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In my line of work one of the most frequently asked questions from friends and acquaintances is “How much discount do you get?”  They may not remember my name, they sure don’t have the faintest idea (or intention to learn) of what I do in the company, but they will always remember to raise this question – sometimes – more than once.

I actually don’t mind since I would do exactly the same if I’m in the others’ shoes.  Everyone loves bargains, and if these bargains apply to the brands we carry, you can expect to see mini-riots around our neighborhood.  Depending on the rules of the specific brands, getting the entry tickets is a skillful art itself.  What they have to understand, however, is that staff sales are not to be taken for granted, even for us.

Being a pseudo-ambassador for the brands I’d always keep an eye on items that suit my close friends.  For others, they will just have to trust my taste, particularly on sales that ban all guests, and yes, even my own cellphone.

So you get the drill.  For these so-called maximum security sales, you feed me with your likes, dislikes and budget, and you have to depend on my judgement.  If you don’t trust me, I will not be bothered.  I have no idea what merchandise is available, and if you decide to be a pain in the ass, you will be better off without me.

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And here you go.  Top facts about staff sales.  (These facts will self-destruct in 10 seconds)

  1. Only staff employed by the brands directly have ongoing purchase discounts.  Group staff are invited to off-season sales only with leftover stock.  Discounts of the former is lower.  For the latter, it can range from 80 to 90% off.  Sample sales are often only in model sizes and may be worn / used / photographed so the bargains are always bigger.  Be selective in queuing for sample sales.  The good stuff is always grabbed by the brand staff in advance unless you believe you have a model figure which outshines everyone.
  2. Hierarchy always exists.  The order always goes like this: Brand Senior Management – Brand Management – Brand Everyone Else – Business Unit Everyone – Group Senior Management – Group Management – Group Everyone Else.
  3. What about guests you ask?  Well it depends on who you know in the hierarchy in the above, and it very much depends on the policies of specific brands.
  4. You have no idea what’s on offer in off-season sales, until you set foot in one.  Asking “what’s available” is just dumb.
  5. No pain no gain.  The queues are endlessly long, and the sales are always in office hours.  I have seen one time 4 more queues once you thought you have passed through registration.  It is far from a luxury shopping experience.  If you can’t at least take a day off, don’t ask your friends to bring you in as guest.
  6. Simple because number of guests invited per staff is limited.
  7. Certain maximum-security sales are for staff only.  No cellphones, no messages, no pictures, nothing.  Limited time, locked environment.  And yes, there is a limit of how many items we can buy as well.
  8. No returns, no gift wrapping, no warranty, no repairs, no alteration, nothing (even for watches & jewelry).  Some items are marked and some packaging is removed to avoid reselling.  Buy at your own risk.
  9. Some sales will slash prices further on their second or third day.  Prices, sizes or availability, your decision.  Stop whining, you cannot win all.
  10. It’s a benefit, not a right.  Be grateful.  No complaints.  Remember, brands can always shred their items.  Cash versus prestige, they will always pick the latter.

Happy shopping!

Time and time again when people asked me about the recipe of my daily smoothies, I have always been telling everyone that it’s entirely up to your taste and the season.  There is so much variety when it comes to fruits and vegetables, and there isn’t one formula that fits everyone especially when taste is concerned.   Nevertheless, my daily recipe is listed below merely as a reference to what I like, particularly from my principle of diversity and balance of nutrients. 

If you want to know what this is and why I’m doing it in the first place, check out my previous blog post here.

Blend of Goodness

My daily smoothie recipe (2-Litre size)

One carrot

One tomato

Ginger (ample quantity; unpeeled)

One half cucumber

One apple (unpeeled; unseeded)

One pear (unpeeled; unseeded)

Grapes

One grapefruit (peeled)

One kiwi (peeled)

One half beet root (peeled)

One fourth cabbage; or One half broccoli

Black sesame (a dash)

Flaxseeds (a dash)

Dried wolfberries (a dash)

Water (650cc)

There you have it.  All ingredients are sliced for ease of blending.  Again, I have to stress that this only works with an industrial strength blender (as detailed in my earlier post).  Throw this recipe in the trash if you are using anything else.

Have fun and share with me what works for you!

Blend of Goodness 1

Yes, maybe it’s age.  These days when I travel, particularly when it’s traveling for business, I hardly go for the popular tourist attractions or sites anymore.  I try my hardest to stay away from the crowds, chaos, traffic, lines, and the so-called “must-sees” and “must-dos”.  The setbacks of not having a “I’ve been here too” photo are well compensated by my own itinerary that is catered for my preferences, and pace.

When you travel for business, you usually only get a few hours in the evening, or if you’re lucky, half of a weekend before business commences.  A further half of that time is usually spent on socializing or dining with local friends and colleagues.  With the valuable time that remains, I am not prepared to stand in lines for the tourist attractions, only to mingle with visitors but the locals.

Trying to get a feel of the local culture and pulse is a must.  It can be felt on the streets, in the local eateries, subway trains, neighborhood markets, grocery stores, or even convenience stores around every corner.  Take a step back, suck in the air, the sounds, and the sights on the streets, can be different enough.  The key is maintaining an inquisitive mind at all times, and you will be nicely rewarded.

The reason I mentioned age is because younger folks generally have a lot more energy to fill up their itineraries by visiting a dozen landmarks a day.  Either I am too lazy, or simply I don’t have as much energy as them these days, especially when I see crowds and lines of people everywhere.  Instead, I gave myself much less aggressive targets by taking light strolls on the streets, sitting down for coffee or tea, taking my time at the park, and to find my bearings using guide books and the all so convenient iPhone apps.

The only complaint I have when traveling for business is the absence of dining companions other than work colleagues.  There are times when you just don’t want to talk about business anymore, and you know how inevitable it is even if you are already seeing your colleagues 12 hours a day.   My dining options are largely restricted if I haven’t had the luxury to make advance appointments with my local friends.  This is when local food courts usually come to my rescue.

Last month in Shanghai I discovered a newly opened food court right next to my hotel.  To my surprise, the establishment was invested by Taiwanese and hence the entire mall is inhabited by licensed Taiwanese eateries.

But then again, why would I go for Taiwanese food when I am in Shanghai?

Shanghai Food Court

Haven’t you had the experience finding yourself cursing at the end of reading an article or commentary on the paper, only to find nothing more than a literal description of commonly known facts or events?  I am experiencing that again today.  The newspaper column describes the pitfalls of checking into private hospitals in town, resulting in gigantic hospital bills due to the recommendation of private rooms by the medical staff.  The bills are seldom adequately covered by medical insurance and more and more patients end up having a second heart attack the moment they take a glimpse of the six-figures screaming at them.

So I was captivated by this very real and relevant topic and read on.  The article quickly ended advising patients to watch out for such occurrences.  That’s it.  No advice, no suggestions, and no tips for further information.  What’s the big idea of pointing out some commonly known facts and nothing else?

This is robbery, since I think the columnist is paid a fixed fee for regular posts on the paper, and she needs to keep writing to earn her paycheck.  I know it’s a short column, and I shouldn’t be expecting investigative journalism on a paper that is aimed for a 15-minute consumption during subway rides.  Yet, I still want better standards.

I always think there can be various angles to write.  You can offer help, advice and solutions, or if that is too heavy for the lifestyle and entertainment section, write with a viewpoint, or simply, an emotion.  Let the readers understand you.  Let the readers feel for you.  Not everyone will care about it, but at least you are writing something, or some emotional reaction, that is one of a kind.  If I don’t find material, at least I want to see some authenticity.

The best columnists that I have come across offers sincerity, humor, wit, and the willingness to open up for those who enjoy some emotional stimulation through reading.  That takes some skills and practice, but more than anything, the confidence and also the humility to share one’s true viewpoints.  It’s harder than you think.  Expressing coherently a relatable thought on a short column proves to be a lot more challenging than it seems.  No wonder I’m seeing so many ridiculous columns by pseudo-reporters, instead of the true columnists that I have expected them to be.

Not everyone may agree with me of course, but I’ll admit that I’m looking for passion when I read.  It may not exactly be chicken soup, but at least it can be a small piece of chocolate, for the soul.

Writing

I never understand why we place such a big deal on birthdays.  Yes it’s our special day and yes the time and date we were born probably helps determine what our inborn character traits are, depending on what you believe in terms of horoscopes and animal signs.  But then again, it’s just about a 24-hour period, and we are celebrating the day with millions of others who were also born within this period, all over the world.  I just don’t believe I am cloned with this million others whom I hardly know, or care to celebrate with.

Cat's Wedding

Perhaps, we all need to be at the center of attention for a change.  It certainly feels good when you are asked out for dinners, parties, and in the presence of birthday cakes and presents from friends and relatives.  You are supposed to receive undivided attention, and you feel important and treasured that friends gather around just for you despite their hectic schedules.  You are touched by partners making painstaking plans months in advance, friends moving their flights, dressing up, buying classy or tacky gifts, and perhaps the abundance of alcohol and food in fancy restaurants and clubs.  Better yet, you feel pampered being treated a home-cooked meal from someone who add love and kisses as the secret ingredient.

Sounds a bit cliché yet?  Well, this is happening with someone everyday, and chances are, you get invited to such celebrations almost every week, on average, whether you are truly excited about it or not.

No, in case you are wondering, I have been holding this belief even when I was much younger.

So instead of celebrating the same day over and over again, why don’t we be more milestone specific?  There has to be at least one thing worth advertising and celebrating for in a year.  It will be easier to plan themed parties that way, let alone gift ideas.  Aren’t you tired with all the “it’s better to be over the hill than buried under it” theme year after year?

Birthday

It’s that time of the year again. The year when the world is supposed to end, and the day when billions of population around the globe celebrate for its passing in anticipation of seemingly better fortune, solely by the stroke of midnight. No matter how skeptic I am over the significance of this symbolic date, I’ve decided that this is a good time for me to wrap up all the things that I am thankful for in the past year.  No, this list will go beyond the obvious blessings in life like love, health, family, friendships and fortune, since the so-called little things, still count.

Thankful

  1. I’m thankful for the 2 cases of champagne I have stocked up at home.  If the world is indeed ending, I’d be living on my Ruinart, Krug and Dom Perignon like there is no tomorrow – literally.  Otherwise, they will be handy for those who are fortunate enough to be my house guests for whatever excuse one needs.  The fact of the matter is, one needs no excuses to get drunk.  Or at least, happily drunk.
  2. I’m thankful for the 7 staff sales in the last 3 months, for spending tens of thousands of my hard-earned cash on Dior Homme, Kenzo, Celine, Marc Jacobs etc..  I guess my employer at LVMH has the last laugh, as always.
  3. I’m thankful for my airline miles.  Because of spending patterns evidenced by point 2 above, my miles accrued have gotten me to Paris, Budapest, Singapore and Taipei repeated times within the year.  And also as per point 2 above, I’m sure year 2013 will be another year for me to hop on more weekend getaway excursions.  Who isn’t thankful for award travel?
  4. I’m thankful for the internet.  Yes I know it’s a cliché, but my life will almost come to a complete halt without it.  All of my communications, correspondences, work, entertainment, and finances revolve around the internet.  I am thankful for it, but I’m also in awe of its necessity and overreaching power.  I guess I should be rather fearful instead.
  5. I’m thankful for my daily fruit smoothies.  Yes I know.  Those of you who know me well must be rolling your eyes big time.  For that, I won’t preach to the choir twice.
  6. I’m thankful for my THANN aromatherapy oils, especially for those nights when I’m desperately in need of soothing comforts in my own home.
  7. I’m thankful for my huge King’s sized bed, for there is nothing better than cuddling under my 850-thread count Thai silk duvet, and a smile on my face every time I open my eyes.

Do I wish for world peace, human rights and a green environment?  Sure I do.  But for this last day of 2012, allow me to be a tiny bit self-centered, for once.

Charming

This colloquial phrase is widely used, perhaps not always in the most flattering way.  You charm someone’s socks off in getting them to do things your way, or you are in need of a favor.  If you successfully charmed someone in a date or hanging out with someone over time, congratulations for a job well done.

That brings to the obvious question which has been bugging me for some time.  What is charming?  I’m told it clearly isn’t just about outlook and appearances, but having a magnetic and chiseled face does not hurt (as always).  It’s the personality, the aura, the demeanor, and most importantly, the substance.  Yes, these are all very open and vague descriptions, but as I’m told, that is exactly why a charming person is so not easy to find.

I’m sure there is no one definition, as charming means different things to different people.  I have come across an article online which lists out the 11 ways to be charming.  Obviously, I’m sure there are hundreds more ideas or criteria in your own minds, but it never hurts to get inspired by the list, before making your own conclusion.

How To Be Charming

  1. Be genuinely interested in people.
  2. Remember people’s names when you meet them for the first time.
  3. Assume rapport
  4. Smile with your eyes
  5. Take into account topics that interest those around you, even if you’re not so keen on them
  6. Control your tone of voice
  7. Watch the way you phrase things
  8. Issue compliments generously; this especially raises others’ self esteem
  9. Be gracious in accepting compliments
  10. Praise others instead of gossiping
  11. Sometimes being charming is about simply being a good listener

For the full narrative including additional tips, check out this link.

One word of advice however, when you decide to charm someone else’s socks off, be prepared of the consequences (provided you have done a good job of it).  That could be the subject of another blog post in the making.

I have no idea whether it’s because we really have nothing else to say in front of our friends and relatives.  After all we have already shared on Facebook over what marvellous life we have, the trips we have gone on and the mouth-watering food we have inhaled over the weeks.  If you think that we can then finally get down to what’s at stake, and what’s real – our lives, our ups and downs, our struggles and revelations when we finally got time to sit down with our best friends and family, you are wrong.

We are multi-tasking even when we have company.  Our conversations are constantly interrupted by instant messages, texts and up to the minute Facebook uploads and downloads, as well as tweets and weibo.  It feels that everyone else in the virtual world is more important than our companions at hand.  Oh yes, they would understand, since they are doing exactly the same in their virtual friend sphere, at the same time.

And for the few who are not so much into the latest digital gizmos, or the unthinkable catastrophe where your gadgets are either out of power or network coverage, not to worry.  If physical human interaction cannot be avoided, there is always our most loyal friend to the rescue, television sets.

There is nothing more tacky in my opinion than large screen LCD hanging television panels in restaurants in town, and they can be as densely installed as ceiling lights.  I hate it when it’s now considered a must-have item on the restaurant fixture list.  Not only are they in no way aesthetically pleasing, these 60 inches panels just suck the life out of everyone , turning them into chewing zombies.

Call me old-fashioned.   If you want to catch a TV show, stay home for it, or record it for private viewing later.  Please don’t strip away the last bit of enjoyment of actually sitting down for dinner, over a nice long chat.  For me, that latter eye-to-eye interaction is actually what makes a meal memorable.

If it’s up to me, I would really pick some place without the floating TV sets.  Maybe I’m really getting old.

Do I have reasons loving dim sum?  Sure I do.  Good reasons?  Yes.  How many reasons do I need?  None.  Good food is always a blessing, and the fact that we have the health and luxury to indulge ourselves, at least occasionally, in mouth-watering cuisines, needs absolutely no rationalization.  Yet then and again, sometimes I do need a reminder or two to reaffirm my faith for these little drops of heaven.

  1. It’s the ultimate culinary art.  Even if you are a fabulous cook you will seldom find yourself making dim sum at home.  Seldom has there been so much preparation work involved with such tiny bite-sized treats.  It involves the freshest ingredients and as time evolves also the most expensive ones.  The chopping, dicing, steaming, baking, frying and the precise timing makes attempting dim sum at home a nightmare.  There is so much depth to a good piece of dim sum.  If you are not a fan yet, chances are they weren’t prepared by the master chefs with heart.  Don’t allow yourself to be stripped of your eternal right of culinary orgasm.
  2. It’s the ultimate time-waster.  Aside from those run-of-the-mill business lunches when you find yourself fighting for the last piece of siu mai with your colleagues, or when you are so exhausted entertaining your clients by putting the emphasis in difficulties to make a booking over actual qualities of food, it’s life’s biggest blessing when you find yourself sitting in a place for 2 hours enjoying little portions of dim sum in the middle of the day.  Dim sum is not meant for rush eating.  Chinese tea is not to be consumed like coke and you don’t dunk 3 pieces of dim sum into your mouth like you chow on a burger that is 8 inches tall.  If you get a window table on a weekday, you get to feel sorry over the pedestrians scrambling for work on the streets.  On the weekend, you get to be thankful that you haven’t slept through most of the day as you still get to enjoy a sumptuous brunch while enjoying the sun and breeze.
  3. It means you still have friends.  Dim sum is not meant to be consumed alone, though there are lots of seniors who enjoy having a light breakfast after their early morning stroll or Tai-Chi, alone.  Taking that aside, dim sum is better shared with the people you love.  If you have a steady group of close friends whom you feel comfortable to invite to your dim sum gatherings while gossiping, you have done something right in your life.
  4. It’s for the undecided.  I sometimes have a phobia making menu decisions.  I always find the entrees picked by my companions far better than the ones I’ve picked for myself.  With dim sum, all my troubles are gone.  Although there can still easily be 50 or 60 choices on the menu, I can still have about 6-9 chances to make something right.  Yes I do love varieties in sample sizes, and dim sum makes it legitimate for greedy people like myself.  Even if I’ve over ordered, I can still easily pack it up to go.
  5. It’s perfect for people watching.  No it’s not just like any other restaurant.  Chinese restaurants have brighter lighting and closer table proximity in general, and you’ll be amazed by the abundance of personalities from all walks of life.  If you want to feel the pulse of the city, head to a Chinese restaurant during dim sum hours.  You will be bombarded by gossips, opinions and never-ending drama.  Enjoy.
  6. It’s available in every street corner.  If you are in Hong Kong, you will find yourself surrounded by dim sum restaurants virtually anywhere.  When hunger strikes, and sometimes in the middle of the night after a few rounds of drinks, the ultimate comfort food here may not only be greasy pizzas, hot dogs or kebab, but glorious bamboo steamers of your favorite shrimp dumplings, beef balls and spring rolls.  Its popularity has since made its way into around the clock convenience stores.  Of course, the authenticity and quality of such remains questionable.  Nevertheless, it’s the city’s ultimate comfort food, in every definition.
  7. It’s the no-brainer hotspot to entertain foreigners.  If you want to scare your dear friends from abroad, order chicken feet, stinky tofu or roasted pigeon and video tape their reaction.  If you want to scare yourself, be amazed to see your dear friends drown everything from shrimp dumplings and siu mai into soy sauce before the very first bite.  A dim sum lunch is in no shortage of entertainment for either sides.
  8. It’s the ultimate taste test.  If the restaurant serves fantastic dim sum in the day, you should be assured of its quality and consistency all around.  If you ain’t sure whether that’s a place good enough for your clients or your mother-in-law, try their dim sum and you can tell.  This golden rule has never failed me so far.
  9. It’s piping hot.  For Chinese, temperature is almost everything.  It warms our body.  It’s soothing, and it increases our metabolism.  Aside from selected desserts, most dim sum comes out steaming hot.  Parents always use the excuse to remind kids to eat quickly because “it’s getting cold”.  I am guilty of such even with my own friends.  Frankly it does taste a lot better when you consume it right out of the steamer/oven.  Problem is, you may find yourself finish swallowing everything in less than half an hour.  In that case, you might not get to experience reason #2 above.
  10. It’s affordable.  I know.  There are plenty of places where you can break the bank by ordering siu mai with abalone, or shark fin dumplings (only if you are not an environmentalist).  The truth is, there are tons of places where you can find affordable dim sum at decent quality.  What you sacrifice for, most likely, is the ambience of the place and service from the wait staff.  Rental is exorbitant here in Hong Kong, and I don’t blame them for extremely tight spaces or expected high turnaround of patrons.  As long as your expectations are set in determining what you are in the mood for the day, you shouldn’t get a heart attack seeing the bill.  The latter can still happen in plenty of western and japanese places in town, unfortunately.

So, who cares to join me for some mouth-watering dim sum?

What are the worst lines you can hear from a doctor when you are partially anesthetized in the surgery room?

“Oh oh…”

“What is that?”

“Quick, quick, pass me the XXX (some precision surgical tools)!”

“I can’t see…”

“Can you call Doctor XXX in?  Tell him it’s urgent.”

“Where the hell is my cigarette?”

“Where is the electricity?”

“Houston, we have a problem.”

I went for my first dental implants yesterday with a dental surgeon from a referral.  As part of my obsessive character that’s known as a control freak,  I had done plenty of research over the past few days about all there is to dental implants.  At the clinic, I still went through the details of the solution, procedures and all the questions I had gathered from my research, with the surgeon, extensively.  All of a sudden I felt like I was doing a feature interview on TV news, and I constructed my questions logically, using analogies to provoke interests.  It didn’t take a surgeon to figure that I was nervous.  Very nervous.

I’m sure I’m not the only one.  The moment you feel you are completely helpless and at the mercy of someone you barely know is a daunting reality.  It’s not my first time having surgery, but last time there was no time for me to do any thinking.  It was an emergency operation, and the doctors unanimously told me there was only one solution.  One route, one way, and it had to be there and then, right away.  In about 3 hours, I was wheeled into the surgery room.  I didn’t even have time to panic or feel anything.  The first things I did were to call my family, my insurance agent, text my office and cancelled my travel bookings.  With these as my last words, I woke up a few hours later with a status report available for me.

This time, though much less complicated or life threatening, there could be multiple routes toward a destination.  There could be risks, complications, what-if scenarios, and a bunch of uncertainties, even after I have done all the research and all the detailed explanations provided by my surgeon prior to the procedure.

Worst yet, is the partial anesthesia part.  You don’t feel pain (thank goodness), but you are wildly aware of what’s going on around you.  I couldn’t see anything because my face and eyes are covered, but I could hear every sentence, instruction and finding of the surgeon along with his helpful assistants.

“Huh… Where are the tooth roots?”

What’s happening?  I don’t like questions.  Questions mean uncertainty, and uncertainty means this highly trained surgeon doesn’t know what to do.  That’s not good.

“There isn’t even bone graft.  Get me bone graft!”  Then the assistant repeated the request through what I imagined to be an intercom system.

Bone graft.  I think I remember reading about it.  The surgeon didn’t prepare me for this in our pre-surgery discussion.  Wait, my research tells me that replacement bone graft is generally taken from the patient’s other body parts!  Is he going to saw into my jawbone or somewhere for such?  Help!

What kills your spirit is always the fear, agony, pain, late nights tossing and turning, financial burden etc., much more so than the illness or physical conditions you are actually facing.  And I’m known to be a paranoid in areas that are out of my personal control.  Hearing such questions or orders sure doesn’t help in my immobilized but conscious state.

Luckily, the operation was over in less than 40 minutes, with the surgeon reporting that the procedure was completed successfully with no complications, and subsequent steps to be continued in the next few months.  He also told me he implanted cow’s bone graft on one of my implants.  Don’t be fooled by thinking it’s something you use to make delicious beef soup.  This bone graft is one pricey item that is life-saving.  I have never been a big fan of beef or steaks, and maybe that’s how they thank me.

On top of all the other wonders in life, I now have a new respect for cows.  “Moo…..”

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