Character & Soul, Deborah Tan, Entrepreneurship, Money, Opinions, Self-Improvement

I’m Sorry! But I WANT TO WORK For My Money! – Deborah Tan

Deborah Tan does not agree with ads that promise you a 5-figure salary while working from home selling “nothing”.

Busy as a bee but happy!

Busy as a bee but happy!

I’m sure you’ve seen the ads on Facebook. Ads that go, and I quote them verbatim: “Ever thought it is possible you can make money online without selling anything?”; “Learn how a struggling Singaporean employee makes $20k/month from home in his spare time”; and, “Thousands of people are quitting their jobs and joining our popular online work program.”

Were you tempted to find out more? At the very least, I’m sure you went, “What?!? For real?” For me, after the curiosity, I just went, “Sorry. Not for me.”

Perhaps, in 10 years’ time, all the people who have signed up to these programs would look at me and laugh at me for being a cynical fool. Perhaps, in 10 years’ time, I will still be slogging my ass off working as a freelance writer. Perhaps, in 10 years’ time, I will be the poorest person in Singapore … but, I will not regret not signing up for these “courses”, “seminars” and “workshops”.


1. If it sounds too good to be true …
… it probably is.  Out of curiosity, I clicked on one of these Facebook ads just to check out their website to see if I can find more information about these programs. I was brought to a page asking me to enter my email address. No. Just no. You see, if I wanted to sign up for an MBA program, the school’s website will tell me details about the coursework, tell me what I can expect, etc. But this website doesn’t want to tell me anything until I give them my contact detail. Are you selling my email address? Are you just another layer in a massive multilevel marketing scheme in the business of collecting email addresses? WHAT ARE YOU? WHY DON’T YOU WANT TO TELL ME MORE UPFRONT?

2. There is no shame in work
What I hate most about these ads is this picture they paint: that you can just do jack-shit, just click on your mouse all day long … and wait for money to roll in. If you set up a hawker stall and sell prawn mee, you know that $5 you earn comes from something tangible. If you set up an ecommerce website selling headphones, you know what exactly is earning you a living. For me, my product is Material World, a content agency and a website. Every piece of writing I put out for my clients, I know how I’m being paid. I am proud of my work and I really don’t agree with this whole “sell nothing, do very little” way of making money.

3. There is an inherent integrity problem
A few days ago, a friend posted up on Facebook how his picture has been used by one of these work-from-home programs for its Facebook ad. The picture of him standing next to a car is a great image of a young Singaporean who has achieved the trappings of success. Hey! But guess what? He didn’t sign up for this program. They had simply pluck his picture from somewhere and used it without his permission! This incident further cemented my belief that there is more than meets the eye here. If people are really becoming rich beyond their wildest dreams with your program, why don’t you just use their photos and stories instead?

I know that in order to be a successful businessperson, I have to find a business model that’ll eventually allow me to make passive income, something that will keep earning me money even if I go on a holiday or when I’m asleep. But I want to be able to grow my business using a product I have built, that will add ACTUAL VALUE to other people’s lives. Just blindly signing up for a program takes away that pride, that ownership that make up the core of entrepreneurship!

If you have no choice but to work from home, if you have no choice but to really consider one of these programs, I urge you to do your homework. It shouldn’t have to demand for an upfront payment of a large sum of money. It shouldn’t demand a percentage of your earnings to be channeled up towards your “supervisor” or “mentor”. You should be able to see if the business allows you to be different and unique from the 678 other people who have also signed up to do it – and we don’t mean just by changing the name of your company.

Like I’ve said before … call me a fool, call me stubborn, call me stupid … but I really rather become rich by working hard, really hard.

I want to get my hands dirty.

I want to get my hands dirty.

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 doesn’t respect anyone whose wealth came to them easy. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.


Deborah Tan, Opinions

This Is Way Better Than The Knee Defender – Deborah Tan

News about two warring passengers on United Airlines have brought a nifty gadget into the limelight – The Knee Defender. However, Deborah Tan would like to advocate the use of something else. This, you can use not just on planes, you can also use on buses and trains.

How far back is TOO far back?!?!

How far back is TOO far back?!?!

At the office yesterday, Vanessa (or was it Lili?) shared a news about how a scuffle broke out between two passengers on a United Airlines domestic flight because one of them used a gadget called The Knee Defender to prevent the other from reclining her seat.

My first comment after hearing the news was, “Wow! Where can I buy this gadget?”

Vanessa’s eyes opened wide in shock. “You mean you will stop the person in front of you from reclining his chair?!?”

“Yeah, why not? On budget airlines, the legroom is already so tiny! PLUS, if it’s a short flight, will it kill someone to sit up straight?”

Woah! Back track just a little there. Yes, UA is not a budget airline. Yes, the two passengers in the news had actually paid for seats with more legroom. Yes, articles about the incident seem to suggest that the man (who used the Knee Defender) reclined his own seat even as he prevented the woman from doing so.

But allow me explain myself …

The Uncomfortable Territory Called “自动”
“自动” is Mandarin for “automatic”. It is pronounced “jee-dong” in Cantonese, “tzi-dong” in Hokkien. Colloquially, when someone says, “Be tzi-dong”, he means that you should read the situation and take the initiative to not get yourself or other people in trouble.

It is more than just self-awareness; being “tzi-dong” means taking the self-awareness one step further – you act on it and stay out of the way or do what is needed of you.

Why did I say I need the Knee Defender? Well, it’s precisely because a lot of people are not “tzi-dong”. And this incident on UA highlights the fine line between knowing your rights and being “tzi-dong”.

The Knee Defender

The Knee Defender

Do Unto Others
There’s a saying that goes, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It means treat people the same way you want to be treated.

In the comments that come after the reports on this incident, many people say, “It’s the woman’s right to recline her seat. If the man wanted more legroom, he should have flown First Class.”

We don’t know just how far back the woman reclined her seat. Nor do we know how tall/annoying/ridiculous the man was.

In the ideal world, if both the passengers were “tzi-dong”, the woman might have reclined her seat back only slightly and the man might graciously removed the Knee Defender when asked.

When I said I wanted to buy the Knee Defender, it’s because my being “tzi-dong” and not reclining my seat in a tiny budget airplane does not serve me well if the passenger seated in front of me is unaware that I’m making an effort to be considerate towards the person seated behind me.

This UA incident also highlights the difference between what is perceived as “I paid for this right” and “Everyone has the right”. As passengers we have paid for the right to recline our seat. But everyone has the right to be comfortable and to be accorded some consideration. When you recline your seat, do you ever stop to think, “Am I being an ass to the person behind me?”

Expecting Others To Be “Tzi-Dong”
Other people have also commented how the man in the incident was being self-righteous. He may or may not have behaved like a schmuck but herein lies the difficulty in expecting others to be “tzi-dong”. Usually, the ones who are hoping that other people would be “tzi-dong” are labelled as “self-righteous”, told to “get off their high horses”.

I think this is why people these days don’t bother being considerate to others anymore. Despite numerous campaigns telling us to “move in”, to “give up your seat to those who need it more”, many people still find it possible to be asses on public transport. They remain where they are as if waiting for someone to tell them to be “tzi-dong” so that they can say, “Who are you to tell me what to do?”

This is perhaps why “shoot and shame” sites like Stomp are so popular. We don’t want to march up to someone to tell them, “Hey! Don’t shit outside the MRT station!” because we don’t want the offender to shout, “Do you think you are better than me!?”

That’s the thing: we don’t think we are better, but we just want people to do what is right so everyone will be happier and more comfortable! And there is nothing wrong with this!

So, while I won’t be advocating the use of the Knee Defender, just yet, I would like to remind everyone of this good ol’ Chinese term “自动” – to automatically know when to do what is right for the good and happiness of everyone, not just yours alone.

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 really hates it when people are “buay tzi-dong”. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.

Deborah Tan, Opinions

I’m Defending, Not Defensive. – Deborah Tan

The one thing that Deborah Tan hates most whenever she finds herself arguing or debating with a man is when he says this line to her. What is it?

“There’s no need to get defensive,” said the man sitting across of me at a lunch during a recent press trip. We had been arguing about parenthood and I had decided to defend my stance that many parents in Singapore end up fighting a losing battle against the stressful education system, and eventually sign their kids up for enrichment classes even though they had said they would never want their child to become a drone that never gets to play. He, on the other, said parents sign their kids up for enrichment simply because they want to show off how much they are doing for their kids.

Our debate went on for about 15 minutes. During this time, the atmosphere at our table of six got increasingly tense. But … I wasn’t about to let go until he got that I was offended that he had made an unfair statement about parents. As we defended our views, I noticed that my voice was getting louder and I was sounding more and more agitated. Despite these, I reminded myself to make sure I did not lose sight of my argument. Then came the straw that broke the camel’s back. My opponent said, “Look, I’m just sharing my observations on human behavior. I’m not attacking you. Don’t get so defensive.”

I flipped.

“I’m not being defensive,” I snapped back, making sure my words had a hard edge to them. “I just think we should never doubt the love parents have for their kids. As parents, it’s only natural to want to make sure your kids are not being shortchanged. Giving them what they need to keep up with their peers is NOT the same as SHOWING OFF.”

Without dwelling deeper into this incident, I just want to say today that there is an epidemic concerning the way men treat women whenever both find themselves in an argument.

Yes … men have no problems, no issues, no baggage…

The Fear Of Angry Women
If you are a woman reading this, you are probably familiar with these statements:

“Don’t get so emotional”

“You’re overreacting”

“You’re just being too sensitive!”

“Don’t get so defensive, it’s not always about you”

Men say they say these things because they need us to calm down and focus on the matter at hand in a level-headed manner.

I say men say these things to us because they can’t deal when we show our frustration, unhappiness, sadness, disappointment and anger. And I’m not alone in thinking this. Men think they are in control of their emotions and of the situation when they tell us to calm down. I have always found that a man who says these things in the midst of an argument is only trying to instil in the woman the idea that she is overreacting and therefore incapable of engaging in a debate logically.

It’s Not Us. It’s YOU 
“Gaslighting” is a term used to describe manipulative behavior employed to confuse someone into thinking she is overreacting and crazy. Gaslighting in emotionally abusive relationships would see one partner constantly feeding thoughts like, “You’re so stupid, only I would love you” into the other person’s mind.

In the same article I mentioned above, one of the consequences of gaslighting is that it turns some people emotionally mute. And it’s true. For many years, I was told I am overly emotional. At school and at work, whenever I tried to defend my stance on certain issues, I was told I’m someone who lets her emotions get the better of her.

To counter such “observations”, I decided to not be so vocal. Instead, if I wanted to get my points across, I would write letters and emails and sent them to whoever I had to “talk” to. Getting my points down in writing allowed me to read through them and “make sure” they were really “valid”. I even had to assume a fake identity of a “guy” on my hall of residence’s forum board so people would “see” the reason behind my arguments! The sad thing was, it worked. When I posted my opinions as a “guy”, people reacted more positively to my views.

But now, on hindsight, I realize I was just reacting to the gaslighting I had been subjected to for many years. My arguments are valid. I debate just as logically and just as reasonably as anyone – man or woman. The unfortunate thing of this all is that even today, if I really wanted to get my points about something across, I would send an email. If I wanted my husband to understand why it’s important to take the trash out every night, I would see better results emailing him than telling him.

It has to stop.

The Message Vs The Method
“Whatever it takes to get the message across, right?” you may say. The thing is, writing served me just fine until that lunchtime conversation happened. What if, one day, at a dinner party or over a casual gathering, someone engages you in an intense debate over a topic you feel strongly about? You can’t possibly go, “Let me mull over this and I’ll write you when I have my points sorted out.” More importantly, what if you meet someone who refuses to let you off the hook and wants to “settle” the argument there and then?

But what is the point of getting into a debate if people are going to dismiss you with, “Don’t be so defensive!”?

I refuse to follow or prescribe tips by public speaking coaches. For one, I don’t want to have to go down a pitch like how Margaret Thatcher was advised to do. I sound like I sound, thank you very much. Second, I WANT people to recognize that it’s OKAY to express emotions when you speak. If I want to sound agitated because I feel your argument is stupid, then yes, I WILL SOUND AGITATED. Third, I think men need to learn to listen even if they are uncomfortable with women defending their arguments passionately.

Yes, sticking to my guns here may not get my message across, but I think it is more important for us to stop working around the gaslighters in our lives. And the only way to get this movement started is to blaze on brightly and fiercely, and let your fire take them down.

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 promises to punch the next person who uses the line, “Don’t get so defensive” on her. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.

Career, Deborah Tan, Self-Improvement

Your Full-Time Job Is Not More Important Than My Freelance One – Deborah Tan

Recently, Deborah Tan took on an assignment that would only pay her if the publisher uses the materials. She has a (not so) few words to say about that.

I wish there is a nicer way to say this but I’m not known for mincing my words so I’m not even going to try.

About a month ago, I was approached by the editorial manager of a media company to “curate” their beauty section for them. The word “curate” itself raised a red flag in my head because I had known – once I saw it – that it meant “cheap, or free, labor in return for credits in a supposedly glamorous collaboration”. The manager said I would be paid $10 for every item they publish and I was asked to contribute 8 beauty products and services that I think would suit their super-luxury title.

When I sent across my stuff, I explained to aforementioned manager that while I had sourced from credible high-end beauty brands and services, admittedly some items fell short of her “at least $500” requirement. To me, as a beauty person, I felt it was more important to submit good beauty products than to just throw stuff in because they were ridiculously priced. I didn’t hear back from her and it was only after some persistent sms-ing did she finally acknowledge receipt of my work.

A week later, I emailed her asking to whom should I send my invoice. No response. When another email failed to elicit a response, I resorted to sms-ing her again only to be asked to approach her colleague who has taken over all matters relating to that title.

One more email to her and her colleague and this was what ensued:

A perfectly legit reaction to such an email response.

A perfectly legit reaction to such an email response.

1. It turned out that the manager had left the company. Wow. No goodbye email? No handover?

2. The team had decided not to use the stuff I recommended because they fell short of the new “at least $1,000” requirement that was instituted the day before my deadline and never told to me.

3. No apologies from company, new colleague or ex-manager regarding the shoddy communication and treatment towards a freelancer. In fact, her replacement had asked me to keep contributing so I may eventually get published in their magazine. Wow! THANKS FOR THIS WONDERFUL OPPORTUNITY!!!!! I’m so grateful for this graciousness!!!!!

The most I would get out of this “curation” is $80. It is an amount I’m happy to overlook because the “collaboration” involved a topic I am deeply passionate about (beauty). But here’s why this entire experience has further cemented my belief that no freelancer should EVER have to take on a job that pays “only if your work is published”.

Because A Full-Timer Would Be Paid Regardless
A full-timer gets paid for his time. He gets paid for the 8 hours of face-time he gives to his company. It doesn’t matter if he is underperforming, overachieving, committed or lazy, a paycheque is deposited into his bank account at a fixed time each month. A freelancer, on the other, gets paid for services rendered. In short, we sell articles, stories and services. We should get paid because the job has been commissioned and because time and effort were put into doing these jobs. If it ever fell short of your expectations, the first resort should be to ask us to redo it. The worst case scenario would be to negotiate a kill-fee (a percentage of the full fee).


We work hard for many reasons; “nothing” is not one of them.

Because It Forces Companies And Editors To Commission With More Consideration
The practice of paying a freelancer only if his work is used often leads to publications commissioning work without thought. Some editors hang on to the work for an indefinite amount of time, so the freelancer ends up not knowing when he will see the payment. Some editors end up not even using the work, meaning the freelancer has “worked for nothing”. If this practice is abolished, it may mean less work is floating around but it means more work would translate into actual payments.

Because Freelancers Are Not The Serfs Of The Publishing World
Many people write for free, contribute for credits, etc. But such arrangements should always be aboveboard and, if ever a freelancer accepts such collaborations, they should be accorded respect and dignity. If I submitted an article without solicitation, sure, feel free to trash my email. But, if this is work that YOU, the full-timer, have asked for, I think it is only courteous to (a) acknowledge you have received the piece and (b) tell me if you decide not to use it. We freelancers are running a business and every project we take on means another project has been “given up”. There is an opportunity cost involved and you need to recognize that what we are doing is giving you the GIFT of our TIME. Fine if you don’t want to pay for it but at least show some f___ing appreciation.

I realize this article may step on a couple of toes, and may be construed as a declaration that we will not be taking work from certain companies. However, the Material World team is confident that the work we produce is of high quality (ask our clients) and we always make it clear to our clients that they can request for us to redo each piece if they are not happy with our first submission.

I believe all freelancers, especially creative ones (because it can be so hard to ‘quantify’ our work sometimes), should band together and put forth a set of industry rules and regulations that we serve to our clients. This isn’t a cry for revolution. We just want to be treated fairly and with the respect we deserve for spending years honing our craft and for our commitment to producing good work for those who believe in us.

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 thanks her lucky stars that all her paying clients so far have been very professional and a joy to work with. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.

Deborah Tan, Opinions

The Fitness Story I’ve Been Afraid To Write – Deborah Tan

Do you feel guilty for not embracing fitness like a super athlete? Deborah Tan wants you to know that you are definitely not alone.

Why do some of us find it so hard to embrace fitness?

Why do some of us find it so hard to embrace fitness?

It’s Monday. The beginning of the week is often identified as the best time to get started on a fitness programme or a diet goal. However, I would like to talk about something that have been plaguing me for months, something that’s been eating away at my self-esteem and, to a certain degree, my health. Before I begin, however, I would like to clarify that what I am about to write is a personal response to what I am seeing and feeling, and in no way is it an attempt to diminish anybody’s efforts to get healthier or fitter.

I feel like a rebellious child talking about this: whenever people talk about fitness, eating clean, cutting carbs, losing weight, gaining muscle mass, shedding a dress size, etc., the feeling that wells up inside of me is not, “Yes, I should get my act together.” Rather, it is, “I’m totally going to do the opposite.” I cannot explain why I have developed this repulsion towards fitness. I’m not sure when it began and what sparked it off.

I have been trying to write about this topic but have aborted a couple of attempts prior to this one because I didn’t want to sound like I’m trying to tell people what to do with their bodies. But I need to talk about this because I’m trying to explain why I feel the way I do. I don’t resent anyone for embracing fitness, for doing what they think is best for their bodies. I just want to know why I’m not inspired to do the same.

This Is Difficult To Write
First, this is a topic that I’ve been struggling to write about because whenever I got started, I would find myself backtracking or deleting bits that contradicted with other bits. On one hand, I believe that we all need to exercise and to eat as healthily as we can. On the other, I hate it whenever people talk about their weight. Whenever people go, “I am 60kg, I want to lose 10kg”, I just want to wrap my hands around their necks, shake them violently and scream, “I AM 70KG AND I THINK I’M FINE. WHY WOULD YOU THINK YOU ARE NOT?!?!?” Then a small voice in my head would chide me and go, “What’s it to you?”

I get it. It’s not my business to tell people what they should do with their health and bodies.

But why do I feel so oppressed, so bitter, so frustrated and so annoyed at anyone who is trying to achieve greatness with their bodies?

I want to hang up my trainers for good.

I want to hang up my trainers for good.

The Fitness Inspiration That Isn’t Inspiring Me At All
If fitspo is meant to inspire lazy bums like me to embrace fitness, then I must possess an inborn immunity against it. Whenever I see motivational messages superimposed on images of sweaty, toned, strong bodies on Instagram and Facebook, I just want to shout, “STOP!!” I can’t appreciate cheesy quotes like, “Sweat is fat crying”, “Pain is weakness leaving your body”, “1 hour is just 4% of your day” etc. When I see them, I just want to go, “Give me a McSpicy Extra Value Meal. UPSIZED!”

It used to be that we just need to exercise 30 minutes a day, try to eat 5 servings of fruit and veggies, and cut down on sugar and junk food. Now, when I go on Facebook, I’m confronted with status updates of people able to do the 300 Workout in under 6 minutes (whatever that means), with articles on how to eat clean, and selfies taken at the gym.

To me, fitness is starting to feel like the new “designer handbags”. Once, it was all about people flaunting their shopping. Today, it’s people flaunting their superhuman willpower and discipline. For those of us who just “do the bare minimal”, over-the-top fitness is the passport into an exclusive club where the members are all laughing at the rest of us for simply being … human.

I Do Want To Be In Good Shape But
I’m not rejecting good health. I appreciate the after-effects a good workout gives me. However, I constantly feel like I’m not doing enough. Yes, I know someone else can turn this around and say, “It’s just like how you’ve made your Work a priority, so I should be able to make my Health a priority.” But … why does Fitness feel so much more oppressive than say, Career, Family, Children, Education, etc? The only thing I can think of is that there is an element of competitiveness about it. “Hey! I can lift 15kg! Can you?” It’s not something I want to compete in but why do I feel like a lesser human being for not obsessing over it? I don’t know … I just don’t know what to say.

I don’t have a body image crisis. I do think I look good. But whenever I hear people bemoan how they are not losing enough weight, not pushing themselves hard enough, not eating clean enough, I feel I have no right to celebrate myself. I feel like I’m the one who’s in denial and that I should really lock myself up in a cell and not let myself be seen in public.

When is enough enough for these hardcore fitness bunnies? In a way, fitness-related posts on social media are doing the exact opposite of inspiring people to work out – to me, they feel more like fitness bullying. I don’t want to talk about fitness the way everyone is doing on social media where it’s all about going harder and becoming stronger. It’s like fitness is the new anorexia club, only instead of becoming thin through not eating, we are trying to be “strong and thin” through fitness and, like anorexics, we bask in the “control” and “discipline” we have over our bodies.

I don’t see why I have to strive to run a marathon when I can do 10km and not ache like an elephant has sat on me.

I don’t see why I have to go out of my comfort zone and be in pain when all I want is to work out and be able to string coherent sentences afterwards.

I don’t see why I have to eat clean when I just have to do everything in moderation.

I reject the notion that I have to ache. I reject the notion that I have to practice self-restraint when it comes to food and drinks. I reject the notion that I have to exhibit superhuman levels of discipline and willpower in order to see results.

I mean … is it really not possible for me to just do the bare minimal and look good?

Do you feel the same as I about this topic? What is it about fitness talk on social media that upsets you?

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. Every time she tries to get back to fitness, her bronchitis acts up – she believes this is her body telling her that it is allergic to exercise. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.

Deborah Tan, Opinions

I Will Never Review THIS Product – Deborah Tan

Deborah Tan has always found the advertising of this type of product mortifying. She believes it is time women all over say No to anyone who says their vaginas should smell like flowers.

The woman leads a busy life. She runs up the escalator of a posh-looking building because she is too important in the office to take things easy. She works up a sweat in the gym because even though she is swamped with work, she doesn’t forget to take care of herself. She also has a great sense of style and loves wearing sheer dresses that show off her figure … dresses that have particularly high slits and fly up in the wind. In the background, she talks about how, no matter how busy Life is, she wants to “feel fresh”. Suddenly, a flower appears onscreen, a drop of liquid touches its center and its blooms into full beauty.


Why, it is trying to sell us the idea that a “feminine wash” is necessary for a woman to feel her most confident best.

Apparently, women have to have nice-smelling genitals in order to excel in life.

Woman-sitting-on-the-toilet-537x351This isn’t a product without its fair share of controversies. A couple of years ago, Jezebel and Huffpost Women criticized a whitening feminine wash advertisement in India for promoting the idea that a fairer vagina will bring about a more blissful marriage.

It seems that some power out there has decided that we women need to have vaginas that (1) smell nice and (2) are as white as toufu.

While feminine washes are not vaginal douches, marketers have, nonetheless, come up with many reasons to justify why we need something “special” for our private parts. Like a face lotion, feminine washes are now available in more than one variant and claim to have a number of “benefits. Some have “anti-aging” ingredients like Vitamin E because god forbids we should have wrinkles down there too! Some have collagen to improve “tone” because it seems some vaginas look like Shar Peis! Some assure you they are “gentle” on your nether region because they contain natural acids (?!?!) … okay, how about just wash down there with water and spend more time cleaning your pubic region in the shower?

The idea that women should include a feminine wash as part of our personal hygiene line-up is one that needs to be corrected and stopped.

1. Your Vagina Is Doing A Great Job Keeping Itself Clean
It will clean itself and its natural acidity will control bacteria growth. All you need to do is wash the OUTSIDE of your vagina with water and wipe dry. Maintain good habits like wearing cotton underwear and clothes that aren’t too tight. If you can’t stand the idea of semen inside and around your vagina after sex, get your partner to wear a condom.

2. If Your Vagina Needs A Product To Smell Nice, Why Don’t Men Have One For Their Penises?
The thing that enrages me about feminine washes is the whole “smelly vagina” mindset misogynists have planted inside our heads. There is a Hokkien swear-phrase that specifically calls a woman a “smelly vagina”, as if to say she’s not “clean”, “of loose morals”, and hints that she “sleeps around”. I’d not be surprised if many women have grown up believing nice girls = nice smelling vaginas! That aside, I don’t see any washes in the pharmacy that will help men smell like cupcakes down there! If men don’t need to worry about how their penises smell, why should my vagina smell like a rose?

And the one thing that galls me the most about the advertising of the feminine wash is the euphemisms! A drop of liquid on a flower is supposed to help me understand that this product is for my vagina. If a vagina is deemed too crude to be shown on TV, what business do you have talking about the way it smells!?!? And what does staying “fresh” have to do with my energy level at the gym? Oh, I’m so tired, I can’t run so instead of drinking coffee, let’s wash my vagina!

We women really don’t obsess over the state of our vaginas 24/7. We wake up, take a shower, put on our clothes, apply makeup and get going. We don’t go to meetings and start fretting, “How do I smell down there?”. We don’t walk past a cute hunk and suddenly feel bad about ourselves because, hey, newsflash … our vaginas smell like vaginas!

And do note: if your vagina really has an odor, it could be a sign of something more serious and that is something a wash, and even a douche, won’t cure. Go see a doctor.

Choosing The Right Obstetrician and Gynaecologist

Can Oral Sex Lead to Cancer?


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. Don’t get her started on ads featuring women who insist on wearing tight white pants when they are having their periods. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.

Deborah Tan, Opinions

No Appetite? 10 Women Who Will Change Your Mind – Deborah Tan

One of Deborah Tan’s business partners is annoying the crap out of her. Why? Because she has abandoned her healthy appetite and left it at Fort Canning Hill. If found, please return ASAP. There will be a hearty reward.

Dear Person Who Kidnapped My Lunch Buddy,

My long-time lunch buddy has been casting me aside three times a week to go for personal training at Fort Canning. That these sessions take place at high noon is just one crazy aspect of it. In a bid to help her reach her goal, her personal trainer has worked out a healthy eating meal plan for her too. NOW, it’s the latter that is totally driving me insane. Her once healthy appetite is now the size of a pea. She’d take two sips of soup and say, “I’m full.” I’m not advocating that everyone should stuff their faces with 10 different dishes at every meal but TWO SIPS OF SOUP?!?!?

It doesn’t help that I’m the sort whose idea of a balanced meal is steak and fries. So imagine my mortification when my lunch buddy is now just somebody that I used to know. It’s tragic.

In a bid to get her to change her mind (highly unlikely given that she is now a lithe sexy nymph), I’m going to attempt to explain why it is so damn important that she returns my lunch buddy to me:

1. Because friends who eat together are often also friends who get drunk together:

2. Because food = love. Dieticians and personal trainers be damned!

3. Because it’s cute when people don’t look at food like it is the spawn of Satan!

4. Because IT IS possible to enjoy food and still look beautiful:

5. Because anyone who can bear saying NO to good food is just no fun to be around lah!

6. Because many of human race’s biggest discoveries came from eating:

7. Because many of our favourite girls on TV love burgers:

8. Because our favourite Friend, Monica, looks so cute fretting over her Kit-Kats:

9. Because Mindy has a chocolate fountain on her desk. That can’t be a bad idea:

10. Because that’s what I want to be do with my friends – EAT WITH THEM:

For me, eating is always a nice way to bond with friends. Over a good meal (with a couple of beers thrown in), we can talk about everything and anything. Now, just me eating alone is too boring and, all I can think of is, why are my friends not eating chicken rice anymore?!?!?!? So dear Lunch Buddy, please come back and eat with me again!!!!!



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 takes her meal-times very seriously and gets very annoyed when people don’t want to eat with her. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.


Deborah Tan, Opinions

Is It So Hard To Make The Minimum Sum Scheme An Option? – Deborah Tan

Whether the Minimum Sum Scheme is for the better or for worse, Deborah Tan believes that the only way we will ever know is to make it an option, not a rule.

Who's right, who's wrong?

Who’s right, who’s wrong?

From the rational to the emotional, a war for our CPF monies is being fought between proponents and opponents of the Minimum Sum scheme. A stalemate seems to be happening – whether you’re for it or against it, there will always be an argument to support your case.

But the same few arguments keep surfacing ever so often. What are they:

1. “It is my money. I should be able to decide what I want to do with it!” 

2. “Do you really know what to do with your money? Look at the number of old folks who squandered their CPF away!” 

3. “The Minimum Sum keeps increasing because Singaporeans are living longer, which is why you need more set aside in your Minimum Sum – so it can last for longer.”

I’ve written about the increasing difficulty to retire well in Singapore, how it is truly a challenge to meet the Minimum Sum and still save enough money so you don’t find yourself trying to eke out a living cleaning foodcourt tables when you’re 72 years old.

People on both sides of the fence have responded vigorously – and not just to my post. As long as an article is written about CPF, you will hear them. Some say that those who want to withdraw their CPF in one lump sum are short-sighted and will prove to be a burden on society when they have exhausted their retirement funds before they die. Some say that a life with no dignity is not worth living at all, that we may as well go out with a bang. Some say that the government knows how unpopular its policies are but the fact that it is sticking to the Minimum Sum scheme shows that it really believes it is for the good of the country.  And the list goes on.

Nest-EggIn my opinion, it boils down to one crucial point:

The individual’s definition of what it means to retire well.

Can anyone – politicians and citizens – say they know, for sure, what is the best way to retire?

We can’t in good conscience say we do. We can’t use economic theories to decide how people should live their lives. We can’t accuse someone of bad financial planning when they have had no finances to plan for in the first place. We can’t say things are good and balmy when the only life some of us have known is one that is filled with going to good schools, having an overseas education, and working and living in the world’s poshest cities.

What can we do?

1. Respect that everyone has a dream
Remember when as a kid your mum told you to put your ang pow money away into a savings account so you can buy whatever toy you want at the end of the year? Similarly when we put away money for retirement, we dream about what we can use this nest egg for. Some want to spread it out and have this money last them for as long as they live. Some want to use it to travel and see the world because when they were younger they did not have the chance to do it. Some want to use the money to make the lives of their sons and grandchildren easier. Who is to say that there is only one way to spend your retirement money?

2. Understand that all of us have our own set of difficulties 
If you do manage to pay off your property loan by the time you retire, good for you. If you don’t and you have no job, no children to support you, nothing to your name, what are you going to do? For those who have children later in life, they will also be faced with the double whammy of having to pay for their kids’ education WHILE subsisting on a monthly payout. Yes, there are grants, bursaries and scholarships they can apply for, yes, there are even loans their kids can take. But why should we have to subject our children to even more debts when we can use our retirement funds to pay for their education? Sure it sounds like bad planning, not having set aside a college fund, but does everyone actually have that luxury? You ask, why can’t these kids work for their school fees? Well, let’s not assume that even if they don’t, they are useless, stupid or recalcitrant. Every family has their own story, don’t assume you know all of it.

3. Give people a choice
Perhaps the question we should all be asking is: Why can’t there be a choice? If – as the current situation demonstrates – there are really two camps, then make the Minimum Sum scheme an opt-in. Since so many people seem happy enough to remonstrate those who want to be able to withdraw their CPF in one lump sum, I’m sure they will elect to stick to the scheme even if it’s an option. Some may argue that chaos and economic ruin will follow should we be given the choice to opt out of the Minimum Sum scheme, but I liken it to Christians believing that God gave us free will so we may appreciate the horrors of Hell. If we were to never know the bad, how can we truly see the good?

Questioning the wisdom and the benefits of a certain policy does not make one ungrateful. Sure, we can compare ourselves to those living in poorer countries, to those who fear walking the streets alone at night … but ultimately, in 30, 40 years’ time, it is here in this city that we will be retiring in and looking to those worse off than us is not going to make retiring in Singapore any easier.

Making every penny count in your old age ... do you really want that?

Making every penny count in your old age … do you really want that?

[Author’s note: In my last post about CPF, there were rude and nasty comments that did not add constructively to the conversation. As such, please understand that Material World reserves the right to not approve or to delete comments that do not contribute to the topic in a rational and objective manner.]


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 doesn’t see why this discussion about CPF has to get ugly and so please keep your sarcasm and stings to yourself. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.

Deborah Tan, Opinions

Renting Flats Out To Tourists: Yes Or No? – Deborah Tan

Whether or not you agree that HDB flats can be used to host tourists, Deborah Tan hopes you can understand why so many are tempted to do it.

Until last year, I never knew what it was like to worry about money. Petrol prices gone up again? Who cares? This route will take me through 25 ERPs? So? I didn’t even bother noting down when people borrowed money from me. Money – to me back then – was not something that plagued my every waking hour. It was just there.

Then I left my job.

Then I cancelled my insurance policies because I couldn’t afford the premiums. I used to joke how if I died, my family would get more than a million dollars. Well, now everyone, you can drop any idea of murdering me.

Then my CPF dwindled to almost nothing.

Then I gave up my investments so I could pump money back into my CPF to pay for my mortgage.

Then I finally gave up my car.

The situation was depressing but I am glad I wasn’t crippled by it.

And I thought about renting out my couch to super budget travellers ...

And I thought about renting out my couch to super budget travellers …

But today, my business is running well – thank god. I earn enough each month to pay my bills and to set aside some money for rainy days. Nonetheless the way I now see money has irrevocably changed.

The recent news that HDB flat owners are running foul of the law by renting out their flats to tourists struck a chord with me because I can understand why some of us would grab on to whatever opportunity we have to make some more money. To the person earning $10,000 a month, a $100 a day may not mean much. To the person earning just $1,000, $100 is a lot.

I went through a period where I needed money so badly I wanted to stop for people trying to get a cab and ask them how much they would pay me to give them a lift!

This isn’t an article about whether HDB flat owners should be allowed to use their properties to earn a little extra cash. This is an article to explain why some of us would do something like this.

You don’t need me to tell you – once again – that it is expensive to live in Singapore. Rather, here’s what a little more money can do for the person who earns less than $5,000 a month.

1. It helps us breathe just that little easier
Ever looked at your bank statement the day before an amount is due to be “Giro-ed” out of it? Have you gotten stressed over how you would find enough money to put into your bank account? If so, then you will understand why $100, $50 or even $20 would make a difference.

2. It helps us plan our lives just a little better
I had a bank account where I promised I won’t never dip into. That bank account is now gone. How? Whenever a bill needed to be paid, and I didn’t have enough, I would transfer money from one account to another. You may say, “Well, put it back when you get money next”, but it doesn’t work that way. Because when money next came in, more bills needed paying. The hole never really gets filled – unless a windfall happens. Dealing With Life 1, Planning For The Future 0.

3. It keeps us from making soul-killing decisions
I won’t go as far as to use the word “bad”. When I found myself strapped for cash, I made decisions based on how much money I would have had to spend, and often, that led me to greater disappointment. I scrambled for work that weren’t worth my time and ended up feeling worse about myself. I was blinded by my need to hold on to as much cash as possible and I compromised on my pride and happiness, and eventually my confidence. Without confidence, it was just one bad call after another. There was no dignity to speak of.

Why is it important for people to be able to repurpose what they already have? Because Life keeps on going and we need to keep on going with our heads held high. Dignity is not only for the rich. We need to be able to use what we’ve got to help us make a little more money so Life can be just a little better. We want to be able to have a solution that doesn’t take away more money, time or energy, so that we can focus on being better employees, better parents, better spouses, better people.

Worrying about money is crippling and although money isn’t everything, having more of it really doesn’t hurt.

Oh, by the way, if you think this is a post about entitlements, you are clearly too comfortable and too sheltered to realize why so many of us would hold on to $20 tighter than you would hold on to your designer totes.

Dignity cannot be bought but we can most certainly earn it.

Question: Do you think it is worth exploring letting HDB flat owners rent their properties out to tourists?


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. Homestays – she believes – are some of the best ways for a traveller to experience a city. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.



Deborah Tan, Opinions

What To Do When You Can’t Shut People Up – Deborah Tan

What is the first thing you do when you read something that doesn’t agree with you? And, if you read a rude comment made about you by a complete stranger, what would you do? Deborah Tan says, “Do nothing.”

“Don’t believe anything this article says. The points are all over the place,” said a Facebook comment I recently spotted about an article of mine.

“Deborah Tan, you stupid wh__e!” a guy whom I’ve never met in my whole life wrote on his Facebook Wall.

“Your whining is pathetic. What do you want, woman?” demanded another.

“She refers to herself in third-person in her opening paragraph and then the whole article is written in the first. Sorry, I can’t get over that,” observed someone who had failed to see that my “opening paragraph” was actually a standfirst.

No … not like this.

The Facebook share feature is a poisonous thing. You click on “10 shares” under a story you’ve shared with your friends and then you begin to see how ugly the world can really be.

Many people assume that having written for “the public eye” for so many years, my skin would have toughened up and that I would be one of the last people on this planet to be affected by these insanely harsh comments. They are wrong. Sticks and stones, they say?

When I was in university, forum boards were all the rage. The hall of residence that I lived in had a very robust forum board that residents participated and followed religiously. That forum board was a hotbed of activity. Discussions could be started on anything! From whether we should be so obsessed with IHG (interhall games) to whether a certain student leader just did the right thing appointing someone as a chairperson of a certain committee to whether someone just stolen another person’s girlfriend … you won’t be faulted for thinking we didn’t have classes to attend.

I was pretty vocal on that forum board. And looking back, I can’t help but feel embarrassed by the highly emotional tone and passionate words that I had used back in my younger days. I was at the age where I felt that I had to “add to the fire” and “fan the flames” for a discussion to be worthy of anyone’s attention. I was so wrong.

And it was this memory of my rabble-rousing days that I took with me as I went on to make a living out of writing for magazines, blogs and websites. I still think I have the right to an opinion – even if that opinion may come under attack. What do I do differently now then? Especially when faced with comments that seem determined to shred my self-esteem and character into pieces?

1. Agree To Disagree
Everyone has an opinion and everyone has their right to air it. As long as they can share their point of view rationally, don’t get personal, and don’t use overtly aggressive language, I have learnt, over the years, that we can agree to disagree, and we don’t even have to be rude about it.

2. You Don’t Get A Prize For Proving People Wrong
While many of us may get a certain perverse joy in picking other people’s arguments apart, there really is no prize for proving yourself right and proving other people wrong. Yes, to you, I may have appeared “stupid”, “ignorant” and “uneducated” because I did not “argue back”, but it doesn’t take away from what I have already achieved for myself and how my friends and family see me.

Not all of us have the luxury of an army fighting for us.

Not all of us have the luxury of an army fighting for us.

3. You Learn To Pick Your Battles
Often, there is nothing I’d love to do more than shoot back a curt remark or type something like, “How dare you f**king say that about me?” on some complete stranger’s Facebook Wall. But of course I won’t do that! That would be just creating an ever-growing snowball of hate and anger. I would however respond if I feel I should have explained my point of view better. Our instinct is definitely to defend ourselves but you really can’t shut everyone up.

4. Move On
What can you do, after you’ve read all that hurtful comments made about you by people who have never met you? You do the only thing you can do – move on. Sure, feel free to vent to your Friends on Facebook (be sure to adjust your privacy settings), and bring their attention to the injustices you have been subjected to, but move on. At the end of the day, we take comfort in the fact that there are people who share our views, and that there are people who refuse to be swayed by other people’s opinion of us.

5. You Can’t Make Everyone Love You
For all the efforts you put in to sound rational, objective and fair, you know you will never be able to please everyone. This isn’t a reflection of your “quality” as a human being. I used to get so angry with people, and with myself, if I found out that someone didn’t like me but I realized that was just making me a really horrible person to hang out with.

6. What Do People Want? You’ll Never Know
It’s easy to react and go ask people just what it is that they want from you. They will never want enough and they will always want something you are not. So rather than work yourself to death trying to be the round peg that wants to fit through a square hole, just accept that the square hole will eventually find its own square peg. Your time and energy is much better spent at being the best damn round peg ever made.

Of course it would be a lie to say I am never hurt or offended by what I read about myself and my writing on social media. I could beseech everyone to pause for a moment before they write something damaging about another person. I could ask for your sympathy and beg you to go easy on me. But I won’t. Positive and negative responses are part and parcel of life, and I simply have to be strong for myself and for the ones who love me.


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 doesn’t fight back all the time but she always remembers to pay back when the time is right. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.

Deborah Tan, Opinions

Should We Speak The Language Of The Locals? – Deborah Tan

When travelling, do you make an effort to at least say “Good morning” and “Thank you” in the language of the locals? Deborah Tan admits she struggles with whether to do it or not.

“Doumo arigato gozaimashita!” the assistants bowed and shouted as we walked out of one of Nagasaki’s most famous cake shops. My associates – Japanese – returned the courtesy, “Arigato gozaimashita,” as they filed past the staff. When it came to my turn, I simply smiled and said, “Thank you.”

foreign language

Before you pop in for a Basic French For Dummies book …

While a bit of me wanted to say Thank You in Japanese, there was another part of me that told me not to do it. Why?

To be honest, I’ve always felt like a bit of a fraud whenever I try to speak another language. Be it in Malaysia or Madrid, I’ve always felt uncomfortable doing greetings in the local language. While I know how the locals will appreciate any attempt on my part of speak their language, I can’t help but wonder if they cringe inwardly whenever I go, “Ohaiyo!” 

Because the basic is more than just Good Morning and Thank You
Most travellers think just being able to say Good Morning and Thank You in the language of a place they’re visiting is enough, but it’s not. I personally feel that if I can’t even ask for directions or order food in the local language, I have no right to be massacring it. Even when I do say “Arigato gozaimasu”, I tend to look really apologetic because I bet they feel the same way I feel when a random tourist in Singapore goes, “This is very good LAH!”

But sometimes, it is necessary
Two days ago, I had the privilege of having dinner with a farmer and his family in Nagasaki, Japan. This is a simple homestay experience where the family would host visitors in their home, giving them an insight into how they lead their lives by getting them to work on the land and cook dinner. Their generosity and warmth truly touched me. Even though I spoke no word of Japanese, the farmer and his wife never once stopped trying to communicate with me.  I felt I needed to break out of my linguistic shell and make an effort to at least say Thank You in their language.

So, what should we do?
This is one of my life’s greatest dilemmas. Really. On one hand, I feel like I don’t want to be a “linguistic party trick” by being able to say Thank You in 10 languages. On the other, I can see how culturally important it is for us to be able to communicate effectively with the locals.

I guess the key to it is the element of authenticity. Are you just throwing out “Danke” and “Merci” to impress the people, trying to show them how well-travelled and cosmopolitan you are? Or, do you believe this is the best way to show your appreciation?

Nothing screams “I’m an annoying tourist” more than someone going at a “Thank You” with a fake accent and a lazy slur – the latter is attempted to make you seem as if you are a “local who can’t be bothered to talk properly”. I have heard cringe-worthy performances of “Merci” complete with a breathy voice and a sing-song lilt, and I have heard awful renditions of “Gracias” with an over enthusiastic “rrrr”.

I wrap this post up with only one lesson I’ve learnt:

When in doubt, the best way to show someone your appreciation – universally – is with a smile, good strong eye contact, and a sincere Thank You in YOUR language.

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 is still trying to master saying “Yoroshiku onegaishimasu” when she hands her namecard to a Japanese businessperson. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.