June 23, 2017

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MICROSOFT unveiled the Xbox One X at E3 on Sunday, June 11. Can the new, powerful console grab market share back from Playstation? Watch Microsoft’s press announcement here.

Broadcast for the first time in 4K UHD on Mixer, Xbox showcased a record 42 games in its briefing including 22 with console exclusivity from creators large and small. It will be available in Singapore and other selected markets from Nov 7 and will retail for $499, 449 pounds, 499 euros, CA$599 and AU$649.

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Xbox One X was designed to be the best console to create and play games on, putting the greatest graphic fidelity in the hands of the world’s best game creators to create true 4K games. Head of Xbox Phil Spencer underscored that every game will play great across the Xbox One family, and Xbox One X also makes your existing library even better, with better textures, smoother frame rates and faster load times.

Xbox One is the only console system designed to play the best games of the past, present and future. The Xbox One games and accessories you already own are compatible with Xbox One X, so if you’re an Xbox gamer, chances are you already have a library of games that will look and play better on Xbox One X.

Spencer announced that Xbox will expand the Xbox One backward compatibility library of nearly 400 popular Xbox 360 games to include original Xbox classics, starting with fan favourite “Crimson Skies”. Xbox also revealed that “Gears of War 4,” “Forza Horizon 3,” “Minecraft,” “Resident Evil 7,” “Final Fantasy 15,” “Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands,” “Rocket League” and dozens of other popular Xbox One games will receive free updates to take full advantage of the power of Xbox One X. A host of these titles will be enhanced to run in true 4K, and many will be available at the Xbox One X launch.

Video provided by Microsoft Corp.

 

Featured image is a screen grab from the video provided by Microsoft Corp.

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by Danielle Goh

ALL the cheese lovers in Singapore rejoice. The rest of you, we understand you may not be too enthusiastic.

The newly revamped LiHo has a range of cheese milk teas, and a $1.90 topping of cheese to go with any drink. RTG Holdings decided not to continue the Gong Cha franchise here, after its Taiwanese business partners sold the company to Gong Cha Korea. By Monday (Jun 5), all 80 Gong Cha outlets will be replaced with LiHo. It’s new name means “How are you?” in Hokkien.

Some additions to the menu are the cheese milk tea, smoothies, and vitagen drinks. Gong Cha fans need not fear, as trademark flavours such as Oolong Milk Tea, and Earl Grey Milk Tea + 3M still remains on the new LiHo menu. There are also more ways to drink your milk tea: A small opening with a heart-shaped lid helps to get to the top layer, and comes in handy for hot drinks. Also, drinks come in medium and large sizes.

NOTE: Gong Cha has clarified that Oolong Milk Tea is not available on LiHo’s menu. LiHo’s Say Cheese range actually consists of different teas, with no addition of milk, and a cheese topping. We apologise for the error.

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TMG went down to LiHo at Paragon and Cineleisure to try the controversial cheese teas, other new flavours, and also the more ‘conventional’ milk teas. We’ve rated each drink, and picked out the best and worst ones:

 

1. Cheese Guan Yin with cheese topping, Large. $7

So for this drink I went crazy with the cheese… It was a bit of a splurge, but worth it.

Fans of Gong Cha will be happy to know that the cheese had a light foamy texture, similar to the Gong Cha milk topping. The cheese was like a creamy version of a Japanese cheesecake. Mixed with a light brew of oolong tea, the slightly savoury cheese topping blended well with the drink. The cheese was not too overbearing, and the different layers in the drink made for a colourful taste palette. It took a while getting used to the blend of savoury with the slight bitterness of the oolong tea.

For cheese lovers, don’t forget to drink it to the end for the last bits of cheesy goodness!

Verdict: Yes, it lives up to the hype. 9 out of 10

 

2. Cheese Jing Syuan tea, with white pearl topping, Medium. $4.80

The cheese and Jing Syuan tea is an unexpected pairing.

It’s like salted egg yolk on a bailey’s ice cream, unique together, but also completely okay without the other. The savoury cheese was a surprisingly satisfying counter to the sweetness of the Jing Syuan tea though. This one didn’t blend as well as the Cheese Guan Yin, so the cheese layer remained at the top. So this was like drinking the Jing Syuan tea, but also eating a slab of cheesecake, separately. After stirring more vigorously, the cheese still didn’t quite mix with the tea, so I felt like I was drinking regular Jing Syuan tea. It was not as good as the Cheese Guan Yin in my opinion.

Verdict: Surprisingly good, but can be better blended. 7 out of 10

 

3. Yam Milk with custard pudding topping, Medium. $4.30

This was so good…

It’s a tough fight between the yam milk and the Cheese Guan Yin for first place. I was glad to have taken the staff’s suggestion to have the custard pudding topping. It added a caramelised sweetness, and the soft, milky texture of the pudding complemented the yam perfectly. The concentration of yam was just right, and it made the drink appetising. This drink reminded me of my favourite mango pudding, it could double up as dessert any time! I finished the drink very quickly.

Also the pretty purple colour is a plus.

Verdict: Perfect mix. 10 out of 10

 

4. Classic Earl Grey Milk Tea + 3M, Medium. $4.20

Ah, the classic milk tea. Basically an improved version of Gong Cha’s Earl Grey Milk Tea + 3J. Slight difference is that Gong Cha has more of a smooth texture, while for LiHo there’s a stronger brew of tea, and it’s a little more milky. The mixture of black pearl, pudding and jelly is bubble tea heaven.

Verdict: It’s classic for a reason. 8 out of 10

 

5. Choc-A-Milk + OREO, Medium. $4.20

I had to walk to Cineleisure for this one, because it was sold out at LiHo’s Paragon branch. According to the staff, this drink is a best-seller. But after drinking it, I think that most of the credit goes to the Oreos. There’s a generous portion of crumbled Oreo bits at the top of the drink, but it doesn’t really go well with the chocolate milk tea. After a while, I felt that I was drinking diluted chocolate milk, but with the occasional Oreo crunch. It was quite a disappointment. Maybe it would work better as a smoothie…

Verdict: Does not taste as good as it sounds. 5 out of 10

 

6. Vitagen ‘n’ Peach, Medium. $4.00

Tastes just like normal Vitagen, and it’s very, very, very sweet. Sadly, nothing really special about this drink. I couldn’t taste much of the peach, and as if the Vitagen was not sweet enough, there’s sugar liquid at the bottom. Feels like they bought bottles of Vitagen and just poured it in; If I wanted Vitagen, I would rather just go to Sheng Siong.

Verdict: Excuse me while I reel from sugar overdose… 3 out of 10

 

7. Golden Yuzu Juice + Golden Ai Yu, Medium. $3.70

Here’s a healthier option if you need a pick-me-up drink for the day. It was really refreshing, a great thirst-quencher on a hot and humid day! The sourness of the yuzu hits you very quickly, with a sharp aftertaste. Some yuzu slices are mixed in with the drink, so it’s peel fresh. The jelly helps to break the sourness with its honeyed sweetness. Only downside to this is that the jelly is a gigantic chunk. Was a little annoying because it’s too big to drink with the straw, so I had to keep mashing it.

Verdict: Don’t be jelly, try this. 7 out of 10

 

Well, at this point I’ve been convinced: Cheese does go with milk tea. Top favourites are the Cheese Guan Yin and the Yam Milk with custard pudding; I’ll gladly go for a second cup.

 

Note: Previously, the article mentioned that Gong Cha’s Oolong Milk Tea remains on the new LiHo menu. This is incorrect, as Oolong Milk Tea is not available on LiHo’s menu. LiHo’s Say Cheese range consists of different teas, with no addition of milk, and a cheese topping.

 

Featured image by TMG.

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by Kok Wei Liang

THERE is gaynger in Singapore. That’s “gay danger”, to any uninitiated straight people.

I am writing this in the painful seclusion of my room, shunned by friends and frenemies, my hair frizzy and free of product because the assistant at my hairdresser’s refused to blow it out and apply hair wax, my nails chipped and uneven because no manicure bar will have me anymore.

In light of a recent post on Facebook about how “young punk” cafes are serving gay cake disguised as rainbow cake, I thought it would be a good idea to tell the public what gay cake actually is.

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The Gay Overlords disagree.

I visited them at Gay Headquarters, during Gay Communal Hours, when all the straight people of Singapore were soundly asleep, dreaming of contributing to society in productive ways. The Gay Overlords do not think my exposé will be useful in furthering the Gay Agenda. They even refused to accept the favour baskets I prepared for them, of homemade his-and-his coconut oil shaving gel with flakes of avocado butter. That is how I know they meant business.

I can tell that the repercussions from this perceived act of treason will shake the LGBT Underworld for years to come. But I will not be silenced.

Here is how to make gay cake.

You will need six ingredients. The post on We are against Pinkdot in Singapore got that much right.

True rainbow cakes have seven layers, like the seven layers of a rainbow. Gay cake has six layers, because of our favourite sex act – the 6.

In the 69, you 6 me and I 9 you, but in the 6, you 6 me and I fall asleep. Show me a gay man who doesn’t love the 6, and I will show you a liar.

1. Vanilla-scented candle.

2. Almond milk. If you cannot squeeze the juice from the nuts yourself, store-bought is fine.

3. A photo of something really gay. My go-to is of the man with the gayest job in the world – the Pope. I like using the one where he wears jewellery.

4. Twinkies.

5. Ice.

6. Music by a certified gay icon. Here is an alphabetical list of acceptable icons: Beyonce, Cher, Donna Summer, Kylie Minogue, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Queens of the Stone Age. You may, in a pinch, resort to Elton John, but your cake will turn out a little bitchy.

Mix the first five ingredients in the gay bowl. That’s whichever bowl held all the condoms at your last gay party.

Blare the music from your certified gay icon to your mixture. The volume should make your batter rise and harden.

Cut the resultant hardened mixture into little pieces. It is recommended that they be cut into little round blocks so as to not arouse suspicion, but other shapes will not actually affect the efficacy of the cake.

Find a public male restroom. Place the cake in a urinal. Wait for a straight man to piss on it. It will turn him gay.

Caution:
Do not let gay men piss on this cake, that’s how we got whatever Milo Yiannopoulos is.
Do not let children piss on this cake, that’s how we got Justin Bieber.
Will make bisexual men hungry for brunch.
DO NOT EAT THIS CAKE.

 

Kok Wei Liang does not want you to know anything about him, because he likes anonymity when he does standup and slam poetry.

 

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by Abraham Lee

ARE you stressed at work? You’re not alone. Roffey Park‘s 2016 study and Willis Towers Watson’s 2014 survey findings have shown that at least half of Singaporean workers face workplace stress. It comes from various sources, anything from heavy workloads and organisational politics to a poor working environment, and can lead to both physical and mental health problems, such as heart disease, stroke and depression.

Dr Lim Boon Leng, psychiatrist from Gleneagles Hospital, said that “the main sources of stress come from overwhelming workload and long hours of work leading to insufficient rest and poor work life balance” while others included “difficult and overly demanding superiors” and “interpersonal conflicts at the workplace“.

Poor or unsupportive relationships can put pressure on workers and office politics can complicate even the easiest tasks, making them tedious and drawn-out, wearing workers out. Workers who feel that they are unfairly treated can also feel isolated, putting undue pressure and stress on them.

Other common sources of stress come from employees feeling a lack of control at work or are faced with job insecurity. They can feel stressed because they are unable to take charge of their lives and made to feel unimportant and dispensable. Weak management can impress upon workers a sense of directionlessness and hopelessness while over-management can cause employees to feel discouraged, distrusted and undervalued, hurting their self-esteem.

Stress isn’t inherently a bad thing because it can motivate us to meet challenges. Said Dr Lim: “Stress is not always bad… As stress increases, our ability to function increases.” But if we become more stressed than we are able to handle, our ability to function plateaus and eventually falls sharply. “When we start to notice that the stress is getting the better of us… it is time to take stock of things and to slow down, rest and find means to de-stress,” said Dr Lim.

Stress takes a toll on the immune system and stressed out workers “are more prone to infections”. Long term stress is associated with a variety of physical health problems like diabetes, heart problems and stroke. Often overlooked is the risk stress poses to workers’ mental health. Dr Lim said that stress “can trigger mental illnesses such as insomnia, anxiety disorders and depression”.

Mental health problems can be “be extremely disruptive to people’s personal and professional lives”. “In mild cases, it may be that one takes a few days of sick leave from work and is slightly more irritable… In severe cases, one may be incapacitated and unable to work long term and may even be suicidal,” said Dr Lim. When asked how long it usually takes people to recover fully from mental health problems, he said that “people take different periods of time to recover”, that “some may take a few weeks to feel better and get back to their usual routine” while for others “the conditions can become chronic and permanently disabling”.

The first thing you can do is to find out if you are stressed and under too much pressure by checking yourself against the list of common symptoms or more accurately, take a free assessment online. If you’re an existing AIA customer, you’re in luck. Just sign up for AIA Vitality and take its Mental Wellbeing Assessment for a short spot-check.

After all, prevention is better than cure and it’s essential for your longterm health to develop a game plan that can help you manage stress in the workplace.

Breaking bad habits like worrying about the uncontrollable and flogging yourself over the need to be absolutely perfect can also help to reduce stress. Dr Lim said that “we have to start by understanding our own ability to handle stress” and our own limits. “Those who may be perfectionistic and harsh to themselves have to learn to change their mindset and be gentle to themselves,” he said.

It’s also important to develop supportive relationships, be it co-workers you can turn to or family and friends you can depend on. Instead of turning to your handheld devices during breaks, try engaging a colleague. A strong network of friends you can lean on can counteract the negative influence of work stress and ensure you’re not left feeling isolated and vulnerable.

“Asians tend to define themselves by their work, but it is imperative to also have adequate focus on family, exercise and hobbies,” said Dr Lim. “Only with a balanced life can we be more effective at work and sustain a high level of productivity and also maintain good physical and mental wellness.”

Exercise should be made a regular habit as it not only helps you to sleep better but boosts your mood, energy and ability to focus, while providing an avenue for relaxation. Form a running or cycling club with your friends and family, or challenge yourself in the AIA Vitality Weekly Challenge with your co-workers if you need that extra motivation.

How well you do at work lies in how well you maintain your body at home, when you’re not at work. Make sure to eat healthily, drinking alcohol in moderation, avoiding nicotine and caffeine, which can all dampen your mood.

Another tip is to get enough rest both at work and at home. Dr Lim said that “rest is not being away from work” or “not being productive but that it is part and parcel of work to allow rejuvenation and hence better productivity after rest”. Prioritise tasks and create a balanced schedule that won’t overwhelm you. Getting enough rest includes getting enough sleep. It affects how well your body recovers from the past day and how prepared it is for the following day.

Last but not least, if workplace stress persists, address the source of the pressure. Communicate with your boss, clarify expectations and ask changes that can help you manage your work better. Or ask for a few days off, for that long overdue holiday.

 

This story is part of a series with AIA Singapore.

AIA Singapore is invested in the health and wellness of Singaporeans and has launched AIA Vitality, a comprehensive wellness programme that rewards members for taking small, everyday steps to improve their health.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Danielle Goh

PINK-HAIRED illustrator Ms Rachta Lin, 30, asks me to wait for her to finish a drawing that a teenage fan requested for. “Just give me 15 minutes, then after we can start the interview!” she said as she looked up and smiled, before quickly picking up her pen to draw.

The star-struck teen sits in front of her, watching her sketch his favourite anime character. I can see what she is drawing too, because a camera is capturing the process live on a monitor.

At the corner of her desk, a red book catches my eye. On its cover, a green eyed blonde haired girl, brandishing a sword, is surrounded with red roses. “That’s my art book, it’s a little like an open diary, it’s inspired by my travels last year,” said Ms Lin as I picked it up and flipped through the pages of sketches and prints.

When Ms Lin was five, she fell in love with a Japanese anime she watched on television, and decided that she wanted to draw the characters she saw on screen. She tries to explain to me more about the show that first got her into anime. “It’s a little bit like Sailor moon, but much older,” she laughs.

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Armed with a degree in Visual Communication Arts at Assumption University in Bangkok, she worked with companies like Blizzard Entertainment and Wacom, but decided to leave the corporate world to be a full-time freelance illustrator. Ms Lin is supported by fans on Patreon, an online site where people can contribute funds toward projects by their favourite artist.

Her art book, Rachta Lin: Artist’s journey of 2016 was self-published and funded by her fans on Kickstarter. Within two days 60 backers pledged a total of $6,337. “Well I’m happy that I have such a strong support there. It definitely helps me to do exactly what I want to do. I was a little nervous because it was my first time starting a crowdfunding project, but it turned out great!” said Ms Lin.

 

Art fairs no longer just for the hipsters

With more artists creating, it’s no surprise that art fairs like Doujin market and the Singapore Art Book Fair (SABF) have been growing in scale. Doujin Market, or Doujima for short, features mainly pop culture inspired art and fan art, taking cues from Marvel, Japanese anime and game design.

Organised by The Neo Tokyo Project, Doujima is supported by NAC, and sponsored by companies such as Kaiju Den and Wacom. When it first started in 2011, there were 22 artist tables and a thousand attendees. This year, it had 170 artist tables, over a dozen corporate exhibitors and 17,000 attendees. The event, held at Suntec Convention Centre from May 6 to 7 this year, featured many student creators and independent artists.

Ms Rachta Lin drawing for a fan

SABF, organised by BooksActually, was held from April 27 to 30 this year at Gillman Barracks. While there was a drop in attendance this year, from 7,000 to around 4,000, there was an increase in sales. “This is good news. Surprisingly, we had a massive surge in sales for almost all the exhibitors. You are easily looking at eight exhibitors that more or less sold out by the last day, and almost all the other vendors had cleared at least three quarters of their stocks,” said Mr Kenny Leck, the owner of independent bookstore BooksActually and its publishing arm Math Paper Press. The event brought together the works of artists and writers from Singapore, Southeast Asia and other parts of the world. It featured an eclectic mix of comics, design merchandise, zines, books, and photography catalogues.

Mr Leck felt that the venue was the key factor that caused a drop in attendance this year. While last year SABF was at the epicentre of the city, in Marina Bay Sands, this year it was at Gillman Barracks, a ten minute walk from Labrador MRT station. As for the increased sales, Mr Leck attributes it to “better curated content” and “providing the quality” that made visitors buy more.

What do art fairs add to the illustration scene in Singapore?

BooksActually was initially supposed to have a booth at Doujima, however it had to pull out at the last minute as not enough staff could make it for the event. For Mr Leck, art fairs help artists to showcase their works and engage with a wider audience here. “Doujima and SABF, allows the individual content creators, and publishers like ourselves an avenue to showcase the works, and also engage with the audience, who effectively are potentially our customers,” said Mr Leck.

Doujima brought together key industry stakeholders such as gaming companies, art studios and independent art galleries. Talks by experienced artists and networking sessions were organised to help young artists further develop their career in illustration. “We’ve supported efforts by young artists to develop work in genres like visual novels and games,” said Mr Jason Koh, account director of The Neo Tokyo Project.

From the fringe to pop-culture

Doujima was packed. But the throngs streaming into the exhibition hall were a far cry from the inaugural event in 2014, which welcomed 1,000 visitors to the upper floors of SCAPE. How did Doujima become so popular? For starters, Mr Koh pointed out that more youths are pursuing their illustration interests in schools, studios and subsequently their future careers.

TMG spoke to a group of student creators at their booths at Doujima, currently studying game art design courses in Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP). Ms Ivette Chua, 21, together with two other schoolmates, set up a booth to sell their own food inspired keychain designs and fan art posters. “I want to work with a gaming or animation company for experience first,” said Ms Chua, on her future career plans.

Many of the artists that TMG spoke to had their own online stores, or websites featuring their artwork portfolio. “Doujin Market has a large proportion of student creators and independent artists, many of whom have unparalleled popularity and a sizeable following online,” said Mr Koh. Mr Joseph Foo, 28, who goes by the artist name Strobolights, markets his artworks on social media, particularly on Instagram. Artists like Mr Foo and Ms Rachta Lin found that social media is an important tool to connect with fans and to expand their audience.

“Stakeholders and policy makers must also recognise that they can no longer look at art with the same lens, and that in order to tap into a young, yet vocal and digitally savvy audience to help revitalise Singapore’s arts scene, they need to stop thinking traditionally,” added Mr Koh.

 

Some challenges remain

While there have been efforts by industry stakeholders to support the illustration scene here, some artists are still finding it hard to hold down stable work.

Ms Sarah Isabel Tan, 29, a freelance artist from Singapore, makes a series of pastel, palm-sized cat figurines called Darumaos, and has self-published her sketchbooks. While she has an online business selling her artwork, she is on the lookout for work with a more stable income. After studying animation at NYP, she took up jobs with Warner Brothers, and some gaming companies in Singapore. But Ms Tan told TMG that most of her previous jobs were short term projects, aside from her work online. “I have had something like five jobs over the span of my working career, aside from freelance and nothing really lasted very long, usually due to either a volatile working environment or poorly managed cash flow,” said Ms Tan.

Ms Tan’s series of self-designed Darumaos

“I guess the biggest problem for me right now is being a sustainable artist. Having a long term job. I have friends who are successful freelancers as they have found their market but I don’t think I’ve really found mine yet,” she added.

For young artists just starting out, Mr Ng Kian Chuan, 32, manager of Collateral Damage Studios, an art studio with courses for illustration, comics and animation, noticed that many struggled with the lack of business know-how.

“For a lot of artists it’s the lack of business knowledge. They may know how to draw, but even that alone is not enough. Some artists don’t know how to price their works, they think that it’s alright to sell their works for a lower price, and they don’t know the market rate. This would be unsustainable in the long run,” said Mr Ng.

 

A growing market here

Recently, the graphic novel has taken a front seat in Singapore’s literary circles. Sonny Liew’s The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye (Link to our review here) was nominated in six categories at the prestigious 2017 Eisner Awards. Published in 2015 by Epigram Books, it sold 9,000 copies in Singapore, and just last year, it was awarded the 2016 Singapore Literature Prize for English Fiction.

It is clear to Mr Kenny Leck that more artists are creating now. Math Paper Press has published works like The Resident Tourist, an eight part ongoing autobiographical comic series by Troy Chin; The Unsavoury Alphabet, an illustrated crime diary story by Gene Whitlock; and Fatman and Superchub, a comic strip by Stephanie Ho. “There has been a supply of content in recent years. In the past, famed filmmaker Eric Khoo was originally working on his illustration work, dabbling in comic drawings but never got round publishing it. The market for locally produced content of this nature was almost non-existent at that time,” said Mr Leck.

Illustrators are also branching out to different industries. Some have ventured into the gaming industry to design characters and artwork. Ubisoft Singapore had a hand at designing the artwork in Assassin’s Creed, an action-fantasy video-game series. Kaiju Den is exploring new technologies like virtual reality (VR) with their newly released title on PlayStation, Stratos Fantasea. At Doujima, Kaiju Den invited attendees to test and experience this first hand.

Kaiju Den’s VR testing of Stratos Fantasea at Doujima

The G has also actively supported art events like Doujima and SABF. “Doujima is funded by the National Arts Council (NAC) and many sponsors, so it shows that the government supports art events like this, which is very encouraging,” said Ms Charlotte Lee from The Neo Tokyo Project.

Moving forward, Mr Koh believes that a “robust publishing infrastructure” and “more private and public funding” will help give creators a leg up. But Mr Edmund Wee, the CEO of Epigram Books said that the growth in publishing is still too slow. “The publishing and art scene in Singapore has improved, but it has not been improving fast enough,” said Mr Wee. He pointed out the National Literary Reading Writing Survey in 2015, which he found that two in five people preferred the internet and social media to reading, and that only one in four readers had read books by Singaporean writers. “Look at the survey that NAC did in 2015, that only one in four people are reading Singaporean literature. We don’t have a flourishing reading culture. That means that in the past 20 years, it was not encouraged,” said Mr Wee.

“We need a system overhaul. Start with the schools, encourage students to read Singaporean literature, graphic novels, comics, all types of books. It also requires some government intervention, and of course help from the grassroots,” he added.

Rachta’s pink hair might stand out in a crowd, but the growing throng at her booth quickly obscures her from view as the crowds stream in. Three hours into Doujima’s first day, and already the long concourse at Suntec City convention centre isn’t big enough for everyone trying to enter. Queues form. Has this fringe begun to turn mainstream?

 

Featured image from The Neo Tokyo Project.

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by Deanna Nabilah

ARE parents to blame for expensive formula milk?

Despite the spike in prices, 95 per cent of formula milk buyers opt for premium powder whereas 5 per cent of them opt for standard brands. The New Paper reported (May 11) that this willingness to pay for premium brands has contributed to a 120 per cent increase in average prices over the last decade.

The Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) released a report on May 10 about its market inquiry, with cross-references of prices against other countries, such as Australia and the UK. Singapore has higher formula milk prices than any of these countries.

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Did demand fuel the price hike, or is there another reason why premium formula commands such a massive market share?

After visiting four local supermarkets, we found that there were 27 premium formula milk brands and two non-premium formula milk brands for infants aged zero to 12 months on average at each supermarket. The non-premium formula milk available in these supermarkets are Nestle’s Lactogen and Dumex’s Dugro and Dupro. Even Sheng Siong, a supermarket known for its economical goods, does not offer a wide range of non-premium formula milk.

Formula milk brands widely available in Singapore are made by Abbott, Danone, FrieslandCampina, Karihome, Mead Johnson Nutrition, Nestle, and Wyeth. All of them supply premium formula milk brands. However, certain companies, notably Dumex and Nestle, also sell non-premium ranges. Dumex’s line of premium formula milk is Mamil Gold, whereas its non-premium line consists of Dupro and Dugro. A count of products on the shelves points to a lack of choice – parents can’t pick non-premium formula milk because it’s not available.

 

Table 1: Premium and non-premium formula milk brands (SKUs) in four supermarkets. An SKU is a distinct product on the shelf (different brand, package size, stage, etc)

 

Table 2: Types of premium formula milk brands (SKUs) in four supermarkets

A breakdown of the premium formula milk brands sold in these supermarkets indicates that Similac, a brand under Abbott, is the most widely available premium formula milk. The brand was recently called out for misleading advertising. The acronym “IQ”, which is plastered on its formula milk tins, stands for “intestinal quality” instead of the conventional “intelligence quotient”. Such misleading advertising fuels demand for a product based on the assumption that it enhances desired attributes in infants.

Fairprice and Cold Storage are also looking to bring in new formula milk brands to expand alternative sourcing options. Fairprice will have new formula milk brands by the end of next month, the Straits Times reported (May 22). The chain hopes to bring in its house brand as well in the future. FairPrice chief executive Seah Kian Peng acknowledged the spike in prices and is determined to “alleviate some of the costs” with the FairPrice FairMily Kit, which was announced on Saturday (May 21). The kit includes formula milk for infants above six months old.

Formula milk sold at Sheng Siong supermarket (Commonwealth)

In February this year, a $1.5 million scheme called the NTUC FairPrice Foundation-CDC Milk Fund was also launched to help low-income families. Under the scheme, families will receive milk fund vouchers, which can be used for any brand of formula milk at FairPrice supermarkets. The vouchers will expire on Aug 31 next year, after which the scheme will be reviewed. Mr Seah said that the fund will likely be a long-term fixture.

Despite alleviating the costs of formula milk, the fund fails to address the issue of the lack of choices available to buyers. Furthermore, families that do not qualify for the fund will have to continue purchasing premium formula milk brands for an indefinite time as these brands dominate the shelves of supermarkets.

 

Why are prices increasing?

The main factors behind the price hike, says the CCS, are the heavy investment in marketing and research and development (R&D) by manufacturers to build a premium brand image. 

Manufacturers continually add new ingredients to formula milk and claim that they enhance desired attributes in infants, such as mental development. Parents buy into this tactic despite the Ministry of Health (MOH), Health Promotion Board (HPB), and the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) stating that these nutritional claims have weak scientific evidence.

Aggressive marketing tactics in the form of advertising and sponsorships with private hospitals accompany this R&D. Nutritional claims and aspirational outcomes plastered on tins of formula milk sway parents into buying formula milk that is positioned as “premium”. Manufacturers provide sponsorships to private hospitals to ensure that their brands stay as the default formula for a longer time under the milk rotation programme, which provides first-mover advantage as parents usually stick to the formula milk that was given to their baby at hospitals.

However, some private hospitals have taken a different approach by signing up for the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI). BFHI-certified hospitals must implement practices that promote and protect breastfeeding. Currently there are no BFHI private hospitals but Mount Alvernia Hospital, Raffles Hospital and Thomson Medical Centre say they are working towards achieving the certification.

 

What does the G have to say about this?

AVA has responded to CCS’ recommendations by broadly implementing three measures: adjusting regulations on advertising and import of formula milk, strengthening public education efforts, and encouraging hospitals to provide stronger support for breastfeeding.

The first measure involves the Sale of Infant Foods Ethics Committee, Singapore (SIFECS) extending its coverage of Code of Ethics to infants up to 12 months of age instead of six months. The code currently restricts advertising of formula milk for infants below six months only. AVA will also impose stricter regulations on formula milk labelling to prohibit the use of idealised images through nutritional claims.

HPB will be strengthening public education efforts through a multi-year campaign on children’s nutritional needs. The campaign will be up and running by the end of May 2017.

 

More help given to parents

With the extensive requirements put in place, it’s hard to expand the range of milk brands in Singapore. For example, there are import documentation requirements that are challenging for parallel importers to comply with because only labels in English are allowed. Importers must also submit documentation from the manufacturers they are obtaining their supplies from in order to import these supplies.

Hence, AVA is reviewing formula milk import regulations and streamlining import requirements to ensure that more milk options are readily available. Senior Minister of State and Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon said (May 8) that the G will ensure the removal of unnecessary barriers to entry to provide more options.

But at the end of the day, the heart wants what it wants. Premiumisation strategies work because parents are easy targets that are susceptible to marketing. The formula milk industry recognises this and has built itself on this foundation. On top of that, with an abundance of premium formula milk here, no one wants to be the odd one out and buy anything remotely different, even if one can barely afford it.

 

Featured image by Deanna Nabilah.

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by Lim Qiu Ping

“DONBURI” simply means the bowl. As a food item, it refers to a bowl of Japanese short-grain rice topped with certain ingredients. It could be fried cutlets of different meats, cooked or raw seafood, or curry, just to name a few. There are different categories of donburi depending on the ingredient resting on the rice.

Though the donburi is not unknown in Singapore, the spotlight has shone more on the ramen or sushi. But there is an increased appreciation of this Japanese rice bowl dish in recent years, towards specific types of donburi:

 

1. Current rage in town – the ten-don

Ten-don is a Japanese compound of two words – the “tempura” and “donburi”. The bowl of rice is topped with tempura, which is deep-fried battered vegetables or seafood. This particular type of donburi has been on the radar of Japanese food enthusiasts since the first ten-don specialty restaurant, Ten-don Ginza Itsuki, opened at Tanjong Pagar in July 2015.

Ten-don Ginza Itsuki

Image from Facebook user Foodogenic by nanatang.

There are only two offerings available at Ten-don Ginza Itsuki – the Special Ten-don and Vegetable Ten-don. The Special Ten-don (at $13.90) consists of two tempura prawns, an assortment of tempura vegetables, slices of tempura chicken meat and a tempura egg on top of the rice. The Vegetable Ten-don (at $12.90), on the other hand, has only vegetable tempura on rice.

Tempura ingredients are fried separately, according to the temperature optimal to cook them into fresh, crispiness without being excessively oily. In addition, the ten-don here is served in beautiful bowls made by the 400-year old Arita porcelain brand.

Near to two years after its opening, customers are still queuing up for a taste. Lines could be formed within 30 minutes of its 11.30am opening time and definitely during lunch and dinner hours.    

Ten-don Kohaku

Image from Facebook user Ong KiAn YEe.

Ten-don Kohaku, also a ten-don specialty restaurant, entered the scene in June 2016 to a similar welcome at Suntec City. It sells Edomae ten-don, or ten-don in the Edo-era style – a category of Japanese cuisine which is known to be heavier in taste.

The menu is simple, with items differentiated by the one with meat or without; drizzled with the original sauce or spicy. While the Kohaku Ten-don and its spicy version cost $15, the Vegetable Ten-don and its spicy version are a dollar cheaper.

For the tempura, ingredients included crab stick, squid, shrimp and chicken breast and an assortment of vegetables, such as pumpkin, long beans and mushroom, cooked in oil blended with sesame oil for an extra fragrance. The fluffy rice, which is of Nanatsuboshi variety, is imported from Hokkaido

The Suntec establishment has been so popular, another branch opened at Boat Quay in December of the same year. Queues at either locations could last more than an hour.

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Don Meijin

Image from Lim Qiu Ping

Don Meijin, the newest addition to the Ramen Champion foodcourt at the 4th floor of Bugis+ since February this year, has cooked up a local kick to the ten-don: the Spicy Chilli Crab ten-don.

The regular ten-don (priced at $13.80) has tempura featuring black tiger prawns, seasonal fish fillet, asparagus, pumpkin, eggplant and the kakiage, which is made of mixed vegetable strips. The aromatic bed of rice, specially imported from Hokkaido, is cooked to al dente consistency. Then, to create the Spicy Chilli Crab ten-don, a Japanised spicy chilli crab sauce – prepared for more than four hours using fresh chicken broth, chunks of snow crab, mirin and Japanese soy sauce – is poured over the tempura. This particular ten-don costs $14.80.

Don Meijin boasts of being the first ten-don shop to introduce the Ochazuke method of enjoying the ten-don. With a top-up of $2, the customer is given some wasabi, rice crisps and a pot of dashi soup. Mix them into the remaining rice and tempura pieces of a half-eaten ten-don to enjoy the rest of the dish as rice soup. This is how it’s done in Japan, apparently!

 

2. The craze for raw fish on rice – the chirashi-don, bara chirashi-don and kaisen-don

Chirashi means “to scatter”. So, expect to see in chirashi-don a colourful and artistic “scatter” of sashimi, or slices of various raw fish, on top of vinegary sushi rice. It is said that chirashi-don began as a dish meant to utilise leftover fish parts after the best portions have been used for sashimi platters or making sushi.

The bara chirashi-don is supposed to be the humbler variation of chirashi-don but has come into its own nowadays; just as fancy and happily, less pricey. As opposed to thick slices of sashimi, blocks of fish and other ingredients (usually cooked or marinated) are laden on the sushi rice.

By 2015, comparison of the most affordable, or value-for-money chirashi-don and bara chirashi-don was rife in Singapore with Japanese food enthusiasts looking for joints selling chirashi-don below $30 and bara chirashi-don below $20.

The Sushi Bar

The Sushi Bar, specifically its branch at Far East Plaza, makes their chirashi-don with slices of salmon, yellowtail, tuna, swordfish, scallops and Japanese-styled rolled omelette; a piece of blowtorched salmon belly; and salmon roe attractively spread on top of sushi rice. This is the normal bowl priced at $24.90. A basic bowl without the scallop or salmon belly is cheaper at $19.90 while the premium one is priced seasonally.

Sushiro

Image from Facebook user Sushiro Singapore.

A bara chirashi-don from Sushiro, a sushi bar opened in late November 2015 at the basement of Thomson Plaza, allows one to enjoy a heap of chunky raw salmon, tuna, octopus, prawn and salmon roe on top of sushi rice. The serving is well-made, generous and more noteworthy for its price, as Sushiro’s bara chirashi-don is said to be the cheapest around at $12.80.

Teppei Japanese Restaurant and Teppei Syudoku

Image from Facebook user HappyYummy.

Teppei’s bara chirashi-don must be mentioned at this point, having been credited as the brand which ushered in the fervour for the raw fish donburi since its first takeaway outlet opened at Takashimaya in September 2014. It’s donburi is a variant of the bara chirashi-don, called the kaisen-don. The difference is in the bed of Japanese rice prepared without vinegar. Teppei lightly treated its sweet Niigata rice grains with a savoury house sauce instead.

Its kaisen-don boasts a marinated pile of raw salmon, tuna and white fish chunks, with a sprinkling of salmon roe, daikon sprout and bits of tempura batter. There is even a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) version, sold at its Ion Orchard takeaway outlet, where customers can choose what goes into the kaisen-don: two, four or five choices of seafood to go on top of the rice. Options consist of salmon, tuna, swordfish and yellowtail, whelk, baby scallop, octopus and squid.

The Teppei brand has its flagship restaurant at Orchid Hotel in Tanjong Pagar, where the kaisen-don is sold for $17.60. At its takeaway outlets, named Teppei Syokudo, the kaisen-don goes for $16. And depending on the number of seafood chosen, the DIY kaisen-don can cost $8.50, $15.80 or $19.80.

 

3. The next donburi rush – unatama-don?

Image from Facebook user Gnninethree.

Man Man Japanese Unagi Restaurant, part of the Teppei chain, only opened last October. Already, customers are willing to stand in line for more than two hours to eat at this unagi specialty restaurant in Chinatown, along Keong Saik Road.

As the term “unatama-don” indicates, it is a type of donburi served with “unagi” and “tamagoyaki” – freshwater eel and Japanese-styled rolled omelette – placed on top of rice. Live eels are imported from the Mikawa Isshiki region, which means the unagi is prepared on the spot by cutting, deboning and then grilling the eel flesh with a sweet and salty soy-based marinate called tare. The spongy slabs of tamagoyaki, with its lighter flavour, contrast well against the savouriness of the unagi.

A small unatama-don costs $18.60 while a medium and large bowl set the customer back $25.80 and $32.80 respectively.

Note that all prices given come without additional charges and tax.

 

Featured image by Pixabay user Sharonang. (CC0 1.0)

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BECOMING a financial consultant opens a world of opportunities, and the options can be overwhelming. There are many financial advisory firms in Singapore with distinct cultures and philosophies. If you’re just starting out, or looking for a change, here are some considerations you should take into account:

Critical things to look for in a good financial advisory firm to work with

Whether a financial advisory firm is “good” depends just as much on your own aptitude and inclinations. Find what’s right for you, instead of just taking others’ opinions at face value. Here are key things to look for in your search for a potential financial advisory firm to work with:

  1. They should not come between you and the best interests of your clients
  2. Good career progression prospects
  3. Holistic benefits and growth opportunities – look beyond just a pay cheque
  4. Provides the right working culture and support you need
  5. Provides mentorship and guidance

If any of these five points resonate with you, perhaps it’s time to think about what Manulife FA has to offer you.

 

1. The financial advisory firm should not come between you and the best interests of your clients

A good financial advisory firm will never push you to sell financial products that don’t fit your client’s profile. They will always respect your decision to place your client first, so there’s no conflict of interest.

Manulife FA has a team of financial consultants who are always taught to find the best policies for their clients. Contrary to popular belief, Manulife FA financial consultants do not just advise on Manulife products – they will even recommend policies from other insurers (such as Aviva, Tokio Marine, NTUC Income, China Life and Swiss Life) if they offer a better fit with their clients’ needs.  Manulife FA also works with a range of other partners’ platforms such as iFast, FAME and Navigator.

With the flexibility of various product offerings and a range of available platforms, Manulife FA’s financial consultants are able to truly put their clients’ needs first, instead of being pressured to advance sales of products by a particular insurer. You can speak to Manulife FA directly for details on how their multi-insurer and multi-product model works.

 

2. Your financial advisory firm should provide good career progression prospects

A good financial advisory firm to work for is one that shows good career progression prospects. You should also feel empowered to step out of your comfort zone, enabling you to grow professionally and demonstrating qualities you may have, such as leadership potential. Following the same routine day-in and day-out can stifle your career development due to the lack of exposure in other areas.

For example, a good financial advisory firm will clearly communicate the different career stages that lie ahead in your professional journey. They will be upfront and candid when assessing your strengths, while ensuring that you’re aware of your blind spots or weaker abilities. Feedback from your bosses and peers should be constructive, empowering you to better yourself.  Regardless of what your ‘end game’ might be – from providing better solutions to your clients, to becoming your own branch director– you will need a good financial advisory firm that will reward your hard work and recognise your talents for what they’re worth. You should feel empowered to get to where you want to be.

 

3. Holistic benefits and growth opportunities – look for benefits beyond just a pay cheque

It’s important to see the bigger picture: the right financial advisory firm will allow you to achieve your full growth potential by providing you with the right opportunities. While commissions may seem attractive, these might not be sustainable in the long run or be subject to cuts. Good financial advisory firms should take longer-term considerations into account, such as ways to derive recurring income, so as to future-proof their financial consultants’ needs.

A diversified product mix also ensures that you won’t have to face the conundrum of only having a fixed number or type of products to sell, since there will always be alternatives you can rely on to find the best-fit product for your clients’ needs.

Providing training budgets and allocating the necessary resources to ensure you’re adequately equipped to help your clients reach their financial goals are also important.

 

4. Find a financial advisory firm that provides the right working culture and support you need

While there is no “correct” working culture or environment, it’s important to find a culture that fits you well. With 17 different branches among its group of over 600 financial consultants, Manulife FA offers a wide range of options – chances are you’ll be more likely to find a branch whose values and ideals coincide with yours.

Having the right support and sufficient resources are also important. Having a reliable and trustworthy partner for support provides assurance that your financial advisory firm has fundamentally secure backing, instead of being a random ‘fly-by-night’ operation. As part of its unique operating model, Manulife FA enjoys the corporate support of Manulife Singapore. As a large financial institution that has been in Singapore since 1980, Manulife Singapore is a key player in the local life insurance industry. Manulife FA’s financial consultants can therefore tap onto resources and support from Manulife Singapore, which otherwise wouldn’t be available at other financial advisory firms. Such support only goes to show how much importance Manulife FA places on empowering its financial consultants to provide the best possible client solutions and experience.

 

5. The financial advisory firm should provide mentorship and guidance

Most insurers will place new financial consultants under mentorship; this is quite routine and expected. However, here’s an important thing to remember about mentors:

Effective mentors are not just people who teach. They are people in whose presence you can learn.

It’s possible that the methods used by some mentorship programmes will not work for you. For example, some mentorships will have you start learning by ‘classroom-based’ learning: getting a theory-based basic understanding of what you’re meant to do, before gaining more practical exposure.

Other mentorships may be more focused on practical experience; you may be told to go out and talk to people first, and receive pointers on how to improve only afterward.

None of these methods are objectively “more correct” than another. But you need to ensure that the methods are working for you, and you’re in a financial advisory firm which actually teaches you what you need to know.

Sometimes it may take a bit of searching to find the right fit and what works for you – that’s perfectly normal. With 17 different branches under its wing, Manulife FA would be a good place to start your search.

 

This is an editorial series done in partnership with Manulife Financial Advisers.

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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Someone using the Uber app while a taxi passes by

by Sharanya Pillai

PRIVATE-HIRE cars are now the rage on Singapore’s roads. Thanks to the likes of Uber and Grab, the number of chauffeur-driven private cars in Singapore is at an all-time high of over 40,000, The Straits Times reported yesterday (May 24). This is a 70-fold increase from 2013, when the ride-hailing disruptors first entered the scene. 

The taxi industry is facing stiff competition, given that the number of private-hire cars is now 1.5 times the number of taxis. The bulk of the increase comes from passenger cars that are converted into commercial ones via Grab and Uber. We look at the ways anyone can ride a car now:

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1. Economy and luxury cars

Ride-hailing apps Grab and Uber offer private rides on different price levels. Uber comes with the choice of UberX, regular economy cars, or UberExec, which offers models such as the Audi A3 and BMW 3-Series.

Similarly, GrabCar has two price ranges: Economy and Premium. For an extra $2, you can also hire a GrabFamily car, that comes with a booster seat for a child.

Both companies also offer SUVs that can seat up to six people.

2. Pool for a lower price

Sharing a ride isn’t just in vogue for late-night TV hosts, but also for budget-conscious customers. Uber rolled out the ride-sharing service UberPool last June, which matches passengers travelling along the same route, for a cheaper fare. Last year, one in every three UberX rides was pooled.

Not to be outdone by its rival, Grab launched a similar service, GrabShare, in December. One difference is that Grab only allows for two bookings to be pooled – minimising interruptions to the journey.

3. Get social with strangers

Grab’s social carpooling service GrabHitch lets customers share the ride with drivers heading to the same destination. Unlike the other services, GrabHitch is marketed as a “social” platform to meet new people, where customers are encouraged to take the front seat and talk to the drivers – not really for those who might prefer a quiet ride.

Another carpooling startup, RYDE, also markets itself as a social platform. Like GrabHitch, RYDE customers can choose their drivers, and the fee is determined based on distance. Prices are generally cheaper than regular taxis.

4. Getting the best deal

With the expanding number of choices, it can become difficult to determine which might be the most affordable or value-for-money option. British startup Karhoo was poised to help with that, by offering a ride-booking app that compares prices across all the competitors – but its Singapore office abruptly halted operations last year. For now, it seems like math skills and reading online reviews might be the best way for the budget-conscious.

With all the excitement over the disruption, it may seem like ride-hailing apps are the new royalty on the roads, it doesn’t seem like the traditional taxis are going away anytime soon. In its bid to take over SMRT’s taxi business, Grab faces obstacles in the form of concerns over the jobs of taxi drivers.

The ride-hailing apps may also need to rejig their business models to ensure stability, according to experts interviewed by The Straits Times. While Uber and Grab have tried to “out-discount” each other, offering promotions into the long-term is unsustainable, the experts said. Notably, Uber has been bleeding money at an alarming rate – which raises the question of whether the private car model is truly a profitable model.

But for now, as the incumbents and disruptors compete to dominate the roads, it looks like consumers can continue to benefit from the sweet deals arising.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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AN ADVERTORIAL

WHAT has technology really done to the dating scene?

Sure, it has helped singles reach out to a wider pool of potentials and given shy individuals a way to step out of their shells. A new set of challenges has arisen with the advent of online dating however.

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We spoke to the founder of Lunch Actually, Singapore’s largest and possibly oldest dating agency in Singapore, Ms Violet Lim, about the difficulties arising from the era of technology dating. One issue she pointed out was the sheer number of matches that dating apps provide singles with – so much so that dates don’t become special anymore.

Ms Violet Lim, CEO of Lunch Actually Group

Said the mother of two, “Because of the abundance of matches, singles nowadays do not value dates anymore and don’t feel the sense of urgency. They talk to multiple people at one time and arrange for dates with different people, it’s easy to lose interest and take the matches for granted.”

Technology has also resulted on “mini dates” through online chats such as WhatsApp. The problem with conversing online however, is that you can’t tell how a match is really like, and that might cause you to write him or her off prematurely if they appear boring or if they say something wrong, said Ms Lim.

Here are some other interesting insights into the largest dating agency in Singapore, which celebrates its 13th year in business this year.

1. How has the dating scene evolved these past 13 years?

Ms Lim: When we first started 13 years ago, there was a huge stigma attached to dating services. Many people had the impression that only “losers” – people who are not able to find someone on their own would go for such service. However, in the last decade, the perception has changed. In fact, some of my friends who used to be skeptical about dating services are now introducing their siblings or friends to join our service.

Over the years, it is evident that dating services serve a need for many singles out there. We are living in an era where people are used to outsourcing many aspects of their lives. For instance, when we are going on a holiday, we look for a travel agency; when we are looking for a job, we turn to a recruitment agency. It’s the same for many singles who are looking to find love. Rather than waiting for friends to introduce potential partners to them, many of them are now turning to a professional dating agency like Lunch Actually.

2. What are your most insightful observations about the dating scene in Singapore?

Ms Lim: WhatsApp has replaced phone calls as the most used communication tool between singles. While WhatsApp may be accessible and convenient, many singles have shared that it could also be a source of miscommunication, confusion and frustration. Unlike phone calls where you can hear the person’s voice and tonality, instant messaging apps are one-dimensional, and often one single sentence might mean A to the sender, but might be interpreted as B by the recipient. WhatsApp conversations could also be filters or “mini dates”. If one says something “wrong” or come across as “boring”, this could result in the single being “ghosted” or a planned date being cancelled or postponed indefinitely.

After each date that we arrange for our clients, we would ask them for their feedback and also if they were planning to go on a second date. For clients who say that they were not going on a second date with their match, when asked why, the reason is often – “no chemistry”. Many singles expect instant chemistry on the first date; many are looking for love at first sight. However, from what we have observed from our successful couples, it is often NOT love at first sight.

They had a good impression of each other, and continued to see each other for a second, third, fourth date. And from there, love blossoms. We always tell our clients to keep an open mind and have a positive attitude when going on first and subsequent dates. Rather than using the yardstick of how much you like the person to measure whether to go on a second date, we advise them to use the yardstick of whether you dislike the person. If you do not dislike the person, give the other person a chance. You are actually giving yourself a chance as well.

With the advance in technology and the number of mobile apps flooding the market, it has never been easier to meet other singles. At the same time, mobile dating apps also present a new set of challenges.

Because of the abundance of matches, dates are now seen as commodities. Compared to the past where each and every date is seen as important and precious, singles nowadays do not value dates as much. They are often chatting to multiple people online at any one time and are arranging simultaneous dates with different people.

Thus, it is easy to pick and choose, lose interest and take the matches for granted. Hence, the focus of all our services is to bring singles offline as quickly as possible. Like what one single has asked me, how do you know if someone is also dating others on the side? Well, the truth is, you will never know for sure. It is so easy to be messaging multiple people at the same time. However, he or she can only be seeing one person offline at any one time.

If the person is willing to invest most of his or her offline time with you, chances are, he or she is serious about you.

3. What are your most surprising revelations about the dating scene in Singapore?

Ms Lim: A survey we conducted last year with over 700 singles in Singapore revealed that while technology has helped singles to expand their social circle easily, it has also made dating more complicated. A total of 38 per cent of women, who are dating men they met from online dating platforms or dating apps, are unsure if the men are still dating other people. On the other hand, 36 per cent of men admitted to losing interest easily even before meeting the ladies after talking to them online. Therefore, they are not even giving their online match a chance to develop their connection offline.

Additionally, in relation to the increasing usage of mobile dating apps, many singles tend to misrepresent themselves in online dating as there is no verification that they are really who they say they are. This is echoed by the results of the Annual Dating Survey that we conducted with 2,000 singles in Southeast Asia late last year. When asked “Have you spent a long time chatting with someone online, only to be disappointed when you met the person in real life”, 60 per cent of women responded in the affirmative. Echoing the same sentiment, an overwhelming majority of 84 per cent of women felt that chemistry when chatting with a match online could not translate into the same chemistry when eventually meeting up offline. Lastly, 37 per cent of women also indicated that they felt that their online matches misrepresent themselves “all the time” or “most of the time”.

4. How has dating apps such as Tinder, CMB, Happn, Paktor, etc., affected Lunch Actually?

Ms Lim: And at the end of the day, there will always be new trends and new entrants to the market. I do not see the apps as competition, but as opportunities for us to also evolve and keep innovating. When we first launched esync (our online-offline dating platform), people in our team asked us why. With its lower price point, photos and so on, wouldn’t that be bad for us? Similarly with LunchClick, people feel the same way. LunchClick is free. However, at the end of the day, it educates people to outsource their dating life.

Having said that, I don’t think that the need for personal touch will diminish, as there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution for singles. I think there will always be a need for different business models. Everyone is different and each single has different preferences. Some enjoy the convenience of a dating app where they can do everything within the app itself, but some would still prefer a personal service where they can interact with the dating consultant and enjoy the luxury of not having to do anything besides going on the date and meeting their match.

5. What have been your most memorable experiences?

Ms Lim: Probably when we signed up our first ever client. The first person who actually came to our office for a consultation was a friend of a friend after we spread the word around about what we do and our friends were also sharing about us to their single friends. That’s mainly how we got our earlier leads. So we did many role plays before that, and when the client actually came, the consultation took much longer than it usually does, and ultimately, the client said “Yes, I’ll sign up”.

Everybody was very excited and happy because that point was when it stopped becoming just a concept but something that is real, which someone was willing to put down money on.

Our most memorable set up was our first couple who got engaged.

Chris is a lawyer. When we first matched her up with Ben, she was furious. She didn’t understand why we would match her up with Ben, who is an entertainer (he does juggling, unicycling, etc.) As we had met up with both of them, we realised that they are very compatible, have many similar values as well as share a similar sense of humour. Furthermore, Ben is actually very well-educated, having a Masters from Oxford.

After much persuasion from our dating consultants, Chris reluctantly went on the date. In their own words, they got on like “house and fire”, and they got engaged within three months, and married within one year. They now are the proud parents of two beautiful daughters. We are very proud of this match as both of them would probably not have crossed paths if they had not met at Lunch Actually. And to cynics out there who might say that dating services take the romance out of dating, take it from Ben: “Love is love, no matter if you have met at a bus stop, a bar or a dating service!

6. Can you share any upcoming plans for Lunch Actually?

Ms Lim: We would like to expand into more markets in the region as well as offer more services to reach out to more singles. We would also continue to build on our positive company culture to grow and develop our Cupids and Transformers as we work together to hit our BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) of creating one million happy marriages!

7. Any advice for singles who are looking for love?

Ms Lim: Yes, of course!

Like everything in life, it’s all about the mindset. Are you open to meeting the right one, are you telling yourself every day that all the good men or good women are taken? If you do not believe that you can actually meet him or her, chances are you won’t.

Create opportunities and platforms to meet new people. Dating is a numbers game. If you are not even meeting 10 single men or women a year, what are the chances you will actually meet the one?

Love at first sight usually happens at the movies. After the first date, if you did not experience fireworks and instant chemistry, know that most married couples did not experience that when they first met their soulmate. Go on a second and a third date to get to know each other better. Give your date a chance, give yourself a chance. Give love a chance.

 

This advertorial is brought to you by Lunch Actually.

 Featured image from TMG file.

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