Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Meaning of Gifting from Paris

Christmas shopping this year has been really difficult for many reasons, and mainly because I'm shopping for people I no longer see on a regular basis, so I have no idea what they want or what they need. A lot of people might just say, oh come on, you live in Paris, just bring back something Parisian...well here's what I found out over the last year and half i've been here - almost everything you can buy in Paris, you can buy in the US - and for a lot cheaper as well. Yes, even the stuff made in France.

Exhibit A: Nuxe Paris
Nuxe is a very popular skincare brand here and I have to admit, they have some really good stuff - and the smell is just wonderful. As this is a relatively unknown brand in North American (unlike Vichy, L'Occitane, Lancome, Yves Rocher, Sephora, I can go on...), generally this would be a great item to get for the women - "hey guys, this is the most popular moisturiser they use in the land of the glam!!"

Except, apparently you can simply get this stuff online on their US branded site, for CHEAPER.

Here is the body lotion on the US Nuxe website for $23 USD for approximate 400 mL

Here is the same one from the French website for 18.6 EUR for 200 ML - which is about $25 at current exchange rate. WTF would be the correct way to describe this....

Well, what about Macaroons, you ask, everyone LOVES macaroons. Well they don't really eat macaroons i'm not sure what you mean....oh, unless you are talking about MacarOns...yes, people always think France = Eiffel Tower, perfume (I'll get to that later), and the land of the "Macaroons", so bringing back macarons must be easy! Well except there's a slight problem - actual good macarons, like baguettes have a life-expectancy of 3-4 days. So even if I were to run to L'aduree or Lenotre the day I leave the country (which is actually possible as there are l'adurees in the airport if i happen to be in the right terminal), there's still the issue of having to see everyone who wants them as soon as I get off the long-haul flight, which, even if I wanted to (and I might not), is almost impossible. Plus, let me show you:

Exhibit B: L'aduree Macarons around the world:

Yes, they even have stores in China. If you really wanted fresh, good macarons, do you really want them flown here in economy from an 8 hour flight from Paris or do you want fresh made ones that you can get from the various US locations? So as much as I'd love to bring everyone good macarons, it's really not possible. I could bring those ones they sell at the tourist stores that lasts up to a year, but I'd be a horrible friend and person if you are not my friend and I'm somehow obligated to bring you back something.

So what else...what else...?
Chocolate? Yea, I brought everyone chocolate last I can't give chocolate every year. Perfume? I can bring perfume right? Sure, if you can't buy them in departments stores in North America already, then the fancy custom ones cost 50-200 EUR a bottle. I'm not made of money....Handbags and fashion accessories? Same story. Oh La Creuset! Same story, except also they are CAST IRON pots and pans so I'm afraid they might not meet flight restrictions. Fois Gras? Illegal, not to mention not very many people i know want to eat those things.

Look, besides the type of tourist garbage that no one wants to import from France (and even those you can get on ebay), thanks to our wonderful global village, nothing in France is special anymore.

I will bring back any of the above under special requests from people (I have had a friend that asked for cough syrup that had codeine in them), but I can't bring it back for everyone I need to buy something for.
Did I mention also that everything here is so goddamn expensive in comparison to Canada and the US? If I wanted to buy something not French, I am better off doing my christmas shopping onsite and not here, but also brings back the entire dilemma of not knowing what to buy for people you haven't seen for a long time...or have never met at all, in this case, Caleb's family in Nevada.

I went Christmas shopping yesterday and that was my divination based on my sore back and exhausted state of being. Perhaps I just need to realize that Christmas gifts are not about getting people what they WANT or NEED, but just buying something to show them that I bought something for you cuz I care?

I like the gifts I give to be meaningful and meaningful is harder and harder these days, with the world becoming one village. It's both a good and a bad thing. The bad thing is that buying something from afar or from somewhere "exotic" no longer counts as being meaningful, but the good thing from that I guess, is that for something to be meaningful, you would have to really know and care for the person, which is what it should be in the first place, no? I need to start calling people regularly on the phone to know their lives - that's what meaningful is - caring about them regularly and not just once a year.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


I've seen in movies people who have been ravaged by war and hardship seek refuge in cities with food and humane conditions. I've read in books about people coming from poor areas going into big cities hoping to find a job and a better life. I've heard stories of people with nothing, migrate to places with something, only to find, still, nothing. But they were always stories from another time or another place, sometimes both, far far away from my reality. The very very limited number of beggars, homeless indivduals, and dumpster excavators I have seen, I've been told to stay away. There's no empathy - there's hardly sympathy.  It's not because I'm superior or haughty; it's because I've never understood and was never asked to understand. These people, by my education and by my instinct, are from a different universe, one impossible for me to relate to.

Moving to Paris has started to make me realized how privileged I am. No, not because I get to live in Paris. The grandma on the street looking through the garbage bin got to move to Paris too, but as a refugee from a war-torn country and living in a squalor home provided by the French government. She hasn't had the education to allow her to find a job. The only thing she knows how to do is to scavenge through the junk and debris in order to find something she understands to be useful and could help her family, even though her family no longer needs to do that. The near middle-aged woman who lives in the metro station with a baby in her hand begging for change or ticket restaurant was privileged enough to stumble across Europe to Paris too, but she doesn't know how to look for a job and she doesn't understand why anyone would need a job if there are people on the street who can give her money. You can't even tell if that baby is hers or even real. The young man whose ancestors have been colonized and exploited by the French Colonial Empire speaks French in a thick accent has managed to illegally but luckily sneak his way into the city of lights and glamour. But he has been shunned to the suburbs of Paris looking for odd-end jobs to tie him over until he falls into the economy of crime. Yet, they are still privileged in relations to what might have been otherwise if they didn't come here. This is not the privilege I talk about.

Where I grew up, the couple of beggars at the train station seems physically disabled and you wonder who's taking care of them; that one homeless teen who lives next to the beer store in the neighbourhood plaza is considered lazy; and few trash digger you sometimes see downtown are probably crazy. I understood that if you work hard, you will succeed. And anything outside, beyond what is comprehensible, is therefore flawed. Except none of this is true - or maybe some of it might be. But it doesn't matter, does it? As long as you stay away from the crazies, far enough that they can't steal, rob, or hurt you and you study hard and you work hard, you will be someone and even something; everyone else is simply not putting in enough effort.

The privilege I am talking about, is the privilege to have ever thought this way and that I can, if I choose to, continue to think this way.  Everyone is born with tabula rasa and despite that we all somehow ended up in Paris, there are those who grew up with less than nothing and their goal in Paris is to survive, while mine is to live magnificently. This city is full of people who are here to survive. And it makes those of us who has never had to fight for survival unbearably hard to breathe. And that, in and of itself, is a privilege. I get it now.

My 30th Birthday Presents - Balenciaga

As I said before, growing up, I've never had any interest in handbags. The thought of carrying something on me all the time without losing it is so burdensome to me. And then I got into having bags at 20 and I started to learn about Coach and Kate Spade and Gucci, LV, Chanel, Hermes. At the time I would covet the lower to middle end bags but I never really bought them. Most of my collection has been under $50 with the exception of 2 Kate Spade and 2 Marc by Marc Jacobs. Even the Coach stuff were just around $100 mark.

In the back of my head I've always thought, one day I will buy one nice bag that's over $1000 even though the idea seemed actually quite absurd. By the time I've been working full-time for a few years, I would consider the idea once a year and then do some searches and not find anything I want. The process was kinda like getting my tattoo. At some point in my life, the idea begins to take more concrete shape and maybe 2-3 times a year I'd browse and see what I like. In 2011, I had a convo with my friend about how i'd set myself a goal of buying the bag if I reach a certain status (e.g., my first pay cheque, my first promotion, etc) and then never doing it because I can't seem to justify it. We joked about how maybe I should make it my 30th benchmark bday present - big girl with a big girl bag and although at the time it was really just a joke, the idea stuck.

As I approached by 30th birthday, I started to get antsy, as I had pretty much decided what I'm going to get and researched the pricing and knew that the best place was to get it in Paris. Around October, I asked Caleb if I should buy it before my bday or after, since on my birthday I will be in North America and he laughed and said I can do whatever I want since it's a bday for myself. So on a weekend while he was here in Paris with me, I dragged him to the Balenciaga Boutique with me and made my purchase, 3 months before my 30th birthday. The best part about all this is that Caleb said Bal bags are the nicest luxury bags he's ever seen (and he's seen quite a few) so it really took a lot of the guilt away.

While we were there, we spotted something else that we both loved as well and while I bought one for myself, he ended up getting me my 30th bday present 3 months early as well!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

My Marc By Marc Jacobs Classic Qs

Early 2012 as I sat at my desk feeling miserable from the winter weather, I decided I needed to buy a handbag. It had occurred to me that I just turned 28 and my holy grail was still a canvas Kate Spade bag from 2005. I deserved better!! I went online and started looking for bags I liked, going through Neiman Marcus, Saks, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale's website to see if I saw anything I liked. This was when I discovered the MBMJ Classic Q line and I loved the clean and simple lines. I took at look at the baby groovee and decided it wasn't my type, and then I saw the lil Ukita and began cross-referencing the bags on Google images and on PurseForum. Then I started looking at the Hillier and did the same and compared it to lil Ukita. After about a week or two of online search everyday, I finally decided that I wanted the Hillier. Except now I needed to figure out how to procure one.

At the time, I wasn't aware that the MBMJ bags go on crazy 40% off sales around November and December. What I did see though is that the 2011 price was marked up from $385 to $428 in 2013. So when I spotted one in creme from Neiman still priced at $398 I decided I will take the plunge. I asked around to see who is in the US and can bring it back for me because shipping to Canada means duty. Luckily I had a friend who was making a trip to Chicago so I had it expedited to the hotel there. After tax and expedited shipping the total came out to be about $441 USD. I see it online for less than $300 all the time now so it does hurt me a bit when I think about it. Nevertheless, I have to say that I really love this bag because the leather on this is really durable and it made me realize the difference between leather and canvas bags.

My Salvatore Ferragamo Continental

As I had mentioned previously, my go-to wallet has always been compact tri-folds. When I was 20, Mike had gotten me a continental Guess wallet because he felt that it was more feminine. I didn't like anything about it - not the shape nor the monogram nor the brand nor the colour and I have never used that wallet. It wasn't until 2006 when I saw the Ferragamo Saffiano Continental that I was triggered slightly by the prospect of using one. Nevertheless there was no way I could have been able to allow myself to purchase a wallet that was $350+tax. At the time, my most expensive bag was the Kate Spade and it was cheaper than that wallet and I only paid for half of it. In 2007, when I was at the HK airport, I saw the wallet on sale in white and a part of me almost took out my credit card, but after wandering around the airport thinking really hard, I walked away from the deal.

I never forgot about the wallet and kept an eye on it after and showed it to Adam one time about my dream wallet when we started to date. I told him that one day, when I make enough money I will get this.

Thus, you can imagine how much I cried when I arrived in Boston in September 2009 when this wallet was waiting for me (along with a shiny red blackberry).

Friday, December 6, 2013

My Bags - 2006 to 2011

After 2005, my bag shopping has calmed down a whole lot. However, I was still purchasing them on a regularly basis and getting some as gifts. Unfortunately, there are some that I had gotten rid of before I took a pic of or with them. Below are some of the ones I have pictures of.

My Bags - The Beginning to 2005

I have decided to pay tribute to my handbag collection and note down all the stuff that I have had over time as best as I could. Every bag for me had a story attached so these entries will be a trip down memory lane for me.

Growing up, my mom was never a handbag fanatic and in my memory I only remember a very old and tattered purse that she used to carry on her and thus I've never really developed an interest in handbags. My mom did teach me the important of a wallet and where I should carry my money so I've always had a wallet since consciousness.