these are a few of my favourite things

Woke up this morning, with absolutely nothing to do, so thought I'd do a little post about my favourite things of 2006. I think it was the feature in New York Magazine that inspired such industry in me - it was a weirdly compelling read even though I've never even heard of half the bands and singers in the music sections.

No rules here, just that I only post about things I love. I really think posting pictures of things I hate is exhausting, plus I hate to mar my little online journal here with ugly things. There's ugly/amusing, which I don't mind, but ugly/ugly is you know...no thanks. It's Christmas Eve, for heaven's sake.

So, the tops of 2006...

Music


Top cover of a song - "Forever Young" by Youth Group

I am ashamed to say that I heard this while watching "The O.C.", in an episode where Marissa manages not to be too stupid and Ryan manages to be to not too impetuous and the whole thing manages to be quite blah.

But then at the last part, where Marissa shows up at Ryan's and they dance to "Forever Young" which conveniently starts playing when she flicks on the radio, and it felt like an incredibly affecting moment. Not because I care very much for Ryan or Marissa but because I suddenly felt like I was really older and that I was graduating soon and leaving student life behind for adulthood.

I get these moments when I suddenly wish that time would stop and let everything be perfect and as it is as it was at that very instant. Something about this song echoes that wish of mine, and the moody way Youth Group did it felt very appropriate and did away the cheese factor of the original. Great song.

Top random music discovery - KT Tunstall


It was one of those things that just happen and makes you think that some things are meant to be. A friend gave me a copy of her album, but I listened to "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" and tuned out; for some reason, it got on my nerves.

The song still annoys me, but I've come to love the rest of the album. I might not have listened to it again I hadn't come home one day and my sister happened to be playing "Universe and U".

I love her imperfect, not quite soothing, and yet incredibly calming voice. It's the kind of voice I want to be listening to when I'm walking in the rain or on a bus on my way home after work. I like the simplicity of the lyrics and how it seems come right out of my heart.
I never used to like women musicians - all my favourite musicians are either men or bands fronted by men (it just happened that way - and I always thought it was possibly because women (or bands fronted by women) seem to sound a bit too plead-y when they sing. I've had friends who tried to convert me to the joys of Aimee Mann and Jem, and so on, but then it never stuck.

But along comes KT Tunstall and her laidback, pensive delivery, and I'm hooked. I'm a sucker for easy listening, and it's great to finally find someone who does it intelligently. Definitely one of my favourite new finds for the year.

Top unexpected new love - "Continuum" by John Mayer



So a friend of mine loves to share music - he lends me all his albums whenever he thinks I might enjoy it, and this was one of his recommendations.

I don't really have a thing for John Mayer, even though I've liked his voice since he debut into the big time, and I did rather like "Daughters". That guy has a way with lyrics - I particularly love this line in "Daughters": "Standing on the steps/My heart in my hand".

But his songs always just seemed a little too...I don't know, it just never quite struck the right note in me.

Which is why "Continuum" was so pleasantly surprising. There's this jazzy undertone to the whole album which I've never associated with John Mayer before. And "Slow Dancing in a Burning Room" is my favourite song to play when I'm going home at night after a long day of work.

And it grows on you. The more I listen to it, the more I come to love the songs. It ages like fine wine.

I'm not particularly adventurous when it comes to music - I don't seek out music the way I seek out films or books, so it's nice to have friends like mine who pass on the gems. And maybe I'm a little late in my lauding of John Mayer, but I don't think there's such a thing as being late when it comes to good music. The best things are eternal.

Top live performance - Jason Mraz



I didn't like Jason Mraz before I heard him sing live. His songs annoyed me, especially the slightly-too-pleading "You and I both", which was hugely over-played on the radio.

And then I got free tickets to his concert during Mosaic and I thought, ah well, what's the harm? It might even make up for the fact that I missed the Kings of Convenience concert.

He blew me away. I knew very few of his songs, but enough to know that they sound way, way, way better live and acoustic. Why doesn't this guy just record his songs like that? They sound so much less whiny and less like disposable pop.

He performed with just his guitar, that dreadlocked drummer with the huge laugh, and his pitch-perfect, crystal clear voice that held everyone in the concert hall captive. I still remember his performance of "Please don't tell her". I don't think I'll forget it for a long time.
Top rock album - "Sam's Town" by The Killers




I think a lot of people will disagree with me about this one. I keep hearing how it's a Bruce Springsteen rip-off. I don't know how true it is, because (gasp) I've never heard a Bruce Springsteen song.

I think it's not quite as catchy and flashy as "Hot Fuss," but I like it all the same. Whatever you might say about them, I think there aren't that many bands out there doing what they do. A lot of the new bands sound a bit thin or incredibly deriative to me (I'm thinking of Jet and Razorlight), and I like how The Killers take their time with a song - they let it build up very nicely.

In other words, I'm still a fan.

Top new rock act - The Arctic Monkeys




It seemed like a load of noise at first, and then one day, like a kaleidescope, the songs refocussed sharply into something irresistibly catchy and suddenly I couldn't get enough of these boys. Play it very loud.

Top get-off-your-ass-and-dance song - "Promiscuous Girl" by Nelly Furtado and Timbaland and Shakira's "Hips Don't Lie"

I don't like Nelly Furtado, whether she was in her hippie goddess phase, or her new "Maneater" phase - her voice is profoundly annoying.

But such is the genius of Timbaland that he manages to make Ms Furtado bearable, and even catchy. It's such a playful, flirty song that I'm even prepared to overlook the incredibly dumb lyrics.

Meanwhile, Shakira and Wyclef Jean's live performance of "Hips Don't Lie" was easily one of the highlights of the World Cup final, considering that France's loss and Zidane's disgrace didn't leave me with too much to cheer about.

Another song with silly lyrics (but good dance songs are like that), it always puts me in a great mood because it sounds so festive and brings with it the promise of a helluva good party. Plus it makes a really cute ring tone because the trumpets at the beginning makes it sound like every call coming in is going to be a good call, until you answer and it's your mum asking you to pick up more toilet paper for the house.

Top ad song - Daft Punk's "Digital Love" in the Nokia ads

It's a headbopper of a song, accompanying a sweetly simple ad of sharing music that really struck something in me - it's something I love to do.

I think sharing music, like sharing food, is a deeply personal gesture that's incredibly easy to extend. I remember a friend of mine passing me his MP3 player and letting me hear "Please baby don't" by John Legend for the first time - it was such a soothing note on a frazzled day. It's not a grand gesture, just something that seems to say that that person thought you might enjoy it, and he or she was thinking of you.

I've managed to never heard Daft Punk before (or maybe I've heard something, but just didn't know it was by them), but this song got me curious enough to pop into a music store hoping to give it a listen. Nada. The store didn't carry it (shame on you!). Back to the trusty iTunes store then.

Top pop album - "Futuresex/Lovesounds" by Justin Timberlake


Who knew a former N'SYNC boy would become my pop idol of 2006? Lookwise, he still doesn't do it for me, but he has great style (a bit try-hard sometimes, but I'm sick of rapper style, so I'll settle) and "My Love" is my favourite pop song music video of the year, hands-down. I love his clothes in the video, I love the monochromatic tones, I love the dancers.

In case you're wondering, I just love it.

Fashion

Top personal trend - shorts



It's the unladylike-ness in me. I am not dainty, not demure, and kind of a klutz. I've learnt to conduct myself in dresses and skirts by now, but I am and will always be most comfortable in shorts. And since shorts became big news in 2005, I've been in sartorial heaven, spoilt by endless choices in cut, fabric and length.

It kind of peaked this year - I found meself on a shorts shopping spree, and can be found at any given time wearing a pair. They've become my new jeans.

I allude once more to the Singaporean climate - it's hot, sticky, and given to sudden rainstorms. Shorts are a wonderful and reliable option, especially for a student like me who can afford to wear shorts just about everywhere (I understand that women working in more conservative establishments do not have this luxury).

I wear them with pretty tops and nice flats to off-set the slobbiness. With their sleeker kneelength versions I wear the occasional heel. I've recently acquired a slouchy version to wear with a crisp white shirt tucked in at the waist.

Top trend - A-line shifts




It's the chic equivalent of going out in your favourite baggy T-shirt. Nothing that hugs the ass that'll embarrass myself. A nice flippy length to show off my legs. No Empire waist to create that impression of infantilism I hate. A look easily dressed up or dressed down with a mere change of shoes. More please.

Top personal fashion epiphany - Dresses



Burberry
I think I've gone on about this quite a bit, so I won't rhapsodise at length, but I want to end the year by saying that I just love how EASY it is to pull on a dress and voila, instant style.

No longer are dresses the domain of the frou frou. A good dress can be every bit as unfussy as the perfect T-shirt-and-jeans combo. And now that the stores are full of them in endless variations, I look forward to adding more to my collection.

Top cover-up - Grey grandpa cardigan from E'sprit

For a mere $58, I found myself my favourite cover-up of the year, a chunky knit cardigan in cloudy grey with oversized buttons, and cropped sleeves - comfortingly toasty in chilly air-conditioning. There's a librarian charm to the cardigan and it absolutely goes with everything. I don't think I made a better buy all year.


Okay it's a dead tie with my grey knit button-front vest from Topshop, but I'll give the round to the cardigan because the wool isn't shedding the way the Topshop one is.

Top blog(s) - Style Bubble, The Sartorialist, and Go Fug Yourself


Style Bubble is a good read because it's fun to read the thoughts of someone so thoroughly fashion-obsessed with a unique sense of style to match. I really love The Sartorialist because I just love seeing how real people put themselves together. StilinBerlin is very good as well, but I prefer the high-chic eye of The Sartorialist. If only the people behind The Clothes Project could make more effort - I'd prefer to think that Singaporeans are more stylish than I imagine.

And there's nothing like Go Fug Yourself for laughs. Never mind if you disagree with their sartorial criticism - their sense of humour and wit is unmatched and I love how it all manages not to become snarky - there's something good-natured about it all. Go through the archives for a very entertaining afternoon.

Top fashion joke - Silver foil leggings from Topshop

Think of it as being eeriely prescient of Balenciaga's latest.



No, I can't. It's just too ludicrous.

I think they're acceptable as an source of amusement, probably on someone who doesn't take it too seriously. But knowing fashion-y people, it's bound to get picked up and turned into some kind of knowing statement. I still wished someone would wear it so that I can see if it actually works in real life.

Top fashion show - Balenciaga F/W '06




It was futuristic and incredibly retro and yet modern all at once. To put it simply, it was something unlike any other, and that is an achievement in itself. In less than 30 looks, fashion was redefined, and fantasies went off in everyone's head. I remember how the looks stayed firmly etched in my head and how every other show seemed to pale in comparison.

The best thing was how the show managed to show the fantastic and the wearable together without being jarring - everything was part of a single concept and it all made sense.

Definitely the sharpest fashion moment for me in 2006.

Top bag - Miu Miu Coffer bag



The ultimate statement in slouch. This is everything I want in a bag. I just spotted a beige linen version trimmed in gold leather, and I almost passed out in excitement. So, so beautiful. It almost eclipses the Fendi Spy as the number-one bag on my to-die-for list.


The clothes are Miu Miu aren't bad either. Miu Miu was just around the corner from when I worked so I had the luxury of drooling for free conveniently and frequently. Oh how I long for the day when I can afford to actually bring something lovely home.

Top shopping haunt - Chatuchak market in Bangkok

Bargain heaven. Really. I know the prices aren't as cheap anymore and cheaper buys may be found at Pratunam and so on, but if you look hard, and discern between what justifies the price and what's a rip-off, you can come back lots of lovely, unique, and CHEAP things that isn't Far East nonsense.




I hear their lease is up and the market is moving somewhere else. I wish I could fit in the time for a quick shopping trip before this happens in February, but it's impossible. Hence, I treasure my best buys from there even more, and dream of my next trip there.

Top new designer(s) - Phillip Lim/Sari Gueron




3.1 Phillip Lim



Sari Gueron

There are visionaries, and there are designers. Visionaries are people like Nicolas Ghesquire and Hussein Chalayan, who forge new directions and looks and are destined for a lifetime of retroespectives dedicated to their work (even before they retire).

And then there are designers who just want to dress people and look for new ways to inject excitement into wardrobes without expecting us to all grow fashion nerves like Bjork or Chloe Sevigny.

I love the former, who inspire us to look at clothes in a new way and shake us out of our fashion conumdrum and fire our personal endeavors of creativity.

But I love the latter even more because the functionality in me always trumps all.

I love people who tread that fine line between wearability and creativity and make fantasy practical for everyday people like you and me. And Phillip Lim and Sari Gueron do it for me.

And high fashion snobs ought to note that Marc Jacobs wasn't always this interesting - he went through a phase of simple American sportswear too, and look where he is now.

I'll take these two over Giles Deacon or Christopher Kane or Riccardo Tiscci or Gareth Pugh or whoever edgier folks are gasping about now.

Top personal style - Victoria Traina





Yes, she undoubtedly has lots of money to invest in the very best clothes, but she knows what to spend it on, which is something we can't say about all the other girls with just as much money, if not more. I'd rather take my fashion cues from her than any of the starlets in Instyle. Maybe it's because I like Proenza Schouler, and she wears a lot of Proenza Schouler.

But then, Lindsay Lohan claimed she loves Proenza Schouler too, and I don't want to dress like Ms Lohan. I like underwear, for one.

Top shops - The Oppt Shop (for accessories and gifts), Topshop (for shoes and the odd fashion-forward item), Mango (for stylish basics), Diesel (for jeans), Kinokuniya (for books), Muji (for stationery), Prints (for gift wrapping), Gramaphone (for music browsing), random shops in Far East Plaza for one-off designs.

Literature

Top random book discovery - "Sophie's Choice", by William Styron

I'm a big love of disturbing, haunting, quietly tragic literature, and this serendipitious discovery of mine practically epitomises it. I'd never heard of the book (oh, my ignorance), only a movie starring Meryl Streep by the same title, and it was by sheer chance that I picked it up at all.

I was looking for another book in a book store when I accidentally pulled it out of the shelf while pulling out another book. It thumped on the floor and I picked it up, only to become intrigued by the cover art, the odd familiarity of the title, and then the blurb behind it.

So I opened it and read a few lines, and found that I couldn't stop. This is one of those books that draws a reader right into the world of the protaganist without any preamble, smoothly and hypnotically. A lot of books end up beginning with mindless rabble with they try to do that same, and it turns me off, but this was some beautiful writing.

For something published in 1979, it feels remarkably modern to me, right down to the introspective, rambly protaganist who is surely the kind of charming flawed male hero every modern writer has sought to create since J.D. Salinger created Holden Caulfield.

I loved how the writer drew parallels between the Holocaust and black slavery in America in a 1947 setting. It feels like a deeply personal and very American book because of its subject matter, but the essence of pure evil and the human capacity for cruelty is something anyone can identify with. Reading this book now in 2006 and looking at the times we're living with, sometimes it feels like we haven't come all that far, in spite of all the promises of "never again."

A plus about being a fairly ignorant reader like me is that sometimes I can make unexpected book discoveries and read them without prejudice and preconceptions. When a book becomes acclaimed, it forever alters how you're going to preceive the book and judge it because you have all these expectations. I read "The Time Traveller's Wife" by Audrey Niffenegger like this, and loved that I read it before all the hype and could love it without getting all cynical about it.

With a book you didn't know about, your judgement feels more honest. And the discovery is all the more satisfying because it's not something you feel like you need to read because someone told you about or that the hype is so immense that you can't ignore it. Rather, it's something you picked up and brought home because the writing spoke to you. I get a rush just thinking about it.

It also works for books that are so classic and part of the literary consciousness that nobody actually talks about it anymore - I felt like that when I read "A Tale of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens.

Sometimes the book can end up a dud - I really didn't like "Everything is Illuminated" by Jonathan Safran Foer, but the gems like, "Sophie's Choice" here, will become books you'll treasure and re-read until the spine wrinkles beyond comprehension and the pages become smooth and worn.


Out of curiosity, I decided to take stock of the books I read this year -

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, by Marina Lewycka*
Arthur and George, by Julian Barnes*
Amsterdam, by Ian McEwan*
Enduring Love, by Ian McEwan*
Orlando, by Virgina Woolf *
Slow Man, by J.M. Coetzee*
Sophie's Choice, by William Styron*
The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss*
The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini*
The Second Assistant, by Clare Naylor and Mimi Hare*
The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The Tattooed Girl, by Joyce Carol Oates
Written on the Body, by Jeanette Winterson*

The once I loved are marked with an asterisk. The rest were just alright.

I'm not doing movies, because it was a very bad year for me - I managed to watch very little, which was sad. Hopefully I catch up by renting DVDs like crazy.

Food

Here are some of the best new restaurants I tried:
Sun With Moon, for Japanese
Cha Cha Cha, for Mexican
The Tapas Tree, for Spanish
Sunflower Cafe and Yogi Hub, for vegetarian
Banana Leaf, for North Indian
Melbun Seafood, for their divine crab bee hoon.

I also remember many a moment spent laughing with friends at my favourite Starbucks at Holland Village, and the more convenient outpost at Liat Towers. I know it's the height of uncool to be loving a franchise selling overpriced coffee, but I actually like the coffee. Not as good as the kopi-o ar Chin Bee Chin, but I am addicted the cafe mocha. I can't help it.

Well, that's my year. I left out so much - TV, countries visited, and so on - but well, I'm tired. It was actually fun to sit here and take stock of a year fast ending, and it's a shock how quickly some things I forget. A lot of what happened this year felt so long ago, it was strange.

Here's to an even better year to come.

Pictures from style.com, net-a-porter.com, mango.com, amazon.com, topshop.com

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