at Taiwanese stores where shoppers aren't allowed to try on certain things for fear of sweat or makeup stains. I wondered if that was the case in Korea too, though I couldn't check because of the language barrier.) I tried to think carefully about each piece and to use my best judgment about how things would fit. Various more tailored dresses were completely off the table, as I definitely have a larger chest measurement than most Korean women. The items I bought were all looser fitting, and even then, I made mistakes. Something that I thought was a dress ended up being too short for that, even though I'm likely not taller than the average for Korean women. (Another blog's guide to clothing and shoe sizes in Korea can be found here.)

Quality-wise and production-wise, everything I saw was quite good for the price (better construction and materials than H&M or Loft for basic cotton or rayon items that cost about $11 USD each, with an occasional sale promotion driving the price down to around $6 USD). Everything was labeled "made in Korea."

Given that I prioritize careful shopping and getting my money's worth from my purchases, I couldn't really justify thinking about the many fancier and more expensive pieces that were available. For instance, I saw one dress design that would have cost 44000 KRW or $37 USD, which I couldn't consider for an item that I couldn't try on. It wouldn't be that consistent with my current shopping philosophy to do that much shopping here, but if I came out on another trip, I'd like to browse more.

Behind the cut, I've included more detailed descriptions of the different shopping areas I've visited and a few additional photos.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Visiting a Cat Cafe in Myeongdong, Seoul

One of the highlights of my brief trip to Seoul was visiting a cat cafe in Myeongdong. Although I love cats, both K and I are quite allergic, which makes it highly unlikely that I'll ever own one. Once I learned that cat cafes could be found in Seoul, visiting one was high on my to-do list. I greatly enjoyed going to the one nearest to my hotel. Because the employees are constantly cleaning, my allergies didn't even act up too badly despite the presence of so many cats in an enclosed space. There were no bad smells either. The cats seem happy and well taken care of, and the employees are very affectionate towards them, a feeling that the cats seem to reciprocate. 

There are a good number of cat cafes in Seoul, including multiple ones in both Hongdae and Myeongdong. As far as I've seen from a few other blogs, the protocol for visiting each one is generally the same: 
  • At the door, visitors are asked to swap their shoes for slippers provided by the cafe.
  • Visitors are generally asked to use hand sanitizer or wash their hands before entering.
  • Cat cafes  charge for admission, and the price will often include a drink. The one I went to charges 8000 KRW, which is about $6.75 USD.
  • The cafe I went to also provides large plastic drawstring bags for handbags and shopping bags to keep things clean. 
  • Sometimes, the cafe also sells treats that visitors can feed to the cats. Sadly, these were sold out when I visited in the late evening! 

I posted a few more photos behind the cut. Also, for those who find themselves in Seoul and would like to experience it for themselves, I tried to give some directions. Seoul can be a bit difficult to navigate when one has no Korean language skills, to the point where I'm not completely sure of what street the cafe was on, or even the proper name of the place!