Monthly Archives: January 2016

I got a Lolita makeover in Harajuku, Tokyo

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Inside the “Alice in Wonderland” book at Maison de Julietta in Harajuku, Tokyo. SCREAMfmLondon

If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to be an adorable porcelain doll, Maison de Julietta in Harajuku, Tokyo has a solution for you.

Maison de Julietta is a small shop on the bottom floor of the LaForet Department Store that offers guests a “Harajuku Lolita Experience.” The experience includes a head-to-toe makeover featuring Lolita clothing, hair and makeup, followed by a professional photoshoot in the “Alice in Wonderland”-themed photo studio.

Maison de Julietta’s official spokesmodel is Misako Aoki. Misako is a well-known Lolita model and a government-appointed Japanese Kawaii Ambassador, which, yes, is a thing. So, you know that this shop is pretty legit.

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Lolita fashion at Maison de Julietta. SCREAMfmLondon

LaForet is filled with impressive and trendy boutiques selling all the latest fashion and accessories — from Lolita styles and beyond. The Maison de Julietta boutique is fully stocked with the biggest, most deluxe Lolita brands there are: Metamorphose, Angelic Pretty, Alice and the Pirates. My Lolita outfit was comprised mostly of pieces from Baby, The Stars Shine Bright — a popular brand that typically retails around $300-500 for just one jumper skirt.

The base price for a Lolita experience is 9,980 JPY (about $84), but there is an additional charge for adding a wig (1,500 JPY), false eyelashes (500 JPY) or an undershirt (200 JPY). Included in the package are three professional photographs from your shoot — any additional copies you want to save will cost 1,000 JPY each.

I recommend going all out with the wig and the eyelashes because YOLO, when in Rome, etc. Once you make your selections, the adventure begins.

“Do you know ‘kawaii’? You’re going to be hearing it a lot today.”

“First, you’re going to pick out a dress!” said one staff member, gesturing toward the impressive rack of clothing in one corner of the shop.

“Are you going to help me?” I asked weakly. I didn’t know the first thing about putting together a coordinate. I didn’t really know anything about Lolita in general, aside from the fact that it looked cute and fun.

I also didn’t feel particularly confident that I was going to be able to squeeze my entire self into these delicate, cutesy outfits. I expressed this concern, and she waved me off, assuring me that the clothes would fit and, if not, they just wouldn’t zip it up all the way and would take photos from the other side. I was lowkey discouraged by that prospect: it didn’t seem very Lolita to be walking around with your zipper hanging open, but what can you do?

I selected a bouncy pink dress with lots of lace detailing and an undershirt with delicate bell sleeves. (“All the foreigners pick this dress!” the staff member told me.) She helped me find matching glitter socks and chunky pink heels, and then sent me to change.

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(✿◠‿◠). SCREAMfmLondon

To my surprise, the dress fit! It was a Harajuku miracle. But I cannot say the same for the undershirt, which would not at all button over my chest. However, the jumper ends up covering everything but the sleeves, so it didn’t really matter. Add several layers of petticoats, fluff, and you’re all set.

Finally, I emerged! They told me I was wearing it wrong, so I slunk back to the changing room to fix it. Finally, I reemerged!

The next step is hair and makeup. The artist worked her magic on me with various blushes, glosses and, of course, the false lashes. I wish I had been paying more attention to her process, because this was the best my makeup has ever looked in my entire life.

After makeup, I picked out a dark, curly wig. I was very wary of this step, but they reassured me that I could take it off if I felt weird. And I definitely did feel weird: I laughed hysterically at how goofy I looked when I first put it on. But once it was styled into cute pigtails and topped with a pink bonnet, I had started to feel comfortable in my new skin.

I sat in the makeup chair and took more selfies in a few minutes than I had in the past few years.

“I thought you said it looked weird,” said one staff member, checking in on me after a while.

“Yeah, I did. But now I’m feeling it.”

“Yeah, but now I’m feeling it.”

Eventually, it was time for the grand finale: the professional photo shoot. The photographer was very skilled and had his shoots down to a science. He told me exactly where to stand, how to pose, and what props to hold. It put me at ease since I felt extremely awkward the entire time.

Honestly, I was having the time of my life just standing around wearing the outfit. I don’t particularly enjoy being photographed, but a Lolita’s gotta do what a Lolita’s gotta do.

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(ノ◕ヮ◕)ノ*:・゚✧. SCREAMfmLondon

I was perfectly alright with only getting to keep three photos from the shoot. I knew that if we took 100 photos, I’d probably only like three of them.

And guess what! I only liked two of them. My selfies turned out way better. In all the professional photos, I have this highly skeptical look on my face; you can almost hear me asking, “Are you sure this is going to look cute…?” through the lens.

When the shoot was finished, I was very reluctant to change back into my street clothes and undo the transformation. I was amazed at how cute and comfortable I felt in the Lolita look. I wanted to wear it all day, and the next day, and every day after that.

Maison de Julietta’s Lolita experience was the most fun I had in Japan. The staff was sweet and helpful (you even get a little Lolita sugar cookie on your way out the door!), the clothes were darling, and the whole experience was a blast. I highly recommend this to anyone who wants a unique taste of Japanese culture.

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(◡‿◡✿). SCREAMfmLondon

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The best street food in Bangkok, Thailand

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A street vendor cooks up some tasty sausages in a stall on the street in Bangkok. SCREAMfmLondon

One of the biggest joys of visiting Thailand’s capital is trying some of the world-famous Bangkok street food. Every neighborhood in the city smells delicious because there is always someone cooking around each corner. From heavily-trafficked tourist areas to quiet residential neighborhoods, Bangkok certainly serves up some exquisite street food. Here are a few of my favorites:

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This Thai coconut ice cream is divine. It’s even better served inside a halved coconut, topped with peanuts and drizzled with coconut milk. SCREAMfmLondon

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This omelette is incredible. It’s stuffed with bean sprouts and a ton of seafood: shrimp, calamari, etc. It’s sprinkled with pepper and served with sweet and sour dipping sauce. SCREAMfmLondon

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There is so much fresh fruit for sale in Bangkok! Fresh fruit juice is sold for about 50 cents a bottle every few feet, and gigantic fruit smoothies are also abundantly available. SCREAMfmLondon

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These flavorful sausages are served on a bed of greens with a few hot peppers on the side. SCREAMfmLondon

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If only a photograph could capture how amazing this smells. It lured me in with the sweet aroma of vanilla cake wafting through the air. It’s a freshly-made pancake stuffed with banana and covered with sweet syrup. Phenomenal. SCREAMfmLondon

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Large portions of delicious roast chicken were sold for only 50 cents and were so satisfying. SCREAMfmLondon

Capsule drama reviews: The Secret Message, The Lover, etc.

‘The Secret Message’
Starring:
Choi Seung-hyun, Juri Ueno and Yoo In-na
Genre: Romance, Drama
Episodes: 18

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Photo courtesy of CJ E&M and Amuse, Inc.

Like “EXO Lives Next Door,” “The Secret Message” is a quick web series comprised of short episodes that are each only 10-20 minutes long, which is such a wonderful format. Unlike “EXO Lives Next Door,” “The Secret Message” is pretty sophisticated, well-written and well-executed. Sorry about it.

The show takes place half in Korea and half in Japan. Juri Ueno plays Haruka, a Japanese woman who is staying with a friend in South Korea, trying to deal with the end of her first romantic relationship. T.O.P plays Woo-hyun, a Korean filmmaker working in Japan on a documentary about love who is, himself, still hurt from a recent breakup. When Woo-hyun accidentally texts Haruka’s phone number, the two begin communicating despite the distance and language barrier between them.

The cinematography and scenery showing off the beauty of both Korea and Japan adds a really nice touch to “The Secret Message.” And, although the show tries to take the subject of moving on from a lost love pretty seriously, T.O.P’s goofy personality, interspersed jokes and references to Big Bang keep it cute and entertaining. But “The Secret Message” is kind of a big exercise in product placement. The show originally aired on Line TV and is clearly sponsored by the Line messaging app — quite a lot of the communication takes place through the app, and the trademark Line characters appear throughout. That being said, “The Secret Message” totally makes me want to download Line. I mean, if there’s a possibility T.O.P will accidentally text you and fall in love despite the odds… Well played, Line.

‘Twenty’
Release Date:
March 25, 2015
Director: Lee Byeong-heon
Starring: Kim Woo-bin, Lee Junho and Kang Ha-neul
Genre: Comedy
Rating: Not Rated

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Photo courtesy of Next Entertainment World.

I got quite a kick out of “Twenty.” This is a raunchy coming-of-age sex comedy/buddy movie — just like “Superbad,” only funnier and with better-looking actors.

The story follows three best friends who have just turned 20 and are at a crossroads in their lives. Chi-ho (Kim Woo-bin) is the spoiled rich boy whose only aspiration is to have sex with as many women as possible. Dong-woo (Lee Junho from the idol group 2PM) dreams of being a comic book illustrator, but has work part time jobs instead of attending art school after his family’s bankruptcy. Kung-jae (Kang Ha-neul) is a preppy college student who falls in love with a smart upperclassman in the stock market club.

“Twenty” is awfully entertaining. Each of the lead characters is charismatic in his own way, and each individual plot arc is interesting. Although “Twenty” is decidedly a comedy, there are some well-done dramatic moments that add a lot of depth to the story. Even the cinematography is interesting — the film features some well-placed surrealism (the group of friends arriving at a literal crossroads in the dirt) and a solid soundtrack to enhance key scenes. It’s a bawdy, laugh-out-loud funny movie (seriously, it is), but it’s also slightly tragic. Basically, “Twenty” is a great movie that perfectly toes the line between soul-searching melodrama and dudes making dick jokes.

‘Oh My Ghostess’ (aka ‘Oh My Ghost’)
Starring: Park Bo-young, Kim Seul-gie and Jo Jung-suk
Genre: Drama, Comedy, Romance
Episodes: 16

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Photo courtesy of tvN.

“Oh My Ghostess” is a fun show to watch — it’s a kind of sexy romantic-comedy that slowly turns into a murder mystery. With solid acting from all of the cast members, this show just gets more exciting to watch as it progresses. It’s, at times, funny and dark with an action-packed conclusion led by the show’s cool group of heroines.

Shin Soon-ae (Kim Seul-gie) is a ghost who is unable to cross over until she resolves her grudge: that she died a virgin. Unfortunately, in order to resolve her grudge, she has to find and seduce a “man of vitality” who is able to withstand sex with a ghost without dying (she learns this the hard way). Na Bong-sun (Park Bo-young) is a meek assistant chef whose shaman grandmother enables her to see ghosts, making her body the perfect vessel for opportunistic spirits. And Kang Sun-woo (Jo Jong-suk), the handsome celebrity chef who employs Bong-sun, seems to be full of vitality, if you know what I mean.

“Oh My Ghostess” is very amusing, and Park Bo-young especially does an excellent job portraying both shy Bong-sun and gregarious, sexually liberated Bong-sun-as-possessed-by-Soon-ae. The budding romance is cute, and the relationship between Bong-sun and her coworkers at the restaurant is sweet. However, the show really gets interesting when Soon-ae’s memories of her life begin returning and she starts to question the suspicious circumstances of her death.

‘The Lover’
Starring:
Oh Jung-se, Ryu Hyun-kyung and Jung Joon-young
Genre: Romance, Comedy
Episodes: 12

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Takuya Terada and Lee Jae-joon star in “The Lover.” Photo courtesy of Mnet.

“The Lover” is kind of a stupid show, but I just couldn’t stop watching it once I started. Although it starts out highly ridiculously (there are entire long episodes hinged solely on double entendres, innuendos and sex jokes), the characters become relatable and, suddenly, the plot of “The Lover” seems very serious. I even cried a little during the last episode!

The show follows four different couples in the same apartment building who are — scandalously — living together before marriage. The primary focus is on Oh Do-si (Oh Jung-se) and Ryu Doo-ri (Ryu Hyun-kyung), who are both in their 30s and have lived together for two years. In the next apartment over lives Ji-nyeo (Choi Yeo-jin) and her cute guitarist boyfriend Young-joon (Jung Joon-young), who is 12 years her junior. On the seventh floor lives Joon-jae (Lee Jae-joon), a quiet homebody who is quickly falling in love with his Japanese roommate Takuya (Takuya Terada from Cross Gene). They get very little screen time, unfortunately, but their story arc is the most tense and compelling. And, finally, on the fifth floor lives Hwan-jong (Park Jong-hwan) and Seol-eun (Ha Eun-seol), an engaged couple who just moved in together.

Some of the couples are more entertaining than others: Ji-nyeo and Young-joon are adorable, hilarious and touching, while Hwan-jong and Seol-eun are awkward and lack chemistry. “The Lover” is definitely worth watching, though, for its amusing, in-your-face portrayal of cohabitation, sex and love in Korea (without marriage!), and its focus on more unconventional romantic pairings. Plus, it has a pretty sufficiently satisfying ending for everyone. “The Lover” even presents the happiest ending I’ve seen for gay characters in a k-drama so far! I’ll take it.

Guide to: Viking Nature Resort on Koh Phi Phi

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The Viking Nature Resort on Koh Phi Phi, Thailand. SCREAMfmLondon

I drank a piña colada. I rocked gently in a hammock, enjoying the late-night sea breeze. I dug my toes into the sand and gawked at a school of striped fish swimming between rocks. I watched crabs scuttling out of the waves. I slept on a bamboo bed in a chic treehouse-style resort. I only inhaled a little bit of salt water. It was the perfect tropical getaway thanks to the Viking Nature Resort on Koh Phi Phi in Thailand.

The Phi Phi Islands are located to the west of the Thai mainland just before you reach the large, well-known island of Phuket. Koh Phi Phi Don is the most famous and most populated, although Koh Phi Phi Leh has also gained notoriety (the 2000 Leonardo DiCaprio movie “The Beach” was filmed there, and everyone you meet will mention this a million times).

To get there, I took a ferry ride from Phuket that entertained us with “Mr. Bean” reruns for the entire three-hour journey. The ferry makes a few stops on the Phi Phi Islands, but I got off at Tonsai Bay, where Viking Nature Resort had a longtail boat waiting for me.

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Look at the color of that water! SCREAMfmLondon

We jetted off across the most gorgeous, turquoise water I’ve ever seen. After spending so many years seeing unappetizing mustard-colored foam wash up on Venice Beach, I didn’t realize the ocean could still be this beautiful. The water at Koh Phi Phi Don is clear and calm, surrounded by huge limestone cliffs covered in thick greenery.

Slowly, the Viking Nature Resort materialized out of the foliage. It’s also beautiful: there is a rustic wooden swing out front, and someone was getting a massage underneath some palm fronds. No sooner had I hopped off the boat into the perfectly temperate water than I had a jar of sweet tea placed in my hand. While I waited for my room, I sampled the sweet and sour fried fish (delicious!) and cocktails (delicious!) from the onsite restaurant. I splashed around in the water on the secluded beach out front and wondered how I’d gotten lucky enough to experience this.

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I never want to leave this beach. SCREAMfmLondon

Finally, I was led to my room. I stayed in Makmai 3C, one of two upstairs rooms in the luxurious Makmai villa. The room is a brisk walk from the lobby and restaurant that involves steep inclines, dirt paths, dodging tree roots and a formidable flight of stairs up to the actual treehouse — but the payoff is incredible!

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This is the life. SCREAMfmLondon

There is a large wooden balcony equipped with a personal hammock, several sets of bamboo tables and chairs, and a fabulous view of the ocean through the trees. The interior was equally impressive: rustic wood and bamboo furniture, high ceilings, a beaded shell curtain in the doorway, a spacious bed, a shower that I wish I had known produced salt water before I stuck my entire face into it.

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My room: Makmai 3C at the Viking Nature Resort on Koh Phi Phi. SCREAMfmLondon

The room came with complementary breakfast and great service from all members of the staff. One night’s stay in the Makmai room was 2,800 THB, which is roughly $77. Pretty wildly expensive by Thailand’s standards, but an incredible deal for the lavish experience.

I could have spent weeks basking in the luxury of the Viking Nature Resort, and I hope I’ll get the chance to go back.

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Breakfast on the beach on Koh Phi Phi. SCREAMfmLondon