Thursday, December 29, 2011

THE BATTLE OF THE HERBS: Innovative Chinese Beauty Brands

Recently, I found myself in desperate need of two things: hand cream and moisturizing cream for the face. I reminded myself I just bought new stock a few weeks ago, but I just seem to be running out faster than usual nowadays. Here in Hefei, the winter air is dry and bitterly cold. My skin has been suffering, feeling itchy, scaly and uncomfortable most of the time. So, as I squeezed out the last drop of hand cream and facial moisturizer a few days ago, I let out a silent scream and ran to the mall dragging Marc with me! For the first time, Marc endured shopping with me because he was frantic with the idea of not having any lotions as well. He has been using them in this crazy winter climate even more than me!

I'm ready for some skincare shopping!
Over the years of trying lotions and moisturizing products, I’ve found that herbal, organic and natural skincare really works for me, and so I went straight to two of China’s most popular herbal skincare brands: Herborist and Inoherb.

The Chinese Beauty Remedy

I first encountered Herborist when I was living in Nanjing in 2009, after entering a store at a mall. After trying their shampoos, hand creams and body lotions, I was hooked. At that time, I didn’t even realize that it was one of China’s most popular luxury beauty brands and voted Shanghai’s most famous local skincare brand in 2005. I just thought their brand concept was very interesting, the store looked great, the ingredients they used in their products were all natural (which I love!) and their products really worked for my skin. Nowadays, Herborist has expanded globally and is slowly emerging into the international market. Herborist has now established a joint venture with Sephora Cosmetics and is the first Chinese brand carried by Sephora in all its overseas markets. 

Herborist is available internationally in all SEPHORA stores in the following countries: France, Spain, Italy, Luxembourg and Monaco

Chinese website: 

Herborist prides itself in the strength of their products which “integrate Traditional Chinese Medicine into the latest fruits of modern biotechnology.” Here in China, Herborist is considered a luxury brand and is targeted towards the high-end Chinese market. Not all products are pricey though. Their basic care series, regular hand creams, shampoos, and conditioners start at about US$6 each. But their special range of moisturizing, revitalizing and firming creams start at about US$40 each, with the new T’ai Chi moisturizing range being the most expensive. 

Herborist today has at least 1,000 stores all around China. The brand also opened a Herborist Spa in Shanghai in 2002, which offers unique treatments to complement their products.

Herborist store at Wanda Plaza Pedestrian Walk
Hefei, China
Herborist Moisturizing Shampoo (US$6) &
Herborist Multi-Function Hand Care Cream (US$6)

Affordable Herbal

The concept of Inoherb is “affordable herbal”, meaning good skincare doesn’t have to be expensive just because it is herb-based and infused with natural ingredients. Inoherb is found in most drugstores in China and considered a mass-market beauty brand, but it differentiates itself from other drugstore brands by their high-quality natural skin care products. The brand believes that the natural magic of herbs can be used by everyone to improve their skin in a safe and effective way and markets all its products as approachable and affordable. 

Inoherb Octuple Hydra Cream (US$6)
Inoherb Nourishing and Firming Eye Cream (US$8)
Inoherb has maintained a long-time cooperation with Shanghai Medical University School of Medicine in creating their herbal skin research center. By studying ancient Chinese beauty secrets and ten years of research on herbal skin care benefits, modern technology fused the way for the company to develop a series of effective and safe herbal skin care products. 

Inoherb has a wide range of products. Whitening, anti-wrinkle/ nourishing & firming, anti-acne/ oil-control, exfoliating/ deep cleansing, aqua hydra moisturizing, revitalizing, and olive oil body care are just some of the brand’s basic skincare lines. Natural ingredients used in their products consist of witch hazel, pomegranate, cactus, lotus seed, and Rhodiola. 


Nourishing Eye Cream and Octuple Hydra Cream in close-up view
The Octuple Hydra Cream feels great on my skin, and is supposed to hold eight times
the amount of water in the skin.

Here in China, facial masks are so popular and everywhere!
Even I have gotten in on the craze! They feel great and refreshing !
Inoherb Revitalizing Moisturizing Mask 3 pcs. (US$8)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Christmas in China is relatively young and new. As a largely non-religious society, China views this special and spiritual holiday in the West as more of a universal celebration of festivity and joy. It is more a time to have fun more than anything. Christmas entered mainstream Chinese society already in the 1990s and most of the people who enjoy celebrating it are the young generation who see it as a social event, a time of gathering and partying with friends, showcasing dances and songs and most of all, displaying the best Christmas decorations out there.

Getting all decked out in lavish and colorful Christmas décor is the way to go and the shopping malls all over China showcase their trademark Christmas Trees every year to join in the festive spirit and welcome shoppers this holiday season.

Here are a few of the Christmas Trees this season that made me smile!

A beautiful Christmas Tree in Huahai Road
Shanghai, China
Christmas Tree in front of Wanda Plaza Mall
Hefei, China
At night, all the lights sparkle on the Christmas Tree at Wanda Plaza Mall
Hefei, China
A giant, red Christmas chandelier in the shape of a Christmas Tree hangs inside Wanda Plaza Mall.
Hefei, China

My friend Elin in front of Aqua City Mall's Christmas Tree with white snowballs
December 12, 2011
Nanjing, China


Thursday, December 22, 2011


Hailed as one of the top tourist spots in China, (西湖) Xīhú (pronounced shee-hoo), also known in English as West Lake, has been immortalized and praised for centuries by countless poets and artists. It is located in the city of Hangzhou (pronounced hang-joe), the capital of Zhejiang province and once the capital of the Southern Song Dynasty from 1127-1276. Imagine, at that time, Hangzhou was said to have already as much as 1 million people! That would make it the largest city in the world back then. But most of all, it was known for its natural landscapes, incredible beauty and its famous West Lake. Since June 2011, the West Lake Cultural Landscape has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Marco Polo, the great Venetian traveler was the first Westerner to ever visit Hangzhou at the end of the 13th century. He marveled at the city’s beauty and described it immensely in his book, The Travels of Marco Polo, a Description of the World. He describes Hangzhou as “the City of Heaven, beyond dispute the finest and the noblest in the world.”

A Pavilion on Hangzhou's West Lake

Of the city’s West Lake, Marco Polo wrote:

“On one side it skirts the city… and commands a distant view of all its grandeur and loveliness, its temples, monasteries, and gardens with their towering trees, running down to the water’s edge. On the lake itself is the endless procession of barges thronged with pleasure-seekers… their minds and thoughts are intent upon nothing but bodily pleasures and the delights of society.”

West Lake Sunset, Hangzhou
These 2 photos were taken by my father-in-law back in 2009.
Among the West Lake’s many attractions are Leifeng Pagoda, the Mid-Lake Pavilion, Su Causeway, and Baochu Pagoda. Just walking around its circumference (which takes about 2-3 hours leisurely) will enable you to see the lake's best sights while also admiring the many hotels, restaurants, and cafes that surround the area. 


One thing you can't miss while visiting Hangzhou is the Impression West Lake show held every night with the West Lake as its magnificent backdrop. It is directed by celebrated Chinese director, Zhang Yimou (the man behind the 2008 Beijing Olympics Opening and Closing Ceremonies). I went to see it back in October 2009 when Marc and I were still living in the city. 

One of the amazing light spectacles at the IMPRESSION WEST LAKE show
It was a spectacle like nothing I've ever seen before. Filled with colorful lights, moving music, dance choreography and amazing theatrics, Impression West Lake tells the story of the legend of the lake based on an old Hangzhou tale. Based on a poignant love story, the show was breathtaking and I would not hesitate to see it a second time. So, definitely, this is something not to be missed. The show is performed nightly except during the winter months. Try to come in spring, summer, or early autumn. Your hotel in Hangzhou can help you book tickets to the show.

Impression West Lake Show Website: 


Hangzhou is easy to get to being one of the cities conveniently located close to Shanghai. Taking the CRH high-speed G Train from Shanghai to Hangzhou takes only 50 minutes non-stop (US$12). Hangzhou is usually a top weekend escape for expatriates living in Shanghai and a rising tourist city for travelers around the world.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


I believe in the awesome power of makeup. It has the power to transform and update your entire look, highlight your best traits and hide the worst flaws. Most of all, it makes everybody feel more beautiful and even on the worst hair and skin day disasters (we’ve all had those!)…a swipe of lipstick will make anyone feel presentable. That is true power. It is so powerful that women spend billions on makeup and cosmetics every year.

My favorite makeup quote:
"I could have bought five houses with what I’ve spent on makeup.”
                                                                                               -- Cher

I hope Cher is exaggerating here but I don’t care because I love the fact that she said this on David Letterman a few years ago (I laughed out loud when she said it). I love that she is honest and acknowledged her vanity with great aplomb, and for that I love her!!

As for me, the truth is I don’t really wear a lot of makeup. I believe makeup should complement your own unique features and bring it out instead of hiding them. I was a really late bloomer and back in high school, I never wore makeup. I didn’t even think about it at all. In college, the most I would wear was lip gloss. But this is where I first started experimenting with makeup and when you find out what a little makeup can do for you, how much it can improve how you look…well let’s just say my love for it has never stopped.

I’m really excited to see all of the makeup brands and different makeup trends over here in China, but before I set out hunting for what is available here, I’ve decided to take a look at my makeup bag and share with all of you what I am using right now as well as some of my favorites.


My makeup bag. It is a bit of a mess!
But I have downgraded recently so this is all I have! Honest!

The Contents

1. Shiseido Natural Finish Cream Concealer (US$25)

I cannot live without concealer. For pimples, large pores, redness, dark under-eye circles, for days when you just look is a life saver! One of the best makeup products ever invented!! I like Shiseido's cream concealer which I use now because it doesn't look cakey and blends well into your skin even while also covering the problem areas. Definitely one of the best I've tried! 

2. Stila Oil-Free Sheer Color Tinted Moisturizer SPF 30 (US$36)
3. Stila Hydrating Finishing Powder (US$32)

Stila's Hydrating Finishing Powder & Sheer Color Tinted Moisturizer SPF 30
I love the brand Stila. They have some really great products. I prefer tinted moisturizer to foundation because it feels lighter and looks more natural. One thing though, tinted moisturizers don't provide a lot of coverage so if you prefer medium to heavy coverage, buying a liquid foundation might be better for you. I use Stila Oil-Free Sheer Color Tinted Moisturizer with SPF 30 during the day after putting concealer. My shade is Medium 02 which disappears into my skin but also gives me a slight bit of color. Afterwards, I dust some Stila Hydrating Finishing Powder on my face. I love this loose powder! It is so soft and's hard to describe..almost like a lotion-like powder that feels really soft on the skin. 

4. Chanel Quadra Eye Shadow in Beiges Velours (US$57)
5. Bobbi Brown Metallic Long-Wear Cream Shadow in Mercury (US$22)

Chanel Quadra Eye Shadow and Bobbi Brown Metallic Cream Shadow
In my opinion, when it comes to eye shadow, it is hard to beat Chanel’s Quadra Eye Shadow. I have to admit that buying this eye shadow makes me sweat and is terrible on my wallet. I often wonder why I spend this much all in the name of beauty…what about that new blouse I saw the other day? What about that cute bag? Do I really have to blow my shopping budget on eye shadow?? Geesh!! The answer is YES…YES..and YES!!! Do it because you will NEVER ever regret it. Two big PROS to spending this much. 1. It is Chanel (need I say more?) 2. It is the only eye shadow you will ever need! The formula goes on so smoothly and is super smudge and crease-proof. It is also long-wearing that it amazingly still looks the same 8 hours later. I have the 4-color palette called Beiges Velours (now called Prelude). They are a selection of pink, nude and brown shades that can go for day and night and basically use all the time. So to me this buy was a bargain! 
I also love shimmery eye shadow especially silver ones to wear at night. I love Bobbi Brown's Metallic Long-Wear Cream Shadow in Mercury. This is a silvery sparkle color. You can just blend this easily on your eyelids with your fingers and it looks great!

6. Shu Uemura Eye Lash Curler (US$19)

I know it's been said a gazillion times. But it is really true. This is the king and queen of eye lash curlers. It makes lashes look simply amazing. I bought this many years ago and it's all I'll ever need. 

7. Bobbi Brown Long-Wear Gel Eyeliner in Black Ink (US$21)
8. Bobbi Brown Lash Glamour Extreme Lengthening Mascara in Black (US$24)

Bobbi Brown Gel Eyeliner and Glamour Extreme Lengthening Mascara
I don't wear a lot of eyeliner since I already have big eyes. But I like to wear it if I go out at night for a more sophisticated look. I like Bobbi Brown's Gel Eyeliner which comes in a little pot because it is easy to put with an eyeliner brush. It also never smears or creases. For mascara, I use Bobbi Brown's Glamour Extreme Lengthening Mascara. I like to put as much as 3 coats on to give lashes a fuller effect. 

9. Lancome Blush Subtil in Rose Romantique (US$29.50)
10. VMV Hypoallergenics Skin Bloom Blush in Georgia (US$40)
Lancome Blush Subtil and VMV Hypoallergenics Blush
Blush is one of my favorite makeup products. Just sweeping a little on your cheeks gives you an instant glow. I like to mix up these two blushes from day to day. For blush, I prefer a rosy pinkish color since I am quite fair. Lancome's Blush in Rose Romantique is a dusty rosy color and VMV Hypoallergenics Blush in Georgia is a strong bright pink that really gives your skin that pop. A little goes a long way. 
11. My lip balms, lipsticks and lip glosses (many!!)
From Left to Right:
  • Boots Organic Lip Balm (US$5) - I bought this at Boots in London. It has olive oil and is super moisturizing.
  • Aveeno Essential Moisture Lip Conditioner with SPF 15 (US$3.79)- Got this here in China. Essential for lips not to get chapped during winter.
  • Alba Botanica's Terra Tints in Blaze & Bloom (US$3.99)- I wrote about this in my first post. Great lip balms and great colors!
  • VMV Hypoallergenics Subtle Shine Lipstick in Rosette (US$24) - I love this reddish rose color!
  • Lancome Juicy Tubes in Lychee (US$18) - Got this at Hong Kong airport duty-free. It gives lips such a great shine. 
  • The Face Shop FACE It Extreme Rouge Gloss in BR801 - This is a really great glossy nude shade. Perfect for wearing with the smoky eye look. Can't remember the price but it was very affordable!
  • Lavera NaturKosmetik Lipstick in No.26 - This is an organic matte lipstick with a deep burgundy shade that I got on sale in Hong Kong (so I've forgotten the real price). I don't think they sell this color anymore as they have since upgraded their lipstick line.
  • Maybelline Moisture Shine Lipstick in 008 (US$7) - I love Maybelline lipsticks. They are cheap, have a ton of shades to choose from and are just great! This is a brownish nude shade. Got this in China but can't seem to find this particular shade anywhere else.
  • The Body Shop Lipstick in No.14 - This was a gift from one of my best friends a few years ago and I loved it so much that I have used 2 tubes since. But now I can't seem to find the same rosy pink shade. The Body Shop has since updated and changed their range of lipsticks.

Me with no makeup at all.
I will only attempt this look at home, at the beach
and for the purpose of this blog.
Me after adding one makeup product:
VMV Hypoallergenics Lipstick in Rosette
What about all of you? What is inside your makeup bag? What are your favorite products? Do you agree with my choices? I would love to hear your opinions on products you have that you think are real keepers. :) 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


If you ever plan a trip to Shanghai for more than a week, you’ll have a lot of time to see some of the neighborhood cities even just for a day trip and make the most of your China vacation. I really suggest hopping on a train and visiting another city.

One nearby city worth visiting is the historical city of Nanjing. Nanjing used to be the former capital of China (formerly known as “Nanking”) and has an extremely important place in Chinese history and culture, having been renowned as the capital of several dynasties over the course of Chinese civilization.

If you’re coming from Shanghai, getting to Nanjing is easy as the Shanghai-Nanjing Intercity Railway now takes you there in only an hour and 13 minutes going west. If you live in Hefei (like me) it is equally easy to get to, only an hour away by train going east. It is a nearby neighbor, sitting between Hefei and Shanghai, and a city with real historic treasures. Here are some of Nanjing’s amazing pieces of history. 


The City Wall of Nanjing
The City Wall of Nanjing (also known as the Ming City Wall) was built by 200,000 laborers on the orders of the first Ming Dynasty Emperor, Zhu Yuanzhang, after he founded the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and established Nanjing as the capital 600 years ago. This amazing wall took 21 years to complete and surrounds the urban city center (which was the old city back then). The wall is over 600 years old but still stands looking practically brand new with over three-fourths of it still intact. Because of this, it is breathtakingly beautiful.


With friends at the foot of the Mausoleum in 2010
Sun Yat Sen is considered the “Father of Modern China”. He ended the monarchy in 1911 and founded the Republic of China, from which he was President of from 1912 until his death in Beijing in 1925. On May 28, 1929, his remains were transferred to Nanjing and placed in a special mausoleum made just for him. Construction of the tomb began in 1926 until 1929. Now the tomb is one of the best tourist spots in China. Situated at the foot of the second peak of Purple Mountain in Nanjing, it is majestic to see and after climbing the hundreds of steps to the top, the view of the city makes all that climbing worthwhile.


The Spirit Path: a path of stone animals leading up to the Ming Tomb
The entrance path to the Ming Tomb

The Ming Xiaoling Tomb is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located at the southern foot of Purple Mountain in Nanjing. It is the tomb of the first Ming Emperor (also called the Hongwu Emperor), the founder of the Ming Dynasty. It was built from 1381-1405.


The Temple of Confucius used to be an imperial examination center for the entire Jiangsu province. Now it is just a tiny museum, what was left of the original buildings. But it is a top tourist spot in Nanjing because of its location, right at the center of a massive shopping market and beside the Qinghuai river where you can take beautiful photos of the old town architecture and drink some tea while riding the gondola boats for a canal ride.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Tale of Two Streets

In Shanghai, shopping is a definite past time….and a joyful one too!! I admit I love going for the bargains! After all, this is the city where you can find a ton of them and some really good deals…you name it…at the antique markets, fabric markets, and underground shopping plazas and in many of the big retail shopping malls. Shopping opportunities here are endless.

But once in a blue moon, I love walking down two of the city’s famous streets that are known to be paradise for the ultimate luxury shopper. Here, the shops cater to the high-end market, but there’s no rule you can’t enjoy them no matter what your shopping budget is. The best thing about these streets is that you don’t even have to be a big-spender. It is also the perfect place to go for a nice walk amongst the tree-lined roads as you take in the view of some unique architectural sights, do some window-shopping (nothing wrong with that!), and stare at the amazing designs of all the flagship stores. Shanghai is a city of excess; modernity and supreme luxury…so why not have fun and just let it take you in? J


Huaihai Road has been known for many years especially amongst Shanghai residents as the city’s number one retail and shopping strip. It was built in the early 20th century but you’d never guess that by looking at it now. It is a 6-kilometer long boulevard often compared to the Champs-Elysees in Paris, Fifth Avenue in New York and Ginza in Tokyo. Here, huge department stores and shopping plazas abound such as Times Square mall and Hong Kong Shopping Plaza as well as smaller boutique shops lining the street.

Huaihai Road's Cartier shop
Apple Store Shanghai - a huge 2-story haven for techies
Some nice old French style houses also line the street. Most have become new shops.

A Christmas tree decorates the entrance to a mall

Certain shops have made their statement along Huaihai Road because of their unique design. Luxury brands Dunhill and Vacheron Constantin are located in two floors of the two newly-renovated French-style villas (known as the twin villas) on 796 Huaihai Road. The upper floor is home to the members only Kee Club, a high-society hangout with beautiful dining rooms, bars and restaurants serving French and Chinese cuisine.

Other must-see stores on Huaihai Road are the Barbie Flagship store and the Apple Store. The Barbie store is the first flagship store set up by Mattel to sell exclusive Barbie products. This store is not just a toy boutique but a clothing store as well, filled with bags, shoes and retail on all things Barbie. At the top floor, there is also a café developed by chef David Laris. Even if you’re not a kid anymore, it is an experience not to be missed. The Apple Store is two gigantic floors of heaven for all Mac fans and techies out there. You can just browse for hours in here but watch is always packed with people!


West Nanjing Road, also known as Nanjing Xi Lu (in Mandarin pinyin spelling and pronounced “Nanjing shee lu”) is also a famous luxury shopping street with many malls and big department stores such as Isetan and Plaza 66. In comparison with Huaihai road, I find that there are more accessible retail boutiques here such as Lacoste, Massimo Dutti, Bossini, Hotwind, Nike etc. If this wasn't enough, there are also the UNIQLO , H&M and Marks and Spencer flagship stores which are directly right after one another. Yes, enough to give you a shopping heart attack! The street also plays host to many five-star hotels such as the Portman Ritz Carlton, the JC Mandarin, and The Puli Hotel and Spa. There are also many business buildings and offices here.

West Nanjing Road's many boutique shops along the street
West Nanjing Road's many office buildings

This guy in shorts really amused me.
It was 8 degrees Celsius but he seemed  to think it was summer!

Christmas decorations
Jing'An Temple, built in 1216 is a great landmark at the beginning of West Nanjing Road.
One of the best architectural sights is Jing’An Temple at the beginning of West Nanjing Road. The Buddhist temple was built in 1216 during the Song Dynasty and is now a historical landmark in this otherwise modern landscape.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

In Dumpling Heaven...

I’ve always had a love for dumplings. I’m game to eat them anytime, anywhere. For a snack, a meal, even breakfast? J haha! I’m not kidding!! It really is extremely easy to get addicted to these yummy little things…

But the moment I tried the xiao long bao (pronounced shyaow-long-baw), all other dumplings went down the drain. The xiao long bao is sometimes called a “soup dumpling” and is usually filled with pork steamed until it fills with the juices of its own soup. Putting it in your mouth, it is tender, delicious and the soup inside the dumpling just fills your mouth with warmth and joy…I can’t even begin to tell you what an amazing experience it is without getting hungry right now!!

My friend Cathy and I eating a giant xiao long bao in Shanghai in 2010.
When it comes to xiao long bao’s, in my opinion, no other restaurant beats Din Tai Fung. Din Tai Fung is an award-winning, popular and successful chain of restaurants originating from Taiwan. It has now become an international legend with branches all over the world: in Hong Kong, Mainland China, Thailand, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea, the United States, Australia, and Canada. Din Tai Fung in Hong Kong has been awarded one Michelin star.

Two days ago, while in Shanghai to do some errands, Marc and I decided to take advantage and head on over to Din Tai Fung for lunch…a treat we haven’t had in awhile. As usual, the food was excellent, the service impeccable and it was pure dumpling heaven!!

The famous xiao long bao
Sauteed spinach in garlic. Just WOW!
Shrimp and pork mixed xiao long baos

Marc in a Din Tai Fung daze! Everything is just too good!!
Spicy Cucumber sauteed in chili and garlic. Yum!!! 
Din Tai Fung is always packed!
The open kitchen showing the chefs making the xiao long baos fresh

Many local celebrities have their caricatures drawn on the walls with their autographs.

Din Tai Fung, Shanghai
Shanghai Centre, 1376 West Nanjing Road (Nanjing Xi Lu)
Shanghai, P.R. China
Tel: (86) 21-62899182