Tearing down the face of social media and staring at the truth

If you have been following me on Instagram, you would know that I spent the last week on an Instagram fast because of an internet explosion courtesy of Instagram celebrity Essena O’Neill.

Who is Essena O’Neill?

Essena O’Neill, who was already popular to began with over half a million followers on Instagram, became a viral internet sensation after she allegedly quit all social media platforms and called out nearly every social media user for being hypocritical and fake, pretending to lead perfect lives and shamelessly whoring their Instagram out for sponsorship and money. She deleted majority of her photos and left only a few photos on her Instagram with edited captions to show exactly how fake everything on Instagram was. The captions were an attempt to be brutally honest, but really seemed to insult people who followed her as being shallow and stupid for soaking everything she writes on Instagram.

She blames Instagram for helping to perpetuate a culture where people seek validation in numbers – from likes to followers. It’s an endless, infinite pursuit to feel affirmed when more people like your photo, she argues. In essence, she blames Instagram for anchoring her self-esteem and self-worth to numbers.

She then ends her 17 minute video (where she bewilderingly weeps for a good portion of it) with a call for everyone to quit Instagram and get on board her new campaign – Let’s Be Game Changers. She rallies everyone to be as inspiring as her – to wake up every day, hungry for change. Then, after the entire tirade against people who use Instagram for money, she asks for donation in order to support her lifestyle because she just lost her Instagram income. Say what?

Ya you’re hungry for change alright. The change in people’s pocket.

Why am I writing this post?

The trend of people hating on social media has been going on long before this entire Essena saga. Instagram parody accounts like @socalitybarbie and @brosbeingbasic which garnered millions of followers for their shockingly accurate jab at #authentic Instagrammers are just the tip of the iceberg. Articles like this sought to “expose” the truth behind Instagram photos, as if all Instagrammers in the world were conspiring to deceive the world at large with beautiful photos, gorgeous candid shots and stunning #iwokeuplikethis bed hair.

For a while it felt like everyone was hating Instagram and everything it represents. No one seemed to be speaking out for the Instagram community. So a few months back, I started to mull over the idea of penning down a post to talk about what I felt was an irrational, over-inclusive generalization of the Instagram community as superficial hypocrites who wanted to fake their way through life by lying to everyone about how perfect their lives were. And in the midst of trying to streamline my thoughts into words, I lost the fire in me to continue because there was a momentary dearth of Instagram-shaming on the Internet for a while.

Cue Essena. The moment she quit her Instagram and released that video of hers, it flooded my Facebook. My twitter. My Instagram. Everyone was sharing her article, and along with it, tagging friends of theirs in their Facebook caption to shame them. This ranged from a blatant “This is SOOO you” to “I know someone like this. You know who you are.”

That got me all riled up again, and this time I thought I would make it a point to state my piece and shut all the haters up with a more nuanced perspective rather than a carte blanche approach to social media hating. But first, I decided that I should at least try out that inane one week fast from Instagram just to prove that I could do it. So I deleted my Instagram app.

How did the week without Instagram feel?

I’m making a point to be honest about how it felt to not have Instagram for a week. No doubt, I had an objective in mind to disprove everything that Essena alleged in that heinous video of hers so there might have been some bias on my part. But I still tried my best to remain neutral and honest with the experience.

1. I realised that I accessed Instagram way more often than I thought I did

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Here’s a photo of my home page, where I pin all my frequently accessed apps. Notice that hole? That’s where Instagram used to be.

For the first 2 days at least, I found myself subconsciously tapping that empty part of the screen and waiting for Instagram to pop open. I access Instagram so often that it had become habitual to click that space at least once every time I pick up my phone. This revelation was certainly enlightening. I’ve had friends point out to me about my Instagram addiction before, and while I’m sure it was said in jest, there isn’t smoke without fire.

So that much I admit – I have an Instagram addiction, so much so that my mind operates in auto-pilot and I instinctively reach for the app even when it is not there.

2. Life was a lot more boring

If Instagram was a habit that I succumbed to every time I pick up my phone, imagine how much free time I had now that I didn’t have hundreds of pictures to scroll through at any given time.

Not only that, but one of my favourite past times is to edit a photo using the countless photo editing apps on my phone and imagine how it would look like on Instagram.

But because I no longer had Instagram, I became very aware of how much free time I had. Now here’s the part where people would say – now that you have the free time, you can do something fruitful like read a book, or engage in a meaningful conversation with someone.

That didn’t happen. And it’s simply because spending time on Instagram or social media for that matter isn’t an exclusive activity I do at the sacrifice of other things. Even when I had Instagram, I still go out for meals with friends. I still pick up my favourite book to browse. Sometimes, I join my sisters on the couch for TV. It’s not as if I barricaded myself in my room and stared at my phone 24/7.

3. It was less stressful to know that I didn’t have to make my life photogenic

It’s strange, and I’m sure that other Instagrammers can attest and identify with this – I’ve always felt this compulsion to post one photo a day on Instagram. At least one. So sometimes when there isn’t anything to post, I will deliberately create content to do so. This is where my flatlays come in.

Hence, when I didn’t have Instagram, there was no pressure per se for me to find content to post. The same extended to the fear of having an awesome outfit go to waste simply because it wasn’t photographed. I was no longer concerned with needing to have a photo taken just so that I could put it up on Instagram. In that sense, you could say that I felt more carefree. But only to a slight extent.

4. My battery life and data usage was amazing

10 days into November and I’ve only used 700mb. And my phone battery can actually last a day and a half without Instagram.

Can someone say wow.

Concluding feelings?

Suffice to say, the fast wasn’t “transformational”. It was illuminating in certain aspects, such as revealing to me exactly how “addicted” I was to Instagram. But to say that I felt liberated, or that I can finally live a life that is worth living, or that I lived a real life uninhibited by the pressures of social media is clearly an over-exaggeration.

And so, during the week, I was already collecting my thoughts about what I felt about Essena’s blanket criticism of Instagram, and I was ready to launch a full out defense for Instagrammers out there who never had such a bad experience as Essena described. But lo and behold (and thankfully I might add), unlike previous occasions where everyone took the opportunity to chastise Instagrammers, people started speaking out to criticize Essena and to call her out on her hypocrisy. And boy, was the backlash harsh. It was proportionate, but harsh.

Here are two of my favourites :

  1.  Her LA friends’ response to her video – http://www.cosmopolitan.com/lifestyle/news/a48797/essena-oneill-friends-nina-randa-call-her-out/
  2. Zach James – You were the Lie, not Social Media – http://www.cosmopolitan.com/lifestyle/news/a48781/ceo-calls-out-essena-oneill-on-facebook

So, being comforted by the fact that not everyone is buying into Essena’s sob story, I’m going to add to the repetoire of backlash with some of my own comments.

1. DON’T GO FINDING TRUTH ON INSTAGRAM 

Get this in your head. Everyone on Instagram is privy to this fact, and it’s about time that you should be to. Even if Instagram began as a way to document moments in life, it has surely morphed into something completely different now.

Instagram is now an artistic expression. It is a specially curated platform with carefully chosen photos to elicit a certain response from the viewer.

Look at these photos.

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Did you think that I ever expected my followers to believe that this is my real bed situation when I’m studying? Or my bed is really that photogenic on a lazy Sunday afternoon? No! It should be painfully obvious to everyone that these photos are deliberately assembled and constructed. It is a display. It is created. And you know what? I’m proud of it. It’s a skill to make something photogenic. To understand how colours blend in a photo. To use props to convey a certain message, or feeling. It’s a skill that is honed through experience.

Does any Instagrammer who does flatlays like this actively seek to deceive you into believing that this is their “real life”? I believe I speak for a majority, if not all Instagrammers when I say no. We don’t.

So if there are any allegations of deceit or hypocrisy, it’s only because you expect everything on Instagram to be real when clearly, everyone playing the Instagram game is acutely aware that it is no longer so.

Or how about this “out of bed look”?

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Fact : Unless my hair is somehow able to defy the laws of nature, there is no way one can wake up with a hair as tame as the one in this photo.

I’m not saying that absolutely nothing on Instagram is real or true. For example, there are many instances where an Instagrammer is sponsored a product and he/she genuinely believes in the product.

Or when someone uploads a photo of them posing at the beach with a caption to illustrate how zen they feel right now, or how calming the sea is etc etc. They might really be feeling all zen-like and lulled into a meditative state. Just because they posed for a photo doesn’t discount the truth in the statement. There is nothing wrong with wanting to put your best face forward on social media.

I’m saying that when it comes to assessing whether something is real or not, you should take a measured approach. Not everyone is on Instagram to deceive.And sometimes, whether something is true or not, real or fake is inconsequential. Just appreciate the photo for what it is, and move on. What’s the point of debating whether it is real or staged?

So it’s time to tailor your expectations. Don’t go expecting an Instagram feed that documents life as it truly is. Be a discerning viewer.

2. JUST BECAUSE ONE PUTS IN EFFORT FOR AN INSTAGRAM PHOTO, DOES NOT MEAN THAT EFFORT SHOULD BE TRIVIALISED

Let it be known from the very outset : I am not ashamed of how much effort I put into my Instagram photos. This ranges from the time and thought that I put into an individual photo, to carefully curating my feed so that there appears to be a consistent theme throughout.

Essena talked about how she could take 100 photos of the same pose and the same outfit before she gets the right photo. She laments about the ridiculous amount of effort and time people put into their Instagram photos.

It is a common expression for someone to exclaim “Wa, an Instagram photo only, so much effort ah.” This would then usually follow with a declaration that “I will never be able to bring myself to put in so much effort for an Instagram photo.”

And you know what? That is fine. I’m not expecting everyone to be able to dedicate the same amount of time and effort that hardcore Instagrammers do when it comes to their photos, but I certainly expect people to appreciate that the effort that goes into making a great Instagram photo is not one that should be trivialized or shamed.

Take this photo for example.

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In order for me to take this photo, I had to dig up my old Christmas tree fairy lights which were buried deep in my storeroom. I then had to clean it because it was incredibly dusty, and then figure a way to hang it on my curtain making sure that each column gets a proportionate length of light. This is followed up by the laborious activity of setting up the tripod and using the remote control to take the photo – all done in the wee hours of the night at 3am.

Or how about this photo, the set up of which took some creative thinking before I could shoot it in my room?

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Do I consider it time wasted? No. Am I appalled at how much effort it took to take this photo? No. I enjoyed the process immensely.

What makes an Instagram photo so different from a photo taken by a professional photographer on set? Is it simply because professional photographers are paid? Or that their effort and time has a purpose to it?

What makes a model’s effort in going for a photoshoot and spending hours on different poses and in different settings any different from an Instagrammer taking an OOTD? Is it just because she is legitimately modeling for a brand and therefore it constitutes a job where she gets money for the effort she puts in?

Is the effort that goes into the taking of a photo only justified when you are paid? Or when you are a professional? Why can’t it simply be for the sheer enjoyment of the process? Of looking at your work and being proud of it?

Or are you simply baffled at how someone had no self-awareness to know that he/she is not a model, but yet “shamelessly” continues to behave like one? And in such a situation, can you not just unfollow the person if it makes you so uncomfortable?

We criticize what we don’t understand. But people who don’t understand Instagrammers somehow place themselves on a high horse willing themselves to believe that they are above all these superficial means of validation and affirmation.

3. SEEKING VALIDATION THROUGH NUMBERS IS WHAT MAKES US HUMAN

Amongst other things, Essena calls for social media to no longer be judged by numbers, but by the quality of the content. She spat on the likes/follows system of Instagram, blaming Instagram for sucking her into the numbers game where she constantly chased for likes and followers in order to feel important.

Here’s where I think you really have to read Zach James’ response to Essena. It was brilliant. He succinctly and in astounding brevity, exposed the huge flaw in Essena’s argument. Instagram wasn’t the problem. She was. You can’t blame a social media platform for making you obsessed with affirmation. That’s purely your own doing. You failed to separate virtual validation with real life and in turn allowed your life to be dictated by numbers. That’s just you.

I’m not above the numbers game. Clearly, I love the idea of having many followers, and many likes on my photos. But that is what motivates me to produce quality content. If my picture is grainy, out of focus, or just plain dull, I won’t upload it. In other words I saw likes as a quality sieve. And is using numbers to motivate one to be more conscious about the quality of what he is uploading, really a bad thing? How can it be? It’s what you make of it.

At the end of the day, you are the one in control. And if you lose control, blame it on yourself. Don’t shift the blame to something else.

And to my second point : Is it really feasible to live in a world without numbers?

Short answer, no.

Numbers mean something. It is impossible to envisage a world without numbers. Essena says that it is unhealthy for someone to be obsessed with numbers, to constantly have to pander to the public’s opinion of what’s good and what’s not which will lead to a slow erosion of your personal identity. This, I agree. But the converse is not a plausible alternative as well.

Just imagine a person who lives his life in absolutely disregard of the public’s opinion. He feels affirmed and validated simply because he has a high self-esteem and is confident about who is as a person. He doesn’t need others to validate him.

Does that not sound like someone in need of a reality check? Self-obsessed individual with an inflated assessment of how good he really is. How can it be possible that that sounds ideal? It is absolutely not.

We must strike a balance. Like it or not, the world is like a huge popularity contest and the measure of success is usually determined by how it resonates with people. The kind of personality or behaviour that is acceptable is also regulated by the public’s opinion. The kind of food, design, phone, interior decoration, restaurant settings – these are regulated by the public’s opinion. Sure, they are interwoven with objective standards but if these standards are objective, they will be shared by the majority and therefore the majority will affirm it.  You cannot live your life by disregarding the opinions of others. That in itself is alienating.

Find the middle ground. Learn how to both accept that while numbers reflect popularity, they don’t reflect everything. Learn to develop a healthy attitude towards internalizing the public’s opinion. Build a self-esteem that strikes a good balance between public acceptance and the self-assurance in your capabilities and strengths. One cannot survive in isolation of the other. Both extremes are undesirable.


Instagram is just a platform. It’s what you make of it that determines the kind of social media user you are.

For me, I love Instagram. I love that it gave me the platform for me to indulge in my creative side, for me to experiment with photography and “modeling”. For connecting me with like-minded individuals. For showing me that there are beautiful things all around us, and it’s only a matter of perspective. For allowing me to live vicariously through the lives of the rich and famous. For humanizing celebrities by giving us a peak into their daily lives. For keeping me updated with the latest trends.

Everything I listed above can be turned into a negative as long as I adopt an unhealthy approach to Instagram. I respect Essena for taking the bold step in acknowledging that Instagram has had a negative impact on her life. For someone of her status to give up everything that she knew was hard. And it should be commended. But my admiration and respect dissipated when she decided to drag the whole Instagram community down with her by generalizing every single Instagrammer as another version of her. I felt attacked by her words and therefore felt the need to take a stand for myself, and by extension, every other Instagrammer that is just like me.

If you like Instagram, wonderful. We are like-minded. But if you don’t like it, do it for the right reasons. It could simply be because it is not in you to enjoy looking at flat lays or OOTDs, or beautiful landscapes and travel photos. You may simply be a person that doesn’t find visuals appealing. That’s all fine. But don’t hate Instagram because of a ill-conceived stereotype that it is a community of superficial people trying to make their lives more interesting than it really is, just so that people can be jealous of them.

And don’t hate Instagram because you don’t understand it. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. To you, it may just be a collection of photos. But to us, it represents our creativity and dedication to our “craft”.

The Men’s Guide to Shopping Bangkok Part II

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In a blink of an eye, it’s already November and here I am, furiously typing out the second part of my Men’s Guide to Shopping series for Bangkok before I plunge myself deep into study for my upcoming exams. Clearly my priorities are all over the place.

It will come as no surprise that I love Bangkok. I can’t imagine how many times I’ve repeated my adoration of Bangkok to anyone who would listen to me extol its praises over and over again. I mean, fantastic food + cheap shopping? Can there be a better exemplification of heaven on Earth? I think not.

For those who are new to my Men’s Guide to Shopping in Bangkok, I’ve previously written a detailed one which covers more specifics ie. an idiot’s guide to Bangkok.

Ok, enough pleasantries and chit chat. Let’s dive right into it.

Getting Around:

Taking the cab

Here’s a lesson I learnt the hard way. I had to make my way from Platinum to Siam Square and I decided that I would be smart and walk.

It took me 45 minutes and about a litre of body fluids before I managed to reach Siam Square.

So when it was time for me to return back to Platinum Mall, I chose to take a cab. S$1.60 and 5 minutes later, I found myself back at the entrance.

Twas really a fool for walking.

You’ll remember I previously mentioned that getting around using the BTS system in Bangkok was far more efficient than taking a cab. I must now qualify that statement – If you are traveling in group of three or more, take the taxi. It was so ridiculously cheap I couldn’t believe that I ever felt justified taking the BTS. Imagine this. We sat in the taxi for a good 45 mins, and the cab fare turned out to be S$8. That’s S$1.60 per person. Flabbergasted? So was I.

Now there might be some concerns about whether you can trust taxi-drivers in Bangkok. Let me assuage those irrational fears. There is nothing to be worried about. As long as you flag a taxi from a legitimate taxi company, you’re going to be just fine.

Pro tip : Always remember to ask them to charge by the meter. Now I was traveling in a group of five, so sometimes we had no choice but to accept a flat fee simply because squeezing five passengers in a taxi was illegal per se. So we were strong-armed in accepting flat fees. But if you have a group of four or less, there is no reason for the taxi driver to refuse charging by the meter. There will never ever ever be a situation where the flat fee is cheaper than running by the meter unless an apocalypse happened causing all traffic in Bangkok to come to a standstill. (read : never ever ever)

But, for those who are interested in feeling the pulse of the city rather than simply hopping from place to place, I’d still say go with the BTS system. I say this because when I was in the cab, all I saw were the tail lights of the other 1,000 cars ahead of me. Taking the BTS gives you a glimpse of Bangkok the way the locals see it. You are amongst the locals in their day-to-day lives. The BTS takes a scenic route through the city. Take in that urban landscape. It’s something a taxi-ride cannot provide.

Taking the tuk-tuk

For the uninitiated, here is how a tuk-tuk looks like :


It is literally a scooter that has been upgraded to seat four people who have a taste for danger and adrenalin. The tuk-tuk used to be an affordable way to travel in Bangkok, but as the city became more urbanized and taxi companies grew, the tuk-tuk has relegated itself to be a tourist attraction in its own right.

Believe me when I say the tuk-tuk riders are skilled in traveling in places no car has ever went before. They have the ability to weave in and out of traffic, to go against the traffic if needed, to ignore the traffic lights and get you to where you want to be in a theme park-esque fashion. It is quite a thrill. My advice for Bangkok virgins, is to take the tuk-tuk at least once.

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Five fools squeezing in one tuk-tuk. I was on the floor in case you were wondering…

Note that the tuk-tuk is significantly more expensive than taking a cab. For one, they don’t have a meter so the fare would depend on your bargaining skills. A safe estimate would be that the fare of a tuk-tuk is easily twice or thrice the cab fare. In absolute numbers it doesn’t really mean much, for a 15 minutes taxi ride would cost 60฿. So a tuktuk would probably ask for 120฿ – 150฿It’s still ridiculously affordable. PLUS, if you are in a rush, a tuk tuk will get you to your destination faster than a taxi could.

Accommodation :

I previously strongly recommended Holiday Inn Express, Siam. I’m not un-recommending that. I think it’s still a fantastic budget hotel that provided me with a more than comfortable room + amenities, decent breakfast and a great location for a great price.
This time, I have another recommendation to make. It’s a little more hoity-toity upper class aristocrats-ish, and with it a price tag that’s a little larger, but it’s so. so. good.

Hotel Berkeley
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When my mother initially recommended Hotel Berkeley, I chided her. I searched Hotel Berkeley on Google Maps and found that it was a good 15-20 minutes away from the Siam BTS station. Compare this to Holiday Inn Siam which was a mere five minutes walk to National Stadium BTS Station. Of course, this was before I had the epiphany of realising how awesome Bangkok taxis were.

But when my group of five planned to book Holiday Inn Express, we found out that Holiday Inn was unable to accommodate an extra bed in their rooms. So after searching for many alternatives, we ended up with Hotel Berkeley.

For those shopping fanatics, Hotel Berkeley is conveniently located diagonally to Platinum Fashion Mall and right next to Amari Watergate Hotel. Which means that hopping over to Platinum for a little bit of shopping isn’t just a manner of expression anymore. It’s a fact.

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Space wise, the rooms and toilets were big. The hotel was well furnished with a hint of antique grandeur. And in a span of five days we were privy to at least three huge national events that chose to host their event at the ballroom of Berkeley. How’s that for an accolade? I can almost see it engraved in a plaque – “Number one choice for large companies to host events in”

If that isn’t enough, here’s a sneak peak at the breakfast buffet spread.
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And this was just round one. Of the first cuisine offered at their international breakfast buffet.

So travelers, take your pick. If you have a little more dough to spend and you’re traveling in a larger group, I suggest going for Hotel Berkeley. If not, Holiday Inn Express Siam still remains one of my top choice for accommodation in Bangkok.

Making a Suit / Shirt in Bangkok :

I was never privy to the fact Bangkok plays host to a huge industry of tailors. Not until I returned from my first ever trip from Bangkok to a chorus of voices chastising me about why I didn’t make a suit when I was there. Then all of a sudden, it was an endless chase on finding out which tailor was deserving of my time and effort to tailor a suit. I was a man on a mission. I spoke to almost everyone I knew who had done a suit in Bangkok before, and each swore by their tailors. #loyalty

But there comes a time when you’re stuck in an infinite loop of research trails and the only way to get yourself out of it is to commit to one, give it a go and pray that everything turns out well.

So on this trip, I made it a point to visit one of the more highly recommended tailors in Bangkok to make a suit and document the process.

Alex’s Fashion

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Where is it? : Opposite Platinum Fashion Mall – Amari Watergate Hotel, Level 3

When does it open? : Oddly enough, I can’t find their opening hours but it should be safe to state that they open everyday.

Note that I am in no way sponsored to write this post, but I do feel that their quality of service and products deserves a glowing recommendation at the very least.

Alex’s Fashion is no stranger to Singaporeans. In fact, having been to his shop thrice for three days, I’ve seen different groups of Singaporeans crowding in his stores – all to make suits and shirts. If it’s got other Singaporeans’ stamp of approval, you can be sure that it won’t disappoint.

I must explain why I recommend Alex Fashion. Now, clearly there are better tailors in Bangkok with premium quality. But with premium quality comes a premium price. And a balance must be struck. Obviously, the best bargain would be one where you get a better quality than the price you pay for. Clearly you may go to a tailor which offers you Egyptian Cotton suits at Prada prices, but that’s a choice only the wealthy can afford to make.

I made two suits (2 jackets + 2 pants), 2 additional pants and 2 shirts for a price of a little over S$500. That’s very reasonable. And the quality? More than acceptable! If it were taking the O.W.L.S, I would grade it an Exceeds Expectations – only Harry Potter fans would understand. The material was soft and comfortable without feeling cheap. The tailors were attentive to the requests and fitting was done till satisfaction.

Here’s a photo of the suit and shirt I tailored at Alex’s Fashion.
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Not convinced? Hop over to Alex’s Fashion tripadvisor page where it has received 4.5 star ratings spanned over 160 reviews.

Still not convinced? For Singaporeans, Alex’s Fashion is coming down to Singapore from the 18th – 22nd November. They will be setting up a pop-up store at Hotel Supreme, Cavenagh Road, Orchard. You can head over to take a look, and if you like what you see, do a fitting there and then! They will get your suits / shirts done in Bangkok and ship it right to you without you having to leave the country.

Where go for Massage :

Health Land, Asoke

There are a huge variety of massage places in Bangkok, but Health Land came highly recommended by my family members after having visited the massage and spa centre on separate occasions.

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Health Land is not very conveniently located, so it would be best for you to take a taxi to Health Land. If you choose to take the BTS and walk in, alight at Asoke station and walk in between Terminal 21 and Westin Grande Sukhumvit Bangkok for a good 10-15 mins. Health Land will be on your right.

The price range is very reasonable – For a two-hours long torture massage session, we only paid 500baht per person. And the masseuse are all properly trained. Trust me. I had to endure endless cracks and kneading until I felt like passing out. But that’s just my poor tolerance for massage. My other friends fell asleep during the massage because it was so good. I was both appalled and envious.

Pro Tip : When you get to the massage and spa centre, be quick. Book a slot and if they can fit you in straight away, go for it. The five of us hemmed and hawed over whether we had enough time for a two hour massage session that we got completely eclipsed by a busload of China people and had to wait for an hour before we could get the massage.
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Four people leaving the massage parlour refreshed and only one left more stressed than ever. Me.

Food:

Food in Bangkok rarely disappoints. You can literally plonk your butt at any street food stall or hawker and have amazing food. This belief I’ve always held dear to my heart. And stomach. So when it comes to recommending food, I’m usually hesitant because it would be an infinite list. But after much thought, I’ve decided that two things are worthy of mention.

Sabx2 pig’s trotters rice

How to get there? : Take the BTS to Chitlom / Siam and walk towards Platinum. From Platinum, cross the overhead bridge towards Pratunam and turn left. Walk towards Shibuya Glow Hotel and turn right at the first alley. Walk along the alley and look out for this store on your right. You can’t miss it.

When does it open : Daily from 0900hrs – 1500hrs except Mondays

Remember how I was filled with regret when I didn’t get to try the famous pig’s trotter rice at Sabx2 the last time I visited Bangkok? Well, this time I made it a point to feast on it.

I… really have no words for it. Just look at the picture.

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It would not be an exaggeration to say that I am literally salivating right now. The meat was incredibly tender, and with every bite of the meat, a burst of its juicy sauce envelopes the taste buds. The fat melted almost immediately when chewed and coats every morsel of rice indiscriminately. Wash it down with their homemade Chrysanthemum tea, and you’re ready to order another plate just because life henceforth will never be complete unless you have this everyday.

Absolutely a must-have.

Four Seasons Roast Duck

Where is it? : Siam Paragon, Ground Floor

When I was in London, there were two famous duck places that polarised all Chinese that ever went to the UK and had roast duck. It was a battle reminiscent of the Pepsi vs Coca-Cola battle – Four Seasons Duck versus Gold Mine Duck. In the end, our little group chose Gold Mine and had no regrets. But I’ve always wondered how the Four Seasons Duck would hold up against Gold Mine.

Cue Bangkok Four Season Roast Duck.
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My review of the Four Seasons Duck might be a tad hyperbolic, especially in light of the extremely disappointing duck I had in Scotts Square, Singapore but OH MY GOD I LOVE FOUR SEASONS DUCK.

If you asked me to choose between Goldmine and Four Seasons, I would have a harder time than Meryl Streep had in Sophie’s Choice because both are ridiculously good. I mean, the duck was juicy and tender without the usual “duck” smell that one often associates with poorly cooked duck. It was not oily but yet the skin was crispy. The meat was not lean but plump and fat. It was a the creme de la creme of poultry.

In fact, I love it so much that I insisted my family have it when we return to Bangkok once again in December. I already cannot wait. For those who are averse to having duck, I beseech you to give this a try. Usually, those who avoid duck avoid it because of the unpleasant raw taste that it has when it isn’t cooked well. I guarantee that won’t happen with this one.

Other Attractions :

Thus far, I’ve been to a number of places in Bangkok :-

  1. Siam Night Market
  2. Platinum Fashion Mall
  3. Pratunam Market
  4. Chatuchak Weekend Market
  5. Srinikaran Night Market (Talad Rot Fai)
  6. Union Mall

So on this trip, I made a conscious decision to go to different night markets, just so that I can expand the tired repertoire and see if I can discover new gems.

  1. Art Box

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Art Box is a concept night market that doesn’t open every weekend. You have to be lucky or deliberately plan your trip around it so that you’ll be in Bangkok during the weekend that it opens. I’m going to keep this review short because I didn’t really like it.

It was relatively small, the food was more Western fusion than Thai street food and the stores were catered to those with an eclectic taste. The general vibe was hipster-esque, and with it comes the army of young Thai hipsters who were instagramming the crap out of Art Box.

I wouldn’t recommend making a special trip down just to visit this night market. If you are in the area and could pop by without much of a hassle, do so. It might be your cup of tea. It certainly wasn’t for me.

2. JJ Green
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JJ Green is a night market that is next to Chatuchak weekend market. What tourists usually do is to wait out the hot afternoon in Chatuchak, settling down at a hawker for dinner before taking a slow and short walk to JJ Green to continue shopping through the night.

There isn’t anything particularly special about this night market, so I would say that you should give this night market a visit out of convenience. If you’ve already made your way to Chatuchak and managed to stay there past 4-5pm, have dinner at a nearby hawker and walk in JJ Green.


And that’s it for Part II! While Part I was more of a general guide to kick start a newcomer’s Bangkok experience, Part II is decidedly more focused and precise in expanding the list of attractions to visit.

I hope you’ve found the above useful! At the end of the day, you really can’t do any wrong when in Bangkok. So have a blast, binge and shop yourself silly. If you think I’ve missed anything out / got something wrong in my Men’s Guide to Shopping, let me know!

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Dressing for London

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I never really thought much about London. USA was such a visible part of my life, having been there four times, and having images of its cities and countryside played over and over again in multiple forms of media. London on the other hand, had a more subtle way of infiltrating itself into mass media. Unless you watch a dedicated British film or documentary, what you see are merely snippets of it. In its fleeting appearance in movies and TV shows, here’s what I got about London. It’s generally wet, gloomy, and everything is made of stone. That’s what I saw.

What I heard, is entirely different. I’ve had a fair bit of friends who’ve been to London before – for exchange, studies, vacations whathaveyou etc. And they literally wax lyrical about London. Had any of them been musically inclined, they would have written a musical about how great London is.

So I went into London with high expectations. Really high. I mean, it’s the city where my current favourite TV show is filmed – Sherlock. It’s the city where the best series ever, written by the best writer ever is set in – Harry Potter. And if it’s good enough for Harry, Ron and Hermione, it sure as hell is good enough for me.

And good enough for me it was. The usual phenomenon that happens is that when you’ve been so hyped up for something, that high bar you set for it could turn what is extraordinary, into ordinary. That was what happened with Inside Out (curse you Internet.)

Not with London though. London had enough extraordinary to survive even the highest of inflated expectations. She blew me away.

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And when you’re in love, you want to look your best for your loved ones. Unsurprisingly, I reserved my best outfits for London. I made it a point to bring back that glorious era that Mad Men so excellently portrayed. And this outfit was one of them.

But somehow it seemed only I was stuck in that era, as evidenced from the stark contrast between myself and real Londoners…

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Nevertheless, if there ever was a time and place to be dressed in a three piece ensemble, London would be that place. And London has easily overtaken every other city I’ve traveled to, to become my favourite city in the world. I can’t wait to be back. ❤

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Fall Trench from Top Man / Vest from ASOS / Oxford Shirt from Uniqlo / Mickey Mouse Tie from Primark / Jeans from Uniqlo / Tasseled Loafers from Dr Martens / Leather Bag from Florence Leather Market

My House in Budapest, My Hidden Treasure Chest

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Budapest came after spending a few relaxing days in Croatia, and one not so relaxing afternoon at Plitvice where 6 silly Asians wore long sleeves and jeans while every other sane Westerner donned singlets and shorts because of the hot weather.

Having spent so many days away from proper civilisation (read : big metropolitan cities), I was looking forward to spend some time in the city again where Starbucks would be in sight, and I could quench my thirst for a frapppuccino.

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In many ways, Budapest was surprising. I knew very little about Budapest, save for the fact that after watching the Grand Budapest Hotel, I imagined Budapest to be a barren piece of land with a huge pink hotel.

Suffice to say, I wasn’t expecting much. But like a tired rhetoric that has been reiterated throughout my time in Europe, the less you expect of a place, the more you’ll love it.

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By this time, I’ve spent about 2 weeks in Europe and I’ve had my fair share of big cities, small towns and countrysides, I learnt that I was a city boy at heart.

Yet the fast-paced heartbeat of the city could sometimes be overwhelming. Rome, for example was not a pleasant experience for me. Rome was a city saturated with people and sights. It felt condensed and claustrophobic. The city felt exhausted from the transient volume of people fleeting past its many tourist attractions.

So like in life, a balance must be struck, and smacked right in the middle between city and country is Budapest.

Budapest was a beautiful blend of city and country, of urban and nature. The architecture was beautiful and the streets were peppered with small doses of greenery. It was city-like in its tempo, but unlike the huge metropolitan cities, it was more smooth jazz than hard rock. Walking along the streets of Budapest made me feel like I had a cameo in those old English films where men still wore top hats and women wore pretty frocks, while a distant but distinct sound of hooves echoed through the pretty streets.

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We didn’t have a specific itinerary for Budapest. Since we only allocated 2 days for it, the aim was to do a free communist walking tour where the guide would talk us through the rich history of Budapest and Hungary, and head for the famous Budapest baths which is, of course the number one item that one must do when in Budapest. Budapest isn’t called the City of Baths for nothing. Apparently, Budapest remains one of the cities that has authentic Turkish Baths dating back to those in the 16th / 17th century, which means you literally dip your toes in history.

Let’s give some credit for the above pun. I took a long time to think it up.

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I really enjoyed Budapest, and experienced pangs of regret having only set aside 48 hours to explore this beautiful city. It’s the kind of city that hosts indie musical festivals at one square, and a book fair at the next. It’s the kind of city I wouldn’t mind relaxing at a cafe, sipping on a cup of coffee and people watch.

It’s a city I would come back to again.

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A Split second for a breather

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The Split, Croatia leg of my Europe tour couldn’t have came at a more ideal time. After the mad rush to visit all the tourist attractions in Italy (read : Rome), and surviving the unbearable heat in beautiful Dubrovnik, I was all tired out.

Split was a very different kind of vacation for all of us. No early morning alarms in order to catch another tourist attraction, no incessant clicks from the camera, no transport woes. Instead, Split was all about freshly baked goods in the morning, cheap €1 coffee, great food and easily the best pasta I had in my entire trip. It was about afternoons at the beach, adrenalin dives from the pier and slow walks in the gorgeous Diocletian’s Palace. It was also about al-fresco dining at dusk while a nearby saxophone band serenades you and your companions. End the day off with a guilt-laden gelato stop, and the food coma is ready to lull into slumber for the night.

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It was as if time came to a slow, grinding halt and it was lovely.

Take it from me. If you planned an entire trip down to the minute, the exhaustion would diminish any pleasant experience towards the end of the trip. Plan for a breather. Set aside time to do absolutely nothing. Sometimes, having no plan, is a good plan. Not every failure to plan is a plan to fail.

The Men’s Guide to Shopping in Florence

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Every time I recount my experiences in Florence, my eyes light up. Not just because I fell in love with the city, but because of the shopping. In fact, prior to actually getting to Florence, all I envisioned Florence to be was this big, shopping arena over-spilling with brands everywhere. It is a feeling of euphoria I can’t quite put to words.

If you haven’t already read my Men’s Guide to Shopping in Barcelona, hop over and give it a read. The preliminary information I wrote there serves as a blanket guide to all shopping in Europe. I’ll only focus on Florence-specific information in this particular post.

Ready? Let’s get started.

The Mall

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Florence plays host to one of the largest outlet malls in Europe, carrying European brands that us Asians are just so well acquainted with : Prada, Gucci, Burberry, Tom Ford, Tods etc just to name a few.

Before heading to The Mall, you might want to familiarise yourself with the many brands it carries. For those who acutely observed that Prada is not on the list, fear not. I too, was fooled by its absence and was only comforted by the sight of an entire two-storey building solely dedicated to Prada and its sister brand Miu Miu. I was less comforted when I saw how many people were queuing to get in. I can safely say that 90% of them were Asians (read : PRCs).

And if simply having these brands in such close proximity isn’t enticing enough, recall that I mentioned it is an outlet mall, which means you’re looking at branded goods at a minimum of 20-30% discount. Just think of the savings. *shudder*

But before we get to the salivating details, let’s settle the preliminaries.

How to get there :

Getting to The Mall couldn’t be easier.

A bus departs from a bus terminal (BUSITALIA/SITA depot) located in the city centre. This bus terminal is right next to the Florence Santa Maria Novella Train Station. It might not be the most obvious of terminals, considering that the ticketing office is actually located inside the terminal, which is holed up in a stonewall building. I suggest looking out for an inconspicuous entrance where buses are entering and leaving. Find that, and you’re golden.

The buses departs as per scheduled, so be sure to check the schedule on the website for the timings are seasonal. Take note of when the last bus departs from the Mall because trust me, that’s the only time you’ll leave. 😉

You will need to purchase a ticket from the ticketing office. The one-way tickets are 5.00€ each, and you may purchase a return ticket at the same time when you’re at the ticketing office. Do that. That way you don’t inconvenience yourself with trying to find cash while juggling 10 paper bags in order to pay the bus driver, while raising the ire of every impatient Asian on the bus.

Opening Hours :

The Mall generally opens from 10am – 7pm. However, do check the website the day before you wish to head over to the Mall. Opening hours may vary depending on the season. When I was there, they had extended shopping hours for summer, so shops would close at 8pm.

Tax Refund at the Mall :

Recall that I mentioned you may only do your tax refund before you leave the EU. Tax Refund for shopping done at the Mall is an exception. It is one of the rare few places that you may receive your tax refund immediately.

Located at the Mall is a Global Blue tax refund office. It is at this office that you may receive your tax refund instantly in cash, regardless of whether you paid by credit or cash. This system saved my life, because it was like a withdrawal of cash from my credit card, without having to pay the requisite administrative fee.

Here’s how it works :

1) You shop, you get the receipt and you inform the cashier that you wish to claim taxes. Your passport will be taken for verification, and a tax refund form will be given for you to be filled up.

2) Once you have amassed a sizable amount of shopping and you’re ready to go home, head over to the tax refund office to get your tax refund in cash.

3) The counter staff will request that you have a credit card in your name. They will explain to you that although you have received your refund there at the office, you still need to get your receipts chopped at the tax refund counter at your departure airport. If you fail to do so, the sum of money you receive will be deducted from your credit, as well as an additional 10-15% penalty of the sum received. This is extremely painful. Don’t be careless.

Shopping at the Mall :

Because there are so many people at the Mall, there are bound to be queues outside the popular brands. Here, we’re talking specifically about Prada/Miu Miu and Gucci. The shopping experience is as vanilla as it can get. You see something you like, you approach a staff, they’ll find a new piece for you and you pay at the counter.

The only odd duck is Prada.

What happens when you shop at Prada :

You will be given a slip of paper with a four digit code on it. This code will be used for you to reserve your items at the counter. You spot something you want, you hand it to a sales staff nearby and he/she will scan the barcode and key in the four-digit code assigned to you.

Goods that are reserved will be held for 2 hours.

Note : The queues for payment may take up to 45 minutes because everyone at the counter will minimally have 3 items. They will go through each item individually to make sure everything is proper. It is ridiculously time-consuming. Plan your time wisely. You have been warned.

My experience :

I had a fantastic time at the Mall. I shopped from 11am-7pm, and I didn’t even bother having lunch. That was how much there was to see, and to mull over : Should I or should I not buy this? Spoiler alert : I bought everything.

Note that it is really not for everyone, for the buys there are definitely on the pricey side. If you are not into brands as well, then obviously give this Mall a miss. You would just find it a colossal waste of time.

Tips for guys, since this is ultimately the Men’s guide to shopping, aim for these few brands : Prada, Toms, Ferragamo, and Tom Ford. Look out for shoes, and small leather accessories. They are usually heavily discounted, and let’s face it. Every man needs swanky shoes and a stylish wallet / cardholder. It’s just good manners.

For shoes, thumbs up if you have a pair of odd-sized feet. Toms has a section specifically dedicated to one-design one-size discounts, and the discount is sick.

Florence Leather Market

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Where is it? : Piazza San Lorenzo

How to get there : Locate Basilica di San Lorenzo. The entrance to one wing of the leather market would be a courtyard away.

When does it open? : 9am – 7pm from Tuesday – Saturday

The San Lorenzo Market, also more commonly / popularly known as the Florence Leather Market was another reason why I was so excited for the Florence leg of the trip. But if you are expecting a building filled with stores selling leather goods, then be prepared to be surprised.

The San Lorenzo Market’s concept is very much similar to our pasar malam (night market). Its existence is temporal. Store owners would set up tents and wheel out pushcarts filled with leather goods from 9am – 7pm. After 7pm, the market would cease to exist and the streets would once again be empty.

So what can you expect to find at the leather market? Leather goods, duh. Every conceivable type of bag, clutch, crossbody, tote, wallet, pouch you can think of, you’re probably able to find it in this market. And it’s cheap too. I got some really good buys from the leather market, such as :

This leather crossbody, which I’ve been using to death recently;

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and this leather tote, which is the softest leather bag I’ve ever owned.

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Can you bargain? Absolutely. And you should bargain because their opening price would shock you. At one instance, I halved the opening price and there wasn’t even much resistance. So arm yourself with your Bangkok bargaining skills, and put it to good use. #asianpride.

Caution : Not every piece of good there is made from genuine leather. Some of them would only reveal at the eleventh hour that the leather is actually synthetic leather. They might also burn the leather so prove that the leather is genuine, when actually a simple chemical treatment would produce the result.

Here are some tell-tale signs I think would help you discern whether the good is made from genuine leather or not :

1) The smell. Real leather smells amazing. I can’t describe it but synthetic leather, or any other material has an odd, artificial smell to it. Like plastic. It’s like sniffing the inside of a tupperware.

2) Real leather never crumples. There was a stall owner who was adamant that the bag was genuine leather, but that crap crumpled like paper.

3) Check the inner lining of the bag. If the bag is not lined with a cloth, the back of genuine leather feels like coarse velvet.

4) Check the edges / corners. Real leather is imperfect. The grains would be uneven, the edges would be rough. On the other hand, synthetic leather would look perfect, seamless and homogenous. If it looks too good to be true, it probably isn’t. Wise words to follow

5) Go with your gut feel. No one can force you to buy something if you don’t want to. Even if the product is made from real leather but you feel uncomfortable getting it, don’t. Just walk away.
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And that, is all I have for shopping in Florence. Writing this post took an exceedingly long time because of the details, but all it did was made me reminisce of what a wonderful time I had in Florence. I mean, with all these shopping gems, and a view to boot, it is no wonder Florence is my favourite Italian city.

In the City of Dubrovnik

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If you had asked me what I thought about Dubrovnik a month ago, I would have responded with a nonchalant shrug. Sure, it was pretty, I guess…. Not exactly the most breathtaking of places I have visited. It wasn’t the most alive of places. Most of the activity in Dubrovnik was confined to the Old Town. And mind you, the Old Town is situated at the bottom of Dubrovnik, and that meant walking down at least a thousand stone steps from our apartment to get there. You can only imagine what it meant for us to get back to our apartment.

Then a strange thing happened when I started to process the photos taken while I was in Dubrovnik. Suddenly, all I could remember was how beautiful it was. I even shared the images in my grad trip whatsapp group chat with the caption : “Is this really Dubrovnik??” And you know what, I thought back about all the cities I visited during my Europe trip and came to a startling conclusion that, hey, Dubrovnik was easily the most beautiful town of the lot.

And that isn’t an observation that’s difficult to justify :

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So I would, with no hesitation, blame the ridiculous heat for marring my Dubrovnik experience. We chose a bad time to visit the city. The sun was merciless. I was hot. I was sweaty. I struggled with a dilemma when the wind blew because while it cooled me, it caused my shirt to stick to my back and we all know how terrible that feels. I turned red with frustration and above all, in my infinite wisdom, I chose to wear black on the day we did the city walls tour (read : a 3km walk along the perimeter of the city with no shelter whatsoever)

To its credit, it did provide me with a spectacular view of Old Town, Dubrovnik once I managed to look past the heat. Which was never.

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Here’s what I would recommend for those intending to give Dubrovnik a visit. Do it. But choose a good time where the sun doesn’t obscure its beauty. Because sitting in the comfort of my air-conditioned room right now and looking at the beautiful landscape shots I took, I can’t remember the heat but I can remember the allure of the city.

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The Floating City

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The first time I fell in love with literature was when I studied “The Merchant of Venice” as my literature text in school. Ever since then, I’ve been enamoured by a romanticised image of Venice and its beautiful canals. So naturally, when I was planning my graduation trip to Europe, I made it a point to at least have a day trip to Venice, just to see if Venice in real life was a mirror of what Venice was in my head. I readied myself for what Venice was most famous for : her beauty.

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The first thing that greets you when you leave the train terminal in Venice, is the vast majority of tourists, and a huge body of water running through the city. And you know what? That’s really Venice, encapsulated in a single sentence. A city, with a heck lot of tourists, and a huge body of water running through it.

Walking through Venice, you can’t help but get struck by how empty the buildings are. Everything was abandoned. I remember making a joke about how it resembled the movie set of “Chernobyl Diaries”.  Apart from restaurants and gift shops specifically tailored for tourists, nothing else was opened. The city lived for tourists. The city itself was like a maze. The pathways were narrow and almost at every turn, you would encounter a bridge over water.

Sights of gondolas were sparse within the city, and to my huge disappointment, the gondoliers do not sing.

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Suffice to say, Venice quickly became disappointing.

That said, there were a few memorable moments during my short stay in Venice. For one, I had the opportunity to chance upon the most amazing group of buskers, whose enthusiasm and sheer joy from performing compelled me to purchase their CD.

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And alright, truth be told, notwithstanding all things said about Venice, she really did turn out to be an incredibly photogenic city.

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Did I regret going to Venice? Absolutely not. It was something I had to check off from a list of things to do in Europe. There are just some things that you have to see, and Venice was one of them for me.

Will I come back? No. I’ve seen all that Venice had to offer. She is but a ghost of her old self. If you look at the scars written across the city you could almost imagine how beautiful she was. But that’s all left behind now.

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Blue Blazer from Hong Kong / White V-Neck T-shirt from Uniqlo / Cream Chinos from Qoo10.SG / Leather Weave Belt from ASOS / Tasseled Loafers from Dr Martens / Bag from MCM

A day in Florence

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Florence wasn’t exactly a part of the trip that I was looking forward to. Apart from the fact that it had The Mall and the famous Florence leather market, there was nothing innately interesting or exciting about the place. When we first arrived by train from Rome after what could only be described as a traumatic morning, Florence looked like a run of the mill Italian town : unimpressive.

As it turns out, I was wrong, and short walk around made it clear to me that first impressions simply don’t count, and I quickly fell deeply in love with this quaint little town. Florence was stunningly picturesque. Every snapshot was painting-worthy. You could almost hear a symphony of accordions playing as you let the river breeze run through the crisp air. Don’t believe me? Just look.

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I’ll see you again, Florence.

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T-Shirt from Korea / Faded Jeans from Far East Plaza / Sneakers from New Balance / BackPack from MCM

Hey now, Hey now

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I won’t lie. I hyped up Rome in my head before I went to Rome, probably just a little too much. Remember that Disney movie Lizzie Mcguire? That movie that was anchored around a song “Hey Now, Hey Now, This is what dreams are made of~~~”. That song was a severe ear-worm throughout the Italy leg of my grad trip. It was so infectious, that all someone had to do was whisper “Hey now” and BAM. Stuck in yo’ head.

My memory of the movie was poor, but I vaguely remembered that it was filmed in Rome. I recalled something about the Trevi Fountain, the Coliseum and some gardens I subsequently found out was the Tivoli Gardens. I remembered this scene so vividly it shocked me how accurate my memory was when I rewatched the movie just a few days ago.

And when I was watching the show, I couldn’t help but exclaimed to the annoyance of my sister that Rome was so beautiful. So I was racking my brains, wondering why I had such a different experience in Rome. The weather was hot and cold like a Katy Perry song. It hailed. We were constantly fearful that we were going to get robbed. The food was sloshed in salt. (Alright, I’m probably making it sound worse than it was, but still.)

And then it hit me.

Rome is only beautiful when you have a soundtrack. Just imagine riding a red scooter across the cobbled streets of Rome, fighting traffic under the hot sun. Terrible. Then throw in a Vitamin C soundtrack and suddenly it’s “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”… Amirite, amirite?

Ah well, it’s just a theory anyway. And it definitely didn’t help that the Trevi Fountain, to my horror, was closed. Say what? I didn’t even get to reenact the iconic uno dos tres” moment, flipping a coin with my back facing the fountain. Ok, actually I did because they preserved a really tiny makeshift glass bowl presumably filled with water from the fountain for people to make their wishes BUT IT STILL DOESN’T COUNT. Then again, tradition has it that you will return to Rome if you throw a coin into the fountain so, guess I didn’t really miss out on that one.

In the end, Rome finally became pleasant when I gave up chasing all the tourist sites, and decided to just walk the streets. This decision came after we walked 20 minutes to reach the Spanish Steps. Do you want to know how it looks like?

Here you go.

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There. It is literally just a bunch of steps. There is nothing inherently Spanish about it. It’s not even humorous like if there were a bunch of Spanish people sitting on the steps. At least that would have been funny.

So here’s my advice to those who wish to visit Rome : Dedicate just one day to visit all these tourist attractions. Get it out of your system. At least you can return back home and tell your friends and family you’ve been to these sites. Then spend the next few days just wandering the streets. Pop into a cafe, chat with a friendly boss of a restaurant. Listen to the stunning talent the street buskers have to offer. Then you’ll finally understand why when you’re in Rome, you have to do as the Romans do.

Because that’s when you’ll see Rome.

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White V-Neck T-Shirt from Uniqlo / Vest from ASOS / Black Skinnies from Bangkok / Tasseled Loafers from Dr Martens / Arm Candy from Punk Candy SG / Messenger Bag from ASOS / Aviators from RayBan