Wednesday, June 16, 2010


The first thing that struck me about Fan Yang is that his face does not match his name. I had envisioned a Chinese man, but he was obviously not. His father is Hungarian, and his mother Vietnamese. They met in Vietnam when his dad was fighting the Vietnam War. The couple fell in love, and moved back to Europe after the war, setting in present-day Yugoslavia.

Fan Yang came from a very poor family. His brother Jano and him grew up on a farm in the countryside. He had but 8 years of education. Before he discovered his love for bubbles, he was performing on the streets just to earn an extra penny. Juggling... whatever it took!

Fan Yang [right] with his elder brother Jano [left], who is involved in backstage work for the Gazillion Bubble Show.

His first encounter with bubbles was not the sort of bottled bubbles we find at Toys R Us. It was bubbles floating on the surface of a river. He thought to himself, how wonderful to be able to make these bubbles really, really big and to make them float in the air! The imagination of a young teenage boy... but it started him on a journey of no return.

For the first half of his 26-year career as a bubble artist, he invested in finding a special bubble solution that would make bubbles more "flexible". He did - after much blood, sweat & tears.

There are 7 secret ingredients in his special bubble solution, and with that, Fan Yang was able to create pure magic. In fact, he currently holds 16 Guinness World Records! The latest being to put a 8,800lb elephant in a bubble! *gasp*

Bubbles within bubbles! I blew gently on the surface of a bubble, and a baby one appeared inside miraculously!

This father of two says that the Fan Yang Gazillion Bubble Show is very much a family affair. As mentioned, his brother Jano helps backstage. His wife is a bubble artist as well, as are his children Deni, 20, and Melody, 19.

He tells us that he would do this for nothing. It's not about money.

The Gazillion Bubble Show is really about his true life story. And his journey is not without hardship and ridicule. For many years, people laughed in the face for wanting to do a bubble show. They could not understand or accept because they could not see what he saw.

But Fan Yang did not give up, and today, he's been welcomed with open arms on top-rated shows like The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, The David Lettermen Show, LIVE! with Regis & Kelly etc.

Fan Yang on the Stan & Pam show! *LOL*

I did not expect, as I walked into the studio this morning, to be touched and inspired so deeply by The Bubble Man. But I was. Fan Yang's sharing touched me deeply.

He spoke in a low, calm voice tinged with an Eastern European accent, which told me that even though he now resides in Canada and New York, he spent most of his formative years in the poverty of Yugoslavia.

A country boy who today travels the world sharing his love for bubbles... I can only conclude that this is the result of following his heart. This is his life's calling.

So without further adieu, here is the one & only, amazing Fan Yang creating a SQUARE bubble for us. Check this out!

Fan Yang Gazillion Bubble Show
18 - 20 June
D'Marquee @ Downtown East
Tickets via SISTIC

For more info, visit the Gazillion Bubble Show website.
Or find out more about the science of bubbles here.

And if you're still sitting on the fence, brace yourself for a sneak preview:

Friday, June 11, 2010

Transforming Slums in the Philippines

I have never been to the slums of the Philippines. But just browsing for images to upload in this blog entry gave me a brief glimpse of the squalid conditions and the lives of the slum dwellers. Makeshift houses made from whatever they can find (from cardboard to zinc sheets), alley ways filled with dirty sloshy water up to the ankles, litter everywhere, no sanitation, no electricity.

[From BBC News] Family living under a bridge in Manila. Mother sleeps on the table, oblivious to the traffic noise above & around her.

Even so, it's hard to miss the smiles on the children's faces! Perhaps this is all they know? And I suspect many of them don't know what can be beyond this. They don't imagine life will be any different, or that they will get out of these circumstances, according to some interview footage I watched on YouTube.

What I feel we must never do as outsiders is to impose our values & perceptions of what life should be on these people. While our intentions are good, it sometimes irks me that we descend upon places like Cambodia & the Philippines and try to help the people in a condescending sort of way, like we are modern day Saviours, and they are beneficiaries of our kindness.

What struck me about what our guest Aileen Ong, Chair of GK Hope Initiative (GKHi), said is that the slum dwellers they work with in the Philippines are partners. GK's approach is to work with them and to treat them as equals. The lingo & vocabulary is often so revealing!

Aileen was so convinced about the "GK way" that she gave up a 30-year career as a music teacher to commit to this cause full-time. She downgraded to a smaller home and chose to lead a more modest lifestyle ~ with the support of her husband Albert & four kids, of course. In fact, her daughter Lisa often accompanies her to the slums.

Aileen Ong, Chair of GK Hope Initiative (GKHi) shares with us about her work in the slums of the Philippines.

GK is an acronym for Gawad Kalinga or "give care" in Tagalog. Its Singapore branch, GK Hope initiative (GKHi) achieved 'international charity organisation' status last year, and is now working to make Singapore a hub for the coordination of efforts in the region.

GK's mission is to transform slums into communities of hope. The slum dwellers themselves spend months building their own homes. A decent home there costs about S$2,000 to build, the cost of a laptop or designer bag here! Their vision is to touch 5 million families by 2024.

GK Tripura Hope Town Village: Brand new homes built by the community.

From June 25 to 27, there will be GK Global Summit held right here in Singapore where we'll see experts & activists from around the world congregating here to discuss solutions to eradicating poverty.

The outgoing Vice-President of the Philippines will be here, and the Minister for Community, Youth & Sports, Vivian Balakrishnan, the Guest of Honour. The theme of this Global Summit is Icon of Hope Against Poverty. To find out more or to register, click here.

There will also be a choir that will be coming to Singapore next weekend that you will not want to miss! They come from a small church in the slums of Manila. Aileen stumbled upon them quite by chance, and was mesmorised by their voices. She issued them a challenge: If they can achieve a Gold Award, she will get sponsors to bring them to Singapore.

The choir members, all children & teens, took up her challenge. They were up at 5am to rehearse, often in the open courtyard, in the blazing sun. And within 3 months, these children achieved a Gold Award for their performance. Yes, a slum choir!

The children of the Gawad Kalinga Tatalon Performing Arts group at the ASEAN Festival of the Arts 2009.

And so Aileen is now keeping her end of the bargain! Come Saturday, 19 June, they will be performing at The Arts House (Chamber) to a Singapore audience! *grin* You can check out event details here.

Do you see what I mean about Aileen? Never look down on people, even if the rest of the world does! They are equal in God's eyes and gifted as you & I are. And if we see their potential, believe in them, and raise the bar for them, they will invariably rise up to touch that bar we hold up for them!

Find out more about about the Gawad Kalinga Tatalon Performing Arts group here. And please support them if you can!

Monday, June 07, 2010

Making Public Private Lives

With a beaming face on a book cover and
a title that screams a basic need we all hunger for,
who wouldn't want this pick-me-up for a read?!

Chef Judy Koh may not be a motivational speaker, but she sure has the persuasive powers to turn you into a baker. Her latest cookbook, Pockets of Happiness, is soaked through with recipes to mouthwatering desserts. The book's also got an unusual 'filling' - poems! Yes, honest-to-goodness poems baked straight from the heart!

Chef Judy has 18 years of professional baking experience and is Managing Director and Principal Chef of baking school Creative Culinaire. She also heads up an in-house bakery and runs Caffe Pralet. Her accolades are many - clinching several national and international records (among them 'The Guinness World Records for the world's Tallest Chocolate Sculpture' and 'Singapore's Biggest Birthday Cake') and having written other cookbooks. With all these to her credit, you'd think she's 'arrived'. Wrong. There's still Cambodia! She has plans to improve lives and livelihoods of the needy in that land. When asked how far off she was from fulfilling her ambition to make good her skills in imparting them to villagers at risk, she puts it down to eight years. I wish Godspeed.

My heart swells with delight as I recount how in The Living Room, we've come to learn of so many entrepreneurs and professionals from various trades who are making their skills count beyond dollars and cents. Last Friday, award-winning photographer Alex Soh was on our show sharing how he was using his photography skills to aid villagers in Cham Resh (a remote village in Cambodia) build a road that would 'help them walk out of poverty'. Alex emailed me today to say that the 3-day exhibition at VivoCity raised close to $12,000! May The Living Room's profiling of such personalities and their acts of selfless giving rub off on you.

My other guest today was also a shutterbug-cum-multi-disciplinary artist. His story is one of pursuing your dreams. At the beckoning of his wife after marriage when they were just 23 years old, he dropped out of LaSalle College of the Arts, bundled themselves onto a plane bound for the US. No contacts, no leads, no clues. Twelve years later today, John Clang (born Ang Choon Leng) is making headlines after confronting his fears. (Con)Front happens to be the name of his solo exhibition that opens this Friday, 11th June at 2902 Gallery.

John strikes me as melancholic, quiet and contemplative. His personality is in stark contrast to New York City where everything is loud, brash and brazen. Despite having lived a decade in the Big Apple, he's a true blue Singaporean. He even proudly exclaims how he continues to speak like a Singaporean in the US and never did adopt the American accent.

(above: A piece of John's work with his dad as the subject matter. In place of his face that's been blanked out, are the Chinese characters that express an apology to his father.)

Being abroad, he admits to missing his family dearly, especially his elderly parents. His works reflect how highly he treasures family ties - yet another obvious Asian trait. In fact, a video installation at his upcoming exhibition portrays that clearly through his communication with them over Skype while based in the US, and how he walks into the projection and stands in place to make it look like a family portrait. Novel!

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

A Song for Everyone!

I think Ken Lim is cool. In Singapore Idol, he is the judge I most like to listen to cos I know he says it as it is, no mincing of words. But then, he's been in the industry of over two decades, heading the reputable Hype Records and Artiste Networks, what does he not know? Seriously.

So when the Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games Organizing Committee contacted me about the possibility of having Ken Lim on the show to talk about the Singapore 2010 Theme Song, which he composed & produced, I was secretly thrilled.

I thought he would be quite intimidating to interview. After all, he must have been interviewed a million times before, and he's not exactly a media whore (is there a male equivalent for that term?). So if he stared across at us with his bored, serious look throughout the interview, with arms folded, I will so die.

But truth be told. Ken Lim is not like that at all. He is really nice and charming! And he smiles a lot too, much more than I've seen him smile in all seasons of Singapore Idol put together. Or then again, it could just be that he really likes Stan & me? *LOL*

Ken Lim and Tabitha Nauser shares the Singapore 2010 theme song.

What I didn't know about the man was that he had produced the official theme song of the 11th Asian Games (Beijing, 1990), and composed & produced the theme song of the 17th SEA Games (Singapore, 1993). So composing & producing for the Youth Olympic Games can't be that big a deal. Right?

"It's different because this time, I know how much the Games means to our nation. And so writing the theme song has its pressures that way," Ken explains. "But composing the song itself wasn't particularly hard. The theme 'Everyone' just came up very naturally."

That's right, the Singapore 2010 theme song is entitled Everyone and it features 5 youths from 5 different continents singing it. The video is currently being played exclusively on MediaCorp Ch5.

But we had an unplugged version of the theme song sung for us 'live' over the airwaves from the voice of Asia herself, Tabitha Nauser. Here she is:

You'll remember Tabitha as 2nd Runners-up at the most recent Singapore Idol 2009. She's only 18 and oh, what a big voice! *beams* She currently sings with an acoustic band at Republic Polytechnic and has plans to pursue a career in the music industry. Go for it, girl!

Without further ado, here's the video of the Singapore 2010 theme Song. In fact, the night before our interview, I still couldn't find it on YouTube. I was told it would be uploaded specially in time for The Living Room's interview at 10am. And we were the first programme to announce its presence on YouTube! *woohoo*

Well, here is the song Ken Lim composed & produced. This time, YOU be the judge!

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Onboard the Orient Express!

I watched a TV drama years ago, starring Cheryl Ladd, called Romance on the Orient Express, and I fell in love with trains! I've since taken a steam train at Fort Bragg, California, the shinkansen (bullet train) in Kyoto, and just last week, the luxurious Eastern & Oriental Express.

The classic green & gold of the Eastern & Oriental Express.

It was just a dinner trip which started at 6.30pm and ended at midnight, and we probably went as far as Johor. But the Orient Express managed to transport me into another time and place. It was pure luxury, and I allowed myself to be spoilt rotten! *LOL*

Today in The Living Room, Stan & I had the pleasure of hosting the General Manager of Eastern & Oriental Express, Leesa Lovelace, and the man who whipped up that delectable gourmet meal for us, Chef Yannis Martineau.

From them, we got a rare behind-the-scenes peek into life onboard the Orient Express, which currently runs the Singapore-KL-Butterworth-Bangkok route. We're told it has since gained access to Laos, and will be making its maiden journey to Cambodia!

GM Leesa Lovelace & Chef Yannis Martineau step off the Orient Express to join us today in The Living Room!

But I'll let my photos tell the story of that marvelous adventure. ENJOY!

Stan could not make the trip, so I invited my best friend Ning to join me. The train was to depart from the Railway Station at 6.30pm, but we had an exclusive guided tour by Leesa at 5.15pm, so we made it there early!

Ning & I were ushered into the VIP Lounge at the Railway Station where we filled up our travel documents in cool comfort. Boarding passes & passports all ready!

All the guests were impeccably dressed. The men had to be (at least) in jackets & ties, while the ladies were dolled up in cocktail dresses & gowns!

Leesa met us there and took us onboard the Orient Express for a guided tour. We were told to walk towards the train discreetly so that the other passengers would not think it was time for them to board too. We cleared immigration there with little fuss and *woohoo* climbed onboard....

Leesa shows us the restaurant carriages where we'd have our dinner.

There are various accommodation options available. For those who think a train journey is not really a train journey unless you sleep on double-decker beds, you can book a Pullman room. Charming!

... or you can opt for a State room, which has two single beds. Does this look like a train to you? It's seriously so luxurious, it can pass off as room in a 5-star hotel!

The Presidential Suite ~ there are only 2 onboard. This is its day setting. When guests head for dinner, the staff transforms it into its night setting.

Every room comes with an attached w/c and shower!

After the guided tour, all us media folk were ushered to the Observation Car at the back of the train to get some fresh air and drinks as the other guests started boarding.

Ning and I (being non-drinkers, although booze was free flow for us that night!) ordered some mango juice and chilled out at the open-air Observation Car.

Mingling with the other journalists at the Observation Car before the train pulled out of the Railway Station.

We were scheduled for the second seating for dinner at 9.15pm. The exquisite meal was prepared by Executive Chef Yannis Martineau and his team of talented chefs. And we totally enjoyed the feast laid out before us!

We started off with warm breads.

The starter.
A unique blend of East & West: Tom Yam Cappucino.

For mains, I opted for the sea bass. There was also the option of lamb!

Always room for dessert. This was really yummy! *drool*

After dinner, we were served coffee/tea and treated to this pretty serving of petit fours. By then, we were too full to eat! But we took the opportunity to chit chat...

We shared a table with the Group Editor of Expat Living and his lovely wife Jillian, who shared about their adventures living & working around the world. Such a delightful couple!

You can catch the encore broadcast of this interview on 938LIVE at 11.10pm, or on Channel NewsAsia at 2.30am. To find out more about the Eastern & Orient Express, click here.

All aboard!!! *toot*