Category Archives: Community

Smoke gets in your rice

Yup, it’s looking far too foggy for the tropics and if you equate fog with cool, then, we must be in hell because it’s smokin’ hot in our part of the world. Our big neighbour will say we should be thankful we smell ash, not sulphur and truly, we feel sorrier for their hapless citizens nearer the forest fires who have to endure PSI levels of 1,000. Too bad the smoke isn’t reaching the mighty ones in their seat of power who’ve been snorting that their long-suffering neighbours should quit complaining.

Top image: http://www.haze.gov.sg/

Since we’ve been warned that the smoke screen will linger till late November, let’s put on our happy face and sing a ditty.

(sung to the tune of Happy days are here again)

Hazy days are here again

The skies above are gray again

So, let’s don our masks before we tear again

Hazy times

Hazy days

Hazy nights

Are here again!

For our fragile constitutions, we can make sweet soups to stay hydrated and soothe dry throats. Lotus root is believed to strengthen the lungs, white fungus too is good for the lungs and immune system plus the collagen is a beauty aid, red dates are a tonic for the blood and so on. But what’s most important is that these traditional desserts are a taste treat especially on hot, hazy days.

 Sweet soups - lotus root

Lotus Root with Red Dates

Serves 3

250g lotus root

16 deseeded red dates, washed

60g rock sugar or more, to taste

Method

1 Scrape mud off lotus root, brush and rinse thoroughly. Peel and cut into 2cm thick slices. Quarter each slice. Soak in lightly salted water for a few minutes. Rinse well before use.

  1. Fill a pot with 5 cups of water and add the cubed lotus root. Cover pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, simmer for one hour.
  1. Add rock sugar and red dates. Continue to simmer, covered for another 45 minutes or until lotus root is tender.

(Check water level now and again. Add another cup of water if necessary)

  1. Serve hot, warm or chilled.

For slow cooker: Transfer lotus root cubes into a medium-sized crock pot once water begins to boil. Leave to cook on high for ½ hour. Add rock sugar and red dates. Reduce heat of crock pot to medium and leave to simmer for 3 hours.

Sweet soups - 5 blessings

Five Blessings Soup

Serves 4

20 red dates, deseeded and washed

500g dried lily flowers

1 pack peeled ginkgo nuts

1 pack fresh lotus seeds

40g dried longan pulp

100g rock sugar

Method

  1. Soak dried lily flowers in a bowl of water for at least 2 hours. Rinse before use.
  2. Put ginkgo nuts and 8 cups of water in a pot. Cover and bring to a rolling boil. Lower heat, and simmer for 20 minutes.
  3. Add soaked lily flowers, lotus seeds and red dates. Cover pot and leave to simmer for another ½ hour.
  4. Add rock sugar and longan pulp. Continue to simmer for ½ hour.
  5. Serve hot, warm or chilled as a snack or for breakfast.

Sweet soups - white fungus

White Fungus and Ginseng

Serves 3

30g white fungus

1 teaspoon thinly sliced American ginseng

1 tablespoon red medlar seeds rinse before use

50g rock sugar or more to taste

Method

  1. Soak white fungus in warm water for at least 30 minutes or until very puffy.
  2. Combine 4 cups of water and softened white fungus in a small tall pot. Cover and bring to a rolling boil. Reduce heat to medium and continue to simmer for 45 minutes.
  3. Add rock sugar, ginseng slices and red medlar seeds.
  4. Continue to simmer for another ½ hour. Serve hot or chilled.

Sweet soups - multigrains

Sweet Multi-Grains

Serves 3

½ cup multi-grains (a combination of rolled and pearl barley, unpolished rice, fox nuts, etc available ready-packed at FairPrice supermarkets – rice section)

2-3 pandan leaves

12 red dates, deseeded and washed

30g dried longan pulp

100g rock sugar

Method

  1. Wash pandan leaves and knot.
  2. Wash and strain multi-grains like washing rice. Soak in 2 cups of water for ½ hour to reduce cooking time – don’t throw out the water.
  3. Put in a pot the knotted pandan leaves, multi-grains with the soaking water and another 5 cups of water. Cover and bring to a boil. Lower heat and leave to simmer for ½ hour.
  4. Add rock sugar, red dates and longan pulp. Cover pot and continue to simmer for 30 minutes. Serve hot or chilled.
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Singapore’s wild side

With the new alcohol law there might be less wildness, but of course, I’m not talking about inebriated homo sapiens. As a developed country, it’s our biodiversity (plant and animal life) we should be showing an interest in.

Isn’t it funny that while our island is named after the majestic lion (singa) supposedly spotted by Sang Nila Utama, it’s more likely the Javanese prince saw a tiger?  Hence, if he had identified the animal correctly, Singapore would be Harimaupura, maybe anglicised to Harrypore in honour of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, or even Tiggerpore. How would you like to be a Harryporean or Harimauean?

If you visit the recently opened Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum at NUS (National University of Singapore), you won’t see any stuffed lions because lions are not native to our part of the world. So, while our football team and various clubs are named in honour of the king of beasts, and the barfing Merlion is our icon, we’re lyin’ about our lion links. The truth is, the nearest natural lion habitat is in India (Gujarat).

While Singapore was part of tiger territory, sadly, our last tiger was killed in the 1930s, leaving us with just beer and an airline as reminders. But as you’ll discover, there are many more wild critters in the limited natural spaces we have, eg graceful gliders like flying dragons, birds and small mammals.

See for yourself at the museum most famous for its three Jurassic Age diplodocid sauropod dinosaur skeletons. The longest dinosaurs of all have tiny heads on necks that snake on and on. To get a decent photo, take a shot from the upper floor. Imagine one of these running towards you, chased by a T-rex!

As more of a museum- than a mall-fan, visiting the newish museum was my Mother’s Day outing. My son couldn’t be prised away from the insect section – he’s into insect taxidermy and happily provided a running commentary. He was disappointed there wasn’t enough on ants, his favourite anthropod.

As pictures speak better than words, here’re visuals for the ones who have yet to see the natural side of Singapore.

At the entrance is a mandala. Get up close to see the birds.

museum mural 3

Dinosaurs with the unlikely pet names of Prince, Appollonia and Twinky.

museum top 2

This prehistoric fish, the coelacanth (pronounced SEEL-uh-kanth) was believed to have gone extinct along with dinosaurs 65 million years ago. But one was caught in 1938 and since then, more of these endangered dinosaur fish have been sighted.

museum coelacanth

Birds are lovely and should be flying free. They weren’t given wings to be caged.

museum stuffed birds

The colours, the wings … Butterflies are Mother Nature’s delicate works of art, as are some insects. Cockroaches I can do without.

museum butterflies

Frog, sea mouse (a marine worm) with gold quills, turtle, coral and all kinds of close-ups we’ll only see in a museum.

museum frog 2museum sea mousemuseum turtl

We are family. All humans belong to the same species. There used to be other species but they went extinct, and at the rate we fight each other, we might soon disappear too.

museum skulls

Before Darwin, there was Alfred Russel Wallace. Although his theory of evolution by natural selection predated the findings of Charles Darwin’s, he was trumped on the basis of qualifications. However, Wallace is coming into his own now, and we have a section at the museum devoted to him alongside Sir Stamford Raffles and his contributions as an amateur naturalist. Here’s the American monyet (monkey) discovered by Raffles.

museum Raffles monyetmuseum Raffles

The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum is open Tues-Suns, 10am-7pm (last admission at 5.30pm). Book through SISTIC, tel. 6348 5555.

No bling-bling, just belimbing

When I first moved into my Sembawang-near-but-not-on-the-beach house, my late mother was thrilled to find a belimbing tree at the end of our lane. She picked enough to make sambal udang belimbing (prawn belimbing sambal).

Top image: http://toptropicals.com/catalog/uid/Averrhoa_bilimbi.htm

Over the years, I forgot about the belimbing until my Burmese helper brought a basketful home. While the Chinese are not interested in belimbing, the Indonesian and Myanmar nationals and Peranakans like me, cook with the sour fruit, a relative of the starfruit.

I gave a bagful to my chef-and-cookbook-author friend, Devagi Sanmugam. She made chutney with it and gave me two out of three bottles! So generous, but I’m not complaining as I’m eating a bit every day – it’s a yummy condiment.

Devagi - orange blouse

As Devagi blogged about it and provided a recipe, all I have to do is lift information from her blog – http://wp.me/p58GMV-Wu. If you don’t have belimbing growing in your neighbourhood, look out for it in the wet market. Tekka would be a good place to try.

Belimbing 2

Other names: bilimbi, belimbing buluh, belimbing assam,sour star fruit, irumbampuli

Bright green to yellowish green, the belimbing is quite crunchy when unripe and can go very mushy if ripe. It is extremely sour and has very tiny flat seeds. Since belimbing has a high concentration of oxalic acid, it can be used for cleaning brass and copper items and also for bleaching.

It is believed that consuming belimbing regularly will relieve high blood pressure, chronic cough and diabetes. All you need to do is, chop about 5-6 belimbing and boil it in 2 cups of water for 20 minutes and then strain and drink the water.

The belimbing is used to flavour curries and other dishes. When cooked, it mellows down. It can also be made into chutneys, pickles and into a refreshing drink. I like it in salads or just dipped in sugar!

Belimbing makes good chutney. This belimbing chutney has a tangy, sweet flavour which is perfect with cheeses such as cheddar or white stilton. Great on pork chops too. I am not joking – if served with vanilla ice cream, it will be an unforgettable dessert.

 belimbing chutney

BELIMBING CHUTNEY

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 25 minutes

Makes: 400 g

700 g belimbing, halved lengthwise and cut into 1 cm pieces

250 ml cider vinegar

150 g light brown sugar

80 g onion, chopped

5 red chillies

30 g finely chopped peeled ginger

½ teaspoon garam masala or ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon turmeric powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 bay leaf

METHOD

  1. Place all the ingredients together and boil over medium heat for about 25 minutes or until the chutney is thick.
  2. Discard the bay leaf before storing in clean, sterilized glass jars.

Northern exposure

In Singapore, having to drive longer than 20 minutes to get anywhere is considered as good as going to another country. For the longest time, Sembawang has been like the other side of the moon.

People who live elsewhere always exclaim, “so far!” That’s because for many years, Sembawang was only accessible by a couple of roads.

Top image: http://paul4innovating.com/2014/01/19/innovation-is-like-a-tropical-rainforest/

With just two bus services, no nearby MRT station where I live (near Sembawang Park which faces the Straits of Johor), no shopping mall, and with commuters carrying fishing and crabbing paraphernalia on the bus, we really seem to be the last bastion of ulu (countryside) Singapore.

But therein lies the charm. The bonus of living in what was once kampung (village) land is the lush landscape which includes edible plants growing wild. Just beyond my backyard are three majestic banyan trees, obviously many decades old as they were already ancient when I moved in 26 years ago.

Surrounding state land and forested areas are dotted with plants and trees like pandan, curry, banana, jackfruit, neem, papaya, belimbing, and even kangkong if you’re adventurous enough to wander a little off the beaten track. The rambutan trees have been felled but there are other goodies. These, and a quaint mosque, are the only remnants of Malay and Chinese kampungs.

Basong bus stop

Above: Waiting for the shuttle bus isn’t so bad when the view is so pleasant

Although land value has risen, it’s still comparatively low. Up to half a century ago, this sleepy part was distinguished only by its status as HMS Sembawang – His/Her Majesty’s Naval Base. Today, we remember our colonial heritage by the street names – Montreal, Canberra, Cyprus, Malta, Gibraltar, Auckland, Wellington, Falkland, Tasmania, King’s, Queen’s …  In Sembawang Park, there’s the century-old Beaulieu (pronounced Bew-lee) House, once a residence, now a seafood restaurant. A dog run has been added to the upgraded park, so the K9 crowd no longer have to go to Bishan.

Image: http://lionraw.com/2014/04/30/beaulieu-house/

sembawang beaulieu house

Image: http://news.asiaone.com/news/singapore/go-fetch-new-dog-park-opens-sembawang

sembawang dog run

In the last 10 years, we’ve seen our verdant area transformed as developers parcelled off choice bits of land to build four-storeyed houses and apartment blocks. New and old owners in the mature estate have also been tearing down their single-storey houses to add floors of space.

Images: http://allpropertylaunches.sg/wak-hassan-bungalows-by-the-sea/

sembawang wak hassan bungalows

sembawang Wak-Hassan-Bungalows- 6m

Got $7-$9 million to spare? Resort living is yours.

The Sembawang HDB estate is also encroaching. Where once treetops met the sky, I can see concrete rising by the day as a new estate is born, with schools and all the attendant amenities.

It’s fine with me as my son will occupy one of those flats, and an injection of fresh life into our countryside estate is welcome. Already, I feel less distant from the rest of Singapore with new links to highways (Yishun Ave 8 to the TPE, Jalan Kayu and Sengkang) and an upcoming MRT station between Yishun and Sembawang.

My son was born a northerner whereas I lived all over Singapore and adapted gradually to what was once a rural part of the island. He fished, caught spiders, rescued critters (from abandoned bunnies to grass snakes), tramped through secondary forest collecting plants to bonsai, bicycled all over, and with his best friend, enjoyed a Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn childhood.

For me, highlights are birdsong and the kind of silence that leaves a ringing in your ears. At first, I thought I had tinnitus. Mosquitoes are a blight but a natural part of living on the ground surrounded by greens.

It’s a privilege to be country folk.

BOOKS – Anthony books ‘em

My friend Anthony Koh whose roving bookstore I blogged about a couple of months ago, is on track to achieving his dream – a physical bookstore for writers. It may take a while but he’s getting there as his business gains traction and more lovers of the written word are aware there’s someone passionate about promoting reading and writing in an age when many only have enough attention for short messages and videos.

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Last Sunday, he held his fourth book fair at the Armenian Church. ‘We had our first at Caffe Pralet, a cafe cum culinary school in Tiong Bahru area. The second book fair was in their old kitchen. The third was held at The Arts House in conjunction with a writing workshop that I conducted.’

As the Church is the oldest Christian church in Singapore, opened in 1835 and gazetted as a national monument in 1973, Anthony had tourists as well as locals of all ages wandering in. ‘I don’t know if they came in for the books or they just looked at them after a tour of the church compound.  Possibly, the former because I hung two book fair posters outside the gate.’

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The response has been encouraging as Anthony gathers new customers. ‘Our very first customer in the morning was a bibliophile from the Philippines. Like me, she can’t stop buying books. She wasn’t aware of our book fair but she saw the posters, walked in, and bought a bag of books from us! The other early customer was a school librarian who was strolling in the garden with her husband and overheard my conversation with the Filipina. She was so inspired by what I do that she invited me to go to her all-boys school to fire up the students’ interest in reading.’

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After a few fairs, Anthony has a better idea of what people like. ‘I would say books on writing and award-winning novels sell equally well, followed by quirky books. I observed that people who bought books on writing also asked for books on grammar. We had several books on grammar but they flew off the shelves in the first two book fairs. Sales of books on writers and literary criticism has been slow.’

Anthony tells me the website I mentioned is wrong, so here we go again – visit http://booktique.weebly.com or https://www.facebook.com/WriterBooktique  to find the next Booktique location.
For all book lovers, what could be a nicer gift ?

REFLECTIONS – One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure

As someone who loves to rummage through bins of stuff at Cash Converters and community fairs, I can relate to the thrill of finding something precious for a pittance, never mind if I don’t really need it. It just might come in useful! So, I totally relate to Hwee Hwee Laurence’s love of vide greniers.

She explains:Image

Vide greniers in French literally means ‘empty (your) attics’ and is the English equivalent of car-boot sales and the American equivalent of yard sales.

Vide greniers are held all over towns and villages of France during the late-spring and summer months.  To sell your stuff, you simply pay a small fee for a stall and then lug whatever you want to get rid of there and hope that someone will find your discards the most useful and beautiful things in the world.  Do not be ashamed of that pair of shoes that has gone through three owners or that spare toilet seat cover that has been sitting in your garage for years.  One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.  You’ll be surprised what is bought and sold at vide greniers.

I love vide greniers.  I think it is one of the most enjoyable ways of recycling.  I live with two growing kids and four changing seasons, which means that lots of clothes get quickly outgrown but barely worn.  I have no time, disposition or money to trail around shops (and there aren’t many around here, anyway) to find new clothes for my children.  So, the solution is to sell their old clothes at vide greniers to mothers whose children are younger than mine and buy from mothers whose children are older. 

One year, when my kids have outgrown all their baby stuff, I cleared the whole attic and sold their pram, playpen, car-seat, baby bathtub, security gate, toys and clothes.  It was such a pleasure to see pregnant mothers buying them eagerly at prices they could afford and knowing that the little ones in the tummies will be well-equipped when they are born.  And of course, it felt good when I came home to a clean and clear attic.

Having a stall at vide greniers, especially one organized by your own village, is more than just selling things.  It is a whole day-at-the-park with your friends and neighbours.  We go around admiring (or buying) one another’s things; we share biscuits, sandwiches and coffee flavoured with a generous dose of gossip.  And we pitch the wonderful qualities of one other’s stuff to potential clients.  Children also help man the stalls, selling their old books and toys, then rushing off with their money to buy new-old toys.  Being the practical type, I usually don’t have many unwanted things to sell, but my old batik or summery dresses and skirts from Singapore are always a best-seller.

In return, I buy practically everything that I (and the family) need at vide greniers.  I buy all our clothes there, and although you cannot try them on, once you know the brands and their sizings, you can’t really go wrong.  At first it feels a bit embarrassing to see people seeing you buying old clothes, but then everyone is so natural about it that you lose your shyness in no time, and after all, there are some very nice clothes to be found.  Just be sure to check that the zippers work and that there are no tears or stains.  And even if you do come back with something you cannot wear or does not totally suit your figure or colouring, there’s really very little regret when it’s only 1 or 2 Euros.  And of course, you can always try to sell them at the next vide grenier!

My husband and I think that old things are better made and last longer than new things of today.  He looks out for old gardening and building tools and I buy antique lamps and fixtures for the house.  I have also stocked my whole kitchen and the dining buffet with things from vide greniers.  Sets of cookware (my favourite are cast iron pots eg. Le Creuset), plates, cutlery, cups, glasses, teapots, serving ware – mainly branded fine porcelain but at ridiculous prices.  And I love looking out for special cake-stands and dishes with pedestals.

Once, I bought a set of six green Italian drinking glasses from a vide grenier, and a few weeks later at another vide grenier, found their ‘mother’ – a serving jug in the same style and colour.  That’s how exciting it can be.  And I think those long-dead old ladies would be glad that someone is still cooking and serving lovingly with their crockery.

Our kids, too, buy and sell their toys and books at vide greniers.  We teach them how to set a reasonable price for their things, how to give and take a little at sales, and most of all, how to consider what is worth or not worth buying and to bargain with other sellers.  I think it’s a good way of teaching them how to handle money responsibly.

Have I ever bought any useless trinket that I have never used?  Well, only once.  It is a metal sculpture of a flower whose petals can be individually removed.  Other than a table decoration, I really don’t know what it is for.  My kids suggested that the petals, turned upside down, can be used as little sauce dishes.  But it looked so beautiful and unusual, so what the heck – at 2 Euros, I gave in to temptation.

Each time I have visitors from overseas, if it is summer, I make sure that they spend at least one Sunday here.  I search out the vide greniers in the surrounding areas, and we always spend a most exciting and satisfying time there.  It easily becomes one of their most authentic French experiences as well as a highlight of their trip.

So, the next time you are in France, check out this useful website http://vide-greniers.org/ , plan your itinerary and you will surely take home some souvenirs and good memories of your French holiday.

BOOKS – The write effort

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When Anthony Koh plunged into full-time freelance journalism, it was a leap of faith. He did not start off at a publishing house – the usual route for journalists in Singapore, and he had no real experience in chasing stories or identifying news points.

What he did have was gumption and an innate sense of how to attract readers. So, Anthony offered story ideas and miscellaneous musings willy-nilly until he got his first bite – from me. What he wrote about I cannot recall, but his persistence led to more writing assignments and his bohemian writer-for-hire lifestyle.

Now, Anthony has started his very own book business, catering specially to the writing community. It’s a very brave move in a country more focused on economic growth and material wealth. When he temped in a bookstore, he realised how a bookstore business can be suicidal because of rental.

“The idea of Booktique grew out of my frustration at the lack of books on writing at major bookstores, and that the limited stock is too general or too expensive. After I started ordering books for Booktique, I realised why. A local distributor told me this: our writers’ market is small, hence, bookstores resist stocking up books on writing.  This in turn deters distributors from ordering more titles from their overseas publishers.  This is where Booktique comes in.”

 The first Booktique fair is tomorrow at Caffe Parlet, 17 Eng Hoon Street, #01-04, 5pm-9pm. 

What started you writing? It’s a tough road not seen as a serious career unless you get established as a columnist or author (whose books actually sell).

I have loved writing since I was a child, but it was only in my early 20s that I took writing seriously. I contributed articles to The Straits Times and when one of them that I wrote about former TV actor, James Lye was published, I read it over and over again. The thrill of seeing my writing in print was beyond words. But that phase passed and I continued from one day job to another. It was only in 2007 that I quit to become a full-time freelance writer.

My friends said I was crazy; I had an established corporate career but I had neither a writing portfolio nor any connection to the publishing industry. I was not discouraged. I wrote many articles and one day, I sold one of them to NTUC Media. 

That was how my writing career started.  This is my sixth year and I’m really thankful for the regular assignments from various publications.

You started as an entertainment writer but moved into other genres. Why and what have you learnt from doing so?

Actually, I didn’t set out to become an entertainment writer. I have always wanted to write about issues close to my heart. For example, lessons about life. But it just happened that after I did an entertainment story, I received more assignments to interview celebrities.  Today, it has become my area of specialisation.

While it is good to specialise in a particular genre, it is more practical to write widely as the magazine market in Singapore is small.  More importantly, I discovered that I don’t have to know everything about an unfamiliar subject to write about it.  In a way, I learnt more about how to research. Now, I write both lifestyle and current affairs stories. I’ve even done copywriting for a book!

You shared your reasons for starting Booktique. You really think there are enough wannabe writers who need a niche supplier? 

Booktique is Singapore’s first book retail company for writers. By that, I mean we sell books mostly on writing and writers and encourage reading of literary works. I would think that these needs have to be accessible even though writers remain a small group.

To me, accessibility also means affordability. That’s why I buy cheap and pass the savings to my customers. Books are cultural products; you can’t really price them with a business mindset. George Whitman, founder of Shakespeare and Company said: “Give what you can, take what you need.” This is the philosophy that I follow in running Booktique.

Right now, I’m constantly looking for unique venues to host our book fairs. The long term plan is to build a small but purposeful bookstore for writers. I strongly believe that writers should have more books to help them in their writing and to motivate them along their writing journey.

Singaporeans don’t seem to be readers like in the West or Japan where so many – in parks, in trains – have their noses buried in books. We don’t appear to have a reading culture because people are distracted by mass media, social media, shopping … and so our writing skills are lacking. Do you think the reading segment is unlikely to grow but it’s still worth providing for the small reading core?

On hindsight, I would think that those distractions you mentioned do more than just rob us of our time to read; they sink us deeper and deeper into our existing capitalistic society. Sure, we will read. However, if we only read to enrich our life but not our soul, the reading culture becomes questionable.  

Although bookstore businesses are gloomy worldwide, I find it worthwhile to provide an additional platform in the market for new writers and I mean writers, not the average readers. Besides enjoying a good book, they also read to learn.  For aspiring novelists, they would support a bookstore that genuinely supports them. In this aspect, Booktique sells the books of lesser known authors at our book fair and don’t take a cut from the sales of their books. Call me a maverick bookseller but it takes a writer to know the plight of another writer.

Have you made new friends/acquaintances since starting Booktique? Who are the customers – students, writers, office workers?

Yes I have met authors and like-minded people who are supportive of the local writing scene. The Writers Club has been especially helpful since I started Booktique. Thanks Jamie!

Booktique is set up for aspiring writers (young and old), students attending writing courses and professional writers.  As we also sell award-winning fiction and special edition classic literature, we hope to attract readers of literary novels and bibliophiles.  

Will you have a website for orders?

Booktique now has few selected titles in our online shop (booktique.weebly.com) but it is not fully operational. I think the whole point of a bookstore for writers is for people to mingle and be inspired by the books and each other. To a certain extent, Booktique aspires to be a bookstore like our Shakespeare & Company. Even the latter is launching an online store. So I’m not sure if I will follow suit once the bookstore is built.

COMMUNITY – Smells like Christmas

The Skyve Wine Bistro (Singapore) was dressed like a classroom for delinquents with padded benches and a (drinking) bar for hopeless cases. The Body Shop staff looked like they’d dug up their school uniforms (but with manicured nails, they too looked delinquent), and Linda the MC could have passed off for the School of Rock principal, both stern and comic in her glasses.

To make matters more confusing, the scents of cranberry and spices, carols and festive lights added to the feeling we’d walked into a Christmas tableau in mid-October, and Baby Jesus would soon make an appearance along with a lamb or two.

Yes, it is that time of the year when hoteliers and retailers compete for media attention to publicise their wares. And how I love the whole shebang!

It’s my favourite season when the shopping district turns into fairyland and we are done with appraisals (not yet, but soon-soon). In Singapore, the tropical heat wavers, surrendering to stormy weather but we know it will soon be over and January will shine bright and red in preparation for the Chinese New Year. So, let’s savour this time of fake snow and Asian boy Santas. As they say, it’s the feeling that counts.

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Of course, the thought counts most, so I do like how The Body Shop assuages the guilt of spending money on those who have everything they need. The Body Shop supports Community Fair Trade, buying from small farmers of the Third World – loofahs from Honduras; cocoa butter from Ghana; paper products from Nepal; soapstone oil burners from North India; and wooden massagers, accessories and cosmetics bags from South India.

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When we buy something from their Christmas range, our purchase contributes towards the School Project – £200,000 will go towards building five schools – one each in the countries mentioned. We take education for granted whereas going to school is an opportunity prized in many parts of the world.

What’s one school you might think when so many more are needed? I think every bit counts and in a snowballing effect, every child educated will in some way, return something to their homeland.

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Best of all, you get something pretty and practical, exclusive to the Christmas season and that will look really good under the tree. And if you wear make-up which I don’t, I hear their smoky eye palette and BB cream glide right on.

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