Viewing entries in
random

8 types of bad students

8 types of bad students

Our grades are coming back soon, and we all know what this means… Time for some serious reflection. If your results are less than optimal, it is highly possible that you are one of the 8 types of “bad” students listed below.

1. The perpetually late student

For some reason, this guy is always at least 5 minutes late, whether the class is at 8am, 12 noon, or 3 in the afternoon. That is not to say this student cannot be bothered –every time he is late, he rushes into class with ruffled hair and an apologetic look. But the next day, oops, he does it again. Why he is always late will forever be an enigma. But in the meantime, too bad, he is missing out. Everyone knows how all the important announcements are at the start of the class.

2. The dreamer

This guy is forever thinking about irrelevant things – what’s for lunch, which L4D strategy to use, how the girl sitting in front is so cute – and forgetting that he is in class. The only time he wakes up is when the bell rings and it is time to go home.

That’s when he becomes an annoying little prick.

“What did the teacher say ah?”

“We have homework or not?”

“Can someone lend me your notes? Please? Please?? PLEASE???”

3. The literal dreamer

This guy takes day-dreaming a step too far. Perhaps he slept at 2am playing DOTA into the wee hours. Perhaps he stayed up mugging in his closet. Whatever the case, it is easy to identify the literal dreamer by the gentle bobbing of his head, the suspicious glint at the corner of his mouth and…

“Benjamin Tan, how dare you fall asleep in my class!”

…The enraged howl of your Math teacher.

4. The doodler

This guy tries his best to take notes. But his pen seems to have a mind of its own. Before long, a parallel universe is birthed on his Physics textbook.

5. The tech savvy guy

This guy knows the pitfalls of taking notes with pen and paper (see number 4). Besides, he types faster than he writes. So he uses a laptop and a phone instead.

No one told him that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. First, Whatsapp gets him distracted. Next, Facebook shuts his ears to the counsel of his Literature teacher. Then, Instagram leads him astray into the land of social media, from where there is no return.

That is until the bell rings at 12 noon. Who can resist the taste of food and freedom?

6. The big mouth

This guy knows that he loves to talk. And he won’t take “shhh” for an answer. No amount of death stares and death threats from the teacher can get him to shut up. Finally, exasperated, the teacher sends him to the back of the class.

Oh dear God, please let me stop hearing things.

One moment of silence for the teacher please.

7. The robot

This guy is hardworking and obedient. Even if you ask him to write “Miss Tan is the best and I love her class” 1000 times, he will do it obligingly. His only problem is that he doesn’t know how to think.

Guess what, he wasn’t trying to be funny.

8. The worrier

Seriously, this guy takes things too seriously. To him, every test, every lab practice, every presentation is like the end of the world. He keeps his asthma tube at his sight, because chances are, he is going to have a breakdown soon.

Even 2.4km gives him butterflies in the stomach.

If any of the above characteristics had you sheepishly grinning, “that’s me”, congratulations. At least you know what part to improve about yourself now.

 

5 secret Starbucks drinks to order the next time you're feeling fancy

5 secret Starbucks drinks to order the next time you're feeling fancy

Even though hipster coffee shops are overtaking the Singapore coffee scene one siphon coffee maker at a time, there's still something unapologetic about craving for the overpriced sugary frappuccinos at our neighbourhood Starbucks.

However, to truly make that Starbucks experience great, one must have a signature order. Not your boring Soy-Skinny-Flat-White, but the not-so-secret, off-the-menu type drinks that will raise the eyebrows of the poor barista working that shift.

Ordering an off-the-menu drink at Starbucks is apparently so common in the US that an entire website was created to document and share them with others. There are currently over 200 secret drinks!

However, as it's not the norm in Singapore, the Starbucks staff may not know the recipes by heart and it will help to show them the recipes. It will also help to not order one of these drinks during a peak period when there's 15 other people waiting in line behind you slowly growing annoyed at your weird order. 

Pro Tip: Do wait till low-peak times on a weekday, be clear about the recipe and definitely be courteous when trying out one (or all!) of these 5 secret drinks: 

1. The Merlion Frappuccino

The Unicorn Frappuccino is a limited edition colour-changing, sweet and tangy drink from Starbucks US that was only available last month from 19 to 23 April 2017. It went viral ever since Starbucks broke the news.

ooooooh pretty!

ooooooh pretty!

Sadly, we weren't graced with this magical drink here in Singapore outlets, but you can order a Singaporean edition of it instead: The Merlion Frappuccino.

BEHOLD!

BEHOLD!

Recipe for Tall-sized drink: 
Vanilla Frappuccino ($6.00)
1 pump mango syrup ($0.70)
1 pump raspberry syrup ($0.70)
Top with whipped cream and raspberry drizzle

Price: $7.40

2. The Dragon Frappuccino

This drink will not only brighten up your day with its jade-green shade with a fire-licking drizzle of caramel, it will also perk you right up with its additional shot of espresso and Java Chips blended right in for good measure. 

Recipe for Tall-sized drink: 
Green Tea Creme Frappuccino ($6.40)
1 pump caramel syrup ($0.70)
Java Chips ($0.70)
Espresso Shot ($0.80)
Top with whipped cream

Price: $8.60

3. The Pink Drink 

We'd never have known that if you mix hibiscus tea and mango tea, you'd end up with a dink that tastes like grapes! No kidding. Add a zing of passionfruit to that, as well as soy milk to create a sweet, froth, silky finish, and you've got a perfectly pink drink for the next sunny day.

Recipe for Grande-sized drink: 
Iced Hibiscus Mango Passion Fruit Tea ($4.40)
Add Soy Milk ($0.60)

Price: $5.00

4. The Nutella Frappuccino

As much as we'd love to devour an entire jar of Nutella when the craving strikes, that's seriously nutty, nut-job behaviour. So we'll let this drink be the next best thing. A Java Chip Frappe, a spurt of hazelnut syrup and mocha sauce, and presto! You've got liquid Nutella! 

Recipe for Tall-sized drink: 
Java Chip Frappuccino ($6.80)
1 Pump Hazelnut Syrup ($0.70)
Java Chips ($0.70)
Top with mocha drizzle

Price: $8.20

5. The Cheesecake Frappuccino

Did you know that you have the option of having any pastry, cake, even sandwich, liquified into slurpable form?! It doesn't guarantee that the barista will do it for you, of course. Think about the poor fella who has to wash a ham and cheese croissant out of the blender. 

Stick with a cheesecake to play it safe instead. It goes shockingly great (and creamy) with your choice of a vanilla or mocha frappe. 

Recipe for Tall-sized drink: 
1 Raspberry White Chocolate Cheese Brulee Cheesecake ($6.50)
Mocha or Vanilla Frappuccino ($6.00)
1 Pump Raspberry Syrup ($0.70)

Price: $13.20

The best flea markets to visit in Singapore this year

The best flea markets to visit in Singapore this year

When you mention 'Singapore flea market', gone are the days when Singaporeans will immediately think of someone hawking their pre-loved Love, Bonito dresses for $1 at Lucky Plaza. It would seem that the conventional Singapore flea market these days are getting more artisanal, upmarket, and very very hipster.  

Most flea markets now have a specific purpose: To promote homegrown brands and offer visitors unique products. Some even take it one step further and showcase live bands, as well as workshops. Here are our pick of flea markets to not miss out on this year:

1. Artbox

Bangkok’s famous flea market has landed in Singapore. Famed for having vendors house their booths in metal containers all decked out with fairy lights, the industrially chic hipster market Artbox is having its second weekend run tomorrow (April 21-23).

It's first weekend run happened last week and you may have heard some gripe that event was overhyped and oversubscribed. But with over 320 booths hawking quirky craft items and super Instagrammable food, we feel that it's worth a visit to soak up the atmosphere if you haven't been to the Bangkok one. 

Date: 14-16, 21-23 April
Venue: Bayfront Event Space (beside Marina Bay Sands) 
Time: 3pm-11pm

2. Public Garden

Started in 2011 as a consumer trade show, Public Garden has grown into one of the most impressive flea markets in Singapore. This year's show will also be the largest one ever presented, to be held at Suntec Convention Hall 403. 

Bringing together products manufactured by both indie companies as well as budding entrepreneurs, most of what is sold here are original designs. Most of the items are also chockfull of local flavour as the vendors hail from countries all across the region. If you don't want your room to look like an Ikea showroom, this is the place to shop at.

You can also find workshops being hosted by artisans, as Public Garden is all about bringing together a community of creative minds to share ideas and experiences.

Date: 22-23 April
Venue: Suntec Convention Hall 403, Level 4
Time: 1pm-7pm

3. Market of Artists and Designers (MAAD)

Held at the Red Dot Design Museum since 2006, the Market of Artists and Designers (MAAD) has served as one of the leading creative platform for enterprising local artists, designers, and crafters to gather, showcase and sell their wares. 

What makes the vibe here so great is the live performances by local musicians too, making it a unique flea market that's buzzing with talent, activity and creativity that's sure to get your artistic juices flowing. The market is held on a Friday of every month, so do check out the museum's Facebook page to see when the next one will pop up. 

Date: One Friday every month
Venue: Red Dot Design Museum
Time: 11am till late

4. Retro Factory

A monthly affair held at Katong Square, Retro Factory was founded as a way to gather lovers of all things (you guessed it) retro and vintage. This flea market is perfect is you're into collecting vinyl records, vintage posters, or just want to soak up the lively carnival-like vibe. There's music, food, artistic performances, and tons of unique vintage goods. 

What I liked best about this flea market is that visitors are an eclectic mix of both young and old. It's great to see the older crowd wax nostalgia at the venue, alongside the younger generation oogling at the walk down their parents and grandparents' memory lanes. 

Date: 5-6 May
Venue: MediaCorp Caldecott Broadcast Centre
Time: 3pm-10pm

5. The Farmers' Market

Held on a Saturday every month, this is the place to be if your idea of having a good time includes eating, eating, and more eating again. The great thing is that the food featured here are mostly organic, gourmet, and also very, very fresh. From sizzling bratwurst to rare cheeses, cold-pressed juices to wine, at lease stuffing your face here is a whole lot healthier than chowing down on those sugar-spiked food at Artbox. 

On special occasions, The Farmers' Market will also run a themed market with fun activities planned throughout the day. Last month's market was Easter-themed with easter eggs, carrot cake, and an Easter Egg Hunt as a highlight. 

Date: One Saturday every month
Venue: Loewen Gardens
Time: 1pm till late

The 3 parts that make up a dumb hoax

The 3 parts that make up a dumb hoax

You may have seen this photo floating around Facebook, or even better, you may have received personally on Whatsapp:

The caption accompanying the photo warns about a girl ringing on your doorbell to collect signatures for insecurity. We have no idea what insecurity is, but apparently it can result in you getting robbed in your own house by said girl and three men that are hiding behind her. 

I have so many questions.

Firstly, the thought of three grown men crouching behind a girl in plain sight is pretty ridiculous. Since the whole idea is to hide yourself until the opportune time is given to rush into the targeted victim's home, why would they want to draw attention to themselves by performing such an absurd action.

Secondly, if this was happening in "a lot of neighbourhoods", especially Singapore ones, you can be sure it won't only be circulating around the net. It will be plastered all over the front pages of our local newspapers.

Thirdly, for a widely circulated hoax, not a lot of thought and effort went into it. Remember the "bacteria from eating sashimi" hoax earlier this year?

So much details and story-telling went into that one. If this was the Star Wars of local Whatsapp hoaxes, then the recent "collecting signatures for the insecurity" one is the crappy sequel with Jar Jar Binks in it.

You just can't wrap your mind around how your auntie could have fallen for that hoax and then spread it around in the family group chat. 

So why do people fall for these dumb hoaxes? Let's look at the 3 parts that make up a dumb hoax and why they work.

1. Tap into existing fears

Ever since the first chain letter was copied and mailed out, or the first chain email was forwarded, that decision to take action is almost always done out of fear. People share stuff when it triggers their fear of bad things befalling them. 

Let's look at the bacteria in sashimi hoax again. What made it work so well was tapping into the age old fear of losing loved ones so suddenly without warning. The son dies, and the wife goes mad. No one wants that to happen to them. 

2. Make it personal

A hoax thrives on the illusion of it being shared due to a personal experience. No matter how exaggerated or mind-boggling, a personal experience will be viewed by some as being more credible than what's reported in the news. 

Take bacteria in sashimi hoax, note how it opened immediately by stating this is a message from "my sister". Oh my. A sibling! Of course the sibling is not going to lie! IT'S FAMILY.

Personal names like 'Ann' and 'Wan Kam' in the message also adds a layer of believability to the hoax. If the earlier fear hasn't caused your auntie to share the message to your family chat yet, this sort of personal touch to add a layer of credibility just might. 

3. Add a random photo to accompany the story

"A picture says a thousand words". Too bad we have no idea whether lies are included in those thousand words. 

Add an accompanying photo to any story and it does add a sheen of credibility to it. It doesn't matter if it's taken out of context. This is why I suspect that the reason many of the older generation get fooled by these hoaxes is due to the fact that they did not grow up learning photoshop or being exposed to CGI. 

We may find it easy to identify when something is doctored, but your auntie may not. So if the bacteria in sashimi hoax was accompanied by a random plate of maguro sashimi, it will only add to the "truth" of the story, not distract from it.  

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

We live in the age of fake news. Where a deluge of information at the tap of a button (or a push notification) has rendered many people either unable or unwilling to check how accurate a piece of news is. Especially those that gets passed around Whatsapp group chats. The irony is that verifying a piece of news through a quick Google Search is equally as easy as tapping to spread it around.

Cool things you probably didn't know about Leap Years

Cool things you probably didn't know about Leap Years

A leap year occurs when a year has 366 days, instead of the usual 365.

In ancient Rome, the Romans used to follow a calendar that had 355 days in a year. This calendar eventually became out of sync with the seasonal changes and it made it difficult to celebrate festivals at the same time each year. They tried adding a 22 day month to every second year so as to keep festivals occurring around the same time period each year, but their Roman ruler, Julius Caesar, decided to make things simpler by adding days to different months of the year to create what we now know as the 365 days calendar.

To be specific, the actual length of a year is 365.242 days, not 365 days. Because of this, every 4 years (or years that can be divided by 4) will result in an extra day. This extra day will be added to the calendar as February 29th, and the year will become known as a leap year. 

Ever wondered why February is shorter than every other month? 

This is because of Augustus, the Roman ruler to come after Julius Caesar. The Roman government named the month of August after Augustus to honour him, but the month was only 30 days long. Julius Caesar's month of July had 31 days, and it wouldn't look good on Augustus to have a shorter month than Caesar! 

To make August as long as July, they borrowed a day from February. This permanently reduced February to only 29 days during a leap year, and for every other year - only 28 days.

The "extra day" problem

Having an extra day in February can be somewhat problematic. For example, if you are an employee being paid a monthly salary, you essentially are working an extra day for free during a leap year. But if you are being paid per hour, you literally have an extra payday.

There has also been cases of criminals convicted to prisons suing the government for "miscalculating" the length of their prison sentences because they had failed to consider the additional days they had to serve on account of the leap years. Good thing most, if not all, of the cases were thrown out of court as it is worth noting that the prison sentences go by number of years, regardless of how long or short each year may be. 

Similarly, I bet it sucks to be born on February 29. You only celebrate your birthday once every four years! Or you can use it as an excuse to throw the most lavish celebration ever since it occurs so rarely.

The leap year mother and daughter

On February 29, 2008, Michelle Birnbaum from New Jersey gave birth to her daughter, Rose. The coolest part about this story? Michelle herself was also born on February 29, making both mummy and baby both leap year babies! 

The odds of someone being born on February 29 are 1 in 1,641. However, the odds of both a mother and daughter sharing that same birthday of February 29 are 2 million to 1

That definitely makes it a birthday worth celebrating!

Edgey or Round

Edgey or Round

I was never a perfectionist. But I have always been an idealist. The question that I used to ask myself was, “ if this person can do it, why can’t I?” Basically I wanted to be good at every aspect. I had this ideal in my mind, this perfect me, that I wanted to work towards, and I egged myself on.

But gradually I began to realise, it is hard to be good at everything—we have only so much time and energy. It is hard to be musically talented, sporty, academically inclined, sociable and still have time to yourself.

So the question we sometimes have to ask ourselves is do I want to be an all-rounder, or do I want to use that time to develop an edge in a certain area instead?

This is one tough question to answer, and there is no right or wrong answer. Each approach comes with its benefits and downsides.

Developing an edge — Pros

In economic theory, when specialisation is practiced, society as whole benefits more. This means that instead of person A and B each farming 5kg of durians and 5 chickens, person A and B will do what they are best at. When they do that, their output in total will increase, with the result being person A having 15 kg of durians and person B having 15 chickens. They can then trade durians for chickens, and both will be better off than if they don’t specialise.

It is the same in Singapore society. Nowadays many working mothers do not cook. They simply take away from hawker centres or restaurants. The food cooked by professionals tastes better than many mothers can manage and the time that is freed up can be used to do more productive things.

When you go to work, the same concept applies. If you start out working in an accounting firm, then you are only required to be familiar with accounting related software. Do you need to know how to use Photoshop or Sketchup? No, so focus on improving your excel skills.

If you are a professional DOTA player, do you need to know about the latest current affairs? Well, it will certainly change people’s perception of you (from geek to nerd), but at the end of the day, it does not value add to what you are doing for a living, so your time can be better spent reciting pudge, sniper, crystal maiden…pudge, sniper, crystal maiden.

Being an all rounder — Pros

The problem with developing a niche area for yourself is basically, you make yourself vulnerable, especially when conditions change.

Will DOTA’s prize pool keep increasing? Maybe. But looking at how StarCraft, once the biggest eSport in the world, fell from grace, it is understandable that your parents are worried. Playing DOTA professionally may be able to feed you right now, but can it in 20, 30 years?

Another problem with overspecialising is you tend to have a tunnel vision of the world. We have all heard of girls who talk incessantly about fashion. Yes, we get it that rouge red is different from cherry lush, but don’t you have a life outside of your mirror?

Multidisciplinary learning is also important if you do not just want to be a small cog in a large wheel. Managers are always people who can see things from a macro-perspective, and the higher you go up the corporate ladder, the more knowledgeable you must be about different departments. That is why MAS encourages their scholars to study courses that do not have much bearings to what they will eventually do. What MAS wants are future managers, CEOs and even leaders of the country—people who do not have a fixed job scope but instead are required to solve unconventional problems when they pop up; people who can think out of the box and see from different perspectives.

So what’s the conclusion? That is up to you to decide. As for me, I guess I will take a balanced approach of developing my comparative advantage while remembering that, life is too short and volatile to be spent on simply one area of interest

5 places to get a Matcha fix

5 places to get a Matcha fix

Matcha is a finely ground green tea powder best known for being used in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies, as well as for their numerous health benefits

It used to be that only the wealthy were able to get their Matcha cravings satisfied at these tea ceremonies, but thankfully, matcha is now widely available all over the world - including right here on our humble little island. 

From matcha lattes to soft serve ice creams, check out these 5 places to get some delectable green tea desserts.

1. Matchaya

Tucked away in a corner of Icon Village, Matchaya serves a wide medley of matcha delights from a quaint wooden structure. You can find bottled matcha, matcha soft serve ice cream, and matcha powder all of top quality - All of which also went through 100+ stringent taste tests before being launched. An iced matcha latte goes for $4.90.

Located at:
Icon Village, 12 Gopeng St, #01-72

2. Tsujiri

The closest competitor to Matchaya, Tsujiri was established in 1860 and can be considered the Godfather of Matcha by being one of the first few to spread matcha to many countries including Singapore. It serves an assortment of matcha desserts, from lattes to parfaits. 

The O-Maccha is a classic flavour that can't be missed, and is what the matcha purists usually order. Be warned, it's not your typical watered down Starbucks version and can be incredibly potent. An O-Maccha Milk Ice Blended will cost $5.50.

Located at: 
100AM, 100 Tras Street #01-14
313 Somerset, 313 Orchard Road #B3-53
The Central, 6 Eu Tong Sen Street #01-74

3. One Man Coffee

Yes, we get that One Man Coffee is known more for their freshly ground coffee, but they make a mean matcha latte too. You can taste the fresh milk in the latte, and yet it doesn't overpower the matcha flavour. If you're planning to get some studying done while sipping on this aromatic brew, head to their quieter outlet in Kinesis at Fusionopolis. 

Located at:
215R Upper Thomson Road
MyVillage@Serangoon Garden, 1 Maju Avenue, #B1-23/24
Kinesis, 4 Fusionopolis Way, #01-15,
15 Cheong Chin Nam Road

4. Maccha House

One of the best things about Maccha House is their matcha dessert special at $14.99 that comprises of 6 different kinds of matcha desserts, including their signature matcha parfait and green tea mochi. Give it a try the next time you hit town with friends. 

Located at:
Orchard Central, 181 Orchard Road, #B1-40
Fountain of Wealth, Suntec City, 3 Temasek Boulevard, #B1-172

5. Nana's Green Tea

Nana's Green Tea's extensive menu ensures that you'll be spoilt for choice. Order a simple matcha latte and you'll have the option of adding whipped cream, mochi balls, vanilla ice cream, matcha ice cream (!!) and many more. They also offer set lunches at $13.90 that let's you pair a donburi rice bowl with your drink. 

Located at: 
The Atrium @ Orchard, Plaza Singapura 60B, #03-80/82

 

Leadership lessons from a shirtless dancing guy

Leadership lessons from a shirtless dancing guy

You have heard a lot about leadership from different sources and different people. But have you taken any leadership advice from a shirtless, dancing guy? Let us watch a movement unfold in 3 minutes and dissect the important lessons that a shirtless, dancing guy can teach us.

So what are some important lessons we can take away?

1. If you have a vision, dare to make a difference

The shirtless guy wanted to see people around him dancing, instead of lazing around on a bright Sunday afternoon. So what did he do? He started with himself, dancing away passionately, regardless of the weird stares that people gave him.

2. If you want to make a difference, make it easy for people to follow

You have a vision in your head. How do you get it across to others? Perhaps, you can use a thousand words to inspire and to challenge. Or you can just get to doing things, which was what Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa and the shirtless guy in the video did, because action speaks louder than words. Either way, help your followers know what they are expected to do.

3. If you have people following you, know that your followers are as important as you

Yes, you may be the one representing your team on stage to receive a medal. Yes, you may be the one everyone consults to see whether a plan is workable. Yes, you may be the one the juniors look up to. But don’t you get a big head. You are where you are today because people voted for your promise; people decided to entrust their future to your vision. Never forget that.

4. If you are a follower, know that without you, the movement will be one person less

And when there are only a few people in the movement to begin with, you role is indispensable.

Many a times, we look to a movement and only see the leader. We only see the brain of the vision. We forget that without followers, an idea cannot become a movement; without followers, the leader is only a lone nut. And out of all the followers, the first follower is the most important. If the leader gave birth to the vision, then the first follower is the mid-wife that brought it to this world. He was the one who first stood by the leader. The one who joined hands with the leader and gave him all the encouragement and reassurance to labour for his vision.

5. But with you, the movement will only be one person more too

Of course your presence is important when there are only a few people to begin with. However, it is annoying when someone acts like he/she is part of the “in crowd” and makes a big fuss out of it.

Once an idea has gained momentum, it is no longer risky to be part of the movement. There are too many people for you to be ridiculed if the movement fails. And if it succeeds, well, you will be ridiculed for not joining. What is there to gloat about when you are just sitting on the fence until you see which side is clearly more advantageous?

And the key takeaway for today… Leadership is over-glorified. All our lives, our schools have been training us to be leaders. As if we can all be leaders. If you really, truly, care about something, go and find a leader to follow. Society needs 10 successful movements consisting of 1 leader and 9 followers way more than it needs 100 lone nuts parading the streets.

Your passport is more ancient than you think

Your passport is more ancient than you think

Every time you go on an overseas trip with your family, something happens at airport so frequently that you may not even think much of it - a tedious passport examination.

It doesn't just happen once too, along the way at various checkpoints, airport security will ask to see your passport. It seems like this is just another modern form of security, but did you know that the idea of a passport is surprisingly ancient?

It was even mentioned in the Bible. And that book is pretty old. 

The first so-called passport ever mentioned

In the chapter of Nehemiah in the Bible, there is a passage that goes like this: 

I also said to him, “If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah? And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the royal park, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?” And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests. So I went to the governors of Trans-Euphrates and gave them the king’s letters.

 Those letters mentioned were a form of travel papers required so the author can have safe passages through foreign lands. Not unlike the current function of a passport. 

Passport didn't start out as paper booklets too

Centuries later, the Mongols would issue one of the earliest passports in the form iron medallions. Under Genghis Khan's rule, intricately engraved metal plaques called paizi were handed out to foreigners travelling on state business in Mongol territory. They symbolised that these people were under the Khan's protection and were to pass through without harm. 

A bronze  paizi  currently displayed in The Metropolitan Museum of Art

A bronze paizi currently displayed in The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The words engraved on the face of the paizi says, “By the strength of Eternal Heaven, an edict of the Emperor. He who has no respect shall be guilty.”

The coolest kind of passport photo

But it was only until 1641 that we see the first signs of the type of paper passports in the booklet-form we know today in Britain. The oldest British passports went through a weird phase where they were written in French, as French was considered the more diplomatic language during that time. It was changed to English in the 18th century.

Those early passports also had no rules on what kind of photos you used. Some people posed with their entire families, and some even with their pets! That would have been way better than our current boring tight-lipped smile pose against a white backdrop, don't you think?

It wasn't until the 1914, during World War 1, that we see the now-familiar format of paper booklet with single portrait photo and the widely used rubber stamp to signify approved access into a country.

Even so, when it was first suggested that physical details such as age (and height for the British passports) should be added, the British foreign secretary considered the idea degrading and offensive. Good thing our Singapore passports don't make us state our height, weight or favourite unhealthy snack to binge on late at night.  

One week in Beijing

One week in Beijing

 It’s been one week since I stepped foot into a foreign land for exchange, speaking a foreign language. Although technically, Chinese isn’t a foreign language… But for those of us struggling to even form a coherent sentence at the hawker centre, it sure seems like Greek to us. Anyway, one week here and I have already experienced more new things than I did in Singapore in the entire 2016. Talk about culture shock.

The internet

There are two things that you got to see in China. The first is the Great wall. And the second is the Great Firewall.

The Chinese government has a robust system preventing outside ideologies from coming in, and curious Chinese minds from reaching out. Google, banned. Instagram, blocked. Youtube, forever loading until you see a sad pixelated face that says “This site can’t be reached”.

It makes you wonder how Chinese people spend their free time when they can’t access all the things that make the Internet wonderful. But walls are made to be jumped; and where there is a wall, there is a way. With my not-that-reliable-but-still-can-work NUS VPN in hand, I no longer have to shout “hello from the other side! What is happening out there? Can someone update me pleaseee???”

Apps

We always hear that China has undergone rapid industrialisation in the short span of 30 odd years. That line conjures an image of grey factories pumping out pollutants against a grey backdrop (cough cough). Yet, China is much more modern than I realised.

Wechat is the supposed equivalent of Whatsapp in China, but nah, they are not the same. Can you use Whatsapp to pay for a prata by the roadside? At the supermarket? At high end restaurants?

Wechat can. All you have to do is scan a QR code, enter your password and beep, transaction authorised. The QR code is good not just for paying, but for finding out information too. I went for orientation in Peking university and the coordinator flashed a QR code on her powerpoint. I scanned it (from 5 metres away) and beep, I am her friend. I went to a China church on Sunday and there was a QR code on screen. I scanned it and beep, I found myself added to the youth fellowship group.

There is also a bicycle renting app that allows you to grab the nearest yellow bike, cycle for a distance and then “abandon” the bicycle at a location that is convenient for you, for the next person to use. I used it three times already, in the short span that I was here (as a gauge, I have only taken the bus once), simply because it is so convenient and so cheap.

These two apps make life so much easier. It makes you wonder: why hasn’t Singapore rolled this out yet? Don’t we want to be a Smart Nation? Import these please!

And have I mentioned the things I bought on Taobao? Here in China, delivery no longer takes two to three weeks. Instead, your parcel can arrive within a matter of a few days. And like opening a Pandora box, there is no going back once you download the Taobao app. I find myself surfing Taobao at least once a day, and so far my most extravagant purchase is a Yamaha keyboard that costs 600Rmb, or around S$120. Cheap, yes. Worth it? Definitely! But at this rate I am going, I think I will need to sign up with Taobao Anonymous soon, where I join fellow Taobao addicts in a circle and talk about our addiction problems (sob).

 The food

Don’t worry, dog lovers, I haven’t tried any dog meat (and I don’t intend to try). The only exotic meat that I have tried here is rabbit…

Will you please stop looking at me as if I devoured a baby? In my defence, the rabbit meat was on stick, looking exactly like chicken satay. It bore no resemblance to the cuddly furry little angels that we see in pet shops, and in that form, it is easy to give in to temptation.

The people

The only word I can use to describe Chinese people is variety. After all, China is a big nation that makes up a fifth of the world’s population, and you can’t expect them to all fit snugly into a single mould. (If they did, you can conclude that genetic mutation does not occur in China.)

In Beijing, I saw people dressed in fur coats, carrying Chanel handbags, and walking around in Sanlitun (China’s equivalent of Orchard Road) like peacocks on parade. Just five metres away were grandmas and grandpas begging for money with their bare hands, and looking at you with eyes so lifeless you wonder what they are living for anymore. I saw the very well-educated in Peking University, and the less civilised who spit like they own the roads. I saw people who look at me warily when I asked for directions and people who offered to help me carry my 10 kg Taobao parcel back to my hostel.

The cost of living

China may have been the factory of the world in the past, but now cost of living (and consequently, wage requirements) has become so high that many MNCs have left to seek greener pastures in Brazil and Vietnam.

On the international market, China things aren’t exactly cheap, unless you come from the US where the exchange rate is 1 to 7. Perhaps cost of living isn’t as high in the less developed parts of China, but here in Beijing, I feel the pinch of the local people every time I go shopping at brick and mortar shops. One winter coat—1500Rmb. One meal – 50 Rmb. One cup of instant noodles – 8 Rmb. Sigh, time to go back to Taobao.

The scenery

I never knew I like photography until I came to China. Looking at the scenery around me, I can’t help but go click, click, click.

Here is a photo from Peking University. Do you see the lake? Do you? Which university in Singapore has a freaking lake inside the University itself???

And here is a photo from Yi He Yuan, also known as the Summer Palace. My friends and I walked for 3 hours in the cold and only managed to cover a third of the entire place. It is that big.

Overall, I will say coming to China is like looking into a kaleidoscope—multi-faceted and full of colours. You will have fun – provided you aren’t a rabbit lover.  

3 ways to save money on iPhone repairs

3 ways to save money on iPhone repairs

You walk onboard the MRT spying an empty seat and rushed to sit down only to hear a heartbreaking craaaaaak. Yep, you just sat on your iPhone, and now your precious is in shambles.

Whether the sat-down-on-my-phone story, or screen shattered after a hard night of partying, or even your two-year-old niece jabbed a toy into your iPhone's charging port and completely destroyed it story, we've all had accidents with our iPhones before. The big question to ask is "now what?"

Do you take it to an Apple Store to have it fixed? Or take your chances and Sim Lim Square? Or head to your neighbourhood repair shop instead? We have 3 ways to help you weigh your options:

1. Know the difference between authorized & unauthorized repair shops

Apple stores and Apple authorized service providers like A.LAB will almost always charge lesser than anywhere else for repairing your damaged iPhone. For example, an iPhone 6s without AppleCare+ coverage will cost around $189 for any screen repair. That same repair will cost you around $100-$150 more at your local repair shop. 

Why does it cost higher at local repair shops? The short answer is — there's a middleman. Local repair shops basically charge extra to cover original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts. OEMs are manufacturers who resell another company's product under their own name and branding. They will also add on about $20-30 for labour cost to earn a little profit. 

However, if you don't mind not having original Apple parts, you can pay a whole lot less at local repair shops and have the replacement done in as little as 10 minutes too. Apple and Apple authorized service providers usually require that you schedule a repair appointment. Keep in mind that having non-original Apple parts will affect your resell value when you decide to move on to a newer model. 

2. Ask about warranty

No matter how smooth a repair goes, parts aren't perfect, and sometimes you may find yourself returning to the store over issues such as a screen coming off its frame due to poor gluing on techniques or specks of dirt inside the screen from the repairer not wiping the screen properly.

Always be sure to ask what a store's warranty policy is on their parts and repairs. This will ensure that you don't end up paying more even after the repair job is done. Warranty policies can differ wildly from store to store; from one week all the way up to 30 days against defects and negligence. Stores with longer periods are the obvious choice; ones that have great policies often take pride in their work and the parts (OEM vs. third-party) that they use. 

If you have a history on constantly "abusing" your phone by dropping it or cracking the screen at least twice a month, it may be a good idea to get an AppleCare warranty. This ensures you additional hardware coverage for your iPhone, including up to two incidents of accidental damage from handling.

3. Do your research

Ultimately, it's up to you to do your due diligence. There is really no reason you can't find the best (and cheapest) option available by doing some research and checking out reviews online.

A repair shop is still after all, customer service-based. You can have the best tech guy miraculously revive a rusty iPhone that drowned at Siloso beach, but give the worst customer experience that will get his shop a ton of negative reviews on Facebook. 

So read reviews on shops that you're thinking of visiting. This works especially well for shops located at Sim Lim Square. There are forums dedicated to weeding out the sleazy salesmen out to cheat your money. The last thing you need when getting your device fixed is to be treated like an idiot and pay more than what you should. So, do your research!

#YOSO

#YOSO

Interesting chat our teacher had with his student (primary school)!

Me: Focus.
Student: but YOPO
Me: You only...?
Student: play once
Me: I don’t care, you YOSO
Student: what?
Me: You only study once.
#week4

Isaac Newton was actually pretty badass.

Isaac Newton was actually pretty badass.

Hear the name "Isaac Newton", and it will usually conjure up an image of a man with long curly hair sitting under a tree, having just been knocked on the head by a falling apple. Best known for discovering the laws of gravity and motion, you have him to thank for those dreaded math lessons as well since he also invented calculus.

The last thing you would expect his name to conjure up would be images of him skulking around London pubs in disguises and spying on criminals like a badass Science Batman. But that's exactly what he did. 

Here's a rundown of the crazy and daring (non-scientific) exploits of Isaac Newton: 

Isaac Newton - Warden of the Royal Mint

In 1696, Newton accepted a position with the London Royal Mint that had little to do with science. This role meant that he was the head of an organization that, at that time, was rampant with counterfeiting. Coins were used during this era and most were made of silver. Unsurprisingly, the silver was worth more than the monetary value and one of the most common criminal trade was to melt the coins down for their silver and replace them with zinc or lead.

Counterfeiting was an incredibly dangerous trade too. Since it was so widespread, those found guilty were hanged, drawn, and quartered. Newton suspected that around 20% of the coins collected by the Mint were counterfeit and he decided to put an end to this. 

Isaac Newton - Science Batman

Among his targets was a man named William Chaloner, who would ultimately confess to minting somewhere around $35,000 worth of counterfeit coins alone. He did this through a scheme so audacious, it was almost hilarious: Chaloner would dress up as a respectable gentleman complete with top hat and cane to visit the Royal Mint. He would offer the Mint his services of inspecting the minting process and then advise them on how to better combat counterfeits. Irony, much? 

Chaloner was first arrested in 1697, but was able to pull some strings to get himself released. Newton was furious, and over a period of the next two years, he would dress up in various disguises and head out to some of the most notorious gangster pubs in London. Being the Warden of the Mint, Newton could arrest and interrogate anyone he wanted. 

Bet you didn't think the Father of Gravity would have the time to go undercover in some of London's most dangerous places. Don't you have some science to do in your laboratory!? But most of Gotham's citizens didn't expect Bruce Wayne to do much in life except being a playboy billionaire either. 

Isaac Newton - Justice of the Coin

It was during this two years that Newton built up a huge pile of evidence against Chaloner thanks to a network of informants, spies and witness confessions. This evidence eventually helped him see Chaloner hung for his crimes. 

it took the judge only two minutes to pass judgment.

 

The Tale of a Male Angler Fish

The Tale of a Male Angler Fish

Fyse remembers better days. Days marked by a wide expanse overhead. Sometimes that expanse was an iridescent blue, other times a fathomless black. Occasionally an ominous grey, and frequently a palette of pink, orange and purple.

When did that expanse disappear? Fyse doesn’t remember. All he remembers is migrating downwards with his school of brothers and sisters. Why, you ask? Fyse also doesn’t know. He did what his school did. And the school migrated downwards. And the further down he went, the more blur that expanse got, until eventually, it totally disappeared from his sight. What was left was darkness all around him. The only way to tell which way was up, which way was down, was the pressure. Down was the way with more pressure – pressure that constricted his chest and made it difficult to breathe. Down was the way where the blackness got even blacker. Down was the way in which everyone went.

Perhaps it was the environment that he was in; perhaps it was just part of growing up, but as he journeyed downwards, darkness slowly crept into Fyse’s heart. He realised he wasn’t as big as the other half of his school. And as the days went by and puberty dragged on, the difference became more marked. Where he had comically huge nostrils and large doe-like eyes, others had enormous jaws complete with needle sharp teeth and a bioluminescent lure dangling from their foreheads. While he was trapped inside a small weak body that struggled to even keep up with the rest, others had large strong bodies capable of capturing and devouring prey that ranged from his size to many times his size.

Eventually, the cold hard truth set in. Fyse could try all he wants, but there were just some things that he could not change. And one of them was the fact that he was a male angler fish. Unlike his female counterparts, he was destined to remain a small weak creature, one that was almost incapable of capturing any prey to keep himself from starving. And his school of brothers and sisters? They did not help. The males did not have the capacity – they were just as weak. The females could not be bothered to help – survival of the fittest dictated that those who could not help themselves should just die.

But should all the males starve to death, angler fishes would completely disappear from the face of this earth. Maybe nature did not want that to happen, for it provided a way. A way for Fyse and his brothers to live on. There was just a price to pay.

By now, Fyse was all alone; his school had dispersed in search of better fortunes in the vast black sea. He was also on the edge of severe starvation, having not eaten in 3 days. Even a morsel was hard to find near the bottom of the sea. Just when everything seemed bleak – or at least bleaker than his already bleak surroundings – Fyse smelt a heavenly scent. A scent that promised security and sustenance. A scent that was within reach. With all his remaining strength, Fyse swam towards the source of that smell. As he was about to sink his teeth into that source, he had a nagging feeling that this was a decision that would change his life. But into that source his teeth still went. And by drawing blood, his strength came back. But at the same time, he started fusing into this source at an insidious speed.

Perhaps he could tear away – and in doing so, lose a portion of his body – but the ability to feed his fill was so precious that Fyse did not even put up a fight. He simply allowed nature to take its course. At the back of his mind, he knew that eventually all that would be left of him were a pair of gills for breathing, and a pair of sperm-producing gonads to sire the next generation.

In one of his rare lucid moments, Fyse remembered better days. Days marked by a wide expanse overhead. Sometimes that expanse was an iridescent blue, other times a fathomless black. Occasionally an ominous grey, and frequently a palette of pink, orange and purple. But one thing was certain. At that time, his future contained as many possibilities as there were colours in the sky.

Now as he lay here, slowly fading into oblivion, Fyse understood where he had gone wrong. Going with the flow does not mean you are heading in the right direction when the direction you want your life to head in is up, not down. But the realisation might have come too late, for Fyse ultimately gave in to the oblivion.

Writer’s thoughts: This story is inspired by the stranger-than-fiction way that a male angler fish uses to survive. To read more about male angler fishes, click here

Disclaimer: No one knows whether male angler fishes still retain their sense of self when they fuse with female angler fishes, but I thought I would take a bit of liberty with this, just to end the story on a sad note, haha.

10 blockbuster movies to look forward to in 2017

10 blockbuster movies to look forward to in 2017

In Singapore, one of the best ways to unwind is by 'jio-ing' your best friends to watch a good kick-ass movie, complete with a big tub of popcorn. This year in particularly seems set to be a clash of big-budget CGI-filled Hollywood studio movies.

Here are 10 that we are most looking forward to: 

1. Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol.2

Admit it, you miss baby Groot already. Set to the all-new sonic backdrop of Awesome Mixtape #2, Marvel’s 'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2' continues Peter Quill a.k.a. Star-Lord and his team's adventures through the cosmos. The Guardians must fight to keep their newfound family together as they unravel the mystery of Peter’s true parentage, and salvage the fate of the galaxy that’s being threatened by the evil Thanos. 

Expected release date: 04 May 2017

2. Logan 

6cafe64196_345x518_5eb2ab42d1.jpg

Hugh Jackman has one last Wolverine movie in him, and that is great news for those of us who loved him playing the role of the grumpy, self-healing bad-ass mutant in X-Men. This film will be set in the future where mutants are all but extinct, and Logan is living in hiding. It’s not a lot to go on as a plotline, but it’s hard not to be excited that they will be sending Wolverine off with a bang.

Expected release date: 02 March 2017

3. Kong: Skull Island

In this day and age, taking an outdated, often mocked classic monster and turning it into a modern menace seems to be a trend. And we are all for it! Throw in Oscar-winner Brie Larson and Brit hottie Tom Hiddleston into the mix as part of a team of researchers exploring a prehistoric island, and we have a sneaking suspicion that this film will do well enough that Godzilla just might get to meet his primate playmate in a potential big-screen crossover battle in 2020.

Expected release date: 09 March 2017

4. The Fate of the Furious

I honestly thought there wouldn't be another one, especially after the fitting ending Paul Walker’s character was given at the end of Furious 7. Thankfully, Vin Diesel himself confirmed that 'The Fate of the Furious' is fuelling up for another go of epic car chases and explosions this year. The twist? Vin Diesel's Dom is turning to the dark side. Can the rest of Dom's family rally to bring their leader down? Find out in April in the final instalment to the 'Fast and Furious' franchise. 

Expected release date: 13 April 2017

5. Pirates Of The Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge

Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow is thrust into an all-new adventure when deadly ghost pirates led by his old nemesis, the terrifying Captain Salazar, escape from the Devil's Triangle. They are determined to kill every pirate at sea - including him. Captain Jack's only hope of survival lies in seeking out the legendary Trident of Poseidon, a powerful artifact that gives its holder total control over the seas.

Expected release date: 25 May 2017

6. Transformers: The Last Knight

Mark Wahlberg reprises his role in the next instalment of the Transformers franchise, which finds the leader of the Autobots, Optimus Prime, searching through the cosmos for the beings believed to be responsible for the creation of the Transformers race. Meanwhile, back on Earth, a new alien threatens mankind.

Expected release date: 22 June 2017

7. Wonder Woman

DC is hot on the heels of Marvel by continuing to expand their own cinematic universe. With 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice' introducing her character properly, Gal Gadot has been working her ass off to get into shape as the titular Amazonian. In this standalone film, she leaves her all-female island home to explore the world that's currently in the throes of World War II, and in doing so, transforms from Princess Diana to Wonder Woman. 

Expected release date: 01 June 2017

8. Spider-man: Homecoming

Spider Man is heading home to Marvel Studios for the first time! After a string of Sony Pictures' films, and different actors tackling the role of "our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man", it's Tom Holland's turn to don the mask. 'Spider-Man: Homecoming' will bring us back to Peter Parker’s high school days, and will continue the threads we saw formed during his initial appearance in Captain America: Civil War, with Tony Stark/Ironman going along for the ride. 

Expected release date: 06 July 2017

9. War Of The Planet Of The Apes

With Humans and The Apes properly divided in the previous film 'Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes', this sequel will see the military and Caesar, the leader of The Apes, face off in the ruins of San Francisco. Under Matt Reeves’ directorship, this third frame in Caesar’s rise to world domination promises to be as nuanced and brutal as the last.

Expected release date: 13 July 2017

10. Star Wars: Episode VIII

The eighth instalment in the Star Wars franchise looks promising. Considering that The First Order will more than likely be just getting started with their villainous ways, tons of unanswered questions over Luke Skywalker's first encounter with Rey, and that Darth Vader helmet still requiring an explanation, 'Star Wars: Episode VIII' is going to be a hell of a follow up to 2015’s 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens'.

What I learnt from my auditing internship

What I learnt from my auditing internship

Just 3 weeks into my audit internship and I already feel a lot older.

From the start, I knew auditing was not easy. My professor might have briefly mentioned that vouching (a process involving tracing to the original documents to make sure that the financial statement figures are true) is a tedious process involving piles and piles of source documents, but I wouldn’t know for sure, because I was busy shopping on Tao Bao while my professor droned on about the life of an auditor. But what I do know is that the turnover rate of the auditing industry is one of the highest out of all the jobs available out there; even higher than being a tuition teacher stuck with a bunch of silly, soft students whose only lovable quality is the cheque they submit every month (just kidding J). That seems to say a lot about what to expect.

But like all humans, I have a tendency to think that I am special. I believed that where other people have failed, I will succeed; the things that other people cry about will not stump me.

So I went into my workplace bright-eyed, happy to learn and eager to prove myself.

The first week was training – no problem.

The second week was e-learning – boring, just give me a job already!

The third week was uneventful – for the first part. I ran errands; helping to deliver documents, photocopying thick previous years files and being at the beck and call of seniors.

The second part of the third week – that was when I realised I am no different from other people.

I was assigned to a client’s place to help the seniors with whatever they needed help with. I was dumbfounded when my senior handed me a large stash of papers – which when stacked together, reached my waist – and told me to look for a few randomly selected invoices. It was as impossible as it sounded. I spent the entire day flipping through that stack of papers. I ended work at 7pm instead of the usual 5.30pm.  My fellow colleagues – the associates and the seniors –  went home even later, at 9pm.

The next day, after a long day of hard work, a senior and I cabbed home at 11.30pm. On the way home, I asked that senior whether he considered changing jobs. He answered “yes… but only if I can find a better job. This job may be tiring but luckily, time flies. At first I did not think I can last even one year, but now I am three years into this job. And look at me, I am still surviving, am I not?”

I simply nodded. Had I not been so tired, I would have told him that I really admired his grit. I cannot imagine going to work every morning only wishing for the day to finally be over. And I shudder at the thought of having to do this for the next 40 years.  I am glad I am only an intern who can say adieu after 2 months.

One thing that I took away from this internship, other than a newfound appreciation for sleep, is a clearer idea of the pay structure of auditors. Freshly graduated associates are paid quite poorly when they first start out, considering how tedious their work is. Notice how I said “tedious”, and not “hard”. From double checking with a client or a bank (the cheemer term is “confirmation”) to playing hide and seek with source documents (innocuously named “vouching”), even you can do it too.

But you probably would not want to do it because of the long hours involved. Likewise, for many who are aboard the ship that is an audit firm, they can’t wait to jump off either. Even if there is no other ship that can rescue them from the dark waters of unemployment.

Because of this phenomenon of people quitting like crazy, having just a few years of experience under your belt turns you from a dispensable fresh graduate to a highly prized member of the audit firm. With your few years of experience, you are entrusted with supervision and planning, partly because audit procedures are largely the same, and also partly because with everyone else quitting, you are the only one the firm can rely on. And to entice you to willingly rip up your ticket to heaven aboard the RESIGNATION A380 and stay another year in hell, your salary grows exponentially the more experience you have.

So the next time you look at the 5 figure monthly salary of an auditor, think a bit first before you let your jaw drop. There is a reason for that astronomical sum. And that reason does not lie with a piece of university degree.

graduation-1695185_960_720.jpg

 

Learning from Christmas Eve

Learning from Christmas Eve

Every year on December 24, my parents let my siblings and I select a present from under the Christmas tree in our living room, and open it after dinner. It was a sneak preview, a teaser - a little taste of the things to come on Christmas Day itself. And we as kids relished it. 

Christmas Eve has always been the perfect picture of anticipation to me. The sleepless excitement... the chance to celebrate the potential gift of giving, and of being thankful. It was for something I look forward all year for.

But as I grew older, I slowly realised that many people don't seem to share this same hopefulness. I am obviously only one person with my own set of experiences and feelings, but as I talk to others, many of them share a general feeling of frustration and distrust towards this day that seem to promise to fill the emptiness they’ve felt all year long.

To them, Christmas is a reminder of the inevitable disappointment of life. To some, the answer to the question, “Did you get everything you wanted?” is, an unfortunate no. 

Why can’t we be happy? Why can’t we be satisfied? Why this constant desire for more? Will we ever be content with what we have, the secret Santa gifts, and the toys under the tree?

Maybe the answer lies in the night before the big day.

Having a different Christmas Eve attitude 

When I was taking my World Cultures module in university, I was interested in understanding how popular holidays are celebrated around the world. One fascinating thing I learnt was that Christmas is important in the Spanish culture, but not celebrated the same way as in Singapore. 

In Spain, families will get together on Christmas Eve (called La Nochebuena or The Good Night) and have a church service. The night isn't about gift-giving; it's about feasting and family, gratitude and commemoration. It's not about 'me', but about 'we'. It's about being together and not getting things from each other.

Contrast this to how we spend Christmas Eve in Singapore. It's usually a mad last-minute rush to buy the presents we forgot. To make sure that our gifts are deemed by our friends as cool and not lame. It's hoping that our friends got us what we wanted on our Christmas list of things.

This was an epiphany to me. That our culture can avoid the pressure placed on a day typically about spending money, and refocus on slowing down. Instead of frantically rushing around or freaking out over Christmas. We can simply enjoy the time we have together with loved ones.

So today, as Christmas Day is just 2 days away, I hope that we can see how the magic of Christmas is not about it being an event, but a process. Where we can be thankful for a chance to experience the good things: spending time with family and friends, taking a break before school starts again, reflecting on who you want to be in 2017. 

10 last minute gift exchange ideas for this Christmas

10 last minute gift exchange ideas for this Christmas

As Christmas approaches, so does the annual tradition of gift exchanges at Christmas parties or ‘secret Santa’. It’s super common to see people around you scratching their heads and losing sleep over what to gift their friends and loved ones. In fact, a recent survey by Rakuten highlighted that Singaporeans spend an average of 70-93 minutes just to find the right Christmas gift.

In a party with lots of people, the last thing you want is to give the wrong type of present, or worse, be that uncool guy getting caught re-gifting something (which still has a greeting tag with his name on it!). If you're like me, who has the very enviable habit of leaving gift exchange shopping to the very last minute and hoping that my very last minute gift does not get called out as lame, here are 10 gift exchange ideas that may help.

The best part? They all cost under $20. 

1. Scratch Off Map ($7.22)

this-scratch-off-map-lets-world-travelers-mark-where-theyve-been.jpg

We all have a wanderlusting travelbug of a person in our life. Now whenever he/she travels somewhere new, they can mark off where they've been around the world by scratching off that destination on the map.

2. Butter London's Joyfull ($19) 

So you're a 19-year-old boy, and you just found out your secret Santee is a girl. The last time you bought something for a girl was a My Little Pony set for your little sister. What on earth will you get for her!? We're here to help. This lipgloss and nail polish set is a delightful way for any girl to pamper her lips & tips. Best of all, it comes in a classic burgundy-pink shade that can't go wrong.

3. Notebook with Initial ($2)  

Customisation is cool. This notebook set comes with an embossed gold initial letter you can match to your recipient's name. It also comes with an attachable pen. It should also put a smile on your face as it only cost $2! If you have a group of friends to purchase gifts for, this seals the deal. 

4. Powerbank ($20)

With great power comes great... battery drain. In today's world of Googling everything, your friend will never again have to say "Aiyah my phone died..." with a portable power bank. A typical power bank should set you back around $20, and is easily available at any electronics stores like Challenger, and Courts.

5. Star Wars 2017 Diary ($10)

Yes yes, we get that almost everyone uses their iPhone calendar to remember important dates and events. But with Stars Wars making such a huge comeback now, you'll be the relevant cool one by gifting this. Featuring a print on each page with a weekly layout, this diary is sure to help that blur friend of yours keep organised for school in 2017!

6. Nerf Guns (from $16)

There is just something about Nerf Guns that bring out the child in all of us. Gone are the days where guns are only "appropriate" for boys. This is a great gift for both guys AND girls. Do not underestimate the girls. I've seen some play Left4Dead2 before, and I secretly think they might be better at it than guys. Get Nerf Guns from any toy stores, but Toys R Us is likely to have a larger variety. 

 7. Blocks Water Bottle ($12.90)

A water bottle that's sure to get some "oooh"s when it's whipped out. Looking like a cubism masterpiece created by Picasso, this rectangular bottle is not only pretty to look at when filled with water, but it's also odor, shatter, and stain resistant. 

8. Doggie Cable Tie ($8.90)

If you have a really messy study buddy who constantly pulls out tangled iPhone/laptop/earphones cables from his bag, and just can’t seem to get his cables together. Let this cable dog lend a hand (or paw!).

9. Be Fabulous Laptop Decal ($5.90)

Screen Shot 2016-12-15 at 7.04.08 PM.png

For that extra fabulous person in your life. Allow his/her personality to shine through their laptop with this decal. It's also directly imported from Germany, and easy to remove without leaving glue-y stains all over the laptop. 

10. LED Collar Light ($15)

The Nite Ize PetLit LED Collar Light is the perfect gift for any pet owner you know. It clips to a pet's collar, and transforms it into a stylish and visible furry friend all night. A fun and reliable way to keep a pet safe and visible when out running/walking/Pokemon Go-ing at night. 

Reflections from The Giving Tree

Reflections from The Giving Tree

What is the caterpillar thinking when it undergoes metamorphosis? Does it know it will very soon shed its fleshy body and emerge as a gem of the natural world? Perhaps not, seeing that every step of the transformation is gradual. But when a caterpillar breaks forth from the cocoon and spreads her wings, she will realise that she is no longer the same person she was. And the new wings will bring her to places she has never gone before.

A few days ago, I chanced upon the story of The Giving Tree again. If you are unfamiliar with the story, here is the gist of it 

Growing up, I have been told the story multiple times and I always took it to symbolise the unconditional love of a parent. And it is not hard to see why. The tree was a constant presence in the boy’s life and even when he was an old shrunken man, he was still addressed as Boy. The tree devoted her life to caring for the boy and whatever he wanted, she gave. All she wanted in return was for him to come home to her.

But at this time in life, I also saw problems with how the tree related to the boy. Instead of seeing a mother in the tree, I saw a desperate woman who was overly reliant on a man to give meaning to her life. Her giving no longer looked selfless to me, but desperate. In making the boy’s wishes her commands, the tree lost her sense of self. Her identity was tied up in what she can do for the boy and when she had nothing left to give, she no longer knew how to relate to the boy. This seemed extremely unhealthy to me.

“I am sorry, Boy, but I have nothing left to give you, my apples are gone."

“My branches are gone; you cannot swing on them."

“My trunk is gone; you cannot climb."

“I am sorry; I wish that I could give you something… But I have nothing left. I am just an old stump. I am sorry…”

And in the end, when the boy decided that he was willing to sit on the old stump one last time, the tree became happy. Never mind that her boy took advantage of her again and again, leaving her broken hearted and lonely every single time. 

The same actions that I once celebrated, the same actions that once brought me to tears, were incomprehensible to me now. I wonder, is this the kind of storybook that you should read to little kids? A story about always taking and never giving anything in return? A story about having no boundaries and allowing people to walk all over you in the name of love? Is this the kind of message that we want to send to young impressionable souls?

That is when I realised, I have grown up. And the lens I saw the world through have changed. The story is still the same, but now I imbue the story with a different meaning, compared to 10 years ago, when I was still a young impressionable soul. Perhaps 10 years down the road, I will end up with another reading of the story, and my interpretation will be just as valid. Simply because there is no black and white when it comes to literature; everything exists in shades of grey.

In the words of Shel Silverstein, the story is a simple one – it is just a relationship between two people: a giver and a taker. Exactly who the giver and taker represent, that is up to your interpretation. An interpretation that is based on your own experiences. An interpretation that reflects who you have become in the process of growing up. And sometimes, the reflection staring back at you may seem almost unrecognisable; vastly different compared to what you remember.

That is when you know the caterpillar is no longer a caterpillar. But does it regret becoming a butterfly? No one, except the butterfly, knows. 

4 DIY Christmas Gifts That Don't Suck

4 DIY Christmas Gifts That Don't Suck

We're counting down to exactly one more month to Christmas! Even though it's been said that it's the thought that counts when you give gifts, sometimes you wonder what kind of thoughts are really going through your friends' heads when they are unwrapping your gift to them.

Here are 4 Christmas gift ideas that are original, tasteful AND you can make on your own for cheap. Even for those of you whose artistic talents are as minimal as a 3-year-old. 

Personalised Edibles

Chances are that over the past few Christmases, you've amassed quite a few pens, mugs and photo frames as gifts that end up lying around gathering dust. Or more likely, that you've re-gifted to someone else.

However, that doesn't happen to food! Food always gets consumed. If I get chocolates or a bag of cookies for Christmas, I'm eating that the very next day! 

Your gifts of brownies or cupcakes with individual icing names on the top may not be as hip as some personalised iPhone cover. But at least you know they'll be appreciated. For the baking-challenged, you can get some glass jars and wooden spoons from Daiso, some instant cake mix from the supermarket, and create some personalised cake-in-a-jar. 

Candles

We've all walked past Yankee Candle at some point when in Orchard Road, and those amazing scented candles can conjure up images from freshly baked cookies to balmy ocean breeze. Instead of spending $20-$40 on one, how about trying a hand at making some.  

Candles, even scented ones, are some of the easiest things to make at home. You just need to buy a big chunk of wax and some wicks (Daiso is your best friend for these types of miscellaneous items), your preferred scents in the form of essential oils, and small glass containers to pour the wax into. 

The best thing about making candles is that you can just melt a huge chunk of wax and then pour them into many containers at once. You could probably make 100 candles in one day if you like. Here’s how to do it.

Handwritten Notes

There's nothing more over-rated than spending a ridiculous amount of money in the name of Christmas. This idea may take up a bit of your time, but it cost practically nothing. Better yet, it could be one of the more heartfelt presents you can give to your loved ones. 

Get any glass jar with a lid (Daiso sells mason jars too!), and slowly fill them with coloured paper that each contain a happy, little message. Start writing down notes - literally, lots of notes - about what you like about the person receiving this jar, and why you appreciate him/her. It could be short notes remembering funny things you both experienced together, or even inspirational quotes you can find off Google. It's going to be super heartwarming to know that person will be appreciating you when each note is unfolded and read, perhaps with a tear or two in their eyes too.

Soap

With the sheer humidity in Singapore, taking 2-3 showers a day is considered normal. A wonderfully scented bar of soap is another practical gift that people will actually use instead of chucking into the storeroom. Soap is easy to make, and again, this is something you can create in batches.

Here's how to make quick and cool latte-scented soap for the Starbucks addicts in your social circle.