Friday, November 27, 2009

Wizard with Words

If there is one local writer whom I admire most for his wizardry with words, it will have to be poet Felix Cheong. Not only is he meticulous in his economy and choice of words, he has a incredible sensitivity to raw human emotions that you don't often find in... well, men.

And so when I learnt that he was launching his 4th book of poetry titled Sudden in Youth: New and Selected Poems at the Singapore Writers Festival earlier this month, I went down to support. But time was short and he was surrounded by fans, so I just had to invite Felix to The Living Room to chat more about his work.

As a writer and former Deputy Editor myself, I appreciate the written word. I'm one of those who can never speed read. And oh, if I'm into a good book...... Just a word, line or para that speaks to me will have me closing the book for the rest of the day, just to let the words sink in and marinate the soul.

And one of my greatest inspirations as a writer would be this man:

Felix Cheong, My favourite local poet & friend.

I attended a writing workshop Felix conducted some years back, and he was the one who taught me the fundamentals of good feature writing.

Well, he was our guest in The Living Room today and I had him autograph my copy of Sudden in Youth.We also invited him to read a poem to us on-air: Father and Son II. My favourite lines from that poem are: How sand-like, your childhood / when it slipped through my fingers.

My other faves in his book include his love poems Walk With Me and I Watch the Stars Go Out. His amazingly accurate take on how women function in the dating game is captured in the poem The Only Mathematical Way to Woo A Woman. I recognised so much truth in it that I laughed out loud when I first read it!

Another noteworthy poem is the one called Chronicle of a Tattoo of a Typewriter. Felix has a tattoo on his arm - an old-fashioned typewriter! And in this poem, he writes about embracing this Divine calling (at least that's how I interpret it!). He starts off by writing Father, I have branded myself as / yours, on a Sunday. And he ends as such: I am / as you have meant me to be. Nice.

I recommend this book if you're eager to taste poetry. It's available at Kinokuniya, Select Books, Books Actually, and online at Grab a copy!

Travel Trends: Boutique Hotels

Charming boutique hotels are fast replacing large hotel chains as choice accommodation for discerning travellers.

If you're the sort who feels that where you stay on a vacation is integral to the whole magical experience, then you'll appreciate the allure of boutique hotels. It's a fast-growing trend with discerning travellers, who deliberately seek out these quaint, romantic, sexy hideaways as an alternative to large sterile hotel chains.

Where you lay your head at the end of the day can make the difference between a good holiday and an exceptionally unique one!

But searching for & booking the best boutique hotels is often a case of hit & miss online. There are just so many to choose from! And who do we trust in terms of reviews?

Well, thanks to the world's leading boutique accommodation experts, Mr & Mrs Smith, you can now find detailed reviews from people of taste, and enjoy a shortlisted collection of the world's best boutique hotels.

In fact, these boutique hotels are reviewed by a team of hand-picked opinion-formers whom they call Smith Tastemakers. These are men & women in various fields who are deemed to possess "travel in their blood & taste in their soul". Think Nadya Hutagalung or Dita Von Tess, both Smith Tastemakers!

Stanley & I shamelessly volunteered our services as well! *grin*

Well, we had a wonderful chat today with the Co-founder & Managing Director of Mr & Mrs Smith Asia Pacific, Simon Westcott (he's ex-Global Publisher of Lonely Planet) about the latest trends in boutique vacationing. What should we look out for when choosing a boutique hotel? What are his top 3 picks of the most charming boutique hotels in the world?

Simon Westcott reveals the latest trends in boutique vacationing.

I am now all psyched up now for my next vacation! And you can bet this girl will be checking out Mr & Mrs Smith's website for the hottest & sexiest boutique hotel recommendations! *grin* Helloooooo world!!!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Maps that Save Lives

I was captivated when Benedict Thambiah from Bang PR first broached this subject with me. A humanitarian organisation dedicated to creating & providing maps to international agencies involved in disaster & poverty relief work. Who would imagine that something as fundamental & crucial as maps to reach remote villages & disaster zones could be overlooked?

Example of a map created to track street kids in South Africa.

Map created to aid disaster relief workers in Pakistan 2005/06.

I said YES to the interview opportunity, without hesitation. And the result was our marvelous chat with the Director of Global MapAid (UK), Jessamin Kaur Roothman.

Jessamin Kaur Roothman, Director of Global MapAid (UK), shares how maps can save lives.

Jessamin is an entrepreneur who runs her own web development agency. She started out as a volunteer with GMA, using her skills & expertise in web design. When she was invited to be Director of GMA (UK), she admitted to almost turning it down because she felt the role was too big for her to fill. But because she believed in the value of the work, she agreed.

She shared with us about how GMA works with local volunteers in the field, using satellite kits, to map out areas that are poverty crisis hotspots. These include orphanages, HIV monitoring, even environmental rehabilitation.

Although Google maps has mapped out most corners of the globe, their maps are more generic than specialist. Hence the need for a humanitarian organisation like Global MapAid.

"We have a lovely plane, but please help us fuel it," says Jessamin.

The most urgent need for this non-profit organisation right now is funding its various projects. It takes a huge amount of resources to acquire satellite kits for volunteers to collect data in the field, computer systems to generate maps, transportation etc. As Jessamin puts it, "We have a lovely plane, but please help us fuel it."

So whether you're an individual looking to contribute in cash, or a business looking to donate computer systems, do contact them. In fact, Bentley Systems Inc made a generous donation of three sets of software systems to GMA to be used for their project in sub-Saharan Africa to map schools and hospitals there.

To find out more about their work & mission, click here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Win tickets to Broadway Beng!

Stand a chance to win a pair of tickets to watch
Broadway Beng -
Jiak Liu Lian!

Three pairs of tickets to be given away to
3 lucky listeners of The Living Room!!!

How To Win:
In no more than 100 words, describe your most intimate affair with durians and the great lengths you've gone to pursue the King of the Fruit!

Email us at
by 5pm on Wed, 25th Nov!
Please include your full name, IC number,
mobile number & postal address

Winners will be notified by email.

* * * * * * * * * *

The Living Room has featured almost every instalment of Broadway Beng (now in its 4th year) and Sebastian Tan never fails to deliver. Maybe because it's hardly an act for him, after all, there's a 'beng' in every one of us. Seb praised me for recognising that 'fact' when I made that acknowledgement on air. It's true isn't it?! I step on the gas (when challenged) to prove my wheels are worthy and capable of providing horsepower good for a full gallop. I roar over the din (in Hokkien) to order my drinks in a noisy coffeeshop. I never say die and am always ready to act tough.

And that about sums up the undertaking of highly-acclaimed film director Royston Tan, who makes his directorial debut of a theatre production with Broadway Beng: Jiak Liu Lian by The Dream Academy. Royston has you know that he's been having a whale of a time working with Sebastian whom he deems as being 'very funny'. Zhun bo?! I thought that was stating the obvious, but while the two have never worked together in any film or stage production prior to this, their roots go back to the Music & Drama Company while both were serving their National Service. Back then, Sebastian was always up front and on stage while Royston was, according to Sebastian, the 'technical guy'. Not much has changed has it?

But fast forward to 2009, Royston's got multiple movie credits to his name and awards under his belt, and these will surely be perfume powerful enough to mask any pungence wafting from the durian themed husk in this upcoming latest production of Broadway Beng.

A few words from director, Royston Tan:

I'm a fan of Broadway Beng and even watched the first instalment twice (in 2006)! It is very rare for a film director to be given the opportunity to direct a stage production so I'm very excited about the possibilities...Bringing a fresh perspective to this show is something I am really looking forward to. I think the experience gained from working on my fil, 881, will come in handy.
Broadway Beng: Jiak Liu Lian
Esplanade Theatre
3rd - 12th December 2009
Evening performances: 8pm; Weekend Matinees: 3pm
Tickets from $18 - $86 through SISTIC or call 6348-5555.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Exclusive with Neil Gaiman!

Neil Gaiman is the award-winning genius behind The Sandman series of graphic novels. He is also the author of numerous bestselling books including Coraline and Stardust which have been made into Hollywood movies.

Scoring an interview with Neil Gaiman felt like winning the lottery! Although I had put in a request months in advance (when I first heard he was coming for the Singapore Writers Festival), I didn't get a confirmation till about a week or so before he was scheduled to arrive.

Apparently, Neil has to give a personal go-ahead for all his interviews. And for some reason, he granted The Living Room an exclusive 30-minute, one-on-one interview with him after a closed-door press conference with journalists from the region. Whatever the reason, I have to say THANK YOU, Lin Kuek from Caelan & Sage!!!

I sat in for the closed-door press conference in the next room @ Arts House, waiting for my exclusive interview with Gaiman.

Finally, Neil breaks through the crowd and walks over to the Writers Room next door, where I was waiting for him. The room was cleared for us and we sat down for a cosy chat.

This is an onsite interview, which means it's just me & my trusty MD player. I was also on 2 weeks MC during this period and blind as a bat after my Epi-LASIK! *chuckle* It was then about 5-6 days after my operation so my vision was blurry, and I could barly read....

I had printed the cue sheet in font-size 18! But after reading the intro, I gave up reading the script. So for the next 28 minutes or so, I was speaking off the cuff. But it was a wonderful interview nonetheless because Mr Gaiman is such a charming, engaging, and interesting man!

In the first segment, we discussed his phenomenally-successful graphic novel The Sandman. When did the whole idea/concept of The Sandman first seep into his consciousness? And how much of the storyline did he see in his head before it was inked? Does he see The Sandman being made into a Hollywood movie in the near future?

Sitting in was Neil's girlfriend, singer-songwriter Amanda Palmer, formally from The Dresden Dolls. She's a doll!

In the 2nd segment, we got acquainted with Neil on a more personal level. How tough was it to cross over from hard-nosed journalism to creative fiction? Has he included any of his friends in his stories? What interesting hobbies does he have? After all that he's accomplished, does he have an unfulfilled dream? Tune in to find out the answers tonight at 10.10pm!

And how can we welcome a celebrated British writer to Singapore without offering him some local delights? And this journalist did just that, by buying Neil Gaiman nonya kueh-kueh from Bangawan Solo!

Neil tells me that since coming to Singapore, everyone's been trying to stuff him with food! He & Amanda have been eating non-stop. He then concocts this brilliant theory about Singaporeans preparing "Stuffed Author" ~ a ritual that's carried out every 100 years so that we "natives" can fatten him up and feast on him. This man is hilarious!

Well, with Neil held captive, I just had to bring along my books for him to autograph. I brought along M is for Magic (gift from my BFF, the magician!), The Graveyard Book (which recently won the Newbury Medal, the top prize for children's literature), and Coraline. I loved the animated movie!

Neil was really patient to sign all the books I brought, even sketching on them to personalise them. That's on top of the books my BFF, Ning, brought along ~ and we're talking about her whole Sandman Absolute collection!!!

I can't include all the autographed books here, suffice to say each one had my name printed on it and each one unique. He is a wonderful artist as well, and I wonder if he will come round to illustrating his own books one day? *grin*

Talking about my BFF, I have to say I am immensely grateful to Ning for coming along with me that Sunday morning, as I was half-blind and had to do the interview solo. She is also the one who took photos & videos throughout so that I could upload them on our Living Room blog. I don't know a more supportive person than her, and I just want to take this opportunity to say THANK YOU, Ning!!!

What a blast! I love this picture with Neil, Amanda & Ning.

Friday, November 20, 2009

We Give... We Receive...

Nothing warms my heart more than young people who look beyond themselves and reach out to others in service. So I was looking forward to meeting Ethan Nava & Davin Chia today to find out more about their project called BLISS (Building Libraries in Siem Reap).

Stan & Pam find out more about Project BLISS, a collaboration between 11 teenage boys from ACS (Independent) & Project Happy Feet.

These boys are from the 4th Student's Council at ACS (Independent) and helming the project is Ethan, who happens to be the son of one of my dearest friends & mentor Trudy Loh (from NLB). I've known Ethan since he was a little boy, telling me jokes and stuffing Pocky sticks between his lips & gums to look like a sabre-tooth tiger! *chuckle* Imagine my surprise when I saw this strapping young man (he's now 17!) towering over me!

[L to R] Deborah Chew, Director of Project Happy Feet & MD of Caelan & Sage, ACS boys Davin & Ethan.

Well, these guys will be heading up to Siem Reap, Cambodia, from 1-6 December to build (and stock) a library for the children living in a remote village called Taom. Taom is 75km from Siem Reap and takes 2.5 hours to get to, through rocky terrain. As a result of distance, many of the kids do not have the opportunity to study beyond elementary level.

With the building (and stocking) of this library, hopefully they will have more resources to help them further their studies, through the help of local volunteers. Ethan tells us that they are targeting to raise $10,000 - 100% of proceeds go to the village library.

At the moment, they are at the halfway mark, with slightly over a week to go... So if you're keen to make a contribution, log on to Project Happy Feet's website by clicking here.

Deborah (Director of PHF) is truly an inspiration! PHF started out as a CSR project for her company Caelan & Sage in 2008, but the response was so overwhelming that she & her staff (among them Terence Quek & Lin Kuek) are volunteering their time & energy to help disadvantaged communities in developing countries. All this on top of their work! I really take my hat off to them... *awed*

"Some people give time, some money, some their skills and connections, some literally give their life's blood. But everyone has something to give." ~ Barbara Bush

Also in The Living Room today are three underwater photographers who are involved in a photo exhibition called Gifts From the Sea: The Finest Pictures of Ocean Geographic. And I have to say that as a scuba diver, I was in AWE of finally meeting Michael Aw, my underwater photographer idol! And he is such a nice, warm & down-to-earth guy! *beams*

Opening the Underwater World to us: Award-winning photographers Michael Aw, Mikael Jigmo, and Ivan Choong.

My favourite picture is this baby box fish [pictured]. Michael tells us that this tiny thing was floating by in open waters - probably newborn. He explains that juvenile box fish are usually yellow with black spots, and mature ones are grey with yellow spots. This lil' one was pretty in pink!

Mikael and Ivan are also renowned Singapore-based underwater photographers and what's exciting is that they will be joining Emory Kristoff (who discovered the Titanic) on an photography expedition to Antarctica in Feb 2010. We'll definitely be calling them back for a chat then!

In the meantime, don't miss the photo exhibition at L2 Space Gallery, starting tomorrow. There will also be talks every Sunday at 2pm as well, with Michael Aw kicking things off this weekend. He will be sharing the behind-the-scene tales of his amazing photographs & also secrets to good underwater photography. Find out more here.

TGIF! Have a great weekend, and we'll see you again on Monday when The Living Room brings you an exclusive interview with award-winning author & graphic novelist, Neil Gaiman!!!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Tech the Plunge!

An old friend I caught up with recently asked me, "So what is your #1 activity these days?" An excellent question to cut short the catching-up process! I pondered for a bit, then replied honestly and a tad sheepishly, "Facebooking!"

Social media like Facebook, Twitter, MSN, blogs have crept into our lifestyle so much so that I think we become quite lost and isolated without it. When I was on 2 weeks MC recently, recovering from my Epi-LASIK op, Facebook was my sanity, my link to the world.

I am very thankful that through Facebook, I still get to keep in touch with people I love and care for, people who may be physically out of my life, whom I may not have the luxury of calling or sms-ing as often as before. It connects us.

But I guess when it comes to my twin boys, it gets a little scarier. They love watching Naruto on Youtube and to search for cheat codes for their DS Pokemon games. But just typing in these searches innocently have (to my horror!) led them to videos that are hardly suitable for 8-year-olds!

I guess raising & parenting kids in the Digital Age needs some amount of wisdom and lots of vigilance and guidance. There's a world of information at their fingertips, sometimes more than they can grasp at their age. One click of the mouse leads to another, then another, and before they know it, by no intention of theirs, they end up surfing porn!

Well, it was an interesting conversation I had with my guests today, both speakers at an upcoming workshop called Be a New Media Parent, organised by Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore, as part of NLB's Asian Children's Festival.

Tech-savvy parents Kelvin Tan & Nura J-Esman share their tips.

Kelvin Tan is VP (New Media) at ServTouch ETi & father to a 12-year-old boy, while Nura J-Esman is a former model & TV host with MediaCorp Suria, a certified educator & mum of a four-year-old daughter. Although this topic is not new to me, I did come away feeling inspired by the commitment they have to keeping up with trends and making time to guide their kids in the use of New Media.

I guess the challenge for me is not to wave the white flag too early when it comes to raising my boys in the Digital Age. We don't have to stay tech dinosaurs! We can take that first step to explore and learn, and to use New Media as a "tool" to bond with our kids.

One great lesson I learnt from a very dear tech-savvy friend this past year. If you need any info, "Just Google!" It has become my tagline.

To get more Infocomm tips, surf onto this website or head down to the Be A New Media Parent workshop this Sunday 22 Nov @ NLB. You can find out more here. Go ahead. Tech the plunge!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Lessons From A Fairy Tale

Ah, it's good to be back and blogging! Yes, poor Stanley has had to shoulder the full (work)load of The Living Room while I was on MC, and that means not just preparing for interviews each day, but also updating the website, blogging, and scheduling for future interviews.

It's a tall order for one person. And so I salute my buddy for holding the fort while I was recovering from my Epi-LASIK operation. He's right, The Living Room is - and should always be - a partnership. And yes, we're back in full force! *grin*

Today I feel compelled to blog because we had actors Karen Tan, RJ Rosales (Chang in the hit musical Chang & Eng) and Hossan Leong (on the line from Lush 99.5FM studio) on our show, sharing us about W!ld Rice's new production, Beauty & the Beast.

RJ Rosales & Karen Tan share about W!ld Rice's Beauty & the Beast.
[Can you see me reading the news in the background? Hilarious]

Well, it's not the Disney version of the well-loved classic fairy tale for sure, with W!ld Rice's resident playwright Alfian Sa'at and director Hossan Leong helming this. But it is above all, about LOVE and about ACCEPTANCE of people different from ourselves.

Just listening to Karen share that made me feel that there's so much need for that in the world. How often do we judge people just because they are different from us? And who does not long to love and be loved? So I do believe there's going to be something in this pantomime for me, personally. I shall be open to the message it has for me.

Well, I watched Chang & Eng years ago, so it was wonderful to actually meet RJ "Chang" Rosales in the flesh. He plays the Beast in the play, and although he does admit it's the ugliest character he's had to play, he qualifies, "That depends on how you define Ugliness, isn't it? The Beast may be ugly physically, but he's got a good heart."

Then there's Karen Tan who plays Ah Ma Chow Chow - just the name cracks me up! Her character is a nanny, but she mentions something about being a bolster or comfort pillow (hence chow chow)? *raise eyebrow* I'm not sure but that's reason enough to catch her in action. For tickets, visit SISTIC.

We also had a couple of dynamic young ladies from the Singapore Management University (SMU) come in today to tell us about an upcoming exhibition called 1989: The Year They Kissed, which commemorates the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

These final-year students from SMU's School of Social Sciences put up 1989: The Year They Kissed to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

These girl are so mature & eloquent they impressed me to bits! Well, the Berlin Wall exhibition will be held at the Li Ka Shing library at SMU, so head down there to catch it. It sounds impressive ~ with a self-constructed Berlin Wall erected out of 120 shoe boxes, so the girls tell us! *chuckle*

And oh! It was wonderful to meet Ca-Mie De Souza again. She was our colleague from Channel NewsAsia before, but now with SMU. Yes, Ca-Mie is now on "the other side", but it helps that she's a seasoned journalist and knows what we journos look for in terms of stories. It's great to be working with her again!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Thanks for your Patience!

Pardon the 'silence' on the blog. As much as I profess to be an avid blogger, I lack the mastery of time to be able to put in an entry every other day the past week. Things will get better in the coming week or two, so thanks for bearing with us.

I'm deliberately thanking you for your patience for the no-show the past week, in part motivated by yesterday's chat with Celebrity ambassador for the Singapore Kindness Movement Irene Ang and General Manager of the Singapore Kindness Movement, Teh Thien Yew who were on our show yesterday encouraging the display of kindness ahead of World Kindness Day this Friday, 13th November.

You see...(yes, the word is 'see')...Pam's been on medical leave, recovering from a surgical procedure to the eye. She only returned to work today after two weeks away and it was to many listeners' delight (and to my joy and relief) to hear her chattering alongside me. Her absence reminded me that The Living Room is no place for just one man. It's made for two to produce and host. And when you have two people pulling the cart, you then have the luxury of taking some time out to blog, upload photos and document the day. If we were still on the punch-card system, I'd have easily chalked up 10-hour workdays the last two weeks. You know something's not right when your intern asks you why you're not heading home yet. (Thanks Nick for your concern!) The show just has to go on and I couldn't bring myself to change gear. There are standards to maintain in our interviews and quality conversations listeners deserve, nothing less.

Here's are snapshots of who I hosted last week...

(above second from left: Executive Director of the Singapore International Foundation Jean Tan popped by to share the SIF's re-invented vision and purpose.)

Last week, I also hosted International Values Director of The Body Shop, Jan Buckingham who's from the UK. Jan is a believer in the importance of businesses having values that govern what they do. She is also of the belief that one's personal values must match the company you work in or you'd always been struggling within you when they're not congruent.

I teased her about having to be a very principled lady to be holding on to the job title she held. But she truly is, disclosing her wishes for family values to rub off on her two teenage children Katie and James.

(above from left: Co-Founder of the Fellowship of Inventors Dave Lim, Associate Professor Kirpal Singh, Director of the Wee Kim Wee Centre at the Singapore Management University and Professor Desai Narasimhalu, Director of the Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at SMU, freely sharing there observations about the level of creativity in Singapore and what's holding us back from being a creative people after Invent Singapore 2009.)

Now this is perhaps the most awkward photo I've taken with a guest. Just look at the distance between the gentleman and myself! That's no way to pose for a photo! But that was the personal space I gave him. Maybe I was just a tad intimidated by his title of 'Count'. But by all accounts, Count Andreas Graf von Faber-Castell (a member of the eighth generation of the famous Faber-Castell family) was the most endearing man with wit, sound reasoning and foresight to keep the brandname going for another 250 years! (It was established in 1761.) It's a name famed for its wooden-cased pencils, colour pencils and other writing instruments. It's a brand that goes back to my days in kindergarten!

Just two years shy of turning 250 years old, the company recently opened their first boutique in Singapore at ION Orchard. There's much to leave you in awe at the store - the world smallest pencil (17.5mm), the oldest pencil (from the 17th century) and the world's most expensive pencil ever manufactured featuring three diamonds set in a white gold extender cap (worth $20,800!).

PENCIL these FACTS in!
* There is actually no lead in pencils and there never has been. The black stuff is made of graphite and clay.
* An average pencil can write up to 80km in length (about twice the width of Singapore!) while an average ink pen is likely to last half that distance.
* Writings from a light fast pencil, like what Faber-Castell makes, will last forever (provided you don't erase it) while markings from a pen will disappear after forty to fifty years.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Are you ready to R-U-M-B-L-E???!!!

That's Stanley in the ring at the Wrestling Federation of Singapore, a sitting duck for any wrestler to toss him outside the yellow circle. Stan and I decided to visit the bright and breezy premises of WFS and were greeted by Vice-President of the Federation, Jimmy Taenaka or 'Jimmy T', as this martial artist-cum-actor's more popularly known as.

Who says wrestling's only for the professional? Unlike wrestling as we know it through television, this one's for real and not as rowdy. In fact, it's less intimidating because everything happens on the mat. And the objective is really to knock, push or toss your opponent out of the yellow circle. So the safest place would be in the red circle in the centre of the mat. Obviously, I thought I had Stan where I want him (under my feet!), but err... it's just for the camera. You're supposed to throw your opponent OUT of the yellow circle to score a point.

We were also privileged to meet WFS's Head Cooach Sergei Beloglazov from Russia. Don't mess with this guy because he's a 6-time World champion and twice Olympic gold medalist

This weekend allows you an excellent opportunity to check out what wrestling's all about. The Chinatrust Charity King/Queens of the Mat 2009 takes place at the premises of the Wrestling Federation of Singapore (102 Upper Aljunied Road).

If you're bitten by the wrestling bug, why not take it up as a new sporting activity that engages both the muscles of your mind and your body.