A Unique Do-It-Yourself Christmas Hamper

Hampers make great gifts but they’re usually rather costly and there’s no control over what items to include in the package. So this yuletide, I decided to assemble my own hamper to gift families of close friends and conceived what I call the Christmas Hat-per!

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Goodbye impersonal gift hampers… hello Christmas Hat-per!

The Christmas Hat-per is very easy to put together and this post will share how it is done. It took me only about 15 minutes to wrap the Hat-per but a lot more time thinking and shopping for the items to be included within.

To assemble the Christmas Hat-per, you will need 3 things – a Santa hat, a container, and streamers.

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Streamers for decoration, plastic containers to serve as a base and Santa hat to conceal the gifts within.

I got all the above items from Daiso Singapore at S$2.00 each (streamer, hat and container) but you can get them anywhere as long as you can find a container with a rim that fits the circumference of a Santa hat. The container acts as a solid base to stabilise and hold the gifts in place.

I put together 2 hat-pers according to what I know about the people I created the them for. One is gold and the other red.

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GoldHealth Hat-per… this hat-per was put together for a family who is very health conscious. It consists of a box of green tea, a pack of Nasi Lemak (yup, you read it right… nasi lemak!) tea, a small packs of nuts and a bottle of organic honey-vinegar.

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A tip about selecting items in the hat-per is that a tall bottle is a must to serve as the central pillar to hold up the Santa hat.

Start the assembly process by first securing the bottle with a lot of scotch tape to the base of the container in the middle. The other gifts need to be smaller and fit around the bottle. Scotch tape is used to stick the items to the bottle to secure their placements.

I then wound the streamer around the ensemble to fill up the gaps and twirled it around the bottle to the top (the streamer is secured with scotch tape at the top). This creates a visual surprise when the recipient pulls off the hat and see the sparkles inside.

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Red Adventure Hat-per… for a lively personality who has a penchant for pink / red (that’s why the gifts are almost all in those hues) and cute animal things. The curation of gifts includes a vanity set (from my mum), nasi lemak tea (I’m so enthralled by this exotic flavor that I bought 2), koala biscuits, lemon biscuits (gift from another friend), mocha almonds, and a bottle of bubbly.

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Because of the tight space, the items are held together easily with a little scotch tape at the back of each item. The great thing about assembling a personalised hamper is that you choose the items to include and control cost.

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After assembling the gift items and adding the streamers inside, slip the Santa hat over the packaged gifts and pull the hat’s brim over the containers rim. The container is a little larger that the hat’s rim so it forms a secure seal when the fabric stretches over the rim. No need for scotch tape or any other fasteners to hold the hat to the container. As a finishing touch, I stuck pieces of scotch tape rolled to form double-sded tapes at close intervals at the base and wrapped the excess streamers around it to add some bling. I avoided using double-sided tapes as they are hard to remove from the containers surface later.

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Ta-da! Specially made personal Christmas Hat-pers ready to bring on good tidings. Best thing is, the hat can be worn and the container used for other purposes so there is minimal wastage and a second life for the packaging materials.

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Wishing you and your love ones a blessed yuletide. Happy gifting!

Singapore: Inside Out & Takeout – A Double Bill Creativity Showcase

It was an evening where I kept saying to myself, “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

And the cause for my constant incredulity was a visit to the Singapore Inside Out and Singapore Takeout twin events that showcased the creativity of Singaporean artists and culinary maestros.

Sitting side by side on the grass field lining Tan Quee Lan Street (Bugis), this double bill creative showcase offered up quite some delightful surprises with its gathering of creativity across a multitude of disciplines such as architecture, installation art, performance art, product design, lighting design, and food all in one place. It’s like the walk-in version of a “Best of” CD compilation, but instead of songs, we experience the crème de la crème of Singapore’s creative spirit.

Having paid legwork over the years to a number of free-for-public art events such as iLight, Night Festival, Future Everything, and a slew more artistic exhibitions presented by the collection of local museums, this is the first time I’ve walked into a multi-disciplinary creative showcase that is wholly Singaporean. From the exhibition “housing” to the art installations to  performances to products to gastronomic creations, all of them have been the brainchild of some of our nation’s new breed of celebrated artists, performers, innovators and chefs.

So what can you expect at Singapore Inside Out and Singapore Takeout that could possibly get you saying “You’ve got to be kidding me!”? Here’s a peek…

Singapore: Inside Out (SG:IO)

Returning home after a multi-city tour to Beijing, London and New York, SG:IO is a conversation with the world about our cultural soul expressed creatively through contemporary art forms. The exhibition is on from 27 Nov – 6 Dec 2015.

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Tickle your artistic senses at SG:IO.

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You’ve got to be kidding me… with an exhibition that is being uncontained by an installation of scaffolding instead of walls to define the activity space.

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The mind behind the curation of SG:10 – Randy Chan, an award-winning architect of Zarch Collaboratives. I have the privilege to work with Randy on a couple of gallery projects with Pico and this man is simply brilliant in the way he interprets spaces to form the spine of an exhibitory experience.

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My favourite installation at SG:IO has got to be the nondescript set up of a study table. There’s a big twist in this piece which I won’t divulge so as not to spoil the surprise. On the wall are the words “有影無 wu ngia bo” (Hokkien for “really?” or “is there a presence?”) which questions the existence of an art scene in Singapore. The work is also an invitation to visitors to step into a playground of creativity. How are all these messages apparent from this scene? Well, get a docent to explain the full artistic intent behind this work when you are there and be prepared for your mind to be blown away.

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A wall of rat traps juxtaposed with the nostalgia of traditional Chinese medicinal halls.

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Would you rather be in a rat race or a rat trap?

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An installation that welcomes visitors to co-create the interior of a room.

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Graffiti welcomed.

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In addition to static installation pieces and conceptual spaces, SG:IO in also an interactive showcase where visitors can interact with the works.

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I had a Hansel and Gretel moment when I stepped into this candy-coloured room because lollipops sticking out from the ceiling can be eaten and the paints and decorations are apparently edible! Except for the lollies, I won’t recommend licking the paint off this piece.

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Not your usual lollipops, the ones found at SG:IO has such “you’ve got to be kidding me!” flavours such as bak kwa, chilli, laksa, etc!

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Didn’t get to spend a lot of time to explore SG:IO as I would like to as there was a launch event happening. When I returned later, a long queue has formed at the entrance so if you plan to visit, go early. Having worked up an appetite milling through some of the SG:IO exhibits, we headed over to the Singapore Takeout culinary showcase just a couple of steps next to SG:IO.

Singapore Takeout

A sister event of SG:IO, Singapore Takeout offers a spread of local favourite hawker fare and ethnic recipes that have been marinated with imagination by a new breed of Singapore’s designer chefs.

Singapore Takeout happens over 2 weekends : 27 – 29 Nov and 4 – 6 Dec 2015.

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Love the playful, funky, and artsy visual mascot of Singapore Takeout.

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Eat in or takeout, an taste adventure awaits!

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Interior of Singapore Takeout… Smart, stylish and rather chic.

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Started our creative food trail with a delicious concoction of Kopi & Kaya Vodka that is both hot and cold at the same time! Mixed by Masterchef Asia finalist Lennard Yeong, this alcoholic embodiment of kopitiam flavours has a warm layer of kaya foam afloat on iced coffee. Equally intoxicatingly fragrant is the Ice The Halia (ginger tea) Tarik with Cognac. S$10 each.

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Chef Han and Chef Wayne with their “YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!!!” experiments… Chilli Crab and Black Pepper Crab Ice-Cream! I’m not talking about adding a scoop of vanilla ice-cream onto chilli crab or black pepper crab but ice-cream that actually tastes like chilli or black pepper crab. Does that make your stomach crawl?

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I had my doubts but the savoury ice-creams turned out to be surprisingly appetising. S$10 per flavour that comes with soft shell crab and mantou.

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Can’t get enough of Chef Justin Quek’s Kagoshima Kurobuta Wantons with Diced King Prawns in Laksa Espuma. S$10 / bowl.

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A traditional Indian dish that has been lost in time… Kothu Parotta (S$8).

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Indian desserts are usually very sweet and heavy but Chef SR Bala’s Masala Chai Jelly is delightfully pleasing and refreshing (S$4).

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Getting bowled over by the Kueh Pie Tee with Laksa Sphere and Coconut Espuma (S$12) at Singapore Takeout.

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Peranakan food with a twist… Buah Keluak Maggi Goreng with Grilled Pork Cheek (S$8) by Chef Malcolm Lee.

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The Kurobuta Bak Kut Teh by Chef Lee Boon Seng from RWS has been stewed for 8 hours to achieve a soft texture with fat that melts in the mouth (S$15).

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A mosaic of creative new tastes on traditional local favourites at Singapore Takeout… Buah Keluak Maggi Goreng, Mao Shan Wang Durian Pengat Waffle, Kothu Parotta (Indian’s answer to chai tow kway), Kueh Pie Tee with Laksa Sphere and more!

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We completed our taste adventure with a German vintage that was refreshingly fruity and light at the Takeout bar.

It has been a fun night out feeding the senses at both Singapore Inside Out and Singapore Takeout. Hopefully this will make it into our art calendar as a permanent feature.

Taipei – Standard Chartered Marathon 2015

It was a cold, windy 5 o’clock in the morning with a drizzle plunging the already chilly Taipei pre-spring temperature to around 10 degrees. I missed the warmth of my hotel bed and chided myself for being gungho to take part in a marathon while on vacation.

Then again, I’ve been to Taipei a couple of times and seen most of the attractions so I figured that the next best way to experience one of my favourite Asian cities is to become one with the locals in the nation’s favourite sport — running. In 2012, there were only close to a hundred running events in Taiwan. Today, more than 300 marathons happen year-round in the country! This is one holiday where my luggage packed on the kilos but not me.

Starting of point of the Taipei Standard Chartered Marathon 2015 was in front of the Presidential Office Building. I was fighting goosebumps from the cold but unbelievably, some of the runners were clad in just a singlet and short shorts (see the couple in blue tank-top and black shorts behind me). I shiver for them.

I signed up for the 8km run. It’s not an eye-popping distance but for someone with asthma, a bad knee and who runs as often as the moon is blue, this felt like I’m going on a mission to Mars. I began training a month prior to the marathon but due to a couple of long-haul travels, I was never able to complete 8km during my practice sessions. I seriously doubted I could reach the finish point without being delivered on a stretcher.

Flag off and my heartbeat was synchronised with the pulse of the Taiwanese. I’m no longer a tourist.

In most marathons, anything under 10km is considered a fun run but the Taipei participants were very serious during the 8km run. I felt delinquent skiving off to make frequent photo stops.

When breathing became laborious and my knees started to tingle and the temptation to just stop running and walk the rest of the distance was strong, I looked to the blind and paraplegic participants for strength. If they can do it, so can I!

I’m terrible at taking selfies but can’t resist snapping a memento of this rare scene in the middle of a Taipei highway with a horde behind me.

One of the great things about running an overseas marathon is you get to act like it’s your grandfather’s road in a foreign country.

I wasn’t the only one running a marathon. It was a snap-a-thon for my handphone too. Love the photo opportunities :)

The adrenaline of the masses was fuel to complete the marathon.

Finally reached the finishing point at Da-Jia Riverside Park. I didn’t think I could complete the marathon unscathed since I haven’t ran such a long distance in a long time but I made it! Having so many ‘companions’ on the route really helped made completing the run much easier.

8km conquered! I actually didn’t feel the distance because of the cold and the freshness in scenery of a foreign route. Felt great after the run knowing I’ll return home fitter! This is definitely a holiday off the beaten track :)

This post has been made possible by CTC Travel (Singapore) who can help plan and realise a sporting vacation in Taiwan.

命运的傀儡

我们是命运的傀儡还是动画幕后的遥控师?

The future is in our hands or the predestined outcome of destiny? I feel like a puppet of fate no matter how much I try to cut the invisible strings.

Photo shot on 1 December 2014 at a weekend market on Inle Lake, Myanmar.

Shot this while visiting Yangon’s religious heart, Shwedagon Pagoda, on 5th December 2014.

I was taken by the contrast of the scene where the foreigners are consulting the maps to make sense of where they are while the local is seeking guidance on his path ahead.

We are constantly on a journey to either make sense of our physical world, or to grapple with our spiritual landscape.

When we search, hopefully we’ll find. Sometimes the answers are obvious, but more often than not, they are dubious.

I’ve been to many places. But I’ve never been more lost than before.

You Are Richest When You Smile

笑,是你最富有的时刻。

首次游访高雄,在高铁站旁,远远的看到了这对卖手工香皂的残疾人士。因为是午饭时间,男的喂着女的吃泡面,一口接一口,虽然他的右手残扭,但还是贴心的挣扎着把面递到伴侣的唇前。女的两手弯残,提不起东西。

目睹了感人的这一段感人的《喂饭录》,喜与泪在我怀中交加,万分感动。于是我走向前要求拍下他们的合照,把他们俩互顾互维,残而不废的精神记下来。

我把手机举起,他们立即就对着镜头展露了笑颜。一般的人身其他们的处境,往往很难拥有笑的理由。但这对伴笑得非常豪爽,灿烂。

拍完照后,我买了两块香皂,虽然不便宜(小小一块大概要新币S$5.00)不过这是我为他们打气的小心意,感谢他们给了我真诚的笑容。

简单的一笑却是我收到的一份珍贵礼物。我每次看到这张照片,总是觉得很温心、安慰、快乐。他们不自觉的给了我很多。

During my first visit to Kaohsiung, by the side of the city’s High Speed Rail station, I saw this disabled pair who were selling handmade sopas from afar. As it was lunch time, the man was feeding instant noodles to the woman. Mouthful by mouthful he fed her, struggling with getting the stringy noodles onto a spoon with his left hand as his right was deformed. Both the woman’s hand were crippled.

Witnessing this touching display of one handicap taking care of another, my heart cried and smiled at the same time. I wanted to capture how touched they made me felt and their indomitable spirit so I went up to them to request for a portrait shot.

When I raised my mobile phone, they broke into a smile immediately. Most people in their situation would probably have very little reasons to smile. But they smiled freely and brilliantly.

After taking their photo, I bought two pieces of soap. Costing about S$5.00 for each small piece, they weren’t exactly cheap but it was my little way of showing them support. To thank them for their generous smiles.

A simple smile became a precious gift I received on this trip. Each time I look at this photo, my heart is filled with warmth, comfort and joy. They may not have a lot going for them, but unbeknownst to them, they had given me a lot.

Fake Happiness VS. Real Joy

假开心与真快乐。

某天游台北时,闲步来到了西门町。商杂区内有许多优秀的音乐达人与表演者。毫无目地的逛着,耳边在众多的旋律中,熟悉了一首陈芬兰的《月亮代表我的心》。于是便跟着歌声来到了Watsons 店旁,遇上了这位献声的视障街艺。

他的歌声算不上是能出耳油的那一种,但带有一股真实的诚恳。看他演唱时常会露出笑容,自我陶醉,似乎很快乐。

顿时我视觉到了他背后的橱窗海报。漂亮的女郎笑得很开心灿烂,虽然发自内心,但难免虚假。

相比之下,拥有一切的美女与欠福的盲人;反而少了一点的,却多了一份真心的快乐。

一笑能化少为多。

While on a vacay in Taipei, my aimless footsteps brought me to Ximending with record-grade musicians and excellent street performers entertaining shoppers. As I wandered through the labyrinth of sounds, shops and smells, my ears picked up a familiar Chen Fen Lan tune “The Moon Represents My Heart”.  The vocals brought me to the side of a Watsons shop where I met this blind singer.

His voice wasn’t spectacular but there’s a timbre of vulnerable honesty. I was rooted to his performance not so much by the music, but by the smiles be broke into while singing. He seemed genuinely lost in the enjoyment of what he was doing.

At some point, I became aware of the window poster behind him. The pretty girl has a brilliant smile, it seems to come from her heart, but nevertheless faked for her job as a model.

In comparison between the girl who has everything going with the unfortunate blind, I felt that although he had ‘less’, he experienced ‘more’ of the simplicity in being joyful.

A grateful smile bridges us from ‘what little’ to ‘how much’ we have :)

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