Monthly Archives: October 2010

Essie Turquoise & Caicos nail polish review

OK, so the taupe nail polish didn’t last long. But if I said I was so in love with OPI’s Over The Taupe, then I’m at a loss as to what superlatives to use for Essie’s Turquoise & Caicos. It’s pure love in a nail polish.

Lusting after someone else’s aqua nails was what set me off on the nail varnish road of discovery in the first place, so it was inevitable that sooner or later, I’d be turning my talons turquoise. And Essie’s Turquoise & Caicos is the truest tropical turquoise you could hope to find.

(Don’t be fooled by Essie’s own photo of Turquoise & Caicos, above, which makes it look dull, muddy and green. It’s none of above.)

Putting it on makes me feel like Malibu Beach Barbie. It gives an instant feeling of sun, sea and summer – especially great since now autumn is breezing in, I’m desperately trying to prolong that summer feeling. It’s a bright colour that never fails to pop whatever shades you pair it with, but does so without feeling too bold and brash. It’s cute, like a My Little Pony or a mint choc chip sundae, and fun, like a summer beach party. But it’s also surprisingly versatile and doesn’t instantly scream pre-school, like so many of the other ice-cream colours that were marketed this season. And it’s very very pretty.

As for the nail polish itself, I have to profess myself a greater fan of Essie than OPI. The dinky square-shaped bottle, with ‘essie’ embossed on the glass and the white cap with trademark ‘e’ on top, is a lot more aesthetically pleasing than OPI’s chunkier container. Similarly, Essie’s brush is smaller and thinner, which I found a lot easier to work with, and it dried a whole lot quicker and chipped a whole less sooner than OPI too.

However, the consistency of Turquoise & Caicos lets Essie down – the first application is thin, watery and streaky. The second application basically does what the first application should have, whilst a third application is necessary if you want a really consistent, even finish. Nevertheless, I was impressed with the creamy final finish, which was smoother and more self-levelling than OPI’s, even if it took a few more coats to get there. And the overall effect more than makes up for it – lushly gorgeous, it was like I’d dipped my fingers into a particularly beautiful ocean.

[One trick that works is if you don’t wipe much polish off the brush for the first application, so the initial coat is very wet and thick. This means that the colour is strong enough to get away with just two coats, although there can be a slight issue with air bubbles – but these get painted over effectively with the second application.]

If anyone had Crayola’s colouring pencils when they were little (I know my entire class seemed to!), it’s as if someone distilled the shade labelled simply ‘Turquoise’ into a bottle. And I have a feeling I’ll still be trying to re-capture that summer spirit by wearing Turquoise & Caicos well into winter. So meet me at the cocktail bar… I’ll be the one with the turquoise nails!

Looks great with: Denim, bright colours (especially hot pink), swimwear, summer!
Drying time: 5 mins
Coats required: 3
Chips: +7 days

You can also see a photo of me wearing Turquoise & Caicos in real-life at the end of this post!

Essie Turquoise & Caicos nail polish, Summer 2010 Resort Collection, $60, Cher2

Mid-Autumn Festival Hong Kong 2010, The Rhapsody of Hong Kong Memories: Lights, camera, lanterns!

The lanterns didn’t stop there. Over in Tsim Sha Tsui, there was an absolutely amazing lantern display entitled The Rhapsody of Hong Kong Memories. These cute and quirky lanterns, depicting nostalgic scenes from 1960s Hong Kong, were designed by Leo Tang and I thought they were just lovely. Perfectly capturing the spirit of Hong Kong with a fond heart and light touch, it’s the sort of ephemera that’s unlikely to go down in the history books but provokes all sorts of loving rose-tinted memories. Now I’ll let the photos do the talking; as ever, click for enlargements.

Hustle and Bustle

These show scenes from 1960s city life, including many traditional businesses that have since died out, like shoe-shiners, calligraphers and rickshaw drivers.

A policeman in his pagoda directing traffic in the days before traffic lights. (Vintage photos from HK Police Force website and HK Man’s Flickr).

A tai-tai at the tailor’s – check out that retro hair-do!

I loved the attention to detail. Here the little boy at the barber is reading a comic-book to keep him entertained – and you can actually look inside the box and see what comics are on offer (hello Astro Boy!).

This little fellow is Lap Sap Chung, a monster created in a campaign to stop HKer’s from littering. He’s being chased by Miss Super Clean, remembered by lots of pre-pubescent teenage boys for her mini-skirts and go-go boots! Mischievous Lap Sap Chung proved so popular that he soon found himself being recreated as merchandise and inflatable toys! His memory was so enduring – a survey found that over 90% of respondents had heard of Lap Sap Chung! – that he was revived for a recent Keep Hong Kong Clean campaign. He even has a Facebook Group in his honour! (Posters from Chan.police’s Flickr and Gwulo.com)

Also note the red, white and blue striped lanterns in the background. These are based on the infamous plastic ‘amah bags’ that you see at wet markets or lugged around by Filipinos, burst to breaking point. I even saw one woman trying to post a full one! (Photo from Red, White, Blue, Here, There, Everywhere Flickr)

Delicious Memories

What would HK be without its food?! Here’s someone enjoying a meal at a dai pai dong (food stall in the street) – love how you can see the pak choi in the owner’s wok!

A spinning cup of milk tea (ngai cha), so beloved of HKers, being serenaded by a teddy boy.

A street hawker, carrying wicker baskets full of vegetables suspended on a bamboo pole on his shoulder. I love how the lady buying from him even has a shopping list in her hand!

An ‘airplane olives’ (fei gei larm) hawker with his distinctive brown paper bag. If you saw him in the streets, you would call down and he would throw the olives up to you several stories high! You would then drop down your money – only paying for what you caught, mind!

Not sure what this guy’s offering us. Hotpot? Congee? An ashtray? (OK, the last one seems unlikely). Answers on a postcard please.

Starfruit-shaped lantern!

Home Sweet Home

This one confused me – was there some strange game in the 1960s where kids had to run to and from a tap?! My auntie had a look and thinks it refers to the days when children would have to go to the village tap to collect buckets of water for the whole family back home. (Those slippers are so Hong Kong as well!)

In the old days, apartments were very small and people slept in simple metal or wood bunk beds to save as much space as possible. Here, the little girl is making plastic flowers by hand, a part-time job many people had in the 1960s to generate a little extra income.

The mum, carrying her baby in the typical Chinese papoose-sling on her back, seems to have rollers in her hair. No GHDs in those days!

The little girl is holding a traditional rabbit lantern for Mid-Autumn Festival; these stem from the rabbit’s presence in the myth behind the Moon Festival and are still sold nowadays.

Traditional paper lanterns for Mid-Autumn Festival – none of that inflatable singing and dancing tat in those days!

Do I need to tell you this is a retro thermos flask?!

Play & Playground

You might notice that some of these happy children are running about in what appear to be the old-school colourful wooden building blocks that children from yesteryear used to play with.

The circle-shaped counters with different coloured airplanes on, seen floating in the background or decorating the giant lanterns, are from a popular Chinese board game, Flying Chess (飛行棋). I say board game, it’s actually played on a fold-up piece of paper and works similarly to Ludo or Frustration. I only noticed this when I was looking back on my photos afterwards and it’s the little touches like this that Tang totally nails; I actually remember playing this when I was little and seeing that detail really made me smile, which is exactly the sort of response I think he hoped for. (飛行棋 photo from DChome forum – I swear I have the exact same game at home!)

The centrepiece to the whole display was a giant rabbit lantern, stuffed with old-school lamps, shop signs and birdcages. The amount of work that must have gone into it! Almost seems a shame that it will all have to be taken down : (

Cute, charming and quintessentially Hong Kong. What’s not to love?

The Rhapsody of Hong Kong Memories, Hong Kong Cultural Centre Piazza (near Star Ferry), Tsim Sha Tsui. 10 September until 17 October 2010, 6.30-11.30pm.


Mid-Autumn Festival Hong Kong: It’s a marvellous night for a mooncake

Mid-Autumn Festival may just be one of my favourite festivals in Hong Kong because just about everywhere makes the effort to look pretty. Admittedly, all it takes is a few paper lanterns scattered about, but at night time especially, it looks charming and uniquely Chinese.

Also know as Moon Festival, it’s held on the 15th day of the 8th month (of the lunar calendar, so roughly late September) when the moon is supposed to be at its brightest. There are many variants of the legend behind the festival, but I’ll tell you (in the best Chinese tradition!) the one that my mum told me.

A long long time ago, there used to be ten suns in the sky, which burnt away terribly at the Earth. The emperor commanded the most skilled archer in all the land, Hou Yi, to shoot down all but one of the suns – which he did, leaving us with the one sun we have today. As a reward, he was given a magic potion that would grant him eternal life and he hid it away at home. According to my mum’s version, Hou Yi became a tyrant, corrupted by power and ambition; on seeing this, his beautiful wife, Seung Orr, decided to eat the pill herself to prevent him from living forever (other versions have the wife finding and eating the pill accidentally). Upon eating the pill, she found herself becoming lighter and lighter and she began to float. Eventually, she floated out of the window, up into the sky and onto the moon where she lives today. She also has her rabbit with her, who you can sometimes see outlined on the moon.

If you’re a virgin to Moon Festival, there are only two things you need to know – lanterns and mooncake! Seung Orr adorns many a mooncake box and the traditional cakes are made with a yellow duck egg inside, representing the moon. Nowadays, there are all kinds of modern takes on the mooncake, including chocolate, mango, green tea or even ‘snowy’ ice-cream ones. We bought one that was shaped like a pig! It came in a miniature version of the traditional basket that real pigs used to be carried to market in the olden days and I love how he even has a little curly tail. Alas, he had to be decapitated and eaten – the filling was green bean paste – and my auntie said he looked a lot nicer than he tasted!

Lanterns are lit to accentuate the brightness of the moon and on the day of the Mid-Autumn Festival itself, paper ones are lit and floated off to the moon. This year, one managed to land on an MTR train, sparking a small fire, panic, evacuations, delays and talk of regulating lanterns more closely next year. As with mooncakes, lanterns have evolved with the times and you can get them in practically any shape, size or colour you desire, with inflatable musical cartoon character versions proving particularly popular with youngsters (so if it’s late September and you’re hearing a tinny tune in the dim and distant, it’s probably a toddler holding a blow-up Doaremon).

We went to the special market in Tsing Yi’s Maritime Square Mall, which is basically your one-stop Mid-Autumn shop. As you can see, the lantern stall was a riot of colour! We bought two ($35 each) – a pretty lotus flower and a gorgeous goldfish. You can see them in action in our flat below!

However, these are mere small fry compared to the lanterns that the government has built to mark the occasion. For all of Mid-Autumn weekend, Victoria Park in Causeway Bay is transformed into a luminous lantern extravaganza. It costs a small fortune but hey, who cares when it looks this spectacular?!

Check out my posts on more beautiful Mid-Autumn lanterns in Tsim Sha Tsui in Hong Kong here and here

Qinghai Tibet Noodles (青藏牛肉麵 Noodles) restaurant review – have a knife(cut) day

NOTE: This restaurant has now moved two doors down and *HORROR* no longer serves knife-cut noodles. The lo mein is still fantastic though.

Recently, I feel like I’ve hit my rice ceiling – and you thought it was impossible for a Chinese to ever tire of the stuff! As a result, I’ve found myself on a bit of a noodles drive and (you’d never guess it given the name!) Quinghai Tibet Noodles (青藏牛肉麵 Noodles) is one of my favourites.

It’s a tiny little cha chan teng, tucked away down a side-street which is eternally wet from dripping air-cons. Inside, however, it’s clean, modern and relatively comfortable with that staple of any good local eaterie – a tv for everyone (including staff) to gawp at, regardless of what rubbish is on. In fact, you could say there are two forms of entertainment since the kitchen is also on-show (if you can see through the steam!).

Unsurprisingly, the signature dish of 青藏牛肉麵 Noodles is their beef soup noodle (note the little ox horns and tail in their logo), famous in Tibet and Northern parts of China. [The Chinese name of the shop, phonetically along the lines of ‘tsing djor ngau yuk’, is that famous region of China plus the word for beef.] The white noodles are knife-cut (also called hand-pulled), meaning they’re all irregular sizes and thicknesses and it’s fun to watch the chefs hack away at them in the kitchen. Prior to eating here, I’d never tried these before and I have to declare, I’m in love. Chewy, slippery shavings of noodle, swimming in a clear strong beefy stock – absolutely delicious.

The beef itself is cut into thin lean slices – a pleasant change from the fatty slivers intended for hot-potting or the MSG-laden hunks that you usually get in local restaurants. On a few occasions, it has been a little tough (I believe it’s cut from the brisket) but it never falls short on flavour. Well, for me anyway. My boyfriend finds both the beef and the soup bland but given that I was once given the nickname ‘Red Beef Girl’ by hotel staff, I absolutely lap up the iron-rich flavour of the dish. It’s brilliantly un-greasy and feels clean and fresh, yet mature and wintry. Given the rustic presentation (check out that huge wooden ladle!) and defiantly handcrafted preparation, it’s the furthest you can get from a pack of instant noodles down your local Park N Shop. The regular portion clocks in at $29 (X-Large, $42) and I have never once managed to finish it. It’s a grown-up dish for grown-up people. The boss barely needs to ask me what I want anymore!

[Incidentally, my boyfriend once had the non-soup non-knife-cut noodles – fool! – in the homemade spicy garlic sauce ($38) and said they were absolutely brilliant. He didn’t even touch the beef that came with it.]

There are also lots of little appetisers and side-dishes that are great for sharing. I’m actually quite obsessed with their crispy chicken (it comes with veggie rice for $36), which I rate higher than KFC. Partly, that’s because KFC here isn’t very good but partly, that’s because these are so SO yummy. It’s all lean, tender, flavoursome chicken and the crispy coating is just addictive. It’s exactly the right texture – not so much of it that it overpowers the chicken but a scrumptious crunch that augments the flavour. I have been known to eat a whole plate on my own, much to the dismay of whoever ordered the rice in the first place!

This bean curd pickle thing always seems to turn up with our meal (it comes with the set but you can get a starter sampler of three mini-dishes of your own choosing at $36) and I surprised myself by being quite into this as well. I can’t be certain what’s in the dressing but it’s a quirky blend of spicy-salty-sour, with the earthy nuttiness of the sesame seeds coming through too. I really like the play of textures between the soft, smooth, milky bean curd and the crunch of the pickled cucumber, although I’ve yet to master the art of eating it (that darn bean curd is a slippy beast!).

In my time, I’ve also tried their chicken dumplings (very good), various other pickles (pretty similar to the stuff with the bean curd) and a really horrible spicy chicken drumstick thing that they tried to fob me off with once when they said I couldn’t have the crispy chicken. Seriously, there was so much curry powder on it that I started sneezing as soon as it was put down on the table! However, it’s really popular so I guess it’s an acquired taste.

The two things that I was going to mention as downsides – lack of an English menu and lack of a smile from the manager – have recently been rectified. The former now exists, whilst, in the time-honoured tradition of all seemingly surly cha cha teng waiters, we’ve gradually broken down the manager by our sheer number of visits and he’s become much friendlier (he was always efficient and courteous, even when he wasn’t smiling much). Turns out he can also speak English really well, which I wish he’d told me earlier so I didn’t just sit there like a mute on our first few trips.

This is simply one of my favourite local restaurants (it’s only about 3 minutes from where I live). Reasonably-priced food, in reasonably-personable surroundings, offering something I can’t get from everywhere else at an extremely high quality. Definitely worth running the gauntlet of the dripping air-cons for. Oodles o’ Noodles? Yes please!

(And yes, that last line was a Neighbours joke).

青藏牛肉麵 Noodles, G/F 27A Kam Ping Street, North Point, Hong Kong, 2151 0506, closed every Tuesday

‘Cos baby, you’re a firework! Come on, let your colours burst!

A little something to celebrate National Day…

As a teacher with shall we say, “limited” artistic ability (what… you mean stick men aren’t good enough?), it was always a bit of a headache creating art where I could produce a decent enough sample for my kids to copy from in the first place. Drawing coloured dashes with pastels on black paper was pretty much the extent of my skill, but as fireworks on a night sky, it’s pretty effective and it’s probably my favourite artwork that my kids drew (especially as, in the time-honoured tradition of 5 year-olds, they were far more adept at getting paint on themselves rather than on the paper). So well done them.

And if you’re looking at these drawings thinking they look a bit much, think again. In Hong Kong, we let off fireworks for practically any day of the week ending in ‘Y’ and, far from youthful flamboyance, these are probably a fairly accurate depiction of one of our more restrained pyrotechnic displays! Chalk it up as another reason that I love living here.