Category Archive for Art + Design
Oh, the eye-popping energy of Hong Kong! If you only have a day to explore, then I encourage you to see Causeway Bay. This district is home to my favorite shops and malls, which sell cute character toys, streetwear and smoosh-faced pet cats.
Read on for a shopping guide to Causeway Bay (including maps), and a whole lot of “maooo!”
But first… let me give you a head’s up about my next trips. I’m thrilled to be in Hong Kong again, for one of the biggest TV jobs of my career. For now, all I’m allowed to tell you is that it’s a travel TV show, for a major American network. Once the program is ready to air, I can fill you in on the details and cast — and it’ll be worth the wait, I promise you!
In addition, my friend John Skeleton (above) and I will be adventuring in a new destination…
Vietnam, at last! We’ve teamed up with Ciao Travel, a local tour company that offers bespoke journeys all over Southeast Asia. Since you gave great feedback on my recent food coverage, I’ll be continuing down this path — and sharing their unique Vietnam Food Tours with you.
John and I will be eating our way around Hanoi and Halong Bay: cooking classes, market tours, local village visits, and other authentic experiences. I’ve heard so much about the famous street food in Vietnam, and can’t wait to try it for myself. As always, if you have travel tips for us, please let us know in the comments or on my social networks (@lacarmina on Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and more).
(Above two photos by my friend Joey Wong, who went to Vietnam in 2011.)
Whenever I’m in Hong Kong, I pay a visit to Causeway Bay for a shopping haul. It’s easy to get here. Hong Kong’s iconic red taxis are cheap, so you can hop in and tell your driver to drop you off at Causeway Bay station, or one of the major malls such as Times Square or Hysan Place.
The MTR subway system is also clean and convenient: simply ride to Causeway Bay station on the blue island line, and exit out of D3.
Taxi drivers almost always speak English in Hong Kong (a former British colony), so we had no trouble asking ours to let us off at Times Square Mall (home to Lane Crawford and other luxury stores).
The entrance plaza usually has a funny themed display for people to pose with. Remember when John saw the One Piece exhibit, featuring a big pirate ship and life-size anime characters?
On this last visit, there was a Batman exhibition. Look up: someone in a mask is keeping close watch on Gotham City.
People could pose with the comic book walls for free. Yukiro seems to be one of the illustrated characters, cackling “Muahahaha”.
How cool to see Batman art over the years. The glass display had cute “chibi” versions of The Dark Knight.
I’m wearing a black and white skull dress from Gladnews Tokyo. The shoes are Yosuke, from Marui Shinjuku. My white purse is from Baby the Stars Shine Bright.
Unlike in Japan, anything goes in Hong Kong culture. Want to sit on the Bat-cycle? Take photos inside stores? Go for it, nobody will stop you.
I created the above shopping map for you. Save or print a copy: it’s my ultimate guide to Causeway Bay’s coolest and cutest stores.
As you can see, most locations are near the subway station (the white symbol in a red circle). Essentially, if you drop by my favorite malls — World Trade Center, Sogo, Laforet, Hysan Place, Times Square — you can’t go wrong.
I usually start with the Japanese malls, which are all next to each other: Sogo, Laforet, and the smaller Island Beverley. As you can see above, this is a popular shopping destination with a crazy cross-street like in Shibuya, Tokyo.
Ride the escalator in Sogo department store, and you’ll find all sorts of kawaii Japanese goods. Ironically, many of these aren’t found in Tokyo: such as “Nozomi and Friends” pirate shirts, and the Kilara Hello Kitty clothing line.
Hello Kitty is as popular here as in Japan. ANS makes accessories with more “adult-oriented” Sanrio designs, like these chic keychains and wallets.
Sogo’s Sanrio shop has a wall of stuffed toys, including plush Tuxedo Sams, Bad Badtz Marus, and special edition Hello Kitties. The one with the raised paw is a “jinmao,” the Chinese version of the lucky maneki neko.
Some items veer towards weird, like this My Melody paper shredder labelled “Let’s Shred!”
I love shopping for character goods in Hong Kong because prices tend to be better than in Japan, for the same or similar items. Miffy, Garfield and Astroboy — who is your favorite? (You know the answer, for me… Miffehhhh.)
John and Yukiro get spooky beneath the stacks of signs on Lockhart Road. Lots of great stores on this road, including the makeup chain SaSa (look for the pink logo).
I can’t take a trip to Hong Kong without ducking into SaSa. You can find affordable, only-in-Asia items here like My Melody eyelash glue…
… and Japanese false eyelashes, cosmetics and more for lower prices than in Tokyo.
Look above, and you’ll see this adorable awning. The Chinese name that translates to “Purebred paradise, dragon cat playground.” (Address: 527 Lockhart Road). But locals call it the “squish-faced cat shop” because that exactly describes what you’ll find inside…
… Cats with flat faces, for sale! This smooshy-faced fellow is an Exotic Shorthair.
There was a grey Scottish Fold kitten, cleaning his squishy-face with his paw.
Part of this store sells “dragon-nosed” cats (how amazing is this Chinese term?) The other part sells toys, food and other pet supplies. I got my Scottish Fold, Basil Farrow, a moving toy that looks like a panda.
Onward to Laforet, a building dedicated to Jpop fashion (which is why it shares the same name as the Harajuku department store). However, the similarities end there. Laforet is a jumble of little independent stores, housed side by side.
Each carries a variety of mostly no-name brands, meaning you can find Japanese street styles for a fraction of the price (such as a sailor-style dress for $90 HKD). Look out for the Marie Antoinette shoe store, featuring a display window of towering, glittery shoes.
The “kawaii” shops are excellent for picking up character goods at discount rates. There are quite a few cat-tastic little shops in there. This one contains nothing but feline objects, like this row of lucky cats wearing golden bells (jinmao).
This is Ginger (服裝店), a designer t-shirt and streetwear shop with a number of locations. They do collaborations both with indie artists and major mascots, like Garfield.
“We are the Robots.” By now, you can tell that funny-cute-bizarre displays are big in Hong Kong.
Some of Causeway Bay’s malls (like Lee Garden, Fashion Walk and Hysan Place) contain mostly international brands (Hollister, Valentino, etc), which don’t interest me. I prefer the offbeat Chinese street style in World Trade Center. Sugarman x Little Twin Stars encapsulates the type of streetwear you’ll find here.
In Hong Kong, you’ll see a lot of “borrowing” in character design. The Sugarman duck looks like the rubber ducky, and the mushroom creature has a Super Mario feeling.
WTC is also home to my happy place… the Miffy Shop! This white, expressionless bunny is a Dutch character, but her “kawaii” look makes her popular in Asia. China’s TwoPercent fashion brand has a branch 100% dedicated to Miffy.
All of the clothing features the rabbit in a creative way, such as silky tops with her face, or shoes decorated with her stuffed head.
Prices are reasonable and the quality is high, such as $200 HK ($25 US) for a bunny-eared hoodie.
Forget the Mongkok sneaker street shops. You can get the funniest custom sneakers right here.
You can’t find the Miffy store outside China, so put this on your must-see list.
If you purchase a few items, you’ll get a gift or discount at checkout. I bought a black and white purse, and we walked away with these free Miffy balloons! (Remember how we made Miffy drink wine at a restaurant?)
I hope you find my Causeway Bay store map helpful. Let me know if you were able to easily find these spots, or have any to add!
Isn’t Hong Kong shopping the best? I’ve been blogging about this city for years, so for more travel tips, check out my previous Hong Kong posts.
And let me know if you have Vietnam travel advice for my upcoming trip. I’m getting ready to eat a lot of pho!
Reykjavik’s cool architecture & street art murals! Iceland Dead Gallery, Harpa Concert Hall, Hallgrimskirkja.
When I was growing up, I didn’t know anyone who dreamed of going to Iceland. Now, it seems all my friends want to visit Reykjavik. Somehow, this far-away place has become the hipster travel destination.
I didn’t know much about Reykjavik before I came, but heard whisperings of an indie music scene, wild nightlife and creative culture. Sounds like my type of place — and it delivered on its promises!
In this post, I’ll show you the artistic side of Reykjavik. We’ll wander into street art tunnels, shoot inside the alien-like Hallgrims Church…
.. and marvel at the prismatic architecture of Harpa Concert Hall.
First impressions: Reykjavik is smaller than I expected. The city essentially has two main streets filled with shops and restaurants. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised since only 119,000 people live here — and there are only 325,000 residents in the entire country!
Hallgrimskirkja towers over the city center. This Lutheran church is a wonder of Expressionist architecture, the early 20th century movement that harmonizes stylized forms with the native landscape. In this case, the exterior patterns are inspired by Iceland’s basalt formations, which naturally result from cooling lava.
The church design was commissioned in 1937, but wasn’t finished til the 1980s. I suppose it’s fitting that I’m wearing my Italo Disco pimp-coat, which would be en vogue during the last days of disco. I love this decadent garment, which I found in a Portland vintage store (more photos here).
My leopard print fuzzy backpack is Gladnews, from Closet Child Tokyo.
At the entrance, there is a poem by Hallgrimur Petursson, who the church is named for. Isn’t the Icelandic language fascinating? It stems from early German and developed in isolation, which essentially preserved this ancient tongue.
(But don’t worry about getting around — everyone speaks fluent English in Reykjavik.)
Look up, once you’re inside. There’s a pipe organ that looks straight out of Blade Runner. As soon as I stepped into Hallgrims Church, the organist played a short melody and it resonated through the white arches.
It was a rare sunny day in Reykjavik, which gave us the opportunity to play with light and shadow. Photographer Joey Wong captured this dramatic image of me — it almost looks I’m in a coffin — cast by the windows.
The simple white altar conveys surprising grace and power. (It happens to match my coat, too.)
I thought the architect succeeded in building a space that felt like Iceland: stark landscapes under snow.
Hallgrimskirkja looks like it teleported down from another planet. It’s not your typical church, and I love that.
Outside, there stands a statue of Icelandic/Norse explorer Leif Erikson, the first European to set foot in North America.
If you walk towards the water for about 15 minutes (remember, this is a small capital), you’ll come across yet another futuristic building. This sparkling, angular structure is Harpa Concert Hall: opened in 2011, and designed by Henning Larsen Architects
As we walked closer, Joey and I were puzzled by the facade, which seemed to shift colors and refract light from different angles. I found out that these panes are made from both clear and color-coated glass, and cut according to geometrical principles to fit on the steel framework.
More than 1000 of these three-dimensional prismatic “bricks” make up the exterior. At night, the entire facade comes to life with moving light projections.
Inside, Harpa plays host to concerts and conferences (we heard musicians testing a gamelan on one of the upper levels). The lobby has an Epal Design gift store, and it’s well worth a browse.
It has a sweet selection of Nordic and European decorative objects. Cuteness is universal, it seems!
Bjork, Yoko Ono, Wynton Marsalis and more have performed at Harpa (upcoming events can be found on their site).
Reykjavik truly is photography heaven. Joey and I felt inspired by the city’s small details, eccentricities, and long hours of clear light.
Photos can’t begin to capture the experience of walking through Harpa and seeing the changing lights, colors and moods. If you come to Reykjavik, you’ll have to stop by and see for yourself.
Down the road, we saw the Sun Voyager or Sólfar sculpture. Made by artist Jón Gunnar Árnason and unveiled in 1990, this is a “boat of dreams, an ode to the sun.” It also pays homage to the people who first migrated to Iceland, centuries ago.
(Behind the sculpture – how gorgeous is the mountain landscape?)
Reykjavik has many other art attractions, including various museums and a street filled with galleries. However, we were most impressed by the art we saw on the streets – like this yellow coffee shop painted with good vibes.
While we were strolling the main street Laugavegur, we saw a smiling face peeking at us from a side street. How cool is this giant mural, made by The London Police (from the UK) and Above (from USA)?
From 2010-14, Reykjavik’s major was an oddball comedian named Jon Gnarr. He encouraged people to create art in public spaces, resulting in big, striking works like this one.
We ducked into a corridor, which was covered from ceiling to floor with graffiti and illustrations.
New works are constantly appearing, like this one. The scale, quality and variety of street art in Reykjavik can’t be beat.
Some of the big streets have become very touristy (overpriced food, shops selling puffin toys). However, the city overall has an authentic feel, thanks to the DIY creativity that is allowed to thrive here.
If you need more proof that Reykjavik has become a hipster haven, peer inside the camera shop, Reykjavik Foto.
The store sells old lomography cameras, photo books, and prints that put a unique lens on life in Reykjavik.
Finally, one of my favorite memories of Iceland was visiting Dead Gallery, run by Jón Sæmundur or Nonni. Look for a mandala and DEAD written on the wall.
We heard that Jon only opens up his store/gallery at odd times. Fortunately, he was in that day…
… and not only welcomed us, but let us go behind-the-scenes in his work studio!
I felt an instant connection to Jon’s inspirations, which include Tibetan Buddhism and Goth aesthetics, particularly skulls. He surrounds himself with spiritual talismans as he paints.
Jon is a multidisciplinary wonder — he also sings in his psychedelic rock band, The Dead Skeletons. He showed us his skull series, which will be published in a book. Each of these faces emerges viscerally, as he drives his brush across the paper. (The one pictured below resonated the most with me.)
Dead Gallery’s logo is a skull surrounded by a mantra, which reads “He who fears death cannot fully enjoy life.” (I’m wearing one of his t-shirts in this post.)
Seeing past the illusions of life and death — which keep us clinging and fearful — became the major themes of Jon’s work. As he writes on his site, “Dead is focused on life, a paradox intended to shock people into thought. A benign virus.”
Dead Gallery has stayed in my thoughts, and I hope I can go back soon. (Above is a photo from his site, which shows the staircase and bull head in winter.)
We also spotted Jon’s works at Húrra, a relatively new bar infused with incense and a young crowd. The nightlife in Iceland is notoriously wild; most have live bands who play surprisingly well. There are no cover charges, so you can hop into different bars and see what’s happening. On any given night, we recommend Dillon, a laid back rock / alternative / metal bar.
Back to Hotel Alda, who hosted our stay. This modern, boutique hotel played disco vinyl records during breakfast, and served blueberry Skyr (my beloved Icelandic yogurt). 5 stars right there.
The lobby has a sleek retro feel, and houses a barber shop. Hotel Alda is located on the happening Laugavegur street — so you can party late, and easily walk back for a good night’s rest.
I’ll leave you with this street view. Note the polar bear on the far left.
Isn’t Reykjavik the coolest place? Is it on your bucket list?
PS — see more of my latest travel photos and highlighted hairstyle (by Stephanie Hoy of Stratosphere Hair Vancouver) on my Instagram @lacarmina.
I’m currently in Spain (as you can see on my @lacarmina Snapchat and Instagram) — but have so many posts still to share with you from Asia. In this one, let’s explore Shanghai’s French Concession and go shopping in two of China’s coolest districts, Tianzifang and Xintiandi.
So far, I’ve been showing you China’s emerging trendy side. Remember my photoshoot inside my penthouse suite at Cachet Boutique Hotel? Here are a few snaps from the lobby, which is decorated in the same “ancient China meets mod art” aesthetic.
From Cachet Hotel, we walked to the French Concession. This district belonged to France from the late 19th century to 1943. Even today, the European influence is seen in the architecture and character of the streets.
Melissa and I stopped to take in the old brick buildings, and the new skyscrapers rising above them. China’s changed enormously even in the past decade. Business and development are booming.
The French Quarter remains the most peaceful and chic area of Shanghai (and arguably all of China). These trees — all imported from France — form a leafy canopy above the international boutiques and restaurants.
While China is modernizing, there remain strange remnants of the past. Communist China doesn’t officially allow sex shops, so this one put up a “health” sign.
Another example of this juxtaposition. The French Concession feels as clean and contemporary as any European boulevard. And yet…
… we came across a woman selling puppies in a box. She poked at them, to make them seem more lively for potential customers. And one was dyed with tiger stripes… Despite other modernizations, you’ll still see practices like these, in the open.
On the positive side, I enjoyed the calm vibe of the French Quarter. We passed by many artsy shops and cafes, like the one above.
I recommend spending at least a few hours walking around at random, and popping into boutiques. (The sign above says that this building’s foundation is sinking, and urges people to consider the health and safety of residents.)
Seems like cute food is popular all over Asia. We were there around Halloween, so I spotted these skull, ghost and pumpkin donuts.
Shanghai converted about 500 old red telephone booths into WiFi hubs. Funny how they transformed an obsolete technology into something functional for today.
My white neoprene dress is similar to this one also by Shakuhachi.
We stopped by Xintiandi, an upscale district that was the site of a controversial urban redevelopment project. This project transformed a slum into a business and residential space, while preserving the historical architecture. Unfortunately, it also displaced thousands of Shanghai residents.
Everywhere I went, I felt a strange mix of new and old. Tianzifang is an artsy area that has preserved its old alleyways and buildings.
At the same time, it’s become a tourist destination. Nonetheless, the little stalls — selling handicrafts, tea and other goods — are fun to browse.
Prices in China are notoriously low, but you can (and should) try to bargain them down more.
Be wary of poor quality and knock-off items. These cell phone cases are cute (love the Mario and Spirited Away ), but are constructed from glue and felt. I’m sure they’d fall apart within a day.
Other shops sell intriguing art, and traditional souvenirs — like the Chinese cats above.
Colorful characters, painted in vivid colors. (Photos by me and Borderless Media — check out our global travel videos on their site.)
In one shop, I saw a Scottish Fold coin purse, with tiny folded ears (on the right).
You can flatly assume that all “designer” items here are knock-offs here. Look close at the tag, and it reveals the truth about these “brand-name” sneakers. You can’t make this Chinglish up: “never expose to intense meat or hot vehicles!”
Tianzifang is packed with street food and little restaurants, serving all types of cuisine.
Look what we ran into… the More Than Toilet theme restaurant! As the male/female sign indicates, this is a poop-themed restaurant. (Address: Tianzifang, No. 5, Lane 274, Taikang Lu)
This restaurant concept is similar to Taiwan’s Modern Toilet. Customers sit on toilet seats and dine on such “delicious and happy” concoctions, like a swirl of chocolate ice cream, served in a urinal.
In the glass case, you can buy stuffed toys shaped like a big dump, with cute faces on them (of course).
We didn’t eat here, but saw others feasting on dishes like “Stool #1,” a mix of brown sweets served in a toilet bowl.
If you’re interested in reading more about bizarre Asia theme restaurants, check out my book about them.
Travel isn’t always always positive and easy. In fact, some of the most memorable trips are the ones that leave you feeling challenged. Some of Shanghai’s contradictions were hard to wrap my head around, but I’m glad I came here. I’m curious how the city will continue to change in the next years and decades.
Have you visited China before? What was your experience with the culture here?
Where am I? And even… who am I? The answer seems to vary every day — but for this post, you can call me Alice in Wonderland.
During my Manchester stay, I got to experience the British ritual of high tea… in a Tim Burton meets Lewis Carroll environment. Come down the rabbit hole with me, and we’ll journey through the city’s vibrant Gay Village too.
Photographer Joey Wong thought our rental penthouse at the Light Aparthotel was aptly named — because the windows and sheer curtains created the perfect soft-box for portrait photography. Each day, before heading out, we shot images here.
I’m wearing decadent eyelashes from Velour Lashes (the quality is far and above regular plastic falsies). My lip gloss and eyeshadows are from Anastasia Beverly Hills (get it here). I swear by my Sigma Beauty makeup brushes, which come in travel size and let you blend and contour like a pro.
I wanted my look to be a tribute to Alice in Wonderland, without doing a full-on cosplay. (My haircolor is by Stephanie Hoy – ask for her at Stratosphere Hair in Vancouver.)
My outfit is a little tip of the hat to Disney’s Alice, who wears a light blue dress with a similar skirt shape. The white rabbit necklace is something I made — with a tag from the Miffy store in China!
I met my friends at Richmond Tea Rooms — isn’t this the most adorable English traditional tea house?
The tea rooms are connected to a cocktail lounge, decorated with quirky fixtures like antique clocks and taxidermy animals.
Walking through the entrance, I couldn’t help but feel like I was living in the storybook. The decor takes inspiration from the Queen of Hearts’ royal garden, and the White Rabbit’s pocketwatch.
Inside, a case of homemade cakes and the signs “Eat Me” “Drink Me” hint at what’s in store for diners.
The smiling waiter took us “that way” to the prime tea enclosure, decorated like a garden patio draped in vines and birdcages.
Richmond Tea Rooms was at capacity when we arrived, so I recommend reserving a table well in advance. Ask for this semi-private area, especially if you’re celebrating a special occasion.
Now, the hard part — what to order, from the extensive menu?
The strawberry milkshake was an easy decision, as was the Earl Grey tea. (My steampunk clockwork nail art is by Glam Nail Studio in Richmond, Vancouver.)
There are a few variations on the high tea sets, with names like Queen’s Tea and Alice’s Tea. The chefs can prepare vegetarian and gluten-free options for you. The stacked trays are ideal for sharing, and include both savory and sweet treats, like rainbow layer cake!
All the little details — like a chain of playing cards — make the Wonderland experience come to life. It also helps that everyone around me was speaking in British accents, and pouring tea with their best Victorian manners.
Afternoon tea is something you can’t miss if you’re in England. I was all over the scones, clotted cream and jam.
Cheers to Richmond Tea Rooms, which executes the Alice in Wonderland theme with flair! You can tell that the owners and staff genuinely love the stories.
Japan has an Alice in Wonderland theme restaurant (see photos), but it feels like a commercial enterprise. This, on the other hand, is the Mad Hatter’s tea party come to life.
In addition to the tea sets, you can order a-la-carte items. It’s an opportunity to try traditional English dishes like Yorkshire Pudding and Welsh rarebit (melted cheese and vegetables on bread).
Miffy is my white rabbit for life.
Perhaps you can come here with a group of friends, all dressed up! The staff would welcome you warmly.
Thanks to Visit Manchester for bringing us here. There are so many gems to discover in this city…
… such as the Gay Village, which is where the tea room is located. I didn’t realize Manchester had such a big LGBT scene, center around Canal Street.
Did you know Queer As Folk was set in Manchester? The Gay Village is full of energy — we saw colorful clubs and murals at every turn.
If you’ll recall from my Northern Quarter post, Manchester has a wonderful indie / alternative scene in general.
Every year, the Pride parade takes over, proving why Manchester is one of the world’s most gay-friendly cities.
The sign says it all… G-A-Y, in bright lights! Every weekend, the balcony is packed with revelers dancing to pop music.
The Molly House is more my scene — a vintage-styled, laid back pub that serves cakes, ales and wines. The playlist veers to the indie side, and the music is kept low enough so that you can converse.
Manchester’s city center is unexpectedly small, and it’s easy to get around by walking. From the Gay Village, it took us only about 15-20 minutes to reach New Wakefield Street, an area known for funky murals like this one.
There are entire bars under the bridge, like Black Dog Ballroom. I recommend coming to the New Wakefield area for a walk around.
After a long day, we were glad to head back to our luxe apartment at The Light ApartHotel. It’s a few paces away from Affleck’s Goth/alternative shopping center, and other cool spots in the Northern Quarter. We thoroughly enjoyed this view from our giant window, and free tea and cookies in the lobby.
More from Manchester — including my New Order and Joy Division music tour — in my England category.
And if you’re intrigued by the Alice in Wonderland teahouse, here are my stories about theme restaurants around the world!