June 25, 2017

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Authors Posts by Elias Wee

Elias Wee

Elias Wee
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by Elias Wee

DON’T play with your food – that’s what some parents might say to their naughty kids at the dinner table.

But for some adults, getting creative with food is paying off. When treated with a little care, and a dash of creativity, food can become an avenue for artistic expression. Sometimes, the hardest part can be just eating these edible creations.

Here are four women, who have turned their penchant for food “play” into something more – an income stream, successful blogs and best-selling cookbooks:

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Ms Shirley Wong
(Little Miss Bento)

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Pikachu Bento. Image from Little Miss Bento blog.

She calls herself a bento artist – the Japanese-style boxed lunch or bento as it is commonly known has infinite variations of rice, vegetables, eggs and meat.  For Ms Wong, 34, creating bentos and playing with food has become her art form. A quick look at her most recent blog entries, filed under “Kawaii Bento” (Kawaii means cute, in Japanese), makes this clear. Pokemon, Star Wars, Snoopy, and Hello Kitty bentos – Ms Wong has taken the traditional bento to the next level. According to her, bentos combine her love for cute things with the delicate flavours of Japanese cuisine.

Ms Wong makes these bentos for herself and her family, and “occasionally accedes to a friend’s request” for a bento. Her love for Japanese culture began when she was a student watching Japanese drama series, and later manga and animation.

Making bentos, according to Ms Wong, was difficult at first.  After innumerable hours of practising and many kitchen disasters, it now takes her an average of one hour to complete a piece. Ms Wong, who began making bentos in 2011, started her blog in 2012 primarily as a way to document her creations. Her dedication to the craft saw her doing much online research, reading bento cook books, and making regular trips to Japan to learn about sushi art. 

She has clearly overcome newbie issues and bento-making has become more than just a hobby for her – her popular Facebook page has over 37,000 likes and her Instagram account has over to 230,000 followers. She has also authored two cookbooks – on how to make your own bento, of course. 

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Ms Carlyn Law
(Eat To Draw)

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Kiki and Kendra gently rowing down the stream. Image from Eat To Draw Facebook page.

Look, it’s a whale! No, it’s really a sweet potato!

What about that one? A banana or a rocket ship blasting off?

Stay-at-home mum Carlyn Law, 40, cleverly reinterprets the seemingly simple ingredients she uses in everyday cooking into quirky drawings. She posts these works on the Eat To Draw Facebook page and Instagram account, where each of them is accompanied by a short narrative. Often times, she creates characters too – like Orlando the owl or Ollie the otter.

Drawing and painting – even for just five to 15 minutes in the midst of preparing meals for her 13-month-old – lets her imagination run wild, said Ms Law, who is a former food writer and public relations director. And she has now parlayed her hobby into classes that start from S$38 per session. She held her first Eat To Draw class during the June school holidays, and hopes to organise monthly classes in the future.

Her goal? Encourage “creative thinking and imagination through food and art”. She also thinks it’s a great way to introduce food to children “and have a chuckle”.

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Ms Susanne Ng
Loving Creations 4 U (chiffon cake)

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Rainbow Castle Chiffon Cake. Image from Loving Creations 4 U blog.

Ms Susanne Ng, 33, started baking chiffon cakes two and a half years ago for her family when she realised they contained less sugar than a regular butter cake. She immediately “fell in love” with the chiffon cake, she said.

The former biomedical engineering researcher then started “conducting experiments” and creating novel chiffon cakes that were then relatively new to the market. This all started when she noticed that cakes sold in shops were often too sweet, too heavy and usually covered in fondant or cream, while chiffon cakes were very plain looking and unexciting. This motivated her to get creative with chiffon, allowing her imagination to run wild and creating exciting patterns and shapes while ensuring the cake remains soft, fluffy and not sickeningly sweet.

Well, the chiffon cake is clearly a passion – one that she now earns an income from. A one-tier chiffon cake sells upwards of S$100 while a two-tier one sells upwards of S$200. Not only does she sell the cakes to family and friends, she has authored a best-selling book – it was a ST bestseller the week it was released in January this year, and the first print sold out within three months – on how to bake her cakes. Her second book on decorating these cakes will come out in October.

Ms Ng is best known for her rainbow chiffon cake, but her other chiffon cake creations have taken the form of a koala bear,  a two-tier snowman with reindeer, and an Elsa doll. She documents much of her efforts in a blog called Loving Creations 4 U, which she runs with her friend, Ms Tan Phay Shing.

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Ms Tan Phay Shing
Loving Creations 4 U (macarons)

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Unicorn Macaron Carousel. Image from Loving Creations 4 U blog.

Sharing the same blog, Ms Ng is the “chiffon cake lady” while Ms Tan Phay Shing, 36, is the macaron specialist. Also from a research background, Ms Tan transforms the usual round macaron – a sweet French meringue-based confection – into myriad interesting forms, including giraffes, hedgehogs, unicorns, pirates, bunnies, bears, and many more.

Ms Tan got into baking after being influenced by a food group she saw on social media, though she remained cautious about making cakes due to the sweetness. However, when she saw Ms Ng’s chiffon cakes, she was inspired and decided to try her hand at them. Since then, she has explored many creative avenues in baking but, creative macarons is the key area of her innovative work.

Her attention to the sweetness of her creations means that all her recipes have as low a sugar content as possible and she has even developed reduced-sugar options for the macaron shells. She does this by substituting some of the icing sugar with rice flour and reducing the amount of meringue used. Ms Tan also tries to use natural colouring wherever possible and the best ingredients she can get her hands on.

Like Ms Ng, her hobby has become a professional endeavour – she published a macaron baking book in March this year and also bakes to sell. Loose customised macarons are priced between S$4 and S$5 each, larger macarons for cake toppers are between S$7 and S$8 each, and her macaron carousels are between S$65 and S$70.

 

Additional reporting by Kathleen Bei.

Featured image by Little Miss Bento on Facebook. 

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[TMG Exclusive]

by Elias Wee

NO DOUBT about it, Singapore malls are struggling. Headlines have been screaming about high rents, vacancies and questioning if perhaps the problem is that, ironically, we have too many malls.

But what about malls being too similar? Speaking to TODAY last year, Mr Kesri Kapur, head of business in Asia for the Al-Futtaim Group, said malls here offer “similar types of stores”. He added: “There is not enough differentiation in the stores. For such a small market, if it’s to be viable in the longer-term and sustainable, there has to be some differentiation [among] the stores.”

However, what does the real data look like? TMG looked up the shopping directories of 20 malls across the island to find out.

From the 20 malls, just over 2,000 shop brands were counted, and more than 30 per cent of them had appeared at least twice. Which shop brand is most ubiquitous? Starbucks appeared 20 times in 20 malls, with some malls carrying more than one Starbucks cafe.

Shops with the Cotton On brand came in joint second (with Watsons), at 18 times in 20 malls. According to ST, the Cotton On Group in Singapore looks set to further expand. Uniqlo has expanded rapidly over the last few years too, with 24 stores islandwide currently and a global flagship store coming up in the third quarter of this year.

Out of these 20 malls, 65 per cent of shops were of brands that appeared at least twice. About 50 per cent, appeared at least thrice. A whopping 40 per cent appeared at least four times. What do these numbers mean? If you visit different malls across the island, you’ll see that a significant share of shops are being repeated again and again.

Refer to the infographic below to see our findings:

Cookie Cutter Shops
Click on image to enlarge. Illustration by Sean Chong.

Why do shopping malls carry the same shop brands?


Mr Gary Nonis, National Director of Retail for JLL, an investment management company specialising in real estate, said: “These brands have strong financial standing and proven track records. This provides landlords with income certainty from a risk management point of view.”

Sometimes, shops may be “staple brands, which can generate the pull of foot traffic due to a ready following”, said Mr Nonis. Staple brands – like Starbucks, Uniqlo, Cotton On – “appeal to a larger target market, being familiar to a larger audience”. He added that a brand’s business model could play a part too. “Some tenants operate a volume of business on thin margins, hence they would need to expand rapidly and extensively to gain market share.”

Some shoppers seem to agree. Mr Paul Wong, 41, a manager, said large organisations managing malls may duplicate proven concepts that can draw customers in. Mr Karthik Abirajan, 23, a university student, said: “I guess maybe they’re making profits, so they’re happy not to change. If there’s appeal for the same brands, then why change? Just stick to the game plan I guess.”

But what is cookie-cutter?

TMG’s findings grouped shops according to brands. This is one way to investigate whether malls are “cookie-cutter” – that is, similar, generic, without sufficiently distinguishing characteristics. But do you personally make a distinction between different chain brands – like Starbucks, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, or Spinelli, for instance? Would you group similar brands together, because they offer similar products? Or do you perceive them as being sufficiently differentiated?

For some shoppers, similar brands are fine. Take Ms Janet Lin, 44, a homemaker, for example. She said that she appreciated how “some brands made an effort to differentiate their merchandise”. She added that even different shops within the same brand may provide slightly different experiences too. For example, popular bubble tea brand Gong Cha’s Bugis+ store, called “Royal Gong Cha Cafe”, offers a more upmarket range of drinks and other foods in a cafe setting, unlike the regular, largely takeaway shops. 

Other shoppers like Ms Yeo Xue Ting, a 21-year-old undergraduate, thought that in some cases, it is good to have some brands repeated across different malls. She said: “It’s good that established brands can be found in neighbourhood or heartland malls too, because it means I don’t have to travel all the way to town to do my shopping.” 

Mr Allen Chan, 44, a chef, acknowledged that he has seen some shop brands “mostly repeat and repeat again”, but added, “as long as I can get my things, then why not?”

Not just tenant mix

There’s more to shopping malls than just the tenant mix. Mr Nonis said: “Yes, it does come across as cookie-cutter from a tenant range point of view. However, each mall typically focuses on a point of differentiation, which can come from a positioning, branding or even promotional standpoint.”

For Singapore’s largest shopping mall owner and manager, CapitaLand Mall Asia, the selection of retail tenants is not the only important factor. Ms Teresa Teow, its Head of Retail Management, Singapore, said that its “shopping malls are becoming one-stop lifestyle destinations”. In addition to traditional retail shops, different CapitaLand malls provide different “leisure and entertainment options”.

Ms Teow provided examples of CapitaLand malls that host different activities. Bukit Panjang Plaza will host interactive street art performances from Australia. Funan DigitaLife Mall will host the Funan Anime Matsuri, a week-long Japanese pop culture event. Westgate’s Kids Club conducts daily workshops that teach children bracelet making, bubble painting, and cookie baking. She added that different CapitaLand malls provide different “community facilities”, whether it be an Olympic-size ice skating rink, a dance theatre, or a public library.

Frasers Centrepoint Malls, which manages malls like Changi City Point and Waterway Point, agreed. A spokesman said that apart from shopping, malls need to create spaces for the “community to come together”. For example, the wet and dry play areas and “hang-outers zone” at Changi City Point; the community centre within the new Northpoint City; green spaces at The Plaza, and 24-hour boardwalk at Waterway Point. The spokesman added: “Ultimately, retail has to be a social experience that visitors can connect with.”

What’s coming up?

“Shoppers are likely to see more pop-up stores, which will refresh the mall mix over time,” according to Dr Lee Nai Jia, regional director of research for real estate consultancy DTZ Singapore. He said that these shops – with short term leases of typically three to six months – “inject vitality into the retail scene” and “keep consumers interested”. He added that the retail experience will be more interactive and customised.

Mr Nonis agreed and added that shopping malls here will continue to look for local and overseas “new-to-market brands” – like Hamleys (Plaza Singapura) and Rue Madame (Takashimaya) that opened in 2015 – because these brands can create hype and generate traffic.

As a shopper, what do you think? Tell us.

 

Featured image Singapore by Flickr user jo.sau(CC BY 2.0)

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by Elias Wee

NEW portable speed laser cameras are to be deployed at 44 accident-prone areas – this was announced by the Traffic Police last Thursday (May 19). They replace the old speed cameras introduced in 2004. Night or day, the new cameras take higher-resolution images, capture video, detect front and back number plates, and can measure a vehicle’s speed from further away.

Manned by one officer, each new camera has eight hours of battery life – twice that of the old cameras. Here are the 44 Police Speed Laser Camera (PSLC) Enforcement Locations. We’ve plotted them on a map, too.

No.LocationRemarks
1Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1 towards Upper Thomson Roadbetween Marymount Road and Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3
2Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1 towards Boundary Roadbetween Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3 and Marymount Road
3Ang Mo Kio Avenue 5 towards Buangkok Greenbetween Yio Chu Kang Road and Central Expressway
4Ang Mo Kio Avenue 5 towards Yio Chu Kang Roadbetween Central Expressway and Yio Chu Kang Road
5Ayer Rajah Expressway towards Tuasbetween Benoi Road exit and Tuas Road exit
6Ayer Rajah Expressway towards Marina Coastal Expresswaybetween Tuas Road exit and Pioneer Road North exit
7Braddell Road towards Bartley Roadbetween Bishan Road and Central Expressway
8Braddell Road towards Lornie Roadbetween Central Expressway and Bishan Road
9Bukit Timah Expressway towards Woodlands Checkpointbetween Pan Island Expressway and Dairy Farm Road exit
10Bukit Timah Expressway towards Pan Island Expresswaybetween Dairy Farm Road exit and Pan Island Expressway
11Central Expressway towards Seletar Expresswaybetween Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1 exit and Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3 exit
12Central Expressway towards Ayer Rajah Expresswaybetween Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3 exit and Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1 exit
13Changi Coast Road towards Nicoll Drivenear Gate N7
14Clementi Avenue 6 towards Ayer Rajah Expresswaybetween Clementi Loop and Commonwealth Avenue West
15Clementi Avenue 6 towards Pan Island Expresswaybetween Commonwealth Avenue West and Clementi Loop
16East Coast Parkway towards Airportbetween Still Road South exit and Marine Vista exit
17East Coast Parkway towards Citybetween Bedok South Avenue 1 exit and Still Road South exit
18Jalan Buroh towards Pioneer Roadbetween Jurong Port Road and Jurong Pier Road
19Kranji Expressway towards Bukit Timah Expresswaybetween Choa Chu Kang Way exit and Choa Chu Kang Drive exit
20Kranji Expressway towards Pan Island Expresswaybetween Choa Chu Kang Drive exit and Choa Chu Kang Way exit
21Lentor Avenue towards Yishun Avenue 2between Yio Chu Kang Road and SLE
22Lentor Avenue towards Ang Mo Kio Avenue 6between SLE and Yio Chu Kang Road
23Lornie Road towards Braddell Roadnear MacRitchie Reservoir
24Lornie Road towards Adam Roadnear MacRitchie Reservoir
25Nicoll Highway towards Guillemard Roadbetween Middle Road and Java Road
26Nicoll Highway towards Esplanade Drivebetween Java Road and Middle Road
27Pan Island Expressway towards Tuasbetween Pioneer Road North exit and Upper Jurong Road exit
28Pan Island Expressway towards Airportbetween Upper Jurong Road exit and Pioneer Road North exit
29Pan Island Expressway towards Tuasbetween Lorong 2 Toa Payoh exit and Thomson Road exit
30Pan Island Expressway towards Airportbetween Thomson Road exit and Lorong 2 Toa Payoh exit
31Pan Island Expressway towards Tuasbetween Eunos Road exit and Paya Lebar Road exit
32Pan Island Expressway towards Airportbetween Paya Lebar Road exit and Eunos Road exit
33Tampines Avenue 10 towards Bartley Road Eastbetween Tampines Expressway and Tampines Avenue 9
34Tampines Avenue 10 towards Tampines Expresswaybetween Tampines Avenue 9 and Tampines Expressway
35Tampines Expressway towards Pan Island Expresswaybetween Punggol Road exit and KPE exit
36Tampines Expressway towards Seletar Expresswaybetween Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway exit and Punggol Road exit
37Tampines Expressway towards Pan Island Expresswaybetween Sengkang West Road exit and Seletar Link exit
38Tampines Expressway towards Seletar Expresswaybetween Jalan Kayu exit and Sengkang West Road exit
39Upper Bukit Timah Road towards Jalan Anak Bukitbetween Old Jurong Road and Jalan Anak Bukit
40Upper Thomson Road towards Lornie Roadbetween Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1 and Sin Ming Avenue
41Upper Thomson Road towards Sembawang Roadbetween Sin Ming Avenue and Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1
42West Coast Highway towards Jalan Burohbetween South Buona Vista and Clementi Road
43West Coast Highway towards Pasir Panjang Roadbetween Clementi Road and South Buona Vista
44Woodlands Avenue 12 towards Woodlands Avenue 10between Woodlands Avenue 5 and Gambas Avenue

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Source: Traffic Police

Featured image is a screenshot from My Maps – Google. 

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skillsfuture_300x250

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Flop T1 Taxi Q
Illustration by Sean Chong

[TMG Exclusive]

by Elias Wee

A NEW holding area for taxis designed to improve traffic flow and hold more than three times the number of vehicles queueing for customers at Changi Airport’s Terminal 1 (T1) is driving some cabbies up the wall.

Since its opening on Wednesday (May 17), taxi drivers have taken to social media to complain about the new holding area, with at least four posts on the Singapore Taxi Facebook group, the largest local taxi group on Facebook, over the past three days. They say it’s unsafe, poorly designed, and creates longer waiting times.

In preparation for its opening, the Changi Airport Group (CAG) had given out pamphlets informing taxi drivers that they had to queue in the new taxi deck before going to T1. Staff members were also posted to direct traffic on the ground. Click here to see a copy of the pamphlet.

Two trial runs with 20 or so drivers were also held, said a recent executive committee member of the National Taxi Association (NTA). The second trial run was conducted last Friday. The recent committee member, Mr Henry Tay, who is a cabbie himself, said feedback was given during the trials. CAG had responded to the feedback by making changes, including reducing the size of the kerbs to create wider lanes.

“This makes the lane wider, and provides a clearer path for taxi drivers going into either T3 or T1,” said the 46-year-old.

When asked about the complaints regarding the new deck, a spokesman from CAG said that feedback and consultation sessions were held before the opening day. CAG added that traffic marshals have been deployed and wayfinding signs along Airport Boulevard were put up.

“CAG is closely monitoring the situation and continues to work with taxi drivers to obtain feedback and make constant refinements to the taxi deck operations,” said the CAG spokesman. CAG will install more electronic signs leading up to the taxi deck; these signs will show the number of taxis in the queue. 

The response is unlikely to mollify the ire of the cabbies, whose posts on the Singapore Taxi Facebook group show a deep frustration at the new holding area.

Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 11.26.18 am

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Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 11.19.09 am

 

Longer waiting times

“Definitely longer waiting time,” said Mr Kelvin Chua, 37, a taxi driver who has used the new holding area at least five times since it opened on Wednesday. How much longer? He said that the waiting time, when compared to his usual route’s, is longer by “20 minutes at least”. He pointed to some specific problems, such as the “waiting time for the barricades to open up is too long”.

Mr William Lim, 39, another taxi driver agreed, saying his wait was about 15 minutes longer than usual. He had driven to the T1 Taxi Holding area on Wednesday evening, adding that “the design of the taxi queue is impractical”, because it forms a bottleneck. He said the routes leading to the T1 and T3 holding areas are the same (after all, one deck is above the other), before they split into the different holding areas – this creates a “bottleneck formed by taxis queueing to go to T1 and T3 during peak hour.

Airport T1 Holding Area
Image taken by Mr Kelvin Chua, on May 19, at Changi Airport Terminal 1 Taxi Holding Area

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Unsafe?

Other cabbies, like Mr Henry Tay, 46, said this bottleneck was a potential safety issue. While the new holding area was meant to get taxi drivers off Airport Boulevard, the long queue actually stretched all the way onto the expressway on Wednesday night at around 10pm. “That’s dangerous… not just to taxi drivers, but other road users too,” he said.

Taxi driver Mr Jack Tan, 44 said cabs queueing on the expressway can cause accidents, noting that the queue often extended into the Pan Island Expressway after 9pm or 10pm, which is usually a peak period for taxis wanting to pick up passengers from the airport.

Room for improvement?

The T1 Holding Area has a waiting lane in addition to its eight lanes. The waiting lane allows drivers to rest if they choose to, but those looking for customers will have to circle around the deck before proceeding to the pick-up point. In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Mr Lim said that even when there were no taxis in the queue, “the taxi had to go through all the circuit before reaching the taxi bay, sound rather stupid and wasting everyone’s time.”

Also, the new deck’s “barricades have to be manually opened by the marshals,” said Mr Chua, who said he pitied the CAG staff who had to “be there rain or shine”. His suggestion was to automate the barricades: “It would be good if the barricades are automated and configured to open lane by lane, otherwise this new route is a flop.”

Or, just get used to it. Said Mr Tay: “It’s partially an infrastructure problem, partially unfamiliar drivers. In one to three weeks time, things should improve.”

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skillsfuture_300x250

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Elias Wee

CONTROVERSY surrounds the humble bowl of rice. On Friday, May 6, ST reported Health Promotion Board’s (HPB) chief Zee Yoong Kang referring to a meta-analysis of cohort studies. Its conclusion: Eating more white rice increases the risk of diabetes. His suggestion: Switch to healthier – wholegrain – alternatives.

According to The Whole Grains Council (TWGC), wholegrain rice has three parts – endosperm, bran, and germ – intact. (The inedible husk is removed.) Regular white rice only has the endosperm, because its grains have gone through a polishing process that removes the bran and germ. Fibre, protein, minerals, and vitamins are lost when this is done too.

Making the switch – like flicking on a switch?

Some, including Men’s Health, disagree with Mr Zee. But let’s say you are convinced. You want to replace white rice with wholegrain alternatives. What is the price for making the switch? Can you afford it?

Whether it’s at the hawker centre or at the supermarket, you pay more for alternatives. Compared to white rice, brown rice costs from 20 cents to $1 more at the hawker centre and 90 cents more per kilogram for brown rice (house brand) at the supermarket. What about availability? An ST article (May 10) said: “A check with hawker centres and food courts in Ang Mo Kio, Bishan, and Toa Payoh found that only one or two stalls at each food centre offer brown rice as an alternative to white rice.”

As for red rice, which is rarely offered at hawker centres, it is $1.14 more per kilogram at the supermarket.

Type of riceBrand of ricePrice ($) displayedPrice ($) per kilogram
WhiteFairprice Thai Fragrant White Rice$5.90 for 5kg$1.18/kg
BrownFairprice Thai Brown Unpolished Rice$5.20 for 2.5kg$2.08/kg
RedFairprice Thai Red Unpolished Rice$5.80 for 2.5kg$2.32/kg

Well, presuming the prices are, in part, indicative of their healthier status, do you know what are the benefits of each type of rice? We break them down so you know what you’re paying for:

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1. White rice

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Rice rabbit by Flickr user Ray_LAC. CC BY 2.0.

Not all white rice are the same. An infographic created by ST, referencing the Glycemic Index Research Unit (GIRU) at Temasek Polytechnic, showed that short-grain rice have a higher Glycemic Index (GI) than long-grain rice – this means more carbohydrates are broken down to produce higher levels of sugar, creating greater spikes in blood glucose levels. Such frequent spikes leads to an increased risk of diabetes.

According to epicurious, short grain white rice is typically used for making sushi. Long grain white rice has two aromatic options: basmati and jasmine (also known as Thai Hom Mali). Typically, basmati rice is used in nasi biryani, while jasmine rice is most common in Chinese rice dishes.

White rice has a plethora of varieties. But check out parboiled rice (or converted rice). Rice, still covered in the husk, is partially boiled; nutrients from the bran are absorbed by the endosperm. The GI for parboiled rice is lower than white rice in general, according to Harvard Medical School.

Examples:

  • Budget Long Grain White Rice, 5kg, $5.30 (Fairprice) – $1.06/kg
  • Fairprice Thai Fragrant White Rice, 5kg, $5.90 (Fairprice) – $1.18/kg
  • Fairprice India Ponni Rice Parboiled, 5kg, $6.90 (Fairprice) – $1.38/kg
  • Mulberry Basmati Rice, 5kg, $16.95 (Giant) – $3.39/kg

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2. Brown rice

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015/366 – Brown rice by Flickr user Arria Belli. CC BY-SA 2.0.

This is the most common wholegrain rice. Brown rice has a more chewy texture and nuttier flavour. Supermarkets here also sell brown rice in the two aromatic options: jasmine and basmati.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Nutrient Database, brown rice, when compared to white rice (both long-grained), has more protein, minerals like iron, magnesium, zinc, and vitamins such as vitamin B-6, E, and K. The GIRU shows that brown rice has a lower GI than white rice. A 2006 study showed that brown rice helps to lower and regulate cholesterol levels too.

Despite these benefits, why have rice grains been conventionally polished? The bran and germ contains natural oils that go rancid more easily. Hence, it’s recommended to store it in an airtight container.

Examples:

  • Fairprice Thai Brown Unpolished Rice, 2.5kg, $5.20 (Fairprice) – $2.08/kg
  • ecoBrown’s Unpolished Brown Rice, 5kg, $14.50 (Giant) – $2.90/kg
  • Daawat Quick Cooking Basmati Brown Rice, 1kg, $4.80 (Sheng Siong) – $4.80/kg
  • Golden Phoenix Germinated* Brown Jasmine Rice, 1kg, $6.05 (Giant) – $6.05/kg

*Refers to unpolished rice allowed to germinate for a night or two, so that the grain “becomes more nutritious, easier to chew, and tastier”. – UN FAO Rice Conference 2004..

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3. Red rice

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Red rice by Flickr user matyas X. CC BY-SA 2.0.

Red rice is a wholegrain with a nutty flavour and firm texture. But it has an antioxidant, called anthocyanin, that gives its bran a red pigment. Antioxidants help to guard the body’s cells from free radical-induced damage.

A United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report said that red rice has two times more iron and six times more zinc than brown rice. Like brown rice, it is also a rich source of fibre relative to white rice.

According to Health Benefits Times (HBT), red rice was originally grown in China and was used as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Today, however, it is cultivated across Europe, Southeast Asia and South America. HBT also said that the natural red colouring “leaches out and dyes the rest of the dish” red or pink.   

Examples:

  • Fairprice Thai Red Unpolished Rice, 2.5kg, $5.80 (Fairprice) –$2.32/kg
  • Paddy King Red Cargo Rice, 1kg, $3.80, (Giant) –$3.80/kg
  • Golden Phoenix Germinated Red Cargo Rice, 1kg, $6.05 (Giant) –$6.05/kg

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4. Black rice

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Black rice… by Flickr user storebukkebruse. CC BY 2.0.

Ancient Chinese legend, according to Health Magazine, says that only emperors were allowed to eat this forbidden rice. The dark hue is a result of its rich antioxidant bran, said the magazine, but it also has a “chewier and more intense [flavour]”.

Black rice is also a nutrient powerhouse. The UN FAO report shows that black rice has three times more fibre than brown rice, and more protein than white, brown or red rice. 

Dietician Fiona Atkinson, who compiled a list of GIs for common Asian foods, found in her list that black rice porridge had a lower GI than regular, white rice porridge. 

Examples:

  • Happy Family Black Glutinous Rice, 1kg, $5.50 (Sheng Siong) –$5.50/kg
  • Golden Phoenix Germinated Black Cargo Rice, 1kg, $6.30 (Giant) –$6.30/kg
  • Simply Natural Organic** Black Rice, 1kg, $8 (Cold Storage) –$8/kg

** Refers to rice that is cultivated based on a system of farming “without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers”. 

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5. Wild rice

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Creamy Chicken & Wild Rice Soup by Flickr user Whitney. CC BY 2.0.

Wild rice is less common. According to TWGC, it is “difficult to grow, with low yields per acre”. Originally, it grew in the lakes of Northeastern America and Canada, but now 70 per cent of wild rice is commercially farmed in California. It tends to be expensive too.

So why eat wild rice? The USDA database shows wild rice has twice the amount of protein as brown rice. It also has 50 per cent more magnesium, and about three times the amount of zinc. A University of Minnesota study said that it is high in antioxidant levels too.

Examples:

  • Bob’s Red Mill Quick Cooking Wild Rice, 0.226kg, $10.85 (Cold Storage) –$48/kg

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Why is wholegrain rice so expensive?

Looking at the examples, you will notice that the price per unit weight of unpolished rice – whether brown, red, black, or wild – tends to be more than white rice. But why does wholegrain rice cost more than white rice? After all, white rice requires extra steps – more processing. An HPB article states two possible reasons:

  • First, white rice experiences greater economies of scale, since the quantity of white rice consumed is greater than wholegrain rice.
  • Second, wholegrain rice has a shorter shelf life than white rice; it’s more costly “to preserve the quality of brown rice during transportation and storage”.

 

Chicken and egg and rice?

An ST article published on Tuesday (May 10) said wholegrain rice made up five per cent of rice sales last year. Since white rice forms 95 per cent of rice sales, it enjoys greater economies of scale, which appears to be the reason why white rice is cheaper – partly, at least. And because it’s cheaper, more people are able to buy white rice – sounds like a chicken and egg situation?

Unless a lot more people – who are financially able – buy wholegrain rice, because they prefer it, only then will its price fall. So in the meantime, while the G has already started waging war on diabetes, it’s the poorer customers who lose out: Even if they want to make the switch to wholegrain rice, they’ll have to pay more for a product that has less processing – a price we cannot assume all are willing or able to pay. In food distribution exercises, for example, how often do you see packets of wholegrain rice distributed?

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How to get more people choosing wholegrain rice?

Try cooking wholegrain rice in vegetable stock or meat broth – this is one suggestion from Mr Ken Yuktasevi, 35, creative director at Grain Traders, a local cafe that serves brown rice and other wholegrain alternatives. He said that one should just treat whole grains like you would white rice, and, if necessary, “eat it with naughty stuff like curry first”.

What about the children? It’s notoriously difficult to convince them to eat healthy. So how can parents get their children to eat wholegrain rice? “Start by eating it and loving it yourself” is Mr Yuktasevi’s answer. The father of two believes that parents should set the example – eat healthy as the norm and don’t see it as an “event”. He added: “Eating healthy only works when it’s a habit, not a have-to.”

Well, it’s hard if it’s an expensive habit, no?

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Featured image Mixed Rice by Flickr user BlueRidgeKitties. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. 

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by Elias Wee

WE ARE drinking more non-dairy milk. In 2015, the global consumption of non-dairy milk grew by 13.3 per cent, while dairy milk grew by only 0.8 per cent. Dairy milk typically comes from cows, and sometimes sheep or goats too. There is a whole range of non-dairy milk options, like soy, almond, hazelnut, quinoa, rice, and cashew. But what is behind the growing interest in these plant-based alternatives?

Milk – conventional cow’s milk – is commonly known as an excellent source of calcium. And calcium, according to the Health Promotion Board, is vital for “maintaining bone health” and “reducing the risk of osteoporosis” – the loss of bone density. Put two and two together, and you may quickly arrive at the commonly held proposition: Regularly drinking milk strengthens bones.

But some have become more sceptical of this. A commentary penned by two nutrition scientists from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (HSPH) said: “Throughout the world, bone fracture rates tend to be lower in countries that do not consume milk.” It added that “milk consumption does not protect against fracture in adults”.

There are the cancer fears too. A study by the University of Yamanashi argued that milk, produced industrially, has a hormone composition that could increase the risk of ovarian cancer. Do you drink two or more cups of milk a day? If you do, you may be two times more likely to develop advanced prostate cancer than those who don’t – as suggested by a Harvard study.

And then there are the allergies. Ms Lisa McConnell is a nutritional therapist at Balanced Living. When someone with symptoms like eczema or asthma walks into her clinic, she’ll often ask: “How much cow’s milk do you drink?” Ms Jackie Green, the leading dietician at The Family Dietician, would advise people with milk protein allergies to consider drinking non-dairy milk. The same advice goes for people who are lactose intolerant – a condition that causes discomfort for people (65 per cent of the world’s population) who are unable to fully digest lactose, a milk sugar.

Consider the environmental angle too. Producing vegetables or rearing livestock – which is more environmentally friendly? The UN has said that the dairy industry accounts for four per cent of greenhouse gasses (GHGs) emitted. It also found that the livestock industry – which produces dairy products – emits more GHGs than the transport industry; a Chatham House research paper agreed with this finding.

Ethical reasons?

Many people are interested in non-dairy milk because they don’t like the industrial treatment of milk-producing cows, said Mrs Cessa Obrador, the Executive Chef at The Living Cafe in Singapore. Over the years, she has seen more vegan customers and staff who appreciate the cafe’s use of non-dairy milk in its food and drinks. According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), these cows are repeatedly impregnated through artificial insemination; they’re “constantly bloated and in pain” because they’ve been genetically manipulated to produce nine times more milk. These cows, according to PETA, have a lifespan that is reduced by four-fifths.

Chef Obrador also recounted a conversation with one of her customers, a mother, who noted how strange it was for the adult mammals to drink the breast milk of other mammals that was meant for their own babies – did you catch that? And of course, there’s always the possibility of some people who just don’t like the taste of dairy milk. Period.

Say you want to try or switch to non-dairy milk, what should you look out for? It depends on your personal needs. For instance, some people have nut allergies – then avoid nut milks. Others might want to avoid grains – no rice milk then. The next one’s a little tricky: “People with true cow’s milk allergy are unlikely to be able to tolerate soy milk due to the cross-reactivity between the proteins in cow milk and soybeans,” said Ms Suzanne Khor, a senior dietician of Thomson Paediatric Centre. She added that the amount of nutrients in non-dairy milk may vary with each brand.

But take note: On a whole, according to TIME, dairy milk has more protein than its non-dairy alternatives. If protein is your priority, then pick soy milk; it has comparable amounts of protein as dairy milk. TIME went on to add that non-dairy alternatives are typically lower in calcium, though many have been fortified with the nutrient later. But dairy milk is not the only way to obtain naturally occurring calcium: Leafy greens and broccoli are great calcium-rich foods too, as recommended by the Harvard School of Public Health.

 

Do-it-yourself

So why not prepare your own non-dairy milk? It’s a three-step process.

Step 1:

Soak raw cashew nuts in water for at least two hours.

Step 2:

Blend the following:

  • one part cashew nuts (already soaked),
  • two parts water, and
  • just a little bit of (a) palm sugar/gula Melaka and (b) pink Himalayan salt (for taste only – optional).

Step 3:

Strain the blend with a nut milk bag.

And… voila! You get cashew milk. The reason for soaking the nuts in water for more than two hours is help break down the phytic acid, making the nutrients more available to the body.

Ways to enjoy your non-dairy milk

Dairy milk is versatile. And so are its non-dairy alternatives. This means that you can still enjoy your favourite foods and drinks even after making the switch from dairy to non-dairy milk. Chef Obrador mentioned many ways that you can enjoy non-dairy milk. Let’s start with drinks: You may pair your favourite non-dairy milk with coffee – hazelnut mocha flat white, anyone? You may also make smoothies with them. Non-dairy milk may be used in baked goods: muffins, bread, cakes. How about some non-dairy milk pancakes for breakfast? Or, perhaps, enjoy your morning bircher muesli routine with some non-dairy milk? Non-dairy milks may even be used to make chocolates and cheeses.

Here’s how to make a non-dairy smoothie, the Chocolate Monkey. Enjoy!

Preparing a Chocolate Monkey
Preparing a Chocolate Monkey

Blend the following ingredients:

  1. Ice
  2. Frozen banana
  3. Cashew milk
  4. Water
  5. Raw cocoa powder
  6. Cashew nuts
  7. Medjool dates
  8. Pink Himalayan Salt

(Banana shown in picture is not frozen – it is only for the purpose of illustration. To prepare a frozen banana: peel it, wrap it in cling wrap, and freeze it. Medjool dates – together with the banana – act as a natural sweetener; you may use palm sugar or gula Melaka instead. You may refer to the portions as shown in the image, or experiment with them so as to get your preferred texture and taste.)

Recipes for cashew milk and Chocolate Monkey were provided by The Living Cafe.

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Featured image Milk splash by Flickr user Benjamin HornCC BY 2.0. 

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by Elias Wee

PACKED with nutrients, steeped in historical intrigue, endorsed by the hottest celebrities – chia seed is the quintessential superfood. According to Vogue, our obsession with superfoods – like chia seeds – began in 1990, with the publication of Michael van Straten and Barbara Griggs’ bestselling book Superfoods. You may have noticed your athletic friends, coolly strutting into the gym, carrying bottles of liquids suspended with these seeds. But what makes them so special?

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They’re tiny but really nutritious!

Chia seeds are nutritional powerhouses. They are rich in dietary fibre, antioxidants and omega 3-fatty acids. Chia seeds are great plant-based sources of calcium and protein – about five times more than milk, according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s  (USADA) National Nutrient Database. Allergic to gluten? No problem. Chia seeds are gluten-free too. Need that extra boost of energy? A study in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research claims that chia seeds are “a viable option for enhancing performance for endurance events lasting [more than] 90 minutes”.

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Where do chia seeds come from?

Chia seeds come from the Salvia hispanica L., a plant categorised under the mint family and is a native of Mexico and Guatemala. Salvia hispanica L. produces purple or white flowers. Its common name, chia, is derived from the Aztecs’ Nahuatl word chian, which means oily – unsurprisingly, since chia seeds are rich in polyunsaturated fats. While chia is traditionally a crop grown in the Americas, today, it is also cultivated in Asia and Australia. Chia leaves contain a type of oil that repels insects too. This means that chia crops can be grown without or with less pesticide.

Can’t get enough of chia seeds? Here are five fun facts about chia seeds:

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1. Pay the IRAS with chia seeds?

During the Aztec empire (1428-1521), chia seeds were prized as a food crop, just right behind corn and beans, according to Mr James F. Scheer, author of The Magic of Chia: Revival of an Ancient Wonder Food. He claims that, according to legend, chia used to be exclusively grown in an emperor’s compound, but was “smuggled” by different Aztec classes – merchants, crop growers, military men, nobility, healers – breaking the royal monopoly. It soon became a staple food in the marketplace. And according to Mr Scheer, it eventually became currency: “The emperor’s subjects paid their annual tribute to him, a form of taxes, with chia seeds. In time, chia seeds became legal tender.”

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2. Replace eggs with chia seeds for baking

Are you vegan (or want to try being one)? But have shelves full of baking recipes that require eggs in every one of them? Fret not. According to veganbaking.net, one tablespoon of chia seeds and three tablespoons of water is the equivalent of one egg. When you grind the chia seeds and mix it with water, and let it settle for five to 10 minutes, it forms a thick gel that resembles the consistency of eggs. You may want to note the colour of chia seeds  – white or black – when baking. The black ones will be more visible. Chia seeds may be used in cakes, muffins, donuts and bread.

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3. Love chia so much? Keep them as pets!

Ch-ch-ch-chia! Have you heard of this jingle before? Yes, Chia Pets are clay moulds, coated with chia seeds. The seeds sprout up to form a lush layer that resembles animal hair or fur. Now close to 40 years since it was first marketed by Joe Pedott, you have all sorts of Chia Pets – Chia Ram, Chia Kitten, Chia Scooby-Doo, the original Chia guy, and even Chia Obama! While you need to fill it with water, not much else is needed. The Smithsonian magazine writes that gifts like Chia Pets “ask next to nothing of their masters”, perfect for potential pet owners with “no interest in early morning walks, cage cleaning, litter boxes or veterinary bill”.

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4. Celebrities and National Football League (NFL) players reported to consume chia seeds

In 2012, the Wall Street Journal reported that Ray Rice, the then leading running back for the Baltimore Ravens, mixes chia seeds into his diet. It cited the 2009 best-selling book Born to Run, which claimed that chia seeds “were a preferred food of the Tarahumara Indians, who are able to run hundreds of miles barefoot without resting or eating all that much”. This historical narrative got Ray Rice to give chia seeds a shot. According to HELLO! magazine, celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, Miranda Kerr, and Elle Macpherson also incorporate chia seeds into their diet, in the form of smoothies. Gwyneth uses chia seeds as part of her weight loss, detox smoothie regimes; Miranda believes they’re alkalising and nutrient dense; while Elle uses chia seeds as part of her “energising smoothies”.

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5. Chia seeds can absorb water 27 times their dry mass

A 39-year-old man, living in the US, got sent to the emergency room in because his oesophagus got blocked by chia seeds, reported TIME magazine in 2014. He swallowed just one tablespoon of dry chia seeds, before drinking water. Then he had difficulty swallowing his own saliva. The chia seeds had absorbed water and expanded in size, forming a thick gel-like substance. Dr Rebecca Rawl, who treated the man, described the substance as having a “Play-Doh-like consistency”. Is eating chia seeds safe? They’re fine, but as Dr Rawl recommends, just soak the chia seeds in water to let them expand first before consumption.

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Featured image Perfect lunch..coconut juice, strawberries, mango, pear and topped off with chia seeds. HEAVEN. by martakat83. (CC BY 2.0)

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National Outdoor Adventure Education Masterplan
Illustration by Sean Chong

by Elias Wee

OUTDOOR adventure programmes can help participants shed a few kilos, but a new G plan to nationalise such activities may end up causing private operators to shed profits instead.

That’s the concern raised by a new association set up in February when the G’s new National Outdoor Adventure Education Masterplan was introduced in this year’s Budget. What the plan promises: upgraded camp facilities, a new campsite, highly competent camp instructors.

Sounds good? Not to everyone. Writing to The Straits Times’ Forum page on April 13, Mr Lye Yen Kai, president of the new Outdoor Learning and Adventure Education Association (OLAE), said these developments may force its members onto a “highly uneven playing field”, depriving them of business. OLAE currently has about 10 corporate members, out of roughly 50 such companies in Singapore.

“We are concerned that the new developments will significantly impact the industry in the areas of reduced participant numbers, staff being laid off, and accessibility to potential activity locations,” said Mr Lye.

We spoke to a handful of private outdoor adventure companies, who said they were particularly troubled by two initiatives in the masterplan:

First, the expansion of Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) – the new $250 million Coney Island campus, and the tripling of manpower and participant capacity. Private operators fear they will be cut off from a potential windfall of new businesses generated by this expansion because currently, only full-time OBS instructors are allowed to conduct camps at its Pulau Ubin campus. 

Second, the Ministry of Education (MOE) will be putting together a team of full-time Outdoor Adventure Educators (OAEs) to conduct cohort camps at the four Outdoor Adventure Learning Centres (OALCs). Currently, it is mainly private operators who conduct cohort camps at these OALCs – which means at least some of them would be driven out of work by these new full-time G educators. 

Mr Lye said private operators look at these developments and fear they may not be able to compete with MOE and OBS’s unmatched resources and funding. He estimates roughly one quarter of the student outdoor education market may no longer be available for private operators.

“Currently, the entire school market that utilises outdoor education, we estimate, is around the size of 400,000 students,” said Mr Lye, who runs Pivotal Learning and employs four full-time trainers apart from managing a pool of 50 to 80 freelancers.

He added: “In the event all MOE campsites are in-sourced and OBS is running on full capacity, all cohort camps will be covered by MOE and OBS. Depending on the upgrading to MOE campsite facilities, we are estimating approximately between 100,000 to 150,000 students will be removed from the market.”

Mr Alvin Lee, 35, the founder and director of Training at All Hearts Adventure and Training (AHA&T), agrees with Mr Lye. “A lot of people say this is going to affect our rice bowl,” he said.

Mr Gary Lim, 49, programme director for Sands Leadership Development Centre (SLDC), said that “some [private operators] feel that now a piece of their pie has been taken away”. Another private operator, Mr Melvin Chong, 27, the founder of Team Building Team Learning (TBTL), said: “Of course, businesses will be affected – definitely.” This was especially so because the “market is already saturated”, he added.

AHA&T, SLDC, TBTL, and Pivotal Learning conduct outdoor adventure, leadership, and team building camps for students. 

The private outdoor education industry employs about 3,000 full-time, part-time, freelance trainers of different disciplines. As part of a two-year pilot programme at Dairy Farm OALC, MOE currently employs 16 full-time OAEs who serve about 10 per cent of the 80,000 participants of schools’ two cohort camps a year. A Channel News Asia (CNA) report on April 9 said that MOE, after a review of this pilot programme, “is looking to extend it to the other centres”.

MOE has also announced that facilities at the four OALCs will be upgraded to increase their camp capacity – another reason private operators are worried, if camps at these OALCs are to be conducted by the full-time OAEs only. When asked about whether these full-time OAEs would take over the jobs by private operators, the ministry said it would decide on the number of OAEs only after a review of its new plans as the pilot project is still ongoing.

Regarding the use of OALCs, a ministry spokesman said private operators can continue to use them, and that there would continue to be opportunities for private operators in “cohort camps, outdoor activities for CCA and student leader groups”. Added the spokesman: “There is no priority for schools using MOE OAEs over schools using service providers… Just as in all other OALCs, schools can choose to engage service providers or run their own camps.”

Responding to OLAE’s concerns, the spokesman said the ministry had met with the association twice this year to discuss the matter with them, and would continue to include them in ongoing dialogue about its plans. “With our various partners, we can raise the quality and quantity of outdoor adventure learning programmes for our students’ benefit,” said the MOE spokesman.

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Featured Image by Sean Chong.

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by Elias Wee

SERANGOON Gardens – the little hip hangout in the North-East, with its cafes, restaurants, niche grocers and village vibes (don’t forget the narrow roads and parking lot headaches) – is becoming the indisputable go-to place for massive, colossal drinks you won’t quite grasp the size of just by reading it off the menu: the drink tower.

A drink tower typically holds 2.5 to three litres of your chosen beverage. Because of its large size, it is usually ordered by groups; everyone dispenses the drink into their own cups. You may order cold, iced beverages by the drink tower and we’ve not come across hot drink towers – yet.

When did this all begin?

Beer towers have been around for quite a while – pubs and bars were the first to sell their drinks by the tower. Then, we started seeing non-alcoholic drink towers, from RK Eating House, appearing on Instagram sometime just before 2015. Its shop staff confirmed that they have been selling drink towers, which nowadays can include a plethora of choices, such as iced milo, lime juice and others, for over a year.

Just opposite RK Eating House, drink stalls at Chomp Chomp Food Centre began selling sugarcane towers towards the end of last year, say sellers there. As if to muscle in on the trend at Serangoon Gardens, Srisun Express, which started selling drink towers in the middle of last year at its first outlet in Hougang, opened its branch there on Thursday evening.

Together, all these stalls offer a whopping 36 beverages at least, that one can have in a drink tower – welcome to drink tower central.

Why buy a drink tower?

For customers who dine in groups, it’s simply good value for money, compared to buying a cup each, said Mr Rob Cheh, 30, an information technology engineer, who was dining at Chomp Chomp with his colleagues. Mr Wong Hoong Chun, 26, a university student, said he liked the communal experience and convenience, as each person may dispense whatever amount they need and drink at whatever pace they choose. Others went beyond functional reasons. “Because it’s fun!” said Ms Vannesa Sim, 24, a freelance filmmaker, “especially when you have many people drinking from what looks like a soccer ball”.

For some, it appears that they just can’t get enough of their favourite drink; hence, they order it by the tower. Twitter user @SoSingaporean posted: “Milo tower, my dream come true or what?” – alongside a photo of an ice cold milo tower from RK Eating House.

Here are the four places you should visit in drink tower central:

Chillax Cafe (beer towers)
Let’s begin with the one that started it all: beer towers. You may order popular beers—Carlsberg, Hoegaarden, Asahi—by the tower, in shops around the area like Fat Boys, Happy Daze, Bulldog Cafe & Pub. And then there’s Chillax Cafe, which sells Weihenstephan wheat and lager beers by the tower. The brand claims to run the oldest still-operating brewery in the world, brewing beers since 725 (Yes, the year’s only three digits long). A three-litre tower at Chillax Cafe will cost you $68. We did the math — that’s cheaper than buying it by the glass or jug. According to Mr Darren Wee, the co-owner, sales of beer towers has seen a steady increase since Chillax started in 2012, though he didn’t give exact figures when asked.  You may order dishes like root beer chicken wings and truffle fries to accompany your drinks.

Address: 28 Maju Ave, Singapore 556698; Facebook page

Opening hours: 3pm–1am, Monday to Thursday; 4pm–2am, Friday; 11am–2am, Saturday; 11am–12am, Sunday

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RK Eating House (multi-flavoured drink towers)
This Indian-Muslim eatery sells drink towers in two sizes 2.5 and five litres — that’s the largest drink tower in Serangoon Gardens! Their most popular drink towers include ice milo, teh peng, bandung and teh-cino-ice (similar to teh peng, but sweeter and with more ice). When asked about which drinks they sell by the tower, the staff flipped the menu to the “cold drinks” page and made a gesture, indicating that pretty much any cold drink may be served by the tower. Depending on which drink, the smaller towers generally costs around $10 each; large towers, $18. According to its staff, sales of drink towers have tripled since they first started selling the drink towers more than a year ago. Still want more towering delights? Order RK’s Eating House’s conical shaped paper prata, which is a thin, flour-based pancake deftly shaped by hand into a metre tall cone.

Address: 1 Kensington Park Rd, Singapore 557253

Opening hours: 24 hours a day

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Chomp Chomp Food Centre (sugarcane tower)
Drink stalls at Chomp Chomp Food Centre have long sold sugarcane juice in oversized mugs, with tiny, colourful straws – emerging from the luminous green liquid. But now, at least three stalls sell them by the tower too. They come in two sizes — two litres and three litres, $10 and $15 respectively. And depending on which stall you visit, they serve other drinks by the tower too — like bandung, longan, soya bean milk, lime and soursop. After the first stall started selling sugarcane towers at the end of last year, two more stalls quickly followed suit, and started selling their own drink towers two to three months ago. The stalls usually provide you with a separate bucket of ice. A cold sugarcane tower pairs well with Chomp Chomp’s many well loved dishes like barbecue stingray and chicken wings,  or fried Hokkien mee and oyster omelette.

Address20 Kensington Park Rd, Singapore 557269 

Opening hours: Stalls selling sugarcane drink towers here typically open from around 4pm to 12.30am

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Srisun Express (multi-flavour drink towers)
Like RK Eating House, Srisun Express sells many different types of drink towers. But theirs come in a slender, taller, three litre cylindrical design. It’s Serangoon outlet is the only place in this area where you may enjoy non-alcoholic drink towers in an air-conditioned setting! Drink towers here cost between $12 and $16, depending on which drink you choose. According to the staff, the most popular drink tower flavours are iced milo, bandung and blueberry. While the Serangoon outlet is new, the original outlet at Hougang has seen the sales of drink towers also triple since introducing them last year. Srisun Express serves all kinds of North and South Indian food, and Thai seafood too. In the past, Srisun Express has held drink tower competitions for customers, and they have said this will continue. Be sure to look out for them!

Address56 Serangoon Garden Way, Singapore 555952; Facebook Page

Opening hours: 24 hours a day

Featured image from TMG file. 

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by Elias Wee

YOU know vintage is in when wooden ang ku kueh moulds – yes, the kind your grandma used – and rotary dial phones get stocked at a modern Orchard Road mall.

Last October, Tangs started selling vintage decor stocked by The GoDown, a local furniture store. A spokesman from Tangs said that The GoDown’s vintage items are in line with Tangs’ design and visual aesthetic; the authentic feel of vintage goods celebrates the heritage of the established departmental store. 

But why would customers want to hold onto old things? “Each piece has a story to tell,” said Ms Audrey Lee, The GoDown’s founder. “There is a sense of mystery: Which homes have these pieces been in? Who’s owned and loved these pieces, before their next admiring owner picks them up?” She added that apart from the general beauty and quirkiness of vintage items, they also serve as great conversational pieces.

Indeed, old things seem to be in demand these days. A recent report in The Straits Times said that old technology like Polaroid cameras are still widely used, despite the introduction of newer technologies. It cited familiarity and nostalgia as two possible reasons.

But are there different degrees of old? What passes off as a vintage item? What about “antique” or “retro”?

Well, “antique”, according to Ruby Lane, a popular online vintage and antique sales platform, usually describes items more than 100 years old. The Oxford English Dictionary states that “retro” describes something “imitative of a style or fashion from recent past”. It also gives the traditional definition of “vintage” – the year that a bottle of wine was produced. But today, as claimed by Ruby Lane, it more broadly describes items no less than 20 years old that “represent a quality for which the era in which it was made was known [for]”.

Want to shop for vintage? Independent retailers – specialising in their own niche – are still your best bet. Here are five for your shopping – or browsing – pleasure:

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Fashion: De Ja Vu Vintage

De Ja Vu Vintage Storefront
Photo provided by De Ja Vu Vintage.

De Ja Vu Vintage sells vintage day and night dresses, bags, shoes and jewellery selected from France, the United Kingdom and the United States. A dress here does not come in various sizes, or similar styles – there is only one. It may go all the way back to Paris in the 1950s, when dresses, fully beaded or covered in intricate lace, were carefully put together by hand. Most of the vintage items sold here were from the 1940s to the 1970s, but some even date back to the swinging 1920s.

It also sells vintage designer pieces: A pair of Salvatore Ferragamo heels, a Valentino couture beaded evening gown, an Enid Collins tote bag, or day dresses from brands like Ossie Clark, Dior and Yves Saint Laurent. Ms Kelly Yeo, the shop’s founder, said that vintage fashion is becoming more commonplace, as worn by celebrities featured in the media, and everyday consumers who post their favourite vintage outfits on social media. She added that wearing vintage fashion allows you to go to a party knowing that what you’re wearing is “something nobody else has”.

Location: #01-70 Millenia Walk, 9 Raffles Boulevard, Singapore 039596

Opening hours: 11am to 9pm, Monday to Sunday

Price: Day dresses costs around $100; evening dresses, $300-500. Prices for designer items vary.

Contact: 6338 8013, WebsiteFacebook.

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Vinyl records: Past Image and Vinylicious Records

thumb_IMG_9520_1024
Photo by Elias Wee.

By the 90s, vinyl records were largely replaced by compact discs (CDs); technology had marched forward. But people like Mr Willy Ong have been at the forefront of a vinyl revival. While others sell vinyl records of new songs, his shop, Past Image, specialises in vinyl records and movie posters from the 50s, 60s and 70s. Elvis Presley, The Beatles and Bee Gees are some of the popular names in his store.

In an adjacent shopping mall, in a space not so ornate, you’ll find Vinylicious Records. Like a younger sibling with slightly different tastes, it focuses on records from the 70s and 80s. It also sells movie soundtracks, like that from the first Star Wars movie, which sold out when its latest instalment was released last December. Why are people going back to this older format? Its owner, Mr Eugene Ow, said that newer, digital formats sound “flat”, almost like they’re lacking a certain “dimension”. He also said that vintage vinyl records transport listeners to a different time, producing a warm and rich sound, with the songs of the album arranged in a story and covered in beautiful artwork. “They even smell great,” he said.

Past Image

Location: #03-08 Excelsior Shopping Centre, 5 Coleman Street, Singapore 179805

Opening hours: 12pm to 6pm, Monday to Friday; 11am to 4pm, Saturday and Sunday.

Contact: 6339 3985

Vinylicious Records

Location: #03-01 Peninsula Shopping Centre, 3 Coleman Street, Singapore 179804

Opening hours: 12pm to 8pm, Monday to Friday; 1pm to 7pm, Saturday and Sunday.

Contact: 6336 0039, Facebook Page

Price: Prices of vinyl records vary significantly – $15, $100, even $1000 – based on factors like whether it was a first or early pressing, or reissue; the popularity of the artist and album; its condition, etc.

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Furniture and home decor: Yasashii Trading

thumb_IMG_9459_1024
Photo by Elias Wee.

When TMG asked Mr Alan Wong, the owner of Yasashii Trading, about what he sells, he replied: “You want before World War II or after?”

His shop carries a vast and eclectic range of vintage items: 16mm cinema film projector and hand-cranked ice shaver (the type used to make ice kachang in the old days), charcoal irons and radiograms, old payphones and grandfather clocks. He even sells a gramophone engraved with the words “His Master’s Voice” – HMV.

Most of his customers are middle-aged, he said, looking to buy something to remind them of their childhood. All items sold once belonged to households of people living in Singapore. For instance, he showed us a teak wood cabinet from colonial Singapore in the 1950s, designed by the British – in Queen Anne style – and assembled by Chinese carpenters from Shanghai, without a single nail. He also sells rosewood furniture inlaid with mother of pearl. The wooden furniture emanates a warm, nostalgic glow, in stark contrast to the whitewashed walls of the surrounding Bukit Merah housing estate.

Location: #01-114, Block 123, Bukit Merah Lane 1, Singapore 150123

Opening hours: 12pm to 8pm, Monday to Saturday

Price: Varies significantly. For example, a vintage glass bottle may cost around $10; a radiogram, $480; a teak wood cabinet, $1,600.

Contact: 6271 3308

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Photography: Benphoto Trading

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Photo by Elias Wee.

Benphoto Trading sells an extensive range of vintage – and rare – cameras such as twin lens Rolleiflex cameras or old Nikon film cameras. Of particular interest is a vintage silver Leica M3 rangefinder (1954-1967), the same model used in Life, a 2015 biographical drama, which starred Robert Pattinson as a photographer who made friends with the character James Dean. Fancy Cold War spy films? Check out the subminiature vintage Minox spy cameras from the 1950s. You can mount it on a miniature stand to simulate how spies used to take pictures of confidential documents. How about something made in Singapore? Try the Rollei 35 S, a vintage camera once made in this country in the 1970s. Are you a collector? Benphoto Trading sells limited edition cameras too, like the factory-painted black Leica M2. Only a limited run of around 2,400 of them were ever produced (there were around 90,000 chrome Leica M2s produced).

The staff said that there appears to be a growing interest in vintage cameras, especially from younger customers, possibly because of their novelty, or the preference of film over digital images, or the sense of nostalgia. The number of these customers coming in to enquire about vintage cameras has tripled over the last few months – last December, the store would get around three of such enquiries, but now they get around nine a month. They added that while many younger consumers appear curious, most don’t actually go through the trouble of learning how to use these tricky devices – this requires skill.

Location: #01-17 Peninsula Shopping Centre, 3 Coleman Street, Singapore 179804

Opening hours: 12pm to 8pm, Monday to Saturday; 1pm to 6pm, Sunday.

Price: Varies. Rolleiflex cameras costs $500-2,800; Nikon film cameras costs $50-750; Leica camera bodies may cost less than $500.

Contact: 6336 4129, Website.

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Vehicles: Kombi Rocks

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Photo from Kombi Rocks Facebook page, taken by Zotiq Visuals – Vanqphotorque.

Located opposite Yio Chu Kang stadium is Kombi Rocks, a local retro diner, that also rents out Kombis and other vintage vehicles. It maintains a fleet of seven Kombis – a Volkswagen minivan which first appeared in 1949 – with some decked out in bright and cheery colours. Their oldest Kombi is a 1957 Tiffany blue and white Kombi called Safari.

The Kombi Rocks diner was established when its owner, Mr Hai Lim, 40, rebranded his late father’s zi char restaurant in 2012. Mr Lim is an avid collector of vintage items himself, as evident by the many vintage items he displays in the shop: a fridge, luggages, telephones, posters, etc. 

Kombis have been rented out for special occasions like wedding photoshoots, family outings, and Valentine’s Day. Some Kombis have even been modified to transform into moving pop-up shops, with ceiling and sides that can be opened up when stationary. A young man once surprised his girlfriend by popping out from a Kombi, serenading her with a song, before finally getting down on one knee to pose that time-honoured question: “Will you marry me?” She said yes!

The staff said some customers rent the Kombi to take a trip down memory lane. These customers, we were told, used to go on road trips in Kombis, with their family and friends, many years ago, when they were children. For them, reliving these experiences felt like being transported back in time. But there’s more: Kombi Rocks rents out vintage scooters, motorcycles, and even a 1967 Porsche 911. Hungry? Kombi Rocks also provides packages for diners that combine meals with half-hour rides.

Location: 66 Yio Chu Kang road, Singapore 545568

Opening Hours: 12pm to 11pm, Monday to Sunday.

Price: Varies, depending on model. For example, a Tiffany blue and white Kombi may cost $1088 for four hours, $1388 for eight hours. “Ride and Dine” is a $288 package for two persons that includes a four-course meal – appetiser, mains, dessert, drinks – and a half-hour ride in a Kombi.

Contact: 9008 6918, EmailFacebook Page..

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Featured image Vintage by Flickr user dave.see, CC BY 2.0.

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