Hong Kong is quickly taking over Japan as the “land of the cute.” On a recent trip, I encountered 1600 panda bears, Pirate Miffy toys, and googly-eyed shoes.
Enjoy this kawaii tour of Hong Kong!
Yukiro, John and I went to the 1600 Panda Bears exhibition at the art center, PMQ. Yes, you’re looking at over a thousand paper-mache bears!
French artist Paulo Grangeon made these pandas, each with a different pose and expression. Some are babies, some are adults.
Every evening, when the doors close, the staff collects the bears and locks them up. The next day, they put them all back in place.
There are only an estimated 1,600 pandas left, hence the number. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) commissioned this creative project, which uses eco-friendly materials and cuteness to share the message of wildlife conservation.
The panda-monium (ha ha) took place at PMQ (元創方). Formerly a Police Married Quarters, this 19th century building is now an art space. It’s home to innovative restaurants and design boutiques, ranging from metalwork galleries to abstract knitwear. For this special event, a few of the cafes offered panda-themed food.
The 1600 Pandas tour has moved on to other countries, but you can always see public art at PMQ Hong Kong. Check their website for free upcoming “happenings,” like drawing workshops. I’ll also take you inside the artist studios, in an upcoming article.
Every major Hong Kong neighborhood has a kawaii attraction or two… or ten. Ever since I was a child, I’ve been visiting Wonderland in Hung Hom.
Rilakkuma, Domo, Hello Kitty, Totoro… this gift store has it all, in the form of stuffed toys, figurines, stationery, and other collectibles. Wonderland is a wonderful spot for children: girls love to try on Sailor Moon backpacks, while boys enjoy the robots, anime and action figures.
You’ll find glass cases stuffed with plush toys, including obscure variations like a Pirate Miffy. (As you know, she’s my favorite mascot. There’s something about that minimal design and inscrutable X-mouth that reels me in.)
Prices are excellent — I got a “Henry Cat and Friends” Scottish Fold notebook for about $5 US, and you can’t find this brand anywhere (not even in Japan). Come to Wonderland to pick up souvenirs, and all your friends will thank you.
Since I’ve been to Hong Kong dozens of times, I never go to tourist attractions like Temple Street or the Flower Market. Instead, I head straight to Izzue to shop til I drop.
This big-eyed kawaii brand is Hyoma. Funny enough, you can’t find it in Japan. I’ve only seen it carried in the larger Izzue branches, such as the one in Mongkok.
Izzue and I.T are known for graphic print streetwear with a cute twist, like these cat-faced shirts.
Bright poppy colors and kawaii faces are Hyoma’s signature.
Some of the items are too over-the-top for me, but I love seeing them on the shelves. I’m not sure who would rock these French fry sneakers.
Is “Musium” an unfortunate typo? Or is this an edgy label? In Hong Kong, you never know.
I love shopping in Hong Kong because the prices are low (considering the great quality), and there is no tax. These galaxy-print platform shoes with eyes are only $72 US! I’d expect them to be listed for well over $100 elsewhere.
To reduce the price even more, visit an I.T Izzue outlet. I’m standing in front of the one in Citygate Outlet Mall, Tung Chung.
Inside, I found cute clothes from past seasons for more than 50% off. These included Ghostbusters collaboration shirts from Chocoolate! (And no, that’s not a typo).
I was there to visit the Hong Kong Express Airways team (I write for each issue of their magazine). It so happens that I’m wearing a Hyoma outfit, from the latest collection. The top says “Cream Skull” and the pink dress has crosses all over it.
Where else can you find kawaii makeup and gifts? Causeway Bay, the district known for its Japanese department stores and youth hangouts.
I’m a big fan of the cosmetics chain store, SaSa. You can see the pink sign above, and all over HK.
Sasa carries “only in Asia” makeup, like Hello Kitty Graffiti palettes.
Japanese brands are better-priced in Hong Kong than in Tokyo, so stock up on eyeliner pens and other necessities.
You can always find “Heroine Make” princess makeup, gyaru false eyelashes, color contacts, and more.
How adorable are these bunny-shaped lipsticks? I think the yellow one is making an angry face because he has no color.
Hello Kitty is perhaps more visible here than in Japan. She and Dear Daniel star in the Giordano “Play 4 Keeps” World Cup soccer collaboration.
Korea’s Line Friends are also growing in popularity. These figures are sold in 7-Eleven. Out of the Line characters, Brown is my favorite. Expressionless animals for the win.
On the spooky-cute side, Spider remains my favorite Hong Kong Gothic & Lolita shop.
Spider’s designs are always evolving. This time, I saw corset laced designs with a carnival feel. Everything is extremely well priced considering the high quality — the lace accessories are only a few dollars each.
Always a pleasure to see designer Natalie. If you’re looking for Hong Kong Goth clubs, parties, events and stores, check out the HK Gothic Society Facebook page.
Yukiro enjoyed browsing the stalls of Women Street, which sell fans, cheongsams, iPhone cases and other souvenirs. The vendors treated him like a rock star, and insisted on taking his photo!
We saw backpacks shaped like owls, and others studded with spikes.
Hong Kong’s MTR (metro) system is efficient, which makes it easy to visit the main districts. Spend a day shopping in Causeway Bay, Central and Mongkok, and you can’t go wrong. Just look out for these two trouble-makers!
Check out more of my Hong Kong shopping articles, for additional store recommendations. Who is your favorite kawaii mascot? I’m rooting for Miffy all the way.
What do scuba divers and beauty queens have in common? You’ll find out in this fun post!
My film team and I visited the Philippines for the first time, as guests of Pacific Cebu Resort. As you can see from the photo above (with fellow travel blogger Rose Afaye), this is tropical paradise.
I took full advantage of the resort’s relaxation options. Lying in a hammock under palm trees… spa pampering… ordering fresh mango smoothies at all hours… oh yes.
But there’s more to Pacific Cebu Resort than lounging around. They have a top-rated diving school, and guests can get certified in all levels of scuba.
The Philippines have some of the best diving and snorkeling sites in the world. Their waters are rich with tropical marine life: more than 500 species of coral and 2000 species of fish!
The 3D map shows that Mactan Island, Cebu is a prime place for under-the-sea adventures.
At Padi Gold Palm diving center, beginners can train with experts in various languages (English, Chinese, Japanese), and dive right from the resort’s long pier.
I went for a hippie look, in a breezy outfit from West LA Boutique. I’m wearing a white “Padang backless dress” by Jen’s Pirate Booty over a swimsuit, and over-sized House of Harlow 1960 sunglasses. I added tie-dye color with a rainbow silk scarf headband, and multicolored sandals from Shibuya in Tokyo.
I wish I could have joined the scuba lessons in the pool. Unfortunately, I have some eye and skin conditions that make it difficult for me to go underwater. Filmmaker Eric dove in for me.
While he learned about scuba safety, photographer Melissa Rundle and I went to explore the pier, which reaches far out into the ocean.
You can see the resort in the back: 6.5 hectares of palm tree paradise, with its own sandy beach front.
We took a break to eat seafood pasta under the romantic thatched roof. (All meals and drinks are included for guests.)
The new suites have outdoor lounge beds overlooking the ocean.
… and a private patio, ideal for drinking wine and watching the sun set.
This blissful statue pretty much sums up how I felt during my stay here.
Back to the pier, this time to see Eric make his first dive. But he wouldn’t be alone…
… he was in the company of Filipino beauty queen contestants! These ladies were taking part in Miss Scuba Philippines, a pageant that raises consciousness about marine preservation.
I was one of the judges of the Miss Scuba competition, which was held a few days later. The contestants all learn to scuba dive, and the pageant quizzes them on marine conservation in addition to the usual swimwear, evening gown and talent portions. (I’ll do a full post about the beauty contest later on.)
Getting ready to descend into the clear blue. You can already see the clumps of waving sea grass and coral below the surface.
Eric makes the OK sign with his fingers. Since scuba divers can’t speak to each other underwater, they use hand signals as a visual communication.
He took this selfie with a GoPro camera, which lets you film and shoot in water. Stay tuned for mesmerizing footage from this dive.
I ended the day by watching the pink candy sunset, while sitting by the pool. Ahh.
Come gaze at more photos on the Pacific Cebu Resort Facebook. The resort fits the budget of young travelers, and is a quick flight from Hong Kong or Japan — so I hope you’ll keep it in mind for your next beach escape. Thanks to sáv Hospitality for these warm memories.
Have you ever snorkeled or dived? How do you like my pirate-hippie look?
Everyone knows you can go on safari in South Africa… but did you realize there’s a penguin beach colony and steampunk cafe here? No? Then waddle along with me as I discover these unexpected places… and get bitten by a few animals long the way.
From Cape Town, our driver took us for a 1.5 hour scenic drive to Cape Point, the southernmost tip of Africa where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. (Technically, the meeting spot fluctuates slightly, and Cape Agulhas is located furthest south on the continent — but let’s not nitpick.)
The winding road gave us incredible views of the mountains and fishing villages. We saw some hitchhikers, hanging out on the rails…
These red-bummed monkeys are native baboons! (More on them later.)
My team and I stopped briefly to take in this view of the mountain ranges and ocean. July is winter in South Africa, hence the slightly menacing weather. I kept warm with a Hakuna Matata cat hoodie from Artbox in Seoul.
My Gothic version of Baywatch “running on the beach.”
This little dog seemed to be sniffing for seafood. Photography by me, Melissa Rundle and Eric Bergemann.
Back to the road trip along the peninsula. It’s as good thing we didn’t stop to pick up a barrel of monkeys…
… since all the road signs warned us to steer clear of “Baboons!”
Another quick stop, this time at Cape Point ostrich farm. It was established in 1960s, as a breeding ground for these fluff-bodied, bald-headed birds.
Visitors can aww at the baby ostriches in the pen. If you are brave, you can purchase a bag of food to hand-feed the ostriches…
I gave it a try, and this angry-looking ostrich pecked my palm! Yes, I screamed.
Finally, we made it to Table Mountain National Park. The sign shows the coordinates of Cape Point. From there, it’s an easy 30 minute walk to the lighthouse.
We filmed so many incredible shots from up high — can’t wait to show you the video. After this mini-hike, we were ready to eat. A lot.
We dined like kings at Two Oceans restaurant: grilled local hake, langoustines and other sustainable seafood, washed it down with white South African wine. (Very impressed with the wines here, particularly from Stellenbosch.)
And then… it was time to see the African penguins! Wait, what? Yes, there’s a breed of black-footed Happy Feet, found only in these South African waters.
Boulders Beach is only a short drive from Cape Point, and it’s home to a large colony. These penguins flocked here in the 1980s and took over the beach.
Today, this is a popular attraction for visitors. I mean, who wouldn’t want to see hundreds of cute penguins?
There’s a small entrance fee, which lets you get up close and personal with the little guys. A sign warns, don’t pet the penguins.
But filmmaker Melissa didn’t listen, and found out the hard way. Cute as they look, these penguins bite! (Remember she also touched the Table Mountain dassie…)
The closer we got to the sandy beach, the more penguins we saw. Some of them clustered together and played.
Others were babies, still with their fluffy down overcoats. The park set up these little cave-homes for the penguin families to live and breed in.
How cute, this pair of penguins leaving webbed footprints in the sand.
At the end of the path, it was penguin-mania! This breed makes a funny braying noise, like a donkey. A few were waddling around, but most were resting on their stomachs.
A lone penguin dips his foot in the ocean. Isn’t the Cape Peninsula gorgeous?
As you can see from the shadows, Boulder Beach is a favorite destination. Coming here was one of my favorite moments in our South African press trip.
Another highlight was visiting Truth Coffee Roasting, a Steampunk cafe. (Address: 36 Buitenkant Street, Cape Town)
These “pirates” are passionate about producing the best artisan, small batch coffee — ever. Truth’s steampunk decor captures this spirit of experimentation and adventure.
I’m drinking a “flat white,” a beverage similar to a cappuccino, but with less milk and a velvety foam.
(My fringe top is by Japan pop-punk brand Listen Flavor, from Shinjuku Closet Child.)
All around the cafe, I saw gears, brass, clockwork and old-time machine parts. The baristas even dressed in top hats and suspenders.
The food here is as excellent as the coffee, including the chocolate croissants, and “steampunk breakfast” of organic eggs, vegetables and flatbread.
The focal point of Truth is “Colossus,” a 1940s Probat roaster with a cast iron drum, tricked out with mad scientist parts.
Truth Coffee often has wild performances and events befit for airship pirates, such as burlesque shows and steampunk parties. How cool, to see how people around the world are inspired by this subculture.
Were you surprised to see penguins and steampunk in South Africa? The more I travel, the more I discover…
China’s come a long way since the days of Chairman Mao. Today, Shanghai’s swank, and I was keen to see the changing city for myself.
Cachet Boutique Hotel invited my team and me to experienced the modern side of Shanghai. Let’s hop through the mirror, and find out what’s happening on the mainland!
You know I love art hotels, so I was excited to team up with Cachet, a group known for its fashionable accommodations. A driver picked up my filmmakers and me from Pudong Airport, and the manager welcomed us at the door with a big bouquet of flowers. And he said those magic words: “We’ve put you in the biggest penthouse, with a full kitchen and bar.”
I couldn’t believe it: the lavish suite was 160 meters square. Enough room for a whole crew of pirates, and then some.
But I was even more impressed by the way Cachet researched my interests, and left little surprises in my room to make me feel at home. I’m a fan of Miffy the bunny, so guess who was sitting in the throne chair. The stationery box even had Miffy pens, and a gift bag contained a Gothic mask and sunglasses.
It’s the small things that show they really care for their guests. From left to right: fresh fruit and champagne, a studded leather teddy bear, and a DJ booth with an electronic music playlist.
The balcony gave me a view of the stylish street below. Cachet Boutique Hotel’s address is 931 West Nanjing Road — right by the Bund, French Quarter and lots of designer stores.
I thought this outfit from West LA Boutique matched the mood of the space rather well. Their online shop (with a physical location in Dubai) keeps wowing me with their ever-changing selection of chic clothing and accessories.
I’m wearing House of Harlow 1960 Nicole style sunglasses, a black Cameo crop top, and a uniquely cut Shakuhachi skirt with sheer panels.
Matching the carpet are my Steelground Shoes. They’re masters of alternative footwear, and unlike some other alternative brands, these ones will last. You can see the detailing in the fabric and soles of these platforms.
Cachet hotel had so much character. Originally, this was a building from 1920s Shanghai.
I couldn’t believe this is China — it felt like Ginza in Tokyo. So clean and cosmopolitan. Right by the hotel, there were some of my favorite fashion stores including Izzue and Miffy (I’ll show you photos soon).
I’m a bit picky about interior design, and didn’t know what to expect from accommodations described as “classical Asian meets modern glam.” But as you can see, Cachet pulled it off.
The custom rugs and dark wood floors made the suite feel cozy.
Above all: the art was awesome. Asian meets avantgarde, such as this tall frame by the door. (Longans are a local tropical fruit similar to the lychee.)
Doesn’t this look like my own bedroom? That’s what makes a stay with Cachet such a joy. They personalize everything, even the art above the bed.
This almost could be a portrait of me. I tried to imitate the pose of the Gothic ball-jointed doll.
My filmmakers and I couldn’t get over this golden bathroom. “You could fit eight people in that tub!”
Same goes for the King Midas shower.
The entire hotel is art-focused. Cachet’s ground floor has an in-house gallery, hung with contemporary Chinese works.
Most of these artists are young and use new mediums, like this visual installation by the doors.
However, my favorite painting remains the one above my bed. Here’s a closer look. The Goth Alice in Wonderland motifs are exactly my cup of tea.
And I love this leather bear on a hook: fetish meets cute. The manager told me his name is Tristan.
We felt so inspired by the interior decor. Photography by Melissa Rundle, taken with a Sony A7 mirrorless camera.
I had fun matching my West L.A. Boutique outfit to the art.
Thanks to the staff for taking such great care of us, from bringing up sandwiches to drawing us maps to art districts.
Cachet Group also has an eco-friendly URBN hotel in Shanghai, and is opening more locations soon. Can’t wait to experience their new property in Bangkok, Thailand.
DJ bunny party! You can find out more and make a reservation on Cachet Boutique Shanghai‘s website (they have 48 rooms, including 2 top-floor penthouses.)
Speaking of China… You may have noticed I’ve been doing more in this market recently. “Xie xie” to Ray Li magazine (the leading Chinese fashion publication) for interviewing me about beauty in the October 2014 issue.
Do you spy a smooshy-faced cat in the top left corner of the RayLi article? That’s my Scottish Fold — or as they say in Chinese, “jip yee mao”! More cute Basil Farrow photos on his cat blog.
Finally, a shout-out to Hong Kong Express Airways magazine, who just celebrated their first anniversary. I’ve been writing a travel column for them since they launched, and will keep doing so. Above is a scan from the last issue, featuring me and my Taipei-based friend Boris Tsai (蔡伯璽).
Have you been to Shanghai, or anywhere in China? What was your experience like? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments. Will share more from the city soon.