So I Gave in and Tried HelloTalk

Yes, even though I told myself I’d only try it once I’m actually able to converse in Japanese. I’m weak.

But after staring at the HelloTalk app icon on my phone for months on end, I could no longer quell my curiosity and signed up for an account. I mean, the worst thing that could happen is that I’d get ignored, right? Or encounter someone rude, but eh. I could always block those.

So minutes later, I had a shiny HelloTalk account of my own, and without delay, typed up my profile information. I made absolutely sure to state that while my Japanese is extremely limited, I’m more than happy to just teach English for the time being. Even though I’m also there to learn, I didn’t want to burden potential language partners with having to teach me everything from A-Z.

Now, due to the nature of my profile info, I didn’t think I’d get many if any at all, language partners. Much to my surprise, I got about 7 within hours and by the next day, the number doubled.

By the end of my first week of using HelloTalk, I’d spoken to 40+ native Japanese speakers.

Here’re my observations regarding this app thus far:

It’s fun and addictive

It’s crazy how easily accessible Japanese native speakers suddenly are. Once upon a time, the thought of communicating with one seemed almost impossible, thanks to this massive thing called the Language Barrier Reef.

But now, I’m able to reach out to a huge community of Japanese people, and since the majority of them are at least able to carry a simple conversation in English, the language barrier is no longer so daunting.

I’ve had a pleasant experience so far. Most of them are incredibly helpful and I can receive answers almost instantly should I ask a question in the Moments section. Which also happens to be one of my favourite pages to creep on; they’re always posting gorgeous pictures of their travels, both in and outside of Japan, facts about their culture and Japanese language tips.

It’s incredibly convenient

The beauty of HelloTalk is that you not only have easy access to native speakers of the language you’re learning, you can also communicate with them through methods beyond texting. There’s no need to give out your Facebook, Skype, Discord, LINE or Kakaotalk details, no.

All you really need is HelloTalk, because just about everything is there. You can text, send audio recordings, audio call and video call.

Pretty nifty, right?

It’s great for networking

This should’ve been blatantly obvious, but I didn’t realise it until more and more Japanese people who live, are visiting and are going to visit Malaysia approached me, eventually asking to meet up. At first, I thought it was odd for people to so casually ask for meet ups, some even going as far as to ask this in the Moments section. That was, until one of the people I text with mentioned wanting to attend an English Conversation School. I was like, whaaat? There’s such a thing?

I’d known beforehand that there are ALTs in Japan (these are teachers who essentially chat with students to help them practice using the language) and that you can hire someone to speak to you in English for a price, but I didn’t think there’re actual schools for it. English Conversation Cafes too even.

Suddenly, the requests to meet up don’t seem that strange anymore. Of course, I pretty much ignore those who obviously aren’t interested in studying and will only consider those I’ve spoken to for awhile/aren’t creepy. I’ve only met one so far, and that was an interesting experience.

That said, to anyone reading this post, please make sure to meet in public if you do decide to accept such an invitation. A coffee shop is a good option; casual, simple and you can make a quick getaway in case the person turns out to be weird. And remember, that ol’ “Don’t get in a stranger’s car” thing our parents used to tell us when we were kids still applies now.

There’s more to teaching via conversation than meets the eye

So this is something I learned when I was thrown into my first audio call. I manage well enough when it comes to text messages; after all, I have more time to formulate a proper answer/question.

But when it comes to audio calls, it’s a whole different ball game. At least with text messages, I can pretend I’m just texting any other person on the internet- at the end of the day, I only have a tiny avatar that may or may not be them to represent them.

With audio calls, though, it’s not quite the same. Suddenly, there is a stranger’s voice on the other end of the line and it all gets too real. This isn’t some avatar I’m speaking to, it’s a real person. In creeps that familiar first-meeting nervousness and I find myself blanking momentarily. What am I supposed to say?

This is the part where I fall back on fail-safe questions like “Hey! How are you?” and “What are you studying/sort of work do you do?”. Thankfully, I’ve been lucky enough to get rather chatty, if a bit shy (yeah, contradictory, I know, but it makes sense if you speak to them) language exchange partners, the vast majority of which being Japanese men. Once they feel welcome, they seem to enjoy talking- so much so that they often, and subtly, take the lead in the conversation.

Teaching English via conversation… Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? I mean, all you have to do is talk with them so they could practice using English, right? Alas, it’s not that easy. Just like any other lesson, there needs to be a plan.

In a way, I’m extremely grateful for this, because they weren’t the only ones who learned something, I did too. To further illustrate this, I’ve already started preparing a list of first call questions for my next audio call with whomever it may be.

Patience is a virtue

While most of my language exchange partners are able to hold a conversation via text, it’s a bit more tricky during audio calls, which I quickly found out. Due to the lack of English speakers around them, it is difficult for them to put what they’ve already learned in theory into practice.

So more often than not, I’ve had to slow down my speech in order for them to catch up.

This lack of practice also means they take quite awhile to finish their sentences. I have, on more than one occasion, accidentally interrupted them mid-sentence, because I actually thought they were done. Oops.

The Japanese actually have a lot to say

I don’t know if it’s just my luck, but nearly every single person I’ve conversed with has a lot to say, despite their low speaking and listening proficiency. They may not be able to express themselves well in English, but they leave me impressed all the same.

They’re very careful in their thought processes and when they do give answers, they are very well-constructed.

On the other hand, most of my language exchange partners tend to be quite shy as well, so I have to be careful not to accidentally do anything that might make them withdraw.

As proof for how talkative they can be, my longest call lasted for an hour and a half, with the second longest lasting for a solid hour.

They’re also very self-depreciating

Or modest, which is a better word for it. As it is part of their culture to downplay their strengths, this shouldn’t really come as a surprise. But still.

Despite listing themselves as Beginners in English, most are able to carry as well as understand an English conversation via text. A far cry from my meager Japanese knowledge and I list myself as a Beginner. Honestly, I don’t even know enough to hold a conversation.

So, yeah. Haha. Give yourselves some credit, okay? Okay.

There really are gaijin hunters out there

I’ve always known that they exist, but I didn’t think they’d blatantly state on their profiles that the reason they’re learning English is because they’d like to have a white boyfriend.

Okay then. To each their own.

These people are the minority, though. Most female users tend to state on their profiles that they are not looking for romance. After witnessing how they can get bombarded with messages, I can see why.

Like any other social media, there’re pervs out there

As expected. But what can you do about it, huh? All you can do is block/ignore them and move on.

Thankfully enough, I’ve not had to block anyone just yet. The guys on this app are a lot less sleazy than the ones found on any other social media out there. Another point for HelloTalk.

In conclusion…

Despite how often it crashes, I really cannot recommend HelloTalk enough. I never realised how easy it is to connect with a huge community of people who speak a completely different language until this came along. And through it, I’ve found so many who love nearly all of the same things I do than I have on any other social media site- and even, real life.

Really happy, and I already have a tiny personal list of people I’d love to eventually meet face-to-face. Like how often can you find someone who shares the exact same love for languages I do? Or those who have near identical taste in entertainment that I do? Not a lot.

Seriously cool. 100000000/10 do recommend. I can’t wait till I can try this out in Chinese!

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The Breakdown on the Infamous 10-Step Korean Beauty Routine

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With Korean culture gaining more and more popularity overseas, it comes as to no surprise that their hauntingly flawless complexion has become increasingly sought after by media-conscious women. And honestly speaking, who wouldn’t want perfect skin?

That said, most would balk as soon as they hear that the Korean beauty routine consists of 10 daunting steps. Ouch! That’s more than three times the standard we’re used to.

There really isn’t any need to feel intimidated by it, though. It may consist of 10 steps, but contrary to popular belief, these aren’t practiced everyday. Most days would require 7 steps or less; it depends on what works for your skin.

Here is the low down on the infamous beauty regimen:

1. Cleansing Oil

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The first step to cleaning your skin is to get rid of all of the environmental gunk that has piled up on your face. This is where the nifty cleansing oil comes in. From dirt to grime to make up, this product will melt away these impurities, leaving your skin clean without stripping it of precious moisture.

And if you find the idea of using oil to clean your face strange, you aren’t alone! Ever since we’ve known about skincare, we’ve been taught that oil is terrible and that it should be done away with. It really isn’t all that bad, though. At least not this one.

In this case, cleansing oil is your buddy, especially in the double-cleansing method. It’s here to gently pull dirt away from your skin, just so your foam cleanser could work all the more effectively afterwards.

2. Foam Cleanser

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Now, this is something just about everyone is familiar with. In the standard Cleanse-Tone-Moisturise routine, this plays the main role in cleansing.

In the Korean beauty routine, however, it plays the second.

While it might sound unnecessary, the double-cleansing method actually has a lot of merit to it. I’m sure that with the standard regimen, most of us have experienced feeling that our skin isn’t clean even after using a foam cleanser- and in order to really wash all of that grime away, we choose to cleanse it a second time. Big mistake.

Because what you’re left with is uncomfortably tight skin that is stripped of moisture. This might sound harmless, but it could lead your skin to working in overdrive to produce more oil. Not good.

What the double-cleansing method does is provide you with that same level of cleanliness without dryness.

3. * Facial Scrub

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Not for daily use. Our skin is constantly shedding, and in order to avoid dead skin cell build up, we need to exfoliate once every 3-4 days. Once a week for those with dry and or sensitive skin.

This not only helps with skin cell renewal, it will also unclog pores and reveal a brighter, glowing complexion. An important step, exfoliating ensures that the products you use later on will penetrate your skin more easily.

Note: Do not exfoliate everyday. This will only aggravate your skin and cause it to break out.

4. Toner

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Toning was something I had a bit of a love-hate relationship with during my highschool years. On one hand, it was oh so satisfying to see dirt picked up by the soaked cotton pad; it made me feel as though my skin was super clean. On the other end of the spectrum, I hated it because toners tended to dry out my skin, leaving me with botched red, peeling skin. Gorgeous.

Nowadays, I’ve noticed that toners are a lot less drying, to the point that they are more on the hydrating side. In fact, their purpose is to restore the pH level of your skin as well as prep it to better absorb the products that follow suit.

5. Essence

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Considered the heart of the Korean beauty routine, essence is kind of a mix of a toner and a serum in one. Its consistency can be compared to a toner; slightly thicker, but still very runny.

I’ve not had the pleasure of using this often as there weren’t many sold where I live -keyword, weren’t. Things are improving!- and the ones that were on the market were either ridiculously expensive or cheap. I tend to avoid the latter because my skin is a bit of a diva; it tends to break out horribly with cheap products.

That said, when I do include this in my routine, the results are quite significant. Essence basically helps with hydration, skin repair and cell turnover.

6. Serum & * Ampoule

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It’s time for a treatment! These babies are designed to target specific skin concerns. From problems with pigmentation to fine lines to dry skin, you are spoiled for choice on the market.

What is the main difference between a serum and an ampoule though? The difference lies in the levels of concentration between the two. Ampoules are basically the more powerful, effective cousin of serums, meant to give your skin a boost overnight.

But wait! Before you start reaching for ampoules, bear in mind that these can only be used once in awhile. This is due to their levels of concentration. Apply them too often and they’d wreak havoc on your skin.

For me, using ampoules once every 3-4 days is my sweet spot. The duration between each use might be longer for others. It all depends on what suits you best.

Serums should be used daily, once in the morning and once in the evening.

Note: For better absorption, products should be applied in the order of from least viscous to the most. Therefore on days you’re using an ampoule, it should go on before your serum. It can stand alone if smoothing on both at the same time is too much for your skin.

7. * Sheet Mask

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Can be used daily, if you wish (though I’ve yet to try this daily style of masking!). Because of my oily, acne prone skin and not to mention budget, I usually opt for clay masks instead of sheet masks. The latter is more of a rare treat for me, but let me say that if not for the reasons stated, I would go for them a heck of a lot more. My experiences with sheet masks are generally positive, and the results are totally worth it.

These are meant to deliver a powerful punch of ingredients to your skin, designed to target specific concerns. Think of them as amped up serums in the form of soaked sheets.

Note: If you’re planning on opting for a clay mask instead, slip it in your routine right after you exfoliate.

8. Eye Cream

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If you have any undereye concerns, this is the product to aim for. With the number of beauty companies out there, there is a huge range of eye creams on the shelves, each made to address different issues. These creams most commonly take care of fine lines, hydration and dark circle woes.

It is worthy to note that this is a product you’d have to be willing to spend a bit more on. Cheap options rarely work.

Tip: Because of how fragile the skin around your eyes are, use your ring finger to tap the cream in. Never rub, tug or pull. This is to avoid the formation of premature wrinkles.

9. Moisturiser

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It is always, always, always important to keep your skin properly hydrated. To put into perspective just how vital this is, take note that skin lacking in hydration will not only appear duller, it will also feel uncomfortably tight, peel and form premature wrinkles. Yikes! Definitely not something you want, right?

To avoid a cracked complexion, and to one day obtain that much vied youthful, dewy Korean skin, never forget to apply moisturiser. This will both hydrate and lock in the work you gained from previous steps.

10. Sunscreen

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If there is a single step that you absolutely must not miss out on aside from the standard Cleanse-Tone-Moisturise, it is applying sunscreen.

This not only plays a huge role in protecting you from nasty burns and skin cancer, it also plays a role in anti-aging. That’s right. The sunscreen you apply will help prevent premature aging, so unless you want to be introduced to wrinkles early, get to smoothing some on.

For this, I personally recommend Biore’s UV Perfect Milk SPF50+. Non-sticky and super lightweight, it’ll feel like you’re not wearing any sunscreen at all.

And that’s a wrap!

Phew! That was one exhaustive list. But I suppose that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Because not only do Koreans see flawless skin as a sign of beauty and health, they sincerely do enjoy these rituals. A stark contrast to their Western counterparts, and let’s face it, a good chunk of the Asian region too!

If you’re all for it though, be ready for your wallet to take a blow because it can get expensive.

Tip: If you’re going to dive into this hefty skincare routine, it would be best to introduce each new step one by one. This is so it would be much easier to spot which product isn’t working for you.

Have any questions? Ask away!

Edited on 26th June 2017.

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5 Technological Advancements That Should Be on Your Radar

With everything that happens in our world today, it is all too easy to get lost in an endless sea of information. Therefore it is only natural for more than a few news pieces to slip past our notice- no matter how amazing they are.

Here are a couple of examples -specifically in the technological field- that deserve to be highlighted on everyone’s radar:

Self-healing smartphones

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Pretty soon, the idea of dropping your cellphone on the floor won’t send you into a panic. Not a full-scale one, at the very least.

Why? Because scientists have recently developed a material that can heal itself within 24 hours after being torn apart. Pretty neat, huh?

The material, which is made of a stretchable polymer and an ionic salt, has a special type of bond called an ion-dipole interaction. Thanks to this relationship consisting of charged ions and polar molecules, whenever the material is scratched or damaged in any way, the ions and molecules attract each other to stitch it back together.

While the idea of self-healing materials isn’t exactly new -LG has already started using this technology for a few of its cellphones- this is the first time scientists have managed to create one that can conduct electricity.

Which means you can say farewell to worrying about cracked phone screens. Hurrah!

At least within three years; it’s predicted that these self-healing smartphones will only be making an appearance in the market by 2020.

Till then, hold on extra tight to your smartphone.

Smart glasses that automatically adjust according to your vision

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Can you imagine not having to get your glasses custom-made anymore? No more annoying visits to the optometrist, no more shelling out more and more money, and definitely no more waiting for your new glasses to arrive!

That dream may be closer to reality than you think.

A team spearheaded by University of Utah electrical and computer engineering professor Carlos Mastrangelo and doctoral student Nazmul Hasan have developed a pair of “smart glasses” that do just this. Be it near or far, these liquid-based lenses are filled with glycerin that automatically adjust the focus of what you’re seeing in as little as 14 milliseconds.

And as if that isn’t amazing enough, these glasses are connected to a smartphone app where wearers can input their prescription information. Changes in prescription aren’t a problem either; all you have to do is update your information and your glasses will adjust accordingly.

What a time to be alive! Be patient though. It is going to take up to three years for this baby to hit the market.

Contact lenses that could spot signs of disease

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This time, both science and technology have taken a step forward with preparations for the development of biosensor-embedded contact lenses. And if reading that alone leaves you quizzical, fret not because an explanation is about to come your way.

What are they, exactly? Biosensing contact lenses are an -at this point, theoretical- invention scientists wish to use to monitor blood glucose levels and a number of other signs of disease without resorting to invasive tests. You know the ones. They are those that involve obtaining blood, urine, stool samples and the like from patients. Those. Visits to the doctor that involve any of those aren’t exactly pleasant, are they?

The study is there, but it may take a year or more for a prototype to be ready for animal testing. Once fully developed, these contact lenses could send vital health information to your smartphone and other Wi-Fi or Bluetooth-activated gadgets.

Talk about convenience. These contact lenses could be used as an early detection system for cancer, which is, let’s face it, a huge relief for all of us.

As they say, prevention is better than cure.

Li-Fi

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Li-Fi? Isn’t it Wi-Fi? Nope, that’s not a typo, my friend. Li-Fi stands for Light Fidelity, and it claims to be 100 times faster than standard Wi-Fi.

Yet another nifty invention, Li-Fi basically offers internet connectivity through light. It makes use of common household LED lightbulbs to transfer data with a jaw dropping speed of 224 gigabits per second.

While this sounds undeniably cool, there are setbacks to the use of Li-Fi. For one thing, its exclusive use of light means that lightbulbs have to be on at all times to ensure internet connectivity. For another, since light cannot pass through walls, these lightbulbs will have to be installed throughout the house.

Talk about a bummer! Still, there are upsides to this. Along with its impressive speed, Li-Fi offers better security due to its shorter range- a definite plus for retailers and other businesses alike.

Sieve that could make seawater drinkable

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If you’re looking for a world-wide game-changer, you needn’t look much further than the graphene-based sieve developed by researchers in the United Kingdom.

With the ability to filter out salt from seawater using less energy, this creation could be the holy grail for saving lives. This is true even more so for countries where clean, drinkable water is in severely limited supply.

Thank goodness! People from these places aren’t the only ones who will benefit, however. The United Nation predicts that by 2025, 14% of the global population will suffer from water shortage. Definitely not a fate that any of us would want to be branded with.

For more information, watch this video.

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