Monthly Archives: August 2010

McDonalds Hello Kitty Cosplay toys: Here kitty, kitty…

Is it me or were Happy Meal toys never this good in my day? Or just never this good in England?

Well, strictly speaking, these weren’t happy meal toys. In Hong Kong, collecting shit you don’t need has become a fine art and love of Hello Kitty certainly isn’t confined to kiddies. So all you needed to do was spend $18 at McDonalds, then add on $12 to claim a toy of your choice.

These cute kitties fell under the banner of Hello Kitty Cosplay. Just in case you aren’t sad Asian, cosplay is a fancy name for fully-grown adults dressing up at conventions, usually as comic-book or anime characters. I’m not quite sure why, when you could be Sailor Moon or Pikachu you’d want to dress up as such exotic things as “Graduate” or “Lawyer”, but Hello Kitty’s kinda ker-azy like that. The only ones I passed on were the ones dressed as McDonalds employees – I’m not even sure McDonalds employees want to dress as McDonalds employees so why Hello Kitty would want to is beyond me.

I started off only wanting “Showgirl” and “Bride”. Then I thought “London Guard” and “Air Stewardess” were cute as well. And maybe “Police Officer” too. Soon, somehow, without even realising it, I had become infected by the HK mania for collecting crap and ended up getting near enough the whole set. In HK, people collect for collecting’s sake. They’ll spend thousands at Wellcome just to save up enough stickers to claim a set of pots and pans identical to the set they claimed last year. They’ll try and survive on food bought purely from 7-11 for three months in order to amass a whole series of products slapped with the face of a Japanese cartoon character. They’ll beg, harass and attack McDonalds employees just to get the right colour Coca-Cola glass needed to complete their collection – which they won’t use but just keep in boxes and stare lovingly at on their mantelpiece. And they won’t care that for the amount of time, money and sanity wasted on doing this, they could have just got a cheaper pot and pan set/toy/glass from Ikea. But when you’re in Rome…

You gotta admire McDonalds’ marketing tack as well. These Hello Kitties were drip-fed to the hungry public like jelly babies waggled in front of toddlers’ noses for finishing off their greens. They appeared in weekly batches and you could only get two at a time, meaning you had to go twice a week for three weeks if you wanted to claim all 12. Another one was only available if you ordered a delivery and another three were only available between 9pm-4am with different ones each week. I missed out on one of these ‘after dark’ ones and my poor boyfriend never heard the end of it. You could bypass the whole collection mania by purchasing a box set (getting a special Hello Kitty and apparently “saving” $200 – except you weren’t saving, you just weren’t getting any food) – but where’s the fun in that?! I say ‘Where’s the fun?’; I mean, I was starting to have dreams about my desired Hello Kitty being sold out and knew I needed to get a life.

Luckily for me, my boyfriend is a McDonalds addict, with Coca-Cola flowing through his veins and French Fries propping up his organs – but even he was beginning to tire of a diet exclusively from the golden arches. I was worried he would explode, only for a shower of McNuggets to pop out. This was around the time of Shake Shake Fries and we joked that literally cross-eyed Hip Hop Hello Kitty had OD-ed on too much MSG-infused Hot n’ Spicy Shake Shake stuff. For a while, it looked like my boyfriend might follow suit.

My boyfriend at the end of the month

But anyway, it’s all over now, I got my Hello Kitties and don’t they look cute?! So now I keep them in their boxes and stare lovingly at them sitting on the mantelpiece. This is probably more proof of my burgeoning HK identity than the 3 stars on my ID card.

And if anyone has a “Pajamas” Hello Kitty going for a good price, do let me know 😉

Check out my post on some more (yes, more!!) McDonalds Hello Kitty toys here

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Stick Stick Desserts – oooh, stick you!

UPDATE: All Stick Stick locations are now closed.

Came across these perfect little tea-time snacks in the shopping mall at Hang Hau and just had to try them. We tried the Tiramisu, Chestnut Mont Blanc, Marble Cheesecake, Strawberry Cheesecake, Apple Cinnamon and Brownie (top to bottom, left to right).

The shop is called Stick Stick – all their cakes come in these small but perfectly-formed slices, or rather, sticks. So in-keeping with the small but perfectly-formed theme, I’ll try and keep my it brief as to why I thought this was such a cute concept:

  • Each one was $10. No messing about with cents or odd numbers. Easy.
  • The perfect size – not so big that you feel fat, bored or full but big enough to quell any dessert craving….
  • And small and cheap enough to justify buying plenty of different varieties! (As if I need much excuse!)
  • Neat and tidy – biscuit base stops it from falling apart, stick shape made it easy to pop in mouth and polish off far too quickly = no mess and no washing-up!
  • YUMMY! The cheesecakes were just the right amount of sweet, the apple cinnamon was like a delicious mini apple crumble and the brownie was gooey chocolate goodness with a satisfying nutty crunch.

Decisions, decisions… (click to enlarge)

I find a lot of HK desserts overly creamy and soft so the biscuit base of these makes for a nice change. In fact, the only way Stick Stick could get any better is if it offered a few comfy chairs and coffee to make it a great stop-off for shopped-out feet in the mall!

The proof of the pudding is in the eating – literally. So here’s a picture of my auntie enjoying her Mango Stick Stick with such gusto that I didn’t even manage to get a photo of it!

The ninja of cake-eating

Stick Stick, $10 each, Hollywood Plaza (Diamond Hill MTR) and East Point City (Hang Hau MTR). Their concessions rotate round various malls and department stores in Hong Kong, so if you find one, grab some!

Australia’s Next Top Model, Cycle 4: A model example?

Whilst BNTM continues to progress at a snail’s pace i.e. weekly, I’m rapidly making my way through every other English-speaking cycle in the Next Top Model franchise.

As you’ll already know, I rated AusNTM Cycle 5 rather highly. Alas, whilst Cycle 4 offered no punching of walls, swearing at end of catwalks or stealing of lines, it did have a huge bullying controversy and a thoroughly undeserving winner to recommend it – if recommend is the word! Winner Demelza Reveley may have had the flowery name and golden good looks of a Disney Princess, but what a horrid creature she was. Ringleader of the self-named ‘Bitchketeers’ (how dumb must you be to give yourself such a name knowing you’re being filmed), she sniped away unpleasantly at fellow finalist Alexandra Girdwood throughout the entire run and together with her minions, made life a living hell for contestant Alamela Rowan whilst giving simpering butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-mouth VTs. [Alamela was a bit of an oddity anyway – with her alarming poise, pale skin, sing-song voice and penchant for bursting into operatic arias, she had the air of a possessed child from a horror film.]

Quite how Demelza managed to reach the final, let alone win, remains to be seen (she also had a string of vacant-looking photos and fat hips which she did nothing about, even when another girl, Caris, was continuously badgered about her body) – especially as the final of AusNTM is partially decided by public vote. Perhaps it was because she was up against Alex, whose main claim to fame that series had been deliberately fattening up the rest of the girls with calorie-loaded muffins (pure brilliance!). She also had collagen implants, meaning her lips stayed put even when she’d left the room hours ago, a strong editorial look that didn’t always work for other shoots and was clearly more fashion-savvy and intelligent than your average NTM contestant, easily running circles around the Bitchketeers in any arguments. Or perhaps it was because of the blatant favouritism shown by host, Jodhi Meares – herself the cause of controversy for being the only head judge with credentials as a glamour model, being unable to talk without a huge red clipboard of prompts and having a last-minute freak-out which meant she didn’t present the live final and was never seen or talked about in NTM ever again.

But onto the pretty things – the photos. You already know about my love for Russell James so unsurprisingly, I’m a fan of these beach shots. I think more could have been made of the setting, yet I love the intensity he gets out of the girls. These photos have a beautiful warmth and innocence to them, with their eyes completely connecting with the camera. Who knows how much Photoshop goes into these things, but the way James captures the light, depth and glitter to models’ eyes is totally arresting. This, incidentally, is Demelza’s best photo – it wasn’t even shown on the show and is supposed to be advertising swimwear, so make of that what you will! (top to bottom: Sam, Demelza, Alex, Caris)

My other favourite shoot this season was by Simon Upton, where the girls modelled shoes whilst being harnessed to the side of a tall building. The styling here is fantastic – I love the bright colours and fluorescent make-up, which complements the dynamic energy of the poses. With such great styling and the dramatic cityscape background, the girls really didn’t have to do much (well, if you count bouncing off a wall at a 90 degree angle wearing stiletto heels and with a harness digging into you as not much). The top banner picture, which has an amazing movement to it, is of Leiden, the butch bogan of the series, who was always ‘shittin’ bricks’ and having frequent meltdowns and made for very good viewing too. Also shown are (top to bottom) are Sam, Alex and Caris – I’m still in two minds over Caris’ photo, as she either looks like a serene fallen angel or just a corpse, but at least it’s interesting, which is more than I can say for Demelza’s efforts.

I mentioned that the girls didn’t have to do much for Upton’s shoot – and Demelza certainly did just that. Not much. This photo has the air of the crew tidying up for the day and realising ‘Shit – we left a girl up there!’ Alas, Reveley was not left out to dry but had merely slipped whilst bouncing about. Never mind that by being flat-out horizontal, she ruins the proportions of the photo – the model should be the focus, not somehow hanging like a bat on the peripheries and only noticeable because of her colourful quilt-thing. The very thing she’s supposed to be selling (the shoes) barely make the frame! Oh well, at least the skyline looks nice.

Here’s the Russell James shot that was chosen for the show. I’d find it vaguely inoffensive if Jodhi Meares hadn’t suddenly started orgasming and having babies over it – made doubly awful by the fact that the girls were modelling her bikinis and so she had the sway of being the client too. Her posture’s awful, her eyes are vacant, she looks generally gormless and the whole thing’s just blah, lacking the intensity of the rest of the James’ shots. And as my boyfriend pointed out, the pose that Meares went gaga for was stolen from Willy The Wimp, a character I had no idea even existed before I was forced to Google Image to verify my boyfriend’s claims. And now, I can’t see this photo without thinking of a shy-looking monkey. Willy The Wimp for first call-out!

Great Forgotten Pop Songs: A*Teens – Closer To Perfection

It was only a matter of time before Great Forgotten Pop Songs took on a distinctly Nordic air. Scandipop is one of my great music loves – so much so I dedicated a whole unloved month to it at Teentoday. Why? Those sneaky Scandinavians simply do pop better than everyone else and have been doing so ever since Abba Waterloo-ed their way to Eurovision victory in the 70s. Prime example – Closer To Perfection by The A*Teens.

For most acts, Closer To Perfection would be the jewel in their crown, the ace in their pack, the Berry in their Glee Club. For a Scandipop act, it was mere album filler. A glittering gem on their New Arrival album, Closer To Perfection holds the distinction of not only being a great forgotten pop song of our time but also one of my all-time favourites.

The A*Teens started life as a rather dubious Abba covers act, putting an eletro sheen on classic tunes to re-sell them to a whole new teenybopper market who found Marie/Sara/Dani/Amit attractive. Abba songs are so timelessly perfect that all covers of them lie on a scale somewhere between ‘unnecessary’ and ‘blasphemous’ so I don’t think I need waste much time on the group’s earliest incarnation. America actually thought they were various Abba members’ offspring, which just about tells you everything you need to know about their early marketing (and about America).

Having realised Abba covers weren’t a viable prospect for longevity in a pop group, someone decided that the A*Teens should start recording original songs. Hand that someone a biscuit and make it a caramel chocolate digestive because from then on, it was one pop glory after another. Fronting sunny, fresh and damn catchy tracks like Floorfiller, For All That I Am and Halfway Around The World (and I make no apologies if said tunes crop up on this series at a later date), A*Teens were ready to take their place amongst Sweden’s legacy for producing pop so good that you wonder why other countries still bother. They reached their pinnacle with New Arrival album track, Closer To Perfection.

Initially a slightly underwhelming vaguely electro number, Closer To Perfection somehow makes the transition to blissfully wonderfully perfect without you even consciously realising. I account this to a sprinkling of Swedish fairy dust but if you’re looking for more earth-bound reasons, I suppose I could bang on about the quietly empowering lyrics, the stunning synths, the shiver-down-spine key change from middle eight to final chorus and a chorus that exudes a hold stronger than Derren Brown doing his spooky stuff on an unsuspecting public.

Proof that break-up songs needs not all be clenched fists and feisty divas, the chorus of ‘I’m back in the light getting over you, now I got it together, I’m stronger than ever/Back on the track with a better view and I’m getting closer to perfection cos of you’ is as quietly uplifting as the best of them.

I challenge you to find a pop number from a teen band that, vocoder-ed to the hilt and as catchy as they come, exudes quite so much obvious class. Looking at A*Teens (generally terrible) promo photos, I’m not entirely sure how they managed it myself. Closer To Perfection? Pretty much as close as they come, actually.

UK Chart Peak: Unreleased
Key lyric: ‘I’m getting closer to perfection cos of you’
Get more A*Teens: For All That I Am, Floorfiller, Halfway Around The World

Australia’s Next Top Model, Cycle 5: Pretty (young) things

This blog promised to deliver you pretty things but so far, this has consisted mainly of cute objects spotted out and about in HK (novelty tweezers, windmill pens, lai see packets). So may I present to you some genuinely literally pretty things – contestants and their photos on Australia’s Next Top Model, Season 5.

ausntm cycle 5

Crawling the walls in frustration at having to wait a whole week for new episodes of the current season of Britain’s Next Top Model (I do weekly recaps for Teentoday), I started working my way through various cycles from around the world. Apart from America. I’d say ANTM jumped the shark long ago, but I’m not sure it was ever under/behind/away from the shark to start off with. Miss J has become such a grotesque caricature of a camp fashionista that he sets my teeth on edge, his cringeworthy flights of fancy with batshit-crazy Tyra are skin-curling (their rambles at panel are like you’ve picked up the receiver and accidentally overheard your parents having phone sex or something) whilst the last vaguely bearable part, the photo-shoots, have become so outlandish that they’re now totally ridiculous. In contrast, most other countries’ takes on the format are grounded in reality, shooting real campaigns and photos that could feasibly feature in glossy magazines, rather than adverts for the local freak show.

Season 5 of AusNTM was possibly my favourite cycle of the show to date. The judges were hilariously catty whilst actually speaking sense, the girls were uniformly pretty from the start (rather than the usual ‘I could find better hanging round my street corner’ but who apparently have ‘a strong look’ or could do ‘great editorial’ work), the challenges were realistic, the show was well-paced yet still drama-stuffed and the photos were often breathtakingly beautiful. Season 5 featured ‘bogan-ista’ Cassi van der Dungen, who punched walls in anger, swore at the end of catwalks, was continually puffing on a fag despite habitually claiming to have given up and proclaimed her desire to leave every other week whilst frustratingly taking amazing photos too = brilliant television. I was just happy that the word bogan was in common usage in Oz and not just a creation of Neighbours. [She later managed to get embroiled in a Facebook war with Charlotte Dawson and Alex Perry and make derogatory comments about the French after quitting Paris Fashion Week.]

And I haven’t even mentioned lantern-jawed Lola’s line theft during the Maybelline commercial, one girl weeping she would rather go home than have her hair cut and the insane amount of bitching that culminated in fat accusations, fag ends being dumped in someone’s bed and Cassi storming into someone’s shower and all-too-scarily threatening to rip her hair out. The season was eventually (and justifiably) won by Tahnee Atkinson, a big blue-eyed curvy beauty with an irresistible mouth. Totally cute, and yes, I had a girl-crush on her all season.

I adored the final photo-shoot, by Jez Smith; the banner photo of Tahnee was my absolute favourite of the series. I love how the background, all crashing waves and ominous clouds, is ultra-dramatic yet Tahnee, in her beautiful buy-me gown, is so serenely lushly beautiful. The greyscale effect adds a romantic, timeless quality; basically, wow. Claire and Cassi aren’t looking too shabby in theirs either – I particularly adore how vulnerable and bare Claire looks whilst Cassi, for all her flaws, really is an Oz Kate Moss.

The desert shoot, by Russell James, was just stunning (top to bottom: Tahnee, Adele, Franky, Cassi, Clare, Lola). You can always tell the good photographers from the bad when every single girl manages to look great (I now always look out for James on these shows as his work is so consistent). I love how these photos tell a story, that the setting looks cinematic in its stark baking beauty, that the colours are so vivid and that there are more fierce eyes going on here than Tyra has managed in a whole career. Most importantly, the girls’ bodies are smokin’, the styling is fantastic and the end result is an amazing strong but sexy look. The heat practically ripples off the celluloid.

It certainly beats seeing Tyra’s minions endlessly recreate the ‘Broken Down Doll’ pose whilst pretending to be a slab of meat at an abattoir, don’t you think?

Zaia, Cirque du Soleil @ The Venetian, Macau review

Given that Cirque du Soleil is just about the only internationally-renowned circus troupe that the average Joe Bloggs could name, the company must be doing something right. After seeing Zaia, Cirque du Soleil’s resident show at The Venetian hotel in Macau, I have some idea what they are doing right – but also, plenty of what they’re doing wrong too.

Scoring a unique and exclusive Cirque du Soleil show is a major coup for Macau, a city desperately trying to turn itself from ‘humdrum island offering gambling 24/7’ to ‘Las Vegas style entertainment-destination offering gambling 24/7’ with varying degrees of success. The Zaia theatre was custom-built for the show and the results are spectacular – I daresay there’s not a bad seat in the house and the performers utilise the space to within an inch of its life, with performers floating and flying overhead throughout. Coupled with an equally impressive stage that sees colourful characters and intricate sets emerging from just about every direction imaginable, plus the trademark Cirque du Soleil flamboyant costumes and make-up, it’s a visual feast. Sometimes too much of a feast; when dancers are even strutting their stuff in the sound booths, you know there’s perhaps too much going on!

The story is practically summed up in the show’s advertising leaflets – a girl’s voyage of discovery through mysterious and beautiful galaxies, peopled (coincidentally, I’m sure!) with folk that just happen to boast a wide array of astonishing circus skills. The people I went to see Zaia with complained that they didn’t see much of this so-called storyline, a plot that would barely be enough to sustain a television commercial, let alone a 90-minute stage show. It’s basically an excuse for Cirque du Soleil to wheel on various sets and performers, strung together with a clunky narrative thread that sees the girl (the eponymous Zaia) ferried across the auditorium various times in a balloon as she watches these scenes. There are occasional appearances by a polar bear (explainable only for the cute merchandise opportunities he offers) and a clown tiresomely touting a giant egg – when the thing finally cracks at the end, the sense of anticlimax was palpable. Let’s just say J K Rowling probably won’t be on the phone to Cirque for new story ideas.

The acts range in quality and, sadly, competence. I wasn’t fussed about seeing some guys juggle for far too long, even if they were using glo-in-the-dark equipment. A potentially great trapeze act was marred by the acrobats spending more time in the net than they did flying through the air; by the end, we weren’t sure who was falling off intentionally and who just wasn’t very good. A trampoline act takes ages to set up but didn’t meet expectations whilst a troupe of fire-dancers are similar to the ones in Hong Kong Disneyland’s Lion King show, except the latter perform with a lot more enthusiasm and the bonus of catchy Disney songs to accompany their flame-twirling. And you know there’s gotta be more interesting things to watch on stage than the bloke whose main skill seems to be the ability to ermm… skip really really fast.

Sometimes less is more. The best performance came right at the beginning, with a breath-taking acrobatic display by a couple hanging from a pole dangling precariously from the ceiling as their only prop. They pulled shapes I couldn’t even manage on a flat surface. There’s another graceful pair of Arctic-looking acrobats who balance on each other in an impressively fluid series of figures that move seamlessly from one pose to another, and an aerial dance between Zaia and a glitter-encrusted lad that soars above in an expression of love.

These latter acts were the only ones that came anything close to evoking an emotion in me, capturing some element of sensuality and romance coupled with wide-eyed wonder at their athletic prowess. There’s also fun audience interaction at the beginning, as performers mingle with the audience in good-humoured skits but it’s light relief that’s over far too soon. The rest of the show is too po-faced by half, a sombre display of ‘aren’t we good?’ acrobatics, scored by Enya-lite warbling in a made-up (and frankly, irritating) language.

In Asia, where your elderly next-door neighbour could bust out a cartwheel on demand and the only special occasion needed to unleash pyrotechnics is that it’s a day of the week ending in ‘y’, there must to be some major wow factor on show for Zaia to really impress. Although it has this in terms of its aesthetic values, there are only fitful displays of true jaw-dropping acrobatic excellence whilst a compelling story or emotional depth, which could have set Zaia apart from its more mechanical competitors, are not dished up in plentiful portions either.

Overall Zaia, though nowhere near as phenomenal as it believes itself to be, provides a solid night’s entertainment and a welcome diversion from Macau’s grubbier charms. However, with similar attractions opening soon, it’s not one I have any desire to sit (or snooze) my way through again. Zaia may find that her ‘voyage of discovery’ in Macau doesn’t last nearly as long as she was hoping.

UPDATE: Rach proved right! Zaia closed early in February 2012. Check out my review of Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour here.

Zaia is on at The Venetian Hotel, Macau, every night except Wednesdays at 8pm, weekend matinees at 5pm. Tickets cost $388-788, matinees $188-588, with discount packages available.

Photos from Cirque du Soleil’s  Zaia website.