Travelling to Shangri La

This is the second article in a series of unconventional destinations in China that we have prepared for you at Basecamp.

Map of China for your reference
Map of China for your reference


In 1939, British writer James Hilton published the book “Lost Horizon”, telling of a paradise that is cut off from the rest of the world, located on the Tibetan plain. His novel was an instant success and “Shangri-La” became a household name, a fascinating place that captured the imagination of dreamers and adventurers alike. The Chinese government thought to take advantage of the popularity of the book, and had a town – previously known as Zhongdian — that is a geographic fit with the imaginary utopia renamed Shangri-La.

Today, Shangri-La retains much of its quaint charm. As a city located in the north of Yun Nan and bordering Tibet, the people living here are Tibetans and they continue their way of life even now, just as they had for the last hundred years. They are a peaceable, friendly, honest bunch, possibly because of their religion – an overwhelming majority practice Tibetan Buddhism (think Dalai Lama and living buddhas). When you greet them, simply say “tah-shi-de-leh” (good luck).

There are some aspects of their culture that might give you a culture shock. Whether you can get past the initial shock and learn to appreciate the cultural difference is up to you. All of them hold on to the practice of sky burial – a procedure that involves defleshing the dead and grinding the bones, after which the meat and bone pieces are placed at a sky burial site for the birds to eat. To us, this may seem unacceptably gruesome, but to the Tibetans living in Shangri-La, this is how they honour their dead – by allowing their spirits to ascend into the heavens together with the birds.

Also, polygamy is still practiced. A man may take several wives. But wait, before you scream that it is the usual patriarchal world order at work, know this: a woman can also have several husbands. This practice is known as polyandry and is very rare nowadays.

Everywhere you go, you will see black dots on green plains. On closer inspection, you will discover that the little black dots are yaks (a.k.a. mao niu, “hairy cows”, in Chinese). They are a valuable asset to any Tibetan family as they provide free labour, milk and meat. However, do note that while yaks generally have a gentle temperament, it would still be foolish to chase after them like I did (I only knew afterwards that yaks can kill when enraged). Before you leave, don’t forget to have yak steamboat!

Things to do

  1. Napahai: Go horse-riding and watch yaks from afar
  2. Sumtsaling Monastery: Follow the tour guide and learn about sky burials and Tibetan Buddhism. To understand, a good grasp of Chinese is required.
  3. Potatso National Park: It is a beautiful place nearly half the size of Singapore with well conserved biodiversity.
  4. Dukezong Ancient Town: Eat yak steamboat here! Shop for souvenir; scarves, Chinese medicine and yak jerky are recommended. Dress up in traditional Tibetan garments and take pictures!
  5. Guishan Park: Spin the golden Tibetan turning wheel. Legend has it that if you can turn the wheel clockwise 3 times, good luck will come to you.
  6. Tiger Leaping Gorge: One of the deepest river canyons in the world. What can I say? Photos.

Caution: the average altitude stands at 3,160 metres above sea level. This makes you prone to altitude sickness. Personally, I puked and was immobilised in my hotel bed on the first day. Tips to alleviate altitude sickness (which I wish I had heed) include eating altitude sickness medicine days in advance, eating moderately upon reaching Shangri-La and not bathing on the first day. 

8 types of bad students

Our grades are coming back soon, and we all know what this means… Time for some serious reflection. If your results are less than optimal, it is highly possible that you are one of the 8 types of “bad” students listed below.

1. The perpetually late student

For some reason, this guy is always at least 5 minutes late, whether the class is at 8am, 12 noon, or 3 in the afternoon. That is not to say this student cannot be bothered –every time he is late, he rushes into class with ruffled hair and an apologetic look. But the next day, oops, he does it again. Why he is always late will forever be an enigma. But in the meantime, too bad, he is missing out. Everyone knows how all the important announcements are at the start of the class.

2. The dreamer

This guy is forever thinking about irrelevant things – what’s for lunch, which L4D strategy to use, how the girl sitting in front is so cute – and forgetting that he is in class. The only time he wakes up is when the bell rings and it is time to go home.

That’s when he becomes an annoying little prick.

“What did the teacher say ah?”

“We have homework or not?”

“Can someone lend me your notes? Please? Please?? PLEASE???”

3. The literal dreamer

This guy takes day-dreaming a step too far. Perhaps he slept at 2am playing DOTA into the wee hours. Perhaps he stayed up mugging in his closet. Whatever the case, it is easy to identify the literal dreamer by the gentle bobbing of his head, the suspicious glint at the corner of his mouth and…

“Benjamin Tan, how dare you fall asleep in my class!”

…The enraged howl of your Math teacher.

4. The doodler

This guy tries his best to take notes. But his pen seems to have a mind of its own. Before long, a parallel universe is birthed on his Physics textbook.

5. The tech savvy guy

This guy knows the pitfalls of taking notes with pen and paper (see number 4). Besides, he types faster than he writes. So he uses a laptop and a phone instead.

No one told him that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. First, Whatsapp gets him distracted. Next, Facebook shuts his ears to the counsel of his Literature teacher. Then, Instagram leads him astray into the land of social media, from where there is no return.

That is until the bell rings at 12 noon. Who can resist the taste of food and freedom?

6. The big mouth

This guy knows that he loves to talk. And he won’t take “shhh” for an answer. No amount of death stares and death threats from the teacher can get him to shut up. Finally, exasperated, the teacher sends him to the back of the class.

Oh dear God, please let me stop hearing things.

One moment of silence for the teacher please.

7. The robot

This guy is hardworking and obedient. Even if you ask him to write “Miss Tan is the best and I love her class” 1000 times, he will do it obligingly. His only problem is that he doesn’t know how to think.

Guess what, he wasn’t trying to be funny.

8. The worrier

Seriously, this guy takes things too seriously. To him, every test, every lab practice, every presentation is like the end of the world. He keeps his asthma tube at his sight, because chances are, he is going to have a breakdown soon.

Even 2.4km gives him butterflies in the stomach.

If any of the above characteristics had you sheepishly grinning, “that’s me”, congratulations. At least you know what part to improve about yourself now.


The Top 3 Speed Reading Techniques

A majority of us read at a rate of about 200-400 words per minute. A minority of others known as speed readers can hit around a whopping 1000-1800 words per minute!

Speed reading is not something that you are born with. It is a skill that one can develop similar to learning how to skateboard or to draw better. Some people take to it more naturally than others, but most every one can do it with understanding and practice.

Breaking down the process of reading

Before we can understand speed reading, we need to understand what reading is and how we comprehend words normally. 

There’s a difference between reading purely for pleasure, and reading to learn. I’m sure you don’t curl up on the couch with a hot cup of tea and open up your latest Additional Mathematics Syllabus to read, right? When you are reading to study, the reading becomes a kind of mechanical process. It requires a whole lot more brain power to take in the unfamiliar concepts and process them in your head. 

When you look at a word or a sentence, this is called a “fixation”, and it takes about 0.25 seconds on average to happen before you move your eye to the next several words. The movement of your eye to the next group of words is called a “saccade”, and it takes up to around 0.1 seconds to happen on average.

After one or two fixations and saccades occur, you pause to comprehend the sentence you just looked at. This takes around 0.4 seconds on average. When you combine all these fixations, saccades and pausing together, you end up with a reading rate of around 200 to 400 words per minute. 

How can you shorten this reading time?

Speed readers shorten how long they fixate on a word. By cutting down on the extra 0.25 seconds, they end up reading faster than the 0.4 seconds that the majority of us read at.

Here are 3 type of speed reading methods:

1. Meta Guiding 

One of the oldest speed reading techniques, meta guiding is when you use your finger, or a guiding tool like a pen or a pointer, to guide your eyes to specific words. The visual guiding of the eyes allow them to move faster along the words in a passage. 

How this works is the visual guidance speeds up your visual cortex and increases your visual span to take in the whole line instead of one word at a time. This increased visual can even help in imprinted what you read into your subconsciousness.

However, in order for this method to work, you will need to train your eyes to view each word with emphasis without regressing. Regressing is what happens when your eyes go forward two or three words and then go back. Regressing usually happens so quickly that we don’t even realised we have done it. So, it will take much practice to be able to increase your visual span to view words with emphasis, and at the same time without regressing.

2. Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP)

This method is used by most of the recent digital speed reading systems. Single words will flash across the screen so you end up concentrating on one word at a time. You start off with a reading speed that is comfortable, and slowly speed up how fast the display flashes you words as you get used to the speed.

You can find out your current comfortable reading speed here, and try increasing it over time with practice. 

Personally, this method has completely transformed the way I read. Before RSVP, I would almost always lose focus while reading long articles. Since I started training myself, not only was I devouring articles daily, I have also started to chip away at the mountain of non-fiction books that I had hoped to finish in months instead of years. 

Pro tips: RSVP technology takes a bit of adjustment, so start off slow and give your eyes plenty of rest in between heavy readings.

3. Skimming

Skimming is a practice whereby you glance through the words of a page to find the important parts to read – or the “meat”. Most can agree that writers pad the important points with filler words. Fillers words can be analogies to explain a point better, or sentences that build up to their final point. 

Instead of the earlier two methods which teaches you to read faster, this method is teaching you to learning what parts you can skip over instead. 

By skimming, you are training your eye to sift through the filler words quicker so as to glean the main gist of what you are reading. You look for and seize upon words that appear to give the main meaning. Skimming occurs at 3-4 times the normal reading speed, which also means that you are not fully comprehending everything that you are skimming.

For this reason, I would only recommend skimming for when time is short or when you need to understand the general ideas but not the full details of an article or book.

The Creator of the Sandwich is not who we think it is

I remember as a kid, my mother would make a sandwich and wrap it in saran wrap for me to pack to primary school as lunch. It would always be either one of two recipes – Ham & Cheese, or Egg Mayo. As I grew older, this nostalgic food brought about my love affair with Subway sandwiches and I make it a sort of tradition to source for interesting deli sandwiches whenever I travel overseas too.

The sandwich might be the perfect food: Easy to pack, open to anything a creative mind would like to stack it with, and it can be as simple or as elaborate as your mood allows. 

Or as elaborate as your hunger allows
Or as elaborate as your hunger allows

Ever wondered who invented the sandwich? I did. And I thought I knew the answer. But turned out, I was wrong!

The humble origin story

The sandwich as we know it was popularized in England in 1762. The popular story goes that John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, was a notorious gambler who so hated to leave the card table to eat that he instructed a servant to bring him some meat and bread. He then stacked the meat together between two pieces of bread to form an easy-to-eat meal, all without disrupting his beloved gambling sessions. 

The Earl enjoyed his meat and bread so much that he ate it constantly, and others in London’s society circles soon started eating it too. And the concoction took on the Earl’s name as The Sandwich.

Hence, the sandwich was born.

Or did it?

The great sandwich origin story may not have much truth to it after all. The story was first recorded in the early 1770s by a French writer named Pierre-Jean Grosley. The incident supposedly happened while Grosley was on a tour of London and he wrote it in his book ‘Lourdes’ (published in English as ‘Tour to London’).

But something smelt fishy. It was the idea that the Earl of Sandwich was a notorious gambler who would be up all night playing cards and not even stopping to have a meal that rang hollow. Historians pointed to the fact that the Earl was acting as a cabinet minister at the time – his duties would have left him little chance for all-night gambling sprees.

To crack another hole in that story, the Earl was also in the middle of revamping the entire British Naval Administration during that year. It was the type of job that would require a good night’s sleep to be achieved.

Another slightly more embarrassing piece of evidence came from biographers who stated that the Earl couldn’t have had a gambling habit as he did not have much money to gamble with in the first place, as he was one of the lower class members of British upper class royalty in that time. 

So, who should we credit the sandwich to?

While the Earl of Sandwich is credited with giving the sandwich its name, the first description of what we actually known as a sandwich came 2,000 years ago.

The Jewish Rabbi Hillel the Elder was born in the first century BC in what was then known as Babylonia. He later traveled to Jerusalem to devote himself to the studying of the Torah, and at a time when Jewish law was still hotly debated, it was his interpretations of the Jewish text that became the most popular among believers then.

His work on a verse in the book of Exodus could be said to have been the birth of the sandwich. Exodus 12:8 states, “Eat the meat on this night, roasted over fire. With matzah and bitter herbs you shall eat it.” This verse was describing a traditional Passover meal made from placing the meat of a lamb, mixed nuts and herbs between two pieces of unleavened bread, and shared among family and friends.

At the time, this was called a korech, which comes from the Hebrew word meaning “to wrap.” While it’s not recorded how the ancient sandwich was put together, we can deduce that he stacked the meat and herbs and bound it all together with the bread.

Now we know the true origins of the sandwich, but I’m glad we ended up calling it the sandwich instead of the korech. Ordering a Teriyaki Chicken korech at Subway just doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as nicely. 

5 secret Starbucks drinks to order the next time you’re feeling fancy

Even though hipster coffee shops are overtaking the Singapore coffee scene one siphon coffee maker at a time, there’s still something unapologetic about craving for the overpriced sugary frappuccinos at our neighbourhood Starbucks.

However, to truly make that Starbucks experience great, one must have a signature order. Not your boring Soy-Skinny-Flat-White, but the not-so-secret, off-the-menu type drinks that will raise the eyebrows of the poor barista working that shift.

Ordering an off-the-menu drink at Starbucks is apparently so common in the US that an entire website was created to document and share them with others. There are currently over 200 secret drinks!

However, as it’s not the norm in Singapore, the Starbucks staff may not know the recipes by heart and it will help to show them the recipes. It will also help to not order one of these drinks during a peak period when there’s 15 other people waiting in line behind you slowly growing annoyed at your weird order. 

Pro Tip: Do wait till low-peak times on a weekday, be clear about the recipe and definitely be courteous when trying out one (or all!) of these 5 secret drinks: 

1. The Merlion Frappuccino

The Unicorn Frappuccino is a limited edition colour-changing, sweet and tangy drink from Starbucks US that was only available last month from 19 to 23 April 2017. It went viral ever since Starbucks broke the news.

ooooooh pretty!
ooooooh pretty!

Sadly, we weren’t graced with this magical drink here in Singapore outlets, but you can order a Singaporean edition of it instead: The Merlion Frappuccino.


Recipe for Tall-sized drink: 
Vanilla Frappuccino ($6.00)
1 pump mango syrup ($0.70)
1 pump raspberry syrup ($0.70)
Top with whipped cream and raspberry drizzle

Price: $7.40

2. The Dragon Frappuccino

This drink will not only brighten up your day with its jade-green shade with a fire-licking drizzle of caramel, it will also perk you right up with its additional shot of espresso and Java Chips blended right in for good measure. 

Recipe for Tall-sized drink: 
Green Tea Creme Frappuccino ($6.40)
1 pump caramel syrup ($0.70)
Java Chips ($0.70)
Espresso Shot ($0.80)
Top with whipped cream

Price: $8.60

3. The Pink Drink 

We’d never have known that if you mix hibiscus tea and mango tea, you’d end up with a dink that tastes like grapes! No kidding. Add a zing of passionfruit to that, as well as soy milk to create a sweet, froth, silky finish, and you’ve got a perfectly pink drink for the next sunny day.

Recipe for Grande-sized drink: 
Iced Hibiscus Mango Passion Fruit Tea ($4.40)
Add Soy Milk ($0.60)

Price: $5.00

4. The Nutella Frappuccino

As much as we’d love to devour an entire jar of Nutella when the craving strikes, that’s seriously nutty, nut-job behaviour. So we’ll let this drink be the next best thing. A Java Chip Frappe, a spurt of hazelnut syrup and mocha sauce, and presto! You’ve got liquid Nutella! 

Recipe for Tall-sized drink: 
Java Chip Frappuccino ($6.80)
1 Pump Hazelnut Syrup ($0.70)
Java Chips ($0.70)
Top with mocha drizzle

Price: $8.20

5. The Cheesecake Frappuccino

Did you know that you have the option of having any pastry, cake, even sandwich, liquified into slurpable form?! It doesn’t guarantee that the barista will do it for you, of course. Think about the poor fella who has to wash a ham and cheese croissant out of the blender. 

Stick with a cheesecake to play it safe instead. It goes shockingly great (and creamy) with your choice of a vanilla or mocha frappe. 

Recipe for Tall-sized drink: 
1 Raspberry White Chocolate Cheese Brulee Cheesecake ($6.50)
Mocha or Vanilla Frappuccino ($6.00)
1 Pump Raspberry Syrup ($0.70)

Price: $13.20

Why “man-eating” piranhas are not as scary as you think

Piranhas have never had the best of reputations. Read the word ‘piranha’ and the image of a swarm of blood-thirsty fishes with teeth like razor blades pop into mind. 

And it’s also no thanks to movies like Piranha 3D, in which a pack of genetically-mutated piranhas escape a science lab and feast on unsuspecting swimmers. 

Devouring humans in full 3D glory.
Devouring humans in full 3D glory.

But are these freshwater fish the vicious water monsters they’re made out to be?

Not exactly.

Thanks, Teddy Roosevelt

The whole idea of the savage man-eating piranha started with author and one-time President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, when he wrote about them in his 1914 book, Through the Brazilian Wilderness.

Roosevelt traveled to South America in 1913 after his presidency, where he encountered several different species of piranhas. Here’s what he wrote about them in his book:

“They are the most ferocious fish in the world. Even the most formidable fish, the sharks or the barracudas, usually attack things smaller than themselves. But the piranhas habitually attack things much larger than themselves. They will snap a finger off a hand incautiously trailed in the water; they mutilate swimmers—in every river town in Paraguay there are men who have been thus mutilated; they will rend and devour alive any wounded man or beast; for blood in the water excites them to madness.”

Roosevelt went on to recount watching a pack of piranhas devouring an entire cow. According to Mental Floss, the locals wanted to put on a show for Roosevelt. Days before he was to arrive, they used nets to block off a section of the Amazon river. Then, they caught piranhas from other parts of the river and tossed them into this makeshift aquarium. For days, they kept the fishes unfed. When Roosevelt finally rolled into town, the locals chucked a live cow into the water.

Kinda reminds you of this
Kinda reminds you of this “Jurassic World” scene, doesn’t it

We can all guess what happened next. The starving piranhas wasted no time in sinking their teeth into their meal. Within minutes, the cow’s skeleton was all that was left. To Roosevelt’s eye, the water churning up and turning red, along with the screams of the poor cow, likely made it seemed like the piranhas were the perfect killing machine.

A fish that can eat a cow makes for a great story. Given that Roosevelt’s book was also widely read, it’s easy to see how the piranha’s supervillain image soon spread. 

The major exaggeration

However, recent research on piranhas suggest that they are actually far from dangerous. In fact, they make for pretty harmless swimming companions too! 

Wildlife writer Richard Conniff was one of those keen to debunk the myth of the monstrous piranhas, and he went swimming with them in numerous occasions – by standing in the Amazon river fishing for them while they swam around him, to getting up close and personal with the supposedly deadly fish in a Dallas Aquarium in front of gawking onlookers.

He even once tried to prove the whole “piranhas stripping a man or cow to bones in mere minutes” theory by feeding chickens to a swarm of piranhas to see how long it would take them to devour the whole thing. It took an entire afternoon, and even at the end of the day, the chickens were mostly intact.

When Conniff spoke with fishermen who lived and worked alongside the notorious fishes, he found that those who lived nearby agreed that the reputation of the piranhas had been blown way out of proportion. Those who live there found that the piranhas are more scavengers than hunters.

Piranhas will stake out an area where fishermen go to gut their fishes, and scavenge on the cast-off leftovers as the fishermen toss them overboard. They are also known to lurk under the nesting grounds of birds, waiting for bird babies to unfortunately fall in the water. When humans get bit, they’re usually of living people falling into the water by accident while the piranhas are already in the midst of swarming a dead or scavenged kill.

Some are even vegetarians

Some species of piranhas are omnivorous, eating more seeds than meat. And some with the unflattering nickname given by the locals of “vegetarian piranhas” live solely on the diet of riverweeds.

They even have human-like teeth with flat edges that are used for crushing seeds and nuts.


Now that you know the piranhas’ fearsome reputation is largely undeserved, we hope that tales of man-eating fishes remain only as scary tales to tell around a chalet BBQ pit instead of as facts. 

3 crucial things every newbie investor must know

The hard truth is that, in Singapore, it’s difficult to earn lots of money if you only park your monthly salary into the bank and expect it to grow. It will not grow much at all. 

The only way to make your money work for you is to invest in it, and similar to how learning never ends, becoming good at investing money is a never-ending journey. It goes without saying that you should have read up on, spoken with experienced investors, and have a relatively solid understanding of the investment products and strategies before getting into it.

But there are, however, 3 crucial things that every investing beginner must know before they even put money in. Here they are: 

1. Know your investment goals

If there’s one thing that bears repeating in the investment world, it’s this: What are you working towards? It’s very important to have a goal, or goals, in mind to work towards in order to effectively figure out how to get there. 

When people talk about investment goals, most would assume that it’s a number they are trying to get their money to climb up to and achieve. That’s not false, but what a lot of people fail to realise is that investments take time. An investment goal should not only take the number into consideration, but the time factor as well.

Is your investment goal short term, or long? If it is short term, is the number you have in mind realistic based on the time frame allocated? What type of investment products will best help you hit your goal? These are all questions you have to ask yourself before starting on your investment journey. 

2. Know your risk appetite

When you hear the phrase ‘risk appetite’, it basically means how much are you willing to lose? A lot of times, you will hear (mostly from banks) that risk appetite is related to the types of investments you make. For example, buy more equities when you are in your twenties or thirties because you are at the stage of life where you can afford the volatility and higher risk. Buy more into fixed income products when you are older because they tend to be more stable (low risk) but at the same time also won’t return as much.

Whatever it is, risk appetite is an extremely important factor that people don’t fully think about when they start out investing. That’s because no one goes into investing their money immediately thinking they are going to lose money – that completely defeats the purpose of investing your money. But it is still important to consider because this will have repercussions further down the road in your investment journey. 

Take the time to read up on the various investment products and understand how they can work for or against you at various stages of your life. This will allow you to weigh your risk appetite properly and plan a long term strategy that will prevent you from losing money unnecessarily. 

3. Know your investment behaviour

Knowing your investment behaviour also starts with knowing yourself. If you’re a naturally lazy person like me, I’m going to optimize technology to help me manage the time I spend managing my investments so it doesn’t become tedious and eat up into time I can spend elsewhere instead of staring at a screen full of numbers. 

Another trick is to leverage off algorithmic trading. It’s a godsend for people who know they are not going to have the time to decide on trade decisions all the time. As you can choose to automate your trades, it can also help those who tend to be too overly hands-on to have some form of discipline.

Knowing what type of a trader you might be, and what sort of behaviour you’ll likely have, is a boon to deciding what sort of tools will be useful for you. And that is a huge plus point if you are trying to find your footing at the start of this journey.

Fun (and totally not last minute) things to do this Mother’s Day

In case you’ve been living under a rock with your iPhone and free wifi, this Sunday we celebrate Mother’s Day in Singapore. 

And while she might be happy with flowers and a mushy hand-drawn card, there are plenty of ways to say thank you for a mother’s love. And one of the best ways is to spend some quality time with her. Here are some fun, non-cheesy, not-too-expensive thing you can do with her on Mother’s Day. 

1. Take her out for a fancy, yet homely, meal

Be it brunch, afternoon tea, or dinner, Mum deserves to feel like a queen for that day. God forbid, she ends up cooking for the family on Mother’s Day! 

For the spice loving home-style mama, Violet Oon’s is having a authentically Peranakan Mother’s Day buffet brunch! Expect a lip-smacking spread of home-cooked Nyonya fusion delicacies like the classic Nyonya spicy chicken stew and buah keluak nuts, sambal fish, and Violet Oon’s very own signature shepherd’s pie.

Considering that Violet herself is a mother of two and proud grandmother of three, this meal at the cozy Bukit Timah cafe is sure to leave you all with family feels.

Time: 11 May, 1130am-1pm, 130-3pm
Place: Violet Oon, 881 Bukit Timah Rd, S279893
Price: Around $65 per adult, $35 per child (6 to 12 years old, children under 6 dines free)

2. Go on a road trip up to our neighbour’s

One of the best things about living in Singapore is that it can be faster to drive out of the country than to travel to Changi Airport. If you’re not looking to bare costly airfare for the entire family over the weekend, consider going on a road trip to Malaysia instead.

You can travel all the way up to Penang if you’re up for a long-distance journey, or just hop over to Desaru, Malacca, or KL if you’re not looking to drive too much. The whole point is to spend some quality time with your Mum, and nothing like being put together in a vehicle to achieve that.

Those who don’t own a car can easily rent one in Malaysia at 1/3 the rental rate. Just be sure you know what to do should you get into a road accident while you’re there.

Accommodation can also be relatively cheap when you’re holidaying in Malaysia, not to mention the sheer joy your Mum might have dining and shopping too knowing that not too much money is being spent, with the currency exchange rate at an all-time high now.

3. Treat her (and your dad!) to a hotel staycation…

This one will likely work if you have lots of siblings to share the cost with. For the tireless mum who deserves the five-star treatment, treat her to a staycation right here in Singapore.

Staycays don’t necessarily mean booking an expensive luxury hotel, a quick browse through Agoda on their mobile app might land you some last minute deals at a boutique hotel that’s half the price but also with stellar service, top-notch amenities, and free toiletries she can bring home.

There are also some pretty fancy penthouses and apartments available for booking on Airbnb that’s worth checking out. If you’re lucky, you can end up booking a house at Sentosa Cove!

4.  …or Glamping works too

Glamping, a play on the words, “Glamour” and “Camping”, is an activity that combines the adventure of traditional outdoor camping, with the glamour of fancy hotel-style accommodation. Perfect for those who want to experience the outdoors but not sacrifice modern comforts – like a comfy bed with fluffy pillows.

Treat your mum to something uniquely different so she have bragging rights when all her friends got flowers for Mother’s Day, but she got this:

This beauty is put together by a local Airbnb host called Lydia, who will handle all the setting up and beautifying of the place so you don’t have to. 

You can also request for a picnic basket and/or a bottle of champagne to complete the experience for your adventurous mama this special day. 

The quiet heroes that Singaporeans take for granted

It’s not a secret that we Singaporeans are constantly on the move. Be it working long hours to shuttling the kids from school to tuition to music lessons, the only time we get a break in our hectic schedules is when we’re stuck in traffic or in squishy public transportation.

The majority of us are usually so caught up in our busy lifestyles that we fail to notice those who tend to make our lives easier. These quiet heroes are working jobs that ensure that our society functions smoothly. They are normally so quiet playing their role that we don’t even realise they are there doing the amazing work they do until they are not there and we suddenly realise how inconvenienced our lives become.

Let’s pay tribute to 4 of these unsung heroes.

1. Cleaners

Year after year, our city is lauded by tourists and other countries as clean and green, a garden city, or most recently, a city in a garden. And yet, the ones really responsible for maintaining this pristine cleanliness go relatively unappreciated. Who are they? The cleaners, of course. 

Whether cleaning the toilets, sweeping the streets, or clearing up after you once you’re done with your meal at the hawker centre, they are the ones who work tirelessly for long hours to uphold Singapore’s squeaky-clean image.

It’s rather saddening that a majority of our cleaners are of the elderly generation. It’s such a difficult way of earning a living, that we as considerable citizens should play our part by disposing of our litter in a proper way, and clear our own trays after we are done eating to do all we can to make the lives of our cleaners easier.

2. Nurses

I applaud nurses. Not only do we often not see the contributions they make, they are pretty much the backbone of the medical community. Disagree? Let’s see those doctors and surgeons handle a full day of work by themselves then. 

Not to discredit the works of your family GP or neighbourhood dentist, but this article is about quiet heroes, and while Dr. Tan may be the one explaining your medical conditions, it’s the nurses who are often to one tending to your wounds, dressing them, and distributing your medication.

Furthermore, they are subjected to 24/7 working shifts to ensure that patients can receive immediate medical treatment when required. And trust me when I say that cleaning up of faeces is largely part of their duties. So the next time you’re at your annual dental checkup or at the clinic “keng”-ing an MC, don’t forget to say thank you to the nurses working there. 

3. Bus Drivers/MRT Station Staff

Admit it – when was the last time we genuinely smiled or thanked our friendly bus uncle whenever we boarded a bus? Or when was the last time we acknowledged the auntie with the lit baton standing at the MRT station platform to guide commuters during rush hours? We were probably too busy trying to rush for that empty seat that it simply slipped our minds. 

Bus drivers and MRT staff work long hours, on both weekdays and weekends. They even work during public holidays just to ensure that we have a functioning form of transportation. Most of them are simply trying to earn a living and even so, they are at times faced with verbal or even physical abuse by commuters.

We should never assume that they have it easy – for bus drivers to drive the same routes day in and day out (can you imagine driving from Woodlands to Changi Airport over 10 times a day?!), or for MRT staff to work those long hours dealing with multitudes of commuters. The least we can do is to say thank you, and to be a considerate passenger. 

4. Construction Workers

Here in Singapore, with every turn of a head, a swanky new shopping mall pops up. We tend to overlook the people who literally built that roof over our heads however –  the construction workers. 

In a 2014 census, there are 1.32 million foreign workers in Singapore and a bulk of them work in the construction sector. Because of this, construction workers are sometimes placed in a negative light and ostracised by Singaporeans. It’s easy to judge and stereotype, but a lot harder to put ourselves in their shoes. 

We often see them working relentlessly under the hot afternoon sun, simply to ensure that the roads, buildings and even the scrubs by the side of the roads are completed. They often work for little pay, and from what they earn, most of it is sent back to their home country to raise their families. 

These quiet heroes in Singapore aren’t always appreciated for what they do, but they are the ones who help make our lives a whole lot better. So the next time you come across a construction worker or two, show them some kindness and recognition. Whether it’s giving them a simple smile or buying them a cold bottle of water as they work in the sweltering heat, all these little kind acts will be deeply felt. 

Vesak Day: How do you celebrate Buddha’s birthday?

Ever wondered what the significance of Vesak Day is other than just another public holiday? For most Singaporeans, our knowledge of Vesak Day is possibly limited to a Buddhist festival. Since we pride ourselves in being multi-racial and multi-cultural, let’s dig a little deeper to understand more about this day’s symbolism.

What is Vesak Day?

Vesak Day, also known as “Buddha Day”, is considered one of the most important days in the Buddhist calendar where Buddhists all over the world commemorate the birth, enlightenment and death of Siddhartha Gautama Shakyamuni, also known as Buddha.

The life story of Buddha begins around 2,600 years ago in a place called Lumbini, near the border of Nepal and India. Siddharta Gautama was born a prince, but as he grew up, he realized that all of his experiences did not provide him lasting happiness or protection from suffering. After a long spiritual search he went into deep meditation, where he intended to achieve the state of enlightenment – a state of mind which is free from emotions and expresses itself through fearlessness, joy and active compassion.

To achieve enlightenment, the 29-year-old Prince vowed to sit under a fig tree and meditate until he transcended suffering. He then endured a 7 days mental battle with Mara, the god of desire, who tried to use all his wily tricks to lure the Prince away from his meditation. The Prince prevailed, becoming awakened and from then on known as Buddha. 

For the rest of his life, Buddha taught anyone who asked how they could achieve the same state. Therefore, Vesak Day is a day where Buddhists celebrate with immense joy, seek peace and reflect on their deeds. Around 33% of Singaporeans practice Buddhism, which makes this day one of the biggest festivals celebrated by this culturally rich red dot.

How does one observe Vesak Day?

Each country has its own traditions for celebrating Vesak. For instance, in Sri Lanka, numerous colourful lanterns are lit, whereas in Taiwan, fragrant water is poured over statues of Buddha.

In Singapore, Buddhists will usually visit their temples for ceremonies which will include prayers and offerings of candles and flowers. Most Buddhists believe that performing good deeds on Vesak Day will multiply their good deeds merit many times over. They also make an effort to bring happiness to the unfortunate, including the aged, the handicapped and the sick – either by donating money and gifts, or by visiting with them and cleaning their homes. 

Some interesting tidbits about Vesak Day 

One of the more interesting traditions practices by devotees during this day is also the Three-Step, One-Bow procession, where devotees take steps on both knees, bowing at every third step. As they do this, they pray for personal blessings, world peace and repentance. This procession usually begins 24 hours before and can be quite exhausting, lasting for up to two hours or more. 

Vesak Day hasn’t always been a national public holiday in Singapore. The Singapore Buddhist Association petitioned for this public holiday after the end of World War II, and it was finally awarded its due place on the calendar in 1955. 

Traditionally, as part of the Vesak Day celebrations, caged birds and animals are released as a symbol of liberation and peace in Singapore. Over time, however, The National Parks Board and the Buddhist Fellowship have advised against the practice as tame animals released into the wild are unlikely to survive. Even if they do survive, this practice of introducing all sorts of wildlife could also do irreversible damage to Singapore’s natural ecosystem.