Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Warding Off The Space Invaders

I have done it several times: let a train leave without me even though I desperately needed to get on it, as it's heaving with commuters I knew I'd end up tortured by warring underarms, butts, and feet finding its way on someone else's toes. 

Without a doubt, men are also subject to the same inconvenience when travelling in a jam-packed public transport. But while it naturally comes to men to stand or sit with their legs a few degrees apart (at least for some who don't make trains their front room), it involves logistics for us women to assert our personal space. The bag where our essentials (and non-essentials) are stashed is our buffer and shield, and depending on the anterior and posterior requirement, it'll be strategically guarding us where our vulnerability is compromised due to the limited space. 

In other words, we'll find ways to avoid getting groped in public where it could easily be dismissed for spatial reasons.

If you can't be told to inch over, then you may have to be poked. 

Exactly the idea of designer Kathleen McDermott. 


With the aim of exploring wearable technology, Kathleen has been designing prototypes of urbanwear utilising technology that impacts a person physically rather than virtually. Living in space-devoid Hong Kong, she created the first three of a series of artworks born out of her observations of public space in the Asian city.

Aimed at women, her artworks are collectively called 'Urban Armor' which is her answer to "...ways women could take more ownership over their personal space in public."

Kathleen's website describes The Personal Space Dress as 'A dress with two proximity sensors and a plastic armature that allows the dress to expand when a person comes too close to the wearer. Watch how it works via the video here.

I must say watching the video was like watching a sitcom where the lead female character couldn't figure out why she couldn't get a date, while her dress expands under her belt. Says that when a 'presence' is detected, the sensors react. I thought of an unseen eldritch presence. Could the frock sense that as well?

Kathleen admits her creation - though ingenious -  is impractical, but since it's a prototype, it can be developed, especially with the right funding and collaborators, which she intends to pursue. I'm not sure why she would give away the codes and instructions free to download for others to build their own. If it takes off, lots will be up for a DIY in their garage, and the whole daily commute would look like a Halloween party where everyone's intention is to stay out of each other's way as far as possible. She might have to change the plan once investors get involved. 

 Soon, your network provider may start offering bundles for, say, a Samsung 'Urban Armor' dress which comes with your choice of shoes based on your tariff.  Provided that the device doesn't malfunction and end up injuring the person next to you with any sharp part, or electrocuting due to a faulty wiring, then you shouldn't be worried about being charged with grievous bodily harm.

Would you wear this mechanical petticoat?

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Conchita Wurst and Generation Gillette Daisy Plus

 Let's talk about hair, baby. 


Hers, and other ladies' which garnered unsolicited and possibly solicited attention (courtesy of their publicist) over their hirsute moments.

 Conchita Wurst, to those who haven't seen her on the news outside Europe, is the Austrian singer and performer (I refuse to call her drag for without the beard and my knowledge of her gender, in my head she's a woman) who recently won Eurovision 2014 amidst controversies and tantrums by a certain anti-gay political giant.  Eurovision, if you've not heard of it before, is the annual songwriting and singing competition joined by members of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) organised in the 1950s around the time when war-torn Europe was being rebuilt. I must say that the excitement and flurry of activities that surround the Eurovision night is double the fanfare involved in the run-up to the coronation night of Miss Universe. This time around, Conchita wasn't just a songstress who won by belting out a Bond-esque tune à la Shirley Bassey backed by spectacular visual effects, but also a beauty queen in poise, grace, and allure whose most striking feature both endeared her to many and caused her to be repulsed by more than some. 

That full dark beard worthy of a Pogonology case study has launched her as a household name, enraged the Russians (at least the government, and not necessarily the people), and set body hair again as a thorny issue when found peeking out of body parts we prefer to be free of it, or in this case, found exactly where it should be, but with the wrong companions: big glossy hair and false eyelashes. 


A man's facial hair is seen as a symbol of masculinity, sexual virility, sophistication if kempt, and wisdom in several religions. It's understandable why Miss Wurst ruffled feathers. But what do we make of women, especially celebrities with access to laser hair removal and regular waxing, who opt for the stubbly and bushy route?

First of all, we, and the media as the gang leader, name and shame them.
 The trio: Hilary Swank, Drew Barrymore, and Julia Roberts
 Kelly Rowland
 Britney Spears
 Halle Berry
Destiny's Child trademark?
British pop star Pixie Lott
Madonna, as we all know, voluntarily shames herself.
In all her pride and glory: Sophia Loren


As with most women, I was raised to believe that underarm hair is unwanted and must be eradicated in the most painful and effective way possible. I'm a late bloomer when it comes to epilation and wish that I discovered it before plucking, threading, waxing, and shaving. What I spent on good ol' Gillette Daisy Plus (I think it's called Gillette Simply Venus now, or maybe just in the UK) and other hair removal products all these years before upgrading to Braun Silk-épil 7 is probably enough to buy me an Hermès bag. Aside from menstrual cramps, underarm (and all other body parts concerned) hair removal is a woman's bane that men will never understand.

A woman's body hair is like a family secret, the existence of which is known to the community, always spoken of in hushed tones, which when revealed, attracts gasps, stares, and discomfort even though the neighbours are also keeping the same, which they strictly guard so they won't be found out and be the recipient of the same gasps, stares, and discomfort.

 As opposed to positive views we have of men with groomed facial hair, women who grow their underarm hair are perceived to have poor hygiene and too bohemian for the more conservative lot's liking. Or, they're French, which of course, is a sweeping generalisation of Gallic women's relationship with razors. Interestingly enough, I haven't seen paparazzi photos of renowned French actresses Juliette Binoche, Audrey Tautou, and Marion Cotillard intentionally and unintentionally flashing statement underarms.

We think we're liberal enough to encourage women to go au naturel, but we still balk at Julia Roberts' hairy armpits, or Madonna's most recent display of underarm bush. They're tabloid favourites, complete with zoomed in and encircled close-up shots of the unsuspecting underarm. Glossies treat them as features for lengthy pieces on feminism and women's freedom of choice

But at the end of the day, it's just hair. Hair that grows in its natural habitat. Hair that men also have exactly in the right spot. Hair that we don't care about in men, but we make a fuss in women.  It doesn't have correlation with feminism or freedom of choice, but we grab big concepts and names to label our justification for having it. And I do think sometimes, why do we always have to justify and apologise for our regrowth? Oh no, I'm in between waxing, pardon my underarm hair, it's been quite unruly lately. Yes I know, I shouldn't go easy on the wax strips.

Long-haired men with beard and moustache aren't an unusual sight, so Conchita wasn't exactly being revolutionary in that sense. But what we weren't prepared for was a full-on diva styling with big hair, generous lashing of mascara, smoky eyes, and form-fitting evening dress that could hold its own at The Oscars. 

She is a glamorous middle salute to bigotry.

In the same token, we probably won't be prepared in a million years for these two women unless hirsutism becomes as normal and as socially acceptable medical sign as dysmenorrhoea.

 Cheryl (Cole). Conchita. Are they twins?

Nicole Scherzinger's bristles will rub you the wrong way.

It seems we're not quite ready to let our hair down when it comes to locks, tresses, and tufts. Certainly not Russia, who may even pull out (pun intended) of the Eurovision to create their own song competition.  

I don't mind hair at all whether it's on Conchita's chin, or Julia Roberts's underarms, as long as they're not on my carpet, my sofa, my bathroom floor, my bath, and certainly not on my armpits. Not yet. After all, I'm from generation Gillette Daisy Plus; it's not easy to shave off my comfort zone. 

Now, if you will excuse me, I have some epilation to take care of.

Sunday, 11 May 2014


 My mother is probably not the best mother in the world. I can't tell as I haven't placed her name in the running for that unofficial competition where everyone declares their mother is the best hands down. But what I can tell is she certainly is a beautiful woman. And you know what the best part is? She doesn't even know it. 

Mama as a 21-year-old nursing student, next to what looks like David Cassidy's poster.

That's one trait of my mother that I love: unassuming. My youngest sister and I have a running joke that her being self-effacing makes for a lacklustre personality. I've never in my entire life heard her hum a tune, seen her dance to a song, witnessed her get drunk, (we did smoke once together and her puffing resembled a chimney that needed to be checked for not doing its job), speak in public, confidently walk into a room, or even embarrass herself. I think she left all of these for me to do, especially the last part.

She has her own pool of talents though. I grew up in her household where she can do a one-woman catering job for big parties and dinner all by herself (I can't even fry 2 eggs without the first being dead cold before being served). She's a kitchen gadget showroom personified. While my dad was the life of the party, my mum is the Chef de Partie. She's funny in such a silly way that her sense of humour is so far removed from her usual composed self. She can sew. And she can heal wounds. Literally. She has a fine taste for beautiful and fashionable items. She doesn't do drama. Or hold her children to emotional ransom. She doesn't just drop in (at least virtually) just because she's entitled to as she's my mother. She respects my privacy. But most importantly, she respects my choices in life, and doesn't judge (and nag) me for my mistakes and shortcomings.

Mama at 31, with me and my younger sister who's now a mother herself to a 4-year-old girl and 6-month-old baby boy

Mama's an emotionally robust woman. She lost my father, her father, bestfriend, and other equally important measures of a successful and happy family life all in the same year, but she never faltered. Do all of these make her the best mother in the world? Again, probably not. She's so self-deprecating she'd laugh off the title.

Aside from her recipes which will be passed onto us despite my sisters and me not inheriting the culinary expertise she's born with, Mama has plenty of acts of wisdom I have learnt throughout the years. I say 'acts' and not 'words' as she never actually utters most of them, but rather, demonstrates them, except for the last one which never fails to make me laugh.

Mama does and says. . .

 Always dress the part. You'll never know who you'll run into.

Mama and Papa in the early 80s

 Be mindful of others' needs. Life is not all about you. Or your needs.

Be kind. It's just the right thing to do. Period.

Don't judge others by the decisions they have made at certain periods in their lives for you aren't privy to what they're going through or have gone through. 

Prepare what you need for the following day the night before so you're not running around like a headless chicken in the morning.

Be humble. You'll never know if you'll ever need the help of that one person you thought was beneath you. But don't abuse others' generosity.

Be organised. You'll curse yourself when it's crunch time and the only way out is that piece of paper left unfiled.

Don't talk about yourself or your children when not asked. Your child may be the cutest or a high achiever, but not everyone is interested.

 Don't speak ill of how other parents bring up their children. You actually might not be doing a good job yourself.

Don't make people wait. It's rude.

Don't always assume you're the best. Just do your best. If you can't help assuming you are, do it silently.

If you can't be a good homemaker, then be good at your job. 

Always give the best gifts you can afford and source. It's not only a reflection of your taste, but how worthy of your time, effort, and attention the recipient is.

Be generous. With your time. With your money.

Don't stare. Don't physically express disapproval in public; it might get you into unnecessary trouble. 

 Mama and my 4-year-old niece

At least be a reliable family member if you can't be a reliable friend. But it's always best if you can be both.

Don't be nosy. Don't ask inappropriate questions to someone you just met or you're not close to. Always observe and listen to slowly find out about the person you're talking to. 

Keep to yourself until you know whom to trust.

Always purchase the finest things you can afford. Never ever look and act like a rag doll.

Always wear your best undergarments. Why? You might get knocked over by a lorry while out and have to be rushed into A&E, be stripped of your clothes, and be found out wearing mismatched undies, knickers with holes, and white bra turned grey. Not classy.

Happy Mother's Day to my Mama, my sister, and all the mothers--whether biological, surrogate, or adoptive--being honoured today in parts of the world celebrating Mother's Day!

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Alternative London Walking Tour

I had the pleasure of recently being invited to contribute to the first anniversary of The Filipino Expat magazine, which you can read HERE. This issue is very special as it features Filipinos in Europe who are excelling in the creative industry and performing arts. Further down is a screenshot of my short piece alongside other Filipino bloggers based in Europe. Modesty aside, I'm very proud as this is my very first photograph printed. As a non-photographer, it feels like a special mention in a Photography for Beginners' class.

The theme was about arts and culture, and it inspired me to visit the opposite side of town which I normally don't venture into because I've been comfortably adopted by the West/Northwest end of London. Some parts of the East End to me, are gritty and dingy, which is all the more emphasised by the glistening wetness of the streets after a heavy downpour. Despite that, I wouldn't wish for the heart of the East End to be gentrified due to its proximity to the financial district. I like it as it is.

East London, as some would perhaps know, is home to street art, whether authorised or non-commissioned. I found out that there's a dedicated tour just for that. I don't have all the time in the world to hop on the tube and get lost in the East End, so I booked the free tour. You'll be pleased to know that the Alternative London Walking Tour is on a pay-what-you-like basis. More than just a street art tour, the guides also give cultural and historical insights on what made the East End the artsy hub that it is today.

The day began with bright and sunny skies, which turned dark and gloomy towards the late afternoon. Typical London weather.

Christ Church Spitalfields in mid-March  (a printed magazine is produced roughly two months before publication). The church was designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, the former assistant of Christopher Wren who designed St. Paul's Cathedral.

See the windows on top of these Georgian townhouses along Fournier St? They are the original 'topshop' for the silk-weaving business of French Huguenots back in the early 1700s.

An echo of Fournier St.'s Jewish settlement after the decline of the silk-weaving industry

An artwork by the aerosol writer Shok-1, along Fournier St.

Stencil art by Azeem on a barbershop's door along Brick Lane

My little bald friend looking out onto Hanbury St.

I'm afraid I can't recall the name of the artist for this one and some others along Hanbury St. Apologies for that as I wasn't listening to the guide. That's what happens when you're busy taking photos.



Another artist unknown to me. I thought the three-dimensional painted post box was amusing

Just look around and you'll see something in every corner

The stretch of Hanbury St.

Hanbury St. is nicknamed 'Permission St' as this is one area in the East End where artists can escape the accusation of defacement. This wall has been used by several artists, with this 'octolephant' as the latest resident in March. The artist painted it for eight days and had to re-book his flight as it took longer to finish than he thought.

  p. 44-45 of the 1st anniversary issue of The Filipino Expat magazine where I contributed a short piece on why London is my top European arts and culture destination. Congratulations to everyone involved in the making of the magazine!

Belgian artist ROA is the man behind our winged friend. He specialises in painting blown-up visuals of animals.

Photo courtesy of Mr Tittle-Tattles who does better in capturing the aura of a painted bird more than capturing mine

Argentinian Martin Ron's artwork is described as "...hyper realistic surrealist imagery on a huge scale" by Street Art London

Chimney of the Black Eagle Brewery, the former brewing plant of Truman's Brewery that now houses 250 businesses from retail shops to cultural and art galleries.

The speciality of French artist Clet Abraham is making road signs more interesting to motorists and pedestrians alike.


Getting closer to the area of bombed out East End during World War II that remained boarded up instead of getting rehabilitated.

The home of Pop Art

Jonesy is the elusive British bronze-and-wood sculptor behind these figures placed atop street signposts. The website has an extensive list of all his works around the East End.


Another of ROA's works

Shepard Fairey is the American artist behind this and President Obama's 'Hope' campaign poster for the 2008 US Presidential election.

Anything goes

RRobots travelled all the way from New York by invitation of Village Underground Wall Shoreditch

Christiaan Nagel loves his mushrooms, he leaves a trail around the East End. His mushrooms are made from styrofoam, fiber glass and stainless steel.

Invader is a French urban artist whose works can be found in more than 60 cities in 30 countries. His works are inspired by pixellated video game characters. He sees himself as a hacker of public space (Wikipedia).

Blurred as I took this photo from a distance

El Mac is a spraypaint artist from Los Angeles

Vhils is the street art name of Portuguese artist Alexandre Farto. He carves using a pneumatic drill.

And one stuck on a side of a building, almost a chewing gum that had its time. French street artist Gregos creates replicas of himself portraying his moods and humour. He paints and glues them on the walls of Paris. There are around 500 of his faces installed everywhere in the city. This happy selfie made it to the East End of London.

See you in the East End?

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