April 28, 2017

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Authors Posts by Gillian Lim

Gillian Lim

Gillian Lim
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Gillian is an avid fan of historical fiction novels. The former Lit Major occasionally helps out at a canine hydrotherapy centre and enjoys petting cats at HDB void decks when she has the time.She can be reached at gillian@themiddleground.sg

by Gillian Lim

TRUE or false: Drink a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar mixed into a cup of water every morning, and you’ll trim a few inches off your waist.

Doing a quick Google search on apple cider vinegar brings up about 10 million results. Filling up the first two pages alone are countless health pages citing its supposed health benefits, which range from clearing up your skin to detoxifying your body. It’s also supposed to whiten your teeth, kill bacteria, help you lose weight, and prevent cancer.

We spoke with two local nutritionists to ask them whether apple cider vinegar is truly beneficial to your health – including the supposed weight loss properties.

But first, what is apple cider vinegar?

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What is it?

How apple cider vinegar is made isn’t as different from how rice vinegar is made; the only difference is the starting ingredient. In this case, it’s apples versus rice. Some other popular types of vinegar include mulberry vinegar, malt vinegar, white vinegar and red wine vinegar – all made from different starting ingredients, but all the vinegars contain acetic acid.

All vinegar is produced in a two-step process. Essentially, sugar from the starting ingredient is fermented to become alcohol. Then, the alcohol is further fermented to become acetic acid.

This means that apart from flavour, the apple cider vinegar sitting on your kitchen shelf might not actually be that different as compared to the white vinegar sitting right next to it – nutritionally, at least. And while we do know for sure that acetic acid is present in all vinegars, there could be other components in the vinegars that we don’t know about.

 

Does apple cider vinegar really help you to lose weight?

The upshot: No.

Or at least, there has yet to be large-scale human studies with definitive results.

We spoke to Ms Meave Graham, a clinical paediatric registered dietitian at Child Nutrition Singapore, and member of the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute (INDI), who said: “If you do an online search, you will be inundated with results showing websites making various health claims in relation to apple cider vinegar. However, these are false health claims which are not backed up by scientific research.”

She added that there is a handful of studies looking into effects of apple cider vinegar on blood glucose levels and on weight loss. However, the results of these studies are not highly significant and do not give enough evidence to back up these false health claims, and Ms Graham added that there is no good data to support the health claims.

Studies done in the past were mostly small case studies, and while these studies – which originated from animal test subjects – have moved onto human studies, it is still on a relatively small scale.

For example, a 2009 Japanese study showed that acetic acid suppressed the accumulation of body fats in high-fat-fed mice. The same group of researchers then continued onto human subjects; the 12-week long study, also conducted in 2009, investigated the effects of vinegar on 175 obese Japanese subjects.

At the end of 12 weeks, those fed a high daily dosage of vinegar lost about 1kg to 2kg. The study concluded that the daily intake of vinegar “might be useful” and can “perhaps be considered beneficial” in reducing obesity in Japanese subjects.

Ms Graham said that the amount of weight lost during that period was simply not enough. “I wouldn’t be very overwhelmed by their results. In terms of weight loss, there is no good scientific evidence to support the use of apple cider vinegar,” she said.

You can read the full study here.

Another human study, conducted more recently in 2014, wanted to see whether vinegar had any effect on molecules related to fats and sugars – particularly in relation to diabetic patients. The results showed “some evidence [supporting] the use of vinegar as a complementary treatment” in patients with abnormal sugar and fat levels, but still emphasised that “further large-scale long-term trials with impeccable methodology are warranted before definitive health claims can be made”.

Both studies mentioned above dealt with acetic acid – not apple cider vinegar in particular.

We spoke to Ms Bridget Marr, a registered dietitian and nutritionist at Singapore-based Nutritional Solutions, who said that there is no evidence that vinegar helps you lose weight.

So how does drinking apple cider vinegar help you? It helps to control blood sugar, apparently. Read on.

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Apple cider vinegar and blood sugar

It lowers your blood sugar levels, according to some studies, or at least, stops it from rising too fast. It is also said to improve your body’s sensitivity to insulin, which is useful for diabetic or pre-diabetic patients.

For example, a 2004 study conducted by Dr Carol Johnston showed that drinking vinegar before a high-starch meal improves your body’s sensitivity to insulin. After the meal, the subjects also had less spikes in glucose and insulin levels.

Said Ms Marr: “There are some very small pilot studies which have demonstrated that consuming vinegar may help blood glucose control in people with type 2 diabetes”, adding that this was possibly by making starch slightly less digestible.

The 2004 study conducted by Dr Johnston found that vinegar seemed to slow down the rise in blood glucose (sugar) after a meal. This means you need less insulin to cope with that rise in blood glucose, she explained.

And while such results were beneficial to those with diabetes (since diabetes is a condition where the body can’t produce insulin, or does not produce enough, or where the insulin doesn’t work properly leading to raised blood glucose levels), Ms Marr said a slower rise in blood sugar levels is beneficial in otherwise healthy individuals.

However, she also added that much more research is needed before we can routinely recommend taking vinegar to help improve blood sugar control.

Ms Graham agreed, and highlighted Dr Johnston’s 2008 follow-up study, which found that drinking vinegar before a high-starch meal helps to make you feel fuller. But the study itself said that while vinegar is widely available, affordable, and appealing as a remedy, “whether vinegar is a useful adjunct therapy for individuals with diabetes or pre-diabetes has yet to be determined”.

 

But what about other health benefits, like preventing cancer or detoxifying your body?

“It’s hugely exaggerated,” said Ms Graham. “The only data of potential interest is in the field of diabetes. There are some small short-term studies, but not enough evidence from which to draw any firm conclusions or to base recommendations. In terms of health benefits, that’s the most interesting potential benefit, but there’s nothing else.”

It’s another case of social media attributing false and exaggerated health claims to a food with no scientific basis to the claims. We need to not get distracted by this kind of hype, and keep the focus on healthy lifestyle included a varied and balanced diet,” she added.

The secret to weight loss? Eat less, move more.

Said Ms Graham: “Weight loss can be achieved by avoiding over-consumption of calorie and sugar rich processed food, consuming a balanced diet, based mainly on plant foods such as fruits, vegetables and wholegrain, and regular physical activity.” 

The answer to that isn’t taking a shot of vinegar. “You need more fruits, vegetables, unprocessed foods, whole grain, in conjunction to physical activity,” she said.

Ms Marr agreed. If a patient were to ask her if drinking diluted apple cider vinegar was likely to benefit their health, she couldn’t agree. However, if they were already consuming it and wished to continue, there would be equally no reason to discontinue.

Said Ms Marr: “After all, vinegar is consumed regularly in salad dressings, marinades and pickles. There is no quick fix – a healthy diet with plenty of plant based fresh foods is the best option for weight loss.”

However, she also added that caution should be exercised as taking too much vinegar, especially undiluted vinegar, could irritate and possibly worsen heartburn.

Featured image Apple Cider Vinegar by Flickr user Mike Mozart . (CC BY 2.0)

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by Gillian Lim

Photos by Najeer Yusof

IF YOU’VE been to the new Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, located in the National University of Singapore, you would have probably marvelled at the the sperm whale skeleton exhibit, or the dinosaur fossils on display. But had you known the secret back rooms of the museum, you would have marvelled more at what was actually stored behind closed doors – what the museum doesn’t put on display.

And how big is this secret library of specimens? The stored collection makes up about 99.8 per cent of all the specimens in the museum, said its facilities manager, Dr Tan Swee Hee, who has been working there for 11 years. It isn’t open to the public, and is stored within three floors of the seven-floor museum. The museum currently has about 2,000 specimens on display in the exhibition galleries, but it has an estimated one million specimens, mainly from Southeast Asia.

Accompanied by Dr Tan, TMG took a peek at three floors of preserved specimens of flora and fauna, including bottled sea creatures, mammal skulls and skins, and straw-stuffed birds. Stored inside secret vaults were species ranging from falcons, bears, and mongoose, to dolphins, porcupines, and jellyfish. Precautions are placed to ensure that these specimens are preserved for current and future generations of scientists—the floors are kept between a chilly 23 to 24 degrees Celsius—with humidity levels kept below 60 per cent. The rooms are dimly lit as light can cause the specimens to bleach, thus damaging them, said Dr Tan.

Most of the specimens in the dry collection, including mammals and birds, are stored on the fourth floor of the museum, while the wet specimens (anything stored in liquid preservatives such as ethanol) occupy the second and third floors of the museum. While most of the specimens in the dry collection were inherited from the Raffles Museum, which was established in 1849, the museum is still actively adding to its collections, which includes freshwater fishes, insects, molluscs, and other marine invertebrates.

This is what a typical shelf looks like on the wet collection floor, housing the museum's storage of invertibrae. This particular row of shelves stores the museum's crab collection, which include the brachyuran crab, swimming crab (portunidae) and the rock lobster (portunidae). Other specimen on this floor include sea cucumbers, shells, marine algae, sea anemone, worms and jellyfish.

WET COLLECTION: This is what a typical shelf looks like on the wet collection floor, which houses the museum’s storage of invertebrates. This particular row of shelves stores part of the museum’s crab collection. Other specimens on this floor include sea cucumbers, shells, marine algae, sea anemones, and jellyfish.

 

This spider is housed on the museum's second floor, which stores its vertibrae collection. This particular spider is from the Nephilidae family, also known as golden orb web spiders, and is commonly found in tropical and subtropical environments in America, Asia, Africa and Australia.

INVERTEBRATE COLLECTION: This spider is housed on the museum’s third floor, which stores its invertebrate collection. This particular spider is from the family Nephilidae, also known as golden orb web spiders, and is commonly found in tropical and subtropical environments in America, Asia, Africa, and Australia. Other specimens on this floor include water scorpions, insects, squid, pangolin, starfish, and sea worms.

 

The museum's stored collection of bats include those from the cheiromeles, mops and chaerephon genus. Because the specimen are stored in ethanol jars, they undergo discolouration. "That's why they look very pale," said Dr Tan, but added that scientists don't usually depend on colour to identify species from the wet collection. Rather, they rely on hard measurements, such as the number of spines, or the length of the specimen's beak.

VERTEBRATE COLLECTION: The museum’s stored collection of bats includes those from the genera Cheiromeles, Mops, and Chaerephon. Specimens stored in ethanol tend to lose their original colours. “That’s why they look very pale,” said Dr Tan, but added that scientists don’t usually depend solely on colour to identify species in the collections. Rather, they rely on hard data and measurements, such as the number of teeth, arrangement of teeth (dental formula), or a specimen’s anatomical morphometrics.

 

Colubrid snakes, slug-eating snakes, mud snames, keelbacks, elapid snapes, vipers, pythons and wart snakes - these are just some of the snakes in the museum's collection. This snake is called the xenelaphis ellipsifer, or the ornate brown snake, and was collected on June 2, 1907 at Cameron Highlands. The ornate brown snake can grow up to 2.5m.

XENELAPHIS ELLIPSIFER: Slug-eating snakes, mud snakes, keelbacks, elapid snakes, vipers, pythons, and wart snakes – these are just some of the snakes in the museum’s collection. This particular snake is called the Xenelaphis ellipsifer, or the ornate brown snake, and was collected on June 2, 1907, at Cameron Highlands. The ornate brown snake can grow up to 2.5m.

 

PIGEONS AND DOVES: Some of these birds, which fall under the Columbiformes order, date back to 1891. When the birds are collected in the field, their insides are removed, leaving the skin and feathers. "If possible, we save the skull, but sometimes in the field you're limited by the things you can carry back," said Dr Tan. The birds are then stuffed with either straw or synthetic fiber, and laid out flat so as to save space, and for ease of measurement.

PIGEONS AND DOVES: Some of these birds, which fall under the order Columbiformes (left), date back to 1891. When birds are collected in the field, their insides are removed, leaving the skin and feathers, said Dr Tan. He added: “If possible, we save the skeleton, but sometimes in the field you’re limited by the things you can carry back.” The birds are then stuffed with either straw or synthetic fiber, and laid out flat so as to save space, and for ease of measurement.

 

The leopard cat, or the Prionailurus bengalensis, is rarely prepared like how a taxidermist might prepare a dead animal for display. Rather, the skin is separated from the skull and other parts of its skeleton, like the teeth or jaw. This is to save space, and also for easier identification - some scientists can identify the particular strain of species just from looking at the teeth alone, said Dr Tan.

PRIONAILURUS BENGALENSIS: Research specimens like these leopard cats, or the Prionailurus bengalensis, are rarely prepared like how a taxidermist might prepare a dead animal for display. Rather, the skin is separated from the skull and other parts of its skeleton, like the jaw. This is to save space, and also makes it easier to take measurements for systematic and taxonomic studies.

 

COLOURFUL FEATHERS: While colour might not be the identifying factor for specimen in the wet collection, it is for birds, said Dr Tan. For example, the Ptilinopus porphyreus, or the pink-headed fruit dove, is characterised by its purplish-pink head, white bordered neck, yellow undertail and greyish-green feathers. The Caloenas nicobarica, or the Nicobar pigeon, has a metallic greenish-blue coat.

COLOURFUL FEATHERS: While colour might not be the identifying factor for specimens in the wet collection, it is for birds, said Dr Tan. For example, the Ptilinopus porphyreus, or the pink-headed fruit dove, is characterised by its purplish-pink head, white bordered neck, yellow undertail, and greyish-green feathers. The Caloenas nicobarica, or the Nicobar pigeon, has a metallic greenish-blue coat.

 

ENDANGERED: All four species of the Tapir, or the Tapiridae, are classified as either endangered or vulnerable. Science and research news site, Phys.org, said that about 50 per cent of the species is left, after being hunted down for poaching and deforestation. This number is predicted to halve again within the next 30 years if the current threats continue.

ENDANGERED: Out of the four tapir species, the Malaysian tapir, the Tapirus indicus, is the only one that is native to Asia. All four species of tapir in the family Tapiridae are classified as either endangered or vulnerable to extinction. Science and research news site, Phys.org, said that about 50 per cent of the population of these species are left after being hunted down for poaching and deforestation. This number is predicted to halve again within the next 30 years if the current threats continue.

 

Featured Image by Najeer Yusof.

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by Gillian Lim

IT IS hot and stuffy in the fourth-storey Housing Board (HDB) flat at Yishun Street 21. Cockroaches are crawling in front of the flat. Inside, 39 adult cats are crammed in cages caked with filth. The cats themselves are covered in faeces and pee. The doors and windows of the flat are closed, but even so, the stench is unbearable – neighbours on the same floor can smell it even from their bedrooms and kitchens. So can residents on the first floor.

It’s now April and almost more than a month since all 39 cats were rescued from Mr Roslani Ahmad’s flat and transferred to Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore’s (AVA) care. Since then, they have been released into the hands of non-profit organisation Cat Welfare Society (CWS) in three batches; 21 cats were released on March 16, four on March 24, and nine on March 30. The remaining five died while in AVA’s care. Of the 34 that were released, four have since died while being kept at the vet’s.

At a time when cat lovers in Yishun were terrorised by an unknown cat killer, the rescue of these 39 cats was a salvation.

In the past month, these cats have passed through the hands of AVA, veterinary clinics, cat welfare volunteers, and finally, boarding homes, waiting to be adopted or fostered by potential owners.

Here is what actually happened to them, from being hoarded, to their current homes.

 

The discovery, and rescue

When HDB first flagged the lingering stench to CWS volunteers in September last year, full-time mediator and outreach manager Laura Ann Meranda dropped by the flat to attempt to speak with Mr Roslani.

“At first, he didn’t seem responsive,” said 31-year-old Ms Meranda. “I would usually give these people two to three weeks to get back to me.” She described the stench as “unbearable”, and said she had gone down two to three times to try to speak with him, but was met with a closed door each time.

“For this case, it was very hard to get through to the flat owner.”

She said she was not getting any calls back even after leaving notes at Mr Roslani’s doorstep. Only when a neighbour told her that there were possibly more than 30 cats being kept in the apartment did Ms Meranda contact the AVA for assistance.

On Feb 25 – about five months since CWS was alerted to the case – AVA came to take the cats away. The rescue mission took four hours, and all 39 cats were removed in six cages caked in filth, faeces, and cockroaches.

 

What happens at AVA

The 39 Yishun cats are subject to the same treatment given to any other animal that comes through AVA’s doors: First, it’s to the in-house veterinarians. Then, those “assessed to be suitable for rehoming” will be sent to animal welfare group rehoming partners, like Cat Welfare Society, or other animal welfare groups, including the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), Animal Lovers League (ALL), or Action for Singapore Dogs (ASD).

When we spoke with CWS volunteers, they said that AVA usually doesn’t do anything to the cats – no deworming, vaccinations, or curing of medical conditions. Just assessing of medical conditions, to see whether the animals are suitable to be rehomed. But animals are microchipped for traceability, at $20 per animal. Other fees include boarding and impoundment fees, but are waived for rehoming partners like CWS.

Said CWS committee member Ms Veron Lau: “They don’t do anything to the cats. They assess the cat is too sick and too aggressive? They’ll put down. They assess it’s a pet cat and someone might take it in, they advertise. Sometimes they inform us about it and we’ll take it.”

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OFF THEY GO: 21 cats were released from AVA on March 16. They were part of the 39 hoarded cats in a Yishun flat, and had spent almost three weeks in AVA before being released into Cat Welfare Society’s care.

The cats were released in three batches due to their differing medical conditions and behaviours. “Some were not eating well, some had not calmed down,” said Ms Meranda. “There’s no point handing them over to us if they’re just going to go to be aggressive at the boarding home, and end up back here at AVA again.”

Animals from hoarding cases usually spend a longer time at AVA though. “They are often in bad physical and health conditions and will need time to be treated, nursed or socialised,” said AVA. It also added that it would investigate animal hoarding cases thoroughly to see if there is any case of animal cruelty, or compromise to animal welfare.

When we asked AVA how many animal hoarding cases have been alerted to them this year, it said that two cases are under investigation this year. CWS has seen seven cat hoarding cases since last year, with some still being monitored.

 

Being released to rehoming partners

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LOADED UP: The 21 cats were transferred to individual transporter cages and loaded up into a van. Mr Richard Ng, a pet transporter, sprinkled anti-flea powder on the floor of the van before carefully stacking the cats on top of each other. Each cage was labelled with the cat’s gender, for reference.

Rehoming partners have to sign a claim form when animals are passed over to them. In this case, both Ms Lau and Ms Meranda collected the cats and signed the forms.

“These forms say that you are now in charge of the cats,” said Ms Lau, adding it was also to specify that AVA has handed these cats over to you. It is at this point where claimants are also subjected to microchipping and/or boarding fees, and are presented with a bill.

CWS engages the services of Mr Richard Ng, 48, a pet transporter, to help ferry animals from such cases. Mr Ng has been ferrying pets about for the past 15 years, and is one of the five private pet transporters that CWS works with.

When TMG followed CWS on March 16 to retrieve the first batch of cats from AVA, the 21 cats were split into three vet clinics: the Whitley and Ang Mo Kio branches of Mount Pleasant Vet Clinic, and James Tan Veterinary Clinic.

We followed CWS to the Ang Mo Kio clinic – five cats were sent there for a medical examination.

 

At the vet

“All five cats are slightly dehydrated and malnourished,” said Dr Kitty Huang, one of the two veterinarians who examined the cats. “You can feel the ribs and bones protruding.” They used a body condition scale, which goes from one to nine, to gauge the physical conditions of the cats. One means that the cat is very skinny, while nine means the cat is fat. All five cats landed somewhere between two to three.

One of the cats had dried nasal discharge, a symptom of flu. This is indicative of a poor immune system, said Dr Huang. The cat, now affectionately named Creamy for its white coat, also had uraemic breath – an indication of kidney disease.

But what are the usual symptoms of animals from hoarding cases?

“Dehydration, and a poor body condition,” said Dr Huang. “If they share the food bowl, they can get feline leukemia virus (FeLV), and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) if they are bitten by fellow cats.” While there was no cure for such blood viruses, the viruses were manageable, she added. Such conditions, including conjunctivitis, were common in a multi-cat environment, as the cats are prone to infection.

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BEING EXAMINED: One of the five cats being given a medical examination by Dr Kitty Huang (right), a veterinarian at AMK Veterinary Surgery.

The cats were too skinny to be sent for a vaccination or sterilisation. So what can the vet do at this point?

“There are a few who are very skinny,” said Dr Huang. “We’ll run a blood test to test for kidney infection and disease, and keep them here over the weekend to rehydrate them. We’ll start feeding them, and monitor how they eat, drink, pee, and poo.”

But their condition was close to what she expected, said Dr Huang. “They’re not severely in the worst horrible condition,” she said. “I understand they’ve been cleaned up a bit. I did expect them to be in this shape and size.”

The clinic at Ang Mo Kio Veterinary Surgery subsidised costs for the medical procedures, and waived charges for the cats’ hospitalisation over the weekend.

 

At the boarding homes, and rehoming

The cats go straight to boarding homes after being released from the vet. This is where they wait to be adopted, or fostered by potential owners. The two boarding homes working with CWS are Kitty Care Haven and Pet Boarding Centre, both of which are at Lim Chu Kang.

As of yesterday, 21 of the cats are with the boarding homes. Seven have been released to fosterers, and two have been adopted.

“When we do rehoming, we have our own adoption guidelines to make sure that the cats are going to very good homes. There will be screenings and we make sure they are dedicated owners,” Ms Meranda said.

Ms Meranda also added that this was probably one of the worst hoarding cases she has seen. The full-time mediator, who has been with CWS for over a year and handles cases coming from the north and east of Singapore, said that the Yishun case was a particularly stressful one. “I mean, we’ve seen these cats personally and we want to make sure we don’t want them to go back to the same place,” she said.

AVA works with various animal welfare groups that act as rehoming partners – Cat Welfare Society (CWS) is one of them.

The way the authority handled the case of the 39 Yishun cats was how it would handle other similar cases, it told us. Whether cats or dogs, they all go through medical assessments from in-house veterinarians, and then determined whether they can be rehomed or not.

Said AVA: “Our veterinarians will assess the health condition of the animals and will require the owner to send sick animals, for veterinary treatment. AVA works with our Animal Welfare Group rehoming partners (including Cat Welfare Society) to rehome animals that are assessed to be suitable for rehoming.”

 

All images in this article were taken by Najeer Yusof.

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Baby. Image sourced from Flickr user: Jennifer Chong.

by Gillian Lim

YOU might not recognise it straight away, but that innocuous box of brown pills on your friend’s kitchen counter might very well be placenta pills. Sitting innocently among the rest of her vitamins, diet pills and condiments, placenta pills is the “modern” way to eating your own baby’s placenta. Traditionally, the placenta is eaten cooked and dried, and most commonly found in Chinese culture.

When you give birth, the placenta comes out alongside your newborn baby. That’s the bloody lump of cells that your baby depended on while in your womb; the placenta is the organ that surrounds your baby, passes oxygen and nutrients from you to your baby via the umbilical cord and helps dispose of waste.

But now, post-partum, the placenta can be processed quite clinically – the process includes sterilisation, steaming, dehydration, and encapsulation. You don’t even need to get your hands dirty and do this yourself. In fact, if you let your doctor or midwife know, they can help set aside your placenta – until your doula, or a contracted encapsulation company, arrives.

According to Singapore-based doula and midwife service Four Trimesters, placenta encapsulation has become increasingly popular over the years. When it first provided the service five years ago, it processed one or two placentas a month. “Now, we do about 15 to 20 placentas a month,” said its chief doula Ginny Phang, who is 38 this year.

So what exactly is placenta encapsulation, and what benefits might it have?

What is placenta encapsulation?

Essentially, it’s all boiled down to one sentence: The placenta from a mother, post-labour, is taken and processed into a pill.

First, the placenta is cleaned – this means washing and cleaning it thoroughly, and having the amniotic sac and umbilical cord removed. After this, the placenta is boiled or steamed, depending on the service – this removes any excess blood, faecal bacteria and surface bacteria. Once it’s cleaned and sanitised, it then undergoes dehydration to remove any excess water – the placenta is sliced into thin strips and dehydrated over a low heat for several hours, after which it is ground into a coarse powder. Then, it’s put into pills, and delivered to you. All these take about less than two days, said Ms Phang.

There are other ways to encapsulate your placenta – traditional Chinese medicine shops boil the placenta in lemon and ginger. Some shops steam it instead of boiling it. Some others forgo this step entirely – the placenta gets dehydrated right after being washed.

It is believed that the placenta contains “crucial hormones and iron that leave the body once the placenta is born,” said Ms Phang. That’s why so many mothers take it,  especially since it’s believed to “maintain their hormone and iron levels in the few weeks after the birth,” she added.

Four Trimesters offers a stand-alone placenta encapsulation service. This means that although it offers birth support and postnatal visits, you can choose to engage them only for placenta encapsulation services. It costs $355 for a single baby, and if you’re having twins, it costs $655.

Singapore-based Heavenly Health Store is a traditional Chinese medicine consultant that also offers placenta encapsulation services. Its processes are a little different – it does not boil nor steam the placenta. Instead, it goes straight from cleaning to dehydrating, and then onto grinding and encapsulation. It charges $300 per baby, and takes three to five days to process the placenta.

Each placenta has a different yield, as they vary in size. This means a customer can expect a range of 100 to 300 pills. You’re encouraged to take the pills daily during the post-partum period, although if you feel like you might need the extra strength, you can always increase the dosage, according to instructions given by Four Trimesters.

What are the benefits?

There are two general reasons why mothers might encapsulate their placenta. According to Ms Phang, mothers who approach them do it either for beauty or health reasons. “When you consume your own placenta, you have better complexion,” said Ms Phang. “The other market we get is mothers who make a very conscious choice of deciding to do this – to increase iron after giving birth, to help with post-pregnancy depression or to increase milk supply.”

But Ms Phang did say that it is difficult to attribute any positive, or negative, effects directly to the consumption of placenta. “It’s hard to measure the increase in milk supply,” said Ms Phang. “It’s all dependent on varying factors, but a lot of mothers who consume it say they can feel mood lifting, and that they feel better.” At the same time, she also added: “How do you measure such emotional changes?”

Are there any risks involved in taking placenta? Ms Phang said: “No.”

While such claims have not been fully tested, there has been ongoing research studying the effects of eating placenta.

A 1918 study conducted by the American Society of Biological Chemists said that babies grew faster when breastfeeding from mothers who ate their placenta. “The rate of growth is increased… [because] the maternal ingestion of dried placenta tissue so stimulates the tissues of the infants feeding on the milk produced during this time,” wrote its author Dr Frederick Hammett.

Mothers’ reactions

Mothers we spoke to had a range of reactions to taking their baby’s placenta.

Ms Elise Su, a stay-at-home mum, decided to go for placenta encapsulation after having post-natal depression with her first child, a daughter. She has just given birth to her second child, a son, three weeks ago.

“I read that taking the pills could help prevent post-natal depression, so this round, I was quite keen to try it,” said the 32-year-old, adding that she wanted to prevent any post-natal depression this time round. But she stopped after four to five days of taking the pills – they were giving her bad mood swings, she said.

“Initially, I thought it was my hormones after giving birth, but it got really bad,” she said. Ms Su, however, added that she did experience higher energy levels. “I didn’t feel tired at night,” she said. “I didn’t see the link at first [to the mood swings], but my husband told me to stop eating the pills, and the day I stopped, I went back to my usual cheerful self.”

Ms Su has put the pills aside for now but wants to try eating them again to see if the pills were really the reason behind her severe mood swings. “Or maybe it’s just because I just gave birth and my hormones were all over the place,” she said.

Ms Xiangying Li, on the other hand, is still taking her pills up till today – she gave birth to her third child in January this year. “At first I was a little grossed out about the idea but I eventually decided to give it a try,” said the 33-year-old public servant. “I’m not sure whether it’s because it’s my third child but my recovery has been quite fast.”

She also added that the pills seemed to help with her complexion. “I haven’t had any break-out episodes,” she said, adding that she used to have bad complexion for her first two births because of her changing hormone levels. “But now, I feel the pills help with the balancing of hormones. I think they do work for me to some extent.”

She also added that if she does have a fourth child, she would go for placenta encapsulation again. “It seems pretty harmless,” she said. “I was concerned about how hygienic it would be at first, but after reading more about how they process the placenta, I became quite comfortable with it.”

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Featured image Benjamin 23Days by Flickr user Jennifer ChongCC BY-ND 2.0.

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by Gillian Lim

IS THE haze here or not, and if it is, where is it coming from?

After months of clean air, the familiar smell of burning is back. But experts can’t seem to see clearly what’s causing it, or if it even is the haze from the Indonesian forest fires that choked the Republic so badly last year in the first place.

The first whiff of it came earlier this month on March 17 – but scientists from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology said then that the smell probably came from local burning.

It didn’t go away. In fact, after hovering around 40 to 60 in recent months, the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) hit an all-year high of 84 yesterday evening (March 30).

It prompted more speculation as to where it could be coming from. Media reports hinted at hot spots from the north – Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, or even Vietnam perhaps? Winds from the northeast and east could have sent the haze this way.

Nasa’s satellite images appear to corroborate this theory – Indonesia was relatively clear of hot spots. Then again, that could also be because it was too cloudy for the satellite to detect active fires.

Others said the experts were right the first time – that the smell was caused by local burning. Yesterday, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) issued a statement that said it put out 20 vegetation fires in a single day. The biggest fire was in Tampines – though, that was not quite the firestorm you’d expect to compete with a forest fire. The flames were extinguished by the SCDF in 15 minutes, the statement said.

The rest of the 19 vegetation fires were smaller, and were mostly contained along the Pan Island Expressway and the Bukit Timah Expressway.

All this anxiety over the return of the haze is understandable, given last year’s haze craze. PSI levels shot past the hazardous level of 300 and it even led to some people deciding to boycott toilet paper from a company believed to be linked to the forest fires. Air purifiers flew off the shelves.

Much like what the G has said about the chance of a terrorist attack – the haze is not a question of “if” but “when”. But, what about “where”? Even the experts seem hazy on the answer.

 

Featured Image by Natassya Diana.

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Calculator and bills. Image sourced from Flickr user: Ken Teegardin

by Gillian Lim

DID you know that as long as you have taxable income, you can claim up to $8,000 of earned income relief?

In fact, this is the most claimed relief out of the 15 possible personal income tax reliefs in Singapore. In the year of assessment (YA) for 2014, about 1.52 million people claimed earned income relief. To put this number into perspective, this means about 96.88 per cent of all individuals with taxable income – that means some 1.57 million people that year – claimed this particular relief. Figures for YA2015 are not available yet.

In this year’s Budget speech delivered by finance minister Heng Swee Keat in Parliament on March 24, a cap on the total amount of personal income tax relief any individual can claim was introduced. This new cap, to be introduced in YA2018, was set at $80,000. Said Mr Heng: “At this threshold, 99 per cent of tax-resident individuals will not be affected. Many can still continue to enjoy reliefs.” He added that about $100 million was expected to be raised from this cap.

If you’re filing taxes for the first time, then you might be wondering what is personal income tax relief and how does it affect you. Well, final chargeable income (which is the amount used to calculate your income tax) is calculated by deducting all eligible tax reliefs from your total income received in a year of assessment. So, the more personal income tax reliefs claimed, the lower the final chargeable income.

So how exactly does the earned income relief work? As long as you have taxable income – this means you need to earn at least $20,000 in a fiscal year – you can claim this. The only other condition: You need to be employed, or receive pension or money from trade, business, profession, or vocation. Depending on your age, the amount of relief ranges from $1,000 to $8,000. For example, if you’re below 55 years old, you can claim $1,000, and if you’re aged between 55 and 59, you can claim $6,000. If you’re aged 60 and above, you can claim $8,000. If you’re permanently physically or mentally handicapped, however, this amount increases, ranging from $4,000 to $12,000. The total amount claimed for this particular relief that year worked out to be about $2.547 billion, according to figures from the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore’s (Iras) tax statistics page.

The next highest relief claimed in that year is the Central Provident Fund (CPF) relief, which is available to employees, self-employed persons, and those who make voluntary contributions to Medisave. About 1.03 million individuals claimed this, which works out to be about 65.25 per cent of all taxable individuals that year. This particular claim, although second highest in the number of claimants, was the highest in the amount of relief claimed – about $10.54 billion was claimed for the CPF relief.

The relief which saw the third highest number of claimants was the National Servicemen (NSman) relief – about 561,000 individuals claimed it in that year, and this amounted to about $875 million. This particular relief is available to all operationally ready NSmen, their wives, and their parents. The amount you can claim depends on whether you “performed NS activities in the preceding year”, said the Iras website, and also if you hold any key appointments in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). But even if you didn’t perform any NS activities in the preceding year, you can claim $1,500. Wives and parents each can claim $750.

Uncommonly claimed

On the other hand, the relief with the lowest number of claimants was the handicapped sibling relief. Only 3,756 individuals claimed it that year, which works out to be about 0.23 per cent of all taxable individuals. This relief is available to those who live with their physically or mentally handicapped sibling or sibling-in-law, or those who have spent more than $2,000 supporting their handicapped siblings.

The relief with the second lowest number of claimants was the grandparent caregiver relief, with 16,741 claimants that year. This works out to be about 1.06 per cent of all taxable individuals, and is available to working mothers who ask their parents, parents-in-law, grandparents, or grandparents-in-law to take care of their children. You can claim up to $3,000 for one grandparent caregiver.

Among other reliefs are the foreign maid levy relief, course fees relief, and life insurance relief. Here are also some of the frequently forgotten ones that you probably should read up on.

 

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this report said that total claims for earned income relief was $2.547 million, CPF relief was $10.543 million and NSman relief was $857,000. This is incorrect. It is $2.547 billion, $10.543 billion and $857 million respectively. We are sorry for the error.

Featured image is a composite, with photo by Ken Teegardin and illustration by Najeer Yusof. 

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https://www.flickr.com/photos/sk8geek/3470836107/in/photolist-6hGWDR-6LfqrJ-qCQpL-218ab-5v4i1a-8v5Zft-7zxJ7K-aefPy6-6XS7qP-6SEmku-7wN7Na-9h2Erd-qo6iWS-nxsAsN-59vZcj-31TF1-2vctpL-4wj7Wj-ni1JJ5-QNNvo-qkwbGZ-59Ga5k-8vqgC9-7wN85t-fzH2F-8Yz9eK-ghkJmn-6a2Jvc-6a6Uq5-8brLDN-662CwL-5TgW3g-6s1JyV-dWRfiq-6oz9zU-88iABp-86XmVX-diR1Lj-86XmVP-2MyWs-6s5Ry5-dSW8nc-dfkwsL-d4Axsb-3Di67-nfBz-6s1Jkc-7zRhtE-2B9Ao-6s5RCG

by Gillian Lim

A VIRAL video that has been making its rounds on Facebook demonstrates how you can prepare the seed of an avocado for consumption. Claiming that the seed is the most nutrient-dense part of the fruit, the video has gained more than 26 million views since it was published on March 13.

We all know that the avocado is a super food. It’s the go-to ingredient for party guacamole dips, lavish sandwiches with fried eggs and tomatoes, creamy smoothies and salad toppings – but the avocado pit usually finds its way to the rubbish bin. Now apparently, you can eat it. But is it safe to be eaten?

The viral video

The one-minute video, which was posted by nutrition blogger Sophie, who owns Nourish Me Whole, featured step-by-step instructions on how to prepare and eat the avocado seed.

First, you cut open the avocado and remove the seed. Then, rinse and dehydrate the seed in an oven at 120 degrees C for two hours. Discard the outer skin and pop the avocado seed in two by pressing a knife against the seam. Afterwards, it’s just a matter of dicing the seed (it should be soft enough to cut) and pulverising it into powder form using a blender. The powder can be added to smoothies, salads and baking goods for “a boost of anti-oxidants, fibre and gut-healing nutrients”, said the video.

Her blog post added that the seed usually ends up in the garbage. Sophie wrote: “Its extremely bitter taste probably has a lot to do with that… but there’s so much benefit to be had by eating it, so it’s worth investigating how we might go about it.”

Responses and her disclaimer

The viral video has gotten a range of responses, mostly questioning whether the seed is indeed safe to be eaten or not.

Facebook user Matthew Lantz even pointed out the California Avocado Commission’s stand on avocado seeds: “The California Avocado Commission does not recommend consumption of the ‘pit’ or seed of an avocado. The seed of an avocado contains elements that are not intended for human consumption.” His comment has since gained around 3,500 likes.

Another user, Michael Douglas, said in response to Matthew Lantz’s comment: “Yeah, but some random person on Facebook made a video so now it’s healthy, regardless of the truth.”

Since then, Sophie has posted a disclaimer stating that she’s not a professional nutritionist, chef or biologist. “I am someone who is intensely passionate about natural health, and whenever I read about a food/idea/recipe that makes sense to me and inspires me, I share it,” she said.

She did, however, list a few research articles listing the dos and don’ts of eating avocado seeds, saying: “Please ensure you read a few articles from both sides before making your decision whether or not to try it (and if you do, start slowly).” She also added that “this is of particular importance if you have any significant health issues, or are pregnant”, and suggested that you check with your doctor and make a thoroughly informed decision before doing anything.

Her research

The three online articles that Sophie listed as her sources include Step to Health, a two-year-old health website, David Wolfe, a health and nutrition expert, and Live Strong, a food, fitness and health website.

All three sources support the human consumption of the avocado seed. In fact, all three quote a particular 2004 Journal of Food Chemistry article which said that avocado seeds showed a “much higher antioxidant activity and phenolic content than the edible portions”, and that up to 70 per cent of the antioxidants in avocados are found in the seeds.

All three sources also list various benefits of eating the avocado seed: its high levels of antioxidants, and its ability to burn fat, conquer cancer cells and diminish digestive issues. They also listed out several ways to consume the avocado pit, such as making an infusion out of it or blending it.

What we found out

Nutritionists we spoke to said that they wouldn’t eat the avocado seed themselves.

Ms Jane Freeman of Singapore-based professional nutrition clinic Food Equation said: “I do not know of any published data on the nutrition or health benefits of eating the avocado seed, so while it might sound good in theory, I think that I would wait to see something published, before I went to all that trouble.”

She also added that the avocado seed itself is very bitter and hard. “To blend it requires an industrial-type blender and the powder it makes is quite bitter,” she said, adding that if you really wanted to go through all the trouble to get vitamins, you could have done so with other palatable fruit. 

Said Ms Freeman: “It is far better to work on those everyday food choices and work on piling up that plate with lots of colourful vegetables and some fruits.”

When asked if she knew whether the avocado seed was poisonous to the human body or not, she said that she did find one study that has assessed this issue. “Their conclusion is that it appears to be safe for human consumption,” said Ms Freeman. However, “further studies on the endocrine and immune system impacts are needed,” she added.

The particular study she referred to was a 2013 paper written by Mexican researchers, titled Acute Toxicity and Genotoxic Activity of Avocado Seed Extract. You can find the paper here.

Her sentiments were echoed by Health magazine’s contributing nutrition editor, Cynthia Sass, a nutritionist and registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health.

“I’m a huge avocado fan. I eat them daily, and recommend them to my clients, but I have reservations about eating the seeds,” she told Health last week. “While there is some research about beneficial compounds in the seed, the safety of ingesting it hasn’t been established, so the risks versus benefits aren’t fully known.”

Ms Bridget Marr, a registered dietitian and nutritionist at Singapore-based Nutritional Solutions, told us the same thing. “The media often focuses on the latest  so-called ‘superfood’,” she said.  “People might go a bit overboard on such foods when it’s wise to get as much variety of fresh, unprocessed foods in your diet as possible – to obtain a good variety of different nutrients.”

But she did add that we don’t know very much about consuming large amounts of avocado seeds in our diet at the moment. “I couldn’t find much evidence of studies looking into toxicity in humans. There have been studies that have shown its antioxidant properties and anti-cancer properties, but from animal studies. There’s a lack of data in humans.”

She added: “It would probably be safer to eat seeds that are commonly used, for example chia seeds. Right now there’s just a lot of unknown (factors), so it’s difficult to conclude if the avocado seed is actually beneficial or toxic to the human body.”

Featured image by Flickr user Steven Lilley. CC BY-SA 2.0

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Photo from Baker & Cook's website.

by Gillian Lim

“HOT cross buns, hot cross buns. One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns!”

You might be familiar with the nursery rhyme dating back to 1798, mimicking a cry on the streets of England where people would be selling hot cross buns leading up to Easter Sunday. Today, the hot cross bun is still being sold in bakeries all across Singapore to mark the end of Lent, and the beginning of Easter.

The sweet bun is made with familiar spices. It comes with currants or raisins and is marked with a cross on top , which is thought to represent the body of Jesus Christ. The cross on top represents the crucifixion of Christ, while the cinnamon spices used signify the spices used to embalm him at his burial.

Here are five places to check out for their hot cross buns, with some offering interesting new creations:

 

1. Chin Mee Chin Confectionery

Photo from Chin Mee Chin Confectionary's Burrple page.
Photo from Chin Mee Chin Confectionary‘s Burrple page.

Located at the corner of East Coast Road and right next to the Church of the Holy Family, the iconic coffeeshop is famous for its traditional kaya toast, soft-boiled eggs and coffee.

Having been there for around 80 years, the coffeeshop also sells a variety of bread and confectionery, ranging from egg tarts to almond cupcakes. The place is also well-known for its nostalgic and old-school interior design, some of which include marble-top tables and sturdy wooden chairs, white and turquoise mosaic-tiled floors, and the traditional wooden signage.

During the Easter period, it sells hot cross buns of the traditional kind, baked with cinnamon and orange peel. Its hot cross buns are sold at $1.40 per bun.

Location: You can find Chin Mee Chin Confectionary at 204 East Coast Road, Singapore 428903.

Operating hours: It is closed on Mondays, and open during the rest of the week from 8am to 4.30pm. You can reach them at 6345 0419.

 

2. Baker & Cook

Photo from Baker & Cook's website.
Photo from Baker & Cook’s website.

The hot cross buns at Baker & Cook – available until Good Friday – comes in two flavours: the traditional cinnamon and raisin, and a chocolate chip hot cross bun. Both are being sold at the same price: a package of six for $15, but you can also purchase a single hot cross bun for $2.50.

If you dine in, you get a 10 per cent discount off your hot cross buns.

Location: Baker & Cook’s flagship store is located at 77 Hillcrest Road, Singapore 288951. It has four other stores: InterContinental Singapore, Opera Estate, Clementi Arcade and Chip Bee Gardens.

Operating hours: Its flagship store is open every day from 7am to 8pm. On Fridays and Saturdays, it closes two hours later, at 10pm. You can reach it at 6469 8834.

 

3. Joe & Dough

Photo from Joe and Dough's Facebook page.
Photo from Joe & Dough‘s Facebook page.

A promotional item which started at the beginning of March, Joe & Dough’s charcoal hot cross bun with a salted egg “laval” centre is being sold for $4.50 per bun at all nine Joe & Dough outlets across Singapore. It’s a unique take on the traditional bun and does not include any of the usual ingredients like cinnamon and orange peel.

Joe & Dough also sells the traditional hot cross bun, at $3 per bun. The hot cross buns are only available until Easter Sunday.

Location: Joe & Dough has a total of nine outlets: Millenia Walk, Square 2, Capital Tower, Orchard Gateway, Kallang Leisure Park, Marina Bay Link Mall, Golden Shoe Car Park, Madame Tussauds at Sentosa, and Income at Raffles. You can find its full addresses, operating hours and contact details here.

 

4. Balmoral Bakery

Photo from Balmoral Bakery's website.
Photo from Balmoral Bakery‘s website.

Located at a HDB block in Clementi, Balmoral Bakery has been in operation since 1965. It’s popular for its retro-style pies, puffs and pastries, with some must-tries like the mini chicken pie, stuffed samosa and char siew sou.

The “take-away” bakery also sells the traditional hot cross buns specially for Easter – its version has cinnamon spices, raisins and citrus peels. The buns are on sale only until Good Friday, and they’re being sold at $4.80 for a packet of six.

Location: You can find Balmoral Bakery at #01-06, 105 Clementi Street 12, Singapore 120105. If you have trouble finding it, it’s quite near Mount Pleasant Veterinary Clinic and Chang Cheng Food Court.

Operating hours: It is open from 8.30am to 8pm daily, and you can call them at 6779 2064.

 

5. Cedele

Photo from Cedele
Photo from Cedele‘s Facebook page.

The traditional cinnamon-infused hot cross bun is available all year round at Cedele, for only $1.80 per bun.

But for this Easter season, Cedele has come up with four new hot cross bun flavours. This includes the apple cinnamon hot cross bun; hot cross buns packed with spinach, sun dried tomatoes and onion; a pandan coconut hot cross bun; and a chocolate chip hot cross bun. These special flavours will be on sale only until March 28. That’s the Monday after Easter, and the buns are being sold for $2 each.

You can find these special flavours (alongside the traditional hot cross bun) at all Cedele outlets – as long as it has a bread section.

Location: Cedele has a total of 25 outlets with bakeries, and four outlets that offer all day dining. You can find the full addresses, operating hours and contact details here.

 

Featured image from Baker & Cook’s website.

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by Gillian Lim

IF YOU’RE still hungry after that steaming bowl of shoyu ramen, don’t worry. Forget those restaurants that charge you over $1 for a bowl of steamed white rice – go for places in Singapore that serve free-flow side dishes, alongside any main course.

This can range from authentic Japanese sticky white rice to miso soup, and more. Marinated bean sprouts, hard-boiled eggs, sushi, pumpkin salad, mapo tofu and even chawanmushi – you name it, they’ve got it. There are some restaurants that would even give you free-flow ramen noodles if you order the right dish.

Here are five places we guarantee you won’t leave hungry:

 

1. Keisuke Tonkotsu Ramen

Photo from Ramen Keisuke
Photo from Ramen Keisuke‘s Facebook page.

Keisuke Tonkotsu Ramen is a chain of ramen stores, with each outlet having a unique concept. For example, its Bugis Village outlet is named Ramen Keisuke Tonkotsu King Four Seasons and its ramen dishes are named after spring, summer, autumn and winter. Its 100 Tras Street outlet is named Ramen Keisuke Tori King and each ramen dish has a huge chicken drumstick.

While the broth flavours vary depending on which outlet you visit, one thing remains the same: Each table is served a large container of marinated beansprouts and hard-boiled eggs, complete with a tube of Japanese mayonnaise, grounded sesame seeds and other condiments. These are free-flow. How many eggs can you eat?

Price: $10.80 to $15.80

Location: Keisuke Tonkotsu Ramen has six outlets: Orchid Hotel at 1 Tras Street, Paya Lebar Square, Bugis Village, Parkway Parade, 100 Tras Street and Suntec City. You can find the full addresses here.

 

2. Yayoi

Photo from Yayoi Singapore's Facebook page.
Photo from Yayoi Singapore‘s Facebook page.

Order any set meal and you’ll get as much steaming hot Japanese sticky white rice as you want. The restaurant says it serves kinme rice, directly imported from Japan.

Yayoi’s set meals – popular ones are the sukiyaki set, and the Japanese-style double hamburger patties and breaded prawn set – start from $10.90.

Price: $10.90 to $25.90

Location: Yayoi has seven outlets: Eastpoint Mall, The Star Vista, 313@Somerset, Amara Hotel, Bugis+, Liang Court and Millenia Walk. The full addresses are here.

 

3. Hifumi Japanese Restaurant

Photo from HIFUMI Japanese Restaurant's Burrple page.
Photo from HIFUMI Japanese Restaurant (Plaza Singapura)‘s Burpple page.

Warning: If you dine at Hifumi, you might actually be full even before you start on your main course. With every main course ordered, you get access to its appetiser buffet bar.

Yes, you heard us right – it’s a buffet bar with all kinds of Japanese appetisers. You name it, they have it: chawanmushi, pumpkin salad, sushi, fried items, wakame seaweed salad, and much more. The best part? The appetiser buffet bar changes every month. For March, it’s cucumber kimchi, sugared tofu doughnut, chips with dry curry dip, zaru udon and sesame chicken sauce, chicken and spicy leek in Japanese sauce, and pork collar in ginger and honey lemon.

Price: $10.90 to $23.90

Location: Hifumi has only one outlet: Marina Square, #02-106A.

 

4. Menya Musashi

Photo from Menya Musashi (Raffles City)'s Burrple page.
Photo from Menya Musashi (Raffles City)‘s Burpple page.

This for all you carb-lovers out there. If you order the Tsukemen ramen at any Menya Musashi outlet, you can have as much noodles as you want, whether it’s one serving or two, or even three or four.

Tsukemen ramen is eaten by dipping the noodles into a broth that is served separately. At Menya Musashi, the broth comes in three different flavours: the original white tonkotsu broth, the black broth with garlic and onion, and the red spicy bean paste broth.

Price: $14.90 to $19.90

Location: It has eight locations: Bedok Mall, Bugis Junction, Raffles City Shopping Centre, Tampines Mall, The Star Vista, Vivocity, Waterway Point and Westgate Mall. You can find all the addresses here.

 

5. Hanare Japanese Restaurant

Photo from Hanare Japanese Cafe and Restaurant's Burpple page.
Photo from Hanare Japanese Cafe and Restaurant‘s Burpple page.

Famed for its bara chirasi don, what you might not know about this restaurant is that it also has a free-flow of appetisers. Hanare offers a side-dish buffet set for $19.90, where you get to have as much side dishes as you want, alongside a main dish of your choice. Or you can have the bara chirashi set ($17.60), where you get a bowl of rice with cubed marinated sashimi, miso soup and unlimited servings of four side dishes.

Some of its side dishes include cold tofu, pickled vegetables, fried prawn fritters, potato cakes, salad and sushi.

Price: $7.60 to $19.90

Location: There is only one outlet: 99B Tanjong Pagar Road.

 

Featured image of Sashimi Salad by Ron Dollete CC BY-ND 2.0

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Fearing Spread Of ISIS
Illustration by Sean Chong

by Gillian Lim

IN EVERY shopping mall, metal detectors at its entrances and exits. At football matches and musical concerts, men and women in uniform eyeing your bags, questioning your conscience. Cameras everywhere.

If you think G surveillance is tight these days, expect it to get even tighter over the next five years.

Two days after the Ministry of Home Affairs announced the capture of four Singaporeans linked to armed conflicts under the Internal Security Act (ISA), its commander-in-chief today (March 18) rolled out an ambitious strategy to fight terrorism on home ground.

Citing the spread of terrorist activity in the region, Mr K Shanmugam, who is also Law Minister, sounded an oft-repeated warning: “It is no longer a question of whether an attack will take place, but really, when is an attack going to take place in Singapore.”

The plan was delivered during a speech he gave earlier today at the Home Team Leaders’ Forum, held at the Ministry of Home Affairs at 28 Irrawaddy Road. The annual forum is when the minister addresses Home Team leaders and senior officers on key issues and strategic directions for the year ahead. About 300 officers attended the forum.

Mr Shanmugam described the threat to Singapore as being “at its highest level” in recent years, as the dogma of the terrorist group, ISIS, reached far beyond its Iraqi and Syrian borders. Last year, there were at least 56 attacks that were directed or inspired by ISIS outside Iraq and Syria, the minister said.

“In 2015, we saw the terror threat morph into a very different, newer, much more powerful large monster. It is now a qualitatively different and much more dangerous threat. ISIS presents a far graver threat than Al Qaeda and its affiliated entities ever were.”

In his speech, Mr Shanmugam laid out several counter-terrorism measures planned over the next five years. Here’s a snapshot of what’s in store.

 

1. Ramping up security measures

More CCTVs will be installed all over the island – this doesn’t just include key buildings like Changi Airport or government buildings, but also “soft targets like entertainment centres, sports facilities and shopping centres,” said Mr Shanmugam. Places with high human traffic – like hawker centres, town centres, and even walkways linking MRT or bus interchanges, will also see more CCTVs.

While he did not say how many more cameras will be installed, the minister said the phased installations of cameras will start later this year. It will be completed over the next four years, on top of the 10,000 extra police cameras already scheduled to be completed at HDB blocks and multi-storey car parks this year.

All CCTV cameras will also be linked in a new network infrastructure that would give the G access to camera data, “on demand”.

“Police will work closely with premises owners to allow Police access to their CCTVs. Members of public will also be able to submit videos to the Police on crowdsourcing platforms. This is a necessary, strategic, and direct response to the evolving nature of the threats,” the minister said.

New legislation and rules will also be enacted to put greater responsibility on premise owners and event organisers to beef up security. This means requiring them to “put in place necessary security measures”, such as ramping up security personnel and screening people via metal detectors, bag checks and security checks before they enter the venue.

Terrorists went after such targets, he said, because there were often little or no security. He gave the recent attacks in a Paris stadium and a mall in Jakarta as examples of this.

“We need to do more, to partner with the private and people sectors to better protect these soft targets… For visitors to these premises, there will be more inconvenience,” the minister acknowledged. “We will all need to get used to more security and bag checks prior to entry.”

 

2. Tightening the response time

A new team of first responders called the Emergency Response Teams (ERTs) will be launched. Specially trained with counter-assault skills and equipped with more potent weapons, these ERTs are expected to quickly neutralise terrorist threats.

First responders to the scene of a terrorist attack need to be better trained and armed with more firepower, said Mr Shanmugam. Currently, police first-responders are equipped with only revolvers.

When mobilised, the ERTs can arrive at the scene (or multiple scenes, like the Paris attacks) quickly, take down the armed attackers swiftly, and keep the casualties to a minimum, the minister added.

“Day to day, they will patrol the terrain and engage stakeholders, to build familiarity with the areas they will be in-charge of. The aim is to significantly upgrade our immediate response capability.” The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will also be mobilised during terror threats.

 

3. Preparing the community

A new nation-wide movement to be rolled out later this year, SG Secure is more than just a public awareness campaign, the minister said. Programmes will be created to teach different groups of Singaporeans what to do during a terrorist attack. This means dividing up the entire nation into smaller groups – neighbourhoods, schools, workplaces, national servicemen and community groups, and then educating them from there.

Said Mr Shanmugam: “SG Secure must become a rallying call for Singaporeans from all walks of life to unite, to play a part in making Singapore a safe place that it is today.”

This serves two main purposes, the minister said. One, so that Singaporeans are prepared to deal with a crisis if it ever occurs; and two, so that the Singaporeans can “be resilient as individuals and as a community”, and bounce back quickly from a terrorist attack.

He said: “So if an attack occurs, we need to be able to recover well. The day after is even more important. We have to emerge stronger, more united and more determined as Singaporeans.”

 

Featured illustration by Sean Chong. 

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