Saturday, February 18, 2012

Life through a lens: snapshots of Singapore

As I walk through the streets of Singapore, I feel that I usually see things as if I were looking through a camera. Despite the fact that normally I'm whizzing around in some kind of frenzy, the tiniest details often catch my eye, interesting characters, scenes, moments, faces and places that evoke feelings, and tell stories that I might never know.

Yet I know that if I tried to capture these, my photographs would never do the moment justice, or I would be too shy to capture it all.

Thankfully Callan Tham, a professional and portrait photographer but street photographer at heart has captured exactly what I can not in his experimental B&W 100 Project, where he set out to take no less than 100 black and white pictures in a year that would be a collection of both luminance and contrast.

When I saw his pictures, I was so enthralled by how he had managed to capture exactly those moments almost precisely how I see them in my head. And so I'm delighted to some of those with you here and now.

What a character on Haji Lane...he looks like he would be more at home in Vietnam with a massive sack of rice strapped to his vehicle...

I love walking through the the Sungei Road Thieves Market en route to the Action for AIDS offices, looking at the wares on display for sale, stealing a peek at people trying to make a buck in the boiling heat...

This lonely figure was caught on camera whilst sat on the streets near the Sultan Mosque, Kampong Glam...there are so many times I see old characters like this, their faces drawing me in, and I always wonder what their stories are...

It took me a long time to get used to the helper culture in Singapore and I'm not sure that I'm 100% there anyway. While on many an occasion I've seen scenes not as positive as this, it's nice to see when there seems to be a true bond between helper and child...

They say that dogs always tend to look like their owners, or visa versa. Being a dog owner I know this is not always the case and I love how this picture of this man and his dog in MacPherson is a true affirmation of that fact...

I often marvel at the balancing skills of the ladies who I see pulling this off. I'm sure if it was me I'd fall right off...

They say the eyes are the window to our souls and that every line has a story to tell. For me this picture of this elderly gentleman in Waterloo Street could not portray that notion any better and I wonder what he is thinking about the fast pace of change in Singapore....

When you're a smoker, which I have been at various stages in my life, you know that in most cases neither time nor place gets in the way of a nicotine fix. This man pays testament to that as he lights up by a temple...

I'm a sucker for time capsules, and will never get tired of mooching around odds and ends from times gone by. Being on Telok Ayer Street, I'm pretty sure this must be Odds 'n' Collectibles. In a country obsessed with the new, these are perfect places to play tribute to the old....

Coming from London, when I first go to Singapore, I thought it was so wonderful (and still do) that people could fall asleep practically anywhere without having to worry for their safety or freezing to death. Just like this guy who is catching some zzzzs at Speakers' Corner.... 

There is a saying that one man's trash is another man's treasure and this man on North Bridge Road who perhaps is turning that trash into his meal for the day reminds us that there are people operating and surviving on far more basic levels that us...and making the very most of it....

I love to see how people interact with the spaces and exhibits at art galleries, and these three show that some are totally immersed while others tune out...

Back on the theme of sleep, I've never managed to be tired enough to pass out on the bus but with the hot hot sun it seems that round every corner someone is trying to grab a bit of shut eye, and where better place to do it than on the long journey home...

Photos by Callan Tham, a professional commercial and portrait photographer at CaKe Images LLP but a street photographer at heart. For more information see:

CaKe Images:

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Aiyah! So Kiasu!

I've been meaning to do a post on Kiasuism for a long time now, but a while ago when I was at a fashion sale (and not my Le Flea Boutique I hasten to add!)  my goodness it was a good reminder about how Kiasu people can be.

For anyone out there who who doesn't know what Kiasu is, it can be essentially defined as "fear of losing" and it's a common behaviour in this lovely land.

Anyway at this fashion sale was one lady who to me epitomised Kiasuism. She was first in line in the queue to get in and then raced in, barging past everyone with eagle eyes to make sure she got the best of what was available. Her thing was designer bags and in her Kiasu ways she had managed to already pick up 3 in the space of 5 minutes, clutching them closely to her chest wildly as if it was the end of the world and the bags were the only food  left to eat whereas I was just drifting around in a Saturday morning hazy mood.

Very soon after my arrival in Singapore I became aware of the Kiasu mentality and it's a great way to explain away a lot of things here.

Most of us probably face Kiasuism everyday whether it's the Kiasu auntie who elbows you out the way to make sure she is first in line in the juice queue in Chinatown (or wherever) or the person that always tries to barge past you on the MRT to get out the doors first - even though you are both getting out at the same stop.

Actually the latter is pretty familiar to me from the London underground, just the difference is that there if someone tries this on someone they either a) get some serious verbal abuse or b) get a big shove and I've seen this deteriorate into a full on fight in some instances. Another Kiasu sighting of filling up one's plate at a buffet also seems strangely familiar to me.

Yes even boorish driving habits and the lack of signalling on the roads is down to Kiasuism because quite frankly nobody wants anyone to get ahead of them on the roads either.

And if somethings being given out free, or exclusively or on a limited basis guess what - Kiasuism strikes with queues to be first, take what you can and run even though you may have absolutely no use for it, just like in this video...

And when you hear parents talking about how they put their kids on the wait list for the branded schools light years in advance, this too is thanks to....Kiasuism!

But it's not just about getting ahead, it's about getting the most out of something that you can and to really make sure you are getting every cents worth, or every freebie out there possible. This man shaking his car up and down whilst filling up at the gas station across the Straits in Malaysia (in Johor Bahru) trying to get as much bang for his buck when it comes to his petrol exemplifies this just beautifully! Perhaps he is afraid of losing out on an extra mile or two...

And I'm certain the whole getting ahead thing is why I always feel like the only idiot who steps to one side when it looks like my path will collide with another's when I'm walking somewhere. For the longest time I had no idea why this was and then I realised it was none other than - Kiasuism!

I've definitely been noticing sneaky signs that some of the Kiasu mentality is rubbing off on me - and when you're surrounded by it on a daily basis it's like that age old saying....if you can't beat em, join em!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

How to help a homeless person?

People across Singapore are gearing up towards celebrating Chinese New Year, the year of the Dragon. Yesterday my local supermarket was rammed with people buying up produce like it was the end of the world. And people are busy bestowing red packets, oranges and cookies to friends and loved ones, wishing that they will have a prosperous year ahead.

But there is definitely at least one person who I am almost certain will not be having a prosperous year this year.

Who is he? 

Let me tell you. The other day I went to meet a good friend for coffee, she was talking to a gentleman who I vaguely recognized as someone that worked at her condo.

Except the one major thing I was missing is that he didn't work at her condo anymore, and indeed she hadn't seen him there for a good few months.

It turns out that his wife had passed away and he had not been able to cope - he had turned to drinking, lost his job, been unable to make the payments for his HDB apartment and now he was sleeping on the streets. With only two changes of clothes to call his own he was struggling to understand how he would be able to get a job with no home address and no decent clothes.

Now a homeless person is Singapore is a rare sight,  I have seen perhaps two in my time here. But to actually have someone you know turn out to to be homeless?

I often wondered what happened when people fall through the gaps in Singapore, when they have no family or friends to catch them in the net when everything falls apart. I guess this is it then. 

My friend had already bought him some food and drink and so we arranged to meet him later with supplies and a plan. We immediately went to action stations. We had no idea what the protocol here was. In London, there are shelters where you can just walk into as a homeless person. Here, it seemed from our frenzied looking on the internet, calling around and asking friends who might be in the know, you had to be referred to a shelter by an agency. 

So we found out where the local family services centre who would be able to refer him was, put together a bag of men's clothes that were going unused, and various items to help him stay fresh and then my friend went to go and meet him at the pre-arranged time and spot that we had discussed earlier.

Time passed, he didn't show, she scoured the neighbourhood to looking form him. We analyzed all the possible reasons why he didn't turn up...
- Maybe his dignity had got in the way and had caused him to shy away from accepting help from people who might have well been strangers, and strangers who might have just seemed like silly expat do-gooders
- Maybe he had spent the two hours in between topping up his alcohol levels and then had passed out somewhere
- Maybe some or not all of the story was true and so he had not wanted to follow up on it. But even if this was indeed the case, times must have been exceedingly tough to even get to that point.

And the list goes on.

Whatever it was, we beat ourselves up over not keeping him with us over that time, to let him have some time to doubt and waiver, and slip a little bit further down the slope he had begun to descend. If we'd kept him with us perhaps we could have gone with him to the family services centre, but really there's so many levels of complexities that could have stopped that happening too. 

Whenever we're out and about, our eyes scan the neighbourhood like lasers, trying to see if he might be sitting or sleeping somewhere under shelter nearby. But we haven't seen him since. 

Sometimes you only get one shot at these things and nobody tells you what to do in these situations. I tend not to regret things in life, but this is a firm exception. If only there weren't so many complex factors involved, if only we had devised a perfectly executed plan then and there and not let him slip away.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The cuddle party comes to Singapore!

The other day I was invited to a cuddle party. Say what? What's a cuddle party? In Sing? I hear you all wonder.

We all know every now and then all we need is a good cuddle. And to get the whole concept of a cuddle party first you need to understand why human touch is so important.  Every now and then all you need is a good hug, but in today's crazy world though surrounded by people everywhere some people can go without human touch for days, weeks or in some cases months.

That makes me feel sad just thinking about it.

Being "touched" on a regular basis is important as a way to feel connected to others and bond for sure. But did you know that it can also reduce anxiety by making us feel more secure, and can even lower your blood pressure? It's also important to give our brains the sensory stimulation it craves and helps us to keep a positive attitude.

So cue the cuddle party (or cuddle puddle as it's sometimes known as!) making its way over from the States.

The cuddle party is a social event enabling those attending to share affectionate touch in a no-expectation, no pressure and friendly environment according to their needs, desires, interests and very importantly boundaries. But before you get, erm, excited, this is a non-sexual thing.

OK OK but what exactly goes on inside a cuddle party? Let's follow a first timer cuddle party goer and her journey from her misconceptions to the real deal and find out just that in this video...

So what do you think...could cuddle parties take off in Singapore? Is Singapore in need of some good old cuddle therapy? At the moment, cuddle parties are by private invite only, so you need to know someone in the know. Keep an open mind and you never know, an invitation might be extended to you at sometime in the future too!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Creative cocktails at prices that won't kill at BARKODE (via City Nomads)

If you are a cocktail fiend and love nothing more than creatively conceptualized, well mixed cocktails that won't leave you balking at the bill then check out my blog post on BARKODE over at City Nomads here.

In the meantime here's a little pictorial preview. If it leaves you thirsting for more then click here and read on.


Stray dogs in Singapore? Yes..and they need saving!

Stray dogs in Singapore? Yes we have stray dogs in Singapore and over the last month they have been much talked about. The dogs were flung into the limelight because on 14 Dec, a jogger was attacked by a pack of stray dogs along the Punggol Waterway Park.

Though extremely unfortunate as an attack like this is, it has thankfully actually served to highlight the issue and plight of these dogs.

Yes once upon a time the previously forested areas of Punggol New Town were home to hundreds of dogs. Over the years deforestation taking place to make way for urban development has destroyed their habitat leaving them with nowhere to go.

And because of urban development to date about 30 stray dogs have been caught. No wonder these poor dogs are feeling a little jumpy! Your home destroyed beneath your would you feel?

Anyway according to Action for Singapore Dogs there are at least 100 dogs in the area. But fret not there is currently a campaign under way to rescue the dogs by the name Save the Punggol Dogs. But where do all these dogs go if they get rescued? 

Anyone that has ever visited the dog shelters in Singapore knows that these are bursting to the brim and so the race is on to find proper homes for these dogs, which will also please those who are concerned about public safety. 

This is Pumpkin

Sadly stray dogs often fall pray to common misconceptions. I've spent many a time chilling next to stray dogs around Asia - and all those which I have encountered have been incredibly docile, affectionate animals. Not the "mad, unpredictable types" you might have been forewarned about but something more adorable like this one.... 

Introducing Alva 

As an owner of an adopted dog (though not a stray - the one I connected with at the shelter at the time was not ready to be re-homed), the plight of these dogs really strikes a chord with me and so here is something I wrote which I hope will help you empathize and take action...

An Ode to the Stray Dogs Of Punggol

I don’t know how I ended up here
Paying the penance for someone else’s inconsiderate actions
Lonely I wander, the product of irresponsible breeding
In this place I once called my home

But if this is home, I long for a new one
These were once forests so familiar to me
They are now strange and hostile and I am so scared
Strange things are happening, dogs are disappearing, and I feel deep despair

Each night I cry myself to sleep, for I feel my life slipping away as I dream
I feel so weak, will I survive I dare to wonder to myself?
I’m sick of baking in the heat, hoping that the rain will come and release me
Each day I rummage in the bin, hoping that some scraps will sooth my aching stomach, but it is never enough…how long will it be before I starve?

I dream that someone will open up their heart and take care of me
That they will look into my eyes and see my gentle soul and personality
And all the warmth and affection I have to give
I dream that instead of shouting or throwing a stone at me
That they will see my innocence and soothe my fears away

When the men come to take the others away I say to myself
“I’m not a demon – I’m a dog.”
How I long to be looked in the eye with a smile, stroked and loved
How I long to be in the warm bosom of a family
But sometimes I feel like my time will never come
Is there someone?

 If you or someone you know would like to give one of the Punggol dogs a loving home see below for more information...
The campaign is also looking for volunteers to help distribute adoption flyers to reach more potential adopters. Fore more information see the Save the Punggol Dogs website here.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

An Italian Feast fit for a King (or Queen)!

There's nothing like a good old Italian feast up, and so when I was invited by the folks at Da Paolo Ristorante in Holland Village for a lunchtime tasting, there was only going to be one answer and if I'm writing this I guess you know what that answer was.

Some of you may know the original Club Street premises but on this occasion, I was invited into the world of the laid back resort chic feel of it's Holland Village sister.  

This is a good place to come if you want to treat yourself to a fantastic Italian feast. The Russsian-Italian chef (yes you heard that combination right), Gleb Snegin was plucked from Italy having spent ten years working in restaurants in Milan, Lombardy and Tuscany. Fast forward to when we met him after our feasting, and he was a little uneasy sitting at the table.  That's because his place is truly in the kitchen to creating dishes to please the palate.      

So let us commence. With the antipasti....

Now I am a big fan of scallops, so when we had to chose there was no doubt in my mind that I would put my stick in the sand with the Capessante Arosttiti con Purea di Cavolfiori. Big, fresh, juicey and delicious and served on a bed of cauliflower puree and res sweet-sour onions.

The Caprese, with it's fantastic yet simple combination of mozzarella, tomatoes and basil, is always a favourite of mine, and this one did not disappoint. The mozzarella was super creamy yet firm - a perfect combination - served with basil leaves and sweet Belgian cherry tomatoes.

An all-time favourite is the Portabello a Sorpresa, Portobello Mushroom served in a burger style with my favourite Taleggio cheese (oh it's been a long time!), salad and a stack of fried potatoes. N.B best to view the fries as decoration if you want to continue feasting on other delights!

Next on to Primi Piatti - otherwise known as (homemade) pasta and risotto. I'm sure those of you who have dined in Italy will know that this course is usually the prelude to the main course, not THE main course like so many of us consume it as. But of course it's up to you to pick and choose. I was glad I was wearing something lose fitting as I geared up for the next epicurean stage.

Anything with lots of juicy crab meat and a dash of vodka combined together gets my vote, as did the Tagliatelle al Granchio.  Creamy and delicate with fresh egg tagliatelle this is my idea of perfect comfort food.

Now I am a HUGE fan of Risotto. It's hard to get right, and there are different styles but risotto is usually make or break for me. The chef here counts risottos among his most accomplished dishes, and it shows. The Risotto di Spinaci con Aragostine - a fantastic combination of baby spinach an slipper lobster is true testimony to that.

Losing up that belt it's time to move on the Secondi. I have a thing for Celeriac - it's not all that often you come across it in Singapore and so when I saw (and of course tasted) the seabass was teamed with celeriac cream and chips in the Branzino all Magnaia con Crema di Sedano it was a joyous occasion.

And for me no Italian feast would be complete without veal. Well it was a mystery that after all that had gone before that the lovely tender lamb shank that was the centerpiece of the Ossubuco all Milanese con Purea di Patate did not send me over the edge. But when it's good food at stake, the only thing to do is to....well....keep eating of course!

Now before we move on to Dolci, a word about wine. The restaurant employs a dedicated wine scout who scours Italy and it's 19 wine growing regions and thousands of vineyards to ferret out the best choices. The restaurant boasts over 76 labels of Italian wine and many are exclusively available only there. Many restaurants fall down on their "house pour", but not Da Paolo Ristorante. They take their house pours as seriously as the rest of it's collection.  Something I was very thankful for.

Right then, Dolci time!

I promise you that whatever you do it and when you eat here, you need to leave room for dessert. In any case there's always a little corner somewhere in your stomach which is holding out just for that sweet finish so it's be rude not to.

Now I have a strange relationship with Tiramisu. I always want to eat it, but then when I do I usually regret it. It's so often to creamy, or too sweet. Finally a Tiramisu I do not regret! The perfect balance of coffee, mascarpone, marsala and cacao.

Follow that with Crespelle Agli Agrui,  perfectly executed crepes, with the warm citron sauce colliding with the blood orange sorbet equals one thing. Taste sensation!

I have not turned into a pig by now, I promise but there's one final thing, and that's the Bonet Piemontese  e Gelato. If you are a secret amaretto and chocolate lover, like I am, then this could very well be the dessert to  lead you astray.

Da Paolo Ristorante (Holland Village) is at 44 Jalan Merah Saga, 01-56, tel: 6476 1332. Open daily from 11.30 to 14.30 for lunch and 18.30 to 22.30 for dinner. Prices range from $17 - 26 for Antipasti, $24-28 for Primi Piatti, $30 - 38 for Secondi and $8-14 for Dolci.

For more information see their website here

I had a camera malfunction so all images courtesy of Da Paolo Ristorante.