EGRILL & PIZA

Who would think that Japanese-style pizza and skewers go well together? Have your fix at eGrill & Piza at The Cathay, which offers both options at affordable prices.

The restaurant uses RoboQ, a special machine from Hong Kong used to grill skewers in two minutes, with no oil. Prices start at $3.90, with items such as teriyaki pork belly, salmon belly fin and Beef Kottbullar (Swedish meatballs).

From the pizza menu (from $9.90), pick from salmon mentai, Parma ham and seafood, among other options. Add side dishes to your meal, such as truffle fries with truffle salsa ($8.80), potato salad ($2.80) and ebi tempura ($6.80).

Where: B1-01 The Cathay, 2 Handy Road

Open: 11.30am to 10pm daily

Info: Go to bit.ly/2lsFYQQ


SBCD KOREAN TOFU HOUSE

Head to SBCD Korean Tofu House at Tanjong Pagar Centre for its “soontofu” or Korean soft tofu soup. The tofu is made in-house daily and comes with four levels of spiciness for the broth. Ingredients for the soup (from $17.90) include seafood, ham and cheese, or dumplings.

Besides the usual side dishes, or banchan, of kimchi, seaweed, pickled green chillies and spicy squid strips, the restaurant also offers whole fried croaker fish.

Other mains on the menu include hot stone bibimbap ($19.90), spicy grilled chicken ($25.90) and spicy baby octopus ($29.90). Combo options – a main course and the tofu soup – are also available.

Where: B1-01 Tanjong Pagar Centre, 7 Wallich Street

Open: 11.30am to 10pm daily

Info: Call 6386-6441 or go to www.facebook.com/SBCDSingapore


GINETT RESTAURANT & WINE BAR 

PHOTO: GINETT RESTAURANT & WINE BAR

For all-day dining, head to the two-week-old Ginett Restaurant & Wine Bar at the new Hotel G Singapore in Middle Road.

Start the morning with a buffet spread or take-away options, and move on to lunch with an affordable two-course set priced at $18++. The a la carte menu features dishes such as tostada chicken salad ($11), organic rotisserie chicken (from $12) and charcoal cheese burger ($19).

For dinner, start with cold cuts and cheese (from $30 for up to four people) and Fine de Claire oysters (from $5 each), followed by charcoal-grilled dishes such as Australian Angus beef cote de boeuf or bone-in prime rib ($120 for 1kg, for two people, picture), and organic lamb chops ($42).

Where: Hotel G Singapore, 200 Middle Road

Open: 6 to 2am daily, last order 10.30pm (Sundays to Thursdays), 11.30pm (Fridays and Saturdays)

Info: Call 6809-7989 or go to www.facebook.com/pg/ginettsingapore

Eunice Quek

•Opening a restaurant? Send the details to stlife@sph.com.sg

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One afternoon late last month, in the Swedish Lapland, I take a somewhat apocalyptic bus ride.

The blustery snow outside and pitch-black winter day mean it is impossible to see beyond 10m ahead. We pass by stationary trucks, abandoned by their drivers.

Every few kilometres, our driver, Per Anders, has to get out to clear the snow off the hardworking windshield wipers. He drives carefully, in part to avoid hitting stray reindeer.

But he is smiling.

“Welcome to the Arctic, folks,” he says cheerily.

Kiruna, part of the Swedish Lapland in northern Sweden, is the kind of place where people boast of eyelashes that freeze when it snows.

Water-based skin lotions, if not allowed to dry sufficiently, can cause frostbite. Cameras and phones can stop working – a big nuisance, considering that its location in the Arctic Circle makes it an ideal spot to view the Northern Lights.

  • Getting there

  • From Singapore, fly to Stockholm and take a domestic flight to Kiruna. The journey takes at least 17 hours, including transit time. You can opt to make a pit stop in Stockholm to take in some of the capital city’s sights before or after your trip to Kiruna.

    Tips

    Dress warm in winter
    As the weather can dip to minus 30 deg C and below, it is crucial to wear quality thermals. Waterproof outer layers are also a must, as you will be walking around in the snow a lot. Buy heat packs for your hands and body if you need extra warmth.

    Rental snow boots and snow suits may be available at certain hotels. These are good for activities such as dog-sledding or waiting for the Northern Lights.

    But do not overdress when you stay at the Icehotel as you will wake up feeling hot. The thermal sleeping bags will keep you warm as long as you zip them up all the way.

    Be flexible
    Nothing is for certain when your activities depend on the weather. A trip to Narvik in Norway was cancelled, as the roads were closed due to heavy snowfall. A chairlift ride up to the Aurora Sky Station at Abisko was also suspended for safety reasons.

    Keep an open mind. Indoor activities, such as the Aurora Spa at Camp Ripan, can be enjoyable as well. Locals come to this spa, which has indoor pools and several saunas, to relax and rejuvenate.

    Prepare to wait for the Northern Lights
    Phone apps and a good guide can help you determine the probability of seeing the Northern Lights. But you might have to wait outside in the cold for hours before you see anything.

    Your DSLR camera should come with adjustable settings and a tripod. Batteries tend to get sapped faster in the cold, so pack spare ones.

    At times, your camera might capture the lights, even if your eyes do not. But remember not to fixate on the camera and try to enjoy the view.

But with the right clothing, attitude and sense of humour, winter in Kiruna is an experience to be savoured.

SURVIVING THE ICEHOTEL 365

Cold is a relative term.

I learn this as I zip myself into a thermal sleeping bag in my minus 5 deg C room in the Icehotel 365 (www.icehotel.com). It is three times as cold outside.

The 2,100 sq m Icehotel 365 is the newest addition to the 27-year-old Icehotel establishment and a permanent one. Icehotel consists of multiple buildings, including the original “winter hotel”, which melts in summer and has to be re-constructed every year.

The buildings are made from “snice”, a combination of snow and ice – it has a translucent quality – from the nearby Torne river.

In the Arctic Circle, the sun does not set for about 100 consecutive days – a phenomenon called the midnight sun – in the summer.

Solar panels in Icehotel 365 harvest this solar energy that is then used to cool down the hotel during the summer months when temperatures can climb to 30 deg C.

There is a trick to staying warm.

Our guide, Fredrik Stefansson, warns us of travellers who have piled on the layers, only to wake up sweltering in the middle of the night.

Dressed as he advised – one layer of thermal, a beanie and warm socks – I am so cold I sprint through the snow to the Icehotel 365, where my room is.

My belongings are kept in a dressing room in a separate building to keep them safe and dry – there is no storage space in my room and there is no lock on the door.

I am staying in an Art Suite, where the rooms all bear unique designs by artists from around the world.

My room, named Melting Pot, has walls with a million circular indentations. There is also a large globe in the side of the room made of brick-shaped ice.

I read later that British artists Rob and Timsam Harding had wanted to remind people of global warming, but feeling warm was unfortunately the last thing on my mind.

Still, I appreciated the design.

Touring the rooms earlier that day – they are open to the public from 10am to 6pm daily – I see that some have designs that may well have taken cues from famous Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud.

In one, there is a giant sculpture of a deer sliced in half; in another, aptly named Audience, a wall of faces look at you while you sleep. Both invoked the notion of repressed memories and the power of the unconscious mind.

Thankfully, the mattress I sleep on is a regular one. My sleeping bag also sits on top of reindeer skin, which makes it extra comfortable.

But there are little quirks that remind me I am sleeping in what is essentially a freezer.

Getting into bed, I have to consciously avoid touching the thick block of ice the mattress sits on.

Thankfully, I realise the only way to get good sleep is to keep out the cold by zipping the sleeping bag way over my head.

At 7.30am, a hotel staff makes her morning rounds to wake guests up, as the rooms must be prepared for a new round of public tours.

She comments on my deep sleep, which makes me feel strangely proud of myself.

Then, she passes me a cup of warm lingonberry juice. I drink it with a delightful shiver.

FOOD, STORIES AND THAT COSY FEELING

Land-to-table is the way people dine in the Swedish Lapland.

Reindeer, belonging to the indigenous Sami people in Lapland, roam freely outside. They are also a main meat source.

We have it in fillet form, medium rare, paired with mashed potato and the ubiquitous sweet lingonberry sauce at Camp Ripan (ripan.se).

We have the meat smoked and sliced thin. We have it in little cubes, as a garnish in mushroom soup.

At the Icehotel, I have the classic five-course Ice Menu in its restaurant, where food made of fresh ingredients is served on tiny slabs of ice.

I am given a tiny egg-shaped dollop of whitefish caviar served with shavings of onion; leafy lichen (a type of algae that reindeer eat) and a slow-cooked fillet of elk paired with blueberry jelly. Everything tastes fresh, foreign and delicious – except perhaps the lichen, which lacks flavour, but is extremely crisp.

Besides lingonberry, which any self-respecting Ikea fan should know about, cloudberry (bitter- tasting) and arctic bramble (similar to raspberry) make frequent appearances on my plate, in savoury and sweet meals.

At another meal, as part of a specially organised Taste of the Arctic experience, wilderness guide and chef Anders goes the extra mile by catching his own Arctic char, a type of fish, for dinner.

We are supposed to dine in an igloo built by Mr Anders, but plans change due to a windy snowstorm. So, instead, we adjourn to a wooden cabin in Bjorkliden, complete with a fireplace (bjorkliden.com).

Still, we get a taste of the outdoors as he tells us of his experiences.

Once, he fended off a moose with a hoe after it wandered into his garden, coming scarily close to his young child.

“I was fighting a moose and it was stupid of me,” he says with a cheeky smile. The creature eventually scampered off.

To round off the meal, he serves us kaffeost – coffee with cubes of spongy cheese inside – which apparently only one 80-year-old woman in north Kiruna knows how to make.

I am not impressed with the rubbery, tasteless cheese, but can appreciate that this traditional drink is a way for locals to get a dose of protein while keeping warm in winter.

Unsurprisingly, there is a Swedish term for the feeling of wanting to be warm and cosy, eat good food and enjoy good conversation – mysig.

MORE THAN JUST THE AURORA BOREALIS

Parts of Swedish Lapland are perfectly placed in the Aurora Oval, a region in which the Northern Lights can usually be seen.

The best time to spot it is during the winter months, especially in areas which are dark and have a view of clear skies.

But there are many reasons why a traveller may miss the lights – dense cloud cover or light pollution, for example.

The Sami people believe that the lights are the souls of their ancestors. Children are told not to whistle at the Northern Lights, lest they be whisked away by spirits.

I like this reverence for the lights. It is better than thinking of them as a show for tourists.

I feel lucky when the lights finally show themselves to me on a night at the base of the Aurora Sky Station (auroraskystation.se) – a ribbon of green rippling in the sky before disappearing.

But to be honest, the beauty of the Swedish Lapland is revealed in so many other ways as well.

Towards the end of our trip, we meet local guide Ida-Maria Svonni (sapmilife.com), a Sami woman whose family herds reindeer and moves according to the season.

“We are the people of the sun and the moon. We live a life in harmony with the reindeer,” she says, her face reflecting the fire she had built in the lavvu, the teepee-like shelter that we sit in.

She shows us photos of her young daughters learning the ways of their community and says with quiet conviction: “The children are the future.”

Going back to that apocalyptic bus ride, I unexpectedly encounter The Beatles.

As a sliver of sun breaks through the clouds, Mr Anders starts singing Here Comes The Sun.

Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting

Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been clear

Here comes the sun

Here comes the sun and I say it’s all right

He has not seen the sun in days and a single ray is worth breaking out into song for.

I realise then that it is all about contrasts co-existing – the beauty in isolation, the cosiness in the bitter cold, that rippling green strip in the black sky.

It is not the end of the world after all. It is only the beginning.


A town that is moving

Sami herders sort through about 2,000 reindeer at one time in a corral. PHOTO: IDA MARIA

Kiruna is moving.

Parts of its town – including the city centre, 3,200 homes and 6,000 people – is relocating 3km east.

This is necessary because an iron ore mine beneath the city is leaving cavities behind which will eventually collapse.

“We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the mine,” says Mr David Lind, market director of Kiruna Lapland Economic Association, comprising local companies and the municipality.

Kiruna is home to the largest iron ore mine in the world, run by Swedish mining company LKAB. The mine came first, built in the 1890s, and the city developed around it. The mine produces 90 per cent of the iron in Europe today.

Mr Hjalmar Lundbohm, the first managing director of LKAB, is considered the city’s founder.

There are guided tours of the mine (kirunalapland.se; 360 Swedish kroner, or S$56, an adult for a two- hour, 45-minute tour).

The redevelopment, expected to continue till 2035, will beautify the industrial-looking city. There are plans to have “a green area running through the city centre where snow mobile and dog-sledding companies can pick up and drop tourists in the city centre”, says Mr Lind, 35.

The new main city square is targeted for completion by 2019.

He also hopes that more tourists will come to appreciate summer in Kiruna.

The Northern Lights has made winter a popular period for international tourists from December to March. But traditionally, Kiruna has been popular as a summer destination among locals, who go there for outdoor activities such as hiking, fishing and whitewater rafting.

Another interesting thing about Kiruna is that it is the site of major international space research.

One company, Spaceport Sweden (spaceportsweden.com), stands out with its aim to offer commercial flights to space launched from Kiruna.

But this is not the city’s only quirk.

Mr Lind says: “You can see the Northern Lights as early as September and hike and fish in the day. In the summer, locals come and they ice-fish in a T-shirt.”

• The writer’s trip was sponsored by Off The Map Travel (www.offthemaptravel.sg).

• The five-day, four-night Northern Lights adventure itinerary in the Swedish Lapland costs from £1,950 (S$3,433) a person, based on two adults sharing, with some meals included and excluding flights. This includes one night in the Icehotel, one night at Camp Ripan including the Aurora Spa, two nights in Bjorkliden with dog-sledding, a trip to Narvik in Norway, the Taste of the Arctic wilderness experience and dinner at the Aurora Sky Station. Some activities are subject to the weather.

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CURRY PORK

“The thick aromatic curry is spicy, lemak (rich in Malay) and has the flavour of lemongrass. The pork chunks are soft and well-soaked in curry. I would order this dish again.”

Mr Adam Luo, 37, audio-video editor

Instagram: @makanwarrior

Get it from: The Basil Inn, 02-335 Downtown East E!Avenue, 1 Pasir Ris Close; open: noon to 10pm daily; tel: 9751-2023; go to www.facebook.com/TheBasilInn

Price: $6


FROMAGE DOUBLE CHEESECAKE

“The bottom layer of this soft and fluffy cheesecake is similar to a New York cheesecake, while the top layer has smooth and light cream cheese that goes well with a cup of coffee.”

Mr Shu Cheewee, 37, assistant vice-president at a finance company

Instagram: @creative.cw

Get it from: LeTAO, B1-K7 Ion Orchard, 2 Orchard Turn; open: 10am to 10pm daily; tel: 8799-3551; go to www.letaosg.com

Price: $28


ANTZ

Antz. PHOTO: NATALIE HENG

“A liquid nitrogen-frozen basil leaf with lemony ants and coconut yogurt refreshes the palate, finished with a milky, not-too-sweet concoction that has the slightest astringent aftertaste. The textured asymmetrical ceramic cup completes the ‘foraging’ experience.”

Ms Natalie Heng, 27, civil servant

Instagram: @frostypeche

Get it from: Native, 52A Amoy Street; open: 6pm to midnight (Mondays to Saturdays), closed on Sundays; tel: 8869-6520; go to tribenative.com

Price: $23++


HONOLULU EGG TART

“I love the crispy and flaky crust and the wobbly egg custard that is smooth and not too sweet. These freshly baked egg tarts are the perfect teatime treat.”

Mr Jaden Loh, 27, finance associate

Instagram: @jdroar

Get it from: Honolulu Cafe Singapore, 01-33F The Centrepoint, 176 Orchard Road; open: 11am to 10pm daily; tel: 6734-6609; go to www.facebook.com/honolulucafe.sg

Price: $1.70 each


LOVE YOU LONG TIME LALA

“This decently portioned dish has big and juicy lala steamed in a lemongrass broth, with chilli that gives an extra kick.”

Ms Matilda Lim, 37, housewife

Instagram: @matildalim

Get it from: Mrs Pho House, 221 Rangoon Road; open: 6 to 10.30pm (Wednesdays to Sundays), closed on Mondays and Tuesdays; tel: 9173-1083, go to www.facebook.com/mrsphohouse

Price: $12.90

Kenneth Goh

•Share your food photos with readers. Hashtag your photos with #STFoodTrending or e-mail your high-resolution photos to stlife@sph.com.sg, together with your contact details and “Food Trending” in the subject header. The Sunday Times will feature the best ones here each week.

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Coravin chief executive officer Frederic Levy says he wants the wine gadget to be as ubiquitous as the common household corkscrew.

The Coravin System makes it possible to pour wine from a bottle without opening it. While that sounds like an impossible task, the device works by using a thin, surgical-grade needle to pierce through the cork of the wine bottle. It is then pumped with argon gas (an inert gas used by winemakers to displace oxygen) to extract wine from the bottle when it is tipped over.

Once the needle is removed, the cork reseals itself.

Since no oxygen is introduced, the wine does not get oxidised – a process that happens when a bottle is uncorked and will eventually make the wine go bad.

The Coravin can be used multiple times on the same bottle, as well as on different bottles using different needles. But it can be used only on natural and not synthetic corks.

The device was invented in 2011 by American medical device expert Greg Lambrecht, who used an epidural needle in the prototype.

The D-Vine dispenses pre-packed 100ml servings of wine at the appropriate temperature and aeration. Coravin chief executive officer Frederic Levy can enjoy wine tasting at every dinner with the wine dispenser as corks reseal when the needle is remove

Coravin chief executive officer Frederic Levy can enjoy wine tasting at every dinner with the wine dispenser as corks reseal when the needle is removed and the wine will not go bad. PHOTO: CORAVIN

The sleeker, high-end Model Two Elite has been available in Singapore since April last year, while the lightweight, plastic Model One, targeted at younger consumers, was launched here last month.

Both versions are sold at wine retail stores such as The Oaks Cellars and Enoteca. Model One retails at a recommended price of $360 and Model Two Elite at $530.

Mr Levy, a New York-based Frenchman who has a cellar with thousands of bottles of wine, says he can now have wine tasting at every dinner with his wife.

“I don’t have two glasses of the same wine at dinner anymore because once you access a bottle and don’t finish it, you can put it back in your cellar,” he says.

For vintage wines, the Coravin can be fitted with an even thinner needle. Because an older cork is less elastic, this ensures that it will reseal itself properly. But it also means a slower pour.

Mr Levy says: “Avid wine collectors use the Coravin to taste the bottles over the years and to determine if they have matured to a point where the wine should be drunk.”

The D-Vine dispenses pre-packed 100ml servings of wine at the appropriate temperature and aeration. Coravin chief executive officer Frederic Levy can enjoy wine tasting at every dinner with the wine dispenser as corks reseal when the needle is remove

The Coravin Model One pouring wine. PHOTO: CORAVIN

With the device, several restaurants and wine bars in Singapore now offer older or rarer wines by the glass. One of them is Morton’s The Steakhouse at Mandarin Oriental Singapore, which has been using it since late last year.

Restaurant manager and sommelier Edwin Seow says: “We were looking for an opportunity to offer our guests a taste of premium wines with Morton’s food.”

The restaurant carries eight labels on a Coravin wine list, serving wines by the glass. Prices range from $44 to $220 for a 6oz pour.

Coravin also recently amassed US$22.5 million (S$32 million) in equity financing, which Mr Levy says will go into innovation of the product and expanding its reach.

In the last 14 months, it launched in 35 markets and is now available in 50 countries. In the next 12 months, it will be introduced to 10 more countries, including Australia, Japan and China.

While Mr Levy would not confirm it, the next innovation could be a solution for preserving wines in screw cap bottles, which are common in markets such as Australia and New Zealand.

He says: “Finding a solution for screw caps is a priority for us and we’re working on it.”


Wine packed by the glass

Coravin is not the only device to dispense wine by the glass.

The D-Vine, which dispenses pre-packed 100ml servings of wine at the appropriate temperature and aeration, does that too.

“In the wine industry, demand is increasing, but the offerings are limited. So at some point, drinking wine by the glass will probably make more sense,” says 10-Vins co-founder and chief operating officer Jerome Pasquet.

10-Vins, a start-up based in Nantes, France, is behind the device.

According to the company’s chief executive officer Thibaut Jarousse, the invention stemmed from noticing how different a wine can taste at the winery and at home “because it was not served at the correct aeration and temperature”.

Also, he says, drinking wine requires a lot of planning.

“With wine, you have to plan everything, from what wine you’re going to buy, then whether you have to place it in the fridge or the decanter,” he adds.

But like an electric sommelier in the comfort of your home, flacons of wines can be placed in the D-Vine, which determines the optimal temperature and aeration for the wine.

A red wine would be served warmer than a white wine, for instance. Chilling and aerating take place in less than a minute as the wine drips into a glass, after which “it tastes as if you have left the wine to decant for three hours”.

At the moment, there are about 30 French wines to choose from, from a $9 flacon of Muscadet Sevre et Maine from the Loire Valley (served at 10 deg C) to a $39 flacon of Saint-Julien Grand Cru Classe from Bordeaux (served at 18 deg C).

The founders plan to introduce six to 12 more wines from around the world to the selection.

Ultimately, says Mr Jarousse, the product is as much about convenience as it is about being able to enjoy wine by the glass at its optimum. “Like a Nespresso or Sodastream, we wanted to be able to replicate professional quality at home.”

Using a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) System tag – the same technology found in credit- card chips – every flacon also connects to an app that gives tasting notes and the provenance of the wine.

The D-Vine dispenser on its own retails at $1,690, while a starter pack (including six 100ml flacons, among other accessories) costs $1,825. A premium pack retails at $2,275 and includes 26 100ml flacons.

They can be bought at www.dvine.com.sg or from culinary accessory retailer ToTT.

The distributor says that several units of the dispenser have been sold in Singapore since it was launched here three months ago.

Mr Pasquet says: “We’re not here to kill the bottle of wine. It’s about an alternative to drinking wine from the bottle.”

Anjali Raguraman

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An ongoing note in Ms Sancia Ng’s mobile phone serves as a record of where she has been.

The 30-year-old has gone on many solo trips in the past few years, including about 10 to Japan, several to Europe, and jaunts to other countries including the United States, South Korea, Cambodia, Australia and Turkey.

The sales trader in a bank started travelling alone in 2011.

It began on a whim, but these trips have since become annual must-dos and she embarks on at least two of them each year.

“Solo travel is liberating. The solo traveller is alone, but never lonely. Unhindered by itineraries, I love being able to observe people in my own space and at my own pace,” she says.

She is among a growing number of female solo travellers here and in Asia.

Like Ms Ng, they are drawn to exploring the world on their own because such trips offer them new experiences, allow them to immerse in local culture and give them opportunities for personal growth.

  • Tips on getting the most out of a solo trip

  • 1 Step out of your comfort zone
    Travelling solo means you can do what you want, whenever you want. But while you embrace me-time, do not let insecurity hinder you from stepping out of your comfort zone.

    Do not be afraid to dine alone. Solo dining does not mean ordering room service.

    You are in a new country with new friends, so do not worry about embarrassing yourself.

    2 Have your pulse on happenings in your destination
    Do your research online and pick up a local guidebook to find out what is going on in the city. There could be free local performances, special events or a festival in town – all of which would allow you to experience the local culture without adding to your trip costs.

    3 Know your limits
    Know your own mental, physical and financial limits. Do not overschedule activities or you may find yourself rushing from one location to the next. Pace yourself, adjust to the environment and get sufficient rest.

    Do not get drunk and end up lost, broke or taken advantage of.

    Do not overspend and end up running out of cash as not all places accept credit cards or have automated cash machines. Always have spare cash for an emergency.

    4 Do not disconnect
    It might be tempting to just fall off the radar, but do not do it.

    Keep your hotel, hostel or host informed of your movements for the day, so they know when to expect you back.

    Keep important numbers – such as the hotel’s business cards and contacts of the local police station and your country’s embassy – in your wallet or mobile phone.

    Buy a local data card and use a GPS tracker for family members to locate your whereabouts.

    5 Stay safe
    If you feel uncomfortable in your surroundings, walk away. Keep your valuables in a safe at the hotel or spread them out so you do not lose everything to a pickpocket.

    Schedule your arrival well before dark and do not leave your bags unattended. Most snatch thieves work in pairs – one distracts you while the other takes your bag.

    Do not be afraid to make a fuss if someone is bothering you.

    Do not divulge personal information to people you have just met or ask them to look after your valuables.

    At bars and clubs, get your own drink and always have it in your hand. Avoid shady clubs where you may end up with an inexplicably huge tab or face extortion.

    6 Have a contingency plan
    Beyond planning for your journey by booking flights and accommodation, always have a Plan B or even a Plan C and D, in case of weather changes or other unforeseen situations such as transport delays or cancellations.

    • These tips were given by Mr Mark Wong, Small Luxury Hotels Of The World’s vice-president for the Asia-Pacific region; Mr Nicholas Lim, president of Trafalgar’s Asia region; Ms Pamela Knaggs, Skyscanner’s marketing manager for Singapore and Malaysia; Ms Josephine Lim, managing director of Preferred Hotels & Resorts for South-east Asia; and Lightfoot Travel, Airbnb and Flight Centre

Locally, data from global homesharing platform Airbnb reveals that the number of outbound Singaporean female solo travellers has doubled from Jan 31 last year to Jan 31 this year.

In contrast, the number of male solo travellers has remained consistent over the years.

Mr Robin Kwok, Airbnb’s country manager of South-east Asia, Hong Kong and Taiwan, says the trend is seen elsewhere in Asia. Its data shows that women from Japan, China, Taiwan and South Korea are among the world’s most frequent solo travellers.

Travel planning and booking site TripAdvisor’s Women and the World Travel Survey in 2015 – a study it launched in 2014 to gain insight into the market – found that almost half of its South-east Asian respondents said they had travelled alone – “a significant rise” from the 36 per cent from the year before.

The survey’s 2014 edition had also found that 75 per cent of the 636 South-east Asian women polled enjoy solo travelling as the experience changes them and makes them feel more confident.

Hotels and tour operators have caught on and are rolling out carrots to reel in the female solo traveller.

At India’s The Leela Palace New Delhi, a five-star hotel, solo female travellers are offered a pampering and safe stay under the hotel’s Kamal package – specifically tailored for women.

These travellers are attended to by female butlers and housekeepers, and have access to a personal female chef. They are driven from the airport to the hotel by a female chauffeur and stay on the hotel’s exclusive ladies-only floor, which comes with a security guard, also female.

The hotel’s spokesman says demand for the package, launched in 2011, has “increased 10-fold” in the past two years and “is growing with each passing month”.

Various properties on third-party hotel booking website Small Luxury Hotels Of The World have also been actively catering to the needs of solo female travellers.

At Dukes London, such guests are assigned a female employee to escort them and handle all room and housekeeping requirements; and La Suite Kobe Harborland in Japan offers female-oriented amenities, including a facial mask, moisturising gloves and a ladies-only spa.

Premium tour operator Insight Vacations is also in the process of planning a female-targeted trip itinerary.

Beyond these special arrangements, solo female travellers say the draw of travelling alone lies in the people they meet and the adventures that await them.

Real estate agent Ang Geok Bee, 41, hit it off with an Italian man in a travel cafe while she was holidaying in Barcelona, Spain, more than 20 years ago.

They are still in touch and she has visited him several times in Italy.

“We chat about everything – our lives, careers, family. I find the friendship meaningful,” she says.

Bank employee Amy Soh, 31, went on a solo trip for the first time in January last year.

“I had just turned 30 and wanted to step out of my comfort zone after hitting the milestone for some me-time,” she says.

She booked herself a yoga retreat in Koh Samui, Thailand, to “connect with myself” and says she emerged from the trip feeling physically and mentally refreshed.

“I hope to make this an annual thing,” she says.


Chance to challenge herself physically
 

Ms Aprilyn Chan abseiling from Table Mountain in South Africa this year. PHOTO: COURTESY OF APRILYN CHAN

Although she considers herself unathletic, Ms Aprilyn Chan succeeded in doing a solo hike across a chain of mountains.

It took her 10 hours in the same day to trek the rugged coastline that links the mediaeval fishing villages of Italy’s Cinque Terre – a hike that guidebooks usually advise travellers to take a few days to do.

“A villager looked at my petite frame and told me to stop hiking when I was on the last leg of my journey. I contemplated doing so because I was dead beat by then. But I decided not to give up,” says the manager in a recruitment consultancy of the 2015 journey.

Such experiences are quintessential to her solo trips each year.

“I look to challenge myself mentally and physically, broaden my understanding of the world and discover myself anew,” she says.

She began ticking off a bucket list of “firsts” in 2014 when she made her first solo trip to Spain – her first time venturing out of Asia.

Last year, the 30-year-old singleton kayaked for the first time in Greece.

This year, in Africa, she went shark cage-diving, skydiving and abseiled from a 1,000m-high mountain, snorkelled with seals, and went on a two-week wildlife volunteering programme.

Her friends had mixed reactions to her solo travels.

Some were encouraging, but others found it “weird” that she would want to take on such “dangerous” experiences.

One friend even suggested that she carry a knife, so that she could stab anyone who “tries to be funny with you”.

Ms Chan realised that there were negative perceptions of female solo travel among Singaporeans.

“We seem to think of the worst things that can happen. There is also a stigma – that it’s a very lonely activity,” she says, adding that she has few friends here who have attempted solo trips or who would consider them.

“The more that people are against the idea of solo travelling, the more I want to do it,” she says.

After Spain, there was no looking back.

That trip gave her immense self-satisfaction – she managed to navigate her way around the country despite her poor sense of direction.

The journey to a location took much longer than that indicated on the maps. But that did not matter to Ms Chan – only reaching the destination did.

In adopting that mindset on all her trips to date, she is enjoying the time she has to herself and learning how to solve problems along the way.

“Sometimes, things don’t turn out the way I plan. But there’s no point in being frustrated because the problem doesn’t go away,” she says. “It’s far more useful to think, look around and ask for help.”

Taking the initiative to speak to strangers is also something she has learnt to do on her solo trips.

These strangers, she says, have helped her to decipher road signs, given her directions and helped her get to airports on time.

Some of them have even become friends – such as two male Swedish teenagers she met recently in Africa. The trio got on so well that she will be flying to Bangkok to meet them again later this year for a holiday.

She says: “It’s amazing that I could find such compatible travel partners when it’s sometimes hard to travel even with friends.”


No longer awkward doing things alone
 

Ms Olivia Lee enjoying the sand, sun and sea in Boracay in the Philippines last October. PHOTO: COURTESY OF OLIVIA LEE

Not even a broken foot could keep public relations specialist Olivia Lee, 24, from doing a solo trip.

While nursing a broken fourth metatarsal on her right foot in December, she holidayed for eight days in Krabi, a resort town in Thailand.

“I went clubbing, swimming, walked around a lot and even explored caves filled with rocks,” she says.

Her right foot was always sore and swollen by the end of the day. But to the plucky young woman, it was a case of “no pain, no gain”.

She embarked on her first solo trip in 2015 and has done five such trips in under two years.

She had always been intrigued by the idea of solo travelling.

“I wanted to know what it’d be like spending time with myself, immersed in my own thoughts,” she says.

An opportunity surfaced when she had a break after graduating from university in 2015 and she decided to book a 12-day trip to Taiwan.

There, she experienced what it was like having almost all her meals by herself and watched a movie in a cinema alone for the first time in her life.

After that trip, she was hooked.

“Unlike trips with friends, where you have to accommodate others, I could concentrate on my own wants and do whatever I wanted,” she says.

As these solo trips increased in frequency – Boracay last October, Krabi and Bintan in December and Cebu last month, her parents became increasingly worried.

“They say I’m a daredevil. They can’t understand why I must do these trips,” she says of her 51-year-old security guard father’s and 50-year-old factory worker mother’s concerns. Ms Lee has a younger brother, 20, a polytechnic student.

The idea of solo-tripping was also met with scepticism from both male and female friends.

Some admitted that they would find travelling alone a lonesome affair.

“Others asked: ‘Is it safe for you? You’re female, you know.’ I would retort, saying, ‘So?'” she says.

The bachelorette adds that while there were many periods when she was alone, she never felt lonely.

“There’s always something new to see or do,” she says.

She has yet to feel unsafe on her trips, but did feel harassed once – in Boracay.

She was at a bar listening to a live band with some hostel mates, when a local approached her and persisted in yanking her towards him.

He was “aggressive” and she recalls feeling uncomfortable.

She asked her hostel mates for help. They surrounded her protectively and the man left her alone after that.

She says she has become more “bold and spontaneous” where trip planning is concerned.

She planned her inaugural solo trip to Taiwan to a T, but for her most recent five-day trip to Cebu, she booked only a day’s worth of accommodation and booked the subsequent nights while there.

This way, she does not feel tied down to one place, she says.

Thanks to her solo travels, dining alone here is no longer a source of awkwardness for her. Watching movies alone here is also a newfound habit.

She catches people glancing and staring at her when she is doing these activities or travelling alone.

“I can imagine what is going through their minds. They are probably thinking, ‘Why?’

“I’d say to them, ‘Why not?'”

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Before the School of the Arts (Sota) opened in 2008, some parents were worried about sending their children to the new arts school for youth aged 13 to 18.

Common questions raised: Would their kids have a good shot at getting into a university? Would they get a solid enough foundation in the sciences and mathematics? Would they be able to find a job?

Fast forward to the present and some students from Sota’s early batches are beginning to enter the workforce.

Ms Yeo Chan Yee, 20, who specialised in dance, is now a ballet dancer with the Singapore Dance Theatre. Former film student Clare Chong, also 20, is now an independent film-maker whose works have been screened at events such as Singapore Short Cuts and Humanities Symposium Singapore. Visual arts alumna Joy Ho, 22, is an illustrator and recently finished a visual production internship with National Public Radio, a non-profit membership media organisation in the United States.

For Singapore’s first specialised pre-tertiary arts school, this is reason to cheer.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu told The Sunday Times that Sota has provided multiple pathways and varied career options for its arts students and graduates, including entry into renowned schools such as the Berklee College of Music, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music.

She says: “Besides identifying and nurturing future generations of artists, Sota is also grooming its students to be creative professionals who can be leaders in their respective fields and support the arts in their own personal capacities.”

Despite parental concerns, the idea of attending an arts school proved popular right from the start.

More than 1,000 pupils reportedly auditioned for 300 slots in Year 1 and Year 2 for the school’s first intake in 2008. Since then, an average of 800 applicants apply annually and the school takes in at most 200 students a year.

They take a six-year integrated arts and academic curriculum, leading to the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma or the career-related programme.

They are taught academic subjects such as mathematics, science, the humanities and social sciences, and mother tongue languages. They can also specialise in one arts subject – dance, music, theatre, literary arts, visual arts or film.

Over the years, new programmes have been introduced. For example, film was introduced as a subject in 2012. Last year, literary arts was also introduced as a programme, under which students learn to write original poetry, prose and plays, among other creative texts.

Sota’s principal, Ms Lim Geok Cheng, says: “We have always had a student-centred philosophy where we help our students achieve what they want to achieve, rather than tell them where they should go after graduation.”

Over the last few years, she adds, the school has received an increase in the number of admission queries and a higher turnout at its open house and other outreach events.

It also has more collaboration opportunities with industry partners such as arts organisations and more of its students and alumni have received invitations to participate in exhibitions, projects and productions.

Of the five batches that have graduated, she adds, all have gone on to pursue tertiary studies except those in national service and the few who took a gap year.

But the school has also faced its share of challenges. Ms Lim says: “We have parents who think Sota students will all eventually become artists.

“Sota students have proven that they can excel in both the arts and academic subjects. Many have received offers to study arts- and non-arts related courses from prestigious universities and institutions of higher learning, as well as arts schools and conservatories.”

Mr Alvin Tan, 54, founder and artistic director of home-grown theatre group The Necessary Stage, says: “So far, I strongly feel Sota has been successful.

“It has given young Singaporeans a headstart in developing their artistic gifts. It has also contributed to the credibility of the arts industry as a viable career option, sending a clear signal to Singaporeans that it is desirable and a serious profession.”

When asked how Sota can improve, he suggests that it can have more active internships with theatre companies to introduce students to industry practice more thoroughly.

Referring to the school’s theatre programme, he adds: “Once the students and parents are sure the students wish to pursue it as a life-long career, perhaps these students can also take on more theatre subjects and less normal school subjects.”


She danced for British royal family

Adelene Stanley is now a full-time company artist with Frontier Danceland, a contemporary dance company in Singapore. PHOTO: SHAUN HO

On the day of her audition for the School of the Arts, dancer Adelene Stanley had butterflies in her stomach and was constantly questioning if she was good enough to make the cut.

As part of the selection process, she had to attend a ballet class and a contemporary dance class with more than 20 other girls and she remembers three or four teachers sitting in front of the class, watching their every move.

“It was nerve-racking because dance is such a big part of my life. I wanted to get into Sota very badly, so I guess I placed a lot of pressure on myself. I was 12 then and it was my first experience going through a selection process for dance,” she says.

That first audition gave her a taste of the many other auditions to come – for both dance schools and companies. “I was glad Sota had an audition process because that is the reality of a dancer’s life,” she says.

After years of auditions, long hours and gruelling schedules, the Sota alumna, now 21, has finally become what she always dreamt of – a professional dancer.

Last April, she became a full-time company artist with Frontier Danceland, a contemporary dance company in Singapore.

But her path has been a long one, starting from her first ballet class at the age of three and regular dance classes, once or twice a week, throughout primary school.

Her father, Mr L. Stanley Lall Singh, 61, manages a pest control business and her mother, Madam Susan Mok, 61, is a secretary in the same company. Her brother Arnold, 27, is an executive in an international chemical company; and her sister Amelia, 25, is a physiotherapist.

After primary school, Stanley spent four years as a student at Sota from 2008 to 2011 and this period, she says, taught her the fundamentals – self-discipline and a sense of ownership – which were needed to face the challenges ahead.

Training was tough. Academic classes started at 8am daily, she recalls. Once or twice a week, she stayed back in school until 7.30pm for dance practice.

But it was all worthwhile, as she was able to “grow creatively and develop under the watchful eye of experienced teachers”. “It was a very cultivating experience and something I appreciate very much,” she adds.

In 2011, she left Sota to pursue full-time dance training at the Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance in London with a scholarship from the National Arts Council.

After graduating with first class honours in 2014, she immediately started working and touring with London-based company Inala, performing in 57 shows in 25 different theatres and 21 cities.

That same year, she performed for the British royal family during the Royal Variety Performance, a televised variety show held annually in Britain.

The stages of Moscow and Scotland are also not foreign to her, as she has performed at the Chekhov International Theatre Festival and the Edinburgh International Festival.

And the energetic Stanley, who is in a relationship, shows no signs of stopping. She returned to Singapore to serve her two-year scholarship bond and now rehearses daily, choreographs pieces for Frontier Danceland’s performances and teaches teenage students under the company’s outreach programmes.

“I never want to stop learning. Every day, every process, is a learning experience that adds to my craft and work as a professional dancer.”


Curiosity pushed her to start magazine

Ms Ruby Thiagarajan started Mynah Magazine, which aims to tell Singaporean stories through long-form journalism and creative non-fiction. PHOTO: COURTESY OF RUBY THIAGARAJAN

After completing Secondary 1 at Raffles Girls’ School (RGS), Ms Ruby Thiagarajan, 23, decided to join the School of the Arts Singapore.

“I felt RGS had more of a sense of tradition and there was not as much space to experiment, both artistically and academically,” she says.

As a theatre student at Sota, she says she was given a broad-based education that pushed her in all directions. From how to direct actors in a play to stage production, she was always encouraged to try a different approach.

And this curiosity and courage to experiment eventually led her to start her own magazine with some friends last year.

Titled Mynah Magazine, the annual print publication is dedicated to untold Singaporean stories through long-form journalism and creative non- fiction. Its first issue was published last October and is selling in stores such as BooksActually and Naiise at $28 a copy. So far, more than 800 of its 1,000-copy print-run have been sold.

The Singaporean says: “There are so many stories worth telling – those that lie forgotten at void decks, unnoticed in your phone’s camera roll and stashed away in parts of the city that our transit lines still can’t reach.

“We created Mynah because we really wanted a space for lengthy journalism dedicated to the aspects of Singapore that are just not as well known or discussed.”

Her project has won support from home-grown writer Yu-Mei Balasingamchow and Singapore Literature Prize-winning author Joshua Ip, who contributed to the first issue. The team is currently looking for contributors for a second issue.

Ms Thiagarajan, who is single and now a social sciences undergraduate at Sciences Po, a university in France, says: “I’m just excited to contribute to the exploration of Singaporean culture in whatever way I can. I am quite inquisitive, a quality very much encouraged when I was in Sota.”

Her mother, office manager Josephine Seah, 44, and father, retiree Raj Thiagarajan, 63, did have some initial reservations about sending their child to the new arts school. She has a brother, Rhys, 18, who just received his A-level results and is waiting to enlist in the army.

Ms Seah says that Ruby initially chose to go to RGS because she had attended Raffles Girls’ Primary School and felt going to RGS was a natural progression.

Referring to Sota, she says: “We were not familiar with the International Baccalaureate curriculum and whether Ruby would have equal standing with students who took the A-level route to university in Singapore. Thankfully, she did not have trouble with this.

“In fact, the arts education has enriched Ruby’s perspective of life and allowed her to mature and think deeper about her career path, role and contribution to society.”


Music student just released an album

Bennett Bay. PHOTO: RAPHAEL YEE

After completing his Primary School Leaving Examination, Bennett Bay had only one school in mind – the School of the Arts.

The 21-year-old Singaporean, who is classically trained in the suona, a Chinese wind instrument, says: “Had I not got in, I would have tried to get into another school with a good Chinese orchestra programme.

“I would still have been in the arts, but I probably wouldn’t have been as content, or as free, as an artist.”

He can also play the guitar and the oboe.

Looking back on his Sota days, the music student, who graduated in 2013, says his time in the school expanded his perspective towards music.

In school, I was exposed to other forms of music, such as Gregorian chant, atonal music and even punk and metal. I learnt to consider other possibilities.

BENNETT BAY, who initially wanted to focus on Chinese music but changed his mind after his time in Sota

“I started playing the suona at age eight after my primary school teacher introduced me to it. I assumed I would eventually join a professional Chinese orchestra,” he says. “But in school, I was exposed to other forms of music, such as Gregorian chant, atonal music and even punk and metal. I learnt to consider other possibilities.”

While serving national service, he started writing songs and performed some of them at a free show at the Esplanade concourse in 2015.

That gig led to more performances and more songwriting and culminated in the release of his first full-length album, titled Compass, last month.

The 13-track album of folk songs tells a story about a lost child torn between finding his way back home or settling for the unknown.

It is for sale at $12 (digital download) on iTunes.

The Straits Times music reviewer Eddino Abdul Hadi described Bay’s voice as “gentle and soothing” and some of the tracks as “bucolic, stripped-down guitar pieces that conjure the idyllic beauty of the countryside”.

Bay, currently in his first year of a bachelor of arts (honours) music programme at Lasalle College of the Arts, specialising in jazz performance, says: “I’m focusing on jazz for now because I’m trying to expand my boundaries.”

The bachelor counts post-rock bands Explosions In The Sky and Sigur Ros as his inspirations.

In the coming months, he will start work on this second album, titled In Memory Of, which will have more of a rock feel.

His father, retiree Bay Sieu Boon, 68, says: “It was my son’s decision to go to Sota to take up music. I had no objection because we noticed he has some talent in music and it’s better to let him study something that he likes.

“As for his career, it’s hard to say right now as he’s still young and is still making a name for himself.”

His mother, Madam Helen Ong, 58, works in a childcare centre. His sister Lynette, 19, just graduated from Sota and is waiting for admission to a local university.

“I hope to continue writing music and performing it,” says Bay. “Music has become my main outlet for understanding the world and myself. Eventually, I want to perform overseas and take my ideas outside Singapore.

“Perhaps there are communities outside of Singapore that can relate to music from our small island and we can better understand one another’s culture,” he adds

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I was helping out at my son’s school trip to the Road Safety Community Park recently, when a kid headed for a zebra crossing in a go-kart, seemingly with no intention of stopping.

His hand flew to the handbrake only when I motioned for him to pull over. It was my son.

The facility in East Coast Park teaches children about road safety via traffic games that it often hosts for school groups. Kids are assigned one of three roles – pedestrian, cyclist or go-kart driver – and are disqualified once they chalk up 50 demerit points for a slew of “unsafe/discourteous acts” listed on a game card.

At a briefing before the game, the 30 parent volunteers were told that our job was essentially to issue summons for violations.

“This is how they learn,” said the young chap from the Traffic Police.

So I did what I was supposed to do as a traffic marshal: I told my nine-year-old why he should slow down and prepare to stop before a pedestrian crossing, then crossed off a box on his game card that cost him five demerit points.

ST ILLUSTRATION: ADAM LEE

He protested, his face darkening with displeasure, but I waved him on.

My friend P snapped a picture of me in action and sent it to one of our mummy chat groups.

“Giving summons to her own son!” she texted.

K, another friend, teased: “You are so cruel.”

P then told her how I had given her son a chance when he failed to execute the kerb drill properly as a pedestrian.

“This boy,” K responded swiftly. “I’m telling him off now.”

P conceded: “I think we are always harsher with our own kids.”

Later that day, she sent a meme that summed up how parenting has given us split personalities.

The top half of the image showed Rex, the amiable dino in Toy Story, flashing a guileless grin. “Mom with friends”, read the caption.

The bottom half, labelled “Mom at home”, was a movie still from Jurassic Park in which a fearsome Tyrannosaurus was on a rampage.

I laughed.

It was funny because it was so true and I quickly sent it on to other friends.

Many responded with the laughing emoticon squirting tears of mirth.

“Well done, HC. I would have done the same,” one said after I tagged on the road safety park incident as context. “I always tell people I’m a ‘momster’.”

The thing is, I hadn’t realised I was more lenient with other kids until P pointed it out.

I told my son off because it looked like he was about to mow down some hapless pedestrians.

I let K’s son off after having him repeat the kerb drill because he was neither in danger nor putting others at risk there and then.

But my double standards had not escaped my son’s notice. Instead of finding the dinosaur meme funny, his voice was shrill with indignation.

“That’s you,” he said accusingly. “When I told you my friend cried because the teacher caught him reading in class and confiscated his book, you said ‘poor thing’.

“When it happened to me, you were like ‘rah yah rah gah rah’,” he went on, contorting his face while spewing loud, unintelligible sounds in a laudable impersonation of someone gone berserk – me.

I tried to explain why I did what I did at the park and gave a spiel about the dangers of reckless driving in real life.

He, too, defended his actions. He was still getting the hang of driving the clunky go-kart when I pulled him over. He was going to stop, but the vehicle was heavy and did not respond fast enough.

I thought we had come to an understanding, but he was still smarting from my lack of mercy.

“Aunty H gave me candy when I went past her stop. Aunty S took pictures of me in my go-kart. You? You were the only one who gave me demerit points. You ruined my record!”

It made me wonder then: Just why do we often morph from friendly aunties one minute to scary monster mums the next when dealing with our own kids?

A private tutor once told me she had far more patience with other people’s children than her own. She used to teach at a top primary school here, but sent her daughter to be tutored by a colleague.

“I was screaming at her every day and it was putting such a strain on our relationship,” she recalled.

The same misdemeanour that would earn my son a tongue- lashing (or worse) would likely draw an indulgent “kids will be kids” laugh from me if it were committed by a friend’s child.

The most obvious defence would be that it is not our place to discipline other people’s offspring. We can’t fix or control how others behave, but we sure can call the shots when it comes to our own children.

Another would be that we expect our kids to know better. We hold them to higher standards because we’ve invested so much time and effort in raising them to do the right thing.

When they don’t, our disappointment is keen and our words even sharper.

As a 2014 article in Psychology Today magazine put it, “we have the least tolerance for the negative qualities of those with whom we spend the most time”.

Since we expect the best from those we love, we often show the worst side of ourselves when we feel let down.

I suspect a part of why we toggle between Jekyll and Hyde personas has to do with ego too. Children are often seen as extensions of their parents, so how they behave reflects directly on us.

When they fall short, we squirm because we take the lapses personally and fear being judged. The buck stops with us, so we’d better do our darndest to make sure they don’t bring us into disrepute.

But guilt often follows when we carry the tiger mum act too far. That is when I turn to other momsters for solace because they, too, have been there, done that and then felt the crushing weight of remorse.

Once, at the end of a particularly rough day punctuated by my screaming and my son’s teary tantrums, a friend and I had a long exchange via WhatsApp.

I told her how close I was to slapping my son after he blatantly thwarted my every attempt to get him to do some work ahead of his exams.

“I’m so scared I won’t be able to hold back one day,” I told her.

She gave her views on why she thought my son behaved the way he did and suggested some alternatives to winning his cooperation. She could empathise because she had snapped one day and given her son a tight slap under similar circumstances. The guilt still plagues her.

Commiserating with other strict mums gives me a better perspective and also allows me to see the funny side of things at times.

Together, we are striving for the happy ideal between the impossibly mellow Rex and the terrifying T-rex with serious anger issues.

The trip to the road safety park holds lessons for me too.

I have to remember to enjoy the journey with my kids and stop fixating on the destinations. It doesn’t hurt to close one eye sometimes even if the ride is bumpy, veers off course or, yes, runs afoul of a few rules.

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Growing up, Paralympic swimmer Theresa Goh did not know of any disabled people who went on dates.

Neither did she see people with disabilities portrayed as being in relationships on television or in the movies.

So, to her, the thought of finding romance as a disabled person had always seemed elusive, fictive even.

“Society did not paint a positive picture for people with disabilities,” says Ms Goh, 30, who is single.

The athlete – whose many sports medals include a bronze in the 100m breaststroke SB4 at last year’s Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro – was born with spina bifida and is paralysed from the waist down.

Assistance in areas such as employment and caregiving is often offered to disabled people and their families. The Government said in Monday’s Budget announcement that it will spend about $400 million a year on a five-year national plan with initiatives to support people with disabilities.

But few have spoken about the challenges people with disabilities grapple with when it comes to looking for love.

Mr Jake Oh Wei Jian’s patient and caring ways make his fiancee, Ms Jean Ling Ching Yee, forget her disabilities. PHOTOS: ARIFFIN JAMAR, LAU FOOK KONG, VENESSA LEE, COURTESY OF JEAN LING

Disabled people interviewed by The Sunday Times – those who are single as well as those who are in relationships – say physical limitations, a lack of confidence and societal expectations can be obstacles to dating, though they can sometimes be overcome.

In fact, the issues faced by people with disabilities may not always differ vastly from those faced by their able-bodied counterparts.

For Ms Goh, her desire to find out more about dating as she entered her teens prompted her to go online to read articles and join forums and chat groups that catered to dating as a person with disabilities.

She realised that some people seek disabled partners “out of pity” or date only people with specific disabilities.

But that did not deter her from online dating, which she started in her mid-20s when she felt she had more free time. She had begun training competitively at age 12.

When using websites such as OkCupid and apps such as Tinder, she always posts a profile picture of herself in her wheelchair.

She says: “I’ve never wanted to hide (my disability). That’s always been clear from the start.”

As she is upfront about her disability, she believes it has not been her main challenge in finding a partner.

She says some potential dates seem to prefer sending messages than meeting face to face, while others lack emotional connection.

Once, someone’s first question to her was what it felt like to be in a wheelchair, which she thought was rude.

Her condition also limits where she can go on dates. “I always have to find a location that is wheelchair- accessible, especially if we go out at night. For example, it’s harder to find wheelchair-accessible toilets at night. And shopping centres, which have toilets, may be closed,” she says. “In such instances, I don’t feel free to stay out late.”

Love remains elusive for her. Apart from casual dates, she has never been in a relationship, though she says she has not given up on online dating.

Some people with disabilities feel that dating is not even an option for them.

Mr William Eng, 29, who has Becker’s muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair, says: “I don’t really think about it. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. My first thought is that I would be a burden (to the other person).”

Apart from rare outings with female schoolmates in secondary school, he has never been in a relationship.

His condition is characterised by progressive muscle weakness. He cannot walk or lift his hands and needs help with daily tasks such as getting dressed. He also finds it hard to ask strangers for help in public for fear of being looked down on.

Another challenge to having a relationship, he feels, is his lack of income.

“I’m trying to improve myself, to see whether I can get a job in the future,” says Mr Eng, who dropped out of school at about 16 after his condition worsened.

Most days, he goes to the Muscular Dystrophy Association Singapore, where he learns computer and other skills, and takes part in sports such as power soccer and boccia – ball games played by wheelchair-users. He hopes to get a job in IT one day.

Sometimes, parental expectations throw a spanner in the works. That was the experience of Mr Eric Ting, 45, a freelance trader who became a quadriplegic after a car accident when he was studying in Australia. He was 25 then.

After the accident, he had two serious relationships that lasted several years, but they eventually failed due to objections from his girlfriends’ parents.

“When others date people with disabilities, some may think it’s quite special. But when it comes to their own children, there’s a ‘not in my backyard’ mentality,” he says.

“Generally, society is still quite narrow-minded when it comes to people with disabilities – for example, parents thinking we’re unable to support their daughters.”

He did finally find true love, though, when he met Ms Sharon Tan, a 44-year-old post-natal therapist, on dating website Match.com. They married a year ago.

His wife, who is able-bodied, says she was drawn to his looks after seeing his profile photo, as well as his optimism and self-sufficiency.

Mr Ting occasionally contributes articles and videos to Able Thrive, an online resource platform for people with disabilities and their families.

He says confidence on both sides helps strengthen the relationship.

“I was looking for someone who is not bothered by what others think. Self-confidence is important too, otherwise it can be draining on the other half (to support you physically and emotionally),” says Mr Ting, adding that pity or charity has no place in any relationship, disabled or otherwise.

“You have to ask yourself, is this what you want for the rest of your life?”

Administrative executive Jean Ling Ching Yee, 34, became a paraplegic after a car accident in New Zealand, where she was travelling with her ex-boyfriend in 2014.

Unable to cope with her disability, he left her, which caused her to lose faith in love.

“We’re afraid that we will give trouble to people, such as not being able to use escalators, but having to find a lift. We always think, when are they going to give up on us?” says Ms Ling.

But Cupid was not done with her. She met her fiance, engineer Jake Oh Wei Jian, 27, about two years ago through mutual friends.

“He doesn’t complain at all. I’ve never heard him say, it’s troublesome (to have to tend to my needs). He moved me with his patience and care. He gave me the confidence to give love another shot,” she says.

“I show him my affection by holding his hand and hugging him in public. He makes me feel ablebodied again.”


Paralympic sailor finds a keeper
 

When they met four years ago, Ms Anna Cher, 35, was hesitant about entering a relationship with Mr Jovin Tan, 31, because she was not sure if she would be able to care for him.

Mr Tan, a national sailor who has competed in international competitions for athletes with disabilities, including the 2016 Rio Paralympics, has cerebral palsy – a condition that affects movement, motor skills and muscle tone.

But he convinced Ms Cher to give the relationship a go.

Just two weeks later, he realised she was up to the challenge when he needed her help going to the toilet and she was unfazed.

The couple, who have been together for more than three years now, met through the Social Development Network, which replaced the Social Development Unit that was set up to promote marriages among graduate singles.

Mr Tan, who uses a wheelchair, started dating at around age 14 and had 10 girlfriends before meeting Ms Cher, a customer service officer.

He reckons that most of his previous relationships – which lasted from a few months to a few years – ended because the women did not want to deal with his disability in the long run.

They face their fair share of social pressure and misperceptions.

Some of her friends have asked why she is dating a disabled person. And sometimes, when they are dining out, waiters automatically hand her the bill or menu, or ask her if they can give Mr Tan a menu.

But these are minor blips in their loving relationship.

Mr Tan, who works as an administrator at a human resources consultancy, says his girlfriend has learnt to “fight” for his rights. For example, she asks able-bodied people who are crowding him out of the lift to use the escalator instead.

Ms Cher says her boyfriend is caring and picks her up from work when he can.

“If you let me choose again, I’ll still choose him,” she says.

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Although I am perfectly happy – and often prefer – to travel alone, I have begun to appreciate the different perspectives some of my friends give to places I go to often.

On my yearly trips to Tokyo, for example, I make it a point to meet pals from Singapore who are also in the Japanese capital and we explore new places.

Going to Hidemi Sugino, a patisserie in Kyobashi, with a large group of friends means we can try practically every cake on the menu, and debating which one is best is a fun parlour game.

My Japanese friends have introduced me to restaurants that only locals go to and I treasure those meals very much.

This year, I went to Tokyo with my sister. We don’t spend nearly enough time together because she lives in Australia, so it was a real treat for me.

I ended up going to places I wouldn’t usually go to and doing things I wouldn’t have thought of doing.

  • BAKED POTATO WITH MENTAIKO

    INGREDIENTS

    4 Russet potatoes, about 250g each

    2 tsp olive or grapeseed oil

    1 tsp flaky sea salt

    2 lobes mentaiko (salted spicy pollock roe, above), about 100g

    10g chives

    100g unsalted butter

    METHOD

    1. Scrub the potatoes under running water, pat dry with paper towels and let dry in a colander. This can be done the night before cooking.

    2. Preheat the oven to 200 deg C.

    3. Prick the potatoes all over fairly deeply with the tines of a fork (below). This is to prevent steam from building up in the potatoes and causing them to explode in the oven. Place them in a bowl. Pour the oil and sprinkle the salt over the potatoes, mix with hands to coat well.

    4. Place the potatoes on a metal rack set over a lined baking tray and bake in the oven for one hour and 15 minutes. The potatoes are ready when a sharp knife inserted into the centre meets no resistance.

    5. While the potatoes are cooking, use a sharp knife to slit the mentaiko down the middle lengthwise. Use a teaspoon to scrape the roe into a small dish. Chop the chives. Cut the butter into four equal pieces and refrigerate.

    6. When the potatoes are ready (below), take them out of the oven and place them on a serving platter or individual serving plates. Using a knife, cut through the top layer of skin lengthwise, but do not cut through the potatoes. Gently push both ends towards the middle to fluff up the insides of the spuds. Place a chunk of butter in the middle of each one. Divide the mentaiko among the potatoes, sprinkle chives over them and serve immediately.

    Serves four

My trips to Tokyo are usually planned right down to the last meal. I like that precision; it appeals to my inner control freak.

But my sister wanted me to experience Ameyoko Market. I had never thought of going, so was game.

We made no restaurant bookings one night and headed to Ueno. The sprawling place, formerly the site of a black market post-World War II, is filled with shops selling everything from cosmetics to snacks, as well as food places.

Wandering through the market and getting delightfully lost, we browsed the shops and stopped to eat at places that looked good to us.

One of these was a buzzy izakaya, where we feasted on motsu-ni or beef offal stew, grilled scallops, cold and briny oysters and baked potatoes with butter.

The city was colder than usual during the 10 days we were there. I found myself walking through overheated department stores on the way back to the hotel, when I would usually delight in the cold.

Those potatoes hit the spot so perfectly that cold night and we had two servings, relishing the comfort the dish brought us. Spuds and butter, that’s all it was, but how good they tasted.

Potatoes were also the highlight of another new thing I did in Tokyo.

About a week before I left, a friend who had been in the city before us said she would have to miss Furusato Matsuri, but that I should check it out.

On a public holiday, when no restaurants of note were open, we made our way to the annual food festival at Tokyo Dome. After stashing our coats in lockers, we walked down to the arena and tried to take stock of everything.

Different prefectures in Japan are represented at the festival and it is possible to eat one’s way through the country in one place. Aside from that, there were bands playing and competitions going on. People were everywhere.

It was one big delightful mess in an orderly country and we plunged right in.

Furusato Matsuri is like every Japanese food fair you have been to, but on steroids. We feasted on steamed oysters, fish cake, softserve ice cream served in melon halves, sausages impaled on bones (where are the bones – which all look the same and curve the same way – from?) and washed these all down with beer samplers.

Everywhere I looked, there were people holding square plates with huge baked potatoes and various toppings.

We found the stall in the Hokkaido section. After taking a bite, I figured I had died and gone to spud heaven. The potato was crammed with cubes of butter and topped generously with mentaiko, or spicy pollock roe.

There was something about the spicy, salty fish eggs with the butter and potato that made me want to eat more and more.

We could not, to my eternal regret, finish it because we were approaching a food coma.

Back home, I hankered after it again, so I decided to replicate it.

It is difficult to find those huge potatoes here, but smaller ones make for a good snack or side dish. Use Russet potatoes because the insides fluff up during baking. Do not skip the step of piercing holes through the potatoes with a fork. Exploding spuds in the oven are no fun to clean up, trust me.

Mentaiko is available in Japanese supermarkets here. Of course, there are other good things to put on a baked spud. The stall also sold a version topped with fermented squid guts.

Those a little squeamish can consider sour cream, bacon, tuna and cheese.

Sitting down to my baked potato in Singapore, I could not help but think it was equally comforting in tropical conditions. I guess a baked spud is good anywhere in the world, at any time.

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Deepika Padukone, 31

International project: xXx: Return Of Xander Cage (2017)

Hot on the heels of Quantico’s Priyanka Chopra is the equally stunning Deepika Padukone, who made her Hollywood debut last month in the Vin Diesel actioner, xXx: Return Of Xander Cage.

In the film, which is in cinemas here, she plays sexy villain Serena. The character shows off her slick fighting skills in a number of thrilling action sequences alongside action stars such as Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa.

The movie’s ending hints at another xXx sequel to come for the franchise and rumour has it that the role of Serena will be bigger in the next instalment.

Although international audiences are getting to know Padukone only now, anyone who has been following the Bollywood scene knows that she is one of India’s most sought-after stars.

Known for her beauty as well as versatile acting skills, she has a string of Best Actress awards to her name, including Filmfare trophies for her roles in the tragic romance Ram-Leela (2013) and comedy Piku (2015).

She is also one of the highest-paid actresses in the world, being the only Indian star to make it onto Forbes’ annual Top 10 list last year with US$10 million (S$14 million) in earnings.


PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY, GOLDEN VILLAGE, REUTERS

Anil Kapoor, 60

International projects: Slumdog Millionaire (2008), Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011), 24 (Season 8, 2010)

Unlike Irrfan Khan, who is favoured by Hollywood for his intelligent vibe, Anil Kapoor stands out because of his masculine charm.

Often seen with a neat moustache or full beard, he veers on being smarmy, but there is no doubt that he is a hit with women of a certain vintage.

With an indie Hollywood hit (Slumdog Millionaire), a mega franchise movie (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) and a hit television series (24) to his name, he has spread his wings wide in Hollywood.

What he hopes for his international career is that he not be constantly treated as an actor from India.

In a Hollywood Reporter interview a few years ago, he said he wanted to be seen as “an international star and not an Indian star”.


PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY, GOLDEN VILLAGE, REUTERS

Anupam Kher, 61

International projects: Silver Linings Playbook (2012), The Headhunter’s Calling (2016), Love Sonia (2017), The Big Sick (2017), Hotel Mumbai (2017)

Sweet and smiley, Anupam Kher is the fatherly type that everyone likes.

Over the years, the prolific actor has taken roles in movies such as David O. Russell’s acclaimed Silver Linings Playbook, where he played Bradley Cooper’s therapist.

This year looks set to be his biggest Hollywood year yet, with three films in the works: Love Sonia, The Big Sick and Hotel Mumbai.

Love Sonia, which is directed by Slumdog Millionaire producer Tabrez Noorani and produced by Life Of Pi’s David Womark, is a film about sex trafficking in India and will also star Freida Pinto and Demi Moore.

The Judd Apatow-produced romantic comedy The Big Sick, based on the real-life romance of Silicon Valley star Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily Gordon, will also star Ray Romano, Holly Hunter and Zoe Kazan.

Hotel Mumbai, which is centred on the 2008 Mumbai attack at Taj Mahal Palace & Tower hotel, will feature an international cast, with actors such as Dev Patel, Armie Hammer and Jason Isaacs.

In the thriller, Kher will take on the role of the hotel’s former star chef Hemant Oberoi, who was in the building during the attack.


Amyra Dastur (right) and Disha Patani (left). PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY, GOLDEN VILLAGE, REUTERS

Amyra Dastur, 23 Disha Patani, 24

International project: Kung Fu Yoga (2017)

It is typical of Jackie Chan movies to feature hot babes, usually Chinese.

His latest action adventure movie Kung Fu Yoga, however, casts the spotlight on two sexy Indian actresses – Amyra Dastur and Disha Patani.

In the film, Dastur plays a feisty princess, Kyra, while Patani plays her elder princess sister, Ashmita.

The pair enlist the help of Chan, who plays an archaeology professor, to go on a mission to recover some lost treasures of their kingdom.

Unfortunately, as with most of Chan’s former female co-stars, Dastur and Patani fail to make much of a mark since most of the attention is on the action set pieces.

Still, the two newbies have received international exposure.

In Singapore, the film was the No. 1 movie during the Chinese New Year festive season.


PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY, GOLDEN VILLAGE, REUTERS

Priyanka Chopra, 34

International projects: TV series Quantico (2015-present), action movie Baywatch

Priyanka Chopra’s career in Hollywood is most likely to go further than that of her Indian peers.

The former beauty queen (Miss World, 2000) and star of Bollywood hits such as Krrish (2006) and Don (2006) has been getting plenty of notice recently for two major mainstream Hollywood projects: TV series Quantico and Baywatch, the much buzzed-about movie reboot of the iconic 1990s television series.

As FBI agent Alex Parrish in drama thriller Quantico, Chopra made headlines for being the first South Asian to lead an American network series.

She was also the first South Asian to win a People’s Choice Award, when she took home a trophy last year for the role in the category of Favourite Actress In A New TV Series. Last month, she won another one at the same awards show for Favourite Dramatic TV Actress.

Apart from Quantico, she is busy promoting Baywatch, alongside A-listers Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron. The movie adaptation of the TV series is slated for release in May.

While she will not be donning the famous red Baywatch swimsuit here, as she is playing the mysterious villain, fans need not worry as she will still be showing off her hot bod in plenty of slinky dresses.

In an Instagram post on her account (@priyankachopra) this week, she shared a picture of herself from the movie in a figure-hugging strapless red dress with the caption: “Being bad can be so good.”

We completely agree.


PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY, GOLDEN VILLAGE, REUTERS

Irrfan Khan, 50

International projects: Life Of Pi (2012), The Amazing Spider-Man (2012), Jurassic World (2015), Inferno (2016)

Whether it is his understated style of acting or his always fashion-forward looks, there is something about Irrfan Khan that screams cool.

Evidently, Hollywood bigwigs think so too.

When Khan was in Singapore last year to promote blockbuster movie Inferno (2016) alongside Hollywood A-lister Tom Hanks and director Ron Howard, the Oscar-winning Hanks said at the press conference: “I always think I’m the coolest guy in the room… And then Irrfan Khan walks into the room, and he’s the coolest guy in the room, and everybody’s intimidated to be in his presence and everybody’s hanging on to his every word.”

That presence has translated into intelligent, successful roles – in Inferno, he was The Provost, the head of a powerful mysterious organisation, and in Jurassic World, he was the wealthy owner of the theme park.

No word yet on what his next international project will be – he is busy enough shooting three Indian films. But we think there is a good chance Hollywood will knock on his door again.


PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY, GOLDEN VILLAGE, REUTERS

Huma Qureshi, 30

International project: Viceroy’s House (2017)

Unlike Deepika Padukone’s or Priyanka Chopra’s much more mainstream projects, Huma Qureshi’s international debut is in British arthouse flick, Viceroy’s House.

In the film about life inside Viceroy’s House, the home of the British rulers in India, during the 1947 partition of the country, Qureshi plays Aalia, a Muslim interpreter to the last Viceroy of India.

Although this historical epic will have a much more limited release than Chopra’s Baywatch, the sumptuous period piece, which screened at the Berlin International Film Festival earlier this month, comes with very strong pedigree.

It is directed by British film-maker Gurinder Chadha, who also helmed hit movie Bend It Like Beckham (2002), and it stars Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey, 2010-2015), Gillian Anderson (The X-Files, 1993-2016) and Michael Gambon (Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, 2010-2011).

Already, Qureshi has impressed Chadha, who said in an interview with The Times Of India that the actress will “get a great launch in global cinema” through this film.


PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY, GOLDEN VILLAGE, REUTERS

Ali Fazal, 30

International projects: Furious 7 (2015), Victoria And Abdul (2017)

Ali Fazal (pictured while filming Happy Bhaag Jayegi in 2015) made his Hollywood debut in blockbuster movie Furious 7, but his role of a mechanic was so tiny that he was completely forgettable.

The hunk will likely make a much more lasting impression when the movie Victoria And Abdul opens in September. In it, he takes on the role of the titular Abdul, opposite a Queen Victoria played by Judi Dench.

Directed by Stephen Frears (The Queen, 2006), the film, about the unlikely friendship between Queen Victoria and young Indian clerk Abdul, will also star the likes of Eddie Izzard and Tim Pigott-Smith.

Now that sounds like a much stronger introduction to international audiences.

• Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee

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