Posts filed under ‘Reflections’
Have you been prudent with your spending since the GFC smacked us in the collective chops? I know I have. I still spend here and there but lots of things I’d like to buy, I just don’t. I stop and think: is this a necessary item? Do I really need ANOTHER handbag? I try not to buy what I call frivolous things – magazines, that extra latte, another lipgloss. I slip up from time to time. But what I’m doing is changing a habit and this takes time. The habit of having the desired item NOW. The habit of thinking I need to have what everyone else has. The habit of buying for the sake of buying.
Although the global financial hissy fit put a temporary dampener on The Brands, things are now looking up for luxury goods. There has been a rebound in spending on luxury items but the stuff I’ve been reading about is frankly insane. Would you pay US$25,000 on a pair of diamond-encrusted gold sunglasses? Or $7,990 on a designer-name grey beaded dress? Or a crocodile handbag for $30,000? I’d like to think, even if I had the kind of money to plonk down on diamond-encrusted sunglasses, I would not do it because of my new-found frugality. Or just because I think it’s not right to spend such exorbitant amounts on stuff when there are people doing it tough out there or living in abject poverty.
Apparently, the luxury goods market saw a 15% increase in sales in February 2010 over the same period in 2009. And in January 2010, there was an 8% increase over January 2009. In Asia, demand for luxury goods is projected to grow by 12% a year and will reach US$258.7 billion in 2016. But returning buyers are discreet. They are spending big but expecting quality and uniqueness (guess it’s unique to have diamond-encrusted sunnies). And because the market is less crowded, due to some high end luxury brands like Yohji Yamamoto and Christian Lacroix going belly up, the pointy end of the luxury goods market has to be good, really, really good. Quiet, understated luxury is in; garish, tasteless bling and gaudy designer stuff is out (note to rap artists: you might wish to reconsider the heavy gold chains and those huge diamond-studded dollar signs hanging off your necks).
So what are the rich and famous buying? Here’s a run down:
This is the ‘it’ bag of the moment by Roger Vivier and called Miss Viv. Price tag US $13,000. Notice how there are no logos, which seems to signal a shift away from brazenly advertising the brand. It’s an elegant, sophisticated handbag. So ladies: if you have an extra $13,000 to spend, it’s all yours. Or if you prefer, for $25,000 you can pick up the Lana Marks multi-colour Positano alligator tote.
If you can splurge $25k, you’ll be the happy owner of these Ilori diamond-encrusted sunglasses above. I have to admit I’m not into shoes so I don’t get the Chandelier shoe below – Prada’s lucite shoe with crystal detailing and priced between $800 and $1800. They apparently sold out before they even hit retail shops.
Because I love earrings, I understand the Ivanka Trump 18k white gold signature oval pave diamond drop earrings. Price tag $10,500. Mmmmm…..think I could pick up something in Diva for around 50 bucks. Fake but prudent bling!
Above is the Balmain cotton canvas studded military blazer for $6,225. And the pièce de résistance:
London based jeweller, Solange Azagury-Partridge’s “Random” necklace, sported by Sarah Jessica Parker on the Sex And The City 2 poster. This necklace (a stunner there is no doubt) is a whopping $198,200.
The splurging of thousands of dollars on luxury items does not sit well with me. It reeks of people who are all about ego and status and those concerned about what other people think of them. I would hope that the GFC has taught us to think more carefully about how we use our money. What do you think?
I’ve been pondering Australian Idol. I tried not to watch it this year but I’ve been sucked in. Not by the “talent” but by the cringe-worthy train wreck that is this year’s Idol contest. It’s a cliche now to say that people want their 15 minutes of fame. But the notion of “success” seems to be measured by how many followers you have on Twitter or how many Facebook friends you have. Before the GFC sidelined us, success was how big your McMansion was or whether you had a BMW or teetered around on sky-high Jimmy Choos with the latest designer “It” bag hanging off your arm. So I’ve been pondering “success”: what does it mean to be successful in life? Obviously, it’s subjective.
A great friend of mine lives in Thailand. She’s a single Thai lady living with her parents, looking after her nephew and working extremely hard. Compared to the average Australian, she would most likely be described as not very well off, living in a polluted, crowded city in a developing Asian country. But in my view, she’s probably happier than most people. She asks for nothing; she has few possessions; she’s a devout Buddhist.
Now, consider these two scenarios:
Scenario #1. After high school, a young man goes to college and studies economics. He is president of his fraternity, obtains a Doctor of Philosophy degree in economics and lands a job at a well-known oil company. He also served in the Department of the Interior before returning to the business world, eventually working his way up to a CEO position of a major corporation, earning millions of dollars a year. He received a long list of awards, ranging from Father of the Year to alumni and business awards.
Scenario #2. A young woman trains under her father to become a watch maker. At the age of 50, she is still unmarried and living with her father and her other unmarried sister, helping to run her father’s watch shop. Eventually, she and her family became involved in something illegal and they lose everything. Her sister and father were even put to death.
Which scenario describes the successful person? You would most likely respond “No brainer! Scenario #1″ because that person made gazillions of dollars and was a successful businessman whereas the woman in Scenario #2 never found independence from her family, was involved in illegal activities and lost her father and sister as a result.
But some important facts are missing from these two scenarios. The businessman in Scenario #1 is Kenneth Lay, former CEO of Enron who, as we know, dumped his own Enron stocks knowing full well Enron was going belly up. He was charged with fraud but before the book could be thrown at him, he died at the age of 64 years.
The person in scenario #2 is Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch Christian Holocaust survivor who, along with her father and sister, helped to hide Jews from the Nazis in Holland. Corrie and her family were arrested in 1944 when a Dutch informant blabbed and turned them in to the Nazis. They were carted off to concentration camps. Her father and sister died but Corrie was released on Christmas Day 1944 and went on to international acclaim as an author and public speaker.
Now that you have the full facts: which one would you say is successful? I’d say Corrie ten Boom, what about you? What’s your definition of success?
(Thx to the great site, Being Frugal, for the two scenarios and sparking my thinking on this subject).
So in my last post I told you all about my recent flying visit to New Zealand…well, more about my encounters with SmartGate. I went to Christchurch actually. I haven’t been there for well over 15 years and don’t really recall my visit there. I suspected I would be hard-pressed to get a decent soy chai latte. I imagined the streets would be deserted because everyone would be tucked up in bed by 6.00pm. I imagined a dreary, unsophisticated city.
Wrooooooong! This is the prettiest city I’ve seen in a long time, with plenty of cafes, tasty food and really friendly people. But the first thing I noticed was the vegetation – lots of trees with soft foliage; gradations of green from dark to lime green and golden yellow; a stunning Botannical Garden smack bang in the middle of the city; and to my delight – plenty of weeping willows.
When I was a kid, there was a beautiful, large weeping willow in the next street. I’d play there with friends, feeling safe and enfolded by the canopy of the willow and its gently cascading, feather-veined foliage. We’d make mud pies in the shade of the tree on lazy afternoons after school. Willows are found on moist soil, so there was plenty of opportunity to make those pies and swing on the branches.
Over the years, I’ve often thought of that tree, which was sadly cut down I guess as it seemed to have disappeared by the 1990s. The weeping willow is my favourite tree and I search in vein for them. I see sad relics occasionally as my train snails speeds across the landscape. The soft foliage has gone and the one I’m thinking of is a dried up specimen, presumably because it can’t draw water from the soil due to the dry conditions of our continent.
So my visit had me contemplating weeping willows and how vegetation can affect a culture. Warning: unstructured thinking ahead. To what extent do you think a harsh landscape that is populated mainly by dull green eucalypts (ie Australia) affects the people inhabiting that landscape?
I’m about to make a generalisation, I know.. but…the Australian accent is pretty broad and often harsh. Australians can be a tough bunch who are quite willing to openly swear right, left and centre; drink till they drop; dabble in a bit of road rage or a spot of fighting at the local pub. Our arid continent brings out the fighting spirit in many Australians.
Contrast this with Christchurch, which is a bit like being transported back to Oxford or Cambridge, with its English village feel. The Botannical Gardens boast a stunning array of trees and magnificent pink and white blossoms. A spin around this park-like atmosphere decreases the stress levels. Weeping willows abound. Cantabrians (Christchurch is in the region of Canterbury) are polite; incredibly helpful and relaxed. The city is easy to get around and easy to walk really. People can live 10 mins away in a suburb, such as Fendalton, and get to work easily. The city and suburbs are surrounded by soft, willowly, graceful trees and shrubs. It’s a feast of green, gold and red tones.
So I reflected on the extent to which vegetation can actually shape a city’s inhabitants. Is it a marginal influence? Is it a subconscious absorption? How do trees affect neighbourhood relationships and quality of life? If there is an abundance of trees in an urban area, is there less urban violence? Is the unsociable nature of people in cities related to a lack of trees and plants? Are there stronger communities when there are plenty of trees around?
A spot of research shows that a number of studies suggest community engagement can be strengthened and crime and graffiti reduced by parks and urban vegetation. I would say that public spaces with trees, such as Botanical Gardens, attract people – who stroll, play with their kids, have picnics, sight other humans, talk with others and so on. Trees are attractors. A Forestry Report (University of Illinois, 1996) explores how trees impact on social ties. And there’s a heap of resources here about the influence and benefits of vegetation in urban areas.
Where I grew up (Sydney’s upper North Shore area), there are still more trees than other areas of Sydney but that willow tree has long gone and the tree-lined street where I lived is far less tree-lined. Every spring, the whole street boasted pink and white blossom trees – neighbours would complete for best blossom tree. They were cut down in the 1980s from memory and when I last drove down the street of my childhood (2008) there was simply a few small shrubs outside the McMansions that now jostle for position. The whole street has lost the beauty and character I remember.
But back to the weeping willow. It has loomed large in mythology surrounding trees and has long been considered the tree of tears, sorrow and enchantment. The Ancient Greeks associated the willow and its deep roots with fertility and would place a slender willow branch in the bed of an infertile woman, hoping for the best. Psalm 137 reads: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. Upon the willows in the midst thereof we hanged up our harps.” (I can’t imagine harps being hung on the fragile branches and there’s a suggestion that it was poplars that figured in this Psalm).
Weeping willows were unknown in Europe until they were imported from China at the beginning of the eighteenth century (and of course, this beautiful tree is commemorated in Chinese willow pattern plates). Legend has it that the first weeping willow in Britain was grown by Alexander Pope, who is said to have planted a budding wand from a basket containing figs that a Turkish lady admirer had given him. There are so many myths surrounding these trees that I plan to research more, it’s really quite fascinating.
But meanwhile: take a moment to look around your urban area. Any weeping willows? Is there a lack of trees and greenery? An abundance? Are you like me – you need to live near trees? How do you think a lack of trees affects society?
I’m in a reflective mood. I’ve been thinking a lot about the 1950s and 60s. This has been brought on I think by that fabulous series Mad Men – have you watched it? If not, do yourself a favour. The attention to historical detail is stunning, even down to the lipsticks and the handbags of the time (in case you are wondering, nope, I’m not that old to have been around in the 50s toting lipsticks and handbags).
It’s the latter item – handbags – that really piques my interest. I collect handbags of the 1940s and 1950s. I love their slimness and elegance, along with the way a woman would hold the bag by the hand or over the arm in the fashion followed by the stunningly gorgeous, Grace Kelly.
People who know me and my penchant for handbags, know that I have a tendency to carry my bag just so. The other day, I was in my favourite vintage shop pondering whether I should purchase a superb 1950s dark navy crocodile handbag (or purse as they were more commonly called then). It was sleek, slim and stylish. But as I pondered, the question on my mind was: how on earth would I even get my wallet in there? The bag is so slim it made me think about what on earth women of the 1950s carried around with them.
So here’s my current daily handbag – it’s Italian, functional, practical and I can carry it over my arm a’la 1950s style:
And here are two of my 1950s handbags:
The one on the left has a Lucite handle (common in the 50s) with navy bead work and shiny silver detail. The one on the right (which I suspect is more 1940s) is navy bead work in a geometric pattern. Both snap shut with the single metal clasp that was common for the era and both have short handle straps. Now, here’s my current handbag compared to the geometrically beaded bag:
If you haven’t nodded off by now, you will immediately notice what made me start reflecting – how much bigger women’s handbags are now. What does the size of a handbag say about a woman? About the era? I pondered this for several days. I even went off and weighed my bags: my current Italian baby weighs 3.5 kgs with all my stuff in it; the 1950s bag with the Lucite handle weighs 700g (with lipstick, folded money and a small mirror, which is about all I can get in there); and the geometrically beaded job weighs 500g with the same items in it (it’s an incredibly light purse).
Hello? I am toting a handbag that is 3.5kgs?? so what’s in there you may ask. Good question….wait a minute.. let me open up the bag and reveal (deep breath):
- Hello Kitty! small bag with 8 lip glosses (well, a girl does need a lip gloss pallete);
- one rather large wallet to carry money, license and all the crap you have to carry around with you to prove who you are at a moment’s notice;
- gold coin purse (I separate my gold coins from other coins so I can feed the pig);
- keys for the house, car and drawers at work;
- plastic identity cards to swipe and enter my place of work;
- two packets of Panadol (you never know how many headaches a day at work will give you);
- a lucky charm;
- another small bag with items to touch up make-up during the day;
- small perfume;
- iPod Nano (to shut out the noise of yobos on the train);
- mobile/cell phone (I refuse to have a slaveberry BlackBerry. I’m still contemplating an iPhone);
- latest book I’m reading (which is Virginia Woolf’s, The Waves).
Yeegads! I decided to chat to one of the women I know well at another vintage shop – she was a young woman in the 1950s and well remembers that time. So I asked her what she used to carry in the slim purses of the day – one lipstick, one small mirror, gloves. I stared at her. Anything else? Surely you carried money? more lipsticks? house keys? Nope, she said. My husband carried everything – he paid for anything I needed; he had the house and car keys; we had no mobile phones in those days. Life was simpler she said.
Aha! I thought….the 1950s handbag was a symbol of femininity certainly. But it also sent a sexual message – I am submissive, I am not empowered, I’m a good wife or potential wife, I let the man carry the important stuff. I thought how much more liberated a woman is today. But then I thought: hang on, I’m toting around a 3.5kg bag. This is liberated???
True. The modern handbag, which is far larger than 1950s bags and usually slung over the shoulder, says a multitude of things about the contemporary female:
- I’m my own boss – I carry the keys to my house; I carry my own money and can pay for myself thank you;
- I like electronics. I have a BlackBerry or an iPhone in my bag – just like the guys have;
- I have a career;
- I’m empowered.
But heck: 3.5kgs? Either I’ll have to downsize what’s in my bag or bring back the 1950s!
So, for the next five days, I’ll be in Sydney – dog minding. Looking forward to it as it will give me photo opps for “dog portraits”. I plan to roam around the local area too with my Diana F+ camera (much less obtrusive than my Nikon) and maybe take some lomo shots of streetlife. The dogs are two rough collies (like Lassie) and are great people magnets. This is my cunning plan: drag the dogs around with me so people will look at the dogs and forget about me taking photos.
I’ve been pretty busy this week (actually, when am I not!), so today’s post is a bit of a general update. A TS reader recently emailed me to ask what I actually DO because I seem to be involved in lots of things – such as ranting and raving about privacy issues; I dabble in photography; and he made the comment that this blog covers such vast issues, he was wondering what I do for a living.
Well, good question! I regularly ask myself this question :-) So today, I’ll answer it and tell you about future plans. My “professional career” is as a knowledge management practitioner (mmm…sounds fancy). I’ve been in knowledge management now for well over 12 years. I have been in the same organisation (part-time) for the last 7 years, where I implement communities of practice (all still thriving and surviving despite the usual organisational ups and downs). Because this job is part-time, I also have my own consulting practice and over the years have facilitated workshops; coached KM people; implemented document management systems (I’m doing that now as a matter of fact); written KM strategies for organisations and so on.
But wait! There’s more! I also teach KM at Hong Kong Polytechnic University and this has involved courses such as intellectual capital and knowledge communities. Having been a teacher, I still relish the engagement with students.
But regular readers of TS blog would know that I “reignited” my passion for photography about a year ago and have recently set up a photo blog – ChinchillaBluePhotography – which you can access on the right hand side panel. I’m about to embark on a 12-week photography course with an American photographer – personal, tailored lessons and he will give me assignments and critique my photos. I will find this somewhat confronting but getting critiqued is how you improve.
What you don’t know though is that I’m a secret novelist. At the age of 14 or 15 years, I wrote my first novel, which my dad found, read and promptly declared writing should be my career. I said stuff that, I’m off to Uni to study philosophy and history. And then I disappeared into a coma (ie corporate life) from which I’m only just starting to wake up from.
About 6 months ago, two amazing women on a social network I participate in invited me to write with them. We have written the first of seven books together. We have never met. One lady is an American living in China; the other a French woman living in Texas. We collaborate virtually and have decided not to meet (until of course we go on the world book tour!). We’re now at the editing stage and realise we have more work to do but that’s cool – the experience has been incredible and it’s stirred up my desire for fiction writing.
I now have an idea for a book and will over the next year be writing it. The reason I’m telling you this is because if I say it publicly, on TS blog, I’m more likely to do it. I wish I could remember the novel I wrote when I was 14. I had just finished reading Carson McCullers’ The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, so presumably my novel had that feel to it. It remains one of my favourite books.
So hopefully, one day, in the not too distant future, I can answer the question “what exactly do you do?” with the answer- what I originally started out doing when I was around 14 years old – taking photos and writing novels. It’s funny how later in life, you often return to your earlier passions. Why is that?
Two interesting things have happened to me over the last week or so – showing me firstly that The Brands still dominate (despite the looming spectre of a global recession or depression) and secondly, that we can still be polite to each other and have fun under pressure.
So I was in Hong Kong recently and I took with me a vinyl bag that I received as a freebie from a local vet. To tell you the truth, a friend and I went to this vet for one reason – to check out the very cute Brazilian guy behind the counter. From this visit, we came away with a lot of free things the vet was giving away, including this bag:
Now, I realise that it’s not the most stylish thing you’ve ever seen but it’s quite a handy tote bag – I can carry books to read, I can carry my new Diana F+ camera and it was very useful during my Hong Kong visit for lugging around my new macro lens and stuff a girl needs when out and about.
I walked into a Gucci shop in Hong Kong. I just wanted to see what the prices were like and to drool over a couple of handbags. Despite giving up The Brands, I still look at them occasionally. Well, dear reader, you should have seen the look on the salesgirl’s face when she clamped her eyes on my Eukanuba Cat Foods bag.
Here she was – immaculately dressed in a black suit, ruby red nails, a touch of glitter eyeshadow on her eyelids, shining black hair coiffed to perfection. And here I was – with my new plastic toy camera draped around my neck and vinyl bag, touting an advertisement for cat food.
She looked me up and down and her eyes settled in amazement on my tote. Her expression positively dripped with disdain. She muttered something to her companion – probably along the lines of “how do we get this person out of our store fast?”. The whole episode just confirmed for me why I have given up The Brands because more often than not they are associated with people who favour style over substance and think that appearance is the standard by which we should all be judged. My free cat food bag now takes pride of place as a symbol of anti-The Brands (I don’t think that Eukanuba is a global designer brand). And seems shops devoted to luxury goods are shutting down in Moscow and the Japanese (The Brands addicts) are trading down to Zara and H&M.
The second thing that happened to me occurred last Thursday, the day before Easter Friday. I wanted to beat the crowds I had seen in Darrell Lea and Haigh’s chocolate shops in Sydney, so I thought I’d hit these shops at 9.00am. I was after chocolate mint frogs for a work colleague so trotted to Haigh’s only to be met with a LONG queue streaming out of the store and half-way down Strand Arcade. Obviously, many other people had thought of the same “get in early” cunning plan that I had.
With a sigh, I joined the queue and about 15 minutes later reached the front door of the shop. I was ushered in by a burly security guard (security guards for chocolate?). People were buzzing around like bees in the confines of this rather small shop. Having grabbed two packets of choc frogs, I joined the queue for the cash registers. It was a snaking queue with one side going in one direction and the other side going in the opposing direction. Which meant that as you were making your way along the queue, you were facing strangers going the other way.
Normally, I find people in queues a taciturn lot. We stare at the floor, we talk into our mobile phones, we ignore fellow people. But this queue was different. Despite lining up for over 30 minutes, no-one displayed any signs of impatience or anger. It turned out that quite a few people were from New Zealand and they had flown over to get Haigh’s chocolate (would have thought Whittaker’s was pretty good). A long discussion between about 8 people in the queue, including myself, took place over the best brand of chocolate.
When I reached the top of the first queue, I was met with a very large security guard who had been barking orders like “move to the right people, so others can get by”. He looked mean to me. But he stared down and said “I feel like a school teacher” to which I replied “yep, and we feel like we’re all on detention”. He laughed and we then began a discussion on whereabouts in New Zealand he was from as he was of Maori ancestry.
All in all, there was a lot of laughter and talk going on. People were smiling despite many of us being in that queue for over 30 minutes. We discussed the delights of chocolate and whether dark chocolate is better than milk. We discussed whether chocolate bilbies were more popular than chocolate rabbits (personally, I always buy a bilby).
And when I finally reached the counter, the dudes serving had a smile on their dials. They were serving one person after the other such was the fast pace of chocolate flying out the shop. But they were courteous and even offered a free chocolate to take away with you.
Even though I despair about humanity – the violence, the callousness, the wars, the poverty, the global financial hissy fit – I came out of that chocolate shop feeling elated and thinking that I’d just spent a fantastic 40 minutes or so with fellow humans that I am unlikely to ever see again in my lifetime.
The global financial hissy fit is hitting Australia. We are not immune, despite this country having rich, natural resources. You need a country or two to buy these natural resources and if those countries (like China) are feeling pain, well, you ‘aint going to sell as much as you think. What happens is that these countries come after your natural resources, hoping to get them at bargain basement prices – so, for example, Chinalco has an AU$30 billion bid for 18% of Rio Tinto (although I suspect the Foreign Investment Review Board will block this).
Our national unemployment rate has risen from 4.8% to 5.2% on the heels of 590,000 people being tossed out of a job. Australian banks are ditching their employees overboard and moving jobs to India. Pacific Brands (the company behind labels like Bonds, Holeproof, Berlei and Hard Yakka) has closed seven of its Australian factories and axed 1850 jobs (which will be sent offshore as part of its restructuring plan). In a day of horror, 3565 jobs were lost when BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, David Jones and CSR took the razor to their workforces.
Our PM is saying: “Things will get worse before they get better ….The magnitude of the global financial crisis almost beggars belief.”
But I was having lunch with a chap the other day and this person said: “Global recession? What recession? People are still lunching and buying things. She’ll be right mate!” Ah, yes the good old Aussie national response to anything that looks as though it might disrupt our obsession with footy, meat pies, Holden cars or retail therapy. This response has always struck me as about as dumb as sticking your head in the sand. Alternatively, we could say it’s the Aussie fighting spirit – that we’re a nation of tough as boots people who endure harsh weather, droughts, floods, bushfires, you name it. So a global financial hissy fit isn’t going to scare us one bit. Bring it on!
But pause for thought: I had to travel to Melbourne earlier this week to facilitate a meeting and in the hotel room was a copy of The Week (Australian edition, March 13 2009). I’d been reading Harry S Dent’s book, The Great Depression Ahead, and was too forlorn to continue onto Chapter 7 that evening. So I picked up the mag and it opened magically to page 3, where my eye immediately caught sight of this quote (by David Salter):
“What worries me is that when the bad times arrive, which they surely must, we might not turn out to be quite as resilient as we thought. Australians today aren’t the same stoic bunch as those who faced the Great Depression. For them, Gallipoli and the horrors of the Western Front were just 15 years earlier. Many of the tough men and women who’d survived the terrible drought and financial hardships of the 1890s still sat at the head of family tables. We’re much softer now – coddled by welfare entitlements and high standards of living based on personal debt. Will we still have the reserves of tenacity, endurance and self-sacrifice to match our grandparents?”.
And THIS I think is the profound question that will face Australians in 2009 and 2010. As a nation, do we still have the right stuff to weather the vicious storm ahead?