Humans of Interchange – Li Yang

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Apologies for dropping the ball on Humans of Interchange. Exams came up and then I had a backlog of other posts to complete. I’m still very much looking for international students to interview so feel free to shoot me an e-mail at willbe[at]samanthawxlow.com . This interview was quite special to me as Li Yang was one of the first people to personally approach me to share her story.

Why did you pick design as your degree?

I initially picked design because I love animation but I didn’t want to go into that industry. I wanted to do something more with art. I later discovered digital visualisation, which combines programming and art together. It’s all about presenting data in a clear and meaningful way. I’m doing an internship now that applies this, it’s a pretty small company but it’s all about technology. The hardest thing about working is communication because it’s hard to understand someone else’s business vision. You spend most of your time on that because it doesn’t matter how fabulous you are if your design doesn’t look like what they want it to.

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My parents work in business so they don’t know anything about arts or design. In the beginning there was a lot of ‘What the hell just stop that, you can’t do that’ coming from them about the path I chose for myself. Gradually I persuaded them by talking about the value of design. I’m not sure if this trick applies to other parents but I was selling myself to them as a product and asking them to see the potential value in me.

I really look up to John Maeda, he’s a software engineer who’s passionate about the arts. One of his students, Ben Fry, became famous for creating new software that’s still popular now. They had similar ideas, using a small platform that typical artists would be using but running it with programming language to create still pattern motion graphics.

The biggest difference between China and Australia is that in China, grades mean everything. Getting a good mark makes you the king of the school while getting a low mark relegates you to the back of the class because nobody cares about you. In addition to this, my hometown takes the one child policy quite seriously. Having sons is definitely seen as more desirable, people treat them with greater importance. My father too, grew up in a town where the only mission for a female is to give birth to a boy so you don’t need to work. I do feel that I am not well liked simply because I am a girl. People continue to undermine me even though I’m the only one who’s finished high school and gotten accepted to study at a university in Australia.

My stinky fish is my past. When I first arrived here I was a mess. I didn’t know anyone and I lived in one of those illegal houses with 12 other people. I made mistakes in more ways than I would care to disclose here, let’s just say it was a very difficult part of my life. But my happy fish is me, now. I want to face what I did back then and I’m confident I’m able to. I’ve been looking for solutions, talking to people and e-mailing anyone that can help me. And thinking a lot, thinking is probably what helps the most.

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I’m not completely technology dependent, being an artists holds me back from that. My e-calendar was completely wiped out by accident once, that’s when I got a physical planner. Having a planner let’s me schedule things, practice writing and draw pictures.

Ode to New York City

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Shot from atop Google New York Headquarters

We walked about 110 km in our nine day summer fling with New York City. It was perilous to our feet but I love walking. It’s not something I did much of in Malaysia, where one car per person is an unwritten policy. It’s also why LA and I remain cordial but not fast friends, because you need a cab to get anywhere which takes the fun out of a midnight run to IHop. NYC was my second time in America but it might as well be a different country to the city of Angels. Every moment here was a movie moment. I mean to say this in spite of my favourite sitcoms being filmed here but I’m fooling no one in my audience.  My accent is a mongrel, a crude patch-up job made up of a lifetime of Manglish (Malaysian-English), seven years saying “mate” and “far out” in Sydney but not least was the indeterminable yet highly significant amount of time spent watching American television. Being in New York was like jumping into the TV of my childhood so I could in first person, see the cool cats that linger on fire stairs with a sunset explosion on their back, hear the guy who delivers fresh produce with a jazz song in his heart, taste bagels with long blacks Americanos and appreciate the Starbucks’ siren as the unofficial ruling monarch. The emoji pizza is real, pepperoni is that big but only here, in America.

Is the passage of time subjective? We all have the same one thousand four hundred and forty minutes in a day but New York burns through it easily, like the Chinese paper money we send to the dead. I can see why it might be for some and not all. I thought I was a true blue city girl, but New York challenges my mental construct of what a city really is. Every single night we fall asleep to one of three sirens, the ambulance, the fire truck or the police. The neon glow of 5th Avenue that cuts through the bottom of our curtain is our night light. This city is like planet Earth juice concentrated with extra pulp. This city pulsates beneath me like every second someone is dying and someone is being born. Physical tiredness is one thing but it’s the mental exhaustion of tuning into so many human beings for the entire waking day that puts us down and deep until the sun rises the next morning.

Could I live here, would I like to live here, I ask you and watch you all ask me. Isn’t this where dreams come to live, am I the Rachel Berry of this show and will it be a comedy or a tragedy? Truth be told my Murakami compass cannot find the calm here because social media distractions are life-sized problems in New York. I want to look at this cute dog on the street but be careful with my bag people are passing and what’s that being written in the sky also Macy’s has 4th of July sales and every hour is happy hour until closing. Every moment in the past nine days has been like playing spot the difference with the nanosecond you saw before you blinked. This city is an ADHD patient’s nightmare. Everything is constantly changing before me and I’d bet my last dollar + 15% tip that it’ll continue to change after me. Walking is fine as a tourist, but to live here I feel like you have to run.

In spite of my misgivings, yet because of them, again who am I kidding. I’m so utterly tired but I’ve never felt this alive. The diversity here runs like a never-ending fountain, my New York bucket list only got longer the more I ticked off, hello there can I be your friend I say to everyone and American cuisine doesn’t exist because it is an amalgamation of every single thing in the world. But perhaps the very best thing about being here and walking here, so much that I walked 68.3508 miles is the begrudging acceptance I receive from said human beings. In a twisted line of reasoning there are so many of us that none of us are special and because none of us are special, we are all one. Contrast this to that one time in Sydney I wore a cheongsam and was treated like a circus freak. In New York City I could probably get away with wearing nothing at all, nothing at all, nothing at all.

Confusion that never stops, the closing walls and ticking clocks. I can’t conceive that this will be the place to grow, the same way a sapling cannot survive basking in a thousand suns. But my dreams have left me to grow up here in New York. When I’m ready I’ll come back and take you home.

Le Bernardin

Hello from New York! I was hoping to update my blog sooner than this but this trip has been, to sum it up in one word, overwhelming. I’ve only ever known what living is like in a large city and have travelled to many of them in my lifetime, but New York is on a whole other level. I actually find it really hard to focus on just one thing because there are usually at least ten different other happenings going on at the same time. But more on that in another post. Our travelling party to New York consists of a huge group of foodies so naturally one of the crown jewels of this trip is a booking that Kye Li managed to secure for Le Bernardin.

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Salmon rilette with sourdough crisp

Le Bernardin received its first Michelin star 16 years before I was born, under the original founding duo of Maguy and Gilbert Le Coze. The menu is one that I worship as it’s all about seafood served fresh, simple and with respect. Today Chef Eric Ripert holds the kitchen reins and the restaurant now holds three Michelin stars, one of only seven restaurants in New York to do so. It’s now the top restaurant in New York City for food and service under the Zagat Guide and comes in at #18 on San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Really there’s posh and then there’s Le Bernardin. Although dressed for the occasion, we all arrive slightly sweaty after ambitiously deciding to walk the entire way from the hotel. Uncle Albert motions to remove his suit jacket but the waitstaff hurriedly (and politely) tell him that he has to keep it on for the entire duration of our stay there. Looking around the room of dining patrons we see that all adhere to this rule. We have some light and creamy salmon rillette to start with served with some sour dough crisp. As the crisps run out, we interchange between smooth, rich butter and the rillette to eat with the bread that is on offer.

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Herb seeded and focaccia

The dining area is fairly spacious with just the right amount of seating so one isn’t too cramped nor feels like they are islands away from the next table. A waiter has been tasked with holding the bread tray throughout the lunch sitting, swiftly attending to any guest at any table who has run out of bread. Despite wanting to always save room for the main attractions, I can never pass up an opportunity to try the bread at any restaurant. My focaccia was fairly standard while the sesame and herb was pillowy soft. Unfortunately both breads were cold, a pet peeve of mine. I definitely prefer them warm and verging on hot for butter to melt on contact with the surface.

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Bacalao “Serenata” – Lightly Salted Grilled Cod; Avocado, Yucca and Pepper Escabeche

As mentioned, Le Bernardin is all about what lives under the sea. Not all of us knew what to expect, I for one admittedly had left all the research up to Kye Li. Having purely seafood for lunch was a pleasant surprise for me for sure but if you aren’t a fan of fish and shellfish, Le Bernardin is definitely not for you. The lunch menu offers a three course, four course and a tasting menu. Not wanting to be greedy we opt with the first choice (Prix Fixe at $80 per person). Throughout lunch we also played pass the camera so I could take photos of all of our different starters and main courses so I would like to thank everyone who accommodated this tricky food blogger! First up we have mom’s starter, the Bacalao “Serenata”. My limited Spanish a.k.a. Google Translate tells me this means serenade cod or serenade the cod? I’m kind of imagining that this is Ripert’s interpretation of a traditional Puerto Rican dish but happy for any well versed in that cuisine to tell me otherwise. Flavours were very interesting, I would never have thought to pair egg with fish and then again with avocado.

P1050613-4 “Sea Trout” – Ultra Rare Smoked Sea Trout; Pickled Red Onion, Citrus-Miso Emulsion

I’m usually a salmon a-fish-ionado so I surprise mum when I tell her that I’m not going for the salmon-based starter. Realistically speaking, trout isn’t too far off the mark anyway but hey, baby steps in diversifying right? The sea trout was smoked to perfection, making them tiny gobbles of joy to savour and linger on my tongue before swallowing. The citrus-miso emulsion is strongly reminiscent of any ol’ salmon carpaccio combination that usually has yuzu as the citrus component. I loved this for its familiarity so with that said, it’s quite a safe option.

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“Octopus” – Warm Octopus “Carpaccio;” Leek Compote, Peruvian Anticucho Sauce

Beautifully presented starter is Li Shyen’s octopus. I didn’t get to try hers but no complaints were heard down her end of the table.

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“Scallop” – Barely Cooked Scallop; Brown Butter Dashi

Fine dining restaurants are not your Chinese household fitted with a lazy susan to make sharing easier. I sometimes wonder if they intentionally make the tables extra long to up the formal ante and reduce intimacy levels in the room. This is what discouraged me from trying everyone’s meals bar my mom’s, that and the relatively smaller portions of fine dining. Kye Li’s scallops however I simply could not resist. We did a spoonful of exchange between us and I was instantly in shellfish heaven. You can already tell by the photo that they were mutant scallops, far bigger than the usual and as juicy as they look too. Brown butter added weight to the dashi, making it just a tad bit creamier than what you might be used to in typical Japanese fare.

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“Kingfish Caviar” –  Warm King Fish “Sashimi;” Osetra Caviar, Light Marinière Broth ($45 Supplement)

Uncle Albert is probably the biggest eater at our table by virtue of being a guy and weighing about 1.5x most of us. So it’s unfortunate that all of his choices throughout the afternoon result in pretty minute portions. I don’t think there was anything *wrong* about this particular dish but fish slivers don’t really make much of a meal. Granted there’s some wicked caviar on top but with the extra $45 fee to boot, this isn’t good value at all unless you’re a serious caviar connoisseur. Also notice the occasional interesting camera angles, as mentioned we played pass the camera a lot and everyone’s got their own way of taking a photo.

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“Crab” Warm Peekytoe Maryland Lump Crab; Shaved Heirloom Cauliflower, Mustard Emulsion

Heard it was good, wish I got to try some! If you’re like me and couldn’t resist Googling ‘peekytoe crab’, this is probably one of your first hits and a pretty interesting read that dates back to 1998.

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“Dover Sole” Sautéed Dover Sole; “Almond-Pistachio Barberry Golden Basmati,” Chardonnay-Shallot Emulsion ($24 Supplement)

Mom and I usually tag team our meals to maximise trying options. So even though we both went for the halibut, we decided to switch mom’s order up with the dover sole. And I think this round she definitely won. I was absolutely in love with her main course. Flakey and moreish, a weird term to use in a setting where moderation is supposed to be key. Mom especially loved the golden basmati that she didn’t realise came with the meal.

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“Black Bass” – Crispy Black Bass; Wood Ears and Water Chestnuts, Black Truffle Hot and Sour Pot au Feu

Kye Li and Li Shyen both get the black bass which swims in typical asian flavours. Well-cooked they said but not the most imaginative dish.

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Sorry for the out-of-focus photo but I love pouring shots!

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“Halibut” – Poached halibut, romanesco, brussel sprouts and yuzu scented sea urchin emulsion

After observing this many main courses, you start to discern a pattern. While it was well cooked, just like everything else we’ve had, there just wasn’t anything else going for it. The uni sauce I could’ve had a litre of but it was very separate to the fish if that makes sense. The flavours and textures didn’t meld together to make something harmonious, it tasted very much like alright fish on the left and tasty sauce on the right. This is very much consistent with what Le Bernardin promises and I wouldn’t fault them for it. It’s still a good meal. Perhaps I’m used to experimental food and the smoke and mirrors of gastronomy which is what is often practiced in Sydney. Perhaps I’m ruined for life and will never be able to appreciate traditional fare again. Gulp.

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“Monkfish” Pan Roasted Monkfish; Sautéed Cepes, Pearl Onions à la Crème Paprika Sauce

Uncle Albert’s which I didn’t get to try.

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Intermission photos of humans so you know how we look like.

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“Matcha” Green Tea Custard, Preserved Lychee Jasmine Ice Cream

We’re now in dessert territory which I will have to say was pretty outright disappointing. I ordered mom a matcha dish because we’re both addicted to the nutty, bitter aroma of strong green tea powder. Le Bernardin’s matcha dessert had all the strength of a matcha Kit Kat which was really disappointing. The fried noodle-y looking bits are actually chocolate curls and the custard at the bottom has a really soft cake-y texture. In terms of components, they’ve nailed it with a medley of softness, chewiness and smoothness from the lychee ice cream. In terms of flavour I had to pass.

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“Dark Milk Chocolate” Milk Chocolate Mousse, Dark Caramel, Candied Peanuts, Warm Malted Caramel

As much as I say I’m a savoury person, put a good bit of dessert in front of me and I will stop at the half way point BUT continue to cheat my way by sneaking in small bites until it’s all gone. Good dessert is undeniable. The Dark Milk Chocolate, wasn’t something I ended up finishing. It was pleasant in the way pretty dessert cakes at a buffet table are pleasant. Easy on the eyes but doesn’t actually deliver. The mousse didn’t have a chocolate depth, reminding me of something store bought. The caramel and candied peanuts combination was a lot like Izakaya Fujiyama’s Snickers dessert but again falling just short of a rich caramel note. Both these desserts really surprise me especially since America is notorious for going all out with their sweets.

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“Exotic Fruit Pavlova” Roasted Pineapple, Guava Jam, Yuzu-Coconut Sorbet

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“Melon Passion-Fruit” Ginger-Scented Melon “Bomb,” Passion Fruit Macaron

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“Strawberry” Elderflower-Scented Strawberries, Crème Fraîche Panna Cotta, Frozen Strawberry Snowflakes

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To accompany coffee and tea, we are each given these little bites of sour cherry bread/cake? Which I think actually tasted better than the desserts themselves because they were both sweet with a suble sourness and had a very airy sponge-like texture to it.

If you pay close attention and read exactly into what Le Bernardin says on its website, then you’ll know exactly what to expect. There really aren’t any surprises here and I would definitely endorse this place if you simply want beautifully cooked fish and delectable sides to hold your hand. It’s very different from what I’m used to in Sydney precisely because it doesn’t try to be different. I think if I had managed my expectations better I wouldn’t have felt any disappointment as our meal drew to a close. Still for $80 which is about AUD105, it’s not a bad meal as far as fine dining goes. Yet as much as I say I would come back, I probably wouldn’t for now just because there really are so many other restaurants in New York that I’m itching to try.

Click to add a blog post for Le Bernardin on Zomato

Fash Hack Australia 2015

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I clearly have no respect for sleep and relaxation because the first three things I did after my last exam for the semester was binge watch some anime, go to work and jump right into a three-day long hackathon. For the uninformed, a hackathon is typically an event in which programmers and others involved in software development collaborate on a project. This is usually about solving a problem armed with technology and imagination. As this is my first hackathon, I can’t really comment on what is the norm, but I’d make an educated guess that Fash Hack is pretty unique in the way that it’s a lot more inclusive of the types of people who attend.

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FashHack is a weekend long business building competition that synthesises the fashion and tech industries together for the first time in Australia. The brainchild of Victoria Lai and team, FashHack is start-up focused, not product focused. This translates into the provision of exclusive mentorship and guidance from some of the top leaders in the fashion, tech and start-up industries to help bring any start-up idea to life. Participants come from a wide array of industries, from fashion to design, tech and business with the intention to collaborate and compete to solve some of the toughest challenges in the fashion and retail industries. On the last day participants will pitch, prototype and validate their ideas in front of an industry panel of judges.

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Attending the launch at FishBurners in the previous week gave a taste as to the wide diversity of participants that we would see at the actual hackathon. The emcees made a joke about for a tech event it had some of the highest numbers of well-dressed people, not least because of the equal parts beauty and brains panelists for the night. In the hot seats that evening we had Ben Moir, (Founder of Wearable Experiments) Jessica Wilson, (Founder of Stashd App) Daniel Kjellsson, (Co-Founder of Sydney Stockholm), and Rita Salib, (Retail Brand Manager at International Fashion Brands, formerly Brand Manager for Michael Kors Australia). Prior to hearing about Fash Hack, I hadn’t really thought much of how technology can disruptive the fashion space, besides the obvious examples of ASOS, The iconic and whatever clothing box subscription service you’ve heard of. So it was really eye-opening to be introduced to the people above who had already carved out businesses for themselves that were built right at the crossroads of fashion meeting technology.

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One of my favourite things about attending interesting talks and events is being able to go trigger-happy with quote bites from the presentation. Some might think it’s distracting but it actually helps me remember the content after the fact. Including hashtags also makes it easy for other people interested in the event to find you and vice versa, I’ve e-met a lot of great people this way. Yours truly actually walked away with a Her Fashion Box prize for a best tweet question for the judges during the Q&A ession. But nifty freebies aside, it was definitely a cool moment getting some direct feedback on my question from Kjellsson of Sydney Stockholm. I asked this because I’d lately grown more and more skeptical of the role of influencers in any capacity although I understood the appeal of pretty bloggers and pretty photos on Instagram. Aside from the fact that questions on bloggers and influencers were most relevant to him, it definitely felt like there was some kind of cosmic connection here purely because what were the odds of me meeting a startup Swede here after spending six months in Sweden last year? Overall it was a really great event to kick off interest in participating the actual hackathon. I only wish I stuck around longer to meet people who may have been my potential group members but at that time I still had two exams to study for with university finals. The next Friday night marked the official start of Fash Hack.

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On the first level of Fishburners, the room was gradually heating up as hordes of people began piling in. And who wouldn’t, if nothing else there was incredibly tasty food coordinated by YouChews, an up and coming catering website. As the weekend progressed I began to be most thankful, not for mentors or other resources but the fact that I could eat three meals a day that didn’t consist of pizza and soft drink. #Blessed4YouChews

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We began with the lightning pitches, 30 seconds of speaking to everyone to prove that you have an idea worth pursuing. Ideas then get voted and the top few are selected afterwards. Following that, participants will then opt to join whichever idea they were most inspired by and will work with that team for the next few days. The emcees made sure to stress on the fact that the constant for the weekend would be your teammates as ideas were basically expected to change within minutes of discussion. That ideas and solutions can and must be fluid to adapt and that a good team can make or break any business were probably the two best pieces of advice I’d picked up over the weekend. I ended up pitching an idea for a Kickstart-esque platform for emerging designers to obtain demand before putting their pieces in production. My goal for the weekend was to build my soft skills, in this case I wanted public speaking/pitching practice more than I was convinced about my idea. I guess think of that what you will, because [spoiler] our team didn’t place in the finals. So perhaps I lacked the true drive and determination to actually launch a business because I was focusing more on self-development. This was in stark contrast to a lot of the other pitches that sounded very well developed and other participants who truly wanted to make their startup a sustainable venture.

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The voting process wasn’t the smoothest, it involved sticking post-its on a washable wall where the ideas had been written. Except the post-its were constantly falling off as the wall wasn’t adhesive, which made you kind of wonder if the top chosen were really the top chosen or were just lucky that the voting strips hadn’t fallen off yet. It was pure luck that mine made it across and I had the pleasure of Sam Nejat, June and Jignesh’s company as my team for next few days. We had one speaker for the night which was the amazing Phil Morle of Pollenizer. I’d heard good things about him before which was validated by his talk, he’s truly a great speaker! After that we’re shuffled into both level 1 and the basement to begin hacking.

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Almost immediately the incredible line-up of mentors began to descend upon us, helping us to unpack our ideas. Truth be told, my pitch idea was thrown out within minutes of discussing as we found out one of the mentors was already involved in his own company that was purporting to do almost the exact same thing (so much for research on my part). By 11 pm bump out time, we had an iteration of the original idea and a second idea which we were still tossing up between. By the late morning of Day 2 as we were still pivoting, pivoting in what felt like circles.

 
In a fit of democracy, we decided to simply vote between the two and start actually planning on how we would go about it. The most important part of Fash Hack’s hackathon is getting validation for your idea. Not only is this weighted the highest amongst all the other criteria, it completely makes sense that you shouldn’t be creating solutions to problems that don’t exist. We were strongly encouraged to leave Fishburners to get some real world opinions so the four of us split up into two groups, with one making a beeline for the Glebe markets to speak to designers and the other to Surry Hills to find some niche boutique retailers. Our idea at this point had evolved into a type of middle man service to get emerging designer products out onto the market.

As important as I thought it was that we get off our asses and take a walk, I’m not convinced that was the best way to get feedback. Sam Nejat and I found a grand total of 3 designers to speak to at the Glebe markets because as it turns out, the majority of the stalls there were either retailing factory manufactured clothing or second-hand goods. Jignesh and June had struck out as well as most independent stores are shut on a weekend. Through deploying some swift messages on Facebook and via e-mail we were able to get feedback far more efficiently by just reaching out to friends and friends of friends who turned out to be designers. I am now totally convinced that everyone is at most two degrees of separation away from one. In contrast, retailers were a lot harder to get a hold of and we never ended up really resolving this problem bar June speaking to one of her retailer friends back in Malaysia which is certainly not enough to prove that this idea could work. Throughout the Saturday we were also graced by three other guest speakers, Alice Howard-Vyse who spoke on the principles of UX, Michael Eales who expounded on the business model and value proposition design and Pete Cooper who gave us Pitching 101.

We even got some extra feedback from Alice, catching her on her way out after her presentation. This again iterates how helpful, kind and generous all speakers, mentors and coordinators were with sharing their knowledge.

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Day 3 came all too quickly. Three days in a row of late nights, early mornings and lots of grinding at the problem in between had definitely worn me out. There were a couple of frustrating concerns that had been recurring during the weekend which at times made it feel like I had committed myself to 40 hours of “group work” aka the worst invention to come out from university. I had always known this about myself but it was never more prominent than that weekend how vocal I am about stress when I am stressed. It’s something I really like to work on and something I am grateful that my team tolerated. On the flipside I still work well or perhaps even better under stress so we managed to get our pitching slides in to Fernando, something I was totally convinced at the time was not even going to happen!  

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Pitching itself was pretty nerve-wracking. I grew up as a tremendously shy child and was only thanks to opportunities like debating that I was able to find my voice. I’d like to think I am pretty adequate if I know my content well but as the previous paragraph might have indicated, we were just horribly mismanaged for time towards the end and I was just trying to cram as much as I could into short-term memory.

Wonderful Jignesh offered to pitch with me at the 11th hour, even though the original plan was always for me to do it alone. It’s also great to be able to tag team the tough questions that the judges asked us post-pitch.

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For judges we had Garry Visontay (Sydney Seed Fund), Cath Rogers (AirTree Ventures), Justin Cudmore (Australian Fashion Chamber, Marque Lawyers), Courtney Miller (Australian Fashion Chamber), and again, Pete Cooper (iCentral.Co) and Jessica Wilson (Stashd). It definitely felt very “real” having actual investors on the judging panel and I felt a kindred spirit almost in seeing a lawyer be on the list as well. It’s a question I’d like to explore in a later blog post perhaps, the role of a typically stuffy, hierarchical and “heavy” law firm in lean start-ups.

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We were the fourth group to pitch and once we were done, there were still lots of teams that hadn’t gone yet so the overall pitching process took quite awhile. You don’t really realise how many people are still here hacking because we’re all split up onto two different floors and you don’t have much time to interact with other people. Everyone seemed really cool so it’s a shame I didn’t really get to meet them outside some of the mealtimes.

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And speaking of mealtimes, YouChews definitely saved the best for last, the final dinner was my favourite meal to date. I kind of wish I could just order smaller meals with them because all of this stuff tastes thousands of times better than anything on Menulog.

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Winners! Team Cur8 came third place, for their app which makes outfit suggestions based on what you have in your wardrobe. I’d been speaking to Maeva throughout the week to gain some insight as she is also a fellow law student/law graduate but has turned to other career paths.

In second place is Verdict, whose app helps Year 12 students with the absolute hell of organising formal dresses and making sure no one wears the same dress. The St George Girls formal in 2010 had four girls wearing the exact same dress in the same colour from Forcast so I’m sure there is a huge space for this app. And props for creativity too!

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Finally first place was team Face Up who is creating YouTube but for make up and also monetising views by closely aligning it with the purchase decision. I think YouTube is already enabling something similar to this called TrueViews where you’re somehow able to purchase a product that you have just watched in a beauty tutorial or make up haul video. Face Up gave an incredible pitch, showing their start-up journey which initially began as an idea for Uber but with make up artists. The fact tha they had already gotten a world renown Youtube make up guru onboard with Face Up in a short span of a weekend just demonstrates how incredibly good at hustling they are. The whole “building a business in two days when it usually takes two years” really resonated with me at this point.

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So that was the weekend at Fash Hack for me. Incredibly exhausting, character building, and I may have had to pull too many late nights following that due to other commitments and the fact that I had to travel soon after (I’m actually writing this at KLIA in Malaysia right now), but it was all worth it. There are way too many takeaways to mention in this conclusion and way too many people to thank for the ongoing support and the opportunities both being able to participate and the ones I know lay ahead in front of me. I think Fash Hack was the perfect first hackathon for me to be part of and I doubt it’ll be my last. The thing I loved most about that weekend was just being surrounded by such positive energy that was just rearing to change the world.

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All photographs courtesy of Fash Hack Australia/Audrey Jean-Baptiste

More Osaka, Oden and the Pokemon Centre

Less than three hours ago (or perhaps more by the time I’m done writing this blog post), I finish my last exam for the semester! Potentially my last exam ever (!!!) because the electives I’m looking at right now don’t have exams as part of their assessments. I’m probably going to hate myself when crunch time comes around and I’m slaving away at massively weighted assignments or fighting every other scumbag law student like myself for class participation. Class participation makes tutorials go from teeth grindingly bad to jump-off-a-building awful because not only do you hate every one else who’s waving their arms in the air only to ask a stupid question, you’re filled with equal amounts of self-loathing too because you’re doing the exact same thing. But as bad as class participation is, exams are always the worst for me. Anyone who I’ve been in contact over the last couple of weeks can probably testify to how far down the pit of despair I fall in. But no matter, exams are done! And I figured what better a way to celebrate than to continue blogging about my Japan trip from December last year? Hopefully by the time I’m done with these posts I’ll be in Japan again. One of my closest exchange friends recently got accepted into the JET program where he’s going to be an assistant teacher in the Hyogo prefecture so I’d really like to go visit him, if not to see him then to eat my weight in Kobe beef. Anyway, on to Osaka.

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The night before, we did our usual stroll in the basement of one of the department stores to pick up food. I’d already been salivating at all the slabs of mentaiko I’ve seen thus far on our trip so it was high time I acquiesced to one of my favourite foods in the world. I also needed something to spread it on so I grabbed a random bagel from the store across. I know it doesn’t look like much and certainly not Instagram worthy but I’m fairly sure I went to bed early and woke up around 5 am because I was that excited to have it for breakfast! No photos of schmearing it, it’s actually kind of gross looking once you stab through the sac membrane, kind of like pus. But man deliciously salty goodness just oozes out and.. no words. Michael, not sure if you’re reading this but I think I found a new schmear for Brooklyn Boy Bagels! Or at least Osaka Boy Bagels.

Can’t remember what else we did after besides walking around and letting my parents do their shopping but soon it was lunch time again and my stepdad insisted we retrace his steps from the last time he was in Osaka in search of this hole-in-the-wall oden shop.

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Which turned out to be kind of like Mappen back in Sydney, just with a tonne more options and everything going for about 1 AUD. The oden component of the meal is further down the end near the cashier where sits a giant pot filled with all kinds of fishcakes and tofu. For some reason though I wasn’t allowed to take photos here so this is the only photo I actually have.

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Finally got to use more useless Japanese that I’ve picked up from movies and anime. I ordered kitsune udon for both myself and my stepdad. Kitsune udon is your regular noodle in dashi stock fair except with the addition of a piece of fried tofu called aburaage. Kitsune actually means ‘fox’ in Japanese. This style of udon earns its name from a legend behind a Japanese fox that loves aburaage.

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Warm soupy noodles are always a winter craving of mine. And I could honestly eat sheets and sheets of aburaage so sweet and texture abundant!

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On the way to our next destination we stumbled into a large toy store with several storeys, kind of like Kiddyland in Tokyo.

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Still on my mission to take picture with all obnoxiously large mascots and icons.

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And now we’re here! My parents could not be more disinterested in Pokemon but after days of them dragging me around to look at their stuff, I had to return the favour by getting us here. As the generation that grew up watching, playing and speaking Pokemon for years, this felt like a pilgrimage visit. Did anyone else’s family make fun of them for knowing all 151 pokemon (back in the day) but not knowing XYZ syllabus at school? To be honest I think my knowledge on Pokemon has brought me further and allowed me to connect and speak to more people, which is far more than anything I learnt in primary school ever brought me.

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The centre is everything I dreamed it would be. Rows and rows of plushies, random Pokemon-themed items like pillows and chopsticks and even gaming platforms. It doesn’t look like they have every single Pokemon but I was really surprised to see that they had exactly what I was looking for, for Elaine. A little Wailmer doll.

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I heard you like mudkipz.

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Obviously Pikachu is my spirit animal. If you have me on Instagram or Snapchat (@secretsundaes) you’ll know that in Sydney winter season I practically live in my giant Pikachu onesie. It’s just so incredibly warm, so comfy and the aesthetic of getting to look like my favourite Pokemon is the rare candy on the cake.

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Weirdly enough there’s a wig store right next to the Pokemon centre.
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Fast-forwarding to dinner, we got to have kaiseki! Again at another restaurant at the top of a mall. Restaurants in shopping malls in Japan are so different to ones in Malaysia that are usually pretty average. And in Australia, you can’t even really find restaurant as they’re all cafes or food courts.

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This was my epic feast. Not even sure what exactly everything is, but there’s sashimi, tofu, fish cakes, miso soup, chawanmushi, nimono dishes and tofu.

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I think I went on a longer tangent about law, university and my exams in this post than on my actual Japan trip. But suffice to show in pictures, everything in Japan is awesome.

2006 till now

My corporate law exam is tomorrow but this is a topic I’ve been ruminating on for a few weeks now so it’s probably best I pen down most of this. Hi, hello there Facebook friends. Facebook is probably the primary channel in which people click-through to get to my blog, with Urbanspoon coming in second I think because of all the food reviews. A lot of my Malaysian high school friends and acquaintances would know this, but I’ve been blogging on and off since 2006. I’m not sure what happened around the years 2004-2007 but there was this sudden influx of tweens and teens in Malaysia wanting to blog and write, that practically every third person in SMK Damansara Jaya probably had a blog. While there were a lot of avid writers and content and image-heavy posts, the majority were probably less than 200, a single selfie or some lyrics to a really popular emo song at the time. Friendster was our social media of choice back then and you couldn’t make statuses or get likes for your selfies so I guess having a blog satiated that craving for online attention.

As with all forms of self-expression, blogs became another platform to facilitate drama. There could be a lot of speculation based on whether you were on someone’s link list or even worse, if you were removed. People bitched about one another, sometimes under pseudonyms, sometimes not. There was a girl at school who got into a massive fight with a temping art teacher (who was a recent high school graduate from our school) and blogged about it. The art teacher’s friends who must’ve been in their late teens or early 20s somehow thought it fit to pick on the girl in her chat box. It went on for quite awhile. I too once had so much anger towards an English teacher I had in Form 2 that I wrote a massive rant about how much I hated her and how she must have bought her teaching qualifications because I didn’t think she was fit to teach. I even named her. Probably a really, really good thing that was never discovered. I guess when you’re younger, you might understand shame but you’re still by and large a lot more liberal with your thoughts. Blogging today, I’m not even sure I’m 100% comfortable with putting photos or actual names of other people on my blog because they may be sensitive about it.

Here’s another example of a blog post I wrote. So during that same time frame, surf brands suddenly got really popular as well despite all of us being true urban city kids. Not only was the nearest beach almost two hours away by car, I don’t think you could actually surf at many Malaysian beaches at all. But everyone started sporting Quicksilver t-shorts, boardshorts, hoodies (in 28 degree humidity, yes), and the notoriously popular tiny backpacks that us girls would carry to school, even if it meant half our books were in our hands because they couldn’t fit into that damn small bag. I didn’t own that many pieces of street wear because it was so horribly expensive. But my first overseas trip with my godparents, they took me to Thailand where Shaun (my godbrother) and I stocked up on as many fake Billabong and Roxy t-shirts as we could carry, haggling prices that were already a fraction of how much the originals were. I had a t-shirt and boardshort set that I was super proud of. Even though the shorts were actually a couple of sizes too small, I sucked in my muffin top and took a couple of selfies from the neck down. I then uploaded it to my computer and wrote a quick blurb about it (omitting the fact that they were fake) and published it onto whichever was my active blog at the time. I suppose that was my first #OOTD post ever. One of the main differences between me blogging now and blogging then is back then I tried my absolute hardest to hide my blog from my mom because I was really shy. Which is kind of funny to think that I was happy to share my feelings with the rest of the planet, just not my mom. Anyway she found my post and made a completely benign comment about it but I was still embarrassed anyway and deleted it and the rest of the blog with it.

A lot of those blogs are long dead now, both mine and that of other peoples’, either deleted or with the last updates dating back to 2008 or something like that. I know this because that part of my brain that remembers a lot of useless facts from the past, still remembers some of the blog URLs of people I wasn’t even friends with (there were over 2000 kids at my Malaysian high school) but knew by name or by face. I definitely miss it a lot, blog hopping was addictive, mindless and a good way to kill time. Even famous SEA bloggers like Xiaxue has slowed down; hey 90’s Malaysian kids, Xiaxue. I’m sure a lot of you still read her blog or observe her on new social media channels, but it’s crazy to think that when I first started reading her, she had brown hair and was going for more of a Taiwanese bombshell look complete with a Juice Couture obsession. And now she has a son and looks like a Japanese fairy. I also still read Cheesie’s blog Cheeserland like crazy, and click on Kennysia’s blog occasionally even though I know he doesn’t really blog anymore because he runs his own gym business now. Again another really surreal feeling, having read these blogs for almost 10 years now it feels like I actually know them.

Off the top of my head I had at least seven blogs from 2006 to 2009. I blame inconsistency, deleting blogs, switching blogs, long periods of inactivity, as the reason my blog still suspends in this limbo of ‘family, friends, family friends and 2nd degree connections’ as my primary readers.  I was very shy back then so shame was probably the biggest motivating factor to keep deleting old work as I always thought what I wrote was terrible, almost immediately after it was published. I don’t think I was wrong, but I definitely wish I’d kept everything. I suppose the big question here is, why am I still blogging? If you measured the success of a blog by page hits and fame, I’m probably not even 0.0001% of Xiaxue’s fame. But there is a pattern to this. As I write and delete, write and delete, the itch to write is always there no matter how many times I think I’ve thrown in the towel for good, or decide to use other social media platforms to express myself. I guess coupled with being an attention seeker, I love it when people read my blog. Until today I still thank people who message me about a new post or even a restaurant recommendation I might have made because it shows they took time out of their day to read my writing. And even though I’m not Xiaxue, I wouldn’t let go of this blogging or writing. It’s helped me make friends, it’s even been a bit of a boost for a lot of jobs I’ve applied and gotten. But most of all, writing has always been my catharsis. Whether that catharsis’s name is Real Fantaji, Trojan-Dart, Rinoaskyes, savv-y, secretsunday or samanthawxlow.

Green Louie

Awhile back, I threw enough tantrums for Robert to concede shooting me in this white dress that I was absolute in love with. Due to his deft photography skills, you will now be able to appreciate why I was raving over this dress and not just because it was an incredible find from yet another Asian store. It is so flowy and airy that it makes one feel like a fairy, or a jellyfish underwater. Thus also making it perfect for steamy Sydney summer where all you really want to do is take all your clothes off. A complete contrast to today, which kind of gives you an idea of how awhile back is “awhile back”. I daresay this is the true Emperor’s New Clothes, a dress that looks like something but feels like nothing.

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After a brief brunch at Shenkin Erskineville (not to be confused with Shenkin Newtown, like we did) we began the slow meandering down King St stopping at any location Robert deemed worthy as a background.

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The title of this post comes from the odd fact that most of these photos have a green motif, thanks to the lush foliage at a nearby park and the acrid green of the graffiti wall. This is combined with a slogan that was spray-painted across another brick wall in a photo that’s part of this set but isn’t here in this blog post (hint: check out Rob’s site linked below).

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My one gripe about the world is the lack of make up for your knees. I am quite self-conscious about the battle scars from my childhood wars against various concrete pavements. I became a regular at my primary school’s infirmary not just for accumulating bruises on top of bruises, but for gory flesh wounds that opened up again after yet another fall at the playground. There was even a point in my little child brain where I resolved that I would never run again because running led to blood and pain. Conditioning, there’s your argument. Later in life, I slathered on a fair amount of BB cream on the scars on my leg prior to attending the Year 12 formal of a boys school. This didn’t really do anything, medium-to-light coverage this, that. Michelle Phan’s concealer might cover up permanent markers but can it cover my childhood trauma?

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After two over years of dating I’d graduated from being a camera flunkie and was now able to direct and compose shots on his camera. Either that or the slogan on the wall just resonated with Rob that much that he had to have a photo. After close deliberation and post processing, it was revealed that a total of two of my photos had made the cut. I could’ve cried with joy.

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Dress – Asian shop in Chinatown

Shoes – Prada

Watch – Daniel Wellington

Sunglasses – Chanel

You can see the full set of shots we took today and more of Robert’s photography on his blog.