White Rabbit Gallery: Week 193

2010 - Xia Xing - White Rabbit Gallery - Sydney, Australia

“2010” – Xia Xing

“I wish I could say WELCOME,” my tour guide enthusiastically cried, “but instead I can only say welcome.” Her arms dropped and shoulders slumped. “You’ve got on the wrong bus.”

The guide was right to offer only a restrained greeting since she wasn’t introducing the most flattering or palatable aspects of a modern China. However, I wasn’t on ‘the wrong bus.’ I was exactly where I wanted to be.

The White Rabbit Gallery is the world’s largest collection of contemporary Chinese art. What started as a personal collection for Judith Neilson eventually transformed into renowned gallery and teahouse.

The Family Album - See You Later - Huang Hua-Chen - White Rabbit Gallery - Sydney, Australia

“The Family Album – See You Later” – Huang Hua-Chen

Judith Neilson has over 1,100 works in her collection and while many of them celebrate the beauty and culture of China, the current exhibition dug beneath the veneer of the most populous country in the world. “In Commune, some of China’s best-known artists and brightest newcomers explore the tensions between individual and group, community and nation, collectivist past and chaotic present.”

On the ground floor was a series of images borrowed from the pages of the Beijing News- circulation 450,000. Xia Xing painstakingly painted each photo by mimicking the way the ink is layered on newsprint- cyan, magenta, and yellow.

The man who was amputated by the criminal he testified against, the fallen angel and her $2 billion dollar lawsuit, Xia transformed the disposable story into something more substantial.

As Husband and Wife - Li Xuan - White Rabbit Gallery - Sydney, Australia

“As Husband and Wife” – Li Xuan

“Indifferent herself to money and fame, she worried that money was corroding Chinese society, “tearing up conscience, morality and kindness”. As Husband and Wife (2010) was an experiment in a style that later became her hallmark: “painting” with torn-up banknotes and PhotoShop. The notes—from China and other nations—not only afforded her an extensive colour palette but literally represented a factor whose role in relationships is much larger than most people are willing to admit.

In this collage, the softly torn, petal-like shapes are a reminder that money is also one of the chief causes of marital conflict. The faceless bride and groom could be any couple, their disagreements stitched up for the happy day. (The artist obtained suture thread from her father, a surgeon.)”

In 2013, Li Xuan lost the battle against depression. She took her own life and that of her child as she could not bear to leave them in this world. In acquiring the piece from her distraught husband, the gallery donated to charity instead of directly purchasing the piece.

The Static Eternity - Gao Rong - White Rabbit Gallery - Sydney, Australia

“The Static Eternity” – Gao Rong

The struggle within a rapidly changing society is not without its fond memories though. Artist Gao Rong spent years recreating her grandparent’s house with foam, fabric and embroidery. The small one-room interior is lush in detail – especially when you realize that worn edges on the kitchen table, the rust spots on the pipes and the cracks on the wall had actually been embroidered.

The installation is a massive feat, which is an accurate assessment of the Commune show in general. It is not the glamorous or flattering side of China, but it is beautiful in its execution and heart-breaking in its honesty.

Teahouse at White Rabbit Gallery: Sydney, Australia

White Rabbit Gallery teahouse

How to get to the White Rabbit Gallery: 30 Balfour Street, Chippendale NSW 2008

Marina Bay Sands & Gardens by the Bay: Week 185

Polaroid of the Marina Bay Sands and Helix Bridge: Singapore

Barret grabbed the railing above his head as the train picked up speed. The Circle Line to Bayfront was an air-conditioned bubble packed full of locals and tourists. Aside from the announcements, there was also a route map on the wall which Barret used to track our progress.

“Only six more stops to go,” he whispered as he leaned in my direction.


“Six more stops,” Barret repeated, but I still wasn’t paying attention. A pungent odor had drifted my way and I needed to find the source. “Hey…” I cautiously began. “Did you put any deodorant on?”

“Nope. I didn’t have time.” This declaration made Barret feel proud. It was the same kind of conflicted pride that people get when they videotape their kids redecorating the kitchen with a bag of flour. It’s a disaster, but it’s also a very well executed disaster that could go viral.

“Funny how that always happens right before we go somewhere humid.”


“You think maybe that would be the first thing on your list…”


“Yeaaaah.” It was too late to turn back to Changi Airport, where we had left our luggage for the day. “Just keep your arms down.”

Ticket for Flower Dome at the Gardens by the Bay: Singapore

Singapore is hot and muggy all year, but that doesn’t deter tourists. Respite from the temperature can be found at Gardens by the Bay. Two separate UK firms designed the massive gardens which only recently opened to the public in late 2011.

The main attractions are the two conservatories and the Supertree Grove. Barret and I visited the gardens on the only Monday in September that the Cloud Forest conservatory was closed for maintenance, so it was an easy decision to visit the Flower Dome instead.

Polaroid of succulents inside the Flower Dome: Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

The garden was a beautiful mixture of plants from all over the world. There was everything from succulents and orchids to kangaroo paws.

Polaroid of small crystal garden inside the Flower Dome: Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

One part of the South American display had a small crystal garden, another part had an anatomically correct cactus covered in white hairs. It was called Old Man of the Mountain.

The conservatory dome arched way above the multilevel grounds and through the glass we could see the harbor and Singapore skyline.

Ticket for the Supertree Grove Skyway: Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

After spending a few hours in the Flower dome, we walked through the outdoor gardens to the Supertree Grove. This main grove has eleven fuchsia tree structures which perform a variety of functions. Some of the trees harvest solar energy and others serve as ‘air exhaust receptacles’ for the conservatories. From 9am-9pm a canopy walkway is open and at night the structures are illuminated for a synchronized light display.

Supertree Grove: Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

An hour or two before sunset, Barret and I walked back to the bay to get a look at the Marina Bay Sands. It was a stunning hotel from the outside, but it was even more airy and delicate inside. From the lobby, the structure reminded me of a delicately balanced house of cards.

Lobby of the Marina Bay Sands: Singapore

From there we walked along the bay, past the flower-shaped ArtScience Musuem, and across Helix Bridge. There were several promontories along the route with great views looking back at the Marina Bay Sands.

View of ArtScience Museum and Marina Bay: Singapore

We continued walking past joggers and stroller-pushers, the people who come out for the beautiful night breeze. An amateur photography group set up on the sidewalk to capture the highrise buildings and the bay.

Our visit was just a taster of what Singapore has to offer. We wanted more time to explore the colonial neighborhoods and the vibrant Little India, but we had a plane to catch and Changi Airport had an excellent shower hire facility. There was no way we were going to miss that before our international flight. No way at all.

How to get to the Marina Bay Sands: MRT Bayfront Station

Lobby of the Marina Bay Sands: Singapore

How to get to the Gardens by the Bay: Via Circle Line or Downtown Line- Take Exit B at the Bayfront MRT Station. Follow underground linkway and cross the Dragonfly Bridge or Meadow Bridge into the Gardens by the Bay

Dress Cafe: Week 184

Polaroids of a dress cafe in Ehwa: Seoul, South Korea

“Is it ok for Barret to see you?” Amy looked worried when she saw me come out of the dressing room in a strapless wedding gown. “He isn’t supposed to, right?”

“Nah, it’s fine.” I replied as I glanced at my freckled scoop-neck tan line in the mirror. “It’s not like it’s my real wedding dress.”

Amy, Eun Soon, Barret and I were right next door to Ehwa Women’s University in Seoul. Most good university neighborhoods cater to their student population, and in this regard Ehwa does not disappoint. Within walking distance from the hallowed school grounds are nail salons, jewelry carts, cafes, and tiny clothing shops crammed with pastel blouses and hair ribbons.

While those are all great reasons to visit the bustling neighborhood, the four of us were there specifically to visit a dress cafe.

Prior to arriving in Seoul, I had lamented the fact that the four of us didn’t have any photos together. “Eun Soon,” I declared as our flight drew nearer. “We need to go to a dress café.”

“You mean the wedding one?” She asked.

“No, just one with lots of dresses.”

Barret at a dress cafe in Ehwa: Seoul, South Korea

“There are only two types,” Eun Soon quickly clarified, “hanbok and wedding.” The loose-fitting traditional Korean costumes, called hanbok, are beautiful and come in a rainbow assortment of colors. However, the idea of renting wedding dresses for a photo shoot with friends was just too oddly intriguing.

“Let’s take a bunch of wedding photos!” I decided. “Can you make a reservation?”

Tree prop at a dress cafe in Ehwa: Seoul, South Korea

We were the only customers when we arrived at the café. The term ‘photo studio’ is a more apt description, but we did each order a sweet beverage. There was a large pink flowery tree behind us and over to our right was a vanity mirror piled high with makeup and glittery tiaras. The closet next to the vanity held three racks of dresses divided into four separate price categories. The most expensive dresses cost 40,000 won a session.

When I finished my drink I picked out a dress and slid the curtain across the closet. The barista helped me into my dress and afterwards asked what size shoe I wore. “Namu kun,” I replied and she laughed at the thought of my feet being too big for the 40 odd pairs of heels on the ground.

“Well,” Amy translated, “she said you should just wear your sandals.”

Choosing accessories at a dress cafe in Ehwa: Seoul, South Korea

While I waited for the others I sidled up to the vanity to touch up my makeup and select a tiara. Almost immediately, the photographer came over, removed it, and put a different one on my head.

“OK?” She asked.

“Sure, why not.” I smiled. She then selected a necklace and clasped it around my neck.



A veil appeared next to my head in the mirror. Ii was long and had gauzy fabric and a lace detail along the edge.

“Heck yeah!” I wasn’t planning on saying no to anything.

While Barret was putting his tux on and selecting his bow tie, Amy and Eun Soon were curling the tips of their hair and touching up their makeup.

About an hour after we first arrived we were finally ready to go. I just don’t know if the photographer was ready for Barret.

Barret playing the piano at a dress cafe in Ehwa: Seoul, South Korea

The group posing with a boquet at a dress cafe in Ehwa: Seoul, South Korea

The dress cafe rose room: Seoul, South Korea

How to get to Ehwa University neighborhood in Seoul: Line 2 – Ehwa Women’s University Station – Exit #3

Crossing Boundaries: Week 152

'Ponytail' by Mylyn Nguyen: Crossing Boundaries exhibition, Sydney

One day I was told I should have been a pig and that dogs are noble and should have been my brother. I was told that dragons shouldn’t like me but it didn’t matter as one day karma would turn me into a bird and then a snail. I was told monkeys would protect me from snakes and whales would save me from drowning. Naturally I thought I would marry a rooster but I was told I would fall in love with a horse. I was told that my mole would stop horses from finding me and that parting my hair in the middle would make my monkey and pig hate each other.

The sculptures above, by Mylyn Ngyuyen, were some of my favorite pieces at the Crossing Boundaries exhibit in the Sydney Town Hall. Inspired by the Lunar New Year celebrations, Crossing Boundaries showcases the local talent of Asian-Australian artists. And since 2014 is the year of the horse, equine references abounded.

'Conversations' by Jayanto Damanik: Crossing Boundaries exhibition, Sydney

Not all artists incorporated the zodiac into their work though. Jayanto Damanik’s piece Conversations was created entirely from used teabags that he had collected since 1997.

Tea has a special place for me and my family. Tea can also be served for ceremonies praying to The Universe and as an offering for reconnecting with The Dead – in the spiritual realm. I collected my tea bags from family and friends and each tea bag contains a memory. In ‘Conversations’, every tea bag tells a story of daily life’s grievances and joys.

Somchai Charoen’s installation Landmind was comprised of beautiful ceramic flowers that rested on lily pad-esque  landmines. The individual pieces were arranged on the floor in a grid pattern, an uncomfortable mixture of military precision and the soft curves of nature.

'Like a Horse' by CNY Pamela See: Crossing Boundaries exhibition, Sydney

This is probably the lamest selling point, but I was really happy that the gallery was open till 8pm. To put it into perspective, not even the mall is open that late on a Saturday! Crazy, right? In my mind, this is pretty much the perfect Sunday afternoon: siting out the afternoon heat with a late brunch and several cups of tea before riding over to Town Hall during the last hour of golden sunshine.

If only more places were open this late!

How to get to Sydney Town Hall: 483 George Street, Sydney NSW 2000

About: Crossing Boundaries

About: Sydney Chinese New Year

The Laptop Lifestyle Lie: Week 150

Project AWOL- a pyramid scheme with an online reality show. The video production is slick as Hollywood and just as deceptive. The premise of the show revolves around eight average people who pay their own way to Thailand to spend a week training for business and lifestyle success.

On the surface the three tan hosts in board shorts and tank tops offer sound advice: do charitable work, be a supportive team member, dare to follow your dreams, live for today, blah, blah, blah. However, if you turn your blinders off you will notice absurd things like the ‘AWOL panel’ helping their guests achieve laser focus with the vaguest terminology possible.

When in the spotlight, one guest declares he wants to build thousands of wells in Africa because clearly that is the only thing standing in the way of the entire continent’s prosperity. While the gesture is heartfelt and harebrained, what it really tells me is that Project AWOL is very attractive to very naïve people.

If there is anything that can actually be gleaned from the show it would be, “there’s a time when you really have to go deep.” Yes, let’s get into the nitty gritty.

Project AWOL is the slick front to get you hyped about finding Another Way Of Life.  This in turn directs you towards the Empower Network, which is how you achieve success with the help of a supportive team of viral bloggers for only $25 a month including a $25 sign up fee. The complete 8-step ‘Money Getting’ Formula is free.

Now you can use this platform to ‘grow your own business’ or you can become an affiliate and earn commissions. Here’s an example of how commissions work according to the current compensation plan:

“In this hypothetical example, it is assumed that you are fully activated as an affiliate for the “blogging system” $25 monthly membership by following the three steps outlined earlier. If you referred Lisa, and she decided to purchase the blogging system, and fell on your first position, you would receive a direct, monthly recurring payment of $25.

 You would then pass up the product purchase from sales 2, 4, 6, and every 5th to your powerline sponsor for the blogging system. If you then sold a blogging system to Frank – Frank would stay connected to you for future products, and the sale of the blog would pass to your sponsor. You would then collect a 100% commission on sale 3, 5, and 7-10, etc.

 Next, Lisa activates her affiliate account by agreeing to the affiliate terms and activating a payment method. (Remember, since she is already a customer herself, she does not need to have a qualifying sale). When Lisa starts marketing successfully and generating product sales, you would receive a direct payment for monthly subscriptions in the above example for her 2nd, 4th, 6th, and 11th sale.

 If Lisa continued marketing the system, you would also receive a 100% direct commission payment for her sales 16, 21, 26, 31, etc to infinity for her personal referrals. Lisa would keep 100% of sales 1,3,5, 7-10, 12-16, etc – just like you do on your own personal sales.”

Wow, that easy?! Turns out, there’s only one caveat with the payment system:

“Known Issue In The Direct Pay/Powerline System (itʼs ok, really…)

 Because we are operating in a ʻdirect payʼ system and the powerlines are calculated in real time, it is possible for the initial purchase to be credited improperly – there is no way to fix it, and existing sales cannot be re-credited, because commissions are already paid directly to the referring affiliate the moment the sale is made. (So please, donʼt ask, the answer is no…)”

Hmm. Turns out it’s a lot harder than expected to wake up in the morning with another $1,000 in your bank account. I’m thinking only the people at the top make money and they have a vested interest in telling you otherwise. Remember, you are selling their $500 Costa Rica Mastermind Intensive (that you also bought yourself).

I do have good news for you though. It is possible to follow your dreams, travel for years at a time, and pay off debt. The secret is that you just have to be flexible and work hard. Sorry, that’s not actually much of a secret.

Teaching English: Asia

When I worked in South Korea there were times that I was completely exhausted and overworked- but it was always worth it because I enjoyed being there. Everything felt new and exciting and the country is small enough that it was really easy to be a weekend warrior.

Many Asian countries hire native English speakers (with bachelor’s degrees) from all over the world. While you won’t make a ton of money, the cost of living in places like Korea is relatively low so if you’re thrifty you could easily save thousands of dollars.

Some countries in Europe (like Spain and France) also have special scholarship-based teaching programs with the US. These will not pay well, but you have the opportunity to live abroad! Olé!

Working Holiday Visas: New Zealand & Australia

This visa is available for people 30 and under and is open to US citizens as well as other nationals. While the work conditions are best suited for short-term agricultural work, I have held temp office positions in both countries. If you are a US citizen you don’t need a college degree, but it will get you higher paid work if you go the office route.

Working Holiday Visas are a great way to make visiting these expensive countries much more affordable and if you don’t mind a few roommates, you can save money in the process. Obviously it’s not the lifestyle that Project AWOL is advocating, but it’s a lot more feasible than owning a ten bedroom house in Thailand.

Unfortunately, get-rich-quick schemes don’t work. However, if you don’t mind holding 9-5 office job, you can soak up the Sydney sunshine any weekend you want and still pay off your $20,000 student loan.

I just did and I celebrated with two bottles of cheap champers. That’s Aussie for champagne.

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