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Amsterdam

22 March 2017
Or, how I gained all the weight that took me a year to shed in a span of four days.



Both Abe and I have been to Amsterdam before, so this leg of the honeymoon was intended to be fairly relaxed after all the traipsing about in Iceland. We booked this neat little hotel in De Hallen (concept hotel + rain shower = yes please), an historic area that used to be the service station for the city’s first electric trams. Apart from the hotel, it’s now home to a cinema complex, a network of shops, and Foodhallen, which reminds me of a Singapore hawker center, except Dutch.







I initially felt bad for Amsterdam because I thought it could never measure up to the awesomeness that is Iceland, but all of that changed when we started eating. Maybe it’s the variety of food choices, or how everything seemed affordable relatively to the crazy Icelandic prices, but we'd find ourselves discussing our dinner plans when we're barely even halfway through lunch. I mean, we did make it to the Rijksmuseum and the Anne Frank house, the latter being a huge missed opportunity during my first visit because my colleagues didn't know who she was. But mostly it's been all about food. The couple that eats together, gets fat stays together, right?

Foodhallen grub. We ate here more times than I would like to admit because we're lazy creatures of habit. 

Van Kerkwij. Really neat concept (they have a "talking" menu).
Their signature dish is steak with goat's cheese and strawberry sauce and I still don't know how I feel about it :/

Fresh (and cheap!) berries + Stroopwafel <3

I can never hate a city with good coffee (and this is a real coffeeshop, not a "coffeeshop", btw :p)

Just Japan Things: Shinkansen-ing

16 March 2017
I’ve been missing Japan lately. Must be the horrible Singapore weather. I miss my flat and all its natural light, I miss my early morning weekend walks through the park, and gosh I miss the trains.



It was around this time last year when I started taking weekly shinkansen trips for work. No matter how horribly my meetings with our customer went, or how late I got home (in the middle of the work week, no less), I never got tired of it.

The shinkansen is Japan’s very own network of high-speed trains, connecting Tokyo with most major cities. They’re often referred to as bullet trains, although the name simply means “new trunk line”. The maximum speed during operation is 320 kph, but during test runs the trains can breach the 400 kph mark (up to 600kph for the maglev trains).

The Tōkaidō Shinkansen, which is what I take during my business trips, connects Tokyo and Osaka, and is the world’s busiest high-speed line. In true Japanese fashion, it is extremely punctual. Like, to the second. In the eight months or so of going back and forth, I’ve only been delayed twice – once because of a power outage, and then another due to a crazy strong typhoon (and even then they still had one train running). The rest of the time, well, an 8:55 train leaves at exactly 8:55 (a common mistake is to assume that the time on the ticket is the time the train arrives on the platform, but it's actually the time the train leaves). I usually make my way to the platform a good five minutes before the departure time, because the bullet train waits for no one.



A couple of other tidbits I’ve picked up:
  • There are three types of trains on the Tōkaidō line: the Kodama, which stops at all stations; the Nozomi, which only stops at major cities; and the Hikari, which is somewhat of a cross between the two. To provide some context, Tokyo to Shin-Osaka takes 2.5 hours via Nozomi, 3 hours via Hikari, and 4 hours via Kodama. If you have the Japan Rail (JR) Pass, you can only take the Kodama and Hikari.
  • Seat classes are organized by car: there are cars with non-reserved seats, cars with reserved seats, and green cars (business class). The JR pass does not cover seat reservations, so you either go the non-reserved routes or pay extra (you need to go to the ticket counter for this). The Kodama line usually has more non-reserved cars compared to Hikari and Nozomi. The car number with non-reserved seats varies per train, so you have to check the signboard outside. The kanji for non-reserved cars is: 自由席. The first character means “self” and in this context it’s the only one that you need to commit to memory (think: three-layer chest of drawers with top handle: 自).
  • Tickets can be purchased over the counter or on specially marked vending machines, which accept credit card and cash payments. Most of them have English menus, and can also do a route search – you input your origin and destination stations and it will present several options depending on time, cost, number of transfers, etc.
    I can't tell you what the tickets mean, though.
  • Before boarding, make sure to take note of your train number and car number. In major stations such as Tokyo, and especially during rush hour, there is a train departing every five minutes, and the boarding time is usually all of two minutes, which makes hopping aboard the wrong train a bit difficult to rectify (i.e. by the time you realize it, the train is likely to have left the station already). The car number is important because the shinkansen can be twenty cars long, so if you show up on the wrong end you're in for quite a hike. 
  • If you wish to see Fuji-san (assuming, of course, that she wishes to show herself), pick seat E. The direction, whether to Osaka or to Tokyo, does not matter, because when the train reaches the terminal, it does not turn around; instead, they just rotate the seats to face the other way. So the side facing Mt. Fuji is always seat E. You’re welcome.
    This was when I bought my ticket too late and got seat D instead,
    hence anonymous kuya by the window XD.
  • If you’re traveling from Tokyo you should see Mt. Fuji around the 45 minute mark. If you don’t get a good picture after the first sighting, don’t fret, because the next one is going to be at a better angle.
  • The electric outlets are only on the window seats (except in some Kodama trains, where they have none) and the front row seats.
  • If you have huge luggage in tow, it is best to reserve the seats in the back, so you can store them in the space behind the seats. Sometimes you can get away with leaving your bags at the back even if you are seated in the middle, but I’ve seen several cases where the train staff did not allow this and the owners had to hoist the bags up into the overhead compartments. I sometimes travel with a smaller rolling luggage, and I can just squeeze it in front of my seat, butat the expense of legroom.
  • While eating inside the trains is generally frowned upon, the shinkansen is an exception – it’s practically a requirement. You don’t want to be the person staring longingly at other people’s pretty (and yummy) bento boxes. There is a wide variety available in almost every major station, from the (relatively) cheap 500JPY boxes to the fancy schmancy lacquered ones that cost upwards of 3000JPY. And yes, sometimes I eat McDonald’s. #sorrynotsorry
    I can really use a tako (octopus) nigiri right about now
  • Shinkansen “regulars” are mostly businessmen (“salary men”), so beer and beer-adjacent snacks (nuts, cheese, beef jerky, et al) are ubiquitous.
  • The shinkansen platforms are one of the few public places in Japan with garbage bins. Half of the people who alight head straight to the nearest one to throw away their bento box remnants, and I suggest you do the same, because who knows when you will see the next trash can?
  • Should you forget to buy food before boarding (WHY), there is an in-train service in Hikari and Nozomi (tough luck for Kodama passengers) that sells coffee and bento and beer things. And super premium ice cream. However there have been cases when I would not see the cart until I’m about to alight from the train, so really, buy snacks beforehand.
  • There are smoking cars. Gah. If you are as averse to cigarette smoke as I am, avoid this like the plague. Even just passing through was enough to give me a headache, and the adjacent cars reek of smoke as well. Ugh.
  • Riding the shinkansen is not so different from a normal train ride, but during the first couple of rides I did get dizzy when working on my laptop (working on the train because Japan).
  • If you’re not working, there’s not much to do apart from eating and looking outside the window so remember to bring some form of entertainment. This was how I got addicted to podcasts.
  • There are payphones on board. Yes. Payphones. Should you have a need to call someone while speeding away at 300kph (kinda cool tbh) , you can purchase a phone card onboard.
  • Some cars have mirrored booths at the end so you can do your brows before you alight.
  • Selfie sticks are not allowed on the train platform. True story.
  • Selfies are allowed though. And shoe-fies.
  • Have I mentioned Seat E? ;p

Suqqu Extra Rich Cream Foundation

12 March 2017
One of my first purchases when I moved to Japan was a Suqqu foundation, and we've been inseparable ever since (yes, there was that tryst with the Temptu Air but that stopped after the second refill because $$$). Back then it was still called Frame Fix Cream Foundation, but it has since been reformulated into the Extra Rich Foundation.

I've always found the Suqqu counter quite intimidating. The brand is targeted towards a more mature demographic - the brand concept speaks of "sophistication" and "inner composure" - and I definitely felt like I wasn't polished enough to so much as approach it. When I did muster enough cojones to finally make a purchase (I may have dressed up for the occasion too), it was rather spectacular - it came with their famed gankin massage. I'm generally not a fan of massages, but hmnmnmmm this one... my face has never been so plump and bouncy since. The staff also don white gloves before handling the product, which they do so with a reverence normally reserved for Hermès bags or Harry Winston diamonds.

Anyway.
Back to the product in question. The Extra Rich Cream Foundation promises to be light and long-lasting, while providing moisture and a smooth, full coverage . It's a lot of promises. It also has SPF30 which is kind of standard with most Japanese bases, but it's also the reason why I didn't use it for my engagement shoot - I was worried there might be flashback.



I normally apply it with a buffer brush, like the classic Sigma ones or the Zoeva 104, but a damp beauty blender works great as well. The finish is definitely on the dewy side, but I can usually tone it down with setting powder (lately I've been using NARS Light Reflecting Loose Powder). Coverage is medium, and can be layered to full (although I prefer just using concealer on blemishes instead).

The Good

  • Star for all seasons. I've used this in -20C and 40C weather, and it has held up beautifully in both cases. It does not cling to dry patches in winter, nor does it slide off the face in summer (although I do set it with powder).
  • Colormatch is awesome. Japanese have perfected yellow-toned foundations, and the rest of the world has yet to catch up.
  • It's very comfortable to wear; at no point does it feel like I've caked my face in makeup.
  • Considerably long-lasting. Even in good ol' humid Singapore, I find that at the end of the work day I still have a bit of coverage left. Of course it does not look exactly like it did that morning, but it fades nicely instead of in patches.
  • Probably the most skin-like finish out of all the non-airbrush foundations I've tried.


The Bad

  • Eyewateringly expensive, even more so than other luxury brands like Chanel or Dior. Definitely not a foundation I would purchase blind. Having said that, on a cost-per-wear basis it is of great value for me because it took me more than six months of near-daily use to finish a jar. Also, I finished an entire jar, which is something that cannot be said for the other foundations I've purchased.
  • Can be streaky upon application, so I make sure to stipple instead of swipe.
  • Extremely limited availability. As far as I know Suqqu is only available in Japan and in the UK, with a couple of counters in Taipei and Bangkok as well. At the moment I'm still trying to figure out how to get a replacement when this jar runs out. T.T

The Ugly

  • Shade range is very limited. I found this to be the case for most Japanese brands. I'm in the light-medium range in most Western foundations (around NC25 in MAC), but with Suqqu I'm using one of the darkest shades they offer (003, for reference).
  • The packaging, gorgeous as it is, is such a bitch to work with. The plastic lid gets gunky real fast, and if you make the mistake of traveling with it, well, . I've wasted many, many applications worth of foundation just from decanting and cleaning the goddamned lid, and this is the one foundation I really would hate to waste.

Iceland: Winter Packing List

06 March 2017
It's kind of miraculous how well my cram-packing for Iceland turned out, considering how it was practically an afterthought with all the wedding insanity.

For reference we were there for seven days, not including flight days, in the beginning of January. The average daytime temperature in Reykjavik was zero degrees, but as we ventured out into different parts of the country it went as low as -20C. Apparently this was quite warm for winter, but I get chills at 25C so just keep that in mind when deciding whether you need as many layers as I do.

Outerwear



  1. Uniqlo Ultra Warm Down Military Coat
  2. Sorrel Conquest Carly Boots
  3. The North Face Waterproof Pants
  4. The North Face E-tip Gloves
  5. Forever21 hat (from the men's section!)

WHAT WORKED
The coat and the boots were the "investment pieces" so to speak, but I was careful not to go overboard with the spending seeing as I live in perpetual sunshine (with the occasional rain), and I think I did pretty well. The Uniqlo jacket was warm enough for Reykjavik, with a surprisingly functional hood as well. And then when we had to go out at night, which was when the temperature turned from cold to insane, I just load up on the layers.
The Sorrel boots were not the warmest, admittedly, but I wanted something I could take to fall and spring travel as well. They did provide decent traction, and with two layers of socks my feet have survived unscathed. As an aside, they were a bitch to remove the first couple of days (so. many. laces) and I needed Abe's help to pry them off my feet (as part of his husbandly duties, no doubt). I did not, and would not recommend, wearing them to the airport where you may be asked to remove them in the security check.
The waterproof pants were a last-minute purchase, and only because I found them on sale, but they proved to be indispensable (read: I wore them everyday). I especially love that they're skinny, so I was able to tuck them into my boots. They fit really well too, and if not for the obnoxious branding I might still be wearing them out on weekends, even.
I've never found a bonnet that did not make me cringe, but this was not half-bad and was only 12 dollars. The visor thing also served to keep my jacket's hood from falling into my face, which was kind of genius if it was a deliberate choice (it wasn't; I just discovered it by accident).
WHAT DIDN'T
The North Face gloves were useless. In fact my hands actually felt colder when I wore them. In the end I had to buy another pair from a random petrol station in Iceland; they were at a couple of sizes too big but were at least functional. I definitely regret not getting proper gloves for this trip.

Clothing

  • Uniqlo Fleece Turtleneck Sweater [3]
  • Uniqlo Merino Wool Sweater [2]
  • Muji Chambray Button-down
  • Skinny Jeans [3]
  • Lululemon Yoga Pants [2]
  • Flannel Pajamas
  • Swimsuit (for the Blue Lagoon!)



WHAT WORKED
I love Uniqlo fleece things - they're warm and snuggly and really cheap as well. I got them in a couple of different colors but if I were to do it all over again I'd probably just buy five black fleece turtlenecks. I realize it's a bit Steve Jobs-ish, but I've always felt I look best in black plus it's just the easiest color to wear because I spill things.
Lululemon yoga pants are a godsend for long-haul flights - super comfy (and no cameltoe)! They're also thick and sturdy and provide more coverage than most jeggings, so I don't feel especially self conscious when wearing them outside.
WHAT DIDN'T
I don't know why I wore a button-down on the flight - it was wrinkled even before I reached the airport. Definitely going back to the tee + giant cardigan slash blanket combination.
I also brought too many jeans. A single pair would probably be enough.

Layering Pieces

  • Scarf [2]
  • The North Face Fleece Jacket
  • Uniqlo Packable Down Vest [1]
  • Uniqlo Ultra Warm Heattech Leggings [1]
  • Uniqlo Heattech Leggings [3]
  • Uniqlo Ultra Warm Heattech Shirt [1]
  • Uniqlo Heattech Shirt [3]
  • Wool Socks [4]

WHAT WORKED
Uniqlo heat tech is kind of a no-brainer when it comes to layering on a budget. The key is you have to wear them underneath something else; they aren't really warm on their own, but under fleece? So so very toasty. I didn't want to accumulate too many pieces, because goodness knows when I'll ever get to wear them again, so I bought only three and just did laundry a couple of times (they do dry really quickly). They now come in three types - ultra warm, extra warm, and the normal heat tech. I liked the ultra warm ones best, but I was only able to get a pair because they had very limited stocks in Singapore and I may have over-procrastinated. Tsk.
I've never really understood vests until I realized how great they were for layering because they don't add bulk to the arms, which is what usually restricts the amount of clothing you can pile on. Uniqlo's packable down vest is not the warmest thing in the world but it occupies next to no space so I always bring it along as an extra insurance.
On the coldest of cold days, I literally just wore all the layers I could:
Normal Heattech Shirt + Ultra Warm Heattech Shirt + Fleece Turtleneck + Fleece Jacket + Down Vest + Coat.
I looked (and felt) like a mascot but hey, I was warm.
WHAT DIDN'T
I wish I brought more socks, because I often doubled up when it got too cold, so I had to wash them more often than I would have liked.
Also, one scarf was enough for me, really; in fact I completely forgot about the existence of the other one after like a day.


Toiletries


  • Toner + SK-II + Moisturizer
  • Alterna Shampoo + Conditioner (not in photo)
  • Alterna Caviar CC Cream
  • Toothpaste + Toothbrush (not in photo)
  • Jack Black Lipbalm
  • Percy & Reed Dry Shampoo
  • Nivea Soft Cream
  • Daily Contact Lenses

WHAT WORKED
My hair was fried because I had it colored for the wedding (and without treatment as well, to make it easier to style) so I bought this Alterna trial kit from Sephora and it really helped restore a bit of life into my locks. And because it's winter I was able get away with not washing daily but I still had to use dry shampoo on my roots because they get oily very easily.
Despite the crazy weather I did not get windburned lips and I have the Jack Black lipbalm to thank for that. I have it in Black Tea and Grapefruit and both smell equally awesome. I still use them everyday.
Nivea Soft Cream is my staple for cold (and even not so cold) weather; it just works really well and because it comes in a jar it is less likely to explode in the luggage.
I find daily contact lenses prohibitively expensive for regular use, but when traveling I make the exception because it's nice to not have to worry about cleaning and disinfecting.
WHAT DIDN'T
I wish I brought an intensive hair mask, because the blue lagoon sucked the life out of my hair and even the Alterna conditioner was powerless to revive it.
I also forgot my perfume because it got packed together with all my wedding stuff (like the cord and candle and veil and all that), so I had to sneak a couple of spritzes from my newly-minted husband's bottle (which I bought, and liked wearing, even if it was for men).

Makeup




  • Suqqu Extra Rich Cream Foundation
  • Becca Mineral Powder
  • Anastasia Brow Powder
  • Benefit Rockateur
  • NARS Douceur (look, I hit pan!)
  • Becca Beach Tint
  • Dior Rosy Glow Blush
  • Shu Uemura Painting Liner
  • Happy Skin Liquid Lipstick {Mickey See}
  • Charlotte Tilbury Lipstick {Bitch Perfect}
  • NARS Velvet Lip Glide {Bound}
  • MAC Lip Liner {Edge to Edge}

WHAT WORKED
So for some reason I decided to wear a full face of makeup every single day we were in Iceland. Yes, even when we climbed up a glacier. I think it's because the risk of products melting off my face is very minimal. I also re-discovered my love for a cat eye, and for the Shu Uemura cream liner as well. I did decant the Suqqu foundation because that glass jar does not travel well at all.
WHAT DIDN'T
I definitely did not need four different blushes and lip products. Maybe two of each, tops. Also the Happy Skin lipstick is not ideal for cold weather because it drained all the moisture from my lips.
I also forgot my concealer, and this time my husband didn't have any for me to borrow :p.


OTHER THINGS


  • (A crapton of) snacks
  • Xiaomi 20000 mAh Powerbank
  • Kairo Body Warmer packs (from Daiso)
  • Rebecca Minkoff crossbody bag
  • GHD hair straightener

WHAT WORKED
First of all, I would not have survived this trip without the heating packs. They feel like nothing when you open them indoors, but at -20 degrees it's like you have a mini-bonfire on your pockets. So so so worth it (I mean, seriously, it's two dollars for eight). Abe didn't have any need for them though. I might have married a polar bear.
Batteries drain faster in cold weather, so powerbanks are indispensable. The higher the capacity the better.
I initially thought I will regret it, but bringing my hair straightener was a good call because it kept my hair from going frizzy as f*ck.
Icelandic food gets a lot of flak online, and we were terrified of going hangry, so we brought enough salted egg chips to cause arterial blockage. And even when the food turned out alright we still happily dug into the snacks anyway. No regrets.
WHAT DIDN'T
The Rebecca Minkoff mini-MAC used to be my staple travel bag but now it's simply too small for all my stuff. I actually ended up buying a Fjallraven Kanken backpack in Reykjavik because I needed something functional.
I also wish we brought cup noodles, so we'd have something warm to eat when we're too lazy to leave the hotel.
A thermos would've also been nice to transport coffee or hot chocolate, especially for Northern Lights tours.
Last but not least, a water bottle. Iceland boasts of the yummiest tap water, and I'm inclined to agree. In fact when we bought bottled water to bring to one of the tours, the lady at the cashier said, "you know that's just the same water from the tap, right?"

Bullet Point Mondays: About Last Weekend

27 February 2017
  • So The Moffatts, ultimate boyband of my youth, were in Singapore last Saturday as part of their farewell tour. My sister and I figured it'd be a shame not to go; after all, their pictures did adorn every single inch of our room's walls. ("Ano bang kademonyohan yan (What in the devil is that)?!?" my grandma would ask whenever she entered.)
  • On the one hand, it's like I was back to being a giddy teenager ("Where are your classmates?", I asked my sister, referring to her colleagues), and on the other hand, it's practically a Titas of Manila convention (Singapore chapter). In case you're not aware, the band has not released an album in like fifteen years, so they haven't really accumulated any new fans since then. In fact the only person in attendance not over twenty was literally an infant. I too, am wondering why someone would bring her newborn to a concert but I try not to judge too much
  • It was not a great concert, by any stretch of the imagination (the aging process has not been kind to Scott and his vocal chords), but admittedly it was so very amusing. Like, wow, at one point in my life I thought this was cool. My only regret was not being able to wear this shirt. It would've been so perfect!
  • I have to say I am happy and thankful that at the height of my concert-going days, smartphones and selfie sticks were not yet a thing. Gah. If I wanted to watch the band through a teeny tiny screen I would've just stayed home. 
  • The following day we had lunch at Shimbashi Soba in Paragon (probably the only mall in Orchard not inundated with people on a Sunday). Quite pricey, but their noodles are fresh and hand-made. We ordered the seasonal yuzu soba, and it was seriously, seriously good. Like maybe-we-should-also-have-dinner-here-later good. 
  • Last but not least, the hype for Bake cheese tarts has died down (no queue in the Ion Orchard shop!), which meant it was time for us to try them. The verdict: good enough to risk the migraine, but I wouldn't queue for more than five minutes. 
Have a great week ahead!
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