Welcome to WorkingWithGrace! :)

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Hi! I’m Grace. Welcome to my blog, WorkingWithGrace. :) I have interviewed a number of inspiring people for my blog, many of whom are celebrities, millionaires and entrepreneurs. Here’s one of them…

Meet Peter Buffett, son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett. Peter was one of my former interviewees, and here’s a quick clip for those who have never met him before:

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Since 2013, this blog has received awards and recognition from many brands. I’ve been blessed with awards such as these ones:

2013 Best Individual Blog WINNER at the annual Singapore Blog Awards
2013 Aries Gold Watches’ Blogger Contest WINNER
2013 Zespri Blogger Challenge WINNER
2013 StarHub Blogger Challenge WINNER
2014 BRANDS’ Blogger Challenge WINNER
2014 Influr Blogger Challenge WINNER
2014 rolleyes x Panasonic Blogger Challenge WINNER
2015 SingSaver Blogger Contest WINNER

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I’ve been blogging since 2010, and I’m currently putting together a list of my best blogposts from these 5+ years of blogging. In the meantime, here are two of my favorite posts published in January 2016:

#1: Volunteering at a Cambodian Orphanage

Cute Cambodian boy

#2: 4 Tips For Learning Bahasa Indonesia FAST

 traditional javanese wedding

Continue scrolling to read more of my latest blogposts! :D

Diamond Dash 2016: Vertical Challenge To Win Diamonds and Staycations

Diamond Dash 2016

Couple Planking

When I first heard about this vertical challenge called the Diamond Dash, I thought it’s a really cool idea! I love how I don’t have to be part of the fastest couple team but can still win a diamond in the lucky draw. :D Needless to say, I’ve signed up. And here’s why you should too… even if you are single (because there’s a Singles category too)…

Here are my 5 reasons why you should sign up for Diamond Dash:

1) Awesome Prizes: Diamonds and Staycations up for grabs

Need I say more? Which other race gives you a chance to win such prizes? :D

Diamond Dash Prize

2) Cool Race Entitlements

You’ll receive an exclusive race t-shirt, active tights shorts, a tote bag, a finisher medal, a race belt for personal belongings, race bib (competitive category with timing chip), and more.

Diamond Dash Entitlements

3) Bonding Time For Couples (M/F, M/M, F/F)

There will be a lucky draw to award a 1.50 carat Diamond in an 18k white gold ring setting from Ilya Diamonds (worth $20,000) to one lucky couple in the Couples Category. A 2D1N Klapsons staycation prize will also be given to the best dressed couple.

Diamond Dash Couples Category

You can sign up as a Male/Female couple, or a Male/Male or Female/Female couple. *wink* You’ll race on Day Two (8th May, Sunday).

4) Meet Other Singles Who Are Ready To Mingle

Those who sign up for the Singles category will race on Day One (7th May, Saturday), and there will also be a fun get together session for the participants to mingle.

The fastest male and female individual dasher will also receive a 0.80 carat Diamond Pendant (worth $8,000). A 2D1N Klapsons staycation prize will be awarded to the best dressed individual.

Diamond Dash Singles Category

5) Held Over Two Days, With Affordable Fees

Early bird rates are at S$29.50 per pax, while normal rates are at S$39.50 per pax. Sign up before Valentine’s Day! :) Compared to many other races in Singapore, the fees are really very reasonable. And considering how you’ll get a tshirt, active tights shorts, a tote bag, a race belt, etc, I’d say the fees are pretty low, don’t you think?

Diamond Dash Stairs

Go on… you know you want to sign up: http://www.diamonddash.sg/

Book Review: Five Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer

Five Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer

I think that people who are given the opportunity to say their goodbyes are indeed blessed. Too often, people are taken away from their families in an unexpected instant – an accident on the roads, a natural disaster, a sudden medical emergency.

In this book ‘Five Days Left’, you’ll read about the lives of Mara who is a successful lawyer, and Scott who helps foster an eight-year-old child during the year his mother is in jail. By the end of the book, a 404-page tome which took Julie Lawson Timmer two years to write, one family gets a happy ending, while the other gets a sorrowful one. Read the book to find out the details. I’m trying hard not to include spoilers here. :D

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Mara has the rug pulled out from under her when she has to give up her lucrative and demanding law practice because of Huntington’s Disease. HD is a genetic brain disorder that leads to uncontrolled movements, loss of cognition, etc. And in just one book, the author has given me an invaluable insight into the life of a sufferer of HD, and an understanding of how it affects the people around the patient.

From commanding respect in a courtroom to embarrassing her kid in school, Maya was certainly a hapless victim to “this terrorist of a disease”. At the ripe old age of 42, she had to buy adult diapers for herself in a sneaky fashion – trying to avoid detection by other people in the store, and hiding the diaper packets under other merchandise in her shopping basket, just like how some young men try to hide condoms under newspapers before sheepishly heading to the cashier! It would actually be funny if it weren’t so sad!

The reason she had to buy adult diapers is because she actually peed in her pants while at a grocery store, and was utterly mortified by the reaction of a kid who spotted this weird lady who did not make it in time to the bathroom. The kid’s mom sympathetically gave her paper towels to wipe up the mess but it was of little help. This part of the story reminds me of what the Singaporean Of The Year, Noriza A. Mansor, did to help the elderly man who had soiled himself while grocery-shopping at a supermarket in Toa Payoh.

And from that point onwards, it’d be downhill for Mara. She’d also have to grapple with thoughts of Tom with another woman (after she dies), what would happen to her (adopted) daughter, etc. At one point, she actually voiced out her thoughts to Tom:

“I know how much better off Laks would be with me in an urn on the mantel, rather than as an object of ridicule in the school hallways. I know how much better life would be for you with me out of the way, and room for some young, healthy bombshell to sweep in and take my place. Someone you can look at with pride rather than pity.”

I think the author has done a brilliant job in highlighting the struggles Mara goes through in deciding whether or not she should take her own life, and also, if she does want to commit suicide, when and how she should do it. Would it eventually still be vodka, sleeping pills and carbon monoxide? Read this book to find out!

As for Scott, Curtis’ entrance into his life was set to change it forever. Curtis’ mother, a drug addict, had to serve time for drug possession, and Scott and his wife took Curtis in for the year that she was in jail. The couple had been trying to have a kid for 3 years, and spent a lot of money on IVF, but to no avail. Eventually, Curtis’ lousy mother gets out of jail, and wants to take Curtis home way before the agreed-upon date, claiming she misses her son. Scott is devastated. What happens in the end? You’ll have to get a copy of this book to know. :)

Meanwhile, one thing about parenting struck me. No matter how lousy some parents are, the State should in no way interfere. “The state has no right to require perfection from parents.” Yes, some parents will sell their children’s belongings in order to get money to fuel their drug habit, some won’t bother with packing their lunchboxes or ensuring they have enough money for food, and yet more others won’t care that their children share their beds with cockroaches. But the State cannot, and should not, take children away from their biological parents. Hmm.

About ‘Last Meals’

“When you are actually going to have your last meal, you’ll either be too sick to have it or you aren’t gonna know it’s your last meal and you could squander it on something like a tuna melt and that would be ironic. So it’s important… I feel it’s important to have that last meal today, tomorrow, soon.” – a quote in the book that is attributed to Nora Ephron.

Wow. I’d consider it a privilege to be able to plan my own last meal.

I think it would be a blessing to be able to say goodbye, in the company of loving friends and family, without too much pain or struggle, and certainly with smiles through the tears. And hopefully, without the gnawing thought that there’s just five days left. Good book. Go read it.

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‘Five Days Left’ is available in bookstores, at S$21.45 before GST. :)

January 2016: Over 130,000 PageViews, Upcoming Blogging Workshops

January 2016 stats

Let’s just say that 2016 has gotten off to a really good start for me. :) The start and end of each year is usually VERY quiet, blogging-wise. I usually take off for the holidays and so do many other people. But I guess it’s true that when you do good, you do well. In Dec/Jan, I went for more volunteer trips, and also put in more effort in blogging about my adventures, and the stats are very encouraging. I don’t usually get 6-figures (not $$$, but traffic) but in January 2016, this blog received 134,457 hits! I did not make the news, got no media attention whatsoever, but with good ol’ hard work and grit, I’m pretty pleased with the results.

And best of all, I’ve had the opportunity to continue coaching and teaching interested individuals regarding the art of Blogging, and sharing with them my passion for writing and meeting inspiring individuals. :)

Here’s Fauzi, who met me for one coaching session, and whom I’ve kept in touch with ever since. He says that it was “time and money well spent” and I think that’s the highest compliment I can receive as a blog coach. And note how he mentioned time first. Time, to me, is more important that money, because you can lose (and earn back) money, but there’s no retrieving time.

Blog Coaching Testimonial

And the coaching never stops after the class. I do still catch up with Fauzi and find out how he’s progressing. I even took time off to help him out (as his “assistant”) during an interview with Josephus Tan, a lawyer, and also to meet Chew Chor Meng, whom Fauzi wants to interview for his podcast series on people who ‘bounce back’ after encountering obstacles and ‘failure’.

Me Fauzi and Chew Chor Meng

Blogger Grace Tan meets Josephus Tan

I don’t charge thousands of dollars for any of my classes and coaching sessions, but my aim is to deliver thousands of dollars in value to my students, whom I consider my friends too. But let me be clear that not every one of them will automatically become a friend of mine if we have a clash in values. For instance, I value punctuality. So people who turn up late for my classes are blacklisted for eternity. Likewise, I value hard work and creativity, so people who just want me to constantly spoonfeed them with my ideas, instead of bothering to come up with their own (preferring to watch TV and eat ice cream instead), will never become close friends of mine. If you’re a decent person who is willing to work hard, loves to write and share ideas, and wants to learn more about Blogging, then do get in touch with me: https://workingwithgrace.wordpress.com/blogging-workshops/

And now a shameless plug for Fauzi’s upcoming podcast launch: On 28th March, which happens to be next month, Fauzi will be launching a series of podcast interviews he has done with very inspiring individuals. I sat in for the one with lawyer, Josephus Tan, so I know that the quality of Fauzi’s podcasts is really good. I’m definitely looking forward to the 28th of March, and I’d recommend you to mark your calendars too. In the meantime, do check out Fauzi’s blog at http://reboundstronger.com/ :)

And as I tell all those who purchase my book, “Happy Blogging!”

Zakka Modern Thai at Waterway Point: Good Thai Food in Punggol

Zakka Modern Thai at Punggol Waterway Point

Punggol’s new mall, Waterway Point, has many interesting restaurants and one of them is Zakka Modern Thai. If you like Thai food, it is one restaurant you might want to visit soon. At Zakka Modern Thai, I discovered some very tasty dishes that I want to recommend to all my friends. So read on… :)

Zakka Modern Thai

If you’re curious about what Zakka means, here’s what a quick Google search brings up:

Zakka meaning

At Zakka, the chefs make little improvements to original Thai recipes so as to bring authentic Thai food to the next level – modern and extraordinary, yet not “fusion” nor pretentious. In other words, they strive to make good Thai dishes taste even better to Singaporeans. I’ve heard that the head chef has been cooking Thai food for over 20 years, so I was definitely looking forward to this lunch hosted by Zakka. *Thanks so much for having me and my pals over! :D

Zakka has proven that a good recipe can still be improved upon. For instance, the watermelon salad comes with salmon instead of catfish (which is in the original recipe) because the chefs have found that salmon makes this Thai dish taste even better.

And while the chefs are given the leeway to unleash their creativity when it comes to the menu, customers also have the option of making special requests. If you don’t like your food to be very spicy, the chef can omit the chili from the salad, for example. So don’t be afraid of asking. :)

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Here are the dishes we tried:

Salmon & Watermelon Salad S$12.80

Zakka Salmon and Watermelon Salad

You’ve probably tried mango salad at many other restaurants. But this salmon and watermelon salad is a combination of sweet watermelon balls + sour-ish mango slices + crispy salmon: an interesting mix of taste and texture. I really love the addition of watermelon, which offers a refreshing respite when you’ve been eating a lot of spicy Thai food. :) So don’t polish off this appetizer too quickly! LOL.

Seafood Tom Yum Soup S$12.80

Zakka Seafood Tom Yum Soup

One great thing about Zakka is the chef’s willingness to tone down the level of spiciness – just indicate to the wait staff that you’d like a less spicy version of tom yum soup. :) This one was just right, allowing us to slurp up the soup like a pro, without setting our tongues on fire. For the price, though, it would be great if there could be more of the yummy seafood and mushrooms. :)

Zakka Wings S$8.80

Zakka Wings Waterway Point

Zakka places a lot of emphasis on wanting customers to enjoy their visit, so they go the extra mile in cutting the mid-joint chicken wings into two, so it’s easier to eat without having to struggle with getting the chicken meat out from between two bones. Very thoughtful indeed.

(Homemade) Salmon Otah S$9.80

Zakka Salmon Otah

When I saw this on the menu, I knew I just had to order it. And it did not disappoint! Actually, I can eat just this homemade salmon otah, plain rice, plus a cup of thai milk tea. It’d be a most satisfying meal already. The otah is so tasty, and the level of spiciness is just perfect. I need to order this again! :D And no, the next time round, I won’t be sharing the otah with anyone. It’s all MINE! :D

Iberico Garlic Pork S$14.80

Zakka Iberico Garlic Pork

This is deep-fried Spanish Iberico pork collar served with a Thai green chili dip. Actually the pork is awesome just on its own. And it went so well with my plate of white rice. :D If you’re like me and you’re wondering why it’s called “iberico pork” instead of just “pork”, well here’s the answer from Google: “The Ibérico pig is an indigenous species that is only found in the Iberian peninsula. The superb quality of the meat from the Ibérico pig is down to the climate, their freedom to roam outdoors and their diet.” In short, this is very yummy atas pork. Order and try ok? :)

Thai Style Braised Pork Knuckle S$14.80

Zakka Thai Style Braised Pork Knuckle

You can’t really tell how truly BIG this serving of pork knuckle is from the photo. But it’s great value for money! Make sure you order this dish if you are a fan of pork knuckle. I guarantee you won’t regret it. We shared this among the three of us! The meat is so tender and it’s quite amazing how it falls off the bone. Braised to perfection, this is. MUST order!

Salt Baked Fish S$32.80 – whole seabass

Zakka Waterway Point Salt Baked Fish

This salt baked fish can definitely feed a whole family. :) The waiter helped remove the layer of salt and the skin of the fish, and revealed well-baked (and still tender) fish, with steam still rising from it. You can either eat the flesh of the fish on its own, or wrap it up in a lettuce leaf, together with the coriander and other herbs, with a little squeeze of lime, plus the sauce. And whatever you do, DO NOT eat the layer of salt ok? LOL

Claypot Black Pepper Crayfish S$15.80

Zakka Claypot Black Pepper Crayfish

I love glass noodles with everything. Whether it’s with this black pepper crayfish or with steamboat, I simply love tang hoon. So for me this would make a very satisfying meal on its own. :)

And now… for dessert! Likely the HIGHLIGHT of our meal! :D

The Mango Sticky Rice (S$12.80) comes with two-color glutinous rice served with fresh mango and coconut ice cream with azuki beans.

Zakka Mango Sticky Rice

This is indeed Zakka – an improvement on the original mango sticky rice. You get black glutinous rice too, beside the white. And red beans with the coconut ice cream. What can I say? You definitely should order this dessert after your meal. And go ahead and share it among 2, 3 or even 4 friends. :)

As for drinks, like any decent Thai food restaurant, there’s free iced water. You can also order the juices which are all freshly squeezed. And here’s what we had:

Zakka Waterway Point

[ Chai Milk Tea Latte S$5.90, Watermelon Breeze S$8.90, Thai Iced Lemongrass S$5.90 ]

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Zakka Modern Thai comes under the same parent company that manages The French Table (also at Waterway Point). I think it might be beneficial if they do some kind of cross-promotion, such as giving diners at Zakka some vouchers to try out TFT’s food as well, and vice versa. This way, customers can enjoy the same attention to detail, the same great value for money, and the same enjoyable dining experience. I’m a fan of The French Table’s set lunch promo – check out my review here. :)

To visit Zakka Modern Thai, head to #01-29 of Waterway Point’s East Wing. Opening hours: 1130am to 10pm. Tel: 6385 8044.

*Lots of thanks to my pal, Bosco from Hearted Moments Photography, for the pictures taken of this meal. :D

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Read more of my reviews about Waterway Point:

  1. 6 Reasons Why You Should Visit Waterway Point
  2. The FREE Indoor Playground At Waterway Point: Exact Location And Opening Hours
  3. Food Review: BurgerUP
  4. Food Review: Rong Hua Bak Kut Teh
  5. Waterway Point’s Shaw Cinema: 500 Free Tickets Per Day During Open House Period
  6. A Guide to Waterway Point’s East and West Wings
  7. Food Review: The French Table
  8. 5 Best Value-For-Money Restaurants and Eateries in Waterway Point
  9. Food Review: Miam Miam
  10. Food Review: Buddy Hoagies
  11. Food Review: The Coffee House

Book Review: Bangkok SlaughterHouse by Father Joe Maier

Bangkok SlaughterHouse

I got to know about this book when the rockstar-lookalike lawyer Josephus Tan recommended it (Thank you, Josephus!) Actually the title of this book is ‘Welcome To The Bangkok Slaughterhouse – The Battle for Human Dignity in Bangkok’s Bleakest Slums’ but for simplicity’s sake, I’ll just refer to it as ‘Bangkok Slaughterhouse’ here. :) I highly recommend that you borrow a copy from the national library and have a read. Extremely insightful especially if you have an interest in Bangkok, aside from the shopping haven that it is. :D

The book is written by Father Joe Maier, a Redemptorist priest from the United States who went to Thailand in 1967 as a missionary. He has lived and worked in Bangkok’s Klong Toey slum for more than 30 years. Why “Slaughterhouse”? Because some of the residents in the slum slaughtered pigs for a living. But I do also think that some of the residents appear to be as helpless – they are caught in a downward spiral of poverty, lack of opportunity, drugs, gambling, debt, etc.

If you are able to find a copy of ‘Bangkok Slaughterhouse’ in a bookstore, do purchase it. Royalties will be donated to the Human Development Foundation charity. :)

And here’s a video clip in which you can see Father Joe and his interactions with the locals:

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To be very honest with you, I’ve become rather nauseated by the oft-reported cases of child abuse (usually of a sexual nature) in South-East Asia by white people. Of course, this doesn’t happen just in Asia. Last year, I was shocked by the reports that one of the people I had previously interviewed for this blog, Jared Fogle of Subway fame, had been sentenced to 15 years in prison after being charged for sex with minors and for receiving child pornography. (I kid you not, go do a Google search) And reading about how parents in this Bangkok slum actually get their kids to go sell trinkets in street corners, and then even their bodies to (disgusting) men is mind-blowing. These parents want the money to either fuel their drug habit or to pay off gambling debts! It’ll prompt you to think “how can this be happening?!” as you read this book.

I’m indeed thankful that there are people like Father Joe who do not exploit these people, but instead help them, and give them a leg up in society by providing access to education, food, etc.

In the foreword written by Jerry Hopkins, the author of ‘No One Here Gets Out Alive’, it is stated that “when Father Joe guided Mother Teresa around the Klong Toey slum in 1971, she said something quite simple that changed his life. She told him to stay in the slums, where the need was great.”

Late last year, I went on a volunteer trip to KL, where ASEAN youth (yes I’m still considered a ‘youth’ :P) helped feed the homeless and take part in other volunteer activities. This year, I did also go to Cambodia to visit an orphanage, bring them supplies of stationery and food, and spent some time with the children. And it pains me to read articles written by people who claim that such ‘voluntours’ (volunteer work while touring a country) are simply for self-glorifying reasons, e.g. for pictures to put on Facebook. For me, it has 3 purposes:

  1. It makes me thankful. There’s so much to complain about in Singapore, that we sometimes forget there’s so much to be thankful for too. Trips like these help me snap out of this ungrateful state.
  2. Reminds me to contribute. Often, I think that I’m only one person. What can I do? These trips show me that even when I’m going through a rough patch in my personal life, I can actually still lend a helping hand to others. And in helping others, I might sometimes be able to help myself too.
  3. Reminds me we are one big human family. There are instances when there’s absolutely nothing I can do. I remember meeting a lady when I was on a missions trip to Batam. There was a huge language barrier – I had difficulty understanding what she was saying about her husband being in prison and her having to raise a young kid on her own – but as I prayed for (and with) her, my tears just kept falling, my false eyelashes fell out, and it’s like our souls spoke when our tongues failed. I understood the depth of her sorrow and I was crying as if it was my own. It was a truly unforgettable experience.

When I read a book or attend a seminar, I ask myself if I’d learnt one thing from it. If I have, then it was worth the money, time and effort already. Likewise, I believe that if the people I meet on these volunteer trips even learn one thing or benefit in one way (e.g. have a fun afternoon of games and laughter), that’s enough. There are many kids in our part of the world who live with AIDS, and won’t live long with AIDS either. If you can even bring a little spark of joy into their lives at one point in time, I think that’s a good thing. Doing a little something is always better than doing a lot of NOTHING. And whatever you do, there will be someone who will question your motives and frown upon your actions. Do it anyway.

And know that the more times you fail, the more likely you are to encounter success.

Father Joe shared a success story in this book:

“Samlee’s story is happy in a Klong Toey way. She’s our kind of hero. Beaten up but never beaten, Samlee never (not once!) ever thought of quitting. If we hadn’t helped her, she would have found another way on her own.” As a single parent, Samlee managed to raise two children who do brilliantly well in school. Read the book to find out how she did it. :)

Also, Father Joe encourages us to help out when we see kids peddling stuff on streets – just buy a little something. With enough money, hopefully, these kids (and their parents) will be able to say ‘no’ when some crook decides to try and lure these children into his van with the promise of a lot of money and food.

I’m glad I read this book. It sure gave me a different perspective about Bangkok. It’s not just about shopping, mango sticky rice, coconut ice cream, or Chatuchak. At some point in your life, you have to stop thinking about ‘you’ and start thinking about ‘them’, about ‘us’ and how we all share the same fate actually… we’re not getting out of this life alive.

What Can We Do To Stop Foreign Worker And Helper Abuse?

We’ve seen many human rights abuse cases, like the couple who are accused of starving their maid.

And NTUC’s Migrant Worker Centre also recently conducted a raid on a dorm which had forced the workers to sleep in small spaces, share a few toilets and even padlocked them in! Is this an accurate reflection of our society? That Singaporeans are heartless, mercenary, and probably inhumane too?

https://web.facebook.com/mwcsg/posts/939173032838620

I do think the media often highlights an issue or two, then blows it out of proportion. The more attention a story gets, the more resources are diverted to covering the story. And on and on it goes till it becomes a vicious cycle of news reporting.

And before foreigners start thinking that Singaporeans starve their domestic helpers and are brutal slavedrivers, I’d like to share my own experience of meeting a domestic helper…

I am reminded of a family I know that recently got a change of maid after the contract for the first one ended. And my goodness, I can meet that first maid just once and remember her for a lifetime. Let’s call her Maria.

So, when I popped by the family’s HDB flat, Maria “greets” me with this twitching of her eyebrows:

Eyebrow Twitching GIF

I kid you not. I was so stunned I didn’t know how to respond. I may have watched too many episodes of The Noose – doesn’t Leticia say “Good morning, Sir. Good Morning Ma’am” or something like that? What if I did that eyebrow twitching action in return? :D Ahaha! There was no other greeting, and definitely no drink at all.

Other things I noticed were how the home wasn’t as clean as what you’d expect a place with a domestic helper should look and feel like. And I was even told that Maria was given more off days than stated in her contract and she was even PAID for those days off. She visited restaurants together with the family, and also went overseas with them (I saw the pictures). And if she wasn’t twitching those eyebrows at me, she was talking loudly on her mobile phone while walking about the house, or while ironing clothes, as if the house solely belonged to her.

Yup, I was flabbergasted. And solemnly vowed to never ever hire a domestic helper. I’ve also heard too many horror stories from friends who employ these helpers, although there are also stories of households which have very close relationships with good helpers (but you know, Singaporeans like to complain more than they appreciate).

On the other hand, what happens when there are a handful of ‘black sheep’, employers who bully their helpers and perhaps, even torture them?

https://www.facebook.com/FiveStarsAndAMoon/posts/1210997012250535

Well, we are no longer living during ‘kampong days’ when we step in and out of our neighbor’s homes. We are now all cloistered in our HDB apartments, condominium units, or landed property. Do we even know what’s happening next door? And more importantly, do we even care?

I think many Singaporeans have the ‘kaypoh’ trait. And if utilized wisely, can prevent future cases of abuse from happening, or by nipping them in the bud to prevent unnecessary suffering.

We, as a society, can be more proactive in reporting such cases of abuse to the authorities! But more importantly, we need to be more alert first. Some neighbors abuse the elderly folk at home, some rent out rooms illegally, some have vice activities within their flats, and others may be ill-treating their domestic helpers. But do you even KNOW it’s happening?

If we keep our eyes and ears open to signals of distress, we can definitely stop future cases of foreign worker abuse from happening. Like us, they are all human and even if they come from less privileged backgrounds, they are not slaves nor servants. If we treat them as our helpers, as extra hands and legs in times of (our) need, we’ll know exactly how to respond to them, even if they have interesting ways of greeting us and our guests *wink*.

To report cases of domestic worker abuse, you can call the 24-hour helpline (1800 2255 233) of the Centre for Domestic Employees or CDE (operated by NTUC and supported by MOM).

CDE was opened on 24 January 2016 to assist 230,000 foreign domestic workers here AND Singaporean domestic employees (I bet not many of you remember this group exists). The latter group includes personal drivers, gardeners, nannies and personal security officers.

Centre For Domestic Employees

Source: NTUC

But what if it’s the employer who needs help managing his/her domestic helper? CDE also offers education (for both employer and helper) and other preventive measures to foster better understanding, communication and relationship between these two.

Perhaps this could have helped my friend avoid the hassle of having to look for a new helper, if the relationship between her and Maria could have been salvaged to be more amicable.

Yeo Guat Kwang

Pic: Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, Chairman for CDE, with guests from MOM, including Divisional Director from Foreign Manpower Management Division (Source: Flora Isabelle)

If you also know of a migrant worker who needs to seek help, tell the person about the 24-hour hotline (6536 2692) they can call, which is manned by the Migrant Workers’ Centre, which also has a mobile outreach unit called FREIDA.

Migrant Workers Helpline

Source: TNP

If the worker is too afraid or is unable to make a report, then you’ll have to step up and help him/her.

Let’s keep Singapore safe for not just Singaporeans, but for all who call this island home (even if it’s for a short period of time).

How To Avoid Losing Your Job To Cheap (Foreign) Labour

Lady at Computer

Source

You might have heard this before: “We are slow to hire, but quick to fire” (said one smug HR manager to me during a job interview) OR “He’s too expensive for this company to keep; fire him and we can hire someone half his age and at a third of his salary” (said one penny-pinching boss). The same boss often boasts about hiring a foreigner with a Master’s degree and paying the person just S$2000/month, and says local graduates need to adjust their expectations downwards and not be so demanding and self-entitled.

How can PMEs thrive in the workplace, demonstrate that they have skills and talents that their companies should appreciate and value (enough to keep them around, and pay them a decent wage), and become more than just a ‘cost center’ on the company’s payroll? Essentially, how do you keep your head from ‘rolling’ when the retrenchment or dismissal ‘axe’ comes swinging?

How’s how I’d suggest you avoid losing your job to ‘cheap labour’…

#1: Remain Relevant

First, just as our economy has to remain relevant and competitive so as to thrive in this ever-changing world, PMEs also have to ensure that they keep upgrading their skills and knowledge base to stay relevant and useful (even attempting to reach that holy grail of being ‘indispensable’) to the company, and to constantly learn, unlearn and relearn.

I have friends who end up being the coffee ‘runner’ or the unofficial person to man the photocopier or do silly tasks like moving the boss’s flashy car to the proper parking spots when the “Summons Auntie” comes around to hand out summons for illegal parking. While it undoubtedly gives the employee a sudden ‘break’ during the busy work day, by having him go ‘shift’ the car, does it aid in the employee’s productivity at work, or ensure that his skills and knowledge are utilized for the benefit of the company (and not just the boss)?

Even if you are a young PME, it doesn’t mean you are cheap labour and can be used for menial tasks, especially those that seem to indicate that the company does not value your contributions and ‘worth’. Are you being ‘underemployed’ at work? How can you demonstrate to the bosses that you are a valuable employee? What sort of skills – communication, leadership, teamwork, etc – do you need to learn and master in order to progress in your career, and away from doing menial tasks? Will you be able to utilize SkillsFuture to your benefit?

#2: Know Your Rights

Are you being bullied or harassed at work? Has a colleague gone on leave (e.g. maternity leave) or been fired, and his/her work given to you to do, with no pay increment? Many of my friends complain about being given additional tasks because an employee has quit or was fired. Instead of hiring a new worker, the company simply divides the workload among those employees who remain. This is highly unfair and causes the employees to do more work while receiving the same pay, perhaps even having to put in extra hours at work, while the company reaps the benefits of not having to pay that one person’s salary, CPF contributions and saves on the allowances that the employee should have been given.

I’ve already blogged about how I was denied my CPF monies, and how the CPF Board helped me get that 5-figure sum back. But I do know that many other people are not so fortunate.

Do you know of anyone who was fired because she got pregnant? Have you heard of employees who are given additional duties (e.g. working on weekends) when it’s not part of the employment contract they signed? Do you know the lies that employers spin regarding CPF contributions so they can avoid paying you what they should? Do you know how to seek help from your union, NTUC and the authorities when such unfortunate situations happen to you?

#3: Report Companies Which Have Weak Singaporean Core

Yes, there are jobs which Singaporeans shun and which we need foreign talent or foreign workers for. Some examples include construction workers, cleaners, nursing home staff, security officers, grasscutters, etc.

I would argue that there are other job positions that Singaporeans are willing and able to accept, but which are given to foreigners who command a lower wage or are willing to work for longer hours or be given fewer monetary and non-monetary benefits. For instance, there are even complaints about HR managers being foreigners, who end up hiring more new staff of the same nationality, and giving Singaporeans a miss unfairly!

With regard to the foreign talent hired, especially in culprit sectors like finance and the IT industry, we must ensure that Singaporeans are considered fairly! Where the Fair Consideration Framework should fail or be shown to be inadequate, we should have an Employment Pass quota for these culprit sectors! This idea of quotas is neither mine, nor is it new…

Here’s the MyPaper article in which Labour MP Patrick Tay mentioned this idea in 2011:

MyPaper article

He calls this a PME Dependency Ratio (similar to that for work permits and S passes), and wants this to be implemented for problem sectors which have weak Singaporean core (like Chennai Changi Business Park) and a weak commitment to hire and develop Singaporeans.

https://www.facebook.com/notes/patrick-tay/speech-at-parliamentary-debate-on-presidents-address-by-patrick-tay-fighting-for/937720389596376

We also need to do our part to watch out for discriminatory hiring practices and report these companies to NTUC and MOM to investigate if they should be penalized for discriminating against good Singaporean workers.

Finally, I think that cheap foreign labour will be here to stay. Mitigate the risk that this poses to your ‘ricebowl’ by ensuring you remain top of your game. Make it a foolish decision for the company to dispense with you in favor of a new, cheaper hire from overseas.

Build on your strengths. For instance, the quality of the education we have received in schools and universities here stand us in good stead. Many Singaporeans are effectively bilingual, and many more have experience working and studying overseas. Yes, Indian nationals are favored in the IT and banking sector. Yes, Filipino nationals are often selected for customer-facing roles in F&B, retail, and even in call centers. But we have a solid foundation in the English Language, and many of us are conversant in Mandarin. If you need an ‘upgrade’, go and take a course in Mandarin for business purposes. If you need to learn a third language, do it.

Just as foreigners can come to our shores seeking employment and a better life, we can likewise spread our wings overseas and take up higher-paying regional and international positions. After all, the world is your oyster. You are by no means confined to our small red dot of an island. :)

Dulux My Ambiance x Janice Wong: Dulux ART at Naumi Hotel

naumi hotel seah street

I visited Naumi Hotel on Saturday. It’s located at 41 Seah Street, a short walk from the Esplanade MRT station. The facade of the building is so interesting (what with the greenery and the artwork) that even tourists can’t help snapping a picture as they walk by! :) But what brought me there was the artwork within, that was created by celebrity chef, Janice Wong, founder of 2am: dessertbar, 2am: lab and Janice Wong.

When you enter Naumi Hotel, you’ll first encounter the pristine white reception counter, with the words ‘FOLLOW ME’ behind the staff… then you’ll see 5 panels painted by Janice.

I really like how the spotlights illuminate certain portions, and lets other areas be in the shadows. It’s not just a play with colors, which Janice uses many of, but also a play with light. Cool stuff!

Dulux My Ambiance

There is no immediately distinguishable theme, e.g. sunflowers or blue skies. Instead, it’s a composition of shades of white, grey, black, red, orange, and many more in-between. I do wonder what inspired Janice to come up with these 5 panels.

She is, apparently, leaving it up to our imaginations! How lovely!

Here’s what Janice says about her artwork:

PAINT OR ART?

Every wall is a blank canvas, using pure imagination and
absolute freedom to express, I mix Dulux base coats and
Ambiance paints to create layers of paintings which are finally
disrupted by 5(?) brown copper panels.

Not only does Dulux paint serve as a layer of paint coat on the
wall, it is also ART.

And check out how the spotlights cast interesting shadows on her masterpieces:

Dulux My Ambiance by Janice Wong

Looking at her artwork, it reminds me of waves on a stormy sea, what with the broad brushstrokes and choice of colors. What is truly impressive, though, is the texture. In some areas, the paint creates an almost 3D effect. This you’ll have to see for yourself when you pop by Naumi Hotel!

Better yet, get your hands on Dulux Ambiance™ special effects paints and and get creative on your own walls a.k.a. canvases. *wink*

Do check out my earlier blogpost about the Dulux Ambiance paints. They come in various colors and can create amazing textures: Marble, Velvet, Metallic and Linen. My favorite has to be linen:

Dulux Ambiance Nadya's Linen Felt Grey

The beauty of Dulux Ambiance’s range is how you can mix and match various colors and textures to create your own unique masterpieces, transforming dull walls at home into brilliant paintings to personalize just about every inch in your home! :)

The possibilities are truly endless:

Dulux Ambiance Color Chart

Dulux Ambiance

~

And here’s a bit more information about Chef Janice:

“Chef Janice Wong’s never-ending passion for culinary art has propelled her forward to test the limits of dessert making. The native Singaporean has learned from some of the world’s best chefs, including US luminaries Thomas Keller and Grant Achatz, virtuoso Spanish chocolatier Oriol Balaguer, and prodigious French pastry chef Pierre Hermé.

An undisputed favourite among sweet-toothed Singaporeans, her dessert restaurant 2am:dessertbar has redefined the dessert experience, pushing the boundaries between sweet and savoury, with carefully researched progressive dishes. Sister concept 2am:lab is a multi-functional space used for research, workshops, private dining experiences and events.

She has also opened a her first eponymous sweets boutique JANICE WONG at the end of last year. Chef Janice has received worldwide recognition for her cutting edge creations and is a regular on the global pop-up circuit – proof that 2am:dessertbar is more than just a sugar rush. She has recently been named “Asia’s Best Pastry Chef” for the second year running by the prestigious San Pellegrino Asia’s 50 Best for 2014.”

~

Dulux My Ambiance x Janice Wong

Do head over to Naumi Hotel to check out Chef Janice’s artwork and get some inspiration for your own creations at home or in the office! :)

In the meantime, don’t forget to download the coffee-table book for inspiration at http://duluxambiance.com.sg/ You can also learn more about the Ambiance range via the website! :)

My Vietnamese Friends Visit Singapore For A 3-Day Free N Easy Holiday

Star Wars at Changi Airport

R2-D2 at Changi Airport Terminal 3 Departures

Two friends from Vietnam* came to Singapore this Thursday and I went to welcome them at Changi Airport’s Terminal 2 :) If you don’t already know, the Star Wars FEVER is raging at Changi Airport. I wish I’m more of a Star Wars fan, but I’m not. I do think BB-8 is super cute though. :D In this blogpost, I’ll share with you some of the unique experiences a Vietnamese person might have in Singapore, my own experience as a pro bono and unofficial tour guide (haha!), and what tourists to Singapore can expect as well as enjoy here. *It was my first time meeting the Vietnamese guy, while the girl had been kind enough to take us around when we visited Vietnam earlier this month.

Star Wars at Changi Airport Terminal 2

Stormtroopers at Terminal 2 Departures

For one, I’ve been told by my Vietnamese female pals that clearing customs might be a bit tricky because you might get ‘invited’ to an office to state your intentions in visiting Singapore. I suppose it could be (but don’t quote me) on suspicion that Vietnamese ladies come here to look for work, or husbands? So it is always useful to have a Singaporean friend pick you up at the airport or at least be a phone call away so the authorities can verify your true intentions in coming to Singapore.

In any case, I waited for over an hour for my pals to clear customs checks. (@_@) I’m so used to breezing through customs when I return to Singapore from overseas that I forget that international travelers need to go through that whole passport stamping process while I simply use the automated scanners. (*Note to self: When picking up friends at the airport, there is no need to arrive early, or to even be ‘on time’, allow them time to clear immigration checks)

(*Another note to self: Changi Airport is really awesome. The themed decor (e.g. Star Wars) makes for some instagrammable and memorable pictures)

Rilakkuma EZ Link card in Singapore

Rilakkuma EZ Link card for travel on trains, buses, taxis etc anywhere in Singapore

One thing to note is that travelers CANNOT easily connect to WIFI at the airport. Yes, that sounds so backward. But it’s true. You have to approach the Information Counter and get a password. Even then, I think you can only use the wifi for a limited period of time. I am guessing (again, don’t quote me on this) that it’s because we don’t want local students to camp out at the airport and log on to the wifi, instead of reserving it for the travelers who need it more.

In any case, I recommended my Vietnamese friends to get a wifi router device from Changi Recommends. The current promotion price is S$9/day. I find it’s a great idea because one router can support up to 6 devices (handphones, ipads, tablets, laptops, etc) and can be shared among friends (*save money!) And you don’t have to worry about inserting SIM cards into your phones or other devices. Just switch on the router, and log on to the wifi using your phone. And here’s the best part: UNLIMITED DATA! Of course, you can purchase a SIM card at the airport – it’s about S$38. But you get something like 1 GB of data? Why not pay S$27 for 3 days of router usage and get UNLIMITED data? So my Vietnamese pals rented the router. And they also bought the EZ Link card (in a super cute Rilakkuma design) that you see in the picture above.

The EZ Link card costs S$12 per card. It comes with a S$5 non-refundable deposit and S$7 in credit you can use for taking public transport. The card is valid for 7 years, so take it back home with you, and keep it safe for your next trip to Singapore. :)

~ Where To Stay In Singapore ~

Bunc @ Radius Little India

My pals booked a stay at bunc @ radius little india. I thought the interior of the hostel looked pretty cool (though I did not visit the dorms). Breakfast is free – you get cereal and toast with jam. And there’s free wifi within the hostel, which my pals probably didn’t need. Most importantly the hostel is located within a 5-minute walk to the nearest train station (Rochor station, which recently opened in Dec 2015). My pals paid some S$22 per bed to stay here.

~

~ What To Do In Singapore ~ 

Haji Lane

On the day they arrived, I brought my pals to Bugis (where they bought some toiletries, and SUNBLOCK) and where I also treated them to Old Chang Kee’s curry puffs – they were so impressed! LOL. We then went to Haji Lane to get some nice photos and also to visit Selfie Coffee where your selfie is printed onto the foam on your drink! *The good thing about getting the wifi router from Changi Recommends is that you can keep Google Maps on wherever you go, and navigating Singapore is easy-peasy.

I brought them for a nice dinner at Chinatown Food Street, and also introduced them to things like bak kwa (barbecued pork) that we Chinese love to eat during Chinese New Year.

The Indian uncle at Bee Cheng Hiang speaks good Mandarin – I was so impressed!

Bak Kwa tasting at Chinatown

I also took them to places like Bugis Street (for clothes shopping), Bugis+, Bugis Junction (we ate at Yellow Submarine), Vivocity, Harbourfront, and Mustafa Centre where they each bought new luggage. On their own, they’d also visited Botanic Gardens (a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as listed in 2015), Marina Bay, Merlion Park, etc. They found Singapore’s weather to be almost unbearably hot (LOL) but they were not excited about returning to Hanoi’s super cold weather either. :D :D

At Mustafa, they each found luggage they liked, and since the total purchase value was over S$100, they could get their tax refunds at the airport. Same thing for their Uniqlo purchases at Bugis too.

Luggage shopping at Mustafa

 ~ How To Enjoy Your Time In Singapore ~

Dessert at Kopitiam Changi Airport

In this picture above, you see the dessert which I ate with my friends from Vietnam at the airport on their final evening here. I have a sweet tooth so I really enjoyed the dessert. LOL. Though I’m not sure both of them did.

Over the past couple of months, while traveling, I realized that 2 out of 3 Vietnamese men are particular about food. And when in Singapore, they might want to visit Vietnamese restaurants instead of trying local cuisine. So it is a good idea to visit foodcourts (e.g. Kopitiam at the basement of Vivocity, or at Changi Airport Terminal 3) where there’s food from just about every nationality in this region. LOL.

If you’d like to truly experience Singapore and the food culture we are so proud of, do bring along an adventurous palate. Same reason why I ate balut in Cambodia and found out I thoroughly enjoyed quail egg balut.

To have a really good time in Singapore:

  1. Know that the weather will be HOT, with occasional rainfall. Light and comfortable clothing, sensible footwear, and sun protection is key. Singaporeans don’t mind being sloppy with our dressing (Tee + Shorts + Flip Flops are ok for shopping at Orchard Road) and umbrellas are almost a MUST during certain months when rain can be expected everyday (don’t ask me which months, because the weather is unpredictable due to climate change).
  2. Where food is concerned, try a little bit of everything. If you have a local guiding you, tell him/her what you absolutely will not eat e.g. food which is too spicy, food which has pork in it, food which doesn’t come with a decent serving of vegetables, etc??? :P
  3. Know that the malls will NOT be open even if you woke up at 7am and are ready to shop by 8am. It’s a better idea to head to the Botanic Gardens for a morning stroll and fresh air, then head to the city after 9am as the malls begin to open for business. (In other words, get as much beauty sleep as you can in your hotel or hostel. It’s a holiday after all!)

~ My Thoughts On Being A Pro Bono Tour Guide ~

I’ve never been a “tour guide” prior to this experience, and I’ve realized there is so much I didn’t know before this. Now I know I have to ask my pals these questions before they even fly over:

  1. Are you traveling with checked in luggage? If you are not (i.e. traveling with only cabin luggage) then you’ll be able to meet me at the Departure Hall earlier and I’ll know which glass door to wait for you at. If you have checked in luggage, then I’ll see you at the exit nearest to your luggage belt number e.g. 36. If you don’t see me, then wait at Starbucks or Burger King, etc. [*The reason these questions are necessary: No wifi till they get a password from the Information Counter]
  2. Will you require a SIM card / wifi router when you arrive? Will you require an EZ link card for travel via public transport or will you be taking taxis the whole time you are in Singapore? It is important to let your friends know how much these things will cost so they don’t receive a shock when they arrive and have to start Paying And Paying. For a 3-day visit, Wifi: S$27, EZ-Link card: S$12 (plus maybe one or two subsequent top-ups).
  3. Where will you be staying? Once you know where your friends will be putting up at, it is easy to plan for an activity or meal for that day they’ll be arriving. Unless, of course, they arrive at midnight, then… erm… KTV and supper?
  4. What dietary restrictions or preferences do you have? There are straightforward ones, e.g. no pork or no beef due to religious reasons, or no fast food. And then there are the less easy-to-handle ones such as “I don’t like oily food” or “I like food that resembles or tastes like food in my home country”.
  5. What are the attractions you’d like to visit? My Vietnamese pals wanted to visit Parliament House – I’ve never even been there before. :D And I recommended that they pop by Botanic Gardens in the morning. I did also look through their planned itinerary and give them my suggestions and tips (such as where to buy cheap bottled water before heading into Sentosa).

Ultimately, I’m very proud of my country, and I want to ensure my friends enjoy their stay when they visit.

I’ll even try to be helpful when I spot PRC tourists having a bit of a communication issue with non-Chinese staff at the airport or train stations. I’ll help translate their queries, give them directions and even assist them with purchasing single trip tickets and directing them to the right platform.

Strangely enough, I think it imperative that visitors like my country. I’m really perplexed if they don’t. Apart from the weather (which I can do nothing about), I want to make their visits as fuss-free as possible. And more friends from the region will be popping by Singapore soon! I should be a part-time tour guide! :D

Pine Garden’s Cake: That ‘New Old School’ Bakery In Ang Mo Kio

Pine Garden's Cake

I’ve known about Pine Garden’s Cake for a long time now. I even did an interview (back in 2011) with the founders’ son, who calls himself the ‘baker’s boy’ in EDM blasts. :) I was back at Pine Garden’s Cake in Ang Mo Kio Ave 10 today to pick up the tub of pineapple tarts that I had pre-ordered from them – I paid S$25.38 for a tub of some 40 tarts I think. There’s 6% off the usual price if you order them early. LOL. Yes, 6%. And since the bakery is not anywhere near my home, and I had to travel a bit just to get there, I ended up picking up some hazelnut cookies and cake slices too! :D #SingaporeanBuyersMentality

pine gardens cakes

So here I have a slice of Lychee Martini cake (OH YEAH! Lychee Martini. It tastes as good as it sounds), Black Forest cake (‘cos I like black forest cakes lah) and a tiny rum ball that costs S$2 ‘cos it’s what my mom likes but don’t ask me why. So that’s basically my family’s way of getting fat over the weekend. Yup. I know it’ll rock. :)

And here’s my quick review of the ‘cookies’ I brought home today. First, the pineapple tarts. Honestly, when I first set eyes upon them in the bakery today, I was disappointed. The pastry looked dry and I was thinking “Oh no! Did I purchase the wrong item?! ARGH!!!” When I got home and tried it though, it’s actually very yummy and didn’t taste dry at all. In fact, it appears as if the bakers who made these put as much thought into creating the pastry as they did for the pineapple filling. Ladies and gentlemen, the lesson here is: Looks are deceiving. This tub of pineapple tarts has gotten my stamp of approval. If you see it at a discount at any point in time, BUY!

Pine Gardens cake

As for the Hazelnut cookies, my goodness! After eating one, I realized that I’ve never actually known the REAL meaning of ‘melt-in-your-mouth’ until I popped one of these hazelnut wonders into my mouth. It just disintegrates immediately on your tongue, and you are left amazed… wondering how the bakers got the cookie to stay in one piece in the beginning if it falls apart so easily! Real magic in a tub. MUST TRY!!! I bought one tub for the future in-laws (a really great choice ‘cos no chewing is required) and one tub for my trainer, who I know will appreciate them (and make me do fewer push-ups, I hope). And if you’re wondering how I got one piece to try, well, my most discerning other half KNEW exactly what I was thinking – he offered me the cookies out of the tub I had gotten for his parents. Ahahaha!

And, whatever you do, DO NOT talk to me about calories, workouts, getting fat, etc. It’s Chinese New Year, and a Chinese person has gotta do what a Chinese person must. Otherwise, why do people hire personal trainers? Hahahaha! :D And if you need a recommendation for a trainer, contact me for more information. *wink*