Latest travel adventure: San Francisco’s Chinatown

I recently had the good fortune to explore San Francisco’s Chinatown: which happens to be the oldest Chinatown in North America and the largest Chinese community outside of Asia.

Built in 1848, Chinatown was originally the port of entry for Chinese immigrants looking for work – many of whom end up labouring on the Central Pacific railroad or flocking to the gold mines during the Gold Rush of 1849.

(If you’re looking for some more of the old history here’s a link to a fascinating article:

The first thing that I noticed as I walked in was the density. With 15,000 people living in 20 square blocks, every single square of space has been put to use.

Just off the main tourist streets there runs a series of narrow winding alleys which were originally created as a secondary series of walkways due to the foot traffic.

But perhaps the most surprising feature of Chinatown was that I felt so at home there.

People welcomed my curiosity and I got the feeling that I would have been more than welcome to join in for a round of cards with the locals in Portsmouth Square if I had spoken some basic Cantonese.

Grant Street is the main tourist street and is filled with shopping of every variety



One of the many ‘traditional’ buildings mixed in amongst the modern restaurants and shops



The exposed fire escapes were reminiscent of Manhattan buildings



One of the highlights of the trip was finding this Fortune Cookie factory where they are still making them by hand!



They invited me in and fed me cookie leftovers – which I was more than happy to do (all day). There was a sign up asking for 50cents for photos.



It only cost $3.75 for one bag of 40 fortune cookies: what a deal! (And no, I didn’t eat them all by myself)



I stopped in at a Dim sum house for lunch – they were the best dumplings I’ve ever had.



With so many restaurants in the area there is fierce competition for customers – which shows in the excellence of the food



I highly recommend a visit to this fascinating part of one of my favourite cities



40s style: mens haircuts

Like everything else in the 1940s, men’s hairstyles were highly influenced by World War II and by necessity they were practical and low maintenance.

Today’s blog is going to take a look at the basic four styles that were popular at this time.


1. The crew cut

The crew cut was popularised by men that were serving in the military. It had very short back and sides with slightly longer on top.











2. The flat top

The flat top was very similar to a crewcut, except that the hair on top was left longer which gave it a ‘flat top’ appearance. The flat top made a serious comeback in the 1980s and has remained popular since.

Much as they do today, military men often chose between a crew cut or a short flat top. For the men who weren’t in the military they often chose their favourite film stars hairstyles with one of the two longer styles listed below.












3. Slicked back

This style is created by growing out the top until it’s long enough to brush back and make a big wave on top of the head. This involved using some kind of grease to slick it down – often Vaseline or even lard.













4. Side part

Still my favourite vintage mens hairstyle, the side part is created by cutting the hair short above the ears and then parting it on the side.

Generally the men’s styles of this period were much simpler than the women’s yet they still had a classic glamour in common.


Ray Charles: The Father of Soul

With hits such as ‘Georgia on my mind’ and ‘Hit the road Jack’, Ray Charles is widely known for his exuberant 50s soul music.

Having lived blind from the age of 7, not only did he learn to read, write and arrange music in braille, but he also learned to play piano, organ, sax, clarinet and trumpet. Not to mention a vocal range of 3 octaves!

Not only did he manage to seamlessly blend different genres of rhythm and blues and gospel – but also country and even pop music in the 1960s.

He was also one of the first African-American musicians to be given artistic control by a mainstream record company – which was an unheard of amount of creative freedom in the day.

So it is with some boldness that I would like to suggest that his greatest achievement was not his musical genius but rather his legacy to the birth of rock and roll.

Here’s a clip from 1960 of Ray Charles songs singing ‘What I’d say’ – which gives you a great sense of his ability to crossover musical genres. Plus the crowd is as entertaining as the performance.

Movie review: Cloud Atlas

Today’s blog is a movie review of the science fiction film ‘Cloud Atlas’ which is currently playing at major cinemas.

If there was one word I would use to describe this film it would have to be: Epic.

From concept to visuals to soundtrack – this is certainly one of the most ambitious films I’ve seen in a while.

Cloud Atlas was directed and produced by the Wachowski siblings (The Matrix trilogy) as well as Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) and they directed separate sections concurrently with separate film crews.

Although early user reviews of this film described confusion as the multi-characters and time periods were introduced, I found that each of the storylines was well drawn and I was impressed by the range of the actors (Tom Hanks has redeemed himself).

It received a ten minute standing ovation at its’ premiere at the Toronto Film Festival but I believe that this will be a polarising film that you will either love or hate.

I’ve included the extended trailer for you to get a feel for the movie.

Music I’m loving: Levon Minassian

Lately I’ve been enjoying some of the more ambient musicians and today’s blog is on the wonderful French-Armenian player Levon Minassian.

You could be forgiven for not knowing who he is as he is generally classified under world music for his famed playing of the duduk.

The duduk is the haunting reed instrument that is heard on such atmospheric film soundtracks as ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ and ‘Gladiator’.

It is one of the older instruments in the world dating back as far as 1200BC – originating in Armenia and then throughout Eastern Europe.

Levon Minassian’s album ‘The Doudouk – Beyond Borders’ has a little too much beat to be entirely meditative and yet I find it ambient enough that it inspires reflection.

Having spent some time in the Sahara, when I close my eyes and listen to this album it conjures up memories of incredible desert night skies lit up with thousands of stars.


This video is Track 2 from the ‘The Doudouk – Beyond Borders’ and gives you a sense of the feel of the album.



I’ve also included this second video so that you can watch the craft of playing this instrument – not to mention the lovely lapel cut on his suit.


Montreal: City of culture

As far as cities of the world go, Montreal ranks in my top five.

And as it is with all great cities, it’s not one thing or another that distinguishes it – it’s the combination of elements that makes it stand out.

The city is a melting pot of culture that is not only reflected in the diversity of the population, but also in the architecture, fashion, food, multilinguilism, theatre and live music.

I also love that Montreal is a walking city with a great transit system. In fact it’s a lot like Manhattan in that driving is more of a hindrance than anything else.

So rather than tell you about it, I’m going to share some photos from my recent visit and hope they will convey to you what I love about this wonderful city.

I was staying around the corner from Cacao 70 – a cafe that is entirely dedicated to chocolate.



Did I mention they had an entire section dedicated to milkshakes on their menu?



This was called a ‘frozen hot chocolate’ – a hot chocolate with a scoop of ice cream in it. As with all their chocolate items it came in dark, milk or white.



Winter was yet to arrive and there were giant piles of dry golden leaves all over the city



Pumpkins at the market ready for Halloween



There was even a pumpkin maze




Quebec produces some spectacular cheeses – especially soft cheeses with a washed rind.



Beautiful architecture as far as the eye can see.



From the grand …



To the more modern …



To the historical …



To the religious …



To the details …



And even to the doorways. I call this the city of beautiful doorways because there is one everywhere I turn.



I had to stop myself from photographing every beautiful doorway I walked past




I’ll leave you with my personal favourite: this modest home amongst the mansions was the real jewel that day.


Creating a world without jeans

I was unappreciative as a child of my mother’s lovingly handmade clothing: I just wanted to be wearing the brand names like all the other kids.

Today I am so grateful to have a mother who is a brilliant seamstress and took that time to instill in me sewing basics.

It is in an effort to achieve my life goal of spending an entire year without wearing jeans, that I have begun sewing again.

(You can find why I’m going for a year without jeans at my blog here:

Given that I haven’t built any clothing since the late 1980s when I was in too much of a hurry to put in seam allowances – it’s been like learning a whole new language.

Although I am currently using standard sewing patterns I hope to eventually be drafting up my own patterns.

I’ve been reading the following book and it’s been fascinating to understand the three dimensional basics of how the clothing sits on the body.

Not only do I get to create exactly what I want to be wearing – but I’m one big step closer to my goal.




The Bond Lifestyle

Given the Bond theme of last week’s blog, there was one more item that I wanted to share with you.

While researching Bond girls last week I came across the schnazzy website The Bond Lifestyle:

This is the second most visited Bond website in the world and it is entirely dedicated to the products and brands used by James Bond.

It not only provides information on which movies the products were used in but it even has a section on Bond Girl items (think Halle Berry’s orange Eres bikini) and those must-have Bond Villain accessories.

The Bond Lifestyle website was founded in October 2005 by Dutch Graphic Designer, Remmert van Braam – and if you’re looking to purchase an Ocean Sky Bombardier Challenger 604 private jet – then this is the website for you.



Bond girls: then and now

As a followup to all of the great online articles about James Bond, I wanted to share this article with you on Bond girls.

It’s a pictorial article of photos in their heyday as a Bond girl and then who they are today. I found the brief catchup on what happened to them post-Bond particularly interesting.

The article is from the Daily Mail in England (paste it into your browser)


50 Years of 007

With a quarter of the world’s population reported to have seen at least one Bond film in their lifetime, James Bond is arguably the world’s most famous fictitious spy.

Testament to this is the recent 50th anniversary since the first Bond film release: ‘Dr No’.

Starring Sean Connery as the first James Bond back in 1962, the Bond franchise has since grown to be the second highest grossing film franchise to date. That places it just ahead of the Star Wars series and behind the Harry Potter franchise.

It coincides with the November 9th release (October 26th in the UK) of the newest Bond film, ‘Skyfall’ which will be the 23rd Bond film. (The movie website is here:

With Daniel Craig returning for his third performance as Secret Agent 007, he’s not only the first blond to play Bond but he arguably brings an emotional depth to the character that has been lacking in earlier performances.

Here’s a shortened trailer for ‘Skyfall’ if you haven’t seen it yet. I’m particularly enamored with the new theme from Adele.



I also came across this wonderful set of Bond and Bond girl photos which I wanted to share with you. The link below will take you there: