Tag Archives: pictures

Food love – Mochachocolatarita’s cute Valentine’s foodie illustrations

hong kong valentine's xiao long bao

I’m not one for Valentine’s Day AT ALL… but when I saw these cute and fun V-Day foodie illustrations by my fabulous blogger friend, Mochachocolatarita (try saying that when you’ve had a few!), I knew I just had to share!

hong kong valentine's boloh bao

Rita has taken some much-loved matches-made-in-HK-food-heaven and turned them into very sweet, loved-up illustrations for Valentine’s Day. Forget cheesy giant teddy bears and half-dead bouquets of flowers… these pictures are much more fun!

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Mid-Autumn Festival Hong Kong 2011, Moon Fun Playground lantern exhibition: Fairground attraction!

Mid-Autumn Festival is rolling round again (four day weekend, hollaaaa!), so what better time to bring you… a full year late… the gorgeous lanterns from last year’s festivities?!

My advice is to bypass the crowds at Victoria Park and instead head to Tsim Sha Tsui’s Cultural Centre Piazza, where every year they have an awesome thematic lantern exhibition. It stays on display for a full month (much longer than the ones at Victoria Park), is less crowded (especially if you hit it when everyone else is having their dinner or when they are otherwise occupied with the Symphony Of Lights show), provides almost an hour’s worth of photo opportunities and intense study of all the amazing close-up details of each lantern, plus you can then get the Star Ferry home and admire HK’s amazing skyline… its very own modern cityscape of a lantern show.

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Forgotten Fine Art: The Cityplaza Copper Suite

In Hong Kong, you can often find pretty things in the strangest places… which often means discovering fine art in the most mundane of anonymous corporate offices.

Such was the case with this stunning series of plaques entitled The Cityplaza Copper Suite by Australian sculptors Joan Walsh Smith and Charles Smith in Tai Koo’s Cityplaza complex of buildings.

I was taken aback by the level of detail in these – you could spend ages poring over these still find even more interesting and clever little vignettes revealing themselves in the copper artwork. The style reminds me a little of Jan Pieńkowski’s silhouette illustrations for the Joan Aiken books I used to read when I was little. Click on each photograph to enlarge and zoom in  and you can check out some of the detail for yourselves!

Each ‘Rondo-Progression’ has a different theme (unfortunately, I forgot to note them down, bad blogger, slaps wrist!) but I believe they were The Arts, Food, Leisure and Work. My favourite is probably The Arts with its striking centre-piece of the two Chinese theatre masks and loads of other dynamic pictures surrounding it – it’s almost like it’s alive with movement!

You can’t really tell from the pictures (which have distorted the light reflections weirdly) but these are made from copper, which is even more stunning and vivid in real life – and I loved the way the light reflected and bounced off these pieces, making them even more vibrant.

It seems a shame that these are tucked away in a place most people wouldn’t even notice so hopefully this post does its bit to show them off to the rest of the world!

Calendar Girls

Every year, I (or someone I know) treats me to a Marilyn Monroe calendar. Alas, I couldn’t find one for just Marilyn this year (of course, I couldn’t move for ones of Audrey Hepburn) so this Heiner Meyer art calendar, Glamour, was the best I could do.

Meyer uses a mixed media approach, painting over and around photographs of classic stars from the 50s and 60s to create new images, often with pop-art influences. My calendar tells me: ‘Meyer’s art is always re-creation (never repetition), while his visual vocabulary is declined and conjugated differently in each work’. Got that?!

Fancy lingo aside, I do really like many of these pieces – he’s created dynamic, vibrant and visually-appealing palettes and textures, making something new and interesting out of things that were old and static. I’m glad he’s also used some less obvious stars like Rita Hayworth, Natalie Wood and Lana Turner… hell, in these Hepburn-obsessed times, even Elizabeth Taylor is a bit of a curveball! That being said, my favourite is the banner picture of Audrey Hepburn – I just love the romantic swirls of colour and the sense of whimsy that’s very Audrey.

Those of you that can count will notice that I’ve only featured eleven images, despite there being twelve months. That’s because one was of Kate Moss, who I just don’t think fits in with the rest of these true iconic beauties. Censorship at its best!

If you’re reading this Meyer, next stop please – Veronica Lake!

Tan-tastic Pixar posters this way…

Movie website Slash Film churns out so many posts that amongst all the half-stories, rumours and non-news, there’s inevitably some pretty cool stuff too. If you know me, you’ll know I love all things Disney so these concept posters for various Pixar fims, by artist Eric Tan, are totally up my street.

Once I was redirected to his blog, I realised I was familiar with Tan’s work already – the two posters above were designed for Disney’s beautiful coffee table book, The Art Of The Disney Princess, which features various artists’ re-imaginings of Disney princesses in all sorts of styles, although it lacks much description of the inspirations and processes behind the artwork (expect to see many more Pretty Things posts taken from this in the future!). These pieces instantly stood out as I love these strong stylised graphics with a hint of retro behind them – I particularly love the super-cute fairies on the Sleeping Beauty poster and how Aurora’s hair is turning into licks of flames.

Tan’s posters are all based on the retro posters for Disney rides found in all Disney theme parks. They generally have a 50s/60s travel poster vibe (even the newer posters are designed to ape the old style) and are bright, simple but striking and immensely charming. These probably deserve a post all of their own but for now, you can check some out here, here and here.

Don’t get me started on how wonderful, beautiful and lovely Up is (I now manage to start crying even before the title-card, just because I know what’s coming) and the film itself has a very colour-saturated, whimsical feel to its artwork, which is totally captured within Tan’s posters too. They look dated in the best way possible, like they’ve been much loved over the years and could have come straight out of Ellie’s Adventure book – Tan has cleverly even drawn in fold-marks too!

The Incredibles is right up there on my list of favourite films ever, never mind favourite Pixar films, and these posters fit in perfectly with the retro superhero aesthetic that those superb opening credits instantly encapsulated (I’m now humming that bombastic score in my head as we speak!). I really love the strong dynamic colour palette used in these posters – have Jack Jack and Edna (in the banner) ever looked cuter?!

Meanwhile, the posters for Wall-E are retro-futurism at its best and could be added to the posters for Tomorrowland errr… tomorrow and not feel out of place. M-O was a bit of a scene-stealer for me so I can’t help but raise a smile on seeing his poster… a few more character-led posters might have been nice but you can’t help but appreciate the nature of the artwork itself.

Finally, Tan’s posters for Ratatouille. These were based on the artwork of A. M Cassandre, an artist I wasn’t familiar with by name but whose style is instantly recognisable in these prints. These are more reminiscent of vintage adverts for French food and drink but again, fit perfectly with the design and concept of the film itself (alas, not one of my favourites so I have slightly less love for these posters than the rest, hence my not featuring all of them – sorry Remy fans!).

Completely charming, highly creative and utterly delightful. Let’s just hope Tan gets to work his magic on every Disney/Pixar film in the foreseeable future!

Read my article about the Pixar: 25 Years of Animation Exhibition here

Australia’s Next Top Model, Cycle 6: Wrong winner, right everything else

By now, you probably all know about Australia’s Next Top Model, Cycle 6 – for all the wrong reasons! This was the season that made international headlines after host Sarah Murdoch announced the wrong winner, a huge shame for someone like me, who had been quietly and avidly following the show for weeks only to find massive unavoidable spoilers all over the Internet before I had even set eyes on the finale! It was also a huge shame for the show, which had enjoyed its strongest year yet and undoubtedly, it’s slickest live finale (lest we forget the car crash telly of Jodhi Meares’ face-palming Season 3). And yes, the cock-up of all cock-ups was even more cringeworthy when you watched the final in its entirety, where runner-up Kelsey Martinovich was allowed to celebrate winning for a good minute and a half whilst Murdoch’s face slowly turned a shade of green her Botox never thought it could manage.

ANYWAY. The downside of it being the best year contestant-wise was that, drama-wise, it was actually a little dull. The funniest moment was when the obligatory crew-cut at makeover, Sophie Van Der Akker (skin possibly entirely composed of foundation, below) attempted to re-attach her ratty hair extensions back at the house. So they cut her hair even shorter instead! Kudos also to the evil genius who decided to send the girls to Japan for their overseas trip, where they made bemused appearances on a ‘Super Kawaii!!!’ show, where they had to hop like bunnies and dress as schoolgirls and Lolitas, whilst their midget stylists burst into tears of happiness/sadness/randomness at every opportunity.

Drama came courtesy of the most beloved of all AusNTM tropes – the bogan (see Eboni Season 2, Leiden Season 4, Cassi Season 5). This year, it was Gold Coast Meter Maid (think Hooters girl, but in charge of parking fees) Kimberly Thrupp (above). Alternating between giving ‘110%’ and not being arsed, she objected to a shoot concept as, at the grand old age of 20, she ‘didn’t believe in true love’, swore during a presenting challenge and, despite saying her ‘butt’ was ‘grabbable’ at a jeans promo, took issue with having to model swimwear and flounced off to pack her bags (needless to say, she didn’t leave and instead continued to give ‘110%’ whilst admitting she wasn’t trying her hardest). Alex Perry called her ‘so annoying I want to stab myself so it can all be over’.

When she was finally given the boot for her attitude, renowned photographer (and AusNTM Nigel Barker-lite) Jez Smith tried to offer some encouragement about carrying on. Instead, dear Kimberly stuck her chin out, told everyone she wasn’t going to carry on modelling and was going to ‘do something with my life’. Renowned supermodel Sarah Murdoch told her she had ‘the goods to make it’, to which Kimberly maturely replied, ‘Don’t want to. Learnt enough… need to find something else to entertain myself with now’. Hear that sound, Murdoch? It’s a 20 year-old Gold Coast Meter Maid pissing all over your entire life’s work and career! Sadly, the cameraman had gone to sleep, too busy segueing to the moving elimination soundtrack, and was too late to capture the reactions of the panel (can you imagine how Alex Perry looked?!), allowing us to merely hear their ruminations about how they should have kept the previously-eliminated girls instead. Kimberly then refused to hug anyone (‘Is the car out back?’) and made her exit. Kimberly was last seen fishing around for a model agency.

kelsey martinovich ausntm mad men

Fortunately for the lack of drama in-house (the final two, Kelsey and Amanda, were both so sickeningly nice and beautiful that they make Elle Macpherson look like a troll) was that the judges were on top form. Despite a personnel change from the catty Jonathan Pease in the Mr Jay role, to former Banana In Pyjama, the superfluous Josh Flinn (main contribution: report cards that Sarah Murdoch made a big fuss of at panel before chucking away without a second glance, occasional bursts of tap dancing, alas not in banana/pyjama costume), there were plenty of great quotes like:

I would raise my eyebrow… if I could.

(On a photo) She’s competing with the couch… and I keep thinking to myself that’s quite a fabulous sofa.

(In reply to someone saying a photo had ‘a Dynasty look about it’) More like dysentery!

Hmmm… perhaps you had to be there, but Alex Perry and Charlotte Dawson took time out of their Facebook slanging matches to continue to be the best thing about the show. Alas, they had very little reason to get bitchy, as the photos were almost universally ridiculously strong. The majority of them looked like professional editorial or ad campaigns, especially in contrast to NZNTM’s amateurish second season (more of which later).

So onto the pretty things… and too many good ‘uns to pick from! As you may have worked out, my love for all things 50s inspired meant I was a sucker for the first week’s Mad Men-inspired photo-shoot, shot by Jez Smith. Gorgeous styling, beautiful make-up and a great atmosphere, albeit more Hitchcock heroine than Joan Holloway (cue girls wondering if Grace Kelly was a man * sigh *). I love how Jez Smith actually captures some emotion from the girls’ eyes (many shoots this series, although pretty, are simply that… just pretty), often a quiet pain or sadness that’s at odds with the flawless imagery. I’ve liberally scattered this post with my favourite photos, which are (top to bottom): Sophie, Kimberly, Joanna Broomfield (wistfully romantic – love this shot), Kelsey, Chantal Crocolo (Keira Knightley’s Egyptian half-sister), Alison Ware and Sally Geach (who both didn’t even make it through the first round!). Kathryn Lyons, meanwhile, looks simply beautiful, as she continued to do throughout.

Kathryn (above) was probably the most photogenic model I’ve seen yet on NTM. In VTs, she was an unassuming scrap of a thing, bony, bad skin, mousy; in photos, she somehow transformed into a gamine graceful goddess, a divine creature blessed with flawless skin and a beautiful bone structure, with a touch of the Audrey Hepburn about her. My favourite photo of her was from the swimwear shoot, which literally took my breath away. It’s just stellar – stunning, sensual with a gorgeous natural ease to it. Needless to say, it’s the banner picture.

Week 2 was a denim campaign, think glossier 80s Bananarama record sleeve (above)! Jessica Moloney’s could be published tomorrow (Jessica Stam and Lily Cole’s love child, given an emo makeover). I also love the use of body shapes and lighting in Amanda’s photo, and the steel tubes and industrial setting work well with the double-denim styling to give an edgy, cool feel.

Week 3 was beauty shot time, in the presence of Harper’s Bazaar editor Claudia Navonne. With an accent pitched somewhere between one of Roald Dahl’s witches and an East European brothel madam, Claudia’s description of ‘POUFF! Magic happens!’ never fails to entertain. Kelsey’s tigress shot (above) is stunning – that fierce mane of hair, the sense of movement in a static image and eyes that connect and are saying very naughty things!

I love the whimsical feel of Week 6’s accessories shoot for Cosmo (above), with one very important accessory – a live animal! The real thought that had gone into matching the animal with the accessories is superb and works in different ways; whilst Amanda’s strong editorial look contrasts spectacularly with the cute little pig she’s holding, Jessica really captures the fun side of the shoot, interacting naturally with her Dalmatian and producing a really infectiously lovely photo.

Week 7 (are you bored yet?) and the usual NTM sadistic streak reared its head, getting models to sport lingerie in sub-zero temperatures (above). I love the vintage, Dr Zhivago-esque styling, whilst the scenery provides a stunning backdrop. The iciness really brings out the ethereal blue in Jessica’s eyes and I was banging on about how wonderful Kathryn’s photo was several days later. (Can you BELIEVE she got sent home that week?!?!).

kathryn lyons ausntm cruise

Finally, deep breath (are you worn out yet), a few moments for eventual winner Amanda Ware. A deserving winner in my eyes, who I’m proud to say I picked out right from the off, as she was about the only one in the opening credits who didn’t look either ugly or unable to walk without looking drunk. Her best photo, for which Alex Perry ran out of synonyms and intensifiers for ‘expensive’, was shooting luxury brands on a luxury yacht. She looks long, lean, entirely above it all… and yes, ridiculously expensive (although as ever, Kathryn gave her a run for her money). In contrast, Tyra Banks much-mooted ‘High Fashion’ Cycle 15 of ANTM saw contestants defying belief and actually dressing up, often in drag, as famous fashion designers. Is there any question as to which series has more class, style and intrinsic understanding of how fashion should work?!

However, my favourite thing about the whole season was the promo. Are there many greater pleasures in life than seeing Charlotte Dawson waving wads of cash at the camera as a bookie (!), 16 pretty girls pretending to be racehorses/greyhounds (!!) wearing evening gowns and going face-first into the dirt (!!!) and Dame Alex Perry, complete with sunglasses and fur, lowering his binoculars to declare ‘Expensive’!!!! The answer (for NTM devotees anyway): no. Enjoy!

Incidentally, this post means I have now reviewed every season of Australia’s Next Top Model so far! That can only mean one thing – ranking time! So if you’re wondering where to start with AusNTM, here’s my take:

BEST TV:  Cycle 5 > Cycle 2 > Cycle 1 > Cycle 4 > Cycle 3 > Cycle 6

BEST PHOTOS/MODELS:  Cycle 6 > Cycle 5 > Cycle 2 > Cycle 3 (Alas, one Burdeu does not make up for a cast of shorties) > Cycle 1 > Cycle 4

The word cycle looks strange now. My work here is done.

Britain’s Next Top Model, Cycle 6: Susan Loughnane Interview

Since I reviewed Britain’s Next Top Model, Season 6 EXTENSIVELY for Teentoday (sadly, now lost to some Internet dark hole), rather than talking about the whole cycle, I thought I’d just bring you my favourite contestant from the series instead – flame-haired Oirish actress Susan Loughnane.

Given that she lasted all of two weeks, she’s a bit of a strange choice for favourite, right? What I liked about Susan was that, apart from being exceptionally pretty, she proved you didn’t have to be some raging drama queen to make for good viewing on a Next Top Model show. She came across as funny and likeable – a fact proved even more by an amazing interview she gave me a long time after her exit. Honestly, I just wanted to sit down over a cuppa tea and have an off-the-record natter with her!

Some self-portraits about the comfort of tea. The lighting, the mood, the expression – so evocative. Love it!

As usual with BNTM, most of the photos were a bit rubbish. Every year I have high hopes they’ll up their game and every year they disappoint, with cheap-looking shoots, crappy sponsorship deals and dull concepts. So Susan can feel smug about the fact that, although she doesn’t even want to model anymore, she already has a body of work from her pre-show days that is actually quite stunning – the ‘pretty things’ that are scattered around this post (some taken by herself, multi-talented girl!). Red hair just looks so amazing, doesn’t it?!

Susan’s interview is a must-read for any Next Top Model fans; it blows the lid on the whole series! Since Teentoday has been scrobbed from the Internet (and with it, about five years of my life and work *sad face*), I’ve reproduced it here in its entirety – enjoy!

So… the big question… who are you rooting for in the final?
Do you know what, I’m rooting for Tiff. She is the real underdog here because she’s not 100% British. I can empathise with that. She won’t get the same level of support the other girls will get. I think all the girls deserve it though, I would be over the moon for Alisha or Joy to win. I would have loved to see Amelia win as well : (

You’re going to be at the final with the rest of the girls… do you have any idea what’s gonna happen during the show? Will you be wearing one of your impressive jumpers?
Yes I can’t wait!! I have no idea what’s going to happen! All I know is that they have booked for me to get my hair done at Daniel Galvin before the show and all the girls will be staying in a hotel together! I’m super excited. I don’t think it will be an appropriate time for me to whip out one of my amazing jumpers unfortunately, however I do have a lovely dress which will have to suffice.

You’re also going to be at BNTM Live along with the other girls. Any idea what you’ll be doing there? Excited?
Actually I don’t think I’ll be doing BNTM Live. The models aren’t being paid. The show will undoubtedly make a huge amount of money. I don’t do unpaid work anymore. I’m not demanding a lot but if I don’t value myself, who will?

I guess it must seem a long time ago since you left the competition; did you keep up with watching the show? Were you OMGing at stuff along with the rest of us?
I don’t actually have a telly here! I do watch all my favourite shows online though, god bless 4OD! However I’ve had to wait to watch BNTM on youtube. But mostly I knew how things went, because we all found each other on facebook and got the gossip there. It’s funny to watch how it’s all edited though!

sue loughnane swimwearYou may have gathered by now that I’m a sucker for 50s styling. The colours here are so vibrant and Susan looks like Rita Hayworth. Hot!

I wanna talk a bit about your time on the show… as you know I was a big fan and really sad to see you leave so early : ( Were you upset/shocked about how you were eliminated?
Aw that’s nice, I love hearing that. Honestly, I couldn’t believe I’d even gotten onto the show. I don’t really see myself as a model and have trouble understanding how anyone else sees it. I think I made it on there mostly as a result of my personality! I really clicked with all the producers and I think they really liked me. I think they wanted me there more than Elle and the judges. I thought the way I was eliminated was great, very dramatic, just how I like it! I loved how fans were outraged and really got behind me! That was brilliant, I was so unbelievably grateful for that. It could have been far worse. Delita got a very hard time from the fans for being in it as long as she was. And the photographers on the show didn’t seem to like her either. I think that would be much harder to deal with. I felt quite sorry for her. I was lucky that the photographers on the show really liked me, I came across well and a lot of people were disgusted when I left. You couldn’t ask for a better exit than an unfair one! I’m quite ‘glass half full’ about the whole thing.

It seemed strange as you hadn’t received as much criticism as some of the other girls for either your walk or your photos. Do you think if you’d been given more constructive criticism, you could have improved and stayed longer?
They want the girls to have a character arc. It is the same with acting. There has to be a story. You have to start somewhere, preferably a fairly rocky start, or where they show your potential but how you might falter, and then there has to be hurdles, breakdowns, obstacles, triumphs… Me, I was always quite stable and happy. This was my flaw. I think I was too grown-up for the tantrums and the breakdowns, and I knew enough that I wasn’t starting from a disadvantage, so the story wasn’t there in the long run. So they got rid of me. It was never about how I performed as a model. Am I ruining it for you?? Sorry.

 

The people at the go-sees didn’t seem encouraging at all and looked like they were sucking lemons when they saw you! Did you already get the vibe that they weren’t interested? Were you angry (I was and I wasn’t even there!)?
I know that they were told to criticize me, because it was my time to go, but man they were total assholes! They weren’t nice people, they had no scruples, no shame, no empathy, nothing. The majority of the horrible things they said were actually edited out because it was just too mean and completely unjustified. It took all my strength not to tear them to pieces for being horrible human beings. But karma will get them, they will come back in the next life as a warthog and a stinky hyena. [Guess they won’t be getting a Christmas card this year…!]

I read in one interview that you wanted to deck them! Models 1 will also be at the BNTM Live event… have you been working on your right hook?!
Haha I have better things to do than take them out. But in fact I have been working out a lot lately. I do want to be able to throw a good punch in case the need ever arises. It’s actually quite empowering as a woman to work on your physical strength.

Were you upset that you didn’t get a proper goodbye – seeing Elle, writing a farewell letter etc? What were the other girls’ reactions to your departure?
Oh no, as I said I was very happy with how I went. I didn’t have to go through another elimination, those are the most horrible nerve-wrecking things! And all the girls were there to help me pack and make me feel better. They even tried to bake a potato for me to bring with me, they knew how much I loved my spuds, and Tiffany gave me her last energy bar, which meant a lot in a house where food was scarce and you couldn’t just pop out to the shop and buy more. And they were just so lovely and supportive. They were really a great group of girls! Afterwards, Tiff and Amelia went into the diary room and said some really sweet things about how much they were going to miss me. I cried watching that.

Did it frustrate you that, whilst some judges complained that your acting detracted from your modelling, loads of stuff after you’d gone revolved around acting? You’d probably have rocked the bullying campaign, the horror shoot and the Hollyoaks challenge!
Yeah, well I couldn’t have stayed on really, could I? That would have been my chance to shine. So they had to find some way to get rid of me. So they found two callous assholes with no scruples who would be quite happy to shamelessly put me down and bully me. And that was followed by an anti bullying campaign…

Do you think you had a different experience to the rest of the girls as, with your acting, you’re more savvy to being in front of the cameras and dealing with criticism? What do you prefer – reality tv or having a script?
I honestly prefer having a script, however I am quite comfortable just being myself. But I was completely sure of who I was and what I would and wouldn’t do. I think that comes with age. At my age, I know who I am and cannot be pushed around by producers and convinced to do something I would be ashamed of later. The younger girls were more malleable which makes for better TV.

Give us the inside scoop on filming a reality tv show – were the cameras really on you 24/7? Did you feel pressured to come up with good soundbites? Do you feel the producers deliberately amped up the drama for better tv? Did you feel the judges were being honest at panel or just trying to be controversial?
The cameras weren’t there 24/7, there was a lot that the cameras did not see! We weren’t allowed to play music in the house because it would interfere with filming and they might not be able to hear what we were saying. But one night, Kirsty found a stereo system in the bedroom and after they had all gone to bed we used to put it on and have a bit of a boogie. They found us at it one night and decided to film it because it would show us bonding or some shit like that. But there was a lot that they didn’t see. They did deliberately amp up the drama, but I wasn’t really involved in that kind of thing, I tried to mostly stay away from drama. I wasn’t a very good contestant really was I? I would never make it onto Big Brother!! I’m a bit too chilled.

None of the judges were honest really, except maybe Charley. Grace was quite honest at times but always exaggerated what she really thought to make it sound more extreme, because she wanted to be the Simon Cowell one. Julian was always just being controversial, he didn’t seem to have a filter in his brain to sieve out the ridiculous comments. It was like he had Tourettes. The producers obviously loved that.

It sounded like you entered BNTM on a bit of a whim (especially as, you admit, you’re not even technically British!). Were you happy you just got as far as you did? What was the feeling like when Elle called your name last at Model Academy? (Only for her to kick you out without a goodbye a few weeks on – bloody cheek etc!)
I couldn’t believe I actually made it in. It was mad. I went over on a whim. If it hadn’t been for a Ryanair sale and £10 flights, I wouldn’t have gone because I really thought they were highly likely to turn me away the minute they saw my Irish passport. So I just thought, well it would be nice to see Glasgow and it will be a funny experience either way, and sure the flights were practically free. I actually laughed when I was told I had a call back. I did always have to pinch myself when I was on the show and I never felt I would make it to the next week at any stage, so I was shocked to even get as far as I did, and I was really honoured to be there. So I was fine about leaving. I felt a bit abused by their manner of doing it, but I didn’t expect to stay, and I knew there was an elimination that day, it was completely pre-planned in advance, so I was not shocked. It was not a shock elimination like they made out. It was totally scripted. That’s a Fact.

A few unkind people have suggested you only entered to get exposure for your acting – what’s your response to them?
It’s the truth; I have no real interest in being a model. I completely used BNTM for my profile and it worked. So there.

susan loughnaneSusan’s gorgeous 2012 Irish Tatler cover; photo by Barry McCall Photographer

What have you been up to since you left?
Thankfully, I’ve been doing quite a lot of acting. I shot an Irish TV series called Single-Handed down in beautiful Galway. I’m told it will be on ITV over here in the New Year. I’ve just been cast in a play here, I have a fantastic new London agent and he is getting me lots of auditions here so things are great. I love living in London. [NOTE: Since BNTM, Susan has actually become a quite well-known actress, with roles in acclaimed Irish drama Love/Hate and Channel 4’s Hollyoaks, plus has also written her first book!]

You can model, act and have a nifty taste in jumpers. Let’s assess your true triple-threat potential! Any other talents hiding under there?
Haha, that’s really sweet. I do love my jumpers all right. Actually I am also an artist and dabble in photography. I’ve been a professional portrait artist since I was about 17, and still take the odd commission to supplement my income. I find painting a very relaxing and therapeutic thing to do; however, I have taken a break from it since coming to London because I couldn’t bring over all my easels and oil paints and canvases, and it would be a big investment to buy new stuff. Also I am focusing solely on acting for the time being, I think to be truly successful at something you have to be single-minded, and now I am totally focused. I do still carry around my SLR from time to time and snap casual pictures of friends and London life in general.

I just noticed on your CV that you trained for a year at the Lee Strasberg Institute in New York (most famous student: Marilyn Monroe!) – how was that experience?
I loved New York. It felt like home straight away and whenever I think about it my heart actually aches a little. I think it is homesickness. I do feel the same way about Ireland though. The Lee Strasberg Institute was an incredible experience. Not only did I get fantastic training but I met truly brilliant people. It was like the UN, I now have friends from literally all over the world and all walks of life! It was a true all-round life experience.

My boyfriend thinks you look like Amy Adams – have you had that before?
All the time, I used to get called Nicole Kidman too, but I think my personality is closer to Amy Adams… now if I could only have her career…!

How do you think being part of BNTM has changed you?
It has made me very determined. And I have a lot more belief in myself. The fans were very supportive I’ve gotten some wonderfully positive fan mail. It is fantastic and invaluable to have the support of your family and friends, but when complete strangers have a strong faith in you it has an interesting effect. I throw away every negative comment, they are irrelevant to me unless they are constructive. But the really positive ones are like little badges I sew onto my sleeve, like when I was in a kid in girl guides, and they add to my confidence and sense of purpose and self-belief. I really am grateful for that.

And finally, what’s your top style/beauty tip for Teentoday readers?
I believe in rewards. When I have worked really hard I like to reward myself with something I don’t need but really want. Like that jumper I wore on the show, for example. I was shooting a TV series up in Belfast last November, and one day I had two big emotional scenes that were very hard work and emotionally exhausting, but I got a few hours off after so I went shopping in Belfast and bought myself that jumper. I returned to set that day with a huge smile on my face. And now I have a jumper that always makes me happy and reminds me of the great work I did that day. Love yourself, take care of yourself and reward yourself when you deserve it.

All photos from Susan’s website and Flickr. As ever, click on the photos for enlargements.

Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens: Green there, done that

It’s a nice day, you’re unemployed and at a loose end. What to do that’s cheap, interesting and actually involves leaving the house? How about a trip to Hong Kong’s Zoological and Botanical Gardens?

Admittedly, now probably isn’t the best time of year to visit as most of the 1000 plus species of plants are no longer flowering. Yet given it was an absolutely beautiful summer’s day and I wasn’t sure if we’d be having any more of those this year, my boyfriend and I decided to make the trip to Central and have a calm and gentle stroll around.

Trek not helped by The Stairs To Nowhere. HK Planning Department Fail.

Of course, we forgot that beautiful summer’s day = getting hot and sweaty. Especially as it’s a bit of a trek to get there, much of it uphill, and one problem of an open-air park is that there isn’t a blast of cool air-conditioning to welcome you there! (I still think the LCSD is missing a trick by not making its museums and parks have proper restaurants and cafes. It’s something many places in England have done, making them destinations in their own right. But most places I’ve visited in HK make do with an amateur-run eaterie, akin to the school cafeteria, with plastic chairs, dishing up instant noodles – and that’s on a good day! HKZBG was no exception, sporting a few fast food kiosks. Given the number of young families and yummy mummies visiting, I think a beautiful café could make a killing here). However, it’s still a lovely place, especially since this spot of lush verdant greenery is nestled right in the heart of Central’s towering skyscrapers.

The Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens is one of the oldest of its kind around the world, with construction starting in 1860, opening to the public in 1864. The pagoda inside is the oldest structure in the garden and there are a few other historical statues, like a bronze one of King George erected to commemorate the 100th anniversary of British colonial rule in HK and a memorial arch as you walk in dedicated to British and Chinese soldiers who died in the war. I was also surprised by how many animals there were, an eclectic bunch of simians, reptiles and around 400 exotically-plumaged birds.

But I was here because I missed green stuff. I missed plants. I missed grass. I missed trees and shrubs and my garden. I missed walking around in green spaces, breathing in fresh air and being a bit removed from the rumble of pollution and the smog of concrete. So most of my pictures are of that. Enjoy. (As ever, click to enlarge). And yes, I will be going back in Spring.

This plant was called mother-in-law’s tongue! *Insert mother-in-law joke here*

Some form of Heliconia, also known as ‘false bird-of-paradise’. You can see why! Birds-of-paradise were always my favourite house plant in Sims!

Another hibiscus – not HK’s national flower, but it might as well be.

I want to call these catkins. They might not be but whatever, it still reminded me of my Flower Fairies books.

The Education and Exhibition Centre currently houses a display of orchids. Most were fairly standard (or as standard as orchids ever can be!), like those at CWB’s Flower Market but these were unusually beautiful.

I thought these tree roots were amazing – like a labyrinth or a witch’s hand! Better than any modern art sculpture!

Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, Albany Road, Central, 2530 0154. Free admission. Fountain Terrace Garden (the fountain was closed when I visited!), open 6am to 10pm. Green House and Exhibition Centre, 6am-4pm. All other areas, 6am-7pm.

Get a bus or get the MTR to Pacific Place, Admiralty. Go up the escalators at the side by Grappas and Lane Crawford to Hong Kong Park and follow the signs to the HK Zoological and Botanical Gardens.

Pawn Again: views from The Roof Garden @ The Pawn

When I used to work in Wan Chai, my colleague and I used to dawdle about the streets until the dying seconds of our lunch hour, bemoaning the lack of pleasant public spaces in the area where we could sit and avoid returning to the office for as long as possible. Little did I know that one such place did exist and could have saved us from being harangued by strippers and grimacing over grotty tattoo parlour displays in the streets of WC.

The Roof Garden (and yes, those are real plants and they’re gorgeous), on the third floor of The Pawn restaurant, is a quiet haven from the heaving hubbub of Wan Chai. It offers spectacular views over the city, a chance to drink in the different styles of architecture and savour the fact that somehow, a little piece of old Hong Kong has been preserved. Admittedly, preserved by becoming a set of swanky restaurants, but preserved nevertheless.

Photo contrasting the old Woo Cheong Pawnshop with the new development, from HK Man’s Flickr, which you need to check out like, now. Hundreds of amazing photographs like this comparing old and new HK.

The Pawn occupies the former premises of century-old Woo Cheong Pawnshop (hence the name), a set of four tenement houses (known as “tong lau”) originally built around the turn of the 20th century. “Tong lau” were unique to Hong Kong and Southern China, balcony-type shophouses featuring a mixture of Chinese and Western architecture, where the ground floor was usually devoted to a family business whilst the upper levels were residential. These ones have four stories, with high ceilings, French windows to the balconies, verandahs facing Johnston Road and other typical Tong Lau features that you can see in some of my photos, like the balustrades and decorative urns on the roof, which have been restored and revitalised. Columns on the ground floor supported the upper levels, forming a covered pedestrian arcade – a feature more HK buildings today could do with, saving us from the beating sun and dripping air cons!

Another nice little detail – the shophouses did not have toilet provisions. Instead, the “nightsoil” was collected by government scavengers at night from the pail latrine (i.e. a bucket). How do I know all this stuff? Well, upon visiting the Roof Garden, you’re met by an attendant from the Urban Renewal Authority (who bought the building in 2003 and helped restore it), bearing a pamphlet snappily entitled “Welcome to The Pawn Roof Woo Cheong Pawnshop Building Cluster”, full of such interesting facts and photos! Apparently, this was a response to The Pawn not exactly encouraging non paying-customers to enjoy the Roof Garden but I certainly had no such problems on my visit. Sadly, the attendant didn’t speak much English so couldn’t answer any of my other questions – like whether some of the racks on the roof were actually from the Woo Cheong Pawnshop itself (they definitely looked rusty enough!).

The preserved terrazo front sign for Woo Cheong Pawn Shop

It’s easy to get frustrated with Hong Kong’s attempts (or lack of) at historical preservation. Many old buildings have ceded to anonymous modern developments already and it always seems to be an uphill battle to prevent sites of historic interest from being ripped apart and swiftly following suit. Although it isn’t exactly ideal that these century-old tenements have survived as a luxury commercial development sold to the highest bidder (with Woo Cheong shunted out elsewhere in Wan Chai to make way for them), I’d rather concentrate on being happy that it’s survived at all, that a stunning part of it is easily and freely accessible to all and that The Pawn has put real effort and thought into making the most of its setting and history (review of the restaurant itself here!).

[And what with The Press Room Group paying homage to the pawnshop, having previously done so with The Press Room itself (its name references the Overseas Chinese Daily News / Hua Qiao Daily newspaper, the 1920s residents of that building), perhaps they’re getting a taste for this kind of thing?!]

View showing the orange lift going up the side of the Hopewell Centre, which at the time of its completion (1980) was the tallest building and first circular skyscraper in Hong Kong

As for the Roof Garden – well, the pictures speak for themselves, don’t they? (As ever, click for enlargements.) It’s a spot of serenity with absolutely breathtaking views and a humbling sense of heritage. (And it would be absolutely great for a private party as well, they have a bar and everything!) There is also a small computer screen attached to one of the columns downstairs as part of the Wan Chai Heritage Trail (quite how it hasn’t been carted off by some hobo yet I’m unsure) which details some of the history of the area – including jaw-dropping maps showing how much land has been reclaimed. Basically, I’d have been standing in the sea!

Amazingly, we also had the place all to ourselves for the entire duration of our visit – so get yourselves down there before everyone else gets clued in and savour this hidden oasis set in the midst of our concrete jungle.

Ding-ding!

Photos showing the redevelopment and restoration

The instantly-recognisable HK pawn shop logo. Wikipedia reckons it represents a bat (signifying fortune) holding a coin (signifying benefits). The character in the middle is the symbol for pawn shop, the two upper characters the name of the family who own the shop.

Roof Garden, 3/F The Pawn, 62 Johnston Road, Wan Chai.

For more information and photographs about the restoration and preservation of 60-66 Johnston Road, check out the Urban Renewal Authority’s website here.