Wednesday, January 25, 2017

UPDATED: Giving thanks for the memories: the Kosta Boda snowball turns 40 (in 2013)

The Kosta Boda snowball: the classiest affordable gift of the 80's

FOR THE BENEFIT of those Downunder: last Thursday was Thanksgiving, the day when 'mericans down tools and celebrate the "the blessing of the harvest and the preceding year," according to Wikipedia

It's more like the blessing of the buffet, and generally not a day to bear gifts except for oneself: stores are now opening on the actual day of nothing sacred? 

As an advertising/marketing pundit I use retail therapy to keep abreast of product design and retailing strategies (ok nice try). My destination? The TJ Maxx outlet in Wilton, Connecticut, where I'm visiting for the holiday. Today it was empty. One explanation: TJ's merchandise is always on sale, so there's no real reason to make a beeline for it on Black Friday. 

"You're the first customer to acknowledge that," said the bored gal at the jewelry counter where I pondered over a pair of truly fake-looking gold Ralph Lauren hoop earrings for $12. "Everyone else is demanding why our 70% off stuff isn't 100% off." 

Strolling the aisles of once-were $34 leggings (now $5.99 - damn it, I paid $34 last week) I was stopped dead in my tracks by a blob of glass. Know what I'm talking about, dear reader? 

The classic Kosta Boda snowball

It's the Kosta Boda snowball, circa 1973, designed by Ann Warff (now Ann Wolff). As it sat on the shelf amidst marked down artificially scented candles and Turkish serving platters, the memories came thundering down like an Annapurna avalanche ...

In my mid-teens, I spotted this iconic candle holder on a shelf in DJ's (David Jones), the Bloomingdales of Downunder. The price at the time was a very affordable $12 - affordable for me as I wasn't allowed to have a holiday job, and my meager pocket money felt like my only freedom. So the snowball became my signature gift at any birthday I was invited to. For a while, everyone got a Kosta Boda snowball from me, whether they liked it or not. 

In terms of gift giving, Boda was like the Alessi of today; who hasn't given or received a Alessi tchotchke of some description? Another popular gift item were the multi-faceted Swarovski crystal animals I confess I never found particularly appealing.

Looking back on those formative years, the snowball all about my emerging desire to at once individual and classy ... on a shoestring. I calls it Cheap and Choosy.

The clear sticker, now used today with a san serif typeface
The older gold sticker.

Cheap'n'choosy giftology 

On Facebooking the above photo an old school pal Peter J recalled another example of my pubescent taste making: velour Pierre Cardin facewashers. My father was as into designer labels as the next Asian (it's my culture and I'll stereotype if I want to) and I became fixated on his gold PC keychain and ties. Somehow I stumbled on the Cardin monogrammed facecloth (also at DJs) and at $5.99, voila, it became my second go-to gift. (Turns out velour is actually a lousy material for facecloths; it gets gummed up with soap scum and has to be machine washed often on hot ...)

Who'd have thought a trip to an outlet mall could spark such cathartic childhood memories? Don't knock retail therapy; at 70% off it's cheaper than a shrink. 

The only thing I didn't score so well on yesterday was price: at $19.99 (down from a vertiginous RRP $35) it was no cheaper than at, where it is on sale and is the company's "best selling item of all time."

But is it the real deal? 

For folks fixated on getting one after reading my ode to the snowball, I note there's always a few kicking around on eBay for $10-15 plus around $7-$10 shipping (pay no more). But how do you know you're getting the real deal and not a cheap glass knockoff? Check out the signature snowball features: 
  • SIGNED: Some have KOSTA BODA etched on the base, some don't
  • STICKER: Some still have their little rectangular KOSTA BODA sticker saying SINCE 1742, or SWEDEN 1742, or NOT LESS THAN 24% LEAD CRYSTAL. 
  • STICKER MATERIAL: Silver, Gold, Clear 
  • SIDE SEAMS: Some believe the earliest ones didn't have seams from the mold. 
  • CLARITY: the older ones were "clearer" glass than the new ones, though the new ones throw out more of a pattern on the table 
  • SIZE: Just under 3" high is standard, but there was a smaller (2.3") and larger version (3.5") at one time, not available in the USA it seems. See them here
The signature etched into the base - from the 80's onward

I bought a few on eBay and the sellers assured me they once were wedding presents, or Christmas decorate in the 70's and so on. I prodded Kosta Boda on their Facebook page and managed to get some slush: 

Dear Lynette. The snowball has been made since 1973, and we have not heard about any fake snowballs yet. The snowballs is made in 3 sizes the heights 6cm, 7cm and 9cm. The snowballs from Kosta Boda have seams on the side of the mold, and as far as we know the ones from the 70´s also had seams on the sides. We started etching Kosta Boda in the bottom in about 15-20 years ago, so the snowballs from the 70´s have no etching. The snowballs have a sticker, when sold from us, but the stickers might disappear as they are used. Kind regards Kosta Boda

So there you have it. 

Happy Thanksgiving - let it snowball, let it snowball, let it snowball!

(Greeting card spotted in supermarket)

Monday, December 12, 2016

Street Art in Chelsea: Alive and Ungentrified

A lamp post installation by PHIL, with a contribution by Stikman (inside).

It's been a while since I've blogged, but I broke the drought with a fascinating tour of street art in the Manhattan neighborhood of West Chelsea - led by a real street artist, Patrick Waldo aka Moustache Man. Read about it over on my ChelseaGallerista blog:

Mural by Brazilian brothers Os Gemeos 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

My postage-stamp sized piece of Hawaii

Movies, Photos and stories from my Bike Friday visits on the Internet archive: What a Gal does in Hawaii

Me and UH Forestry Professor JB Friday nip an ablaze tree in the bud on my land

Some shots of the area exhumed from my old website: 


Visiting my land in Dec 2014:  1 | 2 | 3

UPDATE DEC 2014: As you may have read, Pele has stirred from his/her long siesta and is heading toward the little hippie town of Pahoa, a couple of miles from my land. Today, they opened up the backroad, Railroad Avenue, a formerly boggy trail that I got stuck in while biking through it with my friend Ann Kobsa. What a ride that was ... darkness fell like an axe, and as we neared the house we heard shuffling and grunting. "Wild boar," said Ann, who left my jaw agape when she told me she hunted them and made sausages from the meat and soap from the fat. "I'll go inside and get a gun. You can go inside or come along if you like." Needless to say I beat it up the stairs faster than you can say "Miss Piggy..."

UPDATE MARCH DECEMBER 2010: Holy helmet redux! The prices of land in Nanawale has fallen to around 5-6K a lot. Even better! About time land was priced knowing that you can never really "own it" - because it will outlive you. Nanawale Estates Site lets you check out the links to past month-by-month house/land sales.

Yes, stuff does grow in lava. All by itself too ... March 2008

Planting a black sugar cane on my little piece of Hawaii ... March 2008

So what to build on a postage stamp? I know the picture below is totally at odds with the rest of the shots on this page, but I totally love it - the Weehouse by Alchemy Architects:

And I'm dreaming about this one too: the Zenkaya house:

UPDATE, September 2007: Holy helmet! The prices of land in Nanawale have fallen to around $13-15K a lot. This is wonderful news. Perhaps more of my friends will actually buy up postage stamp of their own so they can paste themselves right next to me ...

That's The Gal Esq. to you. I am now officially the owner of a postage-stamp sized piece of turf - or rather, lava, fern and ohia tree - on the Big Island, Hawaii. It's in the Nanawale Estates subdivision in the far east region of the island, about 18 flat bikeable miles south of the clapboard town of Hilo and about just over a mile from the cool hippie pueblo of Pahoa, off Hwy 130 (click on color map).

I looked at land in the Big Island 2005 when prices were more like $5-10K a sliver, but kept procrastinating until they rose to around $20-30K in the cheapest areas. This time I thought, I can't retire on 20kbin the white western world - what the heck, I'll buy it. Now I can tell myself 'I own a piece of land in Hawaii' even though I have no immediate plans to move there. Think of it as forced savings. Property tax is just $100 a year, there's no time limit to build. 

My dear friend "99% Sustainable Ann Kobsa" who "wrote the book" on living a lush life on lava .
Read about Ann Kobsa
The lot is in a largely undeveloped, unmanicured (thank Bhudda) and admittedly, the area got a bad rap at one time for its lowlife. But, as my real estate savvy biker friend Charles said, good deals usually have to come up from somewhere less salubrious - if it's already yuppified, it's already unaffordable. (I think the correct word is 'emerging' as in 'emerging markets'). It reminds me of Costa Rica where I lived for 2 years. Just down the road in a more southerly direction you can, for $15-20K, purchase a cheapish slab of solid, unspadeable lava in the nearby Kalapana region to erect your architecturally significant, Gehry-inspired yurt-on-stilts. That same money can buy you an acre of windswept wilderness in the frontiering southern Kau region of the island. See this website for this week's cooled magma deals.
A lava flow map of the Puna region of the Big Island, showing the Nanawale Estates Subdivision.
Showing the exact location of my land. Note that the light purple areas in the middle are
the most forested - "old growth".

But what about da volcano (visions of Pompeii scroll beneath swaying palms and pina coladas)? Well, it's not like the Big Island is Mt Etna - for the most part its eruptions are slow flowing, and in the past there's been plenty of time to back up your laptop, feed the cat and drive to a higher place. But then again, you never know and that's what keeps prices down. 

What I do notice is that there is a bouyant calm about people there, not the paved-in quiet desperation of the average urban man on the mainland. Perhaps the hot, churning movement deep underfoot, and the solid wall of lava covering the double-yellow lines of a former main road make us appreciate that end of the day, you own nothing. And there's something thrilling about the very basic ingredients needed to sustain life - sun and water - falling freely out of the sky into your back yard for you to use (many here have solar panels and catchment tanks) and no oil consortium or government or utitility company can stop it. 

Down in the south the lava is pouring into the sea, day and night, making new land. If it covers my yurt, wait til it cools, come back, dig it up or build right over the top just like everyone else. See the volcano movies and photo galleries in my Hawaii Chronicles.

Click on map for an exploded and zoomable PDF view of the neighborhood (if you view it in Acrobat). Mine's the pizza-slice circled 785 and underlined "15"

Why The Big Island? Just take a look at the way my car-free friend Ann Kobsa lives, 99% self-sustainable, in my Hawaii Chronicles and you'll see why, thanks to that sun and rain falling freely and copiously in Hawaii. I plan to maybe cut a little trail into it, camp on it, grow some papaya trees and vanilla ... 

I do believe that if everyone had a little piece of land to put up a roof and grow a papaya tree, there'd be less war. Look the misery in the world - much of it is about not not having a place for your footprint, fighting over a slivers of land. The notion of even having to buy a piece of land is bizarre; it will survive every puny body on this planet. Even the chunk of Maui owned by the mighty Oprah (who felt the need to buy up and fence off an entire hunk of coastline because "god's not making it anymore"). We're only borrowing it; the native Indians knew all about that, but that's whole other philosophical discussion.

I'd love it if people I knew bought a lot near me ... to be part of my community. 

For those who want to buy a similar, 8400 sq ft (1/5 acre) lot near the really neat, hippie-ish town of Pahoa (good internet, library, wholefoods store, Thai restaurant etc) you can contact two nice realtors below Wally Chastain or Geri Tolchin, and study this site.

Click on photo below to wander around my postage stamp piece of Hawaii (3.5 Mb Quicktime movie clip)
View from the road - the land is right on the "bend"

The funky hippie town of Pahoa, about a mile away
The disused Railroad Avenue at the back of the subdivision, a street away from my lot. It's a former railroad track now earmarked for development as a dedicated bike path, which will offer quicker access to the coast by bike than the10 miles on the main road. Yay! Those are rose apple trees.


  • Photo Gallery of the approach to the subdivision by bicycle
  • This is how my friend 99% Sustainable Ann Kobsa lives off the grid nearby
  • Two realtors I really like who can sell you this stuff - they live in the subdivision, not far from me, and I have even stayed with them:
    1. A he: Wally Chastin wally at wallywchastain dot com
    2. A she: Geri Tolchin tolchina at msn dot com

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Citibike NYC: the cross-town taxi you drive yourself

The key to the city ... for 45 mins at a time
I caved. I have officially joined the Citibike program recently introduced in New York City. Now
why on earth would a die-hard foldie with two perfectly good, fast and fancy folders in her closet do something like that?
What, no helmet? At least my Traffic Cone Bag will help keep me alive
Convenience with a "C"

First, there are times when you are across town on foot, and you want to get back quickly without resorting to the expense of a cab, the lethargy of a bus or the claustrophobic cram of the subway.

Second, it saves my own bikes from wear and tear, especially when it's a bit damp out there.  Grit and road grime are the enemy of tiny New York apartment spaces where your bed and kitchen and living area are often one and the same. On that note, lucky the few who have dedicated downstairs bike storage in Manhattan ...

Third, it's a great workout. Think of a pedal powered Leopard tank. Every pedal stroke reminds me of walking on a treadmill cranked up high (despite the 3 gears).

Fourth, there are times when a folding bike just isn't convenient. Like the movies, where there's no place to stash it without it being a hazard. Or shopping in Bloomingdales, where you don't want to roll it around all 5 floors. 

Solve all this for a mere $95 (plus 8.875% NYC tax) per year!

A pedaling ad for Citibank, who reportedly contributed $40m to the program from its small change coffers.
For infrequent users, there's a rather expensive $10 a day on-demand fee that you pay with credit card at the ubiquitous stations, for as many 30-minute rides you can fit in 24 hours. Yes, that means no parking it against a tree or leaving it while you enjoy a leisurely latte or movie - it's strictly for short-hop commuting.

Citibike fumble-mentals

There are some things a newbie should know that I learned the hard way.
  • First, you can insert your blue access key into the slot and withdraw it, waiting for the light to go green. There seems to be ample time to pull out the bike before the light goes 
  • To release/return the bike, you often have to grab under the front downtube and manually hoist with both hands up and out of / into the dock. It's not exactly a nice glide in, glide out experience. I shudder to think the number of times people ram them trying to get the little orange light to go on, and then turn green. 
  • The seat is a basic quick release - you may have to twiddle the left knob to make the lever easier to open and close. There are convenient markings on the seat post so you can remember where you need it next time (mine is 2 - yes, I'm real short)
  • There are gears! Three of them, operated by a twist shifter on the right handlebar. I found #2 a bit easy and #3 a bit of a slog, so don't expect it to match your "cadence"
  • The front carrier sports a mother-of-all bungee cords that could easily secure a cage containing rabid live chickens, should you ever decide to transport something like that. 

Handy Citibike App - but don't trust it for bike availability

The mobile app not only shows you were all the stations are, but tells you how many bikes are available so you're not late for your important interview 'cos you ran to an empty station.

However, as the above image shows, when I made for one of the supposedly 8 available bikes on 25th St and 1st Avenue, the station was bare. 

So what happened? A Facebook friend says it's because they are being "stolen and chopped up for scrap - around $40." Someone on Reddit said in Paris, people were messing with them and tossing them in the Seine.  Or, maybe the app needs and the tech needs a bit of tightening. There is a team of worker bees who pass the day flitting between stations to "rebalance" the bike distribution. 

Outside some stations, like Google, the racks are either empty or full. I was lucky to roll up to the one remaining empty dock. Otherwise, it would have been a short hike to the next station ...  

What about helmets? 

Nope, they are not mandatory. Apparently a mandatory helmet rule is killing the program downunder in Melbourne.  Admittedly, even I hesitate to lug my traffic-stopping Nutcase Watermelon around for short hops. 

Architecture professor, urban planning philosopher, bicycle zealot and author of Cycle Space, Prof Stephen Fleming (from downunder) believes that while a helmet is advisable, there are theories that head injury is less likely when cycling in a slow, upright riding position coupled with the potential nirvana of slower moving traffic. As in, if bikeshare programs like this can bring a critical mass of cyclists on the road, they may help re-calibrate existing speed and impatience levels.

Turns out my Traffic Cone Bag actually functions very well as a helmet tote; read about that on my Traffic Cone Blog.

Prof Stephen Fleming (right) says frozen yoghurt and bicycles are bonza, mate. 
My much-admired Nutcase Watermelon helmet
I have already made several trips on Citibike just in the last week. No doubt all my moves are being tracked and I fully expect to start receiving coupons and offers based on my trips any time soon. If you're into big data, it would be very fun to watch the ebb and flow of bikes on some big lit up operations screen ...

My first day with Citibike!

Closeted (for now): my Bike Friday tikit and Pocket Rocket road bikes

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

88 Ways I Know I'm Chinese: Redux

The 89th way: you eat durian without holding your nose (or drawing blood)

Chinese New Year 2013 is just around the corner, and I've just received an invitation from Jim and Robinson to a Year of the Snake Party. Ah, so that's why the Olsen Twins designed that $39K snakeskin backpack, and why just a month ago I attended an event with a lot of snake action, including the albino Burmese python shown below ...

First, here's a fab field guide to dim sum, because that's what every self respecting Chinese does at some point (maybe months earlier or later), to celebrate Chinese New Year. To get you into the spirit, here's an old chestnut exhumed yet again, the fabled 88 Ways to Know You're Chinese.

Google that phrase and you'll come up with all kinds of variations, but this one dates back to 2002 so is probably more original (it mentions a Walkman). I've taken the liberty of annotating them based on my own upbringing.

 If you're Chinese, see how many fit you, divide by 88 and  multiply by 100 to get your percent-Chinese rating. (But being Chinese and good at math, I didn't need to tell you that, right?).

If you're not Chinese, try it and see how good a Chinese imposter you are. Score high, and you'd blend right in to a typical Chinese family, if you put on a short black wig, thick eyeglasses and don't answer back ...

If you wonder what it's like to market to Chinese, read my FastCompany post, Asian American Advertising: It's not all about me. But first, how do I know thee? Let me count the 88 ways ...



 1. You unwrap Christmas gifts very carefully, so you can save and reuse the wrapping (and especially those bows) next year. Best to use that invisible tape as it's less sticky and doesn't tear off the nice gold foil pattern. 2. You only buy Christmas cards after Christmas when they are 50% off. Or better yet, never buy them at all. And you NEVER *give* a Christmas card - you *give* a present, you *send* a card. Do otherwise and you're a cheapskate. 
3. When there is a sale on toilet paper, you buy 100 rolls and store them in your closet or in the bedroom of an adult child who has moved out. In Manhattan, you buy a dozen Scott 1000 from Western Beef and use it as a step stool. 
4. You have a vinyl table cloth on your kitchen table.  In Manhattan, something stylish from Chilewich, please. 
5. Your stove (and toaster oven floor) is covered with aluminum foil. Why clean more than you need to?  
6. Your kitchen has a sticky film of grease over it. Well, the stove area at least. Peanut oil sticks like s*** to a blanket. 
7. You have stuff in the freezer since the beginning of time. But it's dated so we know what decade.
8. You use the dishwasher as a dish rack. What dishwasher? 
9. You have never used your dishwasher. Precisely. More work to stack and unstack and every Chinese family will make you rinse them with hot water practically clean anyway, before loading them. 
10. You keep a Thermos of hot water available at all times. Nah, we just nuke the mug over and over. 
11. You boil water and put it in the refrigerator because you don't know where that water's been, right?.
12. You eat all meals in the kitchen. It's less travel because you CANNOT let noodles go cold. What's this about waiting for everyone to sit down before you pick up your fork? Are you nuts? 
13. You save grocery bags, tin foil, and tin containers. And plastic containers. And curse the lack of cupboard space. 
14. You use grocery bags to hold garbage. Because those biodegradeable ones burst out the bottom and then you've got a right mess to clean up.
15. You always leave your shoes at the door. So should anyone - have you seen the chihuahua poop out on the streets of NYC? 
16. You have a piano in your living room. One of those upright ones that sound like a keyboard in a coffin. 
17. Your parents know how to launch nasal and throat projectiles. Now come on, we came from a slightly better caste. 
18. You iron your own shirts. Nyet. I never iron nothin'. It wastes time.
19. You drive a Honda or Acura and are less than 5'8" tall. Less than 5" tall. I had a Honda Accord, that year with the pop up headlights, and a big fat cushion behind my back so I could reach the pedals. Nuts. 
20. You pick your teeth at the dinner table (but you cover your mouth). I prefer floss. Those things just drive the char siew further between your teeth. 
21. You twirl your pen around your fingers. What pen? I can't even remember how to hold one. 
22. You hate to waste food
a. Even if you're totally full, if someone says they're going to throw away the leftovers on the table, you'll finish them. (Your mom will give a lecture about starving kids in Africa) Actually it was specifically Ethiopia. 
b. You have Tupperware in your fridge with three bites of rice or one leftover chicken wing. It's called breakfast. 
23. You don't own any real Tupperware-only a cupboard full of used but carefully rinsed margarine tubs, take out containers, and jam jars. Bingo! Pity it never stacks neatly. And the Tupperware lids never sealed right so what's the point?
24. You also use the jam jars as drinking glasses. Wrong. That must have been a stray one from the 888 Ways To Know You're Brooklynese list. 
25. You've eaten a red bean popsicle. Red bean soup please, with evaporated milk. 
26a. You have never hugged your parents. Public and private displays of affection demonstrate weakness. 
26b. You your parents have never hugged you. At least, not that you can recall.   
27. You have a collection of minature shampoo bottles that you take every time you stay in a hotel. Or stay anywhere. 
28. The condiments in your fridge are either Price Club sized or come in plastic packets, which you save/steal every time you get take out or go to McDonald's. Soy sauce in particular. 
29. Ditto paper napkins. So much nicer than paper towels, especially if they have Del Posto on them. 
30. You wipe your plate and utensils before you eat every time you go to a restaurant. Have you seen how they wash dishes out the back of a Chinese restaurant? Shudder. 
31. You carry a stash of your own food whenever you travel (and travel means any car ride longer than 15 minutes)....These travel snacks are always dried. As in not just dried plums, dried ginger, and beef/pork jerky, but dried cuttlefish (SQUID). That stuff lasts for centuries too. In your gut.
32. You own a rice cooker. But of course. And one of those old, clunky, Dalek like ones, not the slick designer R2D2 looking ones. 
33. You wash your rice at least 2-3 times before cooking it. To remove starch so it doesn't become like paper mache glue. 
34. You spit bones and other food scraps on the table. (That's why you need the vinyl tablecloth). Only in like-minded company, please. Chicken feet leave a particularly lovely big pile.   
35. Your parents have never hugged you.  Can we please steer away from that topic?  
36. You fight (literally) over who pays the dinner bill. Less so with the recession. We just go Dutch. And despite being good at math, the tip calculation is a pain in the ass for we ABC's (Australian Born Chinese).  
37. Your dad thinks he can fix everything himself. He is actually pretty handy. Except when recapping the roof one day and it started to rain. Then it was God's fault. And boy, did god's ears burn ...
38. You majored in something practical like engineering, medicine or law. I wish. I was better at stringing letters together. But I did get a Distinction of Abstract Algebra, specifically groups and rings. 
39. When you go to a dance party, there are a wall of guys surrounding the dance floor trying to look cool. Hmmm, you lost me here. At raves, no one cares anymore. 
40. You live with your parents and you are 30 years old (and they prefer it that way). Or if you're married and 30 years old, you live in the apartment next door to your parents, or at least in the same neighborhood. Home cooked meals on tap are a boon!
41. You don't use measuring cups It's just more washing up! 
42. You feel like you've gotten a good deal if you didn't pay tax. Nah, it's only 8.875% in NYC. The 20% tip is the killer. 
43. You beat eggs with chopsticks. Beautifully minimalist technique that works. My dad was an expert at making egg foo yoong like this - a kind of heavenly scramble. 
44. You re-gift cookies or Christmas cake at Christmas (some could even be more than 5yrs old). You have to make sure it's that eternal kind of cake like a fruit cake. Soak it in a cup of port/rum and add some custard and it's good as Martha Stewart's latest. 
45. You have a teacup with a cover on it. Have you seen the dust that settles on your toilet cistern? 
46. You reuse teabags. And we're even ballsy enough to ask for a hot water top up at a cafe. Twice. 
47. You have a drawer full of old pens, most of which don't write anymore. Not me, I throw them out if they hesitate to write in the first 2 nanoseconds. 
48. If you're under age 20, you own a really expensive walkman if you're over 20, you own a really expensive camera. The kind with a long lens that you wear poking out of your chest like some kind of cyborg. Not me. I prefer my stealth Sony HX9V
49. You always look phone numbers up in the phone book, since calling Information costs 50 cents. Information is such a rip off. The phone books can double as toilet paper in a pinch. 
50. You don't tip more than 10% at a restaurant, and if you do, you tip Chinese delivery guys waiters more. It's a tough gig with little respect. 
51. You're a wok user. You own a giant wok. With no handle, but two metal handles like the trad kind, that you have to hold with a folded cloth to avoid burning your hand. 
52. You only make long distance calls after 11pm. Didn't everyone before Skype? 
53. You know all the waiters at your favorite Chinese restaurants. And we know all the weird things to order that are not on the English language menu. 
54. You like Chinese films in their original undubbed versions. They can be strangely compelling even if you haven't a clue what's going on. 
a. You love Chinese Martial Arts films. The comical parts. Wayyyyeeeeee!
b. Shao Lin and Wu Tang actually mean something to you. OK I'm showing my Aussiedom now. Let me go Google ...
55. You tasted bitter melon. It's actually not that bitter. More importantly, you eat Durian. See this movie
56. You like congee with thousand year old eggs. We were forced to eat it for breakfast as kids, because it teaches you to be humble (because half the world is starving). 
57. You prefer your shrimp with the heads and legs still attached -  means they're fresh. There's this technique with your teeth and lips that de-shells them in one fast pucker ... 
58. You never call your parents just to say hi. We need to build up a year's worth of itemized news.
59. You always cook too much. Hey, and eat for a week. 
60. If you don't live at home, when your parents call, they ask if you've eaten, even if it's midnight. If you don't eat, you die, right? 
61. Also, if you don't live at home, your parents always want you to come home. Secretly, it's really a nice thing, don't you think? 
62. Your parents tell you to boil herbs and stay inside when you get sick. Usually hot lemon and honey. And something from the pharmacy that looks like nuclear fallout. 
63. When you're sick, they also tell you not to eat fried foolds or baked foods because they produce hot air (Yee-Hay in Cantonese). No wonder instant ramen became so popular. 
64. You e-mail your Chinese friends at work, even though you only sit 10 feet apart. Doesn't everyone? You can have a social convo but still look like you're working. 
65. Your parents never go to the movies. It's just too much sitting and there's no fridge nearby. 
66. Your parents send money to their relatives in China. The rellos in China were doing quite well because it is cheaper to live there than here! 
67. You use a face cloth. They had to be washed in hot water each week because they'd get strangely slimy from soap scum. 
68. Your parents use a clothes line. I wish we could all do that. Dryers when the sun is blazing are so wasteful on the planet. 
69. You're always late. Isn't that where "fashionably late" came from? 
70. You eat every last grain of rice in your bowl, but don't eat the last piece of food on the table. Until it's been politely refused by everyone and the table who then guilt you when you actually stick it in your mouth. 
71. You starve yourself before going to all you can eat buffet. But of course! You have to get your $25.95 plus tax worth! 
72. You've joined a CD club at least once. And encyclopedia club. Once I sent in one of those cards about home renovations (at age 7), and got some Reader's Digest rep on the phone to my mum chasing money. I just liked to look at the pictures. 
73. You know someone who can get you a good deal on jewellery or electronics, computers. Not any more. Amazon has everyone by the throat.
74. You never discuss your love life with your parents. Love life? What's that? 
75. Your parents are never happy with your grades Grade A and A+ are met with silence. Below that, all hell broke loose. 
76. You save your old Coke bottle glasses even though you're never going to use them again. Well, my 20 year old laser vision op is starting to reverse itself ... 
77. You own your own meat cleaver and sharpen it. Shing! Shing! Shing! I remember that sound so well ... 
78. You keep most of your money in a savings account. As opposed to ...? Oh right, shares? Nope, we Asians are risk averse when it comes to money. Except in a gambling hall. I'm told.  
79. You own an MJ set and possibly have a room set up in the basement. What, Mary Jane? 
80. You know what MJ means. Ah, mah jong. I had this cool necklace made of mah jong tiles - does that count? 
81. You've been on the Love Boat or know someone who has. My mother's favorite TV show. She was shocked (and so was I) when one seen showed people actually in bed, naked, thus shattering the squeaky clean fantasy ...
82. Your toothpaste tubes are all squeezed paper-thin. It's kinda fun seeing how much you can squeeze out of it, a bit like how some Chinese business people operate. 
83. You say "whie" when answering your cell phone. It's the equivalent of a grunt. 
84. You are familiar with the term "aiee yah.....". My dad use to say that! It means "Golly gee!" or  "!@##$%!"
85. It take 3-4 days to finish sipping a can of pop and saving it in the fridge even there is only one drop left. When the bubbles leave it reminds you of flat Oolong tea. 
86. You know why this list consists of only "88" reasons. I have to add one here. Your family's furniture color scheme is red and gold, and the fabrics are velvet and silk or something shiny. There might even be some laughing buddha statues lying around who, let's face it, those Buddha's never look like they're having a particularly fun time.  
87. You enclose your remote controls in plastic to keep greasy fingerprints off them. What about the car doors, sofas et al - all with plastic still on.
88. You take this message and forward it to all your Chinese and non-Chinese friends and enemies.

Aren't you happy/envious you were/weren't born Chinese?

I can enhance my Chino pedigree by wearing this mock cheong sam dress. Mock because it's completely and undemurely backless. And that's not a black bra strap - it's my Traffic Cone Bag!

Friday, December 7, 2012

CUBA: The Handsomest Man in Cyberspace

The Handsomest Man in Cuba is now available as a Google e-book.

If you want it for your e-reader, it looks like you can read 50 pages for free, and then there's a link to it in my lemonade stand. I'm not sure if the color photos are included. But now, you can save a tree (well at least, a fully-formed one). If you're an American, you can read it without the cover arousing suspicion!

You can also read 3 chapters on my handsomest webpage on Cuba

Thank you in advance for purchasing it and supporting people who write things - careful, you might encourage us to write some more!

My friend Lynn souvenired this poster from the time of Leian Gonzalez affair, around 2000. I was given a t-shirt and asked to "wear it in my home country."
I still have this t-shirt, given to me by the gentleman wearing it.

Link to the Handsomest Man in Cuba e-book

Link to The Handsomest Man in Cuba Official Webpage

Link to the Handsomest Man in Cuba Facebook page

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Hurricane Sandy: Caught between a flush, a charge and a dark place [PHOTOS+VIDEOS]

[VIDEO] Galfromdownunder interviewed by the New York Post (embedded above)

[STORY] Sandy survivor's letter from Manhattan  my op-ed piece for Thank you to the original editor of my book, The Handsomest Man in Cuba,  Barney Collier, for making that happen. Full text below.

[VIDEO] My video of Sandy approaching the Hudson shore on Facebook

38 people lost their lives in one of the biggest hurricanes ever to hit the east coast of the USA. I lost all power, water, heat internet and a bunch of stuff in the freezer for a week - I was one of the lucky ones. Below is my image chronicle of a week in the life of a New York hurricane, as seen from the Chelsea neighborhood (Zone 1/2) - neither severely endangered nor unaffected, but somewhere in between. Below that, the text of my op-ed piece for

Sat 10/27: This is the view of the sky in Connecticut, about an hour north of NYC, the day before Sandy hit the east coast.

Sun 10/28: 7pm: While yuppie Chelsea eateries are shuttered for Sandy, the unlovely Star Diner will not be moved

Sun 10/28: NYers shop for necessities before the storm. I can safely say Anthropologie has nothing you'd need unless it was an eco-ethno fashion emergency. Yes, there was a LINE!

Sun 10/29, 7pm: When all else is shuttered, the stalwart Ha Ha Fresh turns up its lights and tells Sandy to screw off (in Cantonese).

Mon 10/29: The Hudson is 6 feet above normal sea level and it's not even high tide yet. They predict it will rise to 12 feet. This is zone 1.

Mon 10/29: Sandy kisses the Hudson in Zone 1. I shoulda baked my pumpkin bread earlier instead of storm gawking (and endangering the life of my iphone)

Mon 10/28: Sandy comes ashore ...
Tue 10/30: This new business on a controversial corner of Chelsea had its cover blown - literally.

Tue 10/30: Ha Ha Fresh has the last laugh as people scramble to empty its shelves of whatever they have, notably essentials like Kettle Chips and candy, at Manhattan Mom & Pop prices.

Tue 10/30: Some stores in Chelsea transact by candlelight. If you had a cart selling crummy coffee you'd have made a killing

Tue 10/30: These were either blown over or someone laid them down so no one got brained by a flying newspaper box

Tue 10/30, 9pm: Chelsea below 34th St is like going over a border into a third world country (you can't see the boutiques and eateries)

Tue 10/31, 10pm: Right now no water, no power, no Internet, no food, I'm back in Cuba! This photo taken just now in Chelsea biking back from charging my gizmos at a friend's in Hell's Kitchen (where it was like, what hurricane?)

Tue 10/31: 10pm, Chelsea - You really need a decent bike light ...

Tue 10/31, 7pm: Thanks to Cat McGuire who loaned me her oven in (appropriately) Hell's Kitchen to finish baking my Sandy-thwarted pumpkin bread. It resembles leather but hey! It's survival food for a couple of days.

Tue 10/31: What I don't understand is how some places like Dunkin' Donuts have power and water while the rest of Chelsea looks for a place to take a dump

Wed 10/31: North of 26th St it's all systems go ... this hot buffet place was open 24 hrs right through the storm. Run by Asians of course ... they took away the tables and chairs 'cos peeps were charging their phones but not buying any Kung Pao chicken...

Wed 10/31, 3pm: on 23rd St and 7th Ave, darkened windows, traffic lights and confusion as to who has right of way.

Wed 10/31: a Photosynth panorama of the corner opposite where I teach yoga, YoGanesh Yoga 

Wed 10/31: a few places have coffee, tea, and if you're really hungry, candles.

Wed 10/31: Come in, we're open, just mind you don't trip over the laughing Buddha (available in three sizes) 

Wed 10/31: What's Rachel Ray without a working stove? Just another NYC survivor like you and me...

Wed 10/31, 8pm: Sullivan St Bakery's Eric not only knows his bread, he's also a dancer. And he was giving away bread to hungry nabes! 

Wed 10/31: some places are charging $5 to charge your phone, neighbors with power are running power cords to those who don't, and I'm carrying a mini power board to maximize electrical outlets ... I'm like Jesus dispensing loaves and fishes ... 
Wed 10/31: Frank Gehry-designed IAC building, usually a blazing fluorescent blancmange, is eerily dark.

Detail of Gehry's IAC building

Wed 10/31: the view up 19th and towards 10th Ave. The power outage makes you re-discover the Manhattan sky.

Thur Nov 1, 7am - No heat or light at YoGanesh Yoga but we do have romantic candles and a flushing toilet! What else do you need?

Thur Nov 1, 7.30am: I put out a special sign and we got 3 students at 10am, and 5 for Abby Paloma's class at 12.15pm. Now let's see how many show up for 6pm, which I'm teaching - more cowbell, more candles!

Thur Nov 1, 9am - doles out potable water at a little station on 9th Ave.

Thur Nov 1, 9am - the most popular restaurants are all boarded or duct-taped up.

Thur Nov 1, 9am - trash starting to pile up, and apartment corridors starting to get a bit on the nose . My mother in Sydney says she read about rats and mice "seeking higher ground."

Thur Nov 1, 9am - the insanely popular Cookshop restaurant is still closed.

Thur Nov 1, 9am - a fallen dish of the other kind near Moran's restaurant and bar.

Thur Nov 1, 9am - hiking up several flights of stairs to my digs. Thank goodness for my incredible Black Diamond Equipment headlamp!

Thur Nov 1, 9am - Ha. Ha. Fresh, a stalwart Asian run business, laughs at mother nature, bringing out its bunches of flowers for business as usual.

Thur Nov 1, 9am - Sullivan St Bakery is overrun with people looking for artisanal coffee. Or dammit, any kind of coffee!

Thur 11/1, 8pm: the Indian restaurant next to YoGanesh is selling candles for $5. Worth every rupee.

Thur 11/1, 8pm: look south down 7th Ave into the abyss of Chelsea.

Thur 11/1, 8pm: look east along 23rd St into the abyss of Chelsea.

Look north to the bright lights (heat, power, food) of Midtown! Not fair!

With reports of muggings, police install floodlights on main Avenues. Unfortunately, shady behavior is more likely in the pitch black cross streets. 

Thur 11/2: these are the guys we must cultivate a new respect for. When we turn on the light or flush the toilet, it becomes someone else's problem - their problem. It should make you re-think your perceptions about blue collar jobs.

Fri 11/2: with mass transit stalled and still dead traffic lights, there's a surge in people bicycling to work. This is the 8th Ave protected bike lane.

Fri 11/2: signs of life- Whole Paycheck, sorry, WholeFoods is opening later today...

Fri 11/2, 7pm. The power's back on on Chelsea! Lesson: the most important piece of social networking equipment you can carry when hunting the streets for electricity:  the power strip.

One of the hazards of a power outage: stumbling over the dirty work of people who don't pick up after their pooch. And why you MUST do like the Japanese and remove shoes before stepping into people's apartments (often the same room as their bedroom)

The Chelsea Wholefoods serves fresh baked optimism

This was posted a week ago! Billy's Cupcakes

My mother in Australia says she heard reports of rats and mice "seeking higher ground." 
The pet store in Chelsea (Barking Zoo) welcomes back all the shut-in pooches and pussycats for a fre nail trim today. Love the light bulb! 

And now a message from southern restaurant, Tipsy Parson. They say they lost their entire inventory - as did many other Chelsea freezers

Tipsy Parson had a special Post-Sandy brunch. 

Now how much did Duracell pay to pop up on the sponsored section of my Facebook page today?
Let's let Mitt Romney have the last word! 

Caught between a flush, a charge and a dark place 

By Lynette Chiang 

Late one night, while schlepping my way across Manhattan's darkened avenues, I came across a familiar and mundane sight: a parked truck, a whirring generator and a hard hat bobbing up and down in a brightly lit hole. For no reason, I stopped to peer into the hole to watch a man with giant gloves performing some kind of macrame with a brace of massive, steely cables.

It suddenly struck me that whenever you reflexively throw on a light switch, flush the toilet or toss a bag of soggy kitchen refuse down the chute, it becomes someone else's job or problem. It becomes the problem of people standing holes at ungodly hours, wearing hard hats, deciding what to do with your dirty dishwater.

Fast forward to the Chelsea neighborhood in middle of Hurricane Sandy, where I sat in the dark, sneezing from both the cold and odious scented candles. It's was all they had left at Ha. Ha. Fresh, the stalwart, Cantonese-run local bodega.

I was one of the lucky ones, living in Chelsea, a gentrified former slum a single subway stop south of Manhattan's Times Square, and bordering Zone 1 of both recent hurricanes. It's an area known for contemporary art galleries, good restaurants, the Chelsea Hotel and lots of little designer dogs on leashes.

When Sandy hit Chelsea, I only had to deal with no water, no power, no internet and eventually, no food (save for sticky nut bars from Ha. Ha. Fresh).

I only had to drag my bicycle up several flights of stairs in lieu of the elevator, and keep tabs on what bucket of water was for brushing versus flushing – not to mention coordinating taking a dump with having a full bucket on hand. (A neighbor with a garden hose provided the water source. The overhead tank for the apartment building was empty after everyone filled their bathtubs, and now power meant no electricity to pump water back up to refill it.)

A friend helpfully texted some useful camping tips, like "do a #2 in a baggie like a Chelsea chihuahua," and "put your cellphone airplane mode to save battery, turn it on only to receive messages."

I was not one of the tragic victims who lost their lives, loved ones, homes and possessions to this massive, 943-mile wide, spinning circular saw of destruction.

In fact, I was almost smug, gleefully donning waterproofs and heading out to the water's edge as the storm approached, joking about endangering the life of my iPhone.

Many thought that the inconvenience of camping in a big city would last just a couple of days, rather than a week or more. But as the dark and cold and crackers for dinner wore on, the good and bad side of the human survival instinct came to the surface.

Residents became progressively tribal, hunting the streets of shuttered businesses for cellphone charging opportunities, looking for hot showers and flushing toilets and gathering batteries and shelf-stable food to squirrel away in warm refrigerators. Vegan, organic and preservative-free preferences were quite possibly thrown to the raging winds. Made in China candles eclipsed "I Heart New York" as the most visible sidewalk souvenir.

The universal bonding amulet became the humble power strip. Carrying one of those into a cafe with a free electric socket turned you into a Jesus handing out loaves and fishes. I exchanged more business cards on two nights in Sullivan Street Bakery than in an entire year.

One eaterie that miraculously remained open 24/7 throughout the entire storm removed their tables and chairs when hoards of people charged their phones and left without so much as a stick of gum. I heard grumbling about businesses charging $5 for a charge and $10 for a simple flashlight. But while many grumblers were being paid their salaries even with Sandy keeping them from their desks, many businesses had lost at least a week of earnings and as we know, banks and landlords rarely loosen the choke chain for natural disasters.

Bizarrely, north of 34th Street, it was all business and pleasure as usual, with no power outages of any kind. With the entire subway system shut down, it was mystifying how workers got to the restaurants unless they were sleeping in the kitchen or staying with friends. Just as my relative safety buffered me from the suffering in outlying areas, having light, heat and food in abundance seemed to frame the perceptions of the storm for friends living uptown.

"I've not been affected one iota - it's just been one great relaxing week for me!" whooped a friend on 46th St, adding somewhat annoyingly, "and what a perfect thing to happen at Halloween!"

She offered to take a power walk to visit us down to the dark side, where the sudden plunge into darkness reminded one of crossing the border between a rich and poor country. I felt obliged to warn her of a new danger: muggings in the dark cross streets had been reported, with police installing floodlights to illuminate certain avenues. Some people were apparently posing as cops, shining flashlights in people's faces, asking for ID then making off with their wallets.

The IAC building as you have never seen it before - normally a blazing fluorescent blancmange, now a spooky outcrop in a dark landscape.

The yoga studio where I teach,, was one of the first businesses on 7th Ave to open for classes by candlelight. Surprisingly, we got good attendances, no doubt people feeling the hurricane-butt of being shuttered in their houses.

When the lights finally came on in Chelsea, the first sensation was a feeling of warmth, even though heat was hours away. Other areas must wait at least a week or more to regain full power.

There are reports from upstate of people pelting utility workers with eggs, believing that wealthier residents are getting preferential treatment on the schedule to restore power.

What I learned most is that resilience is the most useful item you can pack in a disaster. The best training for that? Spend time in a third world country or traveling self supported under your own power - on a bicycle. Failing that, turn on your television and see what is happening in Syria.

And never forget the hard-hatted man in the hole who, day in, and day out, connects our flick of a switch with light and heat, and our press of a button with jettisoning our own fetid waste. He helps us never have to think about a flush, a charge, and a dark place.

Three most useful pieces of post-hurricane equipment:
  • Black Diamond Headlamp - left my hands free for hunting, gathering, reading
  • Folding bicycle (any kind) - enables travel independent of the stalled mass transit; can out-pedal most would-be muggers
  • A power strip – carry one and create instant community and connection wherever you go 
Oh, and using a couple of liner bags and kitty litter for a makeshift toilet. My gung-ho sister informs me that the litter deactivates bacteria and breaks it all down. Thanks, Sis - next time.