Category Archive for Fims + Videos
I’m leaping in the air because our Cape Town video is out!
In this latest episode of my travel show — published on Business Insider Travel — I encounter lions, drag queens, penguins…
…street art, and color everywhere. (Above, I’m posing with the rainbow homes of the Bo-Kaap district – outfit details and more here.)
Please take a few minutes to watch our episode above and on Business Insider.
It was hard to edit all the fantastic footage into a short video. I could go on for hours about why I love this city — but I’ll boil it down to 10 things I love about Cape Town.
1. South African Wine Tastings
South Africa’s wines have been getting attention in recent years, especially those from the Stellenbosch region. I’m no wine expert, but I can tell you that these are some of the best I’ve tasted (and I’ve tasted a lot).
Our driver took us about an hour outside of Cape Town to Steenberg, a modern vineyard and farm. The staff poured us a selection of white and reds, including the smooth and complex Magna Carta. I wish I had a glass of it in my hand, as I’m typing this!
Outside, we ran into Pumbaa the warthog! This rotund creature really looks like the African pig in the Disney movie, The Lion King. Of course, filmmaker Melissa had to sing Hakuna Matata and pet his bristles.
Somehow, the Asian peace-sign pose is appropriate here. Pumbaa was the only animal who didn’t bite her during our journey. (Remember she got nipped by a peacock, penguin and dassie… and I got pecked by an ostrich.)
2. Cape Town Wine Bars
Another glass? Yes please. I got tipsy at Publik, a laid-back bar that serves local wines along with cheese, rye with quince, and smoked free-range meats. If you usually dislike a certain varietal, they might surprise you with a delicious version that makes you think twice. The goblets and high counters make this an easygoing experience — there’s no snobbery here.
3. Jazz Safari with Local Musicians
I love getting to know locals wherever I go. One night, we joined a Jazz Safari tour that took us inside the homes of local musicians. We ate dinner together, and then listened to a private home performance.
Musician Hilton Schilder’s wife prepared us a hearty curry with rice, and it was one of the best meals I had in Cape Town (along with Faldela Tolker’s Cape Malay cooking). Hilton plays multiple instruments, and performed experimental pieces on piano, guitar and this African mouth bow. I enjoyed hearing about his inspiration, such as how he composed a 15 minute song called “Rebirth” by visualizing a keyboard on the ceiling, as he was lying in bed recovering from an illness.
Next, our guide Michael drove us to one of the townships. We saw some metal shacks on the outskirts, but most of the residents lived in small houses. Not nearly as ominous as you might imagine.
TA Blaques performed energetic compositions on trumpet, with his friend on guitar. Cape Jazz is a local style that mixes Western and African influences, with plenty of improv. We tapped our feet along as they played a mix of “Pata Pata” and “In the Jungle.” What a memorable night.
4. Beefcakes Gay Bar & Drag Queen Show
Now, for a very different type of nightlife… What is the gay scene like in Cape Town? I must say, pink and fabulous! The gay bar Beefcakes has a double meaning: it serves burgers, and the waiters are all beefed-up studs!
Beefcakes has frequent “boogie nights” that bring in LGBT and alternative performers. The bar is a favorite destination for girls nights too. We saw a bachelorette doing a “body shot” off a waiter’s six pack.
But that evening, all eyes were on drag queen Champagne le Roux. She took the stage, and made snide but light-hearted comments about people in the audience. At one point, my cutesy lion backpack was the subject of her interrogation.
After some song-and-dance numbers, it was time for “Bitchy Bingo.” Champagne ordered a “ball boy” to come on stage and pick out bingo numbers.
Our friend Vicky won! She had to go onstage to dance with the queen, and then got awarded prizes like a Beefcakes calendar and a bottle of warm beer.
5. African Cuisine
Speaking of meat, Cape Town Tourism organized some outstanding meals for us. At Africa Cafe, I tried pap for the first time — a mushy, gluey staple carb made from ground maize. The menu offered African exotic meats, including springbok, impala, crocodile, and warthog (alas, poor Pumbaa!).
6. Drinking Cap Classique
Alcohol is a big part of my Top 10 list, isn’t it? At Hallelujah, I tasted a selection of Cap Classique “champagne,” a bubbly wine from South Africa. It was apparently a favorite of Marie Antoinette and European royalty.
Hallelujah also serves outstanding Asian street food at like prawns with hot steamed buns and coleslaw. Melt-in-your mouth dishes designed for sharing, inspired by dim sum and Asia comfort foods. I didn’t realize Cape Town had such hip restaurants and bars.
7. The House of Machines
A lot of locals recommended a bar called The House of Machines. Once we got there, we saw what all the buzz was about. This space is a mix of motorcycles, men’s fashion, art and cocktails.
They make a mean dark and stormy cocktail, and the music (indie rock, dance, local) is spot on. The next time I’m in Cape Town, I’ll be heading straight here.
8. Handmade Local Fashion
Missibaba is a women-run leather studio that stays true to its Cape Town origins. Many of the accessories take inspiration from African art, such as purses with tribal patterns.
A devotee of “slow fashion,” Missbaba employs local craftswomen who make almost all of the designs by hand.
Lead designer Chloe Townsend is passionate about “slow fashion” and supporting South African women. Her workshop employs craftswomen from an underprivileged township, and she donates a portion of proceeds to local empowerment programs.
9. Young Design Studios
Remember my trip to Woodstock Exchange, a modern art hub? You can’t leave Cape Town without exploring the cool studios inside.
I interviewed designer Atang Tshikare of Zabalazaa about his urban illustrations, which he custom-creates on skateboards and other surfaces.
He shares a space with Jasper Eales, a product designer who won awards for his eco-friendly design solutions, like a clever surfboard storage rack.
10. Powerful Political Art
Cape Town has a tumultuous history that is often contemplated in its local art. Ralph Ziman’s photos symbolize the devastation caused by arms trading. He photographed street vendors holding AK-47 guns, created out of African beads and wire.
His team showed us “Resistance”, a 100-meter long installation of a broken gun made from wheat paste. The weapon is wrapped in world currencies, symbolizing the international complicity in the arms trade.
I leave you with this smiling warthog from the vineyard. He seems to be humming Hakuna Matata.
Did this post open your eyes to South Africa’s wines, LGBT nightlife and restaurants? Please let us know your feedback on the video, and where you’d like us to see us travel next!
One of the perks of travel writing: you get to stay in a lot of nice hotels. At this point, it takes a lot to knock my fishnets off.
But Hong Kong’s modern luxury hotel, The Upper House, left me speechless. I can’t stop thinking about the Zen interior design, and attention to “guest experience” that goes far beyond 5-stars.
And boy did we have fun, partying in our mega-suite overlooking the harbor! We hope you smile at our video about the Upper House, and Miffy-madness below.
The seamless service began as soon as Yukiro and I arrived at Hong Kong Airport. A driver welcomed us with a “La Carmina” sign, and drove us straight to the Upper House hotel in a luxury black car. Instead of having to wait in a check-in line, our “Guest Experience Manager” immediately took us up to our upgraded suite on the 41st floor. After he gave us a tour, we fell over on the floor, dazed by the unpretentious yet majestic treatment we had received!
Death rang the doorbell (aka John Skeleton). Outside, Hong Kong is humid, aggressive and stifling. But here, we felt like we were floating in a Zen cloud, far above the madness.
The bathroom is as large as an apartment in Japan (400 sq ft), and stocked with every amenity imaginable. Tweezers? Check. Eye cream? Check. The star of the show is the limestone free-standing bathtub, fronted by a curved, abstract sculpture made of sandstone.
The Upper House is located at Pacific Place in Admiralty — an ideal location, only a few stops from Central and Causeway Bay. The staff knows every guest by name, and greeted us as we entered and exited. Yukiro was easy to remember, with his rockabilly hair and fiery disposition!
An epic view requires an epic pose. My dress is a present from Nanette Lepore: it’s this exact Runaway Stripe design, which is great for traveling since it can be dressed up or down. The crochet top is by Liz Lisa.
The Upper House staff goes out of its way to make guests blissfully happy, and left these thoughtful gifts in our room. During our room orientation, Yukiro mentioned that he wanted to buy Chinese tea. The next day, there was a complimentary tea box in the room, along with a handwritten note!
The Upper House is under the Swire Hotels umbrella, and designed by young architect Andre Fu. He received international accolades for his work here, and deservedly so.
At first glance, the interiors are minimal. However, the longer you stay here, the more you’ll notice subtle elements that convey a warm and peaceful feeling. Such as symmetry, rounded shapes, and natural materials (ceramics, wood, sandstone).
Case in point: the elevator has no “Close” button, to encourage guest to slow down and breathe. Yukiro decided to push “Yes” on Death’s t-shirt instead.
The 6th floor has a secret garden with a grassy lawn. Guests can relax and join yoga classes in this oasis.
We couldn’t keep our 1230 square foot Upper Suite to ourselves. So we invited over a few friends…
Once again, an example of the glorious guest service: the manager heard we were having a get-together, so he sent up a bottle of champagne!
Have you noticed that at my parties, someone always ends up on the floor, getting kicked?
Soon, we had a fabulous mix of fashion bloggers, designers, models, photographers, illustrators, Instagram stars…
Hong Kong doesn’t really have an underground or alternative clubbing scene. The best parties tend to be private get-togethers, like ours.
Everyone enjoyed relaxing on the bespoke furniture. Each room has an iPod touch and stereo set-up, so Death plugged in and DJ-ed.
Erm… things got a bit crazy…
How spooky, the far left face! Our guests ate up everything in the complimentary Maxi Bar: free coconut water, juices, beer, sweets, cookies.
We put the big bathtub to good use. I think we fit about 10 people in there!
The lighting and design make the Upper House an ideal place for Instagramming.
Want to see our Italo Disco dancing and shenanigans? Check out our silly video.
The next day, we discovered Miffy in the comfy bed. She refused to move from the 400 thread count linen.
She worked off her hangover by taking a bath, while gazing at the skyline view.
Oh Miffeh… that’s enough beer for you! And don’t try to leave with that robe!
One of my favorite parts of the Upper House was this dark entry tunnel. As guests ascend, they enter into a serene mindset, leaving behind the bustle and noise of the city.
My Cream Skull top and pink dress with Goth crosses are from Hyoma, Izzue / I.T store.
Andre Fu designed the space to feel like a private residence, hence the absence of a check-in counter and other typical “hotel” elements. Tranquility is the key here…
… communicated thorugh subtle design elements. We didn’t notice this Zen sand arrangement by the escalators until a few days later.
A peaceful pool, to encourage reflection.
I particularly loved the choice of contemporary art. Light and shadow near the restaurant, a “cocoon” in the elevator, all integrated naturally into the design.
I’m still thinking of my breakfast at Cafe Gray Deluxe. Yukiro enjoyed berry pancakes with creme fraiche, while I had truffled eggs on a croissant. Everything is made fresh to order.
I wish I could have spent more time on the 49th floor Sky Lounge, which has a fireplace, snacks, and reading materials. How about this view of Wan Chai and the Peak?
This photo says it all: we didn’t want to leave the Upper House Hotel! The most basic rooms are $700 US a night, but the numerous perks and attentive service make it worth the value. The staff cares about your experience, and doesn’t nickle-and-dime you for extras. For a special occasion, this is a splurge that is truly memorable. At the very least, come for dinner with a view, at Cafe Gray Deluxe restaurant (we reviewed it in this post.)
Thanks to the Upper House for this unforgettable stay. I felt rejuvenated, and renewed my appreciation for my friends and Hong Kong. It does’t get better than that.
PS: Don’t forget to watch our funny video about how we enjoyed our suite!
It’s my birthday! (August 17.) Thanks for all the kind wishes, I’m so grateful for your friendship.
Perhaps this is an opportune time to share the PechaKucha speech that I made in Tokyo, since it reflects on my journey over the past few years. I’m stunned at how everything has grown — and I couldn’t have done any of this with your support.
I’ve recently been working with a trip-planning startup, Odigo, and they asked me to do a presentation at PechaKucha 20×20 Tokyo. This is a public speakers’ event that began in Japan, and now takes place worldwide. The challenge is that each presenter only gets 20 slides, displaying on screen for 20 seconds each, to convey their point.
I look like I’m having Seinfeld moment, with the microphone and upturned hand. “What’s the deal with bagelheads?”
Outfit details: To match the Alice in Wonderland motif in my speech, I’m wearing a Baby the Stars Shine Bright skirt. This off-shoulder black top by Free People is almost identical to the one I’m wearing (I got mine at 2% Hong Kong).
As you can see, there were hundreds of people in the audience! I had no notes on me, and couldn’t even see the screen behind (which switched to the next photo automatically after twenty seconds). So how did it go? And what exactly did I do a presentation about?
Above and on YouTube, you can see a video of me speaking to the crowd at Pecha Kucha.
The most difficult part was nailing the transitions between the slides, which change automatically. I recommend practicing over and over, including doing trial runs in front of an audience, until you get used to this unique format.
Other PechaKucha tips? Tell stories as you were talking to a friend, to keep the crowd engaged. It never helps to tell a funny anecdote or too. Keep relaxed and the 6-7 minute speech will flow by fast.
Since you can’t always clearly see the slides in the first video, above is one that contains only my PechaKucha slideshow and the audio. I hope you’ll find this example 20×20 presentation helpful, if you ever end up doing one yourself.
Arigato everyone who came to see me at SuperDeluxe Roppongi, and to the PechaKucha Tokyo team for having me! The event is full of positive energy, thanks to founders Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham, and executive director Jean Snow. PK always features a creative roster of presenters (speaking in Japanese and English) about topics as diverse as rope tying and natto packaging.
Here are some of the slides and stories I mention in my speech. “Ever since I was one year old, my family and I would take trips to Asia at least once a year. As a child, some of my most vivid memories were visiting Japan. Imagine little ol’ me in 1990s Harajuku, an alien world inhabited by punks with spiky hair, and girls in Victorian ruffle dresses. And everything was so cute!”
“Even though I loved visiting Japan and wearing Jpop fashion, I never imagined it was possible to have a travel career like mine. I went to Columbia University, and then Yale Law School – but my heart wasn’t into law. I needed a creative escape – so I started my La Carmina blog in 2007. Every day, I posted about the hidden spots I loved in Japan – such as the Vampire Cafe where the waiters dressed like Dracula, or pastel Goth boutiques where the fashion is inspired by My Little Pony. All the places that mainstream travel guides and tours would never show you.”
“I did this all out of love – I enjoyed connecting with people online over these shared passions, and never thought the site would lead anywhere. But then some of my posts about theme restaurants and cute food became popular… and long story short, it landed me a NY literary agent. That led to two books: Crazy Wacky Theme Restaurants and Cute Yummy Time.”
“From then on, everything just kept building organically. One day, a producer emailed and said… “I’m writing from the Andrew Zimmern show, Bizarre Foods. He loves your book, and wants you to be his guide.” That was my first taste of travel TV hosting and production, and I was hooked. Since there was so much demand, my business partner and I started a TV fixing company, and three years later, we’ve organized shows for Food Network, NHK, CNN, Discovery, National Geographic Taboo, and many more.”
“The reason these shows hire us – and not some normal tour guide – is because we’re underground insiders. We know all about the bizarre hot-spots all over the city, and are able to make all the arrangements so that TV shows can shoot things like bagelhead inflation, where you drip saline solution into the forehead, creating a bulge.”
“One thing that I noticed was even though many people enjoyed reading about the places I share on my blog, it was still difficult to search for them on Google maps and figure out how to get from A to B. So I became involved with Odigo, a project that helps me to share my trips with others. All you have to do is go to odigo.travel and you can follow my footsteps!”
And if you want to give me a little birthday love, I invite you to join my mailing list (I only send emails about once a year, don’t worry).
❤❤ Just fill in details below & click. ❤❤
Thank you kindly! If you’re intrigued by my trip-planning collaboration, or want to be one of the first contributors, take a look at Odigo and sign up.
And hugs for First Mate and illustrator Naomiyaki for this fat-faced greeting card of Basil Farrow.
Have you heard of PechaKucha, or been to one of their events? What do you think of my presentation?
When I was in Seoul, I hung out with YouTube stars Eat Your Kimchi in their studio — and it was fantastic, baby!
I toured EYK’s Nasty headquarters, and chatted with Simon and Martina about their upcoming Korea projects — including a coffee shop for their fans. Read on for the inside scoop, and tons of funny photos.
PS: I invite you to sign up for my mailing list, so that you won’t miss out on upcoming meet-ups and job opportunities! I send out emails an average of once a year; you won’t get inundated by La Carmina, I promise.
❤❤ Just write your email below & click. ❤❤
For those who don’t know, Simon and Martina Stawski run the extremely popular EatYourKimchi YouTube channel, which specializes in videos about Kpop music, life in Seoul, and zany adventures with their pets and friends.
Much like my own La Carmina blog, Eat Your Kimchi (EYK) began as a hobby, fueled by their passion for Korean culture. Today, they have a loyal following of fans (aka Nasties), and have expanded EYK into an independent studio, clothing line, worldwide appearances and more.
Simon and Martina are just as friendly and fabulous in person, and we spent over an hour laughing together. I immediately felt at home on their purple couch, and we dished about pop culture and fashion as if we were old friends.
I borrowed a stuffed octopus and “poop pencil” to write down notes (I’ll be doing some magazine stories about Eat Your Kimchi, so stay tuned). Fans will recognize the saucy penguin sitting on Martina.
The married couple is from Toronto, Canada, and always loved subcultures. They moved to Korea to teach English, and began making casual YouTube videos (about Korean food, Hello Kitty, K-pop) for their friends back home. Similarly to my own career arc, they built up a loyal following, and eventually quit their day jobs to do Eat Your Kimchi full-time.
Today, they have their own colorful studio located in the youth culture district, Hongdae. I was impressed by how they custom-designed the space, with special lighting setups and kawaii decor all over. It’s like walking into a K-idol dream.
Viewers will recognize these backdrops, as seen in their regular uploads (Kpop Music Mondays, FapFap, livestreams and more).
Martina and Simon gave me a tour of the studio, which includes a sound room full of pillows, and Happy Kitchen. And how about this pink walk-in closet? It’s a wardrobe fantasy, filled with wigs, makeup and shark hats.
Everywhere you turned, there was fan art. The duo genuinely cares about their audience, and draws inspiration from the drawings and dolls they receive.
Here’s where the video-editing magic happens. You shouldn’t be surprised to see that their laptop has an adorable custom keyboard!
I met business manager Soo Zee (love her purple hair!) and other team members, who were hard at work. Everyone works together on the standing desk, a healthier option than sitting around all day.
Simon and Martina spoke enthusiastically about their newest project: You Are Here, an Eat Your Kimchi coffee shop near Hongdae station! The goal’s to create an inviting space where they can hang out with their fans and host special events (since their studio space is for work only).
It can be hard for first-time visitors to figure out where to go in Seoul, and for solo travelers to meet others. Hopefully, the EYK cafe can help to bring people together.
Martina and Simon have just opened the doors to the cafe. Martina is excited to bring her home-cooking to customers, and to have the coffee brewed just right. If this cute studio is any indication, their coffeeshop will be a hit.
I’m excited to see the in-shop videobooth, where fans can record messages to be incorporated into videos. It’s inspiring to see how much EYK interacts with their “Nasties.”
I was sad that their pets weren’t in the studio that day. Everyone loves Spudgy the dog, and Dr Meemersworth — a Scottish Fold cat, just like mine!
Here are our earless babies (Meemers on the left, Basil Farrow on the right). We bonded over the breed’s quirks, like the way Scottish Folds dangle their big paws and love to cuddle.
Simon and Martina have lived in Seoul for many years now, and I asked them about the peculiarities of Korean pop culture. I learned that tattoos are taboo, like in Japan: only doctors are legally allowed to ink others, so tattoo shops stay underground (there aren’t signs advertising them). In June, Seoul had a tattoo convention but it was shut down by officials. How funny that in contrast, plastic surgery (a more invasive “body modification”) thrives here!
Their job looks like it’s all play: making goofy videos in a space filled with toys, and yes, that’s a purikura booth in the back. However, I can see — and personally know — how much hard work goes into each project, and how committed they are to their team and Nasties.
They love what they do, and try to give back to their fans. Simon and Martina spoke about upcoming appearances at anime conventions, a possible road trip with meet-ups, and more.
I wanted some cool travel tips, and who better to ask than Eat Your Kimchi? Martina drew me a map of hotspots in this neighborhood (Hongdae) while Simon watched.
I ended up visiting all the places they recommended, with my photographers. In my next posts, I’ll show you the Hongdae Hello Kitty cafe, Zombie coffee, Robot bar and more. (Stay tuned to my Seoul category to see!)
Naturally, she drew this map with colorful pens, on cute panda paper. As you can see, she marked her favorite cupcake shop and Kpop fashion boutiques.
I think Martina is imitating the big robot that guards her favorite bar. Can you spot the tattoos of her dog and folded-eared cat?
We couldn’t stop taking photos with the stuffed toys.
So much fan art everywhere. Martina gave me a few Scottish Fold items from EYK’s fashion line, including a purple knit cap with Meemers’ round face on the corner. Everything is made locally.
(Photography by Jacqueline Kwok of noircorner and Ken Yuen.)
Funny how Simon is growing a beard, so he no longer looks like the older fan art.
We could have chatted all day long! Huge hugs for Simon, Martina and their team for inviting me to their Seoul headquarters. I’m psyched to see their new coffee shop — you can see updates on their website and YouTube. They’re on both Twitter and Instagram under @eatyourkimchi.
Have you ever watched Eat Your Kimchi’s videos? Are you keen to visit Seoul and their cafe? Below is an iPhone pic that they decorated with the Line app.
Coming up next: My birthday is on August 17, and I’ll be releasing not one, but TWO videos.