Adventures, Lifestyle

Why I Changed My Mind About Sentosa – Vanessa Tai

If you think Sentosa is just a tourist trap, you probably haven’t checked out all the exciting attractions the island has to offer. Vanessa Tai tells you which ones to zoom in on.

As a child, going to Sentosa was such a treat for my brother and I. We would constantly bug our parents to take us to the beach, to Fantasy Island, to the wax museum, and so on. Even as a teenager, my friends and I were there almost every other weekend to perfect our tans. However, as I got older and busier, somehow going to Sentosa didn’t seem as appealing anymore. There always seemed to be another more entertaining option elsewhere.

However, I completely changed my view of Sentosa during a recent visit with fellow co-founders Deborah and Lili. As you may know, the island recently underwent a marketing campaign where they’ve branded themselves as “The State of Fun.” And truly, there are so many different attractions and entertainment options available on the island now, one day doesn’t seem like enough. From high-octane activities like the Megazip or iFly to something more sedate like unwinding with a piña colada at Coastes, you’ll surely find something that hits that sweet spot.

Here are 4 activities you should check out:

If you’re with a date, Megazip

Picture this: You’re strapped to a harness and hoisted to a zip-line, 75m above ground. Within seconds, you’re whizzing along at 60km/h for 450m, feeling the wind in your face and hair as the scenery races past you. How thrilling is that!? This is why I highly recommend doing this with a date. It’s fun and exciting, and gives you a heady rush of adrenaline. Studies have shown that during the attraction phase of love, adrenaline is one of those powerful neurotransmitters that contribute to that lovey-dovey feeling. So, no harm having an additional shot of adrenaline to keep those feel-good feelings alive, eh?

Still need convincing? Check out this video of Deborah, Lili and I going on the “flight of our lives!”


If you’re with friends, Luge

material world_luge

A luge is sort of a hybrid of a sled and a go-kart, and comes with three wheels. It’s pretty simple to maneuver – you push the handlebars forward to accelerate and backwards to slow down. However, I’m actually a bit of a coward when it comes to operating any form of vehicle (my dismal go-karting performance is a running family joke) so I felt a familiar nervousness when I entered the luge.

My fears were unfounded once I actually started my descent down the hill. While you can control how fast you can go, the maximum speed is nothing too scary, even when you’re going downhill, and I soon found myself enjoying this leisurely ride down. In fact, I wished there were more people around me so I could race them! This is why I reckon it’ll be plenty of fun to go with a group of friends so you can race each other down the hill.

If you’re with your family, Sentosa 4D Adventure + Wings of Time 

photo 1

Have plenty of young cousins or nephews and nieces? Round them up and surprise them with a trip to the Sentosa 4D Adventure. There are four different simulator rides available here. Rock, bounce, and bump your way through various scenarios – from being a part of Journey 2: The Mysterious Island to the climactic fight scene between Green Lantern and an evil alien force.

material world_green lantern 4d

The younger ones  will also be enthralled by the Wings of Time, which is a mesmerising display of water, fire, and laser effects. Personally, I found the first part of the show – where real-life actors were singing and rallying the crowd – a little too overwhelming. But when the lights dimmed and the multimedia effects kicked in, I soon found myself enjoying the multi-sensorial experience, especially the (spoiler alert) fireworks at the end.

If you’re with your gal pals, Stand Up Paddleboarding

Having had so much fun at Sentosa the previous weekend, the three of us decided to return the following week to try our hand at Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP). Prior to this first lesson, I’ve never tried SUP before but soon discovered it’s like a combination of rowing and surfing. Our instructor Isabelle, who’s also the owner of Stand Up Paddling School, was friendly and patient, offering helpful tips throughout the lesson. I was nursing a hangover on the day of the lesson so I was admittedly not the best student, but Deborah thoroughly enjoyed herself.

If you and your girlfriends are tired of your gym or yoga routine and are looking for a new way to keep fit together, I reckon SUP is great for building overall balance and strength. Plus, you’re sure to get a gorgeous sun-kissed glow!

photo 3

These are just several suggestions of what The State Of Fun has to offer; there are so many other little nooks and crannies yet to be explored. I’m sure we’ll be back soon!

While we were there, we saw a banner that said “The land of eternal sunshine”. Of course, cynics may dismiss this by saying, “But it rains all the time in Singapore!” However, I choose to believe this is actually referring to the sunshine in your heart, because after each exhilarating visit to the island, you leave feeling lighter and more carefree.

Material World was invited by Sentosa to review some of its attractions. This post was neither paid for nor advised by Sentosa. All opinions are the author’s own. 

About The Author: Vanessa Tai is a founder of Material World who has previously worked on magazines Simply Her and Cosmopolitan Singapore. Now a freelance writer and a full-time contributor to this website, the 27-year-old dreams of attending every single major music festival before she turns 30. Follow her on Twitter @VannTaiTweets.

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Adventures, Lifestyle

Why You Need To Start Saving For a Trip to Iceland NOW – Denise Li

Iceland has more than the Northern Lights and volcanoes … although those are pretty spectacular too, says Denise Li.

What is the first thing that comes to mind when I say “Iceland”? I’m guessing Bjork, Sigur Ros, the Northern Lights, that volcano with an unpronounceable name (Eyjafjallajokull) that caused aviation havoc when it erupted in 2010, and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. In fact, it was after watching that particular movie that my fiance Alain and I decided to look for cheap flights to Reykjavik during my recent European sojourn.

We were there for just four days … way too short to experience even a fraction of what Iceland has to offer, so I’m definitely going to start an “Iceland fund” just so I have a chance to visit it again in the future. Iceland is not exactly what you’d call budget-friendly, but the experiences are one-of-a-kind and definitely worth blowing your yearly bonus on.

Admittedly, our trip was pretty spontaneous, so we didn’t plan for it as well as we should (nor did we allocate a big enough of a budget to do some truly adventurous things), but I’ve gleaned a clearer idea of what I would like to do on my next trip. Without further ado, I present to you, what I think are truly compelling reasons to visit the land of ice and fire.

1. It has a low population density

Iceland has a population of just 320,000 (just 6 percent of Singapore’s current population!), despite being the size of Hungary and Portugal combined, and it’s also the most sparsely populated country in Europe. If, like me, you travel to get away from urban living and hordes of people, Iceland is the perfect destination. In fact, with just a 10 minute drive out of Reyjavik, you will find yourself driving for awhile without seeing another car on the road.

2. It’s a great place for self-guided tours

Driving was easy – what we did was to buy an Iceland sim card so we had access to Google Maps, planned our route the night before with all the stops we wanted to make, and off we went. For the more adventurous and experienced drivers among you, you might want to consider hiring a four-wheel drive so you can really go off-road and explore.

3. The friendly people

I once visited a beautiful country in the Asian region. Rich in history and with beautiful landscapes and destinations, my experience of it was marred by numerous encounters with rude locals and being ripped off at every turn. The people living in the country can really make or break your experience of visiting it, but all the Icelanders we spoke to were friendly and helpful, and had a dry sense of humour that Alain and I really appreciated.

4. The myriad opportunities for hiking

If you’re an avid hiker, you’ll find yourself in paradise when you set foot in Iceland. Where else would you have the opportunity to trek up volcanoes and on glaciers? For beginner hikers, there are lots of lowland trails for you to walk on as well. Mount Esja, around the Reykjavik area, is a popular hiking area. Just drive out, park your car somewhere and, well, walk. There are lots of clearly marked trails everywhere for you to follow.

5. The beautiful landscape

Iceland is, simply, a place of indescribable beauty, and since it’s indescribable, I think these pictures will better do a better job at showcasing what I saw.

Clearly marked hiking trails

Clearly marked hiking trails

The majestic Gulfoss waterfall

The majestic Gulfoss waterfall

Vik i Myrdal - a black sand beach

Vik i Myrdal – a black sand beach

Kerio Crater

Kerio Crater

What we were disappointed by …

Our whale-watching experience: This is something you can do straight from Reykjavik – all you need to do is walk to the port and sign up just before the boat sets sail. Although tour operators claim that there is a 90 percent chance you will see a whale on their tour, sadly, no whales were sighted although Alain and I went out to sea TWICE. We did, however, see a couple of dolphins during our second attempt. If whale-watching is a priority on your travel agenda, try your luck in Husavik, located in the northern region of Iceland – this is supposedly the best area to spot these magnificent creatures.

Blue Lagoon: The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa located close to Reykjavik that you can bathe in. It’s pretty, but Alain and I we were put off by the pricey entry fees and the hordes of tourists. If you really need a soak, go to the tourist information office (there are many in Reykjavik) for recommendations on less crowded/touristy ones to visit.

If you have to chance to stay longer than 4 days in Iceland as we did – and I reckon that you’ll need at least 10 days to really explore what this amazing country has to offer – here are some of the other activities you can consider doing …

1. Snorkel or dive at Silfra

Located in the Thingvellir National Park (about a 45-minute drive from Reykjavik). Silfra is known as being one of the top dive sites in the world. Not only does it have underwater visibility of 100m (with water so pristine you can even drink it!), it’s also located between the North American and Eurasian continents. You can dive IN BETWEEN the two tectonic plates!

2. Visit the Vatnajokull National Park

The park covers 13 percent of Iceland and is the largest glacier in the world outside of the Arctics. Here, you’ll have many opportunities to see seals, wild reindeer, and exotic birds with your own two eyes. You can also drive a snowmobile and learn more about the unique geographical features – volcanoes and glaciers – of the region.

For flights to Iceland from Singapore, check out Finnair or KLM.

About the Author: Denise Li is a founder of Material World and a freelance writer-editor. Before that, she spent a few years in the Features section of CLEO and Cosmopolitan Singapore. She considers Chiang Mai her spiritual home and makes it a point to head there for a yearly pilgrimage. She’s also a fitness buff and enjoys training in MMA, and doing conditioning workouts. Follow her on Twitter @DeniseLiTweets and Instagram @smackeral83.

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Adventures, Lifestyle

3 Ways To Go On Vacation Without Leaving The Country – Vanessa Tai

Short of going for a full-fledged staycation, are there ways to declutter your mind and experience the benefits of a vacation? Yes, says Vanessa Tai. You just need a little ingénue. 

Living in Singapore can be highly stressful. That’s part and parcel of living in a densely-populated, highly competitive city like ours. In a 2013 poll conducted by the Health Promotion Board, one in four workers admitted to being “highly stressed”. While it would be dreamy to book a flight and go for a short getaway whenever the stress levels get too high, we all know that’s not always financially viable. The next best option would be a staycation but even that can be expensive, especially on weekends.

So how can you feel like you’re on holiday while still in Singapore?

material world_relax

Here are three suggestions:

1. Check out obscure cafes or attractions in the suburbs

A few days before your “vacation”, post a status update on Facebook asking your friends to recommend cool or lesser-known cafes in their neighbourhood. Apart from the usual hipster districts like Tiong Bahru or Ann Siang Hill, there are actually plenty of hidden gems dotted all around the island. For example, Denise and her fiance once managed to entertain themselves for an entire weekend in the unassuming Jalan Besar neighbourhood!

2. Go for a photography or hiking trail

This is one of the best ways to go off the beaten track. Because aspiring shutterbugs and trekkers alike are always on the lookout for new and exciting places to explore, you may just find yourself in previously undiscovered settings. Deborah, Lili, and I used to go for regular night hikes where we ventured into muggy forests, monsoon drains, abandoned railway tracks … all in the dead of the night! Check out Meetup.com to find likeminded individuals.

3. Have a picnic

Sounds simple, but when was the last time you actually packed a picnic basket and whiled away an entire afternoon? To make things a bit more fun, don’t cop out and just get takeaway fast food. Plan ahead and pack a basketful of fruit, bread, sandwich meats and of course, a good bottle of wine. From there, all you need is a picnic mat and an iPod full of your favourite tunes, and you’re set. To avoid the crowds that tend to throng the beach or places like Marina Barrage on weekends, see if you can take a weekday afternoon off. Then, simply enjoy that brief but sweet respite.

Do you have any other suggestions on how to temporarily escape the madness of the rat race? Tell me in the Comments section below!

About The Author: Vanessa Tai is a founder of Material World who has previously worked on magazines Simply Her and Cosmopolitan Singapore. Now a freelance writer and a full-time contributor to this website, the 27-year-old dreams of attending every single major music festival before she turns 30. Follow her on Twitter @VannTaiTweets.

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Adventures, Entertainment, Lifestyle

The Happiest Place In Penang … – Tan Lili

… for cat lovers, that is.

So, the Material World team were in Penang, Malaysia, last week for Deborah’s epic wedding. It was six days and nights of (drunken) debauchery – but that’s a story never to be retold. What I can share is about the cafe I dub The Happiest Place in Penang.

A day before the wedding, Vanessa and I were aimlessly walking about Georgetown. I thought I’d seen it all when I was there with my best friend two years ago, but I fell in love with the culturally rich city all over again. Wall art is still wonderfully prevalent around Georgetown, with even more amazing works by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic exhibited at the disused Hin Company Bus Depot. Besides murals, this hidden gem also features artistically arranged old-school street items and discarded toys.

Vanessa does an impressive back bend.

Vanessa does an impressive back bend.

This time around, I also noticed many new “hipster” cafes around the city – and I use the word “hipster” very loosely, because the vibe these cafes give off is hardly pretentious but positively hip. One great cafe is The Twelve Cups along Beach Street. Their signature mille crepe cakes come in an assortment of yummy flavours, and they are served alongside adorable chocolate sauce art.

Check out the amount of effort that goes into each chocolate sauce art!

Check out the amount of effort that goes into each chocolate sauce art!

The next interesting place Vanessa and I stumbled across is a cafe along Muntri Street called Purrfect Cat Cafe (yep, it’s the aforementioned Happiest Place in Penang). Friends know how crazy I am over cats, so you can only imagine my sheer delight when we chanced upon the cafe.

After a moment of squealing and stumbling, we all but sprinted into Purrfect Cat Cafe, eager to play with the kitties. Opened in January this year, the ground floor is a retail store selling all kinds of cat paraphernalia, while the second floor is divided into two sections: a cafe, and the fun zone involving eight cats. I’ve been to a few cat cafes in Asia – Japan, Taiwan and, of course, Singapore – and I must say Purrfect Cat Cafe is my favourite one so far. You don’t have to pay a cover charge; you just have to order a drink and you are free to get cosy with the cats for however long you like!

Enjoy a cuppa at the cafe before entering the fun zone.

Enjoy a cuppa at the cafe before entering the fun zone.

As with most cat cafes, Purrfect Cat Cafe has certain house rules – no feeding and no carrying – and at least one staff member is always on hand to make sure the humans are obedient. The second Vanessa and I plonked ourselves down on the cushions, a couple of curious cats came towards us. Vanessa was immediately drawn towards the real-life Garfield, while I was particularly taken with this little fella, who kept trying to sniff at my face!

DAT FACE.

DAT FACE.

I can’t remember exactly how long we spent at the cat cafe, but it was one of the most relaxing moments of my life. Any worries I had before seemed to dissipate when I stepped into the fun zone; what was left was a state of peace, quiet and unadulterated joy. Vanessa, a dog lover, was also blissed out from the company of cats (“I want to curl up and take an afternoon nap with Garfield,” she sighed in lazy contentment).

Vanessa and Garfield.

Vanessa and Garfield.

If you adore cats or animals in general, be sure to check out Purrfect Cat Cafe at 53 Jalan Muntri, Georgetown, Penang. You’ll leave the cafe feeling incredibly light-hearted, for sure!

About The Author: A founder of Material World, Tan Lili has previously worked in magazines The Singapore Women’s Weekly and Cosmopolitan Singapore, as well as herworld.com (now herworldplus.com, the online counterpart of Her World). She is now a freelance writer who works on this website full-time. Lili hopes to travel the world, work with wild animals, and discover more awesome Twilight fan-fiction. Follow her on Twitter @TanLiliTweets.

[If you like this story, you will like]

1. 10 Must-Follow Instagram Accounts For Cat Lovers
2. 20 Reminders Of Why Life Is Beautiful
3. Incredibly Deep Life Lessons From Cats

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Adventures, Gadgets & Toys, Lifestyle, Vacations & Staycations

[Press Trip] Best Cars For COE’s New Category A – Deborah Tan

Beginning February 2014, the definition of what makes a Category A car will change slightly. While the qualifying engine capacity will still remain at 1,600 cc, the engine power should not exceed 130 brake horsepower (bhp). This means that cars such as the Mazda RX 8, the Lotus Elise and the Mini Cooper S will qualify under Category B. Under Volkswagen, cars such as the Tiguan, the Touran Sport, the Polo 1.4 will also no longer qualify under Category A.

Now, how this will affect the prices of COE, it’s still too early to tell. But if you are thinking of buying a car later this year and are now worried if this new way of car-categorisation will affect the type of car you can afford, the folks of Volkswagen want you to know you won’t have to settle for “weak” cars with no power.

Over the weekend, Volkswagen invited some 16 journalists for a roadtrip to Kuantan, on the east coast of Malaysia. Using only Category A cars, we were invited to put these cars to the test. And boy did we pushed them to the limits!

Thanks to superb planning, the route we were to take had been meticulously plotted out and printed into a handy guidebook. We were to cover the drive up to Kuantan in 3 legs, each leg using a different Volkswagen car, and the drive back in 2 legs, again using a different VW car for each.

The Volkswagen Cat A Cars we took for this road-trip

The Volkswagen Cat A Cars we took for this road-trip

Which Volkswagen cars are “Cat A”?
You might think only toy cars would qualify under Category A. Well, at Volkswagen, a surprisingly long list of cars will fit the bill. From the Polo 1.2 TSI to the Passat 1.4 TSI, you will be spoilt for choice – just like I was. There are even 4 Golfs that will qualify under Cat A!

Photobomb Credit: Dionne from Volkswagen

Photobomb Credit: Dionne from Volkswagen

Leg 1: The CrossPolo 1.2 TSI (From Singapore to Yong Peng)
My driving partner, Jane Ngiam of Singapore Tatler, drove this leg and we headed to Yong Peng for breakfast. Although most of this leg took place on the highway, the CrossPolo – with its bhp of 105 – cruised along comfortably and capably. There was enough power to overtake and speed up when we needed to. The entire ride – from a passenger’s perspective – was comfortable.

Leg 2: The Passat 1.4 TSI (From Yong Peng to Mersing)
My turn to take the wheel and this time we picked the Passat (122bhp). Each leg had been rated according to difficulty and this one was a 5/5. It did not take me too long to see why. The narrow road was winding and filled with many sharp turns. Although I was going pretty fast, the male journalists in the other cars zoomed past me at even higher speeds! But I was glad that we took the Passat because on a bumpy, pot-hole filled road like this, the inside remained extremely silent. The car was stable and reassuring to drive. Jane fell asleep and didn’t even wake up when I was driving over a bumpy stretch! Over the 160km to Mersing, it certainly didn’t feel like the Passat was unable to take the strain of the journey.

Leg 3: The Golf 1.2 TSI (From Mersing to Kuantan)
After lunch, we swapped cars again. This time, we took the Golf 1.2 TSI (105bhp). A short ride compared to Leg 2, we simply had to find our way to Hyatt Regency Kuantan. I’ve test-driven the Golf several times, and it is THE car I tell all my friends they have to own at least once in their driving life. The drive into Kuantan was seamless and smooth. Jane commented she liked how the car seemed very responsive and its pick-up, very good.

With my favourite ride of the trip - the Volkswagen Jetta!

With my favourite ride of the trip – the Volkswagen Jetta!

The next day … Leg 4: The Jetta 1.4 TSI (Kuantan to Mersing)
I really wanted to try driving another sedan – since it is a popular car type for families – so I made a beeline for the Jetta (122bhp). Although this leg was rated a 3/5 in terms of difficulty, I think I had the most fun here. In the Jetta, overtaking was a breeze! To be honest, I had more fun driving it than I had with the Passat. The Jetta had it in her to behave like one of those annoying runners who just keep pace behind you and then unexpectedly speed up to overtake you. Whenever I pushed down hard on the accelerator, the engine roared to life in a joyful, rather than resentful, way! I took the car sometimes to a speed of 160km/h and the Jetta gamely zoomed on.

Leg 5: The Golf 1.4 TSI (Mersing to Singapore)
There wasn’t really another car we wanted to drive for the leg back so we took the Golf 1.4 TSI (122bhp). You know what? Thank god we did! This leg, rated 4/5 for difficulty, took us through the undulating terrain of a plantation! Jane took the wheel and tore through the countryside with all the “garang-ness” she could muster. Was it a heart-stopping drive? You bet! But the Golf was energetic and agile, and its suspension held up so well I actually managed to sneak in a 10-minute snooze!

This road-trip up to Kuantan proved that Volkswagen’s new line-up of Cat A cars have what it takes to give a driver speed, response and power. These cars happily zoomed down the highway, overtaking cars and trucks without so much as a shudder. On roads with rougher terrains, the cars’ suspension held up to the test and provided a very comfortable ride. One male journalist even took the Passat up to 205km/h!

So if you are worrying about what kind of options you’ll have when the new COE categorisation kicks into place, you can now set your mind at ease if you are thinking of getting a Volkswagen. For the Beetle fans, YES, the Beetle 1.2 TSI is also in the Cat A line-up. And over the course of the next few months, Volkswagen will also be introducing the Golf Cabriolet 1.4 TSI and the Touran 1.6 TDI so you can still have all the luxe touches without having to pay more in COE.

Roses among the thorns. Jane (from Tatler) and myself were the only 2 girls on this trip!

Roses among the thorns. Dionne (from Volkswagen; far right), Jane (from Tatler; in front) and myself were the only girls on this trip. So you can imagine how stressed it was trying to keep up with the manic speeds these men were driving at!!!

This road-trip to Kuantan was organised by Volkswagen Singapore. Material World was invited along on this trip to test-drive the cars in VW’s new Category A line-up and was not compensated in any way for this review. You may read our advertising policy here.

About The Author: Deborah Tan is a founder of Material World. After 10 years of working in magazines Cleo and Cosmopolitan Singapore, she is now a freelance writer/editor who works on this website full-time. She likes liquid eyeliners, bright red lipsticks, tattoos, rock & roll, Mad Men, and Suits. She is now planning to do a road-trip to Penang soon! Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweet.

This is not the end …
1. Test Drive: Volkswagen Golf 7
2. Test Drive: Volkswagen Sharan 2.0 TDI
3. [Material Moms] Car Review: Volkswagen Touareg R-Line 3.0 TDI

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Adventures, Arts & Events, Lifestyle

Keeping The Spirit Of Giving Alive! – Deborah Tan

One of the best things about going freelance is the fact that we can be a bit more creative with the ways we use our time. [Read: Why giving your time away will make you happier!] Now, I don’t mean sitting at home in our PJs, doing a Game Of Thrones marathon. I don’t mean going shopping and then working into the wee hours of the night. What I mean is that on quieter afternoons, we can now – as masters of our own time – dedicate ourselves to community work. It also means we don’t have to get permission to take the day off to help out with charity food deliveries or fill in lots and lots of forms just to mobilize the entire team to do something meaningful and spontaneous.

Us helping to collect canned food and water for survivors of Typhoon Haiyan

Us helping to collect canned food and water for survivors of Typhoon Haiyan

We’ve helped Emily from Blessings In A Bag deliver food to the participants of one of the programmes she runs, we’ve raised funds by training and each completing a half-marathon at Great Eastern Women’s Run, we’ve rounded up canned food and water for the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan, we’ve volunteered our time at The Body Shop’s atrium event at JEM to help sell their Christmas sets, which will go towards efforts to build five schools around the world …

It’s been an awesome year of giving and our year has been better because we have had the chance to chip in.

Denise tries her hand at sales at The Body Shop's Christmas event at JEM

Denise tries her hand at sales at The Body Shop’s Christmas event at JEM

We don’t have large sums of money to pledge to these worthy causes but us at Material World believe that we can still make a difference giving our time and using our muscles.

A week before Christmas, we signed up with the Boys’ Brigade to help deliver food hampers to those in need. (Founder Lili was recovering from a back injury so she was unable to join us for this but she assured us she was there with us in spirit!)

Determined to make every bit of time and effort count, I approached Volkswagen to see if they’d lend me a huge car for this. They lent me the Touareg R-Line 3.0 TDI. (For a more detailed review of the car, check out Material Mom Deborah Giam’s article)

After a speedy lunch at Zion Road Hawker Centre, we drove up to the driveway of the Boys’ Brigade HQ at Ganges Avenue. We were initially given 11 hampers to deliver but told the organiser that we could easily fit more into the car and, into our schedule.

11 hampers in with room for more!

11 hampers in with room for more!

The Boys' Brigade helping us load up

The Boys’ Brigade helping us load up

For the first time in my life, I felt ... PETITE!

For the first time in my life, I felt … PETITE!

In the end, guess how many hampers our Touareg could fit?

22!

I'm just glad I'm the one with the driver's license. Vanessa ... hahaha ...

I’m just glad I’m the one with the driver’s license. Vanessa … hahaha …

We were assigned to the Boon Lay area. Although we started out on a buoyant note, we soon realised – with a bit of dismay – many of the recipients were not at home. We answered the call for volunteers on a weekday because that’s when help is most difficult to find but, as it had turned out, many of the recipients were away at work and did not know we were coming.

Tip: If you're helping out, find a trolley!

Tip: If you’re helping out, find a trolley!

Out of the 22 hampers, we successfully delivered only 4. Many of the recipients said they would have appreciated a call from the Boys’ Brigade a day ahead of time.

It may seem like we had wasted our time and effort for nothing, but I beg to differ. If anything, I think it highlights how every bit of effort matters. The Boys’ Brigade needed not just volunteer drivers to deliver the hampers, they probably needed people to help call up the recipients, organise the delivery times and with the paperwork.

A brief conversation with the organiser after revealed that they still have some 10,000 hampers waiting to be delivered. Deliveries will continue all the way till the end of the year. To volunteer your time and petrol, click on this link now to find out more about the slots available.

Always happy to help!

Always happy to help!

Christmas may be over but you can keep the spirit of giving well and alive by being generous with your time and muscles. Round up a couple of friends and, instead of spending the day at a shopping mall, do something meaningful like help deliver food hampers instead. I know many of us are hesitant about donating money to fundraisers these days, so why not make it count more by chipping in your sweat and presence? Make it your resolution for 2014 to use your time more wisely. Remember this wise advise: what you give to the world, you’ll get it back tenfolds. So give what you can, when you can, and with all you can!

About The Author: Deborah Tan is a founder of Material World. After 10 years of working in magazines Cleo and Cosmopolitan Singapore, she is now a freelance writer/editor who works on this website full-time. She likes liquid eyeliners, bright red lipsticks, tattoos, rock & roll, Mad Men, Suits, and is looking forward to 2014 with lots of anticipation! Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.

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Adventures, Entertainment, Infographics, Lifestyle

[Infographic] Asia’s Creepiest Places, Revealed – Deborah Tan

Premiering this Friday at 10pm on the National Geographic Channel is a new series about some of Asia’s most haunted places. More than just another ghost-busting series, host Robert Joe will attempt to seek out the deeper, more historically-meaningful stories behind each location. This season, he will be visiting places such as the Tak Tat School in Hong Kong, where something so bad happened, it was erased from official records. He will also uncover locations that bear tragic stories of family members killing each other and people voluntarily jumping to their deaths to avoid capture by enemy troops during the Second World War.

Amazed by his guts, we simply had to interview him about his time doing the show:

Did you personally have any creepy encounter while filming the series? Where, and what did you see?
“I think we managed to cover a pretty comprehensive list of creepy places across Asia. But as far as sheer creep factor goes, the first investigation of the Tat Tak School was probably the most harrowing for me. It was the first day of shooting, we went just as the sun set, and we kept coming across a lot of unexplainable things.  Later on in the investigation, we figured out what all the odd out-of-place things were, but during the excitement of the search it was quite a rush.”

Do you think the presence of so many people and camera equipment “prevented” the ghosts from making an appearance?
Well, I’m not sure how camera-shy ghosts are but our focus really was on investigating tangible things, the story behind the story. When we explore a space, we’re looking for clues as to what the space was used for, what kind of people passed through, and the social significance of the legends or folklore that people spread about it. Then we combine it with research online and interviews with local experts, historians and witnesses to find out what real stories might have influenced the ghost stories.

Of all the places you covered for the show, which one left the deepest impression and which one would you REALLY not ever go in there again?
There were some caves in Okinawa that we went in towards the end of our investigation there. Some of the human remains we uncovered were disturbingly small, including teeth that obviously belonged to children. That sticks with you.

Did the crew or yourself follow any religious or traditional practices before venturing into a place to prevent any “unlucky” things from happening to you?
Actually, yes, we would often burn incense or joss-sticks and paper effigies before entering areas that were culturally sensitive as a nod of respect to the traditional rites appropriate for the area or location we were shooting in. Not so much to prevent unlucky things as much as we felt it was just the right thing to do.

Check out our infographic below for some chilling episode synopses and pictures!

Infographic is copyright of Material World.  Photo credit: National Geographic Channel Asia

Infographic is copyright of Material World.
Photo credit: National Geographic Channel Asia

About The Author: Deborah Tan is a founder of Material World. After 10 years of working in magazines Cleo and Cosmopolitan Singapore, she is now a freelance writer/editor who works on this website full-time. She likes liquid eyeliners, bright red lipsticks, tattoos, rock & roll, Mad Men, Suits, and is still pretty creeped out by The Conjuring. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.

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Adventures, Guest Writers, Lifestyle, Vacations & Staycations

[Guest Star] The Hitchhiker’s Guide To Earth – Juan Caldaroni and Daniela Elias

Juan Caldaroni, 26, and Daniela Elias, 24, broke their regular routines in 2008 to follow their dream: to travel the world. Born in Argentina, they are now world citizens and plan to explore every corner of the Asian continent in the most genuine and challenging way: hitchhiking.

One couple. 1641 days on the road. 24 countries visited (and counting), all with one goal: to show that hospitality exist in every country of the world. How? By crossing Asia from Philippines to Turkey overland, hitchhiking, camping and staying in the houses of hospitable locals along the way. This is the story of two young and energetic Argentinian travelers that left their comfort zones to see their dreams come true.

Juan and Daniela in Northland, New Zealand

Juan and Daniela in Northland, New Zealand

After graduating in tourism, back in 2008, we still remember the words of our lecturer: “If you want to travel the world, do not study tourism. Choose another career like law or engineering that will give you more money and longer holidays”. Well, we decided to break the rules. Our dream was to backpack around the world. I guess you could said we enrolled in our own version of “Tourism University”. In January 2009, we finally heeded the call that told us, “Fasten your seatbelts, your adventure is about to start …”

Change of Plans

Not even an encounter with a puking pig would put Juan and Daniela off hitchhiking!

Not even an encounter with a puking pig would put Juan and Daniela off hitchhiking!

The initial plan was to go to New Zealand for three months to study English, but traveling is an addiction (the healthiest one!) and once we started, we couldn’t stop. 1641 days have passed since then, and we are still on the road. After more than four years of travelling, we have already visited 24 countries. We camped with the nomads under the stars in Mongolia, learned how to eat with chopsticks in China, discovered remote towns in the Australian outback, coexisted with a constant diarrhoea while in India, and shared a ride with a vomiting pig while hitchhiking in Philippines. But above all, we learned to believe in ourselves and follow our dreams.

Perhaps one of the most rewarding experiences we’ve had to date was traveling to Iran in 2010. Despite how it has been portrayed in the media, we found that this this enigmatic country had the most hospitable people of all our travels and decided that we wanted to share our experience. It took us two years, but  we finally launched our travel blog, Marcando el Polo (in Spanish), where we write about our travels and help other travelers plan their own.

Seeing the World In a Different Light 

In the Phillippines

In the Phillippines

For us, traveling is more than crossing countries off the bucket list. Traveling involves discovering more than monuments and tourist attractions. What we were most interested in are the people and their culture. For us, a fascinating, deep conversation with a local is more rewarding than beautiful scenery or an ancient site. That is why, last January, we launched a project called “Without Borders”, where we plan to travel from the Philippines to Turkey, going across Asia overland, hitchhiking and being hosted by locals in every country.

Why do we travel this way? The aim of this project is to put an end to prejudices about many of the countries that we would be visiting in Without Borders. These countries include Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and other central Asian countries. We want to show that hospitality exists on every country of the world and that people from these countries suffer because of the negative image painted of them by sensationalist media.

Currently we are in Melaka, Malaysia. We have travelled 11.000 kilometers in 222 different vehicles since we started with this project last January. Except for ferries, all the trips have been done by  hitchhiking. Oh yes, we know what you are thinking right now… is it safe? Or are you guys on a suicide mission?  Now that we’ve done a fair bit of hitchhiking, we can say that hitchhiking can be even safer, faster and without any doubt, much more enjoyable that taking public transportation. But let’s be frank: hitchhiking is not for everyone. Sometimes, you’ll find yourself waiting for hours at the side of the road under the blistering sun, and that can be immensely frustrating. But when a beat-up old truck finally stops for you, and you get the precious ride you’re after, you will experience the what we call a “backpacker’s orgasm”! So far, in 222 vehicles (and that’s just the number of rides we’ve taken this year!), we felt a lot safer than taking bus rides. When we were taking buses (especially overnight buses), we always had to be on the lookout for our belongings. We were almost robbed more than once on buses!

I bet the second question you’re asking right now is, “Are you guys multimillionaires or is Oprah Winfrey paying for all your expenses?” The answer is none of the above. We are committed to the goal of this project, so money wasn’t too much of an issue. We have done seasonal jobs in Australia and New Zealand (from cleaning mussels to managing a resort) to support ourselves. And, we also write travel articles for  publications. But our favourite way to earn some cash is to sell handmade postcards of our pictures in public squares and touristy spots along the way! (Note from Material World: That was how we found ourselves acquainted with Juan and Daniela. They were selling beautiful postcards of pictures they had taken on their travels the weekend MW visited Malacca)

Today, we are enjoying Malaysia. In a month? Who knows? Maybe Thailand, Burma … perhaps we’ll linger awhile longer in Malaysia mulling over our next move over a teh tarik with a friendly local, and you know what? That’s the best part about our lives now, and the reason we wake up every day.Traveling is our passion, and a life full of it should be everyone’s goal!

Autostop en Malasia

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Adventures, Deborah Tan, Lifestyle, Opinions, Vacations & Staycations

The Future Of Local Lies In The Future Of Pulau Ubin – Deborah Tan

Speakers at "The Future Of Local"

Speakers at “The Future Of Local”

On the 23rd of May, 2013, I was invited to an event by Intercontinental Hotels & Resorts. “The Future Of Local” is part of a series of global events by Intercontinental Hotels & Resorts, in partnership with TED, to examine the unique and complex relationships between global brands, communities, and individuals. Fronted by 6 of the brightest minds in art, design, architecture, news, social media, and business, the evening presented a number of points to think about with regards to what it means to be “local” in an age where globalisation and the Internet bring ideas, identities and cultures together at an unprecedented pace.

It was thought-provoking and I really enjoyed listening to what all the speakers had had to say on the topic.

And today, the opportunity to think about the “future of local” in Singapore came to me in the form of a visit to Pulau Ubin.

Are the rustic charms of Pulau Ubin under threat?

Are the rustic charms of Pulau Ubin under threat?

On 12 March this year, a resident of the island – possibly Singapore’s last rustic neighbourhood – received a letter informing him to clear the land he is living on for the “development of an adventure park”. This, apparently, is a part of an ongoing public development project, which included a recreation park. Obviously, this sparked off some fears and anxiety among the island’s residents and fans of the place’s rustic, undeveloped charms.

In the latest report found online (by Channel NewsAsia on April 12, 2013), the authorities reiterated that there are no plans to evict the island’s residents or develop an adventure park. I hope, and I pray from the bottom of my heart, that this is true.

The Future Of Local In Singapore

The experience of Pulau Ubin begins on a bumboat!

The experience of Pulau Ubin begins on a bumboat!

One of the topics brought up at the “The Future Of Local” event was that of giving travellers an authentic experience in a locality. Simon Scoot, the Vice-President of Global Brands at Intercontinental Hotels & Resorts/Global Resorts, mentioned how whenever the group starts a hotel in a country, they always try to incorporate the area’s culture and traditions into the property so as to connect their guests with the local people and culture.

I feel that while it’s well and commendable that global hotel groups are continuously trying to “localise” their products while still adhering to their “international” standards, authenticity will eventually decide if they are successful in their attempts “to connect their guests to the local culture”.

Of course, as a traveller, we may not expect that of our hotels in the first place. After a day of exploring a city, perhaps all we want is to head back into the cool embrace of a five-star hotel where we can find the creature comforts we have come to expect as “natural” – a warm bed with clean sheets and a hot shower.

The role of the hotel concierge is the connecting link here. When guests ask for recommendations on where to go and what to eat, they must be able to point them to somewhere that’s authentic and not just another tourist trap. And in Singapore, where can a concierge point his guests to?

Unlike the sterile MRT and cabs, every bumboat is different and unique.

Unlike the sterile MRT and cabs, every bumboat is different and unique. Notice the one on the left has flower pots on its roof.

Pulau Ubin: Singapore’s ONLY Real Adventure Park

If you are reading this article from another country, and you are planning to visit Singapore, I would strongly recommend that you schedule a day to visit Pulau Ubin. Sure, go to Sentosa. Go check out Universal Studios and take a ride on the Battlestar Galactica. Go indulge in the convenience, the safety, and the cleanliness a developed tourist attraction provides. Go to the Marina Bay area and take in the manicured lawns at Gardens By The Bay. But plan for a day out to Pulau Ubin. Why? It’s Singapore’s ONLY REAL adventure park.

Your experience will begin at the Changi Point Ferry Terminal where you take a bumboat to the island. For just $2.50 a head, the diesel-reeked journey is a world apart from the clean monorail that takes you into Sentosa, and certainly an experience to remember.

Comfort Bicycle Rentals - it's the shop closest to the island taxi shelter

Comfort Bicycle Rentals – it’s the shop closest to the island taxi shelter

Once you get to the island, the best way to explore it is on a bicycle. Bike rental shops lined the street just by the pier. All of them rent out bicycles at reasonably cheap prices. You can rent a 21-speed mountain bike for a full day for as low as $10. The shop I went to – Comfort Bicycle Rentals – is manned by a friendly teenager Lek, who recently set up a Facebook Page for his family’s bike shop. The creative teenager is also hoping to use this Facebook Page to raise awareness and support to keep the island just the way it is. His passion and love for the island is inspiring and the five-minute conversation I shared with him counts as one of my favourite memories of Ubin.

A Rollercoaster Has NOTHING On The Trails Here

As a Singaporean, I have to say this. One of the reasons why we struggle at designing a “national costume” for our Miss Universe contestants is due to a lack of culture and soul, and the increasing loss of heritage here. From the tearing down of the old National Library to the planned demolishing of the old Methodist Girls’ School compound at Mount Sophia Road, we have precious little to remember our past by.

This is more charming than any multi-million dollar "architectural work of art"

This is more charming than any multi-million dollar “architectural work of art”

Sure, gleaming buildings like the Esplanade and the Marina Bay Sands have come to be recognisable landmarks, but what of the old, decrepit shophouses and kitschy buildings that gave Singapore its real “uniquely Singapore” flavour? Sentosa, in my opinion, has become collateral damage in our country’s quest to be a tourist-friendly city. Before RWS, before Sentosa Cove, Sentosa was a charming albeit slightly touristy island. It didn’t always have this “playground for the super-rich” vibe to it. These days, you can’t get around the island without a car.

The taxis on Ubin are in a class of their own

The taxis on Ubin are in a class of their own

Over at Pulau Ubin, you could rent a taxi (a small van, actually) to take you around but only groups with elderly and small children do that. There are many trails and these lead into the forest, up some pretty steep slopes, and down some exciting ones too. The sights are beautiful and natural. You’ll ride past houses constructed from wood, past families of wild boars, past stray dogs … when I go to Sentosa these days, I don’t go back until a year later because I feel I’ve seen it all. With Pulau Ubin, I could go back every week and still discover something I didn’t see the last time.

With non-development comes an organic experience that changes EACH TIME you go to a certain area. THAT is something no rollercoaster, no 4D movie theatre, no multi-million dollar shopping complex can give you.

The Future Of Pulau Ubin Is Important To Singapore

The planners of Singapore need to learn one thing: TO LEAVE THINGS ALONE.

Tracks of undeveloped forests along Clementi Road and Holland Road are constantly being cut down to build condos and schools. You think we don’t notice them going but WE DO.

If you're determined to find adventure, you can find it anywhere

If you’re determined to find adventure, you can find it anywhere

Old blocks of flats and shophouses in “un-commercial” areas are being marked for “development”. Is tearing them down the ONLY WAY to deal with them? Tiong Bahru is a great example of how the old can evolve into something relevant while hanging on to a big dose of history.

With regards to Pulau Ubin, I feel the best way to deal with it is to LEAVE IT ALONE. There is no need to build a fancy resort for adventurers like us to stay overnight on the island; Changi Village Hotel back on the mainland is close enough. There is no need for an adventure park; adventure happens in the heart, and those intent on finding it will see it in even in the simplest of bike trails. There is no need for an air-conditioned visitor centre with trinkets to buy; the memories of our interaction with the residents are souvenirs no money can buy.

In the wise words of the mum of a friend, “Preserving Ubin would probably attract more visitors than building (an) amusement park there. Amusement parks are everywhere.”

SLA, LTA, MND, STB … if you want your tourists to really remember Singapore, it’s time to pick out pockets in this country that you should leave unturned. No gimmicks, no international brands … just good ol’ memories.

You can help Lek with his project to save Pulau Ubin by liking his bike shop’s Facebook Page here. He says to share photos of the island on this page as much as you can … the sights, the people, the animals, etc. He hopes that if the government can see how supportive we all are of the Pulau Ubin now, they will change their minds to develop it.

Undeveloped sights like this are PRICELESS. Help Lek save them.

Undeveloped sights like this are PRICELESS. Help Lek save them.

About The Author: Deborah Tan is a founder of Material World. After 10 years of working in magazines Cleo and Cosmopolitan Singapore, she is now a freelance writer/editor who works on this website full-time. She likes liquid eyeliners, bright red lipsticks, tattoos, rock & roll, Mad Men, Suits, and her heart still breaks every time she goes to Sentosa. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.

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Adventures, Entertainment, Lifestyle

Who’s Up For A 4D Adventure? – Tan Lili

One thing about the founders of Material World: we work hard, and we make sure we play hard too. So when Sentosa gave us the opportunity to experience their latest adventure, Vanessa and I jumped at it.

Sentosa 4D AdventureLand has launched a new four-dimensional (4D) experience – Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. Featuring snippets of the 2012 Hollywood movie of the same name, it stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Sir Michael Caine, Luis Guzman, Josh Hutcherson and Vanessa Hudgens. 

Sentosa 4D AdventureLand_Journey 2_landscape banner

A clever mix of cast, if you ask me – it’d appeal to some WWE fanboys, The Hunger Games fangirls, Christopher Nolan fans, and boys who aren’t of legal age to watch Spring Breakers.

Did we enjoy it? You bet! The 4D elements were well-executed, with plenty of shocks – one, in particular, made Vanessa and me jump out of our seats! The water spray, however, could be stronger. It felt a tad anticlimactic when the gigantic splash in the movie translated to a few drops of water trickling down our legs.

The interactive facility also houses two other attractions: Extreme Log Ride and Desperados. I’ve experienced the former a couple of times before, while it would be Vanessa’s first time trying out both. Extreme Log Ride, a 4-D motion-simulated ride in which you follow the harrowing journey of a log as it gets transported in a cart through a very noisy cave and plunges over waterfalls, is our favourite of the three. Essentially a virtual rollercoaster ride, it elicited squeals and screams from the audience – though I was, for the most part, highly amused at Vanessa’s non-stop exclamations of shock and despair throughout the ride.

Unless you’ve been dying to fulfil your cowboy fantasies of chasing and shooting villains while riding a horse, I reckon Desperados would be best enjoyed by the kids. The first 4-D interactive shoot-out game in Singapore, you get to mount a motion-based saddle seat – which may startle when it first moves – and fire using a motion-sensor pistol. After 15 seconds, Vanessa and I weren’t sure exactly whom we were supposed to shoot, and our fingers felt a little numb from the aimless shooting.

All in all, I had fun. Each of the three attractions at the Sentosa 4D AdventureLand is definitely worth experiencing once. But for the short duration of each ride, the admission cost of $38.90/adult (unlimited entries on day of visit) is a little steep – considering you probably wouldn’t go on the same ride twice. 

Sentosa 4D Adventureland is situated near the Singapore Cable Car Station at Imbiah Lookout, Sentosa. The one-day Adventure Pass (for all three 4D experiences; unlimited entries on day of visit) costs $38.90/adult and $26.90/child (3 to 12 years old; free entry for children below 3). Sentosa Island admission and transport charges apply.

The author was invited to the unveiling of Sentosa 4D AdventureLand. All opinions are her own.

About The Author: A founder of Material World, Tan Lili has previously worked in magazines The Singapore Women’s Weekly and Cosmopolitan Singapore, as well as herworld.com (now herworldplus.com, the online counterpart of Her World). She is now a freelance writer who works on this website full-time. Lili hopes to travel the world, work with wild animals, and discover more awesome Twilight fan-fiction.

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Adventures, Lifestyle

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone Already! – Vanessa Tai

There are countless reasons why you should get out of your comfort zone. Through new experiences, you discover facets of yourself you may not even have known existed. And from there, your confidence grows. Moving out of your comfort zone doesn’t always have to be something major like moving to another country; it can even be as simple as taking up a new course, or as co-founder Debs and I did last week … trekking through the waters and forests of Old Holland Road.

To put things in perspective, Debs and I are city girls through and through. We are definitely way more comfortable navigating our way through a crowded Topshop sale than a forest overgrown with weeds. Our feet are accustomed to the reassuring hardiness of concrete, not the unpredictability of boggy marshlands. You get the drift.

However, last weekend, when fellow co-founder Lili was off on her own trek, we decided to go on our own (guided) adventure. Led by the affable Kid, a group of about 11 of us hiked our way from Teban Gardens to Sixth Avenue, going by the road less travelled of course. Starting from the now-deserted rails at Teban Gardens, we bashed through tall, prickly wild grass and waded through swampy sewage water to reach the famous railway bridge in Ulu Pandan. From there, we made our way across the rusty bridge (if you’re afraid of heights, this will be absolutely nightmarish) to reach the mother of all tunnels. As we sloshed through the drain water with our calves getting increasingly achy by the minute, we couldn’t help but wonder, “WTH are we doing here on a Saturday night?!”

Debs' expression is clearly one of, "Get me outta here!"

Debs’ expression is clearly one of, “Get me outta here!”

Well, at least we learned the importance of teamwork

Well, at least we learned the importance of teamwork.

But when we finally reached the end point, the feeling of elation and accomplishment overshadowed any tiredness we felt. We were filthy and smelly, but in absolutely high spirits. And that’s what you get when you force yourself out of your comfort zone. A renewed sense of purpose and vigour for life. So … what are you doing this weekend? 🙂

Mission accomplished!

Mission accomplished!

Note: If you’re keen on joining a trek led by Kid, there’s one going on this Sunday. Jane’s Walk, the first of its kind, will take you along the scenic Changi coastline, where you’ll get to view various historical sites, such as Changi Beach, where the infamous Sook Ching massacre was carried out.

About The Author: Vanessa Tai is a founder of Material World who has previously worked on magazines Simply Her and Cosmopolitan Singapore. Now a freelance writer and a full-time contributor to this website, the 26-year-old dreams of attending every single major music festival before she turns 30.

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