Architecture & a Change of Pace

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Today I took a different route to the train station from work. I was entranced with how beautiful my surroundings were. There’s so much beauty surrounding us, but sometimes we just get too caught up running from one place to another. Appreciate good weather, beautiful architecture, and just life in general. Breathe.

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”
― Oscar Wilde

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Splendid Parks & Gelato

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Sometimes you have moments; moments when no matter how much you force it to happen, the tip of your pen just does not reach the paper. When what you write seems to have no meaning. When how you feel is not articulated just the way you want it to. Other times, you are struck with a sudden burst of inspiration, and that’s when you know your words will flow freely with ease. Like a waterfall. This little story of mine, I just don’t know where to begin. So I’m going to type up some freestyle nonsense and call it a work of art.

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Once upon a 32 degrees Celsius summer day, I found myself walking through the streets of Surry Hills, learning about how there is no real difference between gelato and ice-cream, and that I have completely lost it when it comes to directions. I work close to Hyde Park, but I rarely visit, probably because I’m running from one place to another. Located in the centre of the Sydney CBD, Hyde Park is Australia’s oldest public park, with over 16 hectares of lush spring green grass to roll around in (my next mission). As I had the day off, I had nothing but the goal of taking in some fresh air, clearing my insane mind, bringing in tranquil energy in a mediation kind of way, and taking a few snaps with my borrowed SLR (it’s set on automatic because I still don’t know what the hell I’m doing). I got more than I bargained for, for I learnt a little history about ancient mythology with my Italian company, L, while at the Archibald Fountain. Apparently, the statue on the left of me in the photo below, is of Diana (“divine”), who was a Roman Goddess of Hunting. She was apparently super popular with the locals for she possessed supernatural powers that enabled her to talk to and command animals of the wild. Hence, the bow and arrow. I tried to pitch in to this little history lesson by trying to recall what the name of the bronze Apollo standing tall in the centre of the fountain, surrounded by horses’ heads on either side, dolphins and cute little turtles/tortoises/whatever they are called. “What’s Brad Pitt’s character called in Troy?” The name just did not come to me. Of course now I remember it! Achilles. Some good-looking chap with abs of steel (that he does not have to work hard for), with the agility of Usain Bolt. All in all, I think Hyde Park is perfect for an impromptu picnic, one with a red and white checkered mat neatly laid out and a selection of various tropical fruits in a picnic basket. Or maybe it could be an alternative option to retail therapy for City slickers, who spend their lunch breaks busily checking out the latest collections at Michael Kors or Zimmerman in Westfield Pitt Street Mall. It’s an ideal oasis for putting your feet up on one of the park benches, listening to songs for sunset on Spotify, and just forgetting about the world for a little while.

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The next pit stop was at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW). AGNSW was opened in 1871, with various art collections, programs and exhibits, ranging from 19th Century Asian art pieces of ceramics and bronzes that embrace the cultures of South, Southeast and East Asia, to contemporary art that encompasses abstract painting, Post-modernism, Expressionism, screen culture and pretty funny pop art. L seemed to know a lot about European histories since he is originally from Rome, and he was more than happy to share the meaning and origins of various Italian words, you know the ones on the little description board next to each art work. The awesome thing about AGNSW, is that admission is free, and you can take as many photos as you want. So put it onto your To-Do list because it’s kind of fascinating, even if your a not-so-artsy person. It also has a beautiful panoramic view of the City. “That Milk Beach place you mentioned is on the left somewhere over there, Darlinghurst over there, Surry Hills somewhere there”. L knew more about where places were located in Sydney than me, and I was born and raised here! I just kept nodding. Apparently in some places in Italy, height restriction laws apply on multi-storey buildings  to preserve and enhance the historic character of the traditional community. All I could think about was some kind of Italian holiday villa made from Tuscan red sandstone, with violet and terracotta red flowers overhanging from its balcony. I clearly have never been to Europe, and have watched Under the Tuscan Sun far too many times.

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When I get hungry, my brain stops working and my stomach starts talking to me, “Feed me, feed me”. There is an outdoor tuckshop called missChu on Bourke St in Darlinghurst. I’ve walked past it twice before, and have been enthralled by its upbeat, yet simple design aesthetic. The founder and creative director of missChu, Nahji Chu, who likes to call herself, the Queen of Rice Paper Rolls (I wish to one day have various awesome titles like she does), has thought of a very imaginative, unconventional, and neat-o foodie concept. What I like about her is that her food empire screams her. That is, it is a fusion of her personality mixed with her academic background and colourful life experiences, growing up in of of the first Vietnamese/Laotian refugees to settle in Australia. For example, the menus are reminiscent of the canteen ordering forms in her early school days, when she was adjusting to learn a new language and way of living. They say that your journey through life is what shapes you as a person. That everything you go through happens for a reason. That no experience in life is ever bad, for you always learn something from it. If that’s true, then when I turn 50 (random number), I want to look back (wearing Louise Vuitton cat eye sunglasses in a red Ferrari), and tell myself, “You did well”. I want to take everything I’ve learnt – through people, books, and travel, mash  it all up in a mortar and pestle, and mould the resultant into a creative ball that is in line with what I do.

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I ordered the traditional Vietnamese pork roll (bahn mi), along with a lychee and cucumber, young coconut frozen crush ($16 altogether). The pork roll tasted simple, but delicious. You could tell the ingredients used were fresh. In my opinion, you can never go wrong with a Vietnamese pork roll, they always just taste so good that I have to remind myself not to eat so fast. On the other hand, the beverage felt like the best icy concoction for that hot summer day. Each sip was like a burst of happiness, for it was just so refreshing. Get it!IMG_4608

IMG_4612The day ended with eating gelato in a park in Surry Hills. If you’ve never been to Gelato Messina, you are missing out! I ‘liked’ their Facebook page, and seeing their new unique creations on my News Feed makes me want to run there. Gelato Messina is the real deal – they don’t use colourings, flavourings, preservatives and pastes.  It’s the way gelato should taste, with its bold textures and natural flavours. For instance, if they want to make a gingerbread gelato,  they’ll make the gingerbread cake themselves and crumble it to smash into the gelato. Their other ingredients are noteworthy, including oreo custard, raspberry coulis and lemongrass jam. They’ve even gone to the extreme and added exotic, out-of-the-box ingredients such as duck fat, corn chips and tomato salsa. The funny thing is that it works! It still tastes amazing. It’s like they cast some kind of spell on you, that makes you want to come back for more. I vividly remember the first time I went, it was after a work function in Darling Harbour and my co-workers all wanted to go to Messina in The Star. I can’t believe I walked 20 minutes in heals just for gelato, but they promised it would be worth it. Gelato Messina did not disappoint.

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Anyway, so I don’t know if it was because he was Italian, but L wanted to try every flavour. Maybe he wanted to make an informed decision and eat only the best (but they are all good). I went for the Chocolate Fondant and the Salted Caramel with White Chocolate. L told me that in Italian fondant meant “dark chocolate”, but I was thinking of fondant icing like the type they put on wedding cakes. It did make sense. I’m not even a fan of dark chocolate, but I found it to be bliss. I’d rate both flavours highly.  If the mix of sweet and salty in salted caramel gelato is not balanced, it’s either overpoweringly salty or sweet. But the texture of the salted caramel at Gelato Messina was soft and creamy, and then you get these little bursts of happiness with the little white chocolate pieces in it. What is even more exciting is that the Specials, which have really cool names are uniquely based on celebratory occasions such as Christmas (I wonder if they do Hanukkah). They have more than 40 various flavours at any one time and also beautifully crafted gelato cakes that look almost too good to eat. There are a couple of Gelato Messina ice-cream parlors in Sydney such as Darlinghurst, Bondi, The Star, but my personal favourite is the one in Surry Hills of the beautiful park opposite it called Shannon Reserve (Crown St), where you can enjoy your treat. The park is a popular hangout for hipsters, young parents, yoga enthusiasts, university students, roomies, and old friends.

Yours truly,

from a 22-year-old girl who loves art, taking photos and eating lots and lots of gelato.

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Clogs & a bookstore named Sappho

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There are days when you are in a clog-wearing kind of mood, when you know that a nice pair of clogs, will be the cherry on top of what you have in mind to wear. When I open my closet in the morning, I like to think to myself, “Ok, what kind of woman do I want to be today?” From Beyonce fierce to Carly Rae Jepson sweet as candy kind of thing, it’s totally up to you. What you wear is a reflection of the type of person you are, or at least the type of person you are trying to create. Are you the crumpled shirt wearing I just got out of bed, but I don’t care what anyone thinks because I just had a big night dude or the more proper Ralph Lauren wearing ironed tucked in button-up shirt guy that you would see in a typical episode of Gossip Girl? For the ladies, perhaps you like classic vintage knee-length pleated floral dresses and neutral-toned A-line skirts? Or are you more of what I like to call a quirky hipster gal who feels herself when wearing more modern designs and prints like those made by Marrimekko or Gorman? The list goes on, but the point is, what you choose to wear is a form of self-expression.

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Clogs, whether they be simple flat clogs, high-fashion clogs, or clog boots, offer an alternative to heals. Most importantly, they are equally just as stylish as heals, without the pain and limping we suffer as women when wanting to look nicely put together. Clogs are versatile in the sense that they add oomph to an outfit that is either casual, smart casual, semi-formal or formal, making them a versatile statement piece for the modern woman. Back in the days, clogs (klompen) were often worn in heavy labour as safety shoes. Traditionally, skilled artisans hand-crafted these clogs to withstand sharp and heavy objects and concentrated acids. But because we live in the 21st Century, I would suggest that if you’re out clubbing on a Saturday and you want to unleash your moves like Jagger, you could try hot clogging or tapping (which looks a little like this – watch this Youtube vid. This girl can move! Someone please teach me). Traditional clogging is a type of folk dance, originating from the Netherlands. The party pooper (i.e. the dancer) wears clogs and strikes their heels, toes, or both against each other or a hard floor to create audible percussive rhythms to flow with the music. Be a rebel, and start a dance trend.

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It was two weeks ago on a Tuesday, when I wore clogs, along with a splashed white lace dress, a mocha leather backpack and pretty pink beads with a cute little yellow parrot. It was the night I did my very first open mic poetry reading. I’ve always written since I was a kid, from journals with messy primary school handwriting to letters that were never given to those that they were intended for, but are still kept in a small box. Sometimes you just need to let it all out. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Once in a while, it’s important to put yourself out there, be adventurous, and try new things. Challenge yourself, for that’s when you truly learn about yourself as a person – your strengths and your weaknesses; your loves and your hates. So there I sat in a bookstore named Sappho, waiting for my 2 minutes on stage. Sappho Books & Cafe is a cosy little second-hand bookstore on Glebe Point Road, with a plethora of different book categories, ranging from Romance to Murder and Crime; to English Literature and Foreign Language. If you’ve got a pile of unwanted books accumulating dust on your bookshelf at home, then do know that Sappho not only sells books, but also buys them. If you look hard enough, rare finds such as out of print books are lingering Sappho. For example, I picked up a vintage softcover paperback about Vogue written in French. Where in Sydney would you find something like that? I thought it was pretty cool, despite being unable to read it with my limited French. Bonjour; je m’apelle Donna; merci; au revoir. That’s my entire French encyclopaedia for you. Sappho has two levels overflowing with books, and a relaxed courtyard with real plants, featuring interesting street art and a generation of graffiti – a mark of its former life as a youth centre.

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I didn’t really prepare for my little get-up, I sort of just printed out the closest poem to my heart – the one with lots of soul and meaning, and told myself YOLO! The scariest part was when the host announced, “In no particular order, I’ll call your name, and up you come.” I went up second, gave a little cute intro, and background to the speech, read the damn thing, and thanked the audience. It was nice to have like-minded people listen to you, and appreciate your words. I even had my first fan boy come up to me after, and tell me my poem was great. I was immensely flattered. It put a smile on my face, what can I say? I guess I’m officially a poet now.

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If you write a little poetry yourself and would like to share what you have to say, Poetry Nights at Sappho are held every second Tuesday of each month (7pm-9.30pm). You get 2 minutes, which is usually enough for 1 poem. Spots fill up fast, so get in early and get your name on that sign up sheet. The open mic section happens at the very end (around 9ish when I went). If you don’t think you have the courage to do public speaking, just do it. Chances are there will be one person who’ll be more nervous than you, with hands that shake like they’ve been possessed.  There was a warm, energetic vibe in the air, and I assure you, you won’t be thrown tomatoes at, for the crowd seemed supportive and eager to listen to you with a good amount of enthusiasm. So go get ’em tiger!

Yours truly,

from a 22-year-old girl who says, “It’s the things that challenge you in life, that allow you to see the potential you have hidden within”.

Mystery & a dungeon bar

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So last Friday, I found myself sitting in an old, upholstered wooden resting chair in a dimly lit small bar, a subterranean mezzanine enclave hidden in the heart of Sydney CBD. It felt like a dungeon. Actually, it felt like I was sitting in what seemed like the Gryffindor common room with the type of crowd you see walking down King St in Newtown on a Friday night, and also a bunch of strangers dressed as Pokemon characters. Oddly enough, I felt comfortable. The place has a pretty awesome name, Spooning Goats. As I sat there, I don’t know why, but I got the feeling  that more than 20 couples must have made out in the chair I was sitting in. Either that or the ‘hot topic’ of the night, L-O-V-E, must have taken over and affected my train of thought. Let’s just call them A1 and A2. I used to work with A1 back in the day, and strangely enough we took a ballroom dancing class once upon a time to try to conquer our unco-ness. That’s umm well…still in progress. On the other hand, A2 was a friend of A1’s who tagged along after work. They once got mistaken for being a gay couple at T2, but in actual fact A2 is married. He seems to be madly in love with the love of his life, a girl who’s eye colour changes from one to another in different lighting conditions. Apparently, it’s a rare genetic or acquired disorder called Heterochromia (and yes, I did look it up on Wikipedia). Pretty cool I think.

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They introduced me to ‘Nuts and Bolts’, which is a house made signature beer snack seasoned with what seemed like garlic, rosemary, sea salt and spices. Totally going with my senses on that one. Nuts and Bolts is the love child of Nutri Grain and Bhuja mix. As we munched on those and told some tales, I remember thinking this is like having  two big brothers who seem overtly keen to give me their guy perspectives on the whole love thing. “Confidence is sexy”, “boys are stupid and insecure”, “you just have to go for it”. It was honest, and left my cheeks hurting from laughter. I was quite happy to listen. What have I got to say, love moves in mysterious ways, or so they say. No matter how old, no matter how weird, everyone has a their own opinion about love. We’ve all loved and lost at one stage or another.

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So if you’re looking for an oasis, a place that feels a million miles away from the rat race and the chaotic rush of being in the City, then this is the place to go. Almost everything you’ll lay your eyes on there (except for the people of course), is recycled with care such as the furniture, the glassware and the retro pre-loved wall hangings. You can kick back, relax, and enjoy some good ‘ol hand-crafted tap brews, Australian wines, and creative cocktail mixes, and hearty warm pies served in bowls. Yes, bowls! Spooning Goats also brings in all the boys with their milkshakes. Just kidding, they bring in all the cool kids by hosting live music performances by local and emerging artists, from those who didn’t make it into Australian Idol to upbeat ukulele solos and DJ’s spinning old 45’s. To add the finishing touch, you can relive your 90s I’m-obsessed-with-video-game days by immersing yourself and your mates in a game of Donkey Kong, Pac Man or Space Invaders on the Atari. Whatever floats your boat.

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Prior to this little underground bar adventure, the three of us checked out The Village Bizarre, a Friday night playground of markets and mystery held in The Rocks. It operates every Friday 6.30pm – 10.00pm between 1 November to 20 December. As a First Year university student, I was too shy to jump into the silent disco that was happening on campus one time. So this time, I didn’t miss the opportunity. I grabbed A1, we put on wireless headphones playing upbeat pop tunes, and we marched to the beat of our own drum in the silent disco happening there. So for 30 seconds of my life, I bopped my head and bounced my knees and called it dancing. What can I say, it was quite liberating. As the wise folks say, there’s always a right time for everything.

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To be even more adventurous, we also surprised the world with other amazing singing in karaoke. So here’s the story, I was meant to do a solo to ‘I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing’ by Aerosmith. Piece of advice: never, I repeat, never choose that song for public karaoke. Actually, it wasn’t really a solo because this little girl, wearing an aquamarine fairy costume held the other mic. I used my charm to force her into being my back up singer. However, she left before the song started, and so did half the crowd [tearing up just a little]. I sang a few lines, then got embarrassed, so I desperately did a save-me-now hand gesture to A1. In the end A1 and A2 got together in a little bromance duet. There was just so much passion and raw emotion as A2 belted out to “Yeah, yeah, yeah”! You know the line that Steven Tyler is  famous for, the one that goes after “And just stay here in this moment for the rest of time”. It was epic. You could just feel the chemistry between the two. The crowd roared.

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One of my favourite finds from the markets that night was this neck piece ($20) from the AWH Studio stall. It’s a deconstructed wristwatch dial from a 1950’s women’s watch, so I guess whenever I wear this, I am wearing a bit of vintage wherever I go. It’s as if I’m carrying the soul of the one who owned this watch. It’s like her legacy lives on or something. Oh my…I also learnt a thing or two from that stall, that back in the days  watchmakers would carefully position stones and rubies into the mechanical compartment of watches to reduce friction. My little treasure once had 17 jewels back in its hay days. What I also liked about this stall was that they customised the length of the chain to your liking. I chose the brass link chain to go with mine, but they also do black-gold, silver-plated and copper chains, which is kind of cool.

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IMG_4423IMG_4435IMG_4477Other highlights of the night included, relishing in delicious pan-fried pork dumplings, discovering there is such a thing called a Gift Guru (mind you, it’s actually an employable career, where you pretty much act like a spiritual being, hand out flowers and recommend gifts to a certain someone you’ve never met, but you’ve been informed of their likes and dislikes), getting rejected when wanting to take photos of nicely decorated gingerbread cookies (their loss, they could have been mentioned on my awesome blog), and rooming the paved brick pathways in The Rocks while talking life with an old friend and his buddy, who I managed to instantly click with. Our unique quirks and random antics managed to mesh well together, leaving me with a delightful fuzzy wuzzy feeling at the end of a great night.

Yours truly,

from a 22-year-old girl who loves finding small, but priceless treasures at markets.

Blueberries & sparkles

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Blueberries are insane. I highly recommend the super fruit, as they packed with antioxidant power! Antioxidants work to neutralise free radicals linked to the development of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and the progression of ageing. No one wants wrinkles! I say defy nature, and eat blueberries [insert Mr Burn’s evil hand gesture when he says, “Excellent”]. Actually, the shade of the first coat of nail polish I applied is called Blueberry by Crabtree & Evelyn. It is reasonably easy to apply, as it glides through the brush smoothly. After applying twice, the end result produced a glossy, bold shade of what I’d call Galaxy Blue, with a hint of shimmer [insert spirit fingers dance from Bring It On]. So far no chipping has occurred, and it’s now day 3, which points that these nail lacquers are top dog! They seem to provide long-lasting wear, which of course is what every girl wants.

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Normally Crabtree & Evelyn nail lacquers retail for $15, with a collection that consists of 19 shades and a clear lacquer that can act as both a colour-adhesive base and a protective finish top coat. Also, their nail lacquers have been formulated without ‘the bad stuff’ i.e. camphor, dibutyl phthalates, formaldehyde and toluene. This year I signed myself up to be a Christmas casual beauty advisor with Crabtree & Evelyn (a.k.a. Christmas elf), which has meant that I was able to relish in their 50% off Christmas promotion for casual employees. Win! I went all out of course!

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On top of the base nail colour, I used Australis Nail Glitter Top Coat in Glitter Strikes Back ($7.95) for an instant glitter effect.To give my nails a budge of an edge, the 3rd finger in mauve was painted with Covergirl Outlast Stay Brilliant Nail Gloss ($6.95) in the shade Vio-Last 300. To give it a protective finish and a little sparkle I used Bourjois 1 Seconde Nail Polish ($12), which is a silicon-enriched gel formula with a very impressive fan-effect brush. I really liked the brush! And of course the magic touch to seal the deal, Sally Hansen’s Dry & Go Drops ($14.95). One drop on each nail is plenty. This is a little secret I like to use, as these drying drops not only dries polish in 60 seconds, but it helps prevent against smudges and chipping. It’s a brilliant little secret that I discovered from a good friend, M, when I slept over her house and she gave me a mini-manicure. Also, don’t forget to use a base coat such as Eclipse Long Lasting Quick Dry, which is a Korean brand. They used to have little pop-up stores in various Westfields, but they seem to have disappeared. Any other base coat nail polish should do the trick.

Yours truly,

from a 22-year-old girl who simply loves a good manicure.