Living in Singapore Magazine - December '20/January '21

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August-September 2020

The Presidential Collection Worthy of the White House museum itself

Cheers to the Fourth of July A US Celebration, Singapore-style

A Fusion Revolution Chef Wee’s take on fusion food LIVING IN SINGAPORE 1


With the aim of inspiring each student to create

Personalize your

child’s education

pathway to their ambitions

21/2/2020 – 20/2/2024

2 LIVING IN SINGAPORE Period of registration: August 10, 2018 to August 9, 2022

their unique future, Stamford American is inclusive and offers students to study the best of both worlds:





combined with the Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Stamford welcomes students from diverse backgrounds and tailors the education pathway to their ambitions. As the only International School in Singapore to offer this unique curriculum for children from 18 months to 18 years, we are set to truly equip our students for university and beyond.

Check Out What’s Happening! Every month, AAS brings its members a wide variety of events that are either discounted or member-exclusive. Sign up online to book your spot at our August and September offerings!

Coming This August and September International Women’s Day Join us for an evening of entertainment and talks from inspiring women in celebration of all women around the world! American Association of Singapore AGM Stay up to date and have your say on what’s going on with your Association. Newbie Night A chance for new members to mix and mingle, get the lowdown on getting the best out of your membership and pick the brains of seasoned members on living in Singapore.

Our Regular Monthly AAS Events Coffee Connexions – make new friends and catch up with old ones over coffee Third Thursday – gatherings, talks, quiz nights and more, every third Thursday of the month Metworks – lunches and happy hours with our networking group for men Men’s Tennis – looking for a men’s tennis ladder? We’ve got one for you!


who we are Ordinarily I would be welcoming you back from travels or a long rest on a quiet island over the ‘summer’ break, but, as we all know, 2020 took an unexpected turn. Our plans inevitably changed and ‘summer’ became a period of adjustment; but adjust, we did, and we’re now getting used to the coined concept of “the new normal”. While we can now begin to tentatively look to the future, though, there’s nothing quite like - and certainly nothing wrong with - a little nostalgia, particularly when it’s so close to home. Our cover story for this issue gets a sneak peek at what is possibly the most comprehensive collection of White House memorabilia in Singapore, in a home office to rival the Oval Office - a treat of signed photos, official gifts and a dinner service from Air Force One, among many other curios displaying the Presidential Seal. We also look back at Singapore’s historic districts, Dempsey Hill and Fort Canning, to remind us of the island’s rich and significant past, as well as keep you occupied with ‘Limitless Hours of Film and Theater’ to be enjoyed at home, ‘Armchair Adventures’ through good books to get you inspired for future travel plans, and get you out and about on the Little Red Dot, exploring Singapore’s hidden treasures in the continuation of ‘Secret Singapore’. Yes, it’s all about change, adaptation and uncertainty at the moment, but Singapore has done a remarkable job at keeping us as safe as possible and we’re fortunate enough to be living in a country where we can feel “we’ve got this”. It may not have been the summer overseas or otherwise as we expected, but it somehow doesn’t seem odd to be saying: It’s good to be back. Have a great couple of months ahead.

Editor-in-Chief Katie Baines


EDITORIAL Editor-in-Chief: Katie Baines Publishing Editor: Christi Novomesky LAYOUT Graphic Designer: Silvia Ong ADVERTISING Advertising Manager: Thila Chandra COLUMNISTS Julian Chua, John Hamalian, Richard Hartung, Dee Khanduja, Andy Lee, Amanda Lim, Andrea McKenna Brankin, Laura O’Gorman Schwartz CONTRIBUTORS Muhammad An-Nur, Katie Baines (for AAS), Asif Chowdhury, Vir Cohelo, Didi Hari Krishnan, Adam Hodgkins, Laura Hubbard, Ken Nabors, Heidi Sarna, Marc Servos, Josette Ungos, Susan Williams, Militsa Yaneva AMERICAN ASSOCIATION BOARD MEMBERS President: Blair Hall Vice President: Michael Johnson Treasurer: Ashok Lalwani Secretary: Brian Schwender Directors: Holli Feichko, Jeff Gaines, Jason Iafolla, Caitlin McNeal Immediate Past President: Stephanie Nash AmCham Chair: Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei The American Club President: Richard Hartung AWA President: Debra Minnock SACAC Chair: Jeff Majestic SAS Chair: Tom Boasberg Non-Voting Members: US Embassy: Tor Petersen US Military: Rear Admiral Joey Tynch AAS: Christi Novomesky PUBLISHER – AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF SINGAPORE The American Association of Singapore (AAS) is a professional, not-for-profit organization established to enhance the well-being and living experience of Americans residing in Singapore and to promote relationships, both business and social, between Americans and those from different cultures and nationalities. 15 Scotts Road, #03-02 Thong Teck Building, Singapore 228218 (+65) 6738 0371 • • Living in Singapore magazine is circulated six times per year, with a readership of 24,000, with the purpose of enhancing the expatriate experience in Singapore.

SUBSCRIPTION A subscription to Living in Singapore is complementary with an AAS or CRCE membership. AAS annual family membership is $120. CRCE membership is $220. To join, visit and have Living in Singapore magazine delivered to your home. Reproduction in any manner, in English or any other language, is prohibited without written permission. Living in Singapore welcomes all contributions of volunteer time or written material. Living in Singapore is printed by Ho Printing Singapore Pte Ltd. 31, Changi South Street 1, Changi South Industrial Estate, Singapore 486769. Living In Singapore magazine Print Permit No. MCI (P) 058/06/2020.

what’s in... 8 The Presidential Collection Marvel at decades of memorabilia of the White House

12 Cheers to the Fourth of July! Raise a glass to the most American of holidays

24 The History of Dempsey Hill Take a look back at one of Singapore’s most historically colorful districts

33 For the Armchair Adventurer…


Dive into travel tales and inspire your inner wanderluster

40 When East Meets West Indulge in local culinarian Chef Wee’s take on fusion food





Cover photo by Katie Baines


community calendar Message from the President A warm welcome to the August/September 2020 issue of Living in Singapore magazine. This is my first message for the magazine since becoming the Association’s President just as the world “went viral” this spring. The global pandemic has presented us all with some unique challenges: working productively from home; supporting social distancing; keeping harried households peaceable; maintaining proper social distances; and comforting loved ones who may be far away. In fact, as this issue comes out, Valerie and I find ourselves finishing up a 14-day SHN term and eager to get back out to what passes for normal these days. As a community-focused organization that thrives on activities bringing people together, AAS has pivoted to handle the COVID-19 situation. Over the past few months, we successfully moved many of our events and activities to online platforms, with a very well received ‘At the Table’ networking event; helpful and inspiring entrepreneurial and career-focused webinars; a delightful virtual wine-tasting; and, most recently, a fantastic Fourth of July Celebration in partnership with The American Club. It was so wonderful to see our community as connected as ever for this most American of holidays. The phasing out of the ‘circuit breaker’ means that we can begin to return to a more regular calendar. We see the return of our regular ‘Coffee Connexions meet-up group, as well as our ever-popular Newbie Night, which we’ll be hosting at the Hard Rock Cafe, and the much-anticipated International Women’s Day Celebration at The American Club. Please don’t forget to register for the AAS Annual General Meeting on September 15 to have your say on the direction of your Association. AAS will continue to offer - in person and virtually - a vibrant menu of social events, charitable activities and career guidance information that enhances our members’ experience of living in Singapore. We’re also keen to provide networking support to help members adapt - and thrive - as we all settle into our new routines and arrangements. We’d love to hear from you. Valerie and I look forward to getting outside these four walls and to reconnecting with our dynamic and resilient friends around the community. I hope the start of a new season finds everyone healthy and excited for a new beginning. See you “on the street!” Blair Hall AAS President

American Community Organizations Directory Navy League

AAS +65 6738 0371

AWA +65 6734 4895

American Dragons

Sacac Sports

TAC +65 6737 3411

AmCham +65 6597 5730

SAS +65 6363 3403

US Embassy +65 6476 9100

Scouts BSA Scouts Troop 7B: BSA Scouts Troop 10B and 1010G: Cub Scouts Pack 3010: Cub Scouts Pack 3017: USA Girl Scouts:


American Association & Sister Organizations Events American Association of Singapore (AAS & CRCE) Coffee Connections August 5 & September 2, 10 – 11:30am Newbie Night August 20, 7 – 9pm International Women’s Day August 31, 5 – 6:30pm American Association of Singapore AGM September 15, 7:30 – 8:30pm American Women’s Association (AWA) Summer Series: Murder Mystery, 80s Gone Bad! August 15, 7 – 10pm Online Workshop: Financial Empowerment and Wellbeing August 19, 10 – 11am Photography: Family Self-Portrait Workshop & Christmas Card Creation September 4, 9am – 12pm AWA Annual General Meeting (AGM) 2020 May 5, 11:30am – 12pm Singapore American School Back to school August 4

*AAS membership, $120; CRCE membership, $220

notable events Coffee Connexions Join us for morning coffee at Crossroads Cafe where you’ll have the opportunity to make new connexions and catch up with old ones too. There’s no fee to join, but attendees are required to purchase at least one drink/coffee (minimum). Attendees will receive a 20% discount on food and beverage purchases. Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel, 320 Orchard Road, August 5 and September 2, 10 – 11:30am Third Thursday - Newbie Night You can always count on us for the Third Thursday of every month as a great night with your AAS community and this month it’s one for the newbies! Come join us to learn all about upcoming events and how you can make the most of your membership. Connect with other members and make new friends. Hard Rock Cafe Singapore, 50 Cuscaden Road, #02-01 Hpl House, August 20, 7 – 9pm International Women’s Day 2020: Women Shaping the World Join AAS for our International Women’s Day 2020 celebration in association with The American Club, the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore, the Canadian Association of Singapore and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Singapore. We will have a chance to hear from inspiring speakers from a variety of backgrounds, network with other amazing women in Singapore and celebrate women from all walks of life. The American Club, August 31, 5 – 6:30pm American Association of Singapore AGM Have your say on the direction of your Association by joining us for the American Association of Singapore’s 2020 Annual General Meeting. If you can’t attend, but would still like to vote, please go to our events calendar on our website and complete the proxy form on the event listing. Venue TBC, September 15, 7:30 – 8:30pm

member benefits Drinks & Co. 20% discount on all food items. Offer valid at Holland Village outlet only. Through September 30, 2020. Tel: 9619 4568. Reservations recommended. Estheclinic 10% discount for all their treatments. Through September 30, 2020. Tel: 6221 4797. T&C applies. Hard Rock Cafe (Singapore & Sentosa) 15% discount on food and beverage upon showing your AAS membership card. Through December 30, 2020. Tel: 6235 5232 (Singapore), 6795 7454 (Sentosa). T&C applies. Hedger’s Carpet Gallery 10% off professional carpet cleaning and restoration services. Free high-quality underlayment with every purchase at our store (while stocks last). Through September 30, 2020. Tel: 6462 0028. T&C applies. Lawry’s The Prime Rib 15% discount for à la carte food bill for dine-in only. Tel: 6836 3333. T&C applies. Morton’s of Chicago Complimentary cocktail or mocktail (one per diner) and one complimentary dessert per table. Applicable for main dining room only. Through December 30, 2020. Present AAS membership card to enjoy. Tel: 6339 3740. T&C applies. QB Food $20 e-voucher with a minimum spend of $150 for home delivery, use code ‘Newbie’. Code is for single use and new members to QB Food. Qua 15% off regular items. Free delivery within Singapore Island for items above $100.00, otherwise, $20 delivery charge applies. Promo code: AAS2020. Promotion valid through December 31, 2020. T&C applies. Shanti Residence, Nusa Dua, Bali AAS Members get 15% off room bookings directly. Quote AASSHANTI. Tel: 6338 2069. T&C applies. Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel AAS members enjoy 25% discount on F&B. Present AAS membership card to enjoy. T&C applies. Tel: 6735 5800. Solescape Shoes AAS members enjoy 15% discount on their purchase of a pair of shoes. Valid till September 30, 2020. Tel: 6464 8654. T&C applies. Telunas With a minimum three-night stay at Telunas Private Island, receive a complementary 90-minute body massage for one person. Through November 2020. Tel: +62 811-7710-951. T&C applies.


up close and personal with... finding that many of the skills and disciplines are transferable to the ship building and maintenance industry. It has only been a few months but it has become obvious that Austal USA has very talented employees along with a great work culture.

Sam Doutsas, Austal USA The Career Resource Center for Excellence (CRCE) at AAS consistently strives to assist its members with their personal and career development while living in Singapore. What the team finds particularly satisfying, though, is the success stories from members who have gained employment through their membership with us. So, we were absolutely delighted when we heard from defence and commercial shipbuilder, Austal, who both advertised as a company in Living in Singapore magazine and as a recruiter on our jobs board, that CRCE Member, Sam Doutsas, had accepted a role based in Singapore thanks to AAS. We caught up with Sam to talk about his experience with the Association and his new role. How did Austal USA come to work with AAS? Senior Manager, Pacific Region, Mike Little introduced Austal USA’s human resource team to Sarah Walston, AAS’s CRCE Manager. This relationship is important to satisfy the unique requirement of having to hire American citizens to fulfill the US Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship sustainment delivery

orders. Mike has been a member of the AAS since 2007 and, through that membership, he became familiar with CRCE. Austal USA works with CRCE to post their Singapore job opportunities, successfully linking their members in Singapore looking for job opportunities directly to Austal USA. What is your connection with AAS? I joined AAS & CRCE in January 2020 and attended a coaching event that was focused on recruiting to better understand what headhunters are searching for. This event had a major impact on me; CRCE’s Career Counsellor, Dee Khanduja, was the speaker and she provided practical tips about job-searching. What really stood out was the unique combination of practical tips and motivational stories mixed with a disciplined approach. The message was clear: Do some self-reflection and have a plan. CRCE sends out weekly job postings which is how I was able to find the great opportunity at Austal USA. How is your new role at Austal USA going? My position at Austal USA is a perfect fit for my experience and passion. I have learned to enjoy being challenged and put in situations outside of my comfort zone; it is through these experiences that I have been introduced to new people, learned new processes and gained more knowledge. This is how I have grown in the past and will continue to develop. I have spent a good portion of my career within material management in the automotive industry and I am

What does a typical day look like for you? The time difference between Singapore and the Austal headquarters in the US (Mobile, Alabama) can be challenging at times, but it helps that I am an early riser! Most days start between 5 and 6am; if not on an early call with my colleagues in the US, I head outside for a run to get the blood flowing. From there I spend the traditional work hours at the Changi Naval Base receiving, warehousing and organizing material with my team to prepare for future preventative maintenance work. If you could give three pieces of advice for people job-hunting in Singapore, what would they be? I am a firm believer that to be successful you have to have a disciplined approach – assign a window of time on specific days that is dedicated to job-searching and stick to it. Second, implement a system that works for you to track the positions that you have applied to so that you can easily follow up. Lastly, do not underestimate the power of networking. COVID-19 has been disruptive in many ways including the ability to network and interact face to face. Fortunately, prior to the pandemic, I was able to take advantage of three different events, all of which provided me with helpful information and new contacts from an array of different backgrounds. All of the events were coordinated by CRCE and being a member of the Association is my bonus piece of advice for job-seekers out there, regardless of where you are from.

AAS Strategic Partners We would like to extend our thanks to our strategic partners at the Association for their continued support and contribution. Pantone 424c:

Centennial Partners


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CHALLENGING MINDS AND IGNITING PASSIONS. Dulwich College (Singapore) is an international school, for students aged 2-18, with a British independent school ethos which draws upon 400 years of excellence, innovation, tradition and values. To learn more about the Dulwich Difference, and to book a private tour, please visit or email Dulwich College (Singapore) CPE Registration Number: 201027137D. Period of Registration: 09 January 2020 to 08 January 2024. School Location: 71 Bukit Batok West Avenue 8, Singapore, 658966.

Wristwatch (Clinton Administration)

The Presidential Collection By Katie Baines

When AAS friend, Amber Mizerak, at the US Embassy Singapore told me a contact of hers had a home office that was more like The Oval Office, she wasn’t kidding. Stepping into what Dan Piels humbly and affectionately calls his “man cave” is tantamount to being granted access to a private museum collection. Memorabilia, from signed photographs of former Presidents to official presidential seals adorn the walls and two glass cabinets proudly display collectibles from cufflinks presented to guests at the White House to an antique Air Force One dinner service. Dan sat me down with a coffee and talked to me about his impressive collection. have a passion for US You Presidential memorabilia. What started your fascination? The US Presidency has a great tradition of heraldry and the first use of a Presidential Seal goes back to at least 1850 with Rutherford B. Hayes employing a somewhat familiar design from 1877. The Seal has evolved over the years – President Truman modified it in 1945 and that core 10 LIVING IN SINGAPORE

design is still in use today. President Eisenhower added two additional stars around the outer ring by Executive Order in 1959 and 1960 respectively to reflect Hawaii and Alaska becoming US states. For me, it started when what was then the new Air Force One, one of two 747s, came into service in August 1990 - I was 14 years old at the time. It was unlike anything I had ever seen. There was a massive Presidential Seal painted on each side of it and my interest just took off from there. I soon started noticing on TV that Presidents wear a tie clip or set of cufflinks or sign a bill using a pen bearing the Presidential Seal and their signature, which struck me as kind of clever. I then read a book by a White House photographer that said such mementos were often given out following a meeting with the President, even if it was just a quick photo op. Advance staffers g enerically r efer to these gifts as “chum”, p resumably because there is a large volume of such items handed out given the sheer number of new people a President meets on a daily basis. My collection is focused on one small, aesthetic aspect of the US Presidency, not a political party. It’s truly bi-partisan and I’m proud to have items from both Republican and Democratic Presidents.

Commemorative piece of the Oval Office floor; White House Mess plate; Presidential Altoids

Who makes these gifts? And how are they chosen? The White House puts the Seal on pretty much anything you can imagine, from mini-packs of LifeSavers and Splenda to fine china and everything in between. Most of the production costs are borne by the political party of the President in office and sometimes the companies themselves provide them at cost out of a sense of patriotism. They come from a variety of vendors that can span from one administration to the next, but with subtle differences. For example, George W. Bush used A.T. Cross Townsend blue pens, with his signature and Seal in gold on the cap. When Barack Obama came into office, he started off using the same pen, but changed the pen color to silver and black, and changed the Seal and his signature to white and moved them to the barrel. By the same token, each administration also seems to select new designers and vendors, to put their own unique stamp on these gifts. As an avid collector, Presidential Rug (Reagan Administration) I’m delighted as that’s what keeps me motivated to hunt for new items. I would say the sheer quality and craftsmanship of these keepsakes has markedly improved since I started collecting 30 years ago. From what I’ve read over the years, and I can’t confirm this, the White House Chief of Staff’s office usually selects the vendors and then narrows them down. At some point, the President or First Lady may have the final say, reviewing a range of samples. How do you research and acquire your collectibles? I began researching pre-Internet and pre-eBay and so it was mostly items I could purchase from catalogues and shops in the Washington DC area - one of which I am still in touch with today, nearly 30 years later. When eBay came online around 1994, everything changed. I wouldn’t say these items became commoditized, but it suddenly dawned on me that there were collectors all over the United States and around the world. This helped expand my collection exponentially as firstly, there was greater diversity and supply and secondly, prices came down to a relatively more reasonable level. Since then, I’ve struck up relationships with several eBay sellers, as they will often have more than one item I’d be interested in; however, I always transact through eBay and follow its rules. Of the three DC-area stores I mentioned, one remains in business, Capitol Coin, located near Lafayette Park across from the White House. The proprietor, Nelson Whitman, has been dealing in such memorabilia for at least 40 years and has some fantastic items.

White House yo-yos from Obama and Bush 41

Signed photo of Bush 41 and Bush 43, Oval Office, Inauguration Day, 2001; Bush 41 and 43 signed Oath of Office on White House letterhead; Presidential Challenge coin and White House military service badge LIVING IN SINGAPORE 11

Billsigners, cufflinks, golf balls and the crown piece of the collection - a Presidential Seal used on the “Blue Goose” podium that accompanies the President everywhere

You must come across some counterfeit items from time to time. How do you recognise these? I don’t claim to be an expert by any stretch, but after 30 years of hunting these items down, reading books and scrolling through eBay, you develop a set of instincts that are reinforced by an acute attention to certain details or clues; for example, the head of the eagle facing the wrong direction. Spotting counterfeit items is also easier given that it is illegal to reproduce the Presidential Seal for commercial purposes without official White House Counsel approval. Knockoff items are designed with a few alterations to the official Seal, such as not having the words “E Pluribus Unum” appear on the scroll above the eagle’s head. Tell us about other collectors you have met along the way. They come from pretty diverse backgrounds. One is in the construction business in California, who, like me, just has an absolute fascination with this stuff, and I’ve collected some amazing items from him over the years, including an Air Force One flight jacket and the rug in my home office. There’s also a former Air Force One crew member – I purchased a lot of my rare Air Force One items from him and he’s since become a close personal friend, to the point we’ve met each other’s families. Another is a French national who just has a keen interest in Presidential Pens (Billsigners) and most recently I met someone from Croatia who has an amazing eye for these sorts of things. It’s nice to know that I’m not alone in my habit! I haven’t come across any collectors in Asia thus far, but hopefully this interview may bring a few of them out of the woodwork.


Air Force One china and Presidential Tabasco sauce

Why do you think memorabilia with the Presidential Seal has so much universal appeal? I think it’s universally recognized because it travels everywhere the President goes and the President is one of the most visible people on the planet. That’s why in TV shows and in the movies the Seal and Presidential Flag are often recreated to add a degree of authenticity, albeit with minor alterations to stay within the law. How do people react when they see the collection? Probably a combination of shock and quiet horror! It’s almost entirely housed in my home office. Most of my working day is spent on a variety of video conferences there, so my colleagues certainly comment on it, as it’s not your typical background. One colleague recently teased: “Two flags? Fine. But seven? Isn’t that a bit much?”

What is your most prized collector item? I don’t have anything that would be considered particularly historic, such as a quill pen used by Abraham Lincoln, but I do have a genuine podium Seal that I purchased from a former White House advance man. Most often the President speaks behind a blue, bulletproof podium (“The Blue Goose”), and those podiums travel with him wherever he goes, much like the Seal itself.

when a President leaves office, he takes the flags used during his term of office with him. A small unit within the Department of Defense, called the Defense Logistics Agency, employs 15 embroiderers in Philadelphia, where about 30 new Presidential and Vice Presidential flags are hand-made every year. To give you an indication of the quality and attention to detail, it takes 45 working days to make one flag.

What would you aspire to add to your collection? Great question. Like any avid collector, I get the most joy from the hunt and discovering something rare and unique that I didn’t even know was in circulation. I think the real crown jewel of any collector would be a Presidential flag that was actually displayed in the Oval Office. I have four Presidential flags but none that were ever displayed there and I’m not quite sure how one would go about verifying that they had. It’s tradition that

What would you hope for your collection in the years to come? Just to keep expanding it and hope I don’t go bankrupt in the process! Thinking a bit loftier, my biggest aspiration is for a US President to actually see the collection in person. It’s the longest of long shots, particularly as they don’t transit through Singapore often, so I’m not holding my breath!

Dan is from New England and lived in London for 13 years before moving to Singapore in May 2018. He’s happily married to wife, Catherine, and has two dogs.

Presidential Transportation: models of the 2001 Cadillac Presidential Limo and Air Force One (VC-25A)

I get the most joy from the hunt and discovering something rare and unique that I didn’t even know was in circulation.

Presidential Seal magnet used on the doors the President’s limo “The Beast”; Air Force One shaving kit; Lyndon Johnson-era electric razor

Replica of Obama’s Air Force One Leather Bomber Jacket

Photos by Katie Baines


heartwarming speeches

Cheers to the

Fourth of July! For AAS, Fourth of July celebrations had a very different feel this year, but that’s not to say that our sense of community and the spirit in which we marked the ocassion was any less fervent. We proudly teamed up with The American Club to bring you an afternoon of festive fun, with cupcake decorating with Club Pastry Chef, Yeni Sukowati, live music from Band on the Run’s Kalliope Coplin, patriotic words from US Chargé d’Affaires, Rafik Mansour, AAS President, Blair Hall, and The American Club President, Richard Hartung. The afternoon was topped off with renditions of the US national anthem sung by Singapore American School’s (SAS) a capella group, The Pitches, and the Singapore national anthem sung by Zoeie Cooper. Whether at the Club, feasting on classic American fare, or viewing via the live broadcast and tucking into a Club picnic basket full of specially selected goodies at home, we raised a glass to the holiday and a good time was had by all. Happy Independance Day everyone!

Live from The American Club!

Words of patriotism from US Chargé d’Affaires, Rafik Mansour, AAS President, Blair Hall, and The American Club President, Richard Hartung, broadcast from The American Club.

the pride of our nations

AAS General Manager, Christi Novomesky, and The American Club General Manager, Patricia Au, lead the festivities.

The national anthem of the United States of America, The Star-Spangled Banner, sung by Singapore American School’s, The Pitches.

Chef Yeni Sukowati gives a live cupcake decorating demonstration to Club guests and virtual viewers.

The national anthem of Singapore, Majulah Singapura, sung by Zoeie Cooper.


Fourth of July celebration cake!

MOMENTS CAPTURED From cozy nights in, to the magic of Universal Studios, Singapore, to the wilderness of Idaho, the AAS community celebrated Independance Day their way! Here are some of your captured Fourth of July moments.

Ashok Lalwani’s virtual celebration with daughter, Ashna, son, Akshay, and wife, Garima.

US Chargé d’Affaires, Rafik Mansour, toasting the occasion.

Fourth of July barbecue in Singapore - Jonas Danninger, Allie and Caroline celebrate Jakob Danninger, Nancy Kwon, Hsien-Hsien Lei, Kuei-Yu Lei, with their flag cake. Megan Tan, and Stephen Tan.

Jo Baughan and friends decorating cupcakes with The American Club live broadcast.

All the way from Idaho! AAS President, Blair Hall, and wife, Valerie, spending their Fourth of July in the great American outdoors.

AAS Annual Partners TD Ameritrade’s Chris Brankin gets festive with wife, Andrea, and daughter, Georgia.

Holli Feichko and daughter, Anna Petra Miller, keeping celebrations safe by the pool.

The McNeal and Egan families celebrating at home in Singapore.

Happy Fourth of July from AAS members Jimmy, Roselle, Allison and Andrew Chatsuthiphan at Universal Studios, Singapore.

Fourth of July sparkle from Sydney Novomesky with mom, Christi, dad, Richard, and big sister Tesa.

Avid AAS supporter, Joanne Wheeler, spending her Fourth of July celebration virtually with family from the US and Australia.

An all-American feast for AAS friends Glenn, Kat, Kate and Max van Zutphen! LIVING IN SINGAPORE 15

ou r c o m m u n i t y

Troop 7: Our ‘Circuit Breaker’ Experience By Vir Cohelo Life during COVID-19 changed Boy Scouts drastically. We went from camping to sitting behind a screen, weekly meetings to weekly Zoom calls, patrol meetings to patrol breakout rooms. Fortunately for the Scouts, requirements for ranks and merit badges were modified so that we could still progress. But, the most important thing that we lost was the ability to talk to our friends and work together in person, to be able to socialize with our fellow Scouts and leaders, because Scouts aren’t just a group of people, we are a community. I would like to give a big thanks to Kushaan and Mr. Burns for being so ready and prepared for our meetings, they were very active at running the meetings smoothly and giving us a great schedule. The content of our meetings changed dramatically. During our ‘circuit breaker’ meetings, we started with our flag ceremony. The way patrols hosted this was by putting up an American flag or Scout flag on a PowerPoint while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, Scout Oath, Law, and Outdoor Code. Then we went into announcements and listened to the changes and events that were going to happen in the following week. After we went through announcements, there was the merit badge sprint; one of these sprints was ‘Personal Management’. Lastly, we were separated into patrols and discussed our next sprint, or we conversed over how we could do requirements while in our homes.

So, our meetings during the ‘circuit breaker’ might not have been the same, but we were still Scouting and we were still working together. We needed to help each other and listen to the announcements so that we could be the most active we could while we were in our homes. Scouting follows us wherever we go, as long as we believe in it. We are all doing what we can to continue our Scouting journeys because we are Scouts and we are always prepared! Vir Cohelo is a First Class Rank Scout and is Troop 7’s Historian.

! These Girls Can’t Be Held Back By Susan Williams

USA Girl Scouts in Singapore did not let COVID-19 slow them down. Many Troops rallied and shifted to virtual meetings, and one of our Troops even managed to rework a journey in a day that they had planned so that it could be completed online. It took enormous effort and we are proud of our terrific girls and leaders for pulling through a difficult time. 16 LIVING IN SINGAPORE

Of particular note, USAGSO is proud to recognize two of our girls for earning the Gold Award. The Gold Award is the highest award in Girl Scouts, and recognizes countless hours of work put in by girls who are at the same time completing their final year of high school. Saanya G. and Abby B. both had to get creative in completing their work while

Scouting Through the Circuit Breaker By Sophia Ragland and Josette Ungos Most know Scouting as an organization designed to prepare girls and boys for the future through hands-on learning and outdoor adventure. In response to the current COVID-19 situation, our Scouts have worked hard to find creative ways to keep active and engaged. The girls of Troop 1010 have been doing their best to live up to the Scout Oath and Law while practicing strict social distancing. Because a Scout is helpful, courteous and kind, in April the Scouts of Troops 10, 1010, and 3010 participated in a food drive to help our neighbors and friends who may be struggling during this difficult time. Scouts brought food donations to the staff at Stamford American International School and to The Food Bank Singapore. To keep in touch and stay mentally awake, our Scouts have taken advantage of video conferencing for weekly patrol meetings where we practice Scouting skills like navigation and knot tying. We have also been learning about Scouting Heritage from our Scoutmaster and through interviews with former Scouts. In online sessions with local counselors and through live video streams with counselors in the United States, our Scouts have been working on Merit Badges for ‘Cooking’, ‘Animation’, ‘Fingerprinting’, ‘Digital Technology’, ‘Programming’, ‘Signs, Signals and Codes’, ‘Citizenship in the World’ and more. At the same time, many of our Scouts have managed to advance in their Scout ranks. Congratulations to Amelia, Calla, Emily, Lizzy and Sophia for achieving Second Class Rank! BSA Troop 1010 is open to any girls in Singapore from 11 to 18 years of age. For more information about the Scouting experience, please contact our Scoutmaster, Paul Adkins, at

Photos courtesy of Erik a Power



of Janin

e Pentz


restrictions due to the coronavirus were being put in place. Bravo to both of them! As we look forward to the fall, we are hopeful about returning to in-person meetings and hope to be able to hold our traditional events like Songfest and the Father Daughter Dance. Either way, we are ready for another year of fun! Registration for the 2020-21 school year is open until August 31. Visit for more information.


our community

The US has had an illustrious history with Singapore; from the establishment of the American Association by a handful of US settlers over 100 years ago, to the foundation of deep-rooted ties in the oil and gas industry in the late 1960s, through to the prosperity of some 26,000 US expats on the island they currently call home. The driving force behind this relationship is primerily down to one thing: commerce. There have been pitfalls along the timeline of America’s presence in Singapore, least not of all in 2020, but the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) has remained a constant champion of commercial success for its members and Singapore-based US businesses since being chartered by the American Association in 1969. In January of this year, Dr. Lei Hsien-Hsien took the reins as CEO of AmCham Singapore and she talks to us about her connection with the island, her excitement at heading up the organization and what lies ahead for AmCham in the current climate.

What was the deciding moment that led you to put yourself forward as CEO? There wasn’t a single deciding moment that led me to think that being AmCham’s CEO was the perfect job for me. My entire career is made up of small steps and missteps, but as one of the characters in Korean drama, Crash Landing on You, said, “Sometimes the wrong train takes you to the right direction.” I’ve spent my career in healthcare but always wanted to get involved in shaping policy. If I had stayed in the US, I’m certain I would have run for public office. However, the train brought me to Singapore, and I had the good fortune to become part of the AmCham community and quickly realized that the Chamber would give me the opportunity to be involved in advocacy again. Now as AmCham CEO, I can continue to pursue my lifelong goal to help shed light on important, yet often under-recognized issues. At the Chamber, I also have the chance to help American companies understand Singapore better and how they can make a positive impact in our community.

What brought you to Singapore? The short answer is: my Singaporean husband. The longer, more fun answer is that I met my husband in college [in the US] and most of my friends and I could not have found Singapore on a map! We got married right out of school and lived in the US, Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam and the UK before making our way to Singapore in 2008 to settle permanently.

What did you first task yourself with as you took on the position? In my first 100-days, I prioritized the AmCham team and how we could improve operations so that they would have an easier and more enjoyable time getting things done. I hope no one is surprised that I didn’t prioritize members first, because I believe any good leader needs to take care of their employees who, in turn, deliver the best care possible for members and customers. I am just one person, so it’s the members of my team who are the multiplying factors for advocacy, business insights and connections. When the COVID-19 situation started to get more serious in February/March, I doubled down on making sure the team had what they needed in order to be more flexible in working from home. We are now halfway through our digital transformation and I’m proud to say that, because of Trevin Raj, our IT leader, and the can-do spirit of the team, we have actually had fun migrating to the Microsoft 365 platform (when was the last time you heard that change was fun?). The next phase will involve improving our members’ experiences and we can’t wait to launch a new way of engaging with AmCham later this year.

When did you initially become involved with AmCham Singapore? I joined the Chamber first as a member about a decade ago with my first company. As a public health scientist, the corporate world was entirely new to me at that time. So the Chamber was where I grew up and learned to think and behave like a corporate leader. After a couple of years as a member, I applied to become a Co-Chair of the Healthcare Committee, before being elected to the Board of Governors in 2017. Things came full circle in January 2020 when I became AmCham’s first Chief Executive Officer. I would highly recommend people who are new to Singapore, or early in their careers to become active at AmCham so that they, too, can enjoy the camaraderie of our business community. I have made friends, enjoyed new career opportunities and developed a greater understanding of Singapore and the region – much of it because of the time I’ve spent at AmCham.


International Counselling & Psychology Centre

Sometimes the Wrong Train Takes You to the Right Direction. What excites you about becoming CEO of AmCham? Pretty much everything! I am extra-extroverted, so I love meeting new people and getting them excited about being part of the AmCham business community. The sharing of information, ideas, best practices, etc. all happens at the Chamber every single day. Of course, the Board, the committee co-chairs and the team are some of the most creative, thoughtful people I have had the chance to work with and, because they are from all industries, their combined power is astronomical. 2020 has been a tough year for businesses across the globe. How will AmCham continue to support its members and US businesses in Singapore? AmCham remains committed to strengthening and supporting our community. We are hyperfocused on creating a diverse and inclusive community with members who can rely on one another for support. Members can, and should, turn to us when they need help. Even if we don’t know, we will find out for you! In a February 2020 survey of AmCham Singapore members, 96% of our member companies surveyed already reported impact to their business operations in Singapore as a direct result of COVID-19. 60% of respondents reported that the outbreak is forcing them to refocus their 2020 business strategy. Since then, we assume that the numbers have risen as the disease has gone from being an Asia-Pacific issue to a global crisis. However, at the time of the survey, less than half of companies (45%) had a formal Disease Response Outbreak Plan in place, and 44% did not plan to make any changes to long-term emergency preparedness plans going forward. This has undoubtedly changed. AmCham remains committed to understanding the issues facing our members on issues like this in order to best help them to navigate the challenges going forward, and by providing a space for companies to, albeit virtually at the moment, connect, share lessons learned and other best practices. Given the number of American companies (both multinationals and small & medium-sized enterprises) that make Singapore their regional headquarters, or first stop in Asia-Pacific, AmCham Singapore has a unique role to play in helping companies navigate a new environment and build their corporate reputation. While we are spending a great deal of our time helping members cope with the impact of COVID-19, we also want to continue to provide deeper business insights that help companies create new business models, care for their employees and contribute to the Singapore community.

Continuing a tradition of community-based services with 40 years of experience in Singapore and the region

ICPC counsellors and psychologists work with individuals, children, adolescents, couples and families to address psychological health and wellness.

Lissy A. Puno, MA

Counselling Psychologist Certified Imago Relationship Therapist

Sarah Haas, MSW Counsellor / Psychotherapist

Richard Logan, MSocSc

Counsellor / Psychotherapist Certified Imago Relationship Therapist

Rachel Williams, DipPsy Counsellor / Psychotherapist

Miranda Ledesma, MA Counsellor

360 Orchard Road. #06-08 International Building, Singapore 238869

+65 6734 6463 •



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FIFTEEN YEARS OF PADDLING IN SINGAPORE By Adam Hodgkins, Ken Nabors (Captain), Militsa Yaneva (Vice-Captain)

This year American Dragons Singapore (ADS) celebrates its fifteenth anniversary. From humble beginnings, and with the support of the American Association of Singapore (AAS), we have grown into a successful dual paddling club with an annual average of 100 members from over 25 nations.


In 2004, US Ambassador Adelman attended a local dragon boat race on a hot and humid day. There he saw contestants paddling to a drumbeat, in a dragon boat race. The race was among the Singapore schools clubs and some expat formed teams. No mirage and not the sweat dripping from his eye, he saw boats filled with a mix of expats and Singaporeans that were visibly competitive and strong in the water. The intensity and positive energy of the sport was palpable. So Ambassador Adelman fostered the idea of an American Dragon Boat team. The idea was brought to AAS and by late 2004 the American Dragons of Singapore was chartered with the signing up of its first few members.


In the beginning, there were only twenty new recruits; all American expats, from Singapore American School (SAS) teachers, to nurses with the US Navy. We didn’t have our own boats, so a collection was made each Saturday at 3pm to rent boats from other teams so that we could practice. The emphasis was on building camaraderie, forming the ideas and team values that would shape us in the years ahead, forging traditions and, most of all, having fun. So, as expected, our very first race was not our most glorious - we finished last. We reached out to some of those founding members to share some of their earliest memories of the team. They mention the local coffee shop at the Kallang Basin and the bar and restaurant right next to the boat rental docks that was frequented by American Dragons following practices. Known for its incredible food and beer, it was sadly demolished. Others mention “Eaux de Kallang”, the scent which clung to your training gear after practice. Thankfully, the river is now far less fragrant! One of our founding members, Penny Morris-Hardee, recalls during one practice a dugong - similar to a manatee - swam into the side of the boat! A oncein-a-lifetime kind of experience. Fortunately, no harm came to either the dugong, the boat or the paddlers. Oh, what a different time it was out there, in the Kallang, before the awesomeness of Gardens By The Bay, Marina Bay Sands and Marina Barrage.


2007 was the year we really started to pull it together. We acquired our very first boat thanks to CISCO - and what a beauty she was. We created a logo and, perhaps most importantly, a chant that we still use today was thought up. Simple, but loud and proud: “USA! - USA! - USA! - ALL THE WAY!...U. S. A!” Later in 2007, in the spirit of an important family holiday in America, we hosted our first event: the Thanksgiving Challenge. All the expat teams came together and got into each other’s boats for a race. The motley crew of teams would compete in various challenges, often involving the consumption of our sponsor’s beer and, of course, some serious paddling. A few years later, we moved the event to spring and rebranded it as ‘American Dragons’ Mardi Gras’. The wild fun spirit of the holiday seemed a lot more fitting to the occasion. Photos courtersy of American Dragons Singapore


In 2008, we scored big! Ice Cold Beer (ICB) became our first sponsor. It was a partnership that took our founding fathers a lot of time and relationship building to secure. Today, in 2020, that relationship is just as strong. We are lucky enough to be associated with one of the best bars in Singapore and to be able to call it our home. It’s our clubhouse where we congregate every first Friday of the month as a team after work for a rousing good time. We host events there, like ‘Bar Olympics’, an annual social event led by ADS that brings expat teams together for an afternoon of darts, pool, hot dog eating and consuming frosty cold ones. Without a doubt, because of Ice Cold Beer and others through the years, we’ve been able to amass four dragon boats and nine outrigger crafts. All of this has made ADS more competitive and, with that change of tack, came our first medals. 2008 was the year when ADS women’s team won the Dragon Divas race; our very first medal and it was ‘gold’! This was closely followed by a ‘bronze’ in the Singapore Dragon Boat Festival, one of the biggest annual races in Singapore. That year, we finished the season with ‘gold’ at the Boat Quay Cup at the Singapore River Regatta. ADS have taken home this cup more than any other team.


After much interest in ‘outrigger canoeing’ among our members, ADS became a dual paddling club in 2012, one of only three dual paddling teams in Singapore today. Adding another arm to American Dragons was incredibly important in shifting the team towards being a club. That means we were able to offer our members more than just one type of paddling; we could appeal to multiple interests. We bought more boats, we became intricately involved in the canoeing community and now we have members that do solely outrigger canoeing - which is terrific! Subsequently, ADS has triumphed again and again, raising the level of competitiveness across the expatriate paddling community, locally and internationally, both in dragon boats and outrigger canoes. Jeff Hardee, a team member since the beginning recalls, “My first international race with ADS was in Hong Kong in 2014. It

was during the Stanley International Dragon Boat Festival. It is an amazing feeling to cross the finish line having given everything and you finish with a gold medal.” As is the nature of Singapore, expats come and go but, over the years, ADS has been able to maintain a strong nucleus and attract both fun and competitive people. The camaraderie and enthusiasm are always there. And even when you leave Singapore you are still part of the ADS global community. The bond between present and past members reflects what a tightly knit club we are. Friendships made and cemented in the boats we paddle tie us together, no matter where in the world we are. ADS is one incredible family to belong to. If you’re keen to broaden your Singapore horizons and fancy a paddle then don’t hesitate to contact us on Facebook: AmericanDragonsSingapore


“So much love, kindness and support that ADS has provided me with throughout one of the toughest and scariest times in my life and career!” - PAM, A FRONTLINE COVID19 NURSE “My crazy family… but everyone’s an important member that we care for.” - BAO, LONG-TIME PADDLER AND GREAT AMBASSADOR “Perseverance, determination, teamwork and spirit. I feel you truly became my extended family, a big deal when you move to Singapore alone.” PAMELA KUSTAS, NOW IN THE USA “Proud to be a member of ADS: much more than a paddling club!” - PETER SASHI


My thanks go to John Bulger, Jeff Hardee, Penny Morris-Hardee, Mark Kendall, Elektra Mararian and Ann Maroni who shared their early memories of ADS with me for this article.


our community Conquering the World of Robotics By Didi Hari Krishnan How many people does it take to build a robot? It takes a village!​ The Robotics room at Singapore American School (SAS) is always buzzing with students typing away on their laptops as they work on the coding for their robots or maneuvering their robot as they race against time to stack purple and green blocks in the robot den. In the Robotics program at SAS, our students learn how to innovate, persevere, communicate and collaborate as a team. They dabble in many complicated applications, such as Codecademy, where they learn basic coding laws and Python language, as well as Arduino, an open-source prototyping platform that provides them with a basic understanding of hardware and software interfacing. With all of the knowledge acquired during their Robotics course, students design, build and drive robots to perform real-world tasks. Robots compete with local and international high schools, as well as universities at competitions, including VEX Robotics in Taipei, FIRST Robotics in Sydney and MATE Robotics in Surabaya, Indonesia. The opportunity to compete at these prestigious competitions allows our students to prepare for future careers in engineering, marketing, or science. It’s not just about building robots though. Some students choose to participate in community service where they mentor other Robotics teams at SAS, as well as Robotics teams in local schools. Senior, Rohit Narayanan, shared how he loves being part of the high school program, but his favorite part is the volunteer work he had done over the years. He volunteered to mentor the elementary school First Lego League team for three years and he helped start the middle school VexIQ program where he volunteers four days a week. ​ Over the years, the club has expanded from a 10-person volunteer program to a selective team of over 80 applicants annually. This rigorous program definitely sparked some interest within the high school as the program is designed to cater to all types of students. Rohit Narayanan said, “The Robotics program truly developed my presentation and networking skills beyond anything else I’ve done. I’ve written thousands of pages of engineering notebooks over the years.” ​ The Robotics program offers a unique opportunity for independence. Our students are able to think critically as they construct their robots. They are given the challenge to build something with whatever resources available in the Robotics room, a limitation that tests problem-solving abilities. When it Photos courtesy of Singapore American School comes to imagination though, it’s the sky that’s the limit, and the process and the results make the challenge worthwhile. Through the various Robotics programs available at SAS, students can dream, design, program, build and test prototypes. But just as importantly, they learn from teachers, mentors and competitions how to meet deadlines, work under pressure, work as a team and never give up. These are essential skills they need to prepare for their future and soar!


our community

Photos courtesy of US Embassy Singapore

Humans of the Embassy Muhammad An-Nur, Regional Medical Office “You might say that Singaporean male nurses are a rarity. I was part of the first batch of 170 students at Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s Nursing Department, of which only 16 were males. Male nurses can do as good a job as female nurses. Nursing has always been in my blood. My grandfather used to work in Tan Tock Seng Hospital as a healthcare assistant and that piqued my interest. My passion then rubbed off on my two younger brothers who also studied nursing – now, one of them is a paramedic, and the other is a prison officer. I joined the Embassy in May as the first locally-employed male nurse in the Regional Medical Office (RMO). My job is to take care of Embassy employees and their families who need medical treatment. There’s no problem too big or too small. From minor cuts and administering vaccinations to chronic stomach aches and chest pains, we examine everyone and evaluate if they need treatment, further testing, or a specialist referral. Getting to know your patient is one of the best things you can do as a nurse. As a people person, I like to ensure my patients’ comfort using communication. It becomes easier to take care of them when they’re comfortable with you. And, it’s a good feeling when someone comes out of the intensive care unit (ICU) and thanks me for saving them. Having three trained nurses in the family is a recipe for conflict at home as my brothers and I have different opinions about managing our parents’ health conditions.”


jobs & career Interview with Dee Khanduja CRCE Career Advisor




to welcome Dee Khanduja as a Career Advisor for CRCE. Dee has already been involved with the American Association as a Living in Singapore magazine columnist and facilitator of several CRCE events. She joins James Kwan to lead one-to-one career counseling sessions and professional development workshops. Read on to hear from Dee on her background and some helpful career advice.

Tell us about yourself. I’m from the UK and have been living in Singapore since 2007. I’ve worked in the recruitment and HR industry for around 20 years and ran an employment agency for around 14 years. Over the years, I’ve worked on various startup projects within the education, e-learning and e-commerce space - it has been an entrepreneurial roller coaster ride! Currently I’m working on a legal-tech startup project which is super exciting, due to its potential social impact. My background is pretty varied - I’m a qualified Trainer and Copywriter, so I consult with corporates for sales, business development, personal branding training sessions, as well as the hot topic around the ‘Future of Work’. I’m also a certified Futurist and Long Term Analyst ™. With my newly minted title, I’m doing a lot of research and data crunching to form narratives around industries that will die and survive, jobs that will disappear and emerging career trends. So this body of work sees me talking about ‘futureproofing’ yourself and ‘robot-proofing’ yourself. As a hobby-project, I manage a wonderful small community of mama-entrepreneurs. We have an active private group, where we focus on upskilling and heart-led growth. At home, I’m a busy mum of two kids and have a wonderful husband, and two turtles.

What do you enjoy about working with your clients as a Career Advisor? I love helping clients gain clarity on their internal ‘gifts’, and strategizing a tailored job-search plan of attack! My style is very different to other Career Advisors. I focus on super-practical job-


search, personal-branding and networking techniques straight from a Headhunter’s playbook. My objective is to coach clients to find or create job opportunities that are not advertised. My recruitment background and Futurist approach, means I’m uniquely qualified to help job-seekers think laterally about their careers. I love it when my clients have ‘a-ha’ moments, and I love seeing them get tangible results after taking big, bold, gritty action.

In today’s competitive job market, what can jobseekers do to stand out from the crowd? Job-seekers really need to completely overhaul their job-search approach. Without a doubt, they should be focussing on building their personal brand online and becoming savvy networkers. I invite my clients to start thinking of themselves as Marketers (marketing themselves as the product), and not as reactive job-seekers. This shift in mindset and approach helps them become memorable (which is the secret sauce to being spotted by hiring managers, HR and recruiters), and opens up channels for opportunities.

How can LinkedIn be used more effectively as a job-seeking and networking tool? Linkedin should be used to research, map out leads, make strategic approaches and increase engagement, with the objective of building up a personal brand profile. There are lots of Linkedin features that an average jobseeker doesn’t tap into, sadly. My advice is for them to join the maximum number of Linkedin groups, and network and engage within these groups. Job-seekers may also like to try out the free trial for the Linkedin premium accounts. This can unlock some powerful features that can help speed up the leadgeneration and research part of job-searching. What advice would you give someone who is contemplating a career change? Step 1 Gain clarity on what you care about, or are passionate about, and why. Step 2 Gain clarity on your internal gifts (we’re all naturally gifted at something). Step 3 Research jobs, industries, contacts to gather information and leads related to your gifts. Step 4 Take decisive action by making a career plan to give yourself some direction. Step 5 Continue with ‘step 3’ repeatedly. The more powerful your network, the more opportunities available to you long-term. Interested in a One-to-One Career Counseling session with Dee? Check out our events calendar to sign up for one of Dee’s scheduled dates or email to arrange a session at your convenience.

Beyond the Bars & the Bistros


Many of our readers are aware of the quaint and quiet enclave of Dempsey Hill in the middle of bustling Singapore. A sprawling area of over 200-acres, Dempsey Hill boasts over twenty cafes, bars, bistros and restaurants, offering both casual and fine dining, along with antique stores, furniture stores and grocery shops, selling products from all over the world. There is even an art gallery that one can visit free of charge. What is less known, though, is the fascinating history of the Dempsey Hill area that dates back over one hundred and fifty years. Some of us may not be aware that the restaurants and bars we love to frequent today served as a military barracks, a military hospital, a chapel and jail cells for prisoners of war (POWs). Indeed, Dempsey Hill witnessed and played key roles in two World Wars, the Indian Mutiny and the Japanese occupation during World War II. The best starting point to begin the story of Dempsey Hill is in the 1850s, when it used to be a flourishing nutmeg plantation known as Mount Harriet. The plantation, jointly owned by a British Colonel and a local businessman, was larger than the Dempsey Hill area, covering what is now the Botanical Gardens with over 1,600 trees. Towards the late 1850s, an unknown disease swept through the plantation and killed most of the trees, meaning the owners had to cease the Mount Harriet plantation operation in 1857. Singapore was a British colony during those days and served as a strategic area for the British, where they deployed a significant number of troops. The British Forces Army Garrison used to be located around Fort Canning during the 1850s, close to Singapore’s commercial district. This was a bustling business area for merchants and, concerned that their business, shops and warehouses could be adversely affected in the case of a military operation in Singapore, they were not happy that the Garrison was located so close to their business district. When Mount Harriet ceased to exist due to the plantation disease, however, it presented opportunities for both the businessmen who owned it and the British military. With no possibility of resurrecting the plantation, the owners were eager to get rid of the land, while, at the same time, the British armed forces saw the possibility of relocating the Garrison from Fort Canning to Mount Harriet. Both parties took advantage of the opportunity and Mount Harriet was sold to the British for 25,000 Spanish Dollars in 1860. Soon after the purchase, the British military began building the new facility comprising ten service barracks, each housing 50 service men. It was to be a huge compound consisting of separate cookhouses, washhouses, a school, a chapel and other facilities for the troops, as well as a 240-bed military hospital, known as Tanglin Hospital. While the barracks, later known as the Tanglin Barracks, was completed in the early 1860s, the troops didn’t occupy the facility until 1867. In 1911, as part of the compound’s upgrading, the original palmthatched roofs of the buildings were replaced with red French tiles which we see today. Very little has changed since then and the architecture of Dempsey Hill we see and enjoy today stands almost as it did over a hundred years ago. 26 LIVING IN SINGAPORE

Over the past century, the barracks have seen their fair share of war and unrest. The first notable incident, known as the Indian Mutiny, took place in February 1915 amid World War I. Approximately 800 Indian soldiers revolted against the British armed forces in Singapore – a clear demonstration of the Indian Army’s disapproval of the British occupying their homeland of India. The Indian army broke into Tanglin Barracks unannounced and killed many of the British Officers, while freeing the German POWs. The situation intensified and the British military declared Martial Law, with all European women and children being evacuated to local hotels with full military protection, or to the ships in the harbor, ready to sail if it reached a crisis point. The mutiny, lasting more than seven days before it could be brought under control, was the first of many military incidents that the barracks of Dempsey Hill would witness in years to come.

Photos courtesy of Asif Chowdhury

In 1942, during World War II, the British colonial government surrendered to the Japanese. The barracks that was home to many soldiers became their prison and, as POWs, they were regularly dispatched by the Japanese military to do, at best, menial tasks or, at worst, hard labor in horrifying conditions throughout Southeast Asia. In fact, many of the POWs who were involved in building the famous ThailandBurma Railway were dispatched from Tanglin Barracks. Finally, in 1945, after more than threeand-a-half years of suffering in the barracks, the Japanese surrendered and the British, marking the end of World War II and, once again, the Allied force took over Tanglin Barracks where British soldiers lived in relative peace until 1970. During this time, It was assigned as the General Headquarters of the Far East Land Forces and became a vibrant place, well known for the entertainment and parties thrown by the British troops. Local Singaporeans also started to put up shops and eateries in the area to support them. When the British vacated the barracks in 1970, the compound remained vacant before the newly formed Ministry of Defence for Singapore made it their headquarters in 1972, and the area became known as the

Tanglin Camp, housing young Singaporean men participating in the national service. It was later handed over to the Land Office in 1989 when it was sold to the private sector for retail outlets and gradually transformed into a bohemian district over the 1990s, when antique shops, furniture and carpet warehouses began to spring up. As the appeal for this vast open space with historical architecture became popular with both the expatriate and local communities, the Singapore Land Authority began redeveloping it and rebranded the area as Dempsey Hill in 2007, named after General Miles Christopher Dempsey (1896-1969). A decorated Officer, General Dempsey was the Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Land Forces Southeast Asia and the General Officer leading the Malaya Command. Due to its historical significance and charming architecture, the barracks are protected under Singapore’s conservation guidelines. Of particular interest are the locations of some of the current outlets. For example, the Red Sea Gallery was Block 9 and used to house 45 to 50 servicemen. The location of The White Rabbit restaurant used to be the ‘Ebenezer Chapel’ that served as a school for the children of the British soldiers. The interior is now beautifully restored and the restaurant is a great location for enjoying European cuisine, while appreciating the chapel’s intricate stained windows. The legendary Samy’s Curry was formerly Block 25 and was used as the Sergeant’s mess. Later, in the early 70s, it became the clubhouse of Singapore’s civil servants. Loewen by Dempsey Hill, a cluster of refurbished colonial buildings, used to be the military hospital. It now houses a spa, a yoga studio and also a pet hotel among other outlets. Another piece of history worth mentioning is that the famous English writer, Rudyard Kipling, spent some time in Singapore in 1889. Apparently, young Kipling spent a significant amount of time exploring many parts of the city, including the Botanical Gardens and Tanglin Barracks. His observations of Singapore are recorded in his book, From Sea to Sea and Other Sketches, Letters of Travel. It is rumoured that Kipling’s Barrack Room Ballads was inspired by the barracks of the Dempsey Hill.

, raise a glass to the rich a drink there g n i v a h e e history of Dempsey Hill . e w hi l ntributed to th o Ne xt tim c o h w e l of peop tape stry Asif is part of the executive management at a global semiconductor company and has written for various trade journals. Asif spent four years as an expatriate in Tokyo, Japan in business development, which led him to travel extensively over the country. He currently lives in Singapore with his wife and son, while his daughter is studying for a BSc at Purdue University, Indiana.


Limitless Hours of

Local Theater & Film

By Laura Schwartz

In the few months between pitching this article and writing it, the world pulled a rather sudden and unexpected transformation. The COVID-19 crisis has been a difficult challenge for theater and film in particular. Now that we have entered Phase 2 of the end to the ‘circuit breaker’, theaters and cinemas are able to welcome their audiences back, but I expect it will be months, if not years until people feel comfortable crushing into a packed performance space again. However, as with many industries, the arts have adapted and evolved, finding new ways to bring heartfelt productions to their fans through a greatly expanded presence online. This trend will doubtless continue, at least in part, thanks to the unexpected opportunities for connection and content it has provided both the performers and the audience. Whether you’ve released yourself into the wild or remain sheltered at home, here are some ideas for how to bask in Singapore’s performing arts and local film.

Laura grew up in Tokyo, Singapore and New Jersey before majoring in Japanese Studies at Bard College, upper New York. Her fiction and non-fiction writing has appeared in The Shanghai Review, Thoughtful Dog Magazine and The Wall Street Journal. A voracious traveler, Laura has visited over 30 countries.


THEATER For the cream of local theatrical productions, I can’t recommend WILD RICE, Pangdemonium or the Singapore Repertory Theatre enough. All three companies have a fantastic repertoire and have been streaming live readings, panel discussions and even full performances on their Facebook pages and YouTube channels. Not only do they bring local voices and talent to the stage, they also present unique takes on international and classic productions. For example, WILD RICE’s all-male version on The Importance of Being Ernest was an absolute blast. It was the last show I was able to see on stage before the ‘circuit breaker’ was implemented and I’m so glad I caught it twice. Those looking to try their hand at acting have plenty of resources to fill their evenings and weekends at home. LASALLE College of the Arts has created online workshops called Short Courses. The Improv Company’s beginner sessions have been transplanted to Zoom. Haque Centre of Acting & Creativity has also been offering online workshops with a focus on method acting. And for children, Centre Stage School of the Arts has rolled out over 40 hours of online material plus live lessons on dance, musical theater and dramatic acting.

The COVID-19 crisis will undoubtedly leave its mark on every sector as the world shifts – not back to normal – but towards a new normal. We’ve all learned that the amount of what we can accomplish at home is more than imagined, and we won’t be unlearning that when the pandemic ends. Nevertheless, the magic of a live performance is something that can’t be brought home. Dance and theater are invariably weaker when viewed through a screen, particularly in comparison to the millions of movies, television shows and games designed specifically for the screen. There is something ephemeral, precious and deeply human about being able to witness performers and artists create narrative and beauty in front of your eyes. Hopefully, after being denied the pleasure of live performance for so long, you will be eager to experience it again as the occasion returns.

FILM In spite of the hiatus on production, film is arguably the artform that will weather this crisis the easiest. While many miss the experience of being wowed in the dark by a giant screen and surround sound, movies themselves are accessible through myriad online platforms. But don’t limit yourself to the latest titles on Netflix and Amazon Prime. This internment could be a chance to broaden your tastes and delve into more niche cinema. Though you may have only heard of Crazy Rich Asians, Singapore has a long history of not just consuming movies but creating them. These locally produced films can give you a more intimate view of the city and its people than you might have access to on the streets. Ilo Ilo (2013) was the first Singaporean feature film to win an award at the Cannes Film Festival and remains the most critically acclaimed. Apprentice (2016) also garnered praise at Cannes and blew me away with its nuanced visual storytelling. Screenings of To Singapore, with Love (2013), which focuses on political exiles, are banned here but you can still find and view this thoughtprovoking documentary online. If you’re looking for more lighthearted local films, check out Just Follow Law (2006), 881 (2007) and the enormously popular Ah Boys to Men (2012). Any cinephile in Singapore will tell you that The Projector is the cornerstone of the indie cinema scene here,

featuring everything from blockbusters, to niche local flicks, to Japanese film noir, to silent French animation, to bawdy cult films that demand audience participation. Over the course of the ‘circuit breaker’ they kept their mission alive by offering Video-on-Demand rentals of their most anticipated features and hosting virtual quiz nights on Zoom. The Projector is at the top of the list of places I’m keen to return to now that the ‘circuit breaker’ period has ended. Looking forward, the Singapore Film Festival, the heart of the local independent film scene, is set to return at the end of November this year for its 31st run. An excellent resource for anyone looking to keep up with the local arts scene should check out for the latest happenings. It goes without saying that many homegrown art spaces and production companies have been struggling in the pandemic-imposed isolation. If you can, please consider donating or buying tickets in advance. Photos courtesy of The Projector and LASALLE College of the Arts


PRE-COLONIAL FORT CANNING: BUKIT LARANGAN AND BAN ZU Fort Canning Hill rings in people’s minds as being a venue that hosts many events such as concerts and festive activities. Also located there is an array of reception halls accommodating newlyweds on their special day. It was previously named Government Hill in the early colonial era, reflecting its function until 1859 when plans for the military installation of its name bears were underway. A few centuries before Sir Stamford Raffles’ 1819 arrival, it was the location of a thriving settlement called Ban Zu with the location subsequently known as Bukit Larangan, Malay for “Forbidden Hill”, where kings were believed to be buried. Early Malay and Javanese literature and writings of 14th century Chinese traveler Wang Dayua mention the settlement of Ban Zu. Ruins still visible during the 1820s are mentioned in Raffles’ writings and those of Second Resident John Crawfurd, giving more credence to Ban Zu’s existence. The pre-colonial writings mention Ban Zu and a second settlement, Long Ya Men located near present-day Labrador Park, on ‘Temasek’, later known as ‘Singapura’, both names of the island we now know as Singapore. According to legendary tales found in the Malay Annals, composed during the 15th and 16th centuries, a Srivijayan prince from Sumatra named Sang Nila Utama was tossed off the ship during a storm as a gift to the sea to prevent the ship from sinking. He reached the shore at the present-day Singapore. While hunting on open ground where the Padang is located, he saw a strange but beautiful creature with a red body, black head and white breast disappear into the jungle, which he took to be a lion. This led him to name this location Singapura, Sanskrit for ‘Lion City’. Impressed and thinking it was a good omen, he founded the Kingdom of Singapura along with the settlement of Ban Zu in 1299 and ruled as its first raja, or king.


By Marc Servos

The events of this tale are seen as symbolic, as the historicity of even the existence of Sang Nila Utama has come into debate. This also includes the reality that lions have never existed in Singapore, although Sang Nila Utama could have seen a Malayan tiger. Nonetheless, it is accepted that he ruled Singapura until his death in 1347 and is buried in Fort Canning, although the exact location is not known. Ban Zu is believed to have been attacked in 1398 by a naval force of the Javanese Majapahit Empire, although some think that it was instead the Siamese. Raja Iskandar Shah, a descendant of Sang Nila Utama more commonly known as Parameswara, fled Singapura around this time and founded the Malacca Sultanate where he ruled afterwards, and Ban Zu was abandoned around that time. Parameswara lived until 1414, and he is believed to be buried in Fort Canning among other possible locations. Around 1330, Chinese traveler Wang Dayuan visited present-day Singapore, what he refered to as Dānmaxí. Wang described in his work Daoyi Zhilüe the settlements of Ban Zu and Long Ya Men. The latter location was said to be prone to piracy, but Ban Zu

was a thriving community with honest inhabitants, according to Wang’s work. Wang’s accounts also suggest a moat and gate surrounding Ban Zu, and how a Siamese attack was successfully repelled a few years prior to his arrival. The Portuguese took over the region during the 1500s and in 1613 destroyed the small trading settlement that had continued to exist by the Singapore River. This led Singapura into an obscurity lasting two centuries before Raffles’ arrival. In addition to the ruins seen in the 1820s, pottery from the Ban Zu era and Chinese coins dating as early as the 10th century were found. Resident John Crawfurd, who held that position in 1823-1826, described some ruins as a 40 square foot terrace on top of the hill and likely being a temple and burial site. A century later, Javanese gold jewelry was discovered during excavation for the Fort Canning Reservoir in 1928. Further excavations in 1984 uncovered more artifacts indicating that the settlement was home of the elite. The artifacts included Chinese porcelain, some of which suggest settlement as early as the 12th century. On the grounds of the National Museum and adjacent to Fort Canning, a visitor can see painted on the pavement where Ban Zu’s wall used to be. Most of the focus of Singapore’s history has been post-1819. But much of the 2019 Bicentennial included events prior to this. What later became the seat of Singapore’s colonial government and later a major fortification had earlier been the seat of power of an earlier civilization. Photos courtesy of Marc Servos

Marc Servos is a Hoosier in terms of his home state and alma mater. A Fort Wayne native, Indiana University graduate and U.S. Army vet, he is married to a Singaporean and has been living here for a number of years. He has two children, ages 18 and 10. In addition to contributing to the Living in Singapore magazine and the Singapore American Newspaper preceding it, he has also contributed to the Canada-based History Magazine.

Discovering Secret Singapore By Heidi Sarna

I never tire of exploring Singapore, often by bicycle, pedaling around not only for exercise, but in the hope of spotting another old house or some cool architectural flourish I haven’t seen before. Living in Singapore for more than 14 years, I’ve been around the block a few times and have discovered quite a lot. I read heritage blogs like Jerome Lim’s, The Long and Winding Road, and I’ve taken many tours with Geraldene Lowe-Ismail and later with Jane’s Singapore Tours. When I learn something new, I want to go find it. But sometimes serendipity plays a role too. And in a way, this kind of random discovery can be the most satisfying of all, an affirmation that just slowing down and stopping to smell the roses is an end in and of itself. I was recently cycling along Kheam Hock Road at a leisurely pace, on route to Bukit Brown. I pedaled north past Command House, a grand hilltop mansion nestled behind a thick wall of greenery. It was built in 1938 for top military brass, including Lieutenant-General Arthur E. Percival, the British commander who surrendered to the Japanese on February 15, 1942. Toward the end of Kheam Hock, the graves of Bukit Brown can be spotted dotting either side of the road. Though the main section dates from 1922, the iconic Singapore cemetery comprises several burial grounds, the oldest section dating back to the 19th century. While a chunk of Bukit Brown was lopped off and graves exhumed to make way for the Lornie Highway a few years back, much still remains.


As I rode along Kheam Hock as I had many times before, just before Bukit Brown’s main gate, a tomb caught my eye. I stopped, tipped my bike into the tall grass along the sidewalk, and leaned toward the hillock for a closer look. The foliage was deep, but pushing the thought of slithering snakes from my mind, I waded in to get a closer look. I’ve seen tombs, and shophouses of course, decorated with Peranakan-style floral-motif tiles, but these were different. I counted six tile panels painted with travel scenes — pastorals in miniature. One was painted with a Dutch windmill along a canal, another appeared to be a serene Japanese scene with Mount Fuji.

Though a bit obscured by moss and other jungle grime, the bright brushstrokes still shone through. What a lovely way to surround the departed with peaceful scenes, coveted places and the all-important element of water for good feng shui. A pair of lotus-shaped finials on either side of the main tomb stone created a lovely tableau for the man who was laid to rest there, from what I could tell, since the 1960s. To find out more about the tiles, I was referred to the “Singapore tile lady,” Jennifer Lim, an expert on Singapore’s tiles, especially those in Bukit Brown. The Australian of Singaporean heritage has taken her background in architecture, fine art and language, and married it with a love of Singapore’s decorative heritage tiles. Supported by over 100 community volunteers, her ‘Singapore Heritage Tile Project’ has located, cleaned and documented around 2,000 individual tiles. Her passion and projects are a treasure in and of themselves, and she’s even writing a book. Speaking of beautiful tiles… I quite by mistake stumbled upon Petain Road looking for a parking space a few years ago. I was floored by this short street on the edge of Little India near Jalan Besar. A ribbon of light and color amidst otherwise drab surroundings, a row of 18 double-story shophouses from the 1920s and 30s are one of Singapore’s most outstanding surviving examples of the Chinese Baroque style. Commissioned during the prosperous years of the Malayan rubber and tin boom of a century ago, the shophouse exteriors are covered in a patchwork quilt of glazed ceramic tiles with floral motifs in cheerful pinks, blues and greens. Panels of ornate plaster work on columns and below upper story windows depict animals rich in traditional Chinese symbolism.

Photos by Heidi Sarna

As I dug around to learn more, I read that the Petain Road shophouses weren’t built by Chinese businessmen as was the norm then, but for a Muslim owner, Mohamed bin Haji Omar. They were restored some 20 years ago and today, seven of the 18 are owned by one local family who has turned four of them into clusters of boutique apartments with shared living spaces. From time to time, I go back to Petain Road in the early evening hours, when the light is just right, to bask in the glow of these stunning shophouses. And then I drift off to poke around other parts of the neighborhood. You never know what you’ll find.

Heidi Sarna is a freelance writer who has lived in Singapore for 14 years. She’s the author of the book “Secret Singapore” (Jonglez Publishing) to launch later this year, and co-founder of, self-guided Singapore cycle routes. When she’s not chasing down some secret something in a remote corner of Singapore, Heidi publishes QuirkyCruise, a compendium of reviews about unusual small-ship cruises.


Exploring Singapore by Bicycle By Heidi Sarna Singapore’s hectic streets, choked with traffic, ca n make cycling around the island a bind, but with carefully planned, tried-and-tested routes, it can be an absolute joy. Secret Singapore author, Heidi Sarna, has a chat with Robin McAdoo, founder of the new startup, that aims to get you pedaling around Singapore. What is Bike-A-Local? is a tool for people to explore Singapore by bicycle - it’s not for those who want to ride their road-bikes on highways and compete on Strava! I’ve designed and mapped cycle routes that you load into Google Maps. The routes are typically loops you can hop on wherever it is convenient. I stitch together Park Connector Networks (PCN) whenever possible, along with quiet side streets and, at times, sidewalks. My routes include shortcuts and connections you won’t likely find anywhere else. Bike-A-Local routes are easy to follow because the GPS on your phone — that nifty little blue dot — tells you exactly where you are along the routes. The numbered directions on my Bike-A-Local maps correspond to instructions (turn right, go straight etc.), plus pointers on places to eat and interesting history tidbits. In fact, two of my 11 routes (and counting!) are called “Secret Pedals” rides as they feature stops at some of the cool secrets covered in Secret Singapore. Why did you come up with Bike-A-Local? I love the mobility and freedom cycling provides. When we lived in upstate New York, I could ride through beautiful countryside as well as downtown to get dinner. But when I got to Singapore and started cycling, I was overwhelmed by the traffic and pedestrians. And it was frustrating when PCNs would abruptly end and I didn’t know where to go. Necessity is the mother of invention they say, so eventually I began exploring and started mapping and piecing together Singapore’s many PCNs to create safe and interesting rides for me and my family. Creating my own cycle routes also helped get my teenage girls out with me. And I loved their feedback. “Hey Mom, that last hill in the hot sun sucked!” I could fix the route by hitting that hill the other way around, downhill and at the beginning of the ride. Why do you love cycling? Sometimes I think cycling is like taking a walk but faster and with a breeze. And you get to sit down so it feels easier than running or walking. You can go as fast or as slow as you’re comfortable with in any given environment. Most of all, I like the unique perspective you get from the seat of a bike. And it’s so satisfying to propel yourself from point A to point B all on your own steam.


What is your favorite ride in Singapore? I have so many favorite places to ride! Alexandra Canal and out to Marina Bay, and to Sentosa Island, Changi Point, Blair Road, Kranji ... just to name a few. They are all unique and interesting in their own ways. What new rides are you working on? I’m working on some longer rides as I’m getting requests from people who want to go a little further and push themselves. I love the long rides, they build physical and mental endurance, and also connect people to places they might not normally go. What do you hope people will get out of Bike-A-Local? Access to a side of Singapore they haven’t seen before. I love the comments I get like, “I have lived here for years and never knew this was here!” It makes me really happy because they were able to see something new, by powering themselves, breathing fresh air, getting some exercise and gaining some new self-confidence.

Photos by Heidi Sarna

Check out Bike-A-Local, and Robin’s Routes and Secret Pedals at

Armchair Adventures By Laura Hubbard The disadvantages of living in a city that is also a country are suddenly apparent now we can no longer jet away for the weekend. Singapore is wonderfully lush and green, but, no doubt, many of us are missing being able to travel to see wide vistas with no people in them. While we wait out the pandemic, I have been absorbing myself in stories of others’ travels and adventures. In case you are also looking for some distractions to sate your wanderlust, here are some favorites: Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer is an absolute classic. Krauker was a member of an expedition to climb Mount Everest that ended in disaster in 1996. His amazing account describes the characters and decisions involved in the ascent, which ultimately resulted in eight deaths on the mountain. At times a harrowing read, experiencing the ascent alongside Krauker and his companions is a thrilling armchair journey. Krauker’s most famous book, Into the Wild, also deserves a mention in any list of adventure tales. The book relates the life and travels of 20-year-old Christopher McCandless who cut contact with his family and gave away his college fund to travel through the Western United States and Alaska. A philosophical read, McCandless is obsessed with finding true freedom, which leads us to consider the value of material wealth and work. Opinions are divided, but I love Bill Bryson’s book Down Under (published as In a Sunburned Country in the USA). While not the most in depth historical account, Bryson is wittier than most tour guides and gives a good introduction to Australian history. I first read his account right before moving to Australia and was most struck by his description of seeing stromatolites; ancient rocks formed by some of the earliest life on Earth just off the beach in Western Australia.

In my first week in Singapore, I picked up a copy of The Unconquered by Scott Wallace from Littered with Books, Duxton Hill. Perhaps it was because I was adjusting to the heat of the tropics myself, but I was enthralled by this true story of a trip deep into the Amazon. Wallace travels with a group from the Brazilian government which aims to gather information about uncontacted Amazonian tribes. Wallace describes in detail their long journey by boat and foot, and the characters of the party. The effect is a real sense of the hardship and danger they experienced. As a beginner surfer, Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan reminds me that it takes a lifetime to learn to surf well, as well as having a screw loose to surf big waves. Finnegan tells his life story through his surfing experiences, from growing up in California and Hawaii, to surfing an at the time unknown wave in Fiji and the epic waves off the cliffs of Madeira. His story is long and a little self-indulgent; like many surfers Finnegan sees his addiction to the thrill and danger of surfing as a “path”. Nevertheless his vivid descriptions of the physical and emotional sensations of time in the water offers a window into another world. Although The Ascent of Rum Doodle by W.E. Bowman is a satire, rather than a true story, it warrants a mention. This novel is not nearly as widely known as it should be and is a great read, especially if you like mountaineering stories. Bowman was an amateur mountaineer who in 1956 pieced together this side splitting fictious account of an idiotic group of climbers who aim to climb the 40,000 and a half foot Rum Doodle peak. Binder, the expedition leader, describes each ridiculous character through his own lens, coming to the conclusion that it is his excellent leadership, rather than the help of the 3,000 “Yogistani” porters, that gets the party back down alive. What lesson did I take from this book? That plenty of champagne can solve many problems, even five men stuck down a crevasse. Originally from New Zealand, Laura has spent the last decade living and working overseas. She recently returned to Singapore after a two-year solo travel adventure through Europe and Asia. She currently works as an Energy and Mining Consultant.


Tiny World of Wonder By John S. Hamalian

Nestled in a cozy corner of the giant isle of Borneo, the tiny sultanate of Brunei is as obscure as it is intriguing. A less travelled destination, the country’s charms only reveal themselves upon closer inspection. Just twice the size of Luxembourg, Brunei’s small size belies its considerable history, power and wealth. Over the centuries, it has thwarted Spanish imperial aggression, withstood dominance by the White Rajahs, eluded absorption into Malaysia and endured British colonialism. This fiercely independent little nation woke up one fortuitous morning to find something that would dramatically change its course in history. The discovery of huge reserves of oil would turn Brunei into one of the richest countries in the developing world, and its Sultan into one of the wealthiest people on the face of the Earth.

The Other Side of Venice

My journey to Brunei, whose full name is actually Negara Brunei Darussalam (‘Abode of Peace’ in Malay) began in its capital city of Bandar Seri Begawan, mercifully relieving us with its infinitely less linguistically daunting nickname of ‘BSB’. Feeling more like a big town than a huge city, dominating Bandar’s modest skyline is not gleaming office towers but the magnificent Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque. Although only dating back to 1958, the design is timeless. Its majestic Islamic architecture, absorbing Mughal and Malay artistic themes, is permeated with golden domes, grand arches, pearly white columns and beckoning minarets. I found myself mesmerized by this place, visiting more than once, silently gazing at its simple yet powerful elements. Another prominent feature of BSB is Kampong Ayer, an offshore town built on stilts, said to be the world’s largest floating village. Amazingly, this amphibious abode was once home to half the entire population, even serving as the de facto capital of the erstwhile Bruneian Empire. Such were the early European travelers intrigued by its resemblance to a certain waterborne city that they nicknamed it ‘The Venice of the East’. While that nowcliché term is ubiquitous throughout the Far East, it is


believed that here was the very first. Despite its seemingly humble origins, this aquatic community is actually a thriving miniature metropolis, complete with mosques, schools, cafes and gas stations. Its people scamper around town in little boats much the way others hop around in cars. Really more of a mini-city, sprawling Kampong Ayer is actually a village of villages, dozens of them; each one with their own village chief and even unique postcodes! One of the advantages of visiting countries with relatively few visitors is the ability to wander around these types of fascinating ‘living history’ sites with little fear of tourist traps. And while one can find many floating villages in Southeast Asia, this ought to be one of the easiest to access of them all.

Enduring Legacy

Apart from mosques, aqua-villages and the impressive Royal Regalia Museum, the most renowned place in Brunei is the Sultan’s palace, Istana Nurul Iman. With an incredible 1,788 rooms, the complex is even bigger than Vatican Palace and is considered to be the world’s largest residential palace. Although normally closed to the public, once a year, at the end of Ramadan, the doors

are flung open for three days for all citizens and visitors to enjoy. The Sultan himself, Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, is the 29th ruler in an incredibly long-surviving dynasty that has endured for more than six centuries. This same lineage oversaw Brunei’s prosperity during its golden age from the 15th to 17th centuries. In those days, Brunei was a powerful sea-faring empire whose territory at one time included nearly all of Borneo, as well as large swathes of the present-day Philippines, before being eventually whittled down to its current diminutive state. After fending off aggressive neighbors and foreign intrusions, Brunei had become a British protectorate in 1888, though it never lost its basic sovereignty, nor its Sultan his pride. In 1984, Brunei finally gained its full independence from the United Kingdom. Nobody seems to know exactly how wealthy the Sultan of Brunei - at times rumored to be the world’s richest man - really is, though some estimates peg his worth at a not-too-shabby 20 billion dollars (ahh, the power of good ‘ole compounding interest). This good fortune mainly stems from the discovery of vast oil and natural gas reserves dating back to 1929, no doubt contributing to Brunei’s long tradition of autonomy. Some of this

financial abundance has rubbed off on the people, with free healthcare and free education through university level available for all. Like a tiny bastion of prosperity, Brunei is somewhat of an anomaly when compared to its neighboring Malaysian and Indonesian provinces sharing the mammoth island of Borneo, third largest in the world, enjoying consistent economic success and high rates of literacy and life expectancy. Interestingly, Borneo is the only island on earth that is administered by three different countries. A strikingly beautiful place, Borneo balances natural splendor, amazing wildlife and tribal culture with critical environmental issues such as massive deforestation due to logging and palm oil plantations.

A Taste of the Locals

While exploring a fine little museum and ancient royal sites in the extreme outskirts of the capital, I decided it was time to take a bus back to the city proper. As I stood outside in the sweltering heat, sweat dripping down my tanned face, I was surprised as the approaching bus drove straight past me, despite my frantically waving hand to try to get the driver’s attention. Just then I noticed some locals who were watching me and seemed to be trying hard to control their laughter. One of them approached me and proclaimed in perfect English, “No, no, you must not use your hands like that – the driver will think you are saying hello to him!” My newfound friend then showed me how to outstretch the palm of my hand to properly gesture to the driver, although he and his buddy offered to drive me downtown in their car, saving me the trouble. Unaccustomed to meeting foreigners, while on the road they peppered me with questions, such as “Where do you come from?”, “What is your religion?” and “Do you like our country?” After arriving in the city, I departed with lots of thanks and a hearty exchange of smiles and well wishes. During my brief stay in Brunei, my experiences with the people were similar to this – a curious, warm and friendly lot with a relaxed, content kind of demeanor. My few regrets on this trip were my choice in itinerary, clothes and footwear. I failed to suitably plan and pack for the wide variety of natural beauty Brunei has to offer, from

unspoiled beaches to tropical jungles dripping with wild flora and fauna. If you are keen on a rainforest walk, this must be one of the most accessible ones in the world, and I recommend to anyone coming who even remotely enjoys the outdoors to bring a sturdy set of shoes and a strong sense of adventure. Brunei can be a refreshingly different, brief get-away from the typical big city grind – here in this tiny wonder one can do many different things in a very short amount of time.

On the Cusp of Fate

Brunei today is at somewhat of a crossroads, though only the latest in many it has had to face in its challenging past. Fully aware that its oil reserves will not last forever, perhaps only a scant few more years, the Sultan has been preparing the nation to be far less dependent on energy for its prosperity. Thus, the fine people of this petite nation, who for centuries have had every major decision made for them by a man descended from the same lineage, will have to increasingly learn how to act for themselves in an ever more complex and connected world. Like the Wizard’s curtain rising in Oz, the thin veil of civic solitude covering the land will slowly and perhaps reluctantly be lifted as this little enclave of humanity becomes more intertwined with global economics and affairs. Somehow, though, it is clear that the proud and independent people of Brunei will find a way to evolve at their own pace, in their own way, and all by themselves.

John is a US citizen and an avid explorer with a passion for travel journalism and photography. He has visited over 65 countries, including the entire Far East of Asia. He has written for the Singapore Straits Times, Shanghai Daily, The Armenian Mirror-Spectator, My Paper, The American Women’s Club of Korea and the in-flight magazine of Royal Bhutan Airlines.



Happy Travels

By Katie Baines

“We’re nearly there, we’re so very nearly there. You can almost feel the powder-white sand of the Balinese beaches between your toes…” And then 2020 happened. Singapore has done a sterling job of keeping COVID-19 under control, so much so that it has been noteworthy on many news channels across the globe as an example of a country successfully addressing it. But regardless of where we were in the world, and where we were planning on jetting off to, international travel came to a grinding halt for everyone. It’s thanks to Singapore’s response to the pandemic, however, that we are so very nearly there, and international will be a thing in the not too distant future. So, now is the time to get your pre-planning in check.

Booking Your Tickets There are a number of low-cost airlines that service Southeast Asia and, particularly on short-haul journeys, they are a great way to get around the region. has a comprehensive and continuously updated guide to travel restrictions and bans by country in and out of Singapore, as well as latest local airline cancellations. When restrictions have been lifted, it is also an invaluable resource when it comes to researching the best deals on flights as it scours all operators to show the cheapest tickets on offer.

Money While ATMs will more than likely allow you to withdraw currency after you land, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and get some cash from any one of the money exchangers in Singapore. This is particularly advisable if you’re going anywhere remote where machines may be few and far between, or not at all. Getting money out in advance also means you’ll be spared any charges for withdrawing money using an ATM, on top of the less favorable exchange rate compared with a money exchanger. Banks in Singapore are cautious about cash withdrawals and transactions overseas, so inform your bank about your trip so your cards aren’t blocked. When getting your currency, either before you travel or when you arrive, ask for lower denominations to avoid situations where shops or taxi drivers don’t have enough change to give you. This may mean drawing out an irregular amount ($90, for example) so you don’t end up with larger notes that no one can break.

Visas Figuring out whether you need a visa to travel can be a minefield, and it largely depends on where your passport was issued and your destination. Some countries, such as Malaysia have no visa requirements for US citizens. Many Southeast Asian countries allow travelers to pay a

fee and get their passport stamped on arrival; whereas travel to Vietnam or India requires an e-visa and more advance planning to ensure documents are ready before you depart. To ease the confusion, the State Department Smart Traveler app for travelers from the US details everything you need to know about passport requirements, visas, entry and exit fees, locations of American embassies, important local laws, tips on staying safe and other restrictions or requirements you can expect to encounter. Sites such as, and (which comes in app form, too) are also useful for finding out which visa type you need, the processing time and facilitate e-visa applications for people of all nationalities.

Staying Safe and Healthy The sights, the smells (both the good and the bad) and trying new things all add to the rich experience of travel – not, however, at the expense of staying healthy and safe. Checking if you need immunizations and medications is your first port of call to safeguarding your health. Consult a hospital or clinic in Singapore dedicated to advising travelers on what they need depending where they’re traveling. If your employer doesn’t provide overseas medical assistance as part of their healthcare package, then it’s worth investing in a comprehensive multi-trip travel insurance policy. Although remedies for tourist ailments are readily available in tourist hotspots, it’s peace of mind knowing that if you’re really sick, you’ll be able to get help. The International Association for Medical Assistance (IAMAT) is a nonprofit organization that provides travelers with a list of doctors overseas, and it’s worth signing up for free membership at Staying informed, staying connected and staying safe are paramount when living and traveling abroad. The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service that allows US citizens overseas to enroll their whereabouts with the nearest US Embassy or Consulate. Register at And that’s it! All that’s left now is for you to open your map and get planning your future trips. There’s a whole world out there...


health & wellness

The Butterfly Effect How to “Re-Emerge” From Lockdown With Wellness By Amanda Lim As an avid exerciser, I did everything I could to stay “active in public” as long as possible before the circruit breaker – I took group exercise classes until the last day Singapore allowed it in April, hired a personal trainer (yes – even trainers have trainers!) after that, and finally came to terms with fully-at-home workouts once all other options were extinguished. Truth is, I’m both a gym rat and the “outdoorsy” type – but I’ve never, ever been an at-home exerciser. I used to pay money to go to a yoga class rather than roll out my mat in my own living room, and I was far more motivated to push hard and lift heavy in a CrossFit class rather than WOD at home alone. It took something as severe as the COVID-19 restrictions here in Singapore to keep me working out in my home (or, as I’ll speak to in a moment, alone outside) with any sort of regularity. Add to that the fact that I (ashamedly) don’t really cook, and being locked down at home for over two months was really a shock to my routine. The “new normal” during Singapore’s circuit breaker period meant that I had to make a lot of changes – not only to my exercise routine and food habits, but to my mental health and self-care choices, too. A friend of mine who runs a successful counselling business asked me to collaborate with her on a “butterfly” project, putting together ways that we could help our clients with their “reemergence” from lockdown with the best possible physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellness. Our planning for the project got me thinking about the fact that while Singapore’s government is slowly but surely deeming us “ready” to get back to the regular pace of social life, many of us may still need some transitional assistance to get all the way there. For example, many parents who were suddently thrust into the challenge of home-schooling their children had the relief of sending them back to school. No matter how you felt about that educational experience, it is worth commemorating the time that the whole family was “stuck” home together with a photo mural or art project. Developing a physical memory of time spent during the lockdown – whether through photography, arts and crafts, poetry, or some other creative expression – will create a lifelong memory for the family as well as allow each member to express her or his personal interpretation of the time spent at home.

In terms of nutrition, hopefully the circuit breaker was a time to develop healthy habits such as cooking at home and sitting down to eat meals with your household members. Consider keeping those habits alive by keeping the nightly family dinners on the agenda, or by establishing a rotating “supper club” with friends in their homes – or online! Share favorite “lockdown recipes” with friends and family and compile them into a circuit breaker cookbook – annotated with photos from the period, if you can – for another fun keepsake idea. Where exercise is concerned, many (understandably) still harbor some trepidation about returning to gyms, group classes, and shared facilities, since these places are often hubs for the spread of even innocuous germs. Consider starting back slowly, with a gym or class you know and trust, while keeping the best elements of your at-home routine intact. For example, I am maintaining my home yoga practice with the “Yoga With Adriene” YouTube channel while also returning to my favourite outdoor CrossFit class (where the spacious facility makes it easy to maintain a level of distance from other exercisers, and I know the coaches take great pride in keeping the facility clean and disinfected). If you took time to enjoy the outdoors in your own neighbourhood but feel a little exhausted by the repetitive local scenery now, consider a return to Singapore’s natural treasures after lockdown (some classics include Gardens by the Bay, Pulau Ubin, Palawan Beach, the Botanic Gardens, MacRitchie Reservoir, Bukit Timah Hill, or Punggol Waterway Park) or exploring a new outdoor space each week with your partner or family. Rediscovering the great outdoor opportunities that Singapore has to offer should not be limited to a time when we had no other choice! Finally, returning to work inside an office may also have felt like a rough transition if you’ve been enjoying the relative freedoms of working from home (no commute, shorter meetings, more casual clothing, and unlimited healthy snacks, to name a few). Give yourself ample time to readjust to the rat race, possibly continuing to work from home a few days a week if your office allows it, or taking outdoor walking meetings and phone calls to reenergise your spirit during long workdays away from home. Create new rituals in the workday that

Amanda is a certified trainer and nutritionist and director of Singapore-based fitness consulting firm Peak Health. With over a decade of experience in the health and wellness industries, Amanda has coached and transformed over 200 individual clients, and consulted for large multi-national companies. She has also contributed to fitness publications such as SELF magazine and


mimic your favourite parts of working from home, such as scheduling a Zoom meeting with friends or family over your lunch break or requesting a weekly “casual day” for office attire. No matter how you spent your “circuit breaker” season this year, the reality is that it’s time to get back to our previously scheduled realities. That does not mean that we have to do things the same way, or all at once. Consider taking the small positive physical, mental, emotional and spiritual changes you made during the lockdown and implementing them into your “new normal” from now on. You’ll then be able to look back on those tumultuous months without regret and with great intention for what the rest of this year holds.

food & drink

A Fusion Revolution

Chef Wee revisits old-school Straits flavors with a Western twist By Andrea McKenna Brankin Singapore is certainly famous enough for its food scene, with everything from diner-style burgers to Michelin chef’s being featured at several restaurants. But a new player in the private-dining space is taking local flavors from Singapore and Malaysia’s past and applying it to new, modern food presentations. GS Wee has been a chef since his college years. He’s recently developed a new concept from old traditions to honor the days of the kampung around Southeast Asia. He describes the style generally as an East meets West combination. But it goes far deeper and is way more interesting than that once you take a look at some of the ingredients.

Sago Logs

Kampung Kid

Wee’s roots trace back to Borneo, barely an hour’s flight from Singapore to the city of Kuching and another one hour flight by Twin Otter 18 seaters to the village where he grew up. “My childhood was in a small fishing village by the sea called Mukah. My great grandma on my mother’s side was a Melanau.” The Melanau are an indigenous river people in Sarawak, one of the Eastern states of Malaysia. “This humbled tribal group lives by the sea and their staple food is Sago,” which is a starch extracted from the trunk of Sago palm and the starch can produce sago pearls, in cooking or cookies and desserts. “Growing up, I was pampered by the varieties of fresh, organic vegetables and produce from the forest and the seafood provided by the South China Sea.” Wee was very attached to his grandmother who had great culinary skills. “That was my early journey as a self-professed food lover. My great grandmother was a native, or aborigine of Borneo. My grandma


was a Nyonya, which had its own localized cooking and was the Spices only way she knew. Native food from Mother Nature is what I know and Nyonya food was my daily food while growing up. “In recent years, with more knowledge on what I was taught in Western cooking, I thought it would be a good idea to combine our native rich and colorful spices and ingredients to incorporate into the cuisine. My aim is to bring the cuisine into another level with harmony of different cultures.” In addition to his grandmother, the natural environment also has inspired Wee as a chef. “Growing up, we had fresh harvest and produce; no preservatives, no additives, no pesticides and no elaborate seasoning to add flavoring to food.” He says simplicity is the only way they cooked their food. “We let nature display its own taste and flavor at its best. This inspired me at a young age, like a seed of passion for natural cooking, which germinated and has grown into my adulthood.” But cooking is more than mixing food around; it has a deeper meaning to Wee. “To me, a chef is someone who cooks from the heart, who prepares food with pride and with an overall respect for food.” He notes that one important point of his history is that wasting food is “definitely a no-no!” He also believes cooking can be done by anyone. “Cooking is not rocket science. With fresh produce and ingredients, anyone will be able to cook as long as they have the desire to try.” He found that ethos worked for him, as he went overseas to study in the US, where he landed jobs in Western and Eastern restaurants and also learned about wine and liquor working in stores in order to pay for school. “Companies sent me for wine and liquor tasting courses for product knowledge, to better

serve customers.” He also notes that it is a requirement in cooking courses and restaurants to upgrade food handling hygiene, cooking styles and skills. Those experiences eventually led him to set up a restaurant called Fortune with friends in Johnson City, Tennessee. At Fortune, he focused on Americanized Chinese food, but also introduced the Malaysian-Indian Ginger Tea-Tarik, Bubor Terigu, modified and simplified Sambal Chicken, Olive Fried Rice, Sambal Fried Noodles and Sweet & Sour Fish or Pork in Nyonya Sambal Sauce. He also had a stint as the Secretary of International Students Association in university, which opened up his mind and taste buds to different various cooking and flavors from different countries. But for sure, his knowledge in spices Herbs and spices and ingredients while growing up in Borneo had given him the edge to preformulate the taste prior to any food preparation. “I love to share culinary knowledge to people from all walks of life.” With this, Wee is pretty excited to share his new cuisine Buah Keluak with Singapore. In his endeavors here, more opportunities came when he was hired to be a healthy cooking facilitator in Singapore. To learn new skills, he worked in a restaurant and trained under a very experienced executive chef in Italian and French cooking. “It was an eye opener for me, as I saw the elaborate, colorful dressing and beautiful plating of the Italian and French cuisines. This enabled me to apply Western cooking as the main stage and touch up with local spices and ingredients.” These skills also sparked the impetus for him to create his East meets West combo cuisine. In a test run of his Devil May Care Gourmet, my husband and I had a dinner prepared by Wee to check out exactly what he’s talking about. He

brought a large bag with all his materials, was fast in the kitchen and also came and sat with us to explain the various ingredients and preparation styles. One of the most interesting food items was a nut called Buah Keluak. It has a creamy taste and is definitely unusual on the palette… and maybe a little dangerous. But it’s great!

History of Black Gold

The Kepayang tree is indigenous to Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore and has a fruit the size of a small football. The seed has a hard shell and is called Buah Keluak referred to as ‘black gold’. “The edible part is the fermented kernel inside the seed which is well-known traditionally for its astonishing, remarkable and unusual earthy, nutty and mushroomy smell and taste”, says Wee, who adds that it is the heart and soul in Nyonya cuisine, especially for its Ayam Buah Keluak (in a chicken stew) and Tulang Babi Buah Keluak (in a pork rib stew). The kicker here is that all parts of the tree and young Keluak fruit and seeds contain hydrogen cyanide, a deadly poison if consumed without lengthy treatment and preparation, according to Wee. He adds that it has a higher amount of hydrogen cyanide when the fruit is unripe. “This explains why you see all the fruits looking beautiful hanging on the tree and no animals daring to touch them.” Wee explains that there are two ways of treating the seeds so they become edible: In the old days, the seeds were extracted from ripe fruits boiled, then buried in ash, covered with banana leaves and placed in a pit. Now, they’re put in a large wooden container in a cold, dry place for forty days. During the ash treatment, the kernel in the seeds turns from a creamy white color to dark brown or black. The old, wise de-poisoning treatment can be explained by modern science, as hydrogen cyanide can be destroyed by high temperature and is water-soluble. Thus, boiling helps to destroy or break down the hydrogen cyanide in the seed and the kernel inside. Forty further days of fermentation reduces the toxicity of the hydrocyanic acid and, at the same time, transforms and develops the unique color, flavor and taste of Buah Keluak. Much of the Buah Keluak imported to Singapore and Malaysia is prepared in this way, says Wee. The second method is by crushing the seeds, extracting them from the kernel, boiling them before putting them under running water for a day. In the kampung, the villagers put the boiled kernels in a gunny sack and tied it to the bank of a stream to let the running water wash it overnight. After the second boiling, the kernels would be ready to be consumed. Wee notes that this is widely

Andrea McKenna Brankin has been a writer and journalist for more than 25 years, covering business and lifestyle topics in the U.S., Europe and Southeast Asia. Hailing from Mystic, Connecticut (USA), Andrea now calls Chicago “home away from home.” She has lived in Singapore with husband Christopher and daughter Georgia since 2012.

food & drink practiced in Borneo. Aside from being a very laborious process, Wee says the two different methods of treatment display two different tastes, textures, ways of cooking and chewing property. “Both methods give addictive results and invite people to come back for more.” I can attest to that after I tried the one that was fermented for 40 days. Even though it sounds like a risky process, Wee likens the poison issue to that of the puffer fish in Japan: It’s known for being dangerous but many people still eat it without any issues. “The tetrodotoxin found in fugu is more toxic than cyanide, and each year about 20 people are poisoned from badly prepared fish. But the Japanese eat 10,000 tons of this poisonous puffer fish delicacy each year,” says Wee.

Combining historical ingredients to make bold new flavors, served in a modern presentation and an informative explanation of the whole dinner from a guy from a kampung surely makes for an audacious new way to enjoy dining. As his tribe in Borneo says in Malaneu: “Bah-ke-mun,” which means, “Let’s eat!”

From Poison to Palette

To prepare Buah Keluak for cooking, it requires scrubbing and washing the ash on the seeds. The seeds are soaked for three to five days and the water is changed twice daily. Before cooking, the lip of the seed is cracked open with a pestle and the smooth black or dark brown kernels are extracted. Buah Keluak can be prepared in many ways in Nyonya cooking, but Wee usually prepares them in these two ways. Either he pounds the kernel with a pestle and mortar with lime juice, salt and sugar and grinds through a fine sieve to get a firm smooth dressing. Or, he’ll use the first method, then mix with minced prawns or pork and stuff the mixture back into the shells to be cooked together with Ayam Buah Keluak or Tulang Baby in rempah sauce (spice paste). Wee explains that the dark, deep, earthy, nutty, mashed chocolate taste of Buah Keluak tinged with a slight bitter note has been called the Asian equivalent to black truffles. “Buah Keluak dishes are also considered equivalent to caviar in Nyonya food.” Chef Wee, clearly well-versed in the history of local ingredients, as well as influenced by the cooking styles of Europe and Southeast Asia, makes for quite a culinary show for cozy, private dinners or small groups. He may even venture into more localized cuisine education. In the future, Wee hopes to lead food tours of fishing villages in Borneo during the fishing season to show how local people make Sago and fish dishes. This includes going fishing in the morning, like the kampung fishermen, and bringing people to see how the locals process Sago starch and bake it on the clay bed to make sago pearl, make their local biscuits, all while staying in the kampung houses with them, says Wee. But for now, Chef Wee is offering his cooking services to the Singapore set and hopes to reinvigorate a blast from the past in food style. Wee says his food is targeted towards foodies with an “adventurous attitude.”


Buah Keluak - Fruit

Buah Keluak Soaking in Water

Fishing Boat

Andrea, Chris and Chef Wee test out the ‘Devil May Care’ dinner

The ‘Devil May Care’ Menu Appetizer: Chilled Chinese Longevity Nood le

“This appetizer is derived from Chilled Capellini, but I replaced them with Chinese longevity noodles. Japanese ginger-soya in the dressing gives a bit of ginger kick and the sourish flavour from yuzu wakes up your palate.” Ice plant accompanies the dish as a salad. Pan Fried Shrimp with salt and pepper is used for garnishing. Verdict: Great presentation and use of an alternative to pasta! We especially loved the yuzu in the ginger-soya dressing.

Entrée: Chicken Poulet

“I cooked the chicken for six hours using a sous vide, so the end result is tender and juicy and the chicken melts in your mouth. Brushed with honey, I air fried it until the skin was nicely golden.” Assam Java Dressing: Shallot, garlic, ginger, lemon grass, blue ginger and a concoction of spices in chicken stock are slow boiled until fragrant. The spices are filtered out, then assam paste is blended in and cooked with coconut sugar and a pinch of salt before boiling the mixture down to thicken the sauce. Buah Keluak Dressing: The black fermented kernel is blended with lime juice and a concoction of spices, salt and coconut sugar. The dressing is then sieved and reduced to thicken. Vegetables: Ripe jackfruit and local bell peppers are quick stir fried with coriander, cumin, fennel, cinnamon, salt and pepper. “Cumin is earthy, musky and pungent, and has spicy notes of lemon. Cumin is the world’s second most popular spice after black pepper. Fennel (Jintan Manis) - I particularly love this spice - has a whiff of sweet aroma with strong notes of licorice.” Verdict: The real highlight of this dish - aside from the tender, juicy and crispy-skinned chicken - was definitely the Buah Keluak Dressing. It is such a different and interesting taste! We loved this sauce and also enjoyed the flavors mixed with the Assam Java Dressing, as well.

Dessert: Poached Pear

Korean honey pears are poached in brown sugar, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, lemon skin, Chinese red date and served with peach gum, sago pearl and garnished with seedless honey watermelon. “I decorated the pears with cloves to give the look of a COVID-19 bacteria!” Chef Wee came over the night before the Circuit Breaker started. Verdict: This is definitely an Asian-style dessert. Wee doesn’t like to use processed ingredients so it was very fresh, as well as refreshing. We’d never had Chinese red date before, nor peach gum and sago pearls. A great mix of tastes from Borneo, China and Singapore!

Devil-May-Care Kitchen Gourmet, +65 8182-5981, or email: For his in-home chef services, he can discuss appetizers, mains and desserts beforehand. Photos courtesy of Andrea McKenna Brankin


Flipping Burgers into Business By Julian Chua

As a French expat and F&B entrepreneur who started his own steakhouse, Braseiro, in 2015 at age 25 and, more recently, new gourmet burger joint, Burger Frites, Alexandre Pini knows a thing or two about cooking the perfect steak and burger. His love for food and drive to become an entrepreneur took him on a year-long travel stint, where he travelled across countries from Brazil to Hong Kong and, finally, Singapore to find the perfect place to build his culinary career. I spoke to him about his entrepreneurial journey, his F&B experiences and life in Singapore as an expat.

business What sparked your passion for food? Since my younger days, I always dreamed of opening my own restaurant. I thought of the kitchen as a space for me to constantly innovate and experiment - it’s in my nature to be curious about trying out new things and seeing my ideas come to life. While I was studying engineering in school, my passion for food grew. I decided to ditch a career in my field of study and take the plunge into the F&B industry instead. My year travelling overseas and honing my culinary skills to build my career in the food industry opened me up to so many new things - new languages, new cultures, and most importantly, new ways of looking at food. I discovered new flavors, new tastes, street food, fusion and, mostly, I have discovered more about myself while building my project. What made you want to become a F&B entrepreneur in Singapore? Besides my passion for food, I also love meeting new people. I decided to start my culinary career in Singapore precisely because it is so much like a global community, and this diversity is an accurate reflection of the food that I wish to serve to my customers. Its borderless food scene has made the city all the more attractive to me - just in one place, you can find so many culturally distinctive dishes! Tell us more about your ventures as a restauranteur. My ethos as an entrepreneur has always been: have the courage to do what you love; follow dreams; and stay determined. So, after gaining culinary experiences from around the world, I decided to open the steakhouse Braseiro along Joo Chiat Road five years ago. I believe that in Singapore, French restaurants are only widely regarded as places for fine dining, but I wanted to democratise this idea by creating an authentic yet casual dining concept. After Braseiro’s success, I opened the burger joint, Burger Frites, just across the road. Burgers are a fuss-

free, comfort food that have become increasingly popular on the local food scene. Again, I wanted to bring a casual concept with an emphasis on quality of ingredients, focusing on a few key signature items. The meat is sourced from a local butcher, the buns fresh from an artisanal bakery, the sauces are all homemade and packaging is compostable and recycled disposable. What is your take on the popularity of gourmet burgers here in Singapore? Burgers are a popular choice on the local food scene. Given that there are many well-known foreign burger chains entering the market, I believe that burgers will only increase in demand in Singapore. However, while fast food chains try to maintain their standards as overseas franchises with vast volume production, it is also imperative for gourmet burger joints to serve up quality as well as “value for money” meals to customers. I was stressed out when our first American guests came to the restaurant to try our burgers, because the burger is almost sacred in the US! Even if I am very confident about our recipes, it was my ultimate test! The aim, though, is for me to strive to continue to satisfy as many people as possible through my food, become a reference for burgers and steaks, continue to work on new recipes and enjoy a good balance between my professional work and personal quality of life. Could you share with our readers some tips on making amazing burgers at home? Burgers are very easy to make. It’s not about skills, it’s more about how you blend together the different ingredients. Get nice beef patties from your butcher, bake a few homemade buns, cut some fresh vegetables and turn on the barbecue. Invite some friends and the food will taste even better.

Julian is an entrepreneur who runs several businesses that deal with consulting and brokerage in Singapore. He combines his love for food and writing with his business experience to provide readers with a balanced perspective on the F&B scene here in Singapore. For the past decade, he has been a freelance writer for NTUC Lifestyle, Business Times, Spin Asia, and Time Out. 46 LIVING IN SINGAPORE

business US Tax Issues for Expat Entrepreneurs By Jeremy Stobie and Patrick Drassler, CPS Family Office Being a US citizen or green-card holder brings a significant amount of benefits, but naturally these benefits come with a price – the least enjoyed of which is being subject to US worldwide taxation and reporting responsibilities while living abroad. With increased volatility in the job market and more expats going out on their own, we thought it might be useful to highlight some topics unique to entrepreneurs. Self-Employment Taxes Many of us are familiar with the foreign earned income exclusion (FEIE) and housing allowance exclusion/ deduction, which for those of us living in Singapore allows us to exclude up to US$105,900 from income and up to US$82,900 in housing costs. However, one of the biggest surprises for self-employed persons is the responsibility to pay self-employment taxes for medicare and social security, even though you are able to utilize the FEIE. This means that if you are self-employed, you must pay an additional tax of 15.3% on the first US$132,900 of wage income and 2.9% on the amount above that. The IRS considers you self-employed if: • you carry on a trade or business as a sole proprietor or an independent contractor • you are a member of a partnership that carries on a trade or business • you are otherwise in business for yourself (including a part-time business, independent consultant or contractor work) In some cases, you may consider yourself self-employed, but from the perspective of US law, you may actually be classified as an employee. For example, private limited structures in Singapore are considered corporations under US law, and an employee (even if that employee is also the owner) of a corporation is not considered as self-employed. Ownership of Foreign Entities Information on foreign entities may need to be reported and, depending on the ownership structure, may even be subject to tax. The various scenarios that could trigger a reporting or tax obligation are too numerous to list here, but here is a simple scenario: You decide to start a Singapore private limited with your friend who is a Singapore citizen, where you own 60% of the company and your friend owns the rest. The company provides consulting services and is profitable from year one. In this simple scenario, you would be required to file IRS Form 5471 to report detailed information about the company (beginning the year of establishment or acquisition). Additionally, even if no income was distributed to the shareholders, your portion of the earnings may still be taxable to you. Penalties for not filing this form or filing a form, which is not substantially complete, start at US$10,000.

Disclosure of Foreign Assets: Many of us are familiar with FinCen Form 114 (commonly known as the “FBAR”) which requires you to disclose all non-US bank and financial accounts if the combined value of those accounts is over US$10,000 at any time during the year. Most people report personal accounts; however, what is less apparent is that this filing requirement also includes any account which you have signature authority over, such as a company account. If you have significant balances in your foreign bank or financial accounts, there is also a similar Form 8938 which requires you to report the financial accounts you own as well as other assets, such as stocks or bonds issued by foreign companies and CPF. Fixing Prior Year Problems What can you do if things weren’t reported properly in prior years? If the oversight was non-willful, there is relief available in the form of a program called the Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures. This enables taxpayers to “catch up” their filings by filing three years of amended prior year returns and six years of foreign account disclosures. The major benefit of this program is that, if done correctly, the IRS will waive the penalties and only require payment of any tax and interest due. This program can be a very cost-effective way of getting yourself into compliance. You can find more information about it on the ‘US Taxpayers Residing Outside the United States’ page at: Tax laws are complex and the information in this article should not be relied upon as tax advice. Please seek the help of a professional if you are unsure about your situation.

Patrick is the Tax Manager for CPS Family office where he specializes in working with American families and green-card holders living and investing abroad. Patrick is an enrolled agent with the Internal Revenue service. He graduated from Arizona State University and has a Master’s in Professional Accountancy from Singapore Management University. He has lived overseas with his family for over a decade and is proficient in Mandarin. Jeremy is the Managing Director of CPS Family office, a firm based in Singapore which supports international families with tax compliance, planning and other services. He is a US CPA and has been focused on the international side of US tax for most of his career. He lives here in Singapore with his family and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, and has a Master’s in Professional Accountancy from Singapore Management University.


business The Rise of Socially Responsible Investment By Richard Hartung From garment factories protecting workers better, to banks ending loans for coal miners, companies are focusing more on sustainable environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices. Investors are looking at it more, too, as corporate practices affect investment returns. Here’s how to include sustainability in your investment decisions. Companies Are Becoming More Sustainable While calls for responsible corporate management date back at least to the Quakers in the US in the 1800s, companies only began to develop more comprehensive ESG practices about 15 years ago. The focus has intensified in recent years, as more people prefer to buy from companies with environmental and social practices that match their own values. The range of issues that ESG covers is quite broad. Beyond climate risk, for example, environmental concerns include natural resource scarcity, pollution and waste. Social issues include labor practices, product liability and how a company cares for the community. Also, governance includes corporate reporting and board member quality. The reason companies are now more interested in ESG goes beyond just ensuring a better environment and society. Good environmental practices help control costs, position a company for growth and make it more valuable. Good social practices, such as treating workers well, benefits society and helps a company retain talent, and good governance leads to better corporate decisions and strategy. Unilever, for example, found in its research that over half of consumers already buy or want to buy sustainable products. It then developed ‘sustainable living’ brands which have a clear purpose relating to social or environmental practices. Walmart and IKEA have similarly moved toward sustainable retailing by reducing waste and using renewable energy. Sustainability Benefits Investors Along with benefitting the planet and the company, better ESG practices are good for investors, too. A study by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, for instance, found that firms with better ESG records than their peers produced higher three-year returns, were more likely to become high-quality stocks, were less likely to have large price declines and were less likely to go bankrupt. The US-based Chartered Financial

Analyst Institute similarly said that stocks with high ESG scores have higher valuations and lower volatility than their less-conscientious counterparts. When BNP Paribas compared the MSCI World Index and the MSCI ESG Index, a senior advisor for responsible Investments Kanol Pal said, “There is outperformance in ESG.” Even amid the coronavirus-caused market crash, results show that better ESG practices can be beneficial. The MSCI ESG Leaders index outperformed the EU benchmark by 1.8% from January through mid-March, according to the Financial Times. “The evidence so far suggests that ESG has been more resilient,” Morgan Stanley equity analyst Jessica Alsford told the Financial Times, and ESG funds withstood the market sell-off better than most others. Looking ahead, Saxo Bank Head of Equity Strategy, Peter Garnry, says some green stocks “could, over time, become some of the world’s most valuable companies - even eclipsing the current technology monopolies. Investors should consider tilting their portfolios towards green stocks so they don’t miss this long-term opportunity.” How to Select Investments The question for investors, then, is how to select stocks of companies with better ESG performance. One way is to analyze individual companies’ ESG practices. Once you select a stock you want to invest in, you can review the MSCI ESG Ratings or ratings in the US, or the ESG report that companies file with the Singapore Exchange (SGX). You can use the reports to determine whether its EGS practices match your own values. A less time-intensive method is to use an exclusion policy, so that you avoid companies in sectors such as coal production, weapons or palm oil production. Investors can also put their money in ESG unit trusts or exchange-traded funds (ETFs). While there are few ESG ETFs in Singapore, there are more than 80 in the US. Investors could select one using sources such as the website and invest through a brokerage firm with access to US markets. While it is still important to select companies or funds based on sound financial fundamentals, adding ESG as another factor and analyzing company practices carefully can give investors better returns while helping the planet and our society, too.

Richard is the Managing Director of Transcarta and a freelance writer for Today, Challenge, The Asian Banker and other media, as well as writing for corporates. He is also the author of Changing Lanes, Changing Lives. Richard is a consultant in retail banking, focusing on payments strategy and efficiency, with more than 20 years of experience in Asia. 48 LIVING IN SINGAPORE

education Applying to College During a Pandemic By Andy Lee

COVID-19 has turned the world upside down and students are no less impacted by the widespread changes that have swept high schools and universities alike. As a result of the pandemic, classes have been moved online, standardized exams have been modified and postponed, campus tours have gone virtual and summer programs have been canceled. Students, parents, teachers and administrators are all scrambling to address these challenging circumstances and to adjust to the ‘new normal’. Now more than ever, students and their parents must plan early and strategically in order to successfully navigate the upcoming college admissions season. Here are some actionable tips and advice for students and parents to follow as they begin to embark on the application process this summer: Application Essays: Personal statements and supplementary essays have always been critical components of the application process. Through carefully crafted essays, students are able to showcase their personalities, world views and passions. Due to the postponement of SAT and ACT exams, universities are increasingly adopting a test-optional policy for this upcoming admissions cycle. Without standardized test scores from all applicants, admissions officers will be spending more time scrutinizing application essays. Therefore, it is essential for students to start working on their essays as early as possible. Students should spend more time polishing their essays and seek feedback from their counselors, teachers, parents and peers. There is also a new optional essay for applicants to address the impact that the pandemic has exerted on their lives. Use this space to address any sudden fluctuations in your school grades, any changes to your family’s circumstances and other relevant issues. Virtual Campus Tours: Visiting college campuses in the summer is a rite of passage for high school students and their parents. Unfortunately, due to safety concerns, campus closures and travel restrictions, most students will no longer be able to make these visits. Fortunately, thanks to the live video conferencing applications, students are able to conduct virtual campus tours instead. Beyond the virtual tours that can be easily accessed on most universities’ official websites, students

can also utilize and collegeweeklive. com to connect with professors and admissions officers to learn more about the academic and extracurricular offerings at each university. Since most universities have social media accounts where they list virtual information sessions and share updates on admissions requirements and procedures, students should consider following these. Some other helpful online resources that students should refer to include:, and usnews. com/best-colleges. Finally, students should look through online student publications, such as school newspapers and campus magazines to get a better sense of student life and campus culture. Online Courses and Virtual Volunteering: While many students’ original summer plans may have been disrupted, there is still a plethora of worthwhile university courses and meaningful volunteering activities that students can enroll and participate in from the comfort of their own homes. Students may access college-level courses offered by leading universities from across the world in a wide range of subjects on online platforms, such as and For students interested in giving back to the community, they may search for remote volunteering opportunities on the following websites: volunteer-opportunities/be-a-digital-advocate.html, and As a result of the pandemic, there are unprecedented challenges that many people are facing across the world. During these difficult times, students should try their best to maintain a positive mindset, plan strategically and utilize the many resources available to them. By embracing the uncertainties and overcoming the obstacles ahead, students will not only secure acceptances from their dream schools, but will also emerge stronger and more resilient to tackle challenges that will inevitably arise in the future.

Andy is a a seasoned American university and boarding school admissions consultant with nearly a decade of experience. He is a graduate of Columbia and Cornell and has provided comprehensive educational counseling to over 100 students, many of whom have gone on to attend institutions like Columbia, Cornell, Penn, Berkeley, UCLA, Georgetown, NYU and USC. LIVING IN SINGAPORE 49

Our Singapore:


How do you see Singapore? Every issue we’ll showcase moments captured by AAS members in a photography competition depicting our island at its finest; from the throng of the city to the wild wetlands, from the characters among its people to its varied landscape.

1st: Singapore’s Supertrees Sean Packer Sean is from Wisconsin and moved to Singapore in 2015 with his wife, Sarah. He took this shot on a sunny afternoon in the Supertree Grove before the ‘circuit breaker’.

Sean wins $100 in Hard Rock Cafe vouchers.

2nd: Sunset over Singapore’s CBD – Amber Mizerak

3rd: Marina Bay at Sunset – Sandie Wilkins

Amber is from Pennsylvania, USA and has been living in Singapore since 2015. She took this photo in January 2020 while waiting for an M1 Singapore Fringe Festival show to start at Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay.

Sandie is from Melbourne, Australia. She photographed this while out for a walk with her husband, Steve.

Sandie wins a bottle of Fetzer Cabernet Sauvignon, courtesy of Benchmark Wines.

Amber wins a bottle of Piccini Prosecco.

Submit your photo of your Singapore! Just snapped a cool picture? Send it on to our Editor-in-Chief, Katie Baines, at with ‘Living in Images’ in the subject line. The competition is reserved for AAS members only • Members may submit images that are 300dpi and 1MB in size (minimum half A4 paper size) • Each entry must include name, short photographer biography and complete caption • Readers must own the rights to the picture submitted and must have obtained permission to photograph human subjects depicted • Judges’ decision is final • Entries are automatically disqualified if they do not meet our criteria and stated T&C • Winners will be notified via e-mail when the prize is ready to be sent out • Prizes cannot be exchanged for cash.



ARE YOU LOOKING TO DEVELOP YOURSELF PROFESSIONALLY OR PERSONALLY IN SINGAPORE? If so, the Career Resource Center for Excellence (CRCE) is the place for you! CRCE is for individuals residing in Singapore who are: • job hunting in Singapore • contemplating a career change • looking to get back into the workforce • wanting to further develop their professional skills • considering entrepreneurship • interested in personal development


Workshops & Events

• Exclusive access to a members-only jobs board

• Member pricing to workshops and events

• Weekly email alerts with latest jobs

• Complimentary admission to one workshop

• Upload your resume for employers to review

• Complimentary admission to our Living in Singapore Talk

Join CRCE today! Membership begins on the day you join for 12 months. CRCE membership is $220. If you’re a current AAS member, for an additional $100, you can add CRCE access. Talk to us about joining now!




JOIN THE SAS FAMILY AT WWW.SAS.EDU.SG/ADMISSIONS Singapore American School CPE Registration Number: 196400340R Registration Period: 22 June 2017 to 21 June 2023 Accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges


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