Let Romance Pop-Up with a Handmade Card

It was my first time making a birthday card, a pop-up one. I wanted to make it really special because love has the power to make you do things like that. And when the relationship is over, it’s the crazy things you have done or done together that will become a warm memory of this person you were once in love with.

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The recipient of the card has an artistic streak and has created several pieces of abstract and sometimes profound digital artworks. Since it is for a birthday, I picked this piece that was inspired by the recipient’s trip to Sydney and was enthralled by the fireworks at Darling Harbour, resembling angels of light bringing something good with them.

I spent a couple of sleepless nights thinking about how to make the birthday special and a few more getting excited about the idea of making a pop-up card, but more on thinking about how to do it. Thankfully, there are Youtube tutorials around.

So after an online crash course and picking the image, I set about conceptualising a pop-up card using elements in the image to form the layered effect and it’s off to Bras Basah to buy materials. Although it is a simple card, quite a bit of brain cells died to anticipate the number of cards and the combination of different types needed to provide a nice finish.

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I settled on 2 pieces of black construction paper, one to for the pop-up structure to hold the pieces of graphics, and another to form a backing so that when you look through the holes cut out from the top piece, you don’t see through them. I also got a thicker gold card to form the outer skin of the card.

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Side view of the pop-up card with 2 layers of black construction paper. The first layer if for cutting folded strips to hold the graphics and the back layer is complete the illusion of a night sky for the fireworks, else you will see through the cut strips.

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I’ve thought through and done the measurements but unfortunately, I didn’t take into account the fact that the full height of the centre graphic is taller than the height of the card when folded close, resulting in it jutting out of the card. *Panic!* To rectify the problem, I went back to the stationery shop to buy a bigger piece of gold outer skin as the first one I got was the same size as the black construction papers and extended the size of the card to fit everything in.

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Ta-da! The completed card. Not something exceptionally beautiful but it came from the heart. The envelope says “Celebrate”, the front of the card states the recipient’s name, and inside says “Happy Birthday” so they form sort of a 3-part greeting before the message. I know, the message I wrote is lame. LOL.

So that’s my little adventure into arts and crafts. I think there’s nothing more romantic than a handmade something because it says that that person is thinking about you through the conceptualisation, planning, and execution stages. It’s time consuming and a lot of work.

But when you see the person’s eyes really light up, it’s all worth it.

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!

Fangtastic Halloween at Singapore Turf Club

Halloween is a golden opportunity to horse around and I got a chance to literally do just that at Singapore Turf Club to celebrate this year’s hallow’s night. What an unusual venue for a heart-pounding Halloween party!

A good time up for grabs.

I’ve never stepped foot on Singapore Turf Club before this visit. Neither at its former racecourse located at Bukit Timah built in 1933 nor its current home at Kranji from 1999. The old race track has since been transformed into a dining and lifestyle venue known as The Grandstand while the Kranji club evolved to be more than just a horse-racing club but an exotic haunt for major events such as Singapore Symphony Orchestra concerts, lawn parties, ringside entertainment and holding private functions.

With the bubbly Fadilah who invited me to the Fangtastic Halloween party held in one of the Corporate Boxes with a 180-degree view of the race track.

马到功成,一马当先!Although I didn’t place any bets, it was quite a rush watching the horses and their jockeys try to out gallop each other.

Creative eats at the event… coffin-shaped salmon wiches that brings the carbo crave to the grave, crawlie sweets and spooktato mousse in beef stew.

The party’s theme was Halloween Glam and I don’t know how to mix glam and gore together, I was thankful make-up artists were on hand to add that spook factor.

Let me in!

Part of our night’s activities included a tour of the race arena and getting a close-up of the riders and stallions. I thought the ring would whiff of horse manure and wastes like most places that offer horse-drawn carriage or pony rides but it was thankfully stench-free.

Horse power on parade.

I’ve read that jockeys have a small stature so as to minimise load on the horses and maximise speed. It’s true!

一见发财!Looks like there’s an audition for sugar daddies going on. LOL.

We became the unofficial half-time entertainment for guests at the turf with our personas.

Halloween is the only time you can say that a horrific party is actually the best ever.

Having a fangtastic and ghoul time with new and old friends.

The thoughtful party was a cozy and intimate catching up session away from crowded clubs downtown and transportation was convenient as Singapore Turf Club is a short walk to Kranji MRT Station.

On the train, I finally revealed what had been hidden throughout the party…

Everyone can see the make-up outside, but only we know the devil within. Don’t let it eat you alive.

Happy Halloween!

SAFRA Dance-a-thon 2014

SAFRA Singapore rocked *SCAPE with its inaugural Dance-a-thon where participants get to shake their bon bons for a good cause. With a slew of grooves ranging from Zumba Fitness to Hip Hop to Jazz and more, the 8-hour dance mania is cure for two-left-feeters and all in the spirit of charity… to raise funds for Society for the Physically Disabled.

Enticed by the opportunity to burn off Chinese New Year calories and do good, I signed up for the Dance-a-thon. Never mind that my eyes-to-limbs coordination is as present as Aston Casey’s ability to be humble.

From 10am – 6pm on 15 Feb 2014, The Ground Theatre at *SCAPE throbbed with hot beats and nimble footwork. Dance-a-thon is a lead up to the annual SAFRA Dance Fiesta where dance enthusiasts pit their moves against each other in a celebration of showmanship, creativity and stamina.

RFID anklets were issued to monitor the dance duration of each participant in a bid to clock a total of 4,000 dance hours.

Fitness and dance instructors from various gyms and studios led the adrenaline sets to raise heart rates and improve cardiovascular health. And memory to string the steps and movements together.

The event reminded me of the very popular afternoon tea dances during the late 1980s where teenagers can club without alcohol. I felt like a daddy figure to all the youngsters on the dancefloor!

So you think you can dance? Or couldn’t. It doesn’t matter. Dance-a-thon was all about having a good time and burning fat the fun way!

My right knee made itself felt after about 2 hours into the dance segments and decided to make room for more dancers as they streamed in throughout the 8-hour session.

Any participant who has clocked at least 1 hour of dancing received one of these commemorative medals. It’s a nice keepsake to complement the pounds sweated out!
To keep in step with SAFRA’s latest happenings and exciting events such as the Dance-a-thon (which will happen again next year), visit safra.sg to find out the latest activities and promotions for NSmen and your family!

 

SAFRA Yishun Country Club Open House

Action hero or pai kiah? There aren’t many places in Singapore where we can legally pose with a gun. This is one such place. Read on to find out exactly where you can have your Terminator / Rambo / Lara Croft moment…

As I opened the door and entered the clubhouse, a sweet whiff of cotton candy greeted me and momentarily distracted my gaze from the horde at the reception. Is the circus in town?

Well, something like that. But the performers are you at…

Oh what fun! For a small fee, members and guests get to clown it out at a funky photo booth, get caricatured, take on heart-stopping ‘stunts’ at the adventure zone, hone marksmanship at an indoor shooting range and much more!

The one-day only open house of SAFRA Yishun Country Club was packed with people for good reason. Most of the activities such as rock climbing, Canopy Challenge Walk and Indoor Air Weapon Range were opened to public specially during the open house.

On normal days, one needs to be a member of the various sports and shooting clubs and pay equipment rental fees before access to those facilities is granted. So a SAFRA open house is definitely an event not to be missed to sample all the fun and adventure!

Monkeying around with existing friends and newfound ones. What a great place to foster friendship and connect!

Here’s a good reason to laugh at ourselves…

… through the comical interpretations by a caricaturist. The queue was rather long so I didn’t get mine drawn.

The main draw for me at the open house was the chance for a shootout at the Indoor Air Weapons Range.

Anyone above 13 years of age got a chance to take out the bull’s-eye. Showing off your bon bon is a bonus.

One job I won’t be able to do is an assassin. My aims with a F-16 rifle were usually off the mark during my army training days. I haven’t held a gun in a long time. I wonder how I would fare at this 10m air weapons range.

Pellets used for the shoot. Each shooter is given a target sheet and 6 bullets for every trial.

After a short briefing on safety measures and how to take aim, I tested my marksmanship after almost 18 years!

Not too bad! At least I managed to punch all 6 bullets within the black spot. Phew… the shooting range was great fun!

Moving on from the indoor range, the next thrill sits atop a hill at SAFRA Yishun Country Club.

I attempted this 25m wall on a previous visit to SAFRA Yishun but I couldn’t conquer it. Perhaps one day I will.

Spotted : Spiderman. Check out this guy’s traps and deltoids!

It’s no child’s play. Well, in this case, it is. Kids and first-time climbers can try the easier walls before attempting the more challenging ‘adult’ walls.

In addition to rock climbing, the Adventure Sports Centre houses 2 sets of obstacle courses that will definitely get the adrenalin pumping at maximum capacity. Not for the faint hearted. Pictured here is the Cargo Net Bridge.

Cirque du Soliel? Almost. Called the Elvis Walk, this challenge requires adventurers to hold on to dangling braids while negotiating a narrow rope-path suspended amongst a canopy of trees. I think my legs would turn to jelly.

Spotted : Fly trapped in a spider web. The obstacle courses are definitely no walk in the park and stretches not just one’s fitness, but guts.

I had a really good time during the open house and wished it wasn’t just for one day. Other SAFRA clubs will be holding open houses at different times of the year so keep a lookout and join in the fun with friends and family!

Scaling New Heights in Fitness & Adventure

No need to search for that elusive Rapunzel to let down her hair. I satisfied (and survived) my lust for thrills at SAFRA Yishun’s towering 18m abseil challenge and many more!

In the not too distant past, I could hardly sit still and had an insatiable appetite for the kind of adventures and thrills mama wouldn’t approve of. Rollercoaster rides?… No problem. Skydiving?… Where do I sign up? Bungee Jumping?… The higher the better!

Then age happened. I’m 39 by the way. And suddenly, I get mild acrophobia just by staring down my HDB window on the 15th floor. Where I used to be a daredevil, I now have a distaste for heights and anything that could raise the heart rate beyond a yawn. To rub salt into the wound, my fitness level declined and my muscles are melting faster than I could feed them with albumin. Plus, I’ve been inflicted with a chronic neck problem since late last year.

But being older doesn’t need to mean leading a poorer quality of life. A lot of how we feel and look has to do with metabolism. The slower the metabolism, the less zest we have. The good news is, we can re-program our metabolism to behave younger through sound nutrition and certain exercises.

I’ve resolute to switch on my metabolic rate again for a long time, maybe not back to when I was 18 but at least 28 *haha*, but work and frequent travels constantly thwart my plans. Thankfully, I’ve made it as SAFRA’s partner in fitness for the next 12 months and I’m excited to start reclaiming my health through facilities and possibly personal training (PT) sessions at its various clubhouses built specially for NSmen!

As I embark on this journey to rehabilitate bodily aches, improve muscle tone and reignite my passion for physical adventure, I’ll share highlights and fitness tips along the way as well as progress updates in achieving my ideal physique (I have a secret desire to be like Schwarzenegger. Whoops. I said it. It’s no secret now… haha) should I go on PT.

I am determined to succeed in delivering the promise of better health for my body and mind.

Have you made your promise to live better? 🙂

On the Heels of Nature

Superb weather today for a jog to torch my binge on Chinese New Year goodies before the festivities even begun. It’s the Year of the Snake but I’m snacking like a pen full of pigs.

Since my not-so-recent woes with a bad neck that has rendered me ungymmable, the only retaliation I have against my runaway appetite was cardio laps at the pool or any distance my legs would carry me. On this sun-drenched day, a long-haul jog itched my chicken feet so I decided to take on the running terrain of MacRitchie Reservoir.

Macaque monkeys run wild at their waterside sanctuary and give city dwellers like me the thrill of encountering wildlife.

After I did a photoshoot at the reservoir some months back to test-drive the Casio Exilim ZR200 compact camera, my affection for the oldest reservoir in Singapore was rekindled. The waterside oasis is a less than 15-minutes bus ride from home yet I wasn’t visiting it often enough. Jogging here provides a much needed escape from urbanity and really refreshing.

But the bad thing is, I tend to do more photographing than running. A one-hour jog usually get extended beyond two hours with all that camera breaks to snap anything from scenery to flora and fauna. Then again, the beauty at MacRitchie Reservoir is a welcomed distraction and definitely made the run more interesting!

Say cheese? This fella was shy at first but when it saw my handphone pointing at it to snap pics, it promptly moved towards me through the foliage. I think it wanted to snatch my phone so I backed away. After a few rounds of our back-and-forth tango, it stood there and opened its mouth as if to scold me!

Felt great running so close to a body of water with the dusking sun reflected on ripples of gold.

Awesomeness!

My favourite photo from this evening’s jog. I took a new trail and came across this scene just as the sun was dipping behind a low hill. I was so awed by the beauty before me.

The run led me by the waters and into the dense forest. Light was fast failing and being caught in the forest when it’s dark unnerved me. So I ran faster…

… and continued to stop to take photos. I should be running but this bald tree rooted my feet. All around it, every plant was leafy green but this one stood solemnly naked by itself. “Don’t leaf me alone,” I seem to hear it say. I was all alone on the trail with nary an idea of where I was in the forest too.

My heart was racing. Not from jogging but the panic of still being in the thick of the forest while darkness weighed in. I wanted to backtrack my route of the past 1.5 hours but decided to continue forward. Boy am I glad I did! Fifteen minutes later, I saw the glimmer of electric lights. I’m back to the comforts of organised chaos. In life, some people take a long tme to reach their destinations on foot while others get there faster by cars, but ultimately we get there. The speed is vastly different. So are the rewards.

Sweat drenched and following a road that I had no idea where it leads, I was enchanted by this scene that juxtaposed the light from a street lamp with the ample moon. They seem to be of the same size here, but we know the scale and reach of their illumination differ at a level beyond comparison… Kinda like what small minds see, and what big hearts show.

I got more than just a cardio workout with this jog as I exercised my eyes and spirit at the same time with beautiful encounters of landscapes both external and internal.

Much of the paths I’d trodden were new to me and although I didn’t know where I was most of the time, having only one road ahead of me provided a consolation that while I’m clueless, I’m not totally lost. If only life is just as clear-cut!

Will definitely jog here more often from now on. And leave all image recording devices at home!

Day 172 : Phom Rak Rian Pasah Thai

If you’ve seen the cats in Thailand, you would see that they are very skinny. Why? Because whenever Thais try to feed them, the cats would go “meow, meow” and the people would stop giving them food. Why? Because “meow” sounds like “mai ow”, the Thai phrase that means “don’t want”… *gua gua gua*

And that was how my first class in Basic Thai began. Our teacher (kru), Christine, made learning (rian) the language (pasah) so much fun!

I was supposed to start the class 3 months ago but had been so busy, I kept missing the start dates until now. The Groupon voucher I bought for this 10-lesson deal at S$99 (+ S$30 for a coursebook) was about to expire so I cannot postpone any further even though I am facing an eternal abyss of work.

If you are ever interested in learning Thai, here’s the first golden rule : BROKEN ENGLISH MAKES GOOD THAI. No joke. The Thai language (pasah Thai) reverses the sequence of adjectives and nouns and omits connecting words such as ‘the’, ‘is’, ‘are’, etc in some sentences. So while we would say “beautiful woman” in English, Thai would have it as “woman beautiful”.

By the way, if you would like to tell this blogger he is really very cute in Thai, you say “khun (you) nah rak (cute) mak mak (very / many / much) jing jing (really)”. Haha.

Think I’ll (phom) love (rak) learning (rian) the Thai language (pasah Thai)… here’s wishing you “sabaai dee mak mak (blissful and good many many)”!

Day 159 : Signing Up for Thai Language Course

Finally found the time to settle the coursebook payment for a basic Thai language course at Cambridge Language School. The school occupies a cramped unit at the aging Peninsula Plaza which unbeknownst to me, had turned into a gathering place for Myanmarese.

I don’t understand why the school needs me to go down to pay for the coursebook when I could’ve done it on the first day of class. That would save students the trouble of having to make an extra trip there.

First lesson will start on 20 June. Hopefully my Thai competency will go beyond just sawadee krup soon. So why did I take on a language course? Simply because research has shown that learning a new language keeps dementia at bay. I think I need to sign up for a lot more languages.

Day 058 : IKEA Tampines

IKEA's chicken wings are as famous as their affordable prices and innovative furnishing solutions. The juicy, cripsy, delicious wings are porbably the best in the world!

Tack. That means “thank you” in Swedish. And I would like to say a mega thank you to IKEA Singapore for picking me as one of its ‘Effluencers’.

When I was approached, my elation was mixed with a torrent of embarrassment. The Swedish furnishing giant clearly needs no publicity and I’m not an influential blogger at all. If anything, IKEA has influenced the way I style my home and live all along more than I could ever return the favour of being picked. As an IKEA Effluencer, I receive a generous amount of store credit per month for the next 2 years. SWEET! 🙂

Shopping amongst comfort with the IKEA gift card.

I am stating this upfront so that when you see me posting about IKEA, you know of my relationship with them. I’d like to keep sponsorships transparent as some of you may be skeptical about the objectivity of opinions expressed under such arrangements. I am not here to influence.

So I leave it to you to form your own thoughts about my upcoming IKEA experiences knowing the benefit I receive.

S$39 is for the beddings, not the boy! He will surely grow up to be a successful businessman coz he sure knows a good deal when he sees one!

But not that it matters anyway. Because it’s IKEA we are talking about after all. It’s already a household name. Many homes probably have something from them. When I shifted about 10 years ago, I bought much of my house’s furnishings and decorations at IKEA Alexandra.

From the standing lamp in my room and other lights around the house, to my bed linens, coffee table, cockery, house plants, faux flowers, photo frames, mirrors, former couch, cushions and shoe cabinet, I’m already an IKEA fan even without sponsorship.

Cool retro honeycomb mirrors! They created such an interesting shape for snaps.

So what will change with the monthly grant? Nothing. Just that I’ll visit the stores more often and keep up with what’s new and what’s in. Which is perfect for me because one of my favourite past-times is decorating my house!

Rest assure this won’t turn into an online IKEA catalogue. Neither will it be a solicitation to shop there but as part of sharing my daily happenings and quips, and if there’s something interesting that catches my eyes during a visit to the stores.

More shopping time at IKEA coming up!

Alrighty, after all the lengthy disclaimers and justifications, I hope the images captured on my brief visit to IKEA Tampines to collect my Effluencer gift card has shown a candid side of the place.

By the way, this is not sales talk, but I think the gift card is a great housewarming gift instead of cracking one’s head about what to get. The card acts like a store value cashcard that can be used for purchases and F&B.

IKEA is IDEA spelt with a ‘K’. Watch this space for upcoming decorating projects! 🙂

Let Your Creativity Break Free and Win!

The best way to have a break right where you are, any time, any place, is to daydream. And here is a good reason for you to let your imagination run wild! Share something creative that you think will help give others a break and you could win a S$200 Kit Kat hamper. It can be a photo, video, joke, quote, song or short story that originated from you or something you came across. The key is that it gave you a break and you think it will do the same for someone else.

For videos, please send only the link where you’ve uploaded or came across the vid not the video file. Likewise for photos, I would appreciate a low-res version (72 dpi, max. 540 pixels in width) so as not to jam up my mailbox. You may include a short caption or explanation (max. 150 words) with your entry. I know creativity is free-flow but please do not send anything that will make me blush!

In your email subject / title, please indicate “Share a Break” and let me have your name, address and contact number so that I can contact you if you are the winner. Don’t worry, I won’t sell your info or stalk you!

I hope you’ll spare a minute to participate. There’s no limit on the number of entries and I’ll post your best submissions here weekly right up to 31 July 2011 (Sunday). So start letting your creativity flow and share a break with others!

My Heartland – A Portrait of Hong Kah Point

Eighty-two percent (as of Mar 08) of Singaporeans and Permanent Residents live in public housing estates (affectionately referred to as heartlands). I’m one of them. And I love it here in the heartlands. They offer a comprehensive environment where all the necessities that one needs are just a few steps away or even right downstairs. Where I live now, there’s a wet market, a NTUC Fairprice, 2 hawker centers, a 7-Eleven below my block, and rows of shops selling all kinds of stuff and offering services such as medical, beauty, foot reflexology, and photo printing.

However, even though I’ve lived almost all my life in a HDB flat, I hardly patronise the neighbourhood shops other than meals at the hawker centre or getting groceries from the supermarket. I used to get my haircut at the Malay barbershop for S$8.00 but have in recent months, moved to branded salons in downtown malls.

For more happenings in the heartlands of Singapore, go to myheartland.com.sg. You can also 'Like' the Facebook page for posts, updates and reviews by residents living in the estates. You can even share your thoughts about your heartland. Join in the fun!

Increasingly, the small neighbourhood retailers are facing stiffer competition from mega malls in the shopping districts and big retailing chains, retreating to serve a mainly middle-aged customer base and losing the young ‘uns. My recent coiffure migration is a case in point. And it’s a pity I’ve lost the appreciation of getting what I need where I live. Now I spend more time going to get my haircut, and I pay more.

Hence, when I was offered an opportunity to rekindle the convenience of my heartland roots by Hong Kah Shop Proprietors’ Association, I decided to take up the challenge. I was among 8 lucky bloggers who’ve been given a S$150 ang bao (red packet) to eat, shop and play at Hong Kah Point during their Chinese New Year Carnival.

Hong Kah Point – Chinatown of the West

Even though it’s in a different housing estate (I live in Whampoa Drive), I have comfort in the familiarity that all residential towns and estates in Singapore adhere to a common set of planning principles. This way, we can easily orientate ourselves no matter where we are and assimilate into any neighbourhood easily.

But that doesn’t mean we live in a cookie-cutter environment where everything is homogenous. Each town has its own unique identity and specialties. So what will I find at Hong Kah Point? What are the famous food? What’s so special about shopping here? What fun is there to be had in this small neighbourhood centre?

Sitting at the intersection of Jurong West St 51 & 52, Hong Kah Point is a residential heartland consisting of 8 public housing blocks with rows of shophouses (Blks 501 - 508).

When I received the invite for the enjoy-n-blog contest (3 winning blogs will be chosen from the 8 of us), I thought Hong Kah Point is a suburban shopping centre much like Northpoint in Yishun or Compass Point in Sengkang. So I was slightly taken aback when it’s the name of an estate rather than a shopping complex. Most of the bloggers didn’t know it too! Which goes to show that Singapore though small, has many places yet to be explored.

This Hong Kah Point resident must be so proud of his/her home to beautify and decorate even the common corridor. I think this shows how safe the neighbourhood is. Residents need not worry about their belongings being stolen. This flat unit seem so cheery and welcoming!

Meaning of Hong Kah

Hong Kah is derived from the Teochew term for Christianity – 丰家 (Feng Jia), which means a ‘bountiful harvest of households’ or ‘plentiful blessings in homes’. In Hokkien, a Christian is sometimes referred to as someone who jiak hong gah (jiak = eat; hong gah = Christianity).

The place got its name because of an evangelist who managed to convert many of the Chinese residents in the area during the 1970s to Christianity, a harvest of families so to speak. But the Chinese characters are written as 丰加 now (which is phonetically similar to ‘家’ but means ‘bountiful addition’) after a renaming exercise to downplay the religious inklings of the name’s origin.

Blowing soap bubbles, hopscotch, zero point, police & thief, fighting spiders... the playful scenes from my childhood growing up in HDB estates floated back into memory. I feel so young again!

How to get here

Hong Kah Point can be reached by taking the MRT to Chinese Garden Station and transferring to Bus No. 335, or alighting at the Lakeside Station and taking Bus No. 187. You can also walk from Lakeside Station to Hong Kah Point. Just walk along Jurong West St. 51 towards blocks 501 – 508. It’s a less than 10 minutes stroll.

If you take a cab, tell the driver Jurong West St. 51 block 501 instead of Hong Kah Point because like the bloggers, most would not know the estate’s name.

From everything under the sun, to anything under the sea; whether it is Western pharmacy or Chinese traditional medicinal hall... our heartland shops have 'em all.

The heartlands of Singapore are colourful yet colourless; where different races live harmoniously alongside & trade cultures. In this case, ikan & 椰子.

Must-Eats at Hong Kah Point Hawker Centre

The first thing I did when I got to Hong Kah Point was eat. I’m a yao gui (hungry ghost) of local hawker fare and there’s bound to be some famous culinary talents in every neighbourhood hawker centre. As I’ve never been here nor got much recommendations from a search online, I decided to find my great eats by asking the residents themselves.

My food trail at Hong Kah Point Hawker Centre was literally planned on the spot with liberal counsel from the residents themselves. Many things to Christina Wu, Elsie Tan and Clara Pay for pointing out the must-eats here and adding inches to my waistline!

I think the magic of enjoying a day at the heartlands is the spirit of gotong royong (neighbourliness). I started my day of gluttony by queuing at Heng Heng sliced fish soup stall and asked the lady behind me what’s so good about it. Next thing I know, the lady in front joined in and I soon had a list of must-eats at the hawker centre. There were many recommendations but I managed to only try the following throughout the day…

Who said you can't find beauty queens amongst our hawkers? Here's one at Hoe Kee Kitchen (Unit : #01-39)... Chio bu (hot chick)! Incidentally, her stall sells chicken rice. Christina told me that her son would only eat chicken rice from this stall and could tell straightaway if it's not.

This is the stallowner of Ho Heng Hot & Cold Drinks (Unit : #01-54). I was told that his coffee is very popular & that local folk singer-songwriter 梁文福 used to patronise his stall regularly. What's surprising was that the kopi tao chiew ('coffee chef') was a girl possibly only in her early 20s!

The striking thing about the stallowner of Joo Huat Cold & Hot Drinks (Unit : #01-23) is this - his left facial muscle has laxed probably due to stroke but he readily smiled for the camera. What a contrast with those who are camera-shy even though all the muscles on their faces are fully functional. The stall has a really complete range of local folk drinks from homemade soya bean milk to grass jelly drink to other traditional thirst quenchers.

She's the boss of Heng Heng Cooked Food (Unit : £01-186) & I was told that she has refused many approaches by the media to feature her stall. She initially refused to let me take her photo but she finally relented and gave me a smile. This is a rare shot!

What's so special about the sliced fish soup at Heng Heng is the smooth and slippery fish slices and belachan sauce. Yes, you read it right. Belachan chili sauce for sliced fish soup. Next we'll be having soya sauce with French fries?

Great Finds for Year of the Rabbit

In between the eating, I explored the neighbourhood shops at Hong Kah Point. Since Chinese New Year is around the corner, there’s a carnival going on. I love these heartland carnivals because the mood is very festive with familiar new year tunes blasting from the shops and there’re usually good bargains for clothes, decorations and foodstuff.

Some of the great buys I saw at the Hong Kah CNY Carnival were T-shirts with interesting prints at S$10 and jumbo packets of fish maw at S$8.00 each. The same grammage of fish maw in NTUC Fairprice costs S$12.90 or more depending on the shape and grade (cone, butterfly, or assortment).

My targets at the carnival were again of the yao gui nature. I’m looking for specialty new year goodies and tidbits of Hong Kah Point and found 2 confectionery / bakery that makes their own pineapple tarts fresh daily in the shop. The making of pineapple tarts is an artform and really good tasting ones are hard to come by. So it’s really unusual to have 2 shops that make equally good versions of this snack in one place!

CNY Must-Buys - Pineapple balls from NGT Confectionery (Blk 504, #01-227). The innovative ball shape of this favourite CNY goodie is an adaptation from Taiwan's famous Pineapple Cake (凤梨酥). In my opinion, NGT's version should be the famous one.

All the homemade cookies and goodies are produced fresh in the shop and there's a wide selection at great prices. And their cakes are a work of art!

风骚蜘蛛侠... Check out the very vogue pose of Spidey! No wonder Doraemon is laughing its magic pocket off. The cakes at NGT Confectionery are so colourfully sculpted and well put together, you would rather have your cake and NOT eat it.

This is the boss of Difference Bakery (Blk 501, #01-285). Can you believe she's 50yo and a grandmother? Whatever her shop's baking, I'm eating!

CNY Must-Buys - Pineapple nuggets from Difference Bakery. They have a secret ingredient that makes the skin really soft & fluffy. I'm not exaggerating when I say they melt in your mouth.

This sweet 8yo girl with cheeks you just want to pinch from the candy stall was affable beyond your age. Here's how she told me her name... "L E E spacebar Y I spacebar J I N." Keyboard generation!

Other than delectable CNY tidbits, no celebration would be complete without getting some decorative banners and auspicious ornaments to usher in good fortune for the next 12 months. My family prefer to recycle our decors but that doesn’t mean I don’t like checking out the designs of each year’s festive acccessories. 通过时下的照片,就让我给大家拜个年,希望相片中的吉祥讯息感染您在兔年里的运程!

It's Chinese Lunar New Year! Time to get all red, gold and loud! Some of the decorations are going at 3 for S$5.00 only. Very cheap... lelong lelong (good bargain, good bargain)!

玉兔今年要放假啦。让我们骑着金兔奔跳过健康、丰裕的2011年!

吉祥扑向您!May great blessings and good fortune pounce on you and all your loved ones!

HUAT AH! Money come, easy money come quick quick! 祝大家兔年里得财不费力、一份耕耘,百分收成、鸿运自来、不劳而获!发发发!

希望今年会行桃花大运!May love and romance be like contagious diseases that keep spreading all year round!

Cultural Gem – Cheok Keuw Bridal Company

Talking about romance, there’s one shop that’s not to be missed when visiting the neighbourhood – Cheok Keuw Bridal Co. at Blk 506, #01-180. This shop is a living museum right in the HDB heartland retailing the essentials for a traditional Chinese ceremony.

The family business was started 50 years ago and has been passed down from parents to children. The second generation owner is Clara Pay and she shared that the legacy of the shop may very well end with her as she has no heir to take over and her brother’s children aren’t interested. So better go take a look before this gem gets lost to time.

爱你在心口要开。Let me tell you how much I love you with a kiss! Cheok Keuw has the biggest collection of cute Chinese nuptial couple figurines I've ever seen. They would brighten any occasion, not just weddings.

The outstanding decor notwithstanding, anyone who comes here will be rewarded with an intimate peek into the Eastern nuptial traditions and customs through the antiquities on sale. Clara will also patiently explain what, how and when to use the items according to the varying practices of different dialect groups.

Clara freely shares all her fascinating knowledge about the intricacies and dos and don’ts during a Chinese wedding process. I spent quite a lot of time at her shop and learnt so much from her. Thanks Clara!

With its abundance of antique collectibles and eye-catching decor, the quaint little business trumps many downtown shops in terms of having uniqueness, character, & a service level that's almost impossible to match.

But the shop also has another poignant story, and that is the story of Clara. At the age of 19, she was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer and later in her 30s, she had breast cancer. But talking to her and being in her pressence, one would never know her health woes unless you read a newspaper clipping framed up in a corner about her struggles with the diseases. The Chinese article was written in 2006 when she was in her 40s. She is still undergoing chemo treatment now but she’s full of life and very delightful to chat with.

Feels like I'm in the movie set of 花样年华 (In the Mood for Love) where the rich colours of nostalgia is fused with retro class.

Of all the numerous auspicious objects that are used during a traditional Chinese wedding ceremony, the tea set, lamps and nutpial candles are the top 3 quinessentials. Here are the symbolic meanings behind each of them :

Tea Set – When the newlyweds offer tea to the elders, it’s a sign of respect and when the elders sip the tea, it shows acceptance of the new addition to the family. The tea ceremony also serves to announce the marriage to both sides of the family clan. The tea cups will always come with a handle to represent the ear, meaning that the couple will listen to their parents-in-law.

My parents had this exact tea set for their wedding tea ceremony! We used to display it in a glass cabinet in our 3-room flat until we moved. I think it's somewhere in the storeroom now. Seeing it at here made me want to search for the set and display it again. After all without it, I wouldn't have been born!

Nuptial Candles – These candles are lighted to annouce the new union to ancestors. Sort of like an otherworldly email or sms to inform the ancestral spirits of the new family member so that they can watch over him/her. One of the candles would have a dragon motif (male) while the other has a phoenix (female) and they are usually lighted in this pairing.

双龙双凤的龙凤烛?婚姻不是一龙一凤的吗?Hmm... Seems like tradition is more open-minded than we think with a double dragon and phoenix nuptial candles instead of one of each.

However, the Hokkiens and Teochews light the candles in a dragon-dragon or phoenix-phoenix pairing. This unusual practice of lighting a ‘same-sex’ pair is somewhat unique to Singapore. The bride’s family would light a pair of dragon candles to annouce the addition of a son-in-law, while at the bridegroom side, a pair of phoenix candles are lighted to annouce the coming of a daughter-in-law. This way, the ancerstors don’t get gender confusion!

Lamp – Light and lamp has many meanings but the main one at a customary Chinese wedding represents fertility. 灯 (light) sounds like 丁 (child) so by lamp lighting, it is a wish for the couple to go forth and multiply! I wonder if there’s any effect on their offsprings if they light different lamps. For example, if they light a lava lamp, the child will grow up to be hot stuff; laser light gets them a scientist; red light guarantees the child a place in the lewd industry, etc. I think my parents lighted a disco ball at their ceremony.

OMG! 这样的 pattern 也有人要啊?! Cappuccino 的这副表情是因为看到丑媳妇/女婿吗?Did the dog just saw Corpse Bride?!

It is definitely worth making a special trip to Cheok Keuw even if one is not in the vicinity or plan on having a traditional Chinese wedding. It’s very enlightening to just stand there and listen to Clara advise her clients on the symbolic meanings and usage of the different items while feasting the eyes on all the heritage knick knacks. Furthermore, there’s a very adorable and docile coffee-coloured poodle named Cappuccino in the shop that’s bound to have you asking… how much?

13 Hours at Hong Kah Point

After a day eating and shopping, it’s time to see how the Hong Kah Point residents have fun. I cancelled an appointment to help my friend with party arrangements and missed another friend’s house party at night to attend their resident Singing Competition.

Was it worth the sacrifices? Well, it’s not really my kind of thing but I must say I was pleasantly amused. They can really sing and from those I’ve heard, all of them can cause earthquakes with their diaphragms! Many Hokkien songs were sung that night and they all looked so professional and confident. Oh, and they really dressed up for their performance too.

The folks at Hong Kah Point sure knows how to celebrate the year end and CNY festivities with performances, singing competitions and karaoke nights on a public stage. HKP Got Talent or what?!

Looking for the next heartland idol? When I took my seat at the makeshift performance arena, I was bracing myself for bad singing & shoddy showsmanship. But I soon realised there was no need for ear plugs. The voices were bigger than the small stage & they're so pro!

Everyone gets to shine. There were about 30 contestants & some of the golden agers really amazed me with the vitality in their voice. It was also really fun to see what the contestants wore. I totally dig the tackiness! It's good cheese.

Am I auditioning for the singing competition? I can only wish I'm able to carry a tune like the contestants... Even the seventh month getais don't want me to scare away our 'good brothers'.

Since I ended the day at Hong Kah Point on a musical note, I thought it apt to conclude this entry with a Hokkien song I recently fell in love with. Due to the nature of the language and its domination in the most awful of curse phrases, Hokkien songs have often been associated with the uncouth, unpolished and tacky. Just as how hip Singaporeans may consider it uncool to shop at neighbourhood stores or get a haircut in a heartland salon. They prefer the glitzy, air-conditioned downtown malls and famous brands. I preferred them too.

I never thought I could last half a day at a small neighbourhood centre like Hong Kah Point but I did. Thanks to Siow Har who came along & that gotong royong allure of the place! It's the people that gave me the stamina to eat, play and shop for 13 hours here.

But having spent such a long time at Hong Kah Point (I was there at 9:30am and left at 10:30 pm), I would say, give the businesses in your estate a chance. You may discover a type of ‘merchandise’ that money cannot buy; an at home feeling while shopping, eating and playing. And many of these heartland shops are changing the way they do business and the products they offer so some of the things we find here can not be found anyhere else. Like this song, Hokkien (heartland lifestyle) has become and can be hip!

Let’s not forget our roots and incorporate them into our higher aspirations so that we can enjoy a wider repertoire of lifestyle experiences unique to Singapore. All hail good English, proper Mandarin… and endearing Singlish!

The title of this song is 《保庇》(bo bee) by 王彩桦 (Lotus Wang) and it means ‘bless / blessings’ and ‘protect’. With this absolutely charming and joyous tune, I wish everyone a protected and blessed year ahead!

If you would like to see more photos, please click here.

Singapore Blog Awards 2010

I started this blog on 27 December 2004 and never have I imagined that 5.5 years later, it could make it into the Singapore Blog Awards! From the more than 1,000 entries, Celebrate Life! is amongst the 100 in 10 categories. What an honour!

When I received a call from the organizer, Omy in mid-May to have my blog moved from the ‘Most Insightful Blog’ to the ‘Best Lifestyle Blog’ category, I thought it was just a matter of administration by the organizer. I went on with my routine life, took a trip to Kuching and continued to procrastinate the many things I wanted to blog about.

Then someone posted on my Facebook wall to congratulate me on making it as one of the Top 10 Finalists! So I went to the awards site to verify, saw my pic there (it was risqué!) and visited blogs from other finalists. I realized how slow I was in catching the Blog Awards fever! So from late May onwards, I blogged like I’ve never blogged before with an entry almost every other day.

And by some stroke of luck, Celebrate Life! has been voted into one of the Top 3 spots of the Best Lifestyle Blog category. I’m immensely grateful to all that voted for this humble blog with none of the really cool blog technologies and design.

So now that I’ve caught the Blog Awards fever, I would like to give it a shot to run for votes. The winner is determined 30% by votes and 70% by the panel of judges. Hopefully you’ll get into the heat and vote for this blog. Here’re the steps to vote :

Step 1 : Go to sgblogawards.omy.sg

Singapore Blog Awards

Step 2 : Create an account & login to vote

Register an account

Login to vote

Step 3 : Click on ‘Categories & Nominees’ and select ‘Best Lifestyle Blog’

Categories

Best Lifestyle Blog

Step 4 : Vote for Darren Ng – Celebrate Life!

Vote for Celebrate Life! - Darren Ng

Mouseover the pink vote label. When it turns green, click on it. If you click on the photo icon, it’ll just call out the blog site. Thank you for your vote and support. You can cast one vote everyday. Thanks lots! :o)

Unlocking Our Prisons

Freedom

I believe in second chances. Sometimes a third. Or fourth. Or until the love and passion that fuels forgiveness runs out. But I believe that we should give people who have been to prison a second chance because it is not just about the ex-offenders, but about their families too.

According to the World Prison Population List of 2007, Singapore has a prison population rate of 392 per 100,000. This number does not include those in drug rehabilitation centres run by the Singapore Prison Service. From the list, it seems, Singapore with a national population of about to 4 million, has the highest rate of prisoners in South East Asia. And if we compare it to the whole of Asia (41 countries in list), Singapore comes in second after Maldive Island. But if we look at the actual prison population, Singapore has 16,835 (excluding those in drug rehab) compared to Maldives’ 1,098 (sentenced prisoners only).

So I took part in the inaugural Ribbon Yellow Prison Run yesterday and I realized, more than my belief in the cause, I was running to unlock my own prisons. Don’t we all feel imprisoned by habits, possessions, people or ourselves sometimes? But yesterday, I discovered the imprisonment of an aging body.

The run had 2 routes – 5km and 10km. Being gung-ho when the run opened for registration 2 months ago, I signed up for the latter distance with Eugene. But closer to the date, we decided to do the shorter distance instead. However, during the run, I mistakenly took the 10km route and when I realized, I was too embarrassed to turn back. The 10km had an earlier flag-off while the 5km run started at 8:00am. By the time we started running, it was about 8:30am. When I turned into the 10km route after sharing 4km with the shorter route runners, I was the only one. There was a couple in front of me, and no one else behind me!

I ran and ran. And every time I turned a corner or went up a slope, I thought the end was in sight, but all I saw was another long stretch ahead. It must’ve felt the same for prisoners in their jail cells. For those with short or mid-term sentences, they can start counting down. But for those imprisoned for life or on the death row, I wonder what’s there to look forward to.

I pressed on. I was already too deep into the distance, there’s no turning back. I just have to complete it. Then I realized why the journey felt torturous. It was because my body wasn’t as fit as it used to be. It felt heavy. No matter how much my mind told it to think free and feel light, every step weighed a zillion ton. But the worst was yet to come.

When I reached the vicinity of the carnival where the finishing point was, I just couldn’t go further. There was about another 1km or more to complete but the outer sides of my right knee was stabbed by pain. I couldn’t even walk. So I took a shortcut and limped my way to the finishing point. I cheated. My right knee had imprisoned me.

I felt kind of lousy for not completing the run, but I guess, sometimes the true distance is not determined by where the end point is set, but by knowing that you’ve done your very best. Apart from age, I knew there’re probably some habits past and present that continue to imprison me and caused my knee to be the lock. What are your locks?

I think it is okay to have locks. But we must know where the keys are. And by accepting and not judging ex-offenders, we are their keys to unlock a second prison. If we can embrace local celebrities such as Christopher Lee and Benedict Goh who had been incarcerated, may we also accept the beauty of a lesser-known who tries again to find their place in life.

The Journey

It gets scarier every year

When I can use less make-up to appear decomposed. I look dead without even trying. No Halloween party this year so ended up at St James, and I was really amused by the effort a lot of people put into dressing up. They made my reprise of the dead-soldier-look from Halloween 2005 so tame. But there’re too many fairies trying to be angels, and wings on a crowded dancefloor or podium is just asking to be plucked like a hen before slaughter.

Halloween 2007

Sometimes it’s funny how we put up a mask to be ourselves. I think the whole dressing up thing makes people friendlier. And it was really good fun except for this person who kept using its hand to brush against my crotch while dancing on the podium, in full view of everyone. This is Halloween, not ‘Hello-weenie’! So daring. Caressing someone so sexually in public. Such audacity. It shocked the clerical collar right off my conservative cassock. So before the situation got out of hand (no pun intended), I descended back on the hellish dancefloor with angel wings slapping me left and right. Perhaps next year I should dress up as a really big pair of scissors.

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