Author Archives: julietours

Clip Markers

As a person whose travel guides bristle with mini post-its marking the really interesting pages, I was thrilled to spot this very efficient clip.

Ready loaded with slim sticky strips just the right size for the job, it attaches firmly to the cover of your book or magazine, so you need never put said book down to hunt around for your markers again.

I found it in Tokyu Hands, in a variety of colours, for less than $8, and promptly snapped it up. Best of all, it comes with a refill set I am sure to be needing soon.


Golden Beauty

Category : Beauty

Gold was being used in Chinese medicine more than 4000 thousand years ago, and in India forms part of longstanding Ayurvedic treatments designed to rejuvenate older people. In the early part of last century, before more ‘modern’ scientific drugs were developed, gold was even used to treat tuberculosis, rheumatism and syphilis.

Surprisingly, it also appears to have many properties which are very useful in beauty treatments, and there are increasing numbers of (very expensive) products out there literally sparkling with promise. I was not sure how far to believe the claims I was reading, but there does seem to be a lot of reputable research around.

So, those little flakes of 24 carat in your face cream may well be worth the price. Because it seems that gold not only has antiseptic, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, it boosts circulation and helps the absorption of other skincare ingredients. Add to this its ability to help firm the skin, reduce fine lines and wrinkles, and thus delay the aging process, and you have what amounts to magic in a pot.

I found this trial set, from Hakuichi, Japan, at Haneda airport, and thought it would be a fine way to spend up my remaining yen. The sample sizes were also very convenient for my next trip, and in fact lasted for literally weeks afterwards, which was a nice surprise.

All the products contained a liberal sprinkling of golden flecks, although I soon discovered that if I used a cotton pad to apply them, the gold stuck to the cotton and did not go on my face. Using my fingers got around this problem very well.

The highlight of the set was the folder of gold leaf sheets, to be applied to the face. The trick is apparently to apply serum first, then – using the clean end of the paper slip so that your fingers do not touch the gold leaf – apply the gold to your face. After about 10 minutes, you can then apply a little more serum and massage the gold leaf into your skin.

I was amazed to see that the gold leaf really did seem to vanish into my skin, because I was fully expecting it to be crumbling off into the sink and sticking to my fingertips. Whether just a couple of applications has any noticeable effect remains to be seen, certainly nobody was commenting on my new sparkle afterward, but I enjoyed this range very much and – if the normal size wasn’t so expensive – would consider buying it again.


Dessert Pizza

This seems to be a ‘thing’ right now, which is interesting. I mean, why not serve a pizza with sweet toppings as opposed to savoury? It’s like saying you can only eat bread with the likes of ham and cheese, which would thoroughly disappoint the jam on toast eaters in my family.

Having decided this was a good idea, I have been spoiled for choice in sweet pizzas to sample. Clearly, I bypassed the durian version (not being entirely certain you could class any durian as sweet…) but was more than happy with the various concoctions of fruit and chocolate that I tried.

In Singapore, you get what you are given, and this seems to mean orange with chocolate or Nutella with banana, both excellent combinations.

At Max Brenner’s Chocolate Bar in Tokyo, however, it was very exciting to be able to create one of a kind pizza slices from a vast range of options. These start with the base, which you can get coated with milk, dark or white chocolate, or milk or strawberry cream cheese. Add marshmallows, sliced fruit, candies, cookie pieces and all sorts of sprinkles, top it with ice cream if you like, and tuck in!

In retrospect, this all sounds to be completely over the top, but after a hard afternoon shopping in Harajuku, it was a delicious and energy boosting treat. Let’s hope this particular idea is one that catches on!


Cigarette Incense

It was a real puzzle working out what these strange little sticks were when I saw them in Hanoi airport – they looked very intriguing packed into bottles and arranged in gift boxes. It took the combined efforts of three shop assistants and some entertaining sign language before I got the picture, so they must have been a bit disappointed when I decided not to buy…

But it is a fascinating concept, and I’d be interested to hear from someone who has bought them to discover if they really do work as advertised.

Essentially, the sticks are tiny slivers of agar wood, which is sometimes called oud and is used in the production of fantastically expensive perfumes in the Middle East. And not just any bits of wood, but heartwood from certain species of the aquilaria tree which has been transformed by mould into a dark, dense resin-like substance which contains a crucially important aromatic chemical compound.

What you do is (using a special cigarette needle if you have one) insert an agar wood stick into the centre of your cigarette then smoke as normal. The effects are apparently fairly special: the perfume from the burning wood covers the normal smell of smoke, making things more pleasant for both the smoker and other people nearby, it also acts as a breath freshener. Not to mention that it apparently reduces nicotine damage and provides some sort of detox for the whole body – especially in the case of wine and beer drinkers. In fact, it is touted as improving male health in general.

I did manage to track down some information online once I was home, and discovered that you don’t have to put these in your cigarette and smoke them to reap the benefits. Apparently some of the same benefits can be gained by simply burning the sticks as you would incense, or making them into tea. Maybe I should have bought some after all…


‘Sweet Meat’ Soup

Category : Food

This is a euphemism. It sounds a great deal better than ‘dog meat’ soup, although there is nothing sweet about it.

People tend to have strong reactions when it comes to the idea of eating ‘pets’. Let me say right away that I don’t really see the difference between eating any sort of animal. I have kept and loved rabbits, guinea pigs and horses, yet have happily eaten the meat of all three when I had the opportunity. The sort of dog that crops up on Asian menus is not, incidentally, the sort you keep as a pet – these dogs are generally bred for their meat in the same way as chickens or cows.

In many places, like Vietnam, dog meat is a delicacy which is expensive and tricky to track down. In North Korea, where the soup is offered at only 5 euros a bowl, it proved hard to refuse the chance to try a brand new culinary experience.

So did I like it? The straight answer is no. It arrived at the table looking murky and unappealing, like particularly dirty dishwater, and some fishing about was required to find the slightly purplish strands of meat at the bottom of the bowl. Then it did not really taste of much, even when I scooped in the entire accompanying saucer of chili paste. My main objection, however, was the texture. This was like too-soft lamb which came apart in my mouth in a way I really did not care for.

I could not finish this, and will not be ordering dog meat soup again. If anyone offers me something slightly different, however, like maybe roasted dog, well, who knows….


Cow’s Urine

Who knew it was possible to buy this in the supermarket? I have seen (and bought) cow dung cakes in India, but never saw this particular product on the supermarket shelves until a recent visit to Malaysia. It must be said that I was there for the Thaipusam festival, and it is possible this product was available only for the duration, but still.

Research reveals that there are all sorts of fascinating uses for cow’s urine, particularly in medicine, where it is renamed ‘gomutra’ – check the ingredients labels on your Ayurvedic medicine bottles now(!) – and said to be useful in the treatment of leprosy, colic, bloating, epilepsy, diabetes and even cancer.

Mind you, when I offered to send my bottle to a friend in the UK, she said she would rather live with her diabetes than try this…

The most widespread use of cow’s urine is for religious purposes, as a spiritual cleanser when sprinkled in holy places. Scientists in India have also apparently determined that it is a bio enhancer, which means it can boost the activity of antibiotic and antifungal agents. It is even possible, in certain places, to buy it as a health drink, where it is mixed with herbs and flavoured with citrus fruits, or else incorporated into soaps and shampoos. This last use is actually perfectly feasible, as urine was always the main cleansing ingredient employed in ancient Roman laundries.

The most likely use for my bottle, however, seems to be as a fertiliser and bio pesticide for the pot plants clinging to survival on my balcony. If it kills them stone dead, I will let you know!


Bee Larvae

Category : Food

Wandering through the early morning farmer’s market in Luang Prabang, I was tempted by the honey stalls. I love honey, and always try to buy some interesting new variety on my travels. One of these stalls, however, had something I’d never seen before.

Roasting happily over a small charcoal stove on the ground were pieces of what looked like honeycomb wrapped in banana leaves. Closer inspection revealed that this was honeycomb long before the stage where any honey is involved – this was the structure, but each section still contained the grub which would grow into the bee.

It looked fascinating, it cost pennies, and I have tried various bug like things before without ill effects, so I decided to give it a go.

The banana leaves are supposed to make the larvae aromatic, and prevents them from drying out as they roast. They also make for a handy wrapping and keep the whole thing from falling apart in your hand. So far, so good. Trying this very local snack, however, was a bit of a challenge. The roasted honeycomb cells were very soft, and broke away from each other into individual tubes. Each of these was gooey and squidgy with the cooked larva inside, and I found the texture to be deeply unpleasant in my mouth.

Let us say I shall chalk that down to experience. An experience I will not care to repeat…


DIY Herbal Hair Oil

It’s always fun to try some homemade beauty treatment, from yoghurt and honey face packs to beer and egg yolk hair conditioners, so I had to snap up this DIY herbal hair oil remedy on a recent trip to India.

In the southern state of Kerala, fabulous herbs and spices are a constant temptation in the local stores. You can buy fresh peppercorns and nutmegs by the sackful, countless types of fragrant green tea, plus fascinating health and beauty products.

Kerala claims to be the home of Ayurvedic treatments, and many of the spas suggest an appointment with the doctor before a course of massage and or medication is prescribed. We didn’t have time for that, but after experiencing the type of all-purpose massage which left us dripping in aromatic oil from head to foot, abandoning everything for a swift return to the hotel for a shower, the idea of an at-home treatment at a later date was quite appealing. No looking (and smelling) completely bizarre as you try to hail a taxi to go clean yourself up. No rescheduling or cancelling of plans because you can’t possibly carry on with your day right then.

This charmingly basic DIY hair treatment looked like a lot of fun – simply a plastic bottle filled with a twiggy collection of herbs. The idea is to cover the contents with coconut oil, preferably the local variety, leave it all for 3 days until the colour of the oil changes as it absorbs the goodness from the herbs, then apply to your hair. As with most of the hair oils available from the big brand names, you can either apply this as a pre-shampoo treatment, or as a leave-in conditioner afterwards.

I was quite surprised to see that the coconut hair oil I’d bought in India came out of the bottle looking dark turquoise in colour. It also needed a little help with hot water to melt the bottle contents sufficiently to pour them out onto the herbs.

Over the course of the 3 days, the oil then turned a startling dark red colour, which I was half afraid might actually dye my hair. It managed to smell strongly both of herbs and medication, and in retrospect I should probably have considered filtering the oil from the twiggy bits before trying to use it.

The verdict? This was quite entertaining, and worked reasonably well, leaving my hair soft and shiny without turning it red or smelly. But to be honest, it is far easier and a great deal less messy to use normal hair oil, which is what I shall continue to do.

 


Adhesive Earrings

Another treasure from Daiso at the usual bargain $2, I bought these as a joke and sent them to daughter #2.

The premise is simple, you just peel the earring carefully from the backing card, attach it to your ear holding the end of the tape, then either cut or pull the tape away leaving the earring stuck firmly to your skin.

I was expecting to hear these were useless, but to my surprise daughter #2 thought they were great. They apparently stayed on for days, survived repeated hair washings, and were easy to reapply with the spare sticky patches provided once the original wore out.

Not bad for $2!


Pho Flavoured Beer

Category : Food

I know, it sounds diabolical, but there it was on the menu and I could not resist.

Pho is of course the noodle soup which is possibly the signature dish of Vietnam, and according to the label, this craft beer, made in Hanoi by Furbrew, uses light roasted malts to get the umami flavour of broth before adding the five big spices together with an infusion of red chilli.

To be honest, I wasn’t really expecting to enjoy this, but was pleasantly surprised. Not that I was completely convinced that it tasted of pho, which I’d already had for breakfast that day, so the flavour was fresh in my mind.

I was at a small place run by someone who’d got his big break on the Vietnamese version of MasterChef, and was eating a very interesting deconstructed banh mi. This beer, with its tagline:  ‘Untraditional. Unconventional. Unexpected.’, matched the concept behind the food very well. Although at 110,000 Vietnamese dong it cost twice the price of regular Hanoi beer, the chilli kick was great and it really complimented the herbs and pickles in the banh mi. One was enough, but I would definitely consider ordering it again.


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