Best Of: Our Favourite Places of 2015

2015 may have been as good and bad and tumultuous and sad as any other. You could say that the year brought about for us some real pivotal, coming-of-age fodder, but then again we also ate a lot of leftover shit. Here, we give you our 2015 lowdown: a celebration of our favourite faces and most memorable cases – through a month by month breakdown of our ‘best of’ places.

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January

Roxy 99, Taipei, Taiwan
Roxy 99 was my first love in Taipei. And they say you always remember your first. It gets a bad rap – trashy, shitty drinks (NT$500 for four drinks sounds like a bargain to me, tbh) and god forbid, prostitutes – but I wasn’t there for any of that; I was there for the music, and that was all that mattered. Where else in Taipei would you find a club whose signature song was Oasis’ “Don’t Look Back in Anger”, let alone that played classic rock anthems – “Bohemian Rhapsody” was always a whole lotta fun – and indie and alt pop from HAIM to Phoenix to Disclosure to Bastille? Throw in some pop hits and you have the entire dance floor singing and dancing to Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” to ring in 2015. That, to me, was 99 at its best. Funnily, as I write this one year on, the talk on the Taipei street is the now defunct 99 (RIP) is returning. Here’s to 2016, my first and only. – K

February

Check In Karaoke Bar, Chinatown, Singapore
Singapore, two Lunar New Years in a row. It was by no means an intentional decision, nor a particularly desired one. Despite it being the home of my college best friend, I was in no hurry to revisit the place anytime soon: the previous year, Singapore played backdrop to the demise of my relationship with my college boyfriend, and this year, it came just after my grandmother’s death. On the eve of the new year, I swam through the crowds of families, tourists and revellers with my best friend, eventually arriving outside the same Chinese karaoke bar we had been the year before. From far away, at the periphery of the precinct, faint explosions lit up the sky, punctuated by distant cheers – an unremarkable bang for my bittersweet pangs. – J

March

La Boca, Taipei, Taiwan
If March had heralded the actual beginning of my 2015 –marked by a new job and a new home– then the bar La Boca had heralded the beginning of my Taipei nightlife. On my first weekend out in the city, the popular gay booze aisle embraced me with its convivial and never-ending stream of cigarette smoke and pop queen anthems. But it was by no means my harbinger of a fun, boozey springtime to come. After two gin and tonics that I swear tasted like five, this unforgiving den swallowed me up and spat me out head first in a unisex toilet bowl – signalling a kind of degenerate path I would continue down for many weekends to come. – J

Terraced Rice Fields, Yuanyang, Yunnan, China
Yunnan is beautiful, but only at certain times of day. It’s all a matter of timing, and moments, just like it is in photography. Unfortunately, my first and only visit to China with my parents was, in a word, ill-timed. Eight-hour bus rides meant we often arrived at the sights at the worst possible time, usually when the sun was at its highest, casting an impossible-to-photograph haze over the otherwise astounding terraced rice fields and red earth that Yunnan is known for. It’s a weird juxtaposition, the sheer under-developed-ness of it all with the elaborate complexity of the “Dynamic Yunnan” show, which practically moved me to tears. We probably spent more than three quarters of the trip on the bus; I alternated between napping on its dirty seats and drowsily (and sometimes deliriously) reading The Goldfinch. I eventually cried on the flight back home because I had finished The Goldfinch and it was too poetic for me to handle. – K

April

World Soybean Milk Magnate, Taipei, Taiwan
Complement your daily dose of sad boy with some soy milk and egg rolls, all of which Taipei has an abundance of. The former can be found in the city’s nightlife underground, where the bucket-hatted and Niked lads go to woo ladies in between nodding intensely to ‘sessions’ of intellectual industrial gunk. My friend and I had been pursued by one such lad at one such establishment, and asked if we’d like to ‘sleep at my place, no funny business’. He lived in Yonghe, and close World Soybean Milk Magnate, the birthplace of breakfast. With that realisation, added with the shared passion for antagonising men, we agreed. That night, our heaving, sleeping, feminised bodies tantalised puerile male fantasies that would never come to fruition. Over a 8am breakfast, we snort-laughed our way through our soy milk, thinking of the desperate man pleading for sex we had just left behind. – J

May

Shida Night Market, Taipei, Taiwan
I walked through this night market on an almost daily basis as it was, quite literally, my backyard. Perhaps that’s why it’s here you’ll find my favourite tea shop (a hole in the wall) and go-to congee restaurant, as well as a cheap but delicious Thai place and a branch of the clothing store where I bought all my outfits. Point out a stand, or even a corner in Shida, Yongkang, Gongguan or Technology Building, and I’ve probably got a memory to match, a cafe to recommend. I lived and loved in this area because I’m a hipster who refuses to submit to the life of bougie department stores, LV bags and afternoon teas at Dazzling Cafe. I’d pick these tree-lined alleys over the glitzy streets of Xinyi and Dongqu any day. – K

June

Ching Shin Bubble Tea, Taipei, Taiwan
Perhaps my strangest foray into Taiwan was a three-month residency at the casa del hostess. I had just lost an apartment, quit my job and been diagnosed with a nervous system dysfunction. In a chicken-or-egg scenario, I found myself inhabiting both the apartment and the languid, sloth-like lifestyle of these women. Contrary to the glamorous –or depraved– image of the sex work-like industry that consumed much of East Asia, these hostesses waded around their apartment scratching their butts, ordering take-away and chain-smoking cigarettes. As temporary resident-cum-squatter, I played minion, going on bubble tea runs to the Ching Shin chain store on Yanji Street just behind the building and reciting orders more convulated than your average Starbucks vernacular. You’d think I was left traumatised from the repetition, but Ching Shin remains my number one boba spot. – J

The Belvedere, Vienna, Austria
They say travelling gives you perspective, and my trip to Czech and Austria (and Slovakia and Germany along the way) gave me a lot more perspective than I’d had for a long time. I wasn’t really entitled to any holiday days at work, but this decision would prove life-changing. Not only was it the first trip my family had taken together in more than a decade, but against the breathtaking backdrop of baroque buildings and Gothic churches in Prague, I came to the realisation that I didn’t want to return to Taiwan, a stifling job and the comfort of mediocrity. In Vienna, I somehow convinced our tour guide to let us go inside the Belvedere to see Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss”, which was not originally on the schedule. For a short 45 minutes, while the rest of the tour group went shopping, my parents, sister and I stood agape, marveling at the masterpieces of Klimt, Egon Schiele, Claude Monet, Vincent Van Gogh and other legends of art. It was worth every second. – K

July

Korner, Taipei, Taiwan
When you’ve just quit a job that drained your life and soul, what better to turn to than Tinder? This month would act as the precursor of a summer of Joanna and me, both semi-unemployed, lying silently next to each other on her sofa, swiping our thumbs left and right – me on my iPhone, she on her iPad – until the wee hours of the morning. One quite ordinary night, I happened across a guy on Tinder bearing a strong resemblance to a semi-famous DJ who was to play a gig in Taipei the next day. A quick Google search confirmed his identity, and a swipe right confirmed a match. It was only a matter of time before I greeted him with your ordinary “Hey there!” and Joanna bombarded him with puns so hilarious we both died of laughter while in respective beds on opposite ends of Taipei at two in the morning. As fate would have it, the Tinder Gods proved so kind and Joanna’s pun game so strong, we scored free tickets to the show, danced to Disclosure, Kylie and Blondie, met the DJ IRL for a photo afterwards, before Joanna fangirled into a heap on that dirty black basement floor. This is my best Tinder story to date; I still have the pics to prove it. – K

August

Neo19, Taipei, Taiwan
A Xinyi nighclub mall like Neo19 is your best safehouse on a typhoon night. Levels upon levels of boozey revelry, these robust buildings combine reliable construction materials, safety protocols and total oblivion to the outside world. If there are no windows for wind gusts to rattle, does a typhoon exist? Perhaps not for the French house/nu-disco DJ and the American rapper behind the year’s greatest drug chant, who set off the parties around Taipei in the midst of a category-5 super typhoon. We hit up the former and got fruity on gin and tonics, at popular yuppie bar Barcode. A typhoon night means you have license to not say anything when your drunken friend attempts to make a misguided pass at said DJ during his set, to ditch your friends and blame it on the weather, and to steal as many umbrellas as possible by justifying as a matter of life and death. It is, however, ideal to leave just before it actually becomes a matter of life and death. – J

Good Design Institute, Taipei, Taiwan
I still don’t know how and I still don’t know why Joanna agreed to grab coffee with me, and the first half hour of our meeting was awkward, to say the least, both of us unsure of what to say to each other, resorting polite but earnest agreements about how the decor of this cafe was giving us serious interior design inspirations and aspirations. Maybe they put something in the beakers of coffee, but our conversation rapidly descended into madness, and seven hours later, something beautiful had blossomed over the shining white countertops and tropical plants of this gorgeous oasis nestled in Shida – our baby, The Liminal. Good Design Institute is its birthplace; it is also the beginning of our descent into delirium. – K

September

Prozac Balcony, Taipei, Taiwan
If you ever have to drag a dead body from point A to B, make sure B isn’t a third-floor apartment with stairs. The night Kassy Cho celebrated her grand escape to the land of tea and the Queen, no blood was spilled but a lot of regurgitated alcohol was. As the one who didn’t pass out on this night, I will hold the alcoholic high ground and reiterate (to everyone but in particular Kassy Cho): don’t mix your cocktails. Yet I admit that the Taipei is filled to the brim with these potion purveyors, all of which you should eventually try. Da’an’s Prozac Balcony is one such place – though understatedly cooler and less pretentious than its Xinyi cousins. However, I can hardly give an objective opinion given that I went to a cocktail bar to drink wine – but neither can Kassy Cho, right, because what can she remember? (Sorry Kassy Cho, this one is definitely the Liminal equivalent of a roast) – J

Revolver, Taipei, Taiwan
Summer was in full swing, and I wanted to end my last few months in Taipei with a bang. Dance Rock Taipei crams you into the tiny red-walled room on the second floor of expat favourite bar Revolver with a bunch of hipsters with their cigarettes and black fisherman hats. It’s probably a fire hazard, there are no disco lights so you’ll watch NBA reruns projected onto the wall, and it’ll take days to rid the smell of smoke from your clothes, hair and nostrils, but you’ll experience one of the best alternative nights outs in the city. DJ Spykee’s who I consider a real DJ; he’ll mix a Japanese song no one can sing into a MJ before crossfading between Black Machine’s “How Gee” with Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love”. It’s genius; somehow, you’ll find regardless of the language, the period, the genre, a song of Spykee’s choosing is, in short, endlessly danceable. – K 

October

Chess, Taipei, Taiwan
If the man I am with now and I were to ever have children, I would have to tell them the story of how it all started with Chess, Taipei’s premier spot for Drake lovers and a lazy, thirsty Joanna Lee who lived just a block over. Through mutual friends, I took this boy from my hometown out drinking on his first night in the city. He had been impressed by my cavalier over-consumption of champagne , though it may only be a testament to the bar’s liberal Ladies Night free-flow. Later he would reveal that he had an inkling of attraction to me prior to us meeting IRL, via my Facebook profile picture – a photographic reflection of my true eye-rolling, devil-grinned inner self. He doesn’t know that the photo had been taken just one month earlier in the same bar, in the same spot, the same me doing the same thing. – J

Eslite Park Lane, Taichung, Taiwan
This is where I go when I need space to breathe. Whenever I’m in Taichung and bored, I’ll hop on my scooter, drive down here, slot my scooter in my usual parking spot (or nearby) and walk over to Eslite. Although it’s generally swarming with people, I might buy a book, see the pop up exhibition at the outdoor CMP Block Museum of Arts and check if there is a line at Harritts for doughnuts before buying a bubble tea from Oregin and heading back. It’s almost a ritual for me, but this lively area is not dubbed the lungs of Taichung for nothing. – K

November

Dia Projects, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
The first time I went to Hong Kong, my Airbnb host told me, ‘Look up’. Since then, I’ve adhered to the golden rule – especially in dense, sprawling cities. It applies particularly to the vibrant downtown center of Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon, though its touristy veneer may indicate otherwise (it definitely helps to have your local Saigon friends point them out to you, too). If a new generation of cosmopolitan hipsters have taken over the city’s second-floors with bars, cafes and boutique shopfronts, then artists have taken refuge one level above. Dia Projects fits into the paradigm nicely, sitting above a cafe that sits above a tourist-bait storefront. The exhibition on had bathed the space in shades of purple and pink, and the three of us discussed the merits of contemporary performance art – but any illusion of hip pretensions quickly shattered once you looked over the balcony, onto the bustling strip of a very tangible Dong Khoi. – J

December

Notting Hill, London, England
I’ve never seen Notting Hill, so I never understood the draw of the mythical blue door, which supposedly isn’t there anymore. But working for a month at a bookshop 30 seconds from Notting Hill Gate station was about as stereotypically British as it could get. Far from the chaos of tourist-ridden central London, this is the world of Richard Curtis, of the idyllic London suburban life, encapsulated. The allure still isn’t there for me, but this was the first area in London I can claim to be so familiarly acquainted with (thanks, regular influx of tourists who came into the shop asking for directions to various quaint restaurants, Portobello Road and “the pub with the flowers on the outside”). I didn’t see Hugh Grant, but I’ll make do with Bridget Jones herself, who bought some books off me while my heart was about to beat out of my chest. – K