“Faster, what colour, what colour!”
This is something that many of us are familiar with: The ‘pinching game’. For the uninitiated, this ‘game’ is initiated when one spots a man with a turban in the vicinity. One will then pinch our friend(s) and continue pinching them until they tell us the colour of the turban.
When we were younger, this ‘pinching game’ was just some harmless fun with friends. We were naively unaware of how racist the game is. We knew very little about the meaning of a turban or the people who wear one and to us, we were just poking fun at something that was unfamiliar.
However, we have grown up, both individually and as a society, to be a lot more careful around topics of race and religion. We have emphasised on the importance of respecting the Malays, Indians, even the Chinese group, and the different religions in Singapore.
There is one minority group, however, who has often gotten sidelined in our society: The Sikhs.
We see them around, but most of us have hardly mingled with a Sikh before, much less know anything about the Sikh culture. The average Singaporean would have only noticed the turban and the bearing of ‘Singh’ or ‘Kaur’ in their names, but what else?
I first stepped into a gurdwara (Sikh temple) last week, where I met the founder of Sikhs of Singapore, Perinder Kaur, to learn about the Sikh way of life.
Midway through the tour around the Gurdwara Sahib Silat Road (Silat Road Sikh Temple), we also got to speak with Harjit Kaur, the Vice Chair of the Sikh Centre at the temple, and Baljit Singh, the President of Central Sikh Gurdwara Board, who gave us insights into what it means to be a Sikh in Singapore.
As an agnostic, what stuck out the most to me is how authentic Sikhism, the faith of a Sikh person, is. The beliefs and teachings of Sikhism are largely centered around being a good person.
In fact, in the words of the trio, being a Sikh is to be “a student of life.”
Baljit explained, “we are all on a journey, between now and the end point, and one of the things I’ve learnt [in Sikhism] is that you want to attain Mukti, salvation in your living life,” and for him, attaining salvation is simply being able to be a good person and leading a truthful life.
Teachings like the three tenets of Sikhism, act as a guideline and a conscious reminder for Sikhs to be a good person.
Sikhs believe in one God and follow the scriptures laid out by their Gurus, and it is up to every Sikh individual to interpret and follow the teachings. As such, Sikhism is a very personal journey for every Sikh.
“Each of us is on a journey at a different pace, and the accountability is in each of us to answer to the one supreme Lord.”
Interesting, although Sikhism is a monotheistic religion, Sikhs do not pray to a definite form of God. Rather, their God is an abstract interpretation of a higher force.
Thus, if you were to visit any gurdwaras, you will not find any effigies like you would at churches (Jesus Christ) or Buddhist temples (Buddha), for example. Instead, Sikhs pray to the Sri Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy scripture, which contains the teachings of the Sikh religion.
The 1430-page holy scripture is so highly-revered that one does not simply buy it off the shelf at a bookstore. It is meticulously transported from India to Singapore with assistance from authorities at Changi Airport and even our local police.
“It’s almost like you’re welcoming God into your home,” Perinder mused, on bringing the holy scripture to a new home.
Like Christianity, Sikhism has its version of baptism as well. The Amrit Sanchaar, or Amrit for short, can be taken by a Sikh anytime, but once undertaken, it is a pledge to lead the Sikh way of life.
Besides the believe in one eternal God and the 10 Gurus and to follow the teachings of Guru Granth Sahib, this commitment includes a firm promise to live by the 3 tenets of Sikhism, The Five Ks, and the rules of the Four Taboos and Five Vices.
The Five Ks
The Five Ks are five articles of faith worn by Sikhs and are symbolic of the Sikh culture
The Kara, is an iron bangle that a Sikh has to wear at all times, irrespective of gender. There are multiple interpretations to the meaning of the Kara. One of it propounds that the circular shape of the bangle signifies eternity, which also means that there is no beginning and end to the almighty.
The Kesh represents hair, which Sikhs believe is a gift of God and Sikhs keep their hair as a form of respect. This is why many Sikhs have a long beard or long hair.
One of the reasons why Sikhs wear turbans is also to honour this gift (of hair), and to keep it clean and neat. A turban is also part of the ‘uniform code’ and has become an identity for Sikhs. And because a turban has become a form of identity for the Sikhs, making fun of a Sikh’s turban is akin to making fun of an Indian for having ‘brown skin’, for example.
Then, there is the Kanga, a small comb that Sikhs keep in the hair (within the turban). Likewise, it signifies discipline and cleanliness.
Sikhs also carry a Kirpan around, which is a dagger and a symbol of the Sikh’s sovereignty, pride and dignity. It also signifies a Sikh’s duty to defend the weak and helpless from any injustice. In Singapore, there are regulations in place for safety, such as a limitation to the size of the dagger (up to six inches long).
Lastly, the Kashera, which is a pair of ‘baggy shorts’ that signifies ‘self-restraint’ and falls in line with one of the Four Taboos (adultery).
The Four Taboos & Five Vices
In Sikhism, Sikhs are supposed to steer clear of the four taboos and five vices.
The four taboos in Sikhism are: No adultery, no cutting hair, no intoxication (cigarettes, drugs, or alcohol), and no consumption of meat that is slaughtered or prepared in a religious manner.
Lust, anger, greed, attachment, and ego makes up the five vices.
Although these are taboos and vices laid out by the faith, almost all of these (besides the one about hair and meat) are temptations that all of us face in life. These ‘rules’ are pretty much guidelines to help one become a better human being.
With that said, what I respected the most is how honest and real Harjit was when she spoke about these commitments.
“Having said that, it's not like you have taken Amrit (baptism) and you've become perfect, It's a promise. I have taken Amrit but I can still get angry. It is something that I'm still working on.”
Besides those core teachings, there is another prominent trait of Sikhs, which is their concept of Sewa (selfless service).
It is mentioned in Gurbani, that Seva (service) can be done by “tan, man, dhan,” which breaks Seva into three types: “Physical service, mental service, and monetary service.”
This ethos is so strong among Sikhs that it is literally what keeps the gurdwara running.
Harjit shared: “[The gurdwara runs] totally on the basis of sharing, hundred percent. With everything, the building, the food, the provisions for Langar (food), the upkeep of the place. Anytime we want to change the carpets or the lights, people donate wholeheartedly. Everything.”
Considering how expensive it must be to run a temple and how small the community is in terms of numbers, I was surprised to learn that all seven gurdwaras in Singapore are fully supported by donations. This takes into account the supply of free meals at their Langar hall every day, which is open to anyone and everyone regardless of race or religion.
“The people that you see in the kitchen are all volunteers who come down to cut the vegetables and prepare the rations for the day so that the community kitchen is kept running. This is basically the essence of the religion, to serve without any inhibitions.”
There are also many regular volunteers who do different types of Sewa for the temple and the community. Even Baljit and Harjit, who both hold positions of authority in the gurdwara, are volunteers themselves.
In fact, the temple board faces a ‘happy problem’ of regular volunteers refusing to accept plaques for their years of service, because “they said they don’t do the service for any sort of appreciation or recognition.”
There are about 12,000 to 15,000 Sikhs in Singapore today, which makes up only 0.26% of our population of about 5.8 million. That possibly makes Sikhs a minority among the groups of minorities in Singapore.
Despite the size of the community, I have, through the two hours spent at the gurdwara, realise how much they have to offer to our society. For example, in the recent incident where local influencer Sheena Phua called two Sikh men “obstructions”, the Sikh community could have easily hit back with criticisms. But the youth from the Young Sikh Association invited Sheena to the Gurdwara, showed her around and shared the beliefs of Sikh faith with her.
Perinder explained, “But you look at the bigger picture: What do you want to do? Do you want to stay angry or, moving forward, do you look at it as an opportunity for you to actually engage? As a community, we took a very important stand that we would not react with anger. Rather, educate, not hate.”
This is where a platform like Sikhs of Singapore comes in to raise awareness and bridge the gap, through sharing stories of the everyday Sikh and to address common misconceptions among Singaporeans.
In a country like ours where we are so multiracial and multicultural, this is so important: The empathy and patience in being able to take a step back to re-evaluate how we deal with or even react to any racially or religiously sensitive situation.
It’s hard in practice of course, but as with the teachings of Sikhism, it is something that will do all of us good to strive for.
Baljit shared that 550 years ago, their first Guru made a very apt comment about how there is no separation between different races or religions, because at the end of the day, we are all the same. It’s all about humanity.
“We don’t identify people by their faiths, we identify that every person is a human being."
Also read: He Became A Monk At 23: What It’s Like Living By 227 Rules.
Love is a game and in Singapore, you automatically play on ‘hard’ mode once you become an adult.
There’s barely enough time left for anything else when you have to juggle work and spending time with loved ones. And when it comes to finding love, it can be difficult to meet new prospects. Your selection is scaled down to the people you work with and even then, there is also the worry of things getting complicated when you mix personal life with work.
Any thoughts of networking or to actively seek out someone to date will be thrown out the door when your life is already exhausting as it is.
A lot of us also tend to spend most of our youth believing that love will come when it comes, and none of us want to be caught looking ‘desperate’. All these reasons can make it seem like life, on the love front, is bleak.
Singaporeans are increasingly turning to meeting people ‘online’. I mean, even when we were teenagers, there were already the ‘OG stories’ of people who met and fell in love through online multiplayer games like Maplestory. In a way, I guess we can say that tools like dating apps are a natural progression for our attempt at love.
Just within my social circle alone, I know many people who have found their partner through apps like Tinder and Coffee Meets Bagel. Some of them are even happily married with kids now.
Most of these friends were initially highly-sceptical of getting anything ‘real’ out of a dating app. One had even consulted me about his fear of falling for a girl he met on Tinder because he just couldn’t “trust anyone who would go on Tinder for love.” I reminded him that he was there for the same reason. Today, they are in a happy relationship.
With that said, there are also many people who still doubt the value of dating apps. It is difficult to trust a dating app to find someone (with the intention to date) authentically, furthermore, when some of these apps are also exploited by people for casual flings and sex. To begin with, the conservative Asian in us already screams ‘danger’ the moment we start swiping.
Maybe we are too conservative or prideful to buy into such an unconventional approach in love. Or maybe we are just too picky. Whatever it is, Singaporeans clearly have a problem with finding love and studies have shown that we are settling down later.
The government never fails to remind us that we need to buck up because of our low birth rates and aging population. In their bid to play matchmaker, the government even has an initiative that gives singles $100 in credit to spend on subsidised dating events and services. Though, whether Singaporeans are actually using this is another question.
Objectively speaking, dating events and matchmaking services are great ways to find love with. If you were to look at it as a game, these are ideal tools that will increase your chances in finding love.
While dating events are still fairly acceptable, most Singaporeans still find it a tad embarrassing, or awkward, to ‘resort to’ matchmaking services. After all, the fees for matchmaking services is still a gamble that one must be willing to take, because you may end up not finding your ideal partner after paying so much.
With that said, there has been an increase in the number of matchmaking agencies in Singapore.
To understand more about the stigma against matchmaking services that I believe exists in Singapore, I spoke to one 34-year-old Clement, who had used different matchmaking services in Singapore. He is also currently paying about $6000 for matchmaking services with local company, Destini IS, which specialises in matchmaking services between Singaporeans and Japanese.
Despite having spent so much money in his attempt in finding a life partner, Clement admitted that he hesitated signing up for matchmaking services at first.
“While matchmaking is common in China, Europe, and the US, many Singaporeans are still shy about it.”
He was initially doubtful of it because of how unfamiliar matchmaking was in Singapore. Besides, he had always believed that meeting people through his own social circles would be easier and more comfortable, since there would already be a sense of acquaintance through common friends.
But the harsh reality is that with every year that passes, Clement’s social circle gets smaller, and so does the number of available singles in his community. It didn’t help that he is working in a male-dominated industry.
“There’s also been pressure coming from peers and family, especially when I get their wedding invites and during social gatherings.”
“It’s what actually made me resolve to start focusing on settling down as well.”
After his experiences in four relationships, dating apps and with matchmaking, Clement no longer sees it ‘shameful’ or embarrassing to use matchmaking services to find a partner.
“When you want to be fit, you would sign up for a gym membership or a yoga plan, and you would make the best of it. You would even invest in relevant gears like sportswear. Likewise, the same logic applies on a matchmaking service. Since I have decided to step out to try it, I’ll make the best of it to succeed in what I signed up for.”
Moreover, there are several matchmaking agencies in Singapore, some of which are officially recognised under the Social Development Network (a government page). It is also increasingly normal to see Singaporean men finding love through other means. There are ‘non-official’ services that operate through all kinds of platforms from webpage services to even apps like WeChat, and I’m sure most of us have heard of the ‘Siamdiu for Life, Siambu for Wife’ motto as well.
There was a time where matchmaking is the last thing anyone in our generation wants. One would rather die alone with their 99 cats (or dogs) than be forced into tying the knot with someone we have no interest in.
However, getting a little help to broaden our horizons in an attempt to find a partner is no longer unusual. It’s funny that in an age where we are more connected than ever with the help of technology and social media tools, building relationships have become even more difficult than before.
Love no longer comes that easily and while I’m glad that there are all these dating apps and services to help us advance in the game of love (and life), I certainly hope that there won’t come a day where we have to rely on these tools to help us maintain all our relationships.
Also read: I Question My Marriage Now That Our Blood Types Are Not Compatible.
(Header Image: Odyssey)
My partner is a B+ and I’m an A, and according to the blood type personality theory, we are a match made in hell.
Apparently, blood type personalities have long been used by the Japanese and Koreans, and this fad has also found its way to Singapore, with some dating agencies here offering blood type dating services.
It made me reevaluate my relationship, because there must be a reason why so many people are buying into this theory of blood type romantic compatibility.
One site explains that my husband and I are the worst match because as a blood type A, I, apparently, need to “be in control in order to have that sense of stability,” and the need for structure and control can “cause tension with Type B’s lively social nature.”
I guess in certain ways, I do like to be in control. It gives me the assurance that the world is in order. However, I am no dictator, and I struggle to think of what kind of a ‘structure and control’ I might have imposed on my partner that is causing ‘tension’ with his ‘lively social nature’—and what does this even mean?
Another site tells me that as a Type A, I envy my Type B partner’s “ability to enjoy things at their own pace.” However, my (Type B) partner “is uncomfortable with [my] doting.The kindness feels intrusive.”
I should be worried about this apparent lack of compatibility between my husband and I, especially since we have a long road ahead of us as newlyweds. Instead, I am trying to figure out what it means for ‘my doting and kindness’ to be intrusive.
I mean, I would have known, right? I would be truly alarmed and worried for the sanity of my partner if he has been quietly suffering from distress from kindness for more than four years.
Despite not being able to make head or tail of the compatibility readings, it’s fascinating that blood type personalities have long been used by the Koreans and Japanese as a way to know each other and to find love. In a way, it is like their equivalent of our horoscopes.
Also known as ketsueki-gata, the blood type personality theory specifies defining characteristics that is unique to each of the ABO blood types, and you can easily find a plethora of sites detailing the personalities of each blood type.
For example, Japanese site Tofugo describes Type As like me as being ‘well-organised’: “They like to keep things neat but can be stubborn and get stressed out easily. They also value harmony with others.”
On the other hand, my partner, a Type B, is supposedly known for his creativity, and Type Bs have “a strong sense of curiosity, but at the same time, loses interest easily.”
Because our blood type is inherited, defining our characteristics by our blood is akin to saying that these are traits that we are born with. If we were to follow that same train of thought, it probably also means that my husband and I are predetermined to be doomed from the start.
It would have been unnerving if there is some sort of scientific proof, but let’s be honest: Defining our personalities (or romantic compatibility) by blood is like buying a 4D iBet ticket—you whack all the combinations in the hope that at least one would be the winning number.
Looking through the profile descriptions, my husband does not sound like a desirable person at at, what with ‘selfish’, ‘irresponsible’, ‘wild’, and ‘uncooperative’ as attributes. I’m no angel either, as a stubborn and wary perfectionist.
Clearly, we would have never been attracted to each other, much less survive the dating phase and gotten married if those traits were true to us, and if we had trusted the blood type compatibility reading.
The accuracy of it, or rather the lack of it, is unsurprising, considering that it’s been 90 years since the blood type personality theory gained traction and there still hasn’t been any credible sources backing it. Even studies that support the theory were said to be flawed. It’s worth noting that even the origins of it is quite sketchy, since it loosely based on a study Takeji Furukawa did with less than 20 people.
Funnily, despite every site preempting me about its lack of scientific credibility, it goes on to share that blood type personalities is wildly popular in Japan and Korea.
In fact, it has become such a culture norm in Japan that you can find blood type horoscope readings on their newspapers and local TV. Companies are known to hire based on blood types, and dating agencies cater to blood types. They even have blood type merchandise like sodas, chewing gum, and condoms.
In Korea, there is even a romcom based off the romantic compatibility of different blood types. The 2005 comedy, My Boyfriend is Type B, “pursued the idea that a Type A woman and a Type B man are incompatible as a couple due to their blood-defined personalities.”
After hours of research into this, the only substantial thing I got out is expert medical knowledge on the antigens and antibodies in different blood types, as well as something called the Rhesus factor.
In all seriousness, I believe our biological build does hold key to information about our body and us.
For example, studies have shown that <a href=" A produces the most amount of cortisol, a kind of stress hormones, which increases the chance of depression and fatigue. By that extension, we can loosely hypothesise that our blood types give us certain characteristics.
Though I doubt that the blood type personality theory is are anything more than another profiling tool for us to quickly and easily categorise people into groups. It's fun, and it should probably remain as just that. Otherwise, I’d need to really consider my marriage, and can you imagine how ridiculous that talk would be?
If you think about it, it would be mind-blowing if profiling tools like blood type personalities were to accurately and consistently illustrate everyone’s personality.
Moreover, there are so many other profile assessments out there. If I were to just put together my readings from some of the more popular profiling types and look at it as an entirety, I, as a Type A Gemini Goat Adventurer, will be pretty much the epitome of an identity crisis. So will be my Type B Gemini Rabbit Commander and our marriage.
“You never wear bra how you know right! I don’t know, so I just try, try, try. Then after that I realise the bra got size one, then got number, then got alphabet one. Then I realise ohh, this one is my size.”
It was at Mustafa Centre that Daniel Lee found the bras he often sports in his streams, as well as most of the ensembles you would see him in when he goes live on The Ladyboy Marketplace.
As the founder and the face of the Facebook page, Daniel is known for his live auctions. More accurately, people follow him to catch him in bras, stockings and even lacy lingerie, complete with ladies’ accessories, wigs, and makeup.
He auctions items on the livestream, but for the layperson who isn’t there for the sale, his antics make for live entertainment. It’s a striking visual: A ‘ladyboy’ dancing unabashedly to Thai disco music, and it is exactly for this reason that Daniel started cross-dressing—“I wanted to portray a visual that will catch people’s attention the moment they see the stream.”
He had been running his own live bidding business on another Facebook page, but after more than two years in the trade, he saw the need to be more creative. He did a trial run with the Ladyboy persona and it was surprisingly well-received. The next day, he launched The Ladyboy Marketplace.
Anybody can play dress-up, but viewers will still switch off if someone is inherently boring. Thankfully, Daniel’s natural sense of humour helped. He would spice up his streams with comical dances and often switched personas. Some of his old videos shows him in looks inspired by iconic Singaporean characters like Liang Po Po and Phua Chu Kang.
His videos were entertaining, and the news of this Ladyboy Auctioneer spread fast. When his friends and family first saw his ludicrous on-screen personalities, they were shocked. But Daniel has always been known as a joker amongst people who knew him, and they quickly understood that this is just Daniel working.
Nonetheless, there were criticisms, and they came from strangers who would leave nasty comments on his streams. Some throw jabs at Daniel for prancing around in women’s underwear as a man, calling him xia suay (embarrassing and disgraceful).
I asked if he ever felt paiseh about the things he has had to do for his Ladyboy image. Up to that point, he had given me the impression of a tough, ballsy ah beng who is too focused and driven to be bothered about how people perceived him. Instead, he flat out admitted to feeling paiseh, especially when he had to buy bras at Mustafa alone while seeing the staff staring and laughing at him.
However, he explained that paiseh is just a barrier to be overcome.“A lot of things will paiseh. But paiseh is just a feeling. Don't because of a feeling, then you don't go and achieve what you want to achieve.
“If it’s just because you’re paiseh then you [don’t fulfill your potential], isn’t that such a waste?”
With that said, there are many other problems he has to deal with as someone who makes a living off selling products on Facebook Live.
He was once banned from streaming for two weeks after someone reported his page for nudity, presumably by someone who found his videos (or him) offensive. For someone whose livelihood depended on livestreaming, that meant he had no income for two weeks. For fear that something like this happens again, Daniel has since toned down his Ladyboy antics in his streams.
Even without the problems that came with cross-dressing, the job of a live auctioneer is tough. Unlike most of us, there are no weekdays or weekends for Daniel.
“My routine is no routine, I get the job done and the rest are my rest hours.”
We only see what happens on the stream, but a lot of an online auctioneer’s or work goes behind the screen.
A promoter with a seafood wholesaler today, Daniel’s days start in the late afternoon, where he will be knee-deep in backend preparations with his logistics team and fine-tuning the order, processing, and payment systems before he goes live at night.
Then, after streaming for two to three hours, where he would be constantly talking, Daniel would spend another few hours sending out invoices and coordinating with the logistics team for the deliveries. It’s usually around 3am by the time he gets home.
On the days that he isn’t selling for the seafood wholesaler, Daniel would check in on his valet business which his business partner is managing, and the occasional consignment jobs.
Despite the long hours, Daniel tells me that the only challenge to him is the high chance of losing his voice after every stream, “Long hours and everything else is okay, because when you got the motivation, working is nothing.”
It became really clear that this ‘ah beng’ is a hustler. And his drive to make money, or to succeed, was a result of growing up underprivileged.
His family wasn’t well-to-do. His mum was a housewife and his dad didn’t earn a lot as a stall supervisor. Circumstances forced him to be independent from a young age and at 14, he was already selling vegetables at the neighbourhood market for pocket money. He didn’t earn a lot, but to him, it was still money.
“One day, maybe eight hours, I only earn $20 or $30. Very jialat. But nevermind, try lor, because anyway one day earn $20, five days earn $100. That time I only Sec. 2, $100 is a lot already.”
He was a defiant kid and picked up several bad habits like smoking, but it was also right around that period that he found the drive to work hard for money through (ironically) the legendary Sunshine Empire. He was amazed by how his friend could afford tuxedos and LV bags, and he soon found himself spiralling into the Ponzi scheme.
“I was so brainwashed because very young ma, [but] that’s how I wanted to do sales more and more. So [on hindsight], I need to thanks [sic] the Sunshine Empire, because that’s how I came to where I am now.”
At 16, he started working for Jose Eber, where he was promoting premium hair straighteners at a pushcart at Vivocity. He was even recognised for being a top salesperson there. It was then that he realised he had this natural ability to draw in crowds and to sell, he understood the ways to appeal to different customers.
He continued doing sales after he graduated from Temasek Polytechnic. Along the way, he also dabbled in all sorts of work, which helped him learn more about the world: “I’ve worked at McDonalds, I cut vegetables before, bike shops, mechanic, everything I also do before.”
He also started several businesses, which he continued after completing his National Service. At one point, he even had several employees to help with his live bidding business. However, he admitted that he had made many mistakes, and have had to deal with many tricky situations like faulty products, malicious customers, and people management.
For example, he was too lax and didn’t bother to have a proper management system when he hired employees, and ended up having to face the consequences himself when there were issues with orders.
“I'm not paiseh to admit that I did wrong for that part. I tried and I failed because I thought that it's very simple. This one is I really misjudge.”
There’s a lot to joke about when we see Daniel as Ladyboy. Most of us would make fun of him, wondering if there’s even any future for him to be doing this. However, behind that facade is someone who has so much drive, and dedication to his work.
Despite the many ‘stupid’ things he does on his live videos, or the ah beng image he seems to portray in person, this 27-year-old Singaporean is an innovative salesman who isn’t afraid to do what it takes to succeed ethically.
It is his fearless drive that has got him to where he is today: A highly sought-after salesperson in the industry, and who runs a stable valet business on the side.
At the end of the day, this ‘ladyboy ah beng’ is one person who is simply very real with what he wants and how he will get there. He is driven by money. But, it comes with a strong sense of ethics and the genuine wish to be a good salesperson and the bridge between suppliers and customers.
He’s not afraid to experiment, fail, and try again, not ashamed of being shamed or mocked, as long as he’s able to achieve his goals. And his resolve to succeed is something that a lot of us lack, and probably can learn from.
Also read: We Know Him As The ‘Hunky Hawker’, But Walter Tay Shares A Past He’s Not Proud Of.
(Images used in header taken from The Ladyboy Marketplace’s Facebook Page)
There is a high chance that there is someone within your social circles with some sort of kinky sex secret hidden behind the face of innocence.
Surprise, Singaporeans are hooking up.
If you are a Singaporean millennial, you probably would have been living under a rock if you are unaware of how common it is for our generation to sleep around by now.
We all know that the hooking up culture exists in Singapore.
We know of friends, or friends of friends who have had One-Night Stands (ONS), Friends With Benefits (FWBs), and even orgies. Nonetheless, seeing the way we react with the initial disbelief that quickly transforms into excitement, one would think that we had just won the lottery whenever someone spills tea on someone hooking up with someone.
However, despite this awareness, casual sex and promiscuity remain an open secret only discussed in closed circles and in hushed whispers.
It’s an irony, because while our society has grown to be a lot more open to traditionally promiscuous behaviours, there is still a lot of shame attached to these behaviours.
As a Redditor best puts it, our society is one where we can do it “not openly la, [but] secret-secret ok.”
When it comes to promiscuity, we are a perplexing generation to understand.
Perhaps it’s because of the way we were brought up. Our parents and grandparents are people who would wear the chastity belt with pride, but chastity and abstinence are not values that we celebrate. In fact, it’s the contrary: we see it as prudish.
I believe a big part of this has to do with the way we are exposed to content from the West, the influences from Hollywood and American television since our primary school years. I find it hard to imagine us having the same perspectives as we have today should we have grown up with heavy influence from the East (like China) instead.
Overseas exchange trips that some of us have had the opportunity to go for also allowed us to experience the different cultures across the globe.
All of these collectively contributed to our general acceptance of liberal views in Singapore.
As such, we are the generation that grew up trying to make sense of the conservative boundaries surrounding sex that our elders drew for us. Out of curiosity and the desire to ‘rebel’ a little, we dip our toes into these boundaries. As a result, we become increasingly liberal with sex while we still grapple with innately conservative values embedded in us from a young age.
On a thread discussing promiscuity in Singapore, another Redditor commented: “We're definitely fine with sex, but we've been brought up in quite a conservative environment where open discussion about sex is frowned upon, so everyone seems like they're very pure.”
Also ironically, despite our knowledge of a hookup culture in Singapore, we seem to still have a sex shaming culture as well.
A large part of our society remains highly conservative, and I dare say that most millennials would feel uncomfortable with being 100% truthful to their parents about their views on sex and promiscuity. The reason: We either fear incurring their wrath in suggesting something so blasphemous, or we know there’s no point in even trying.
In our society, there’s still a significant amount of shame that’s tied to traditionally promiscuous behaviours, which is pretty much engaging in any kind of sexual activities with anyone else besides our partner.
I spoke to two millennials who opened up about having had multiple sex partners. Despite their belief that it’s okay to have casual sex, both shared the same sentiments that this ‘lifestyle’ is not something that they will flaunt because they are not confident that society, as a whole, will be able to accept their behaviours.
It isn’t so much of a fear of not being accepted by people, but it is the subtle ‘shade’ and shame that comes with being openly promiscuous that they would rather avoid.
26-year-old Lynn*, said: “There are always moments where I judge myself. I think part of it is because we have always been taught that sex is all about love and should only be done in a committed relationship. Another thing is that people will definitely judge you as well, especially if they themselves strongly believe that sex is an act of love.”
27-year-old, Tony*, who revealed that he has had sex with around 36 women, added that it’s important to learn how to separate making love and having sex. “Sometimes I feel [bad] because it’s like a transaction, as if [sex] is the only thing we can offer. But on the other hand, it’s also a human need.”
Despite all the shame and stigma however, there have been noticeable changes in our society.
For instance, Swinging Communities are more prevalent these days, and Swingers are completely open about satiating their sexual desires through ‘unusual’ arrangements like swapping spouses and even sex parties (orgies)—yes, these happen in Singapore. These communities are a lot more accessible today, and you can easily surf forum threads that detail these experiences and join communities like Undertable—Singapore & ASIA Swingers Community.
We’re becoming more receptive of the concept of promiscuity, and some would argue that this is eroding our traditional Asian values. But if we were to look at this objectively, it really isn’t necessarily bad.
It isn’t as if promiscuous behaviours are a new fad. And sure, there’s a growing acceptance in the pursuit of promiscuous lifestyles today. However, it’s also a fact that people are more willing to open up today, which is great because being able to talk about it helps us understand more about sex.
This is also a positive progression because on the other end of the spectrum, there are many who struggle with the guilt of doing something wrong whenever we pander to our sexual desires. I know this because I’ve struggled with it myself.
This fear, guilt, and shame is also what deters us from talking about our struggles, or about sex even, which is really important in helping us understand more about something that is at the end of the day, really just human nature.
It helps to take away a lot of guilt and shame that we really don’t need. And let’s be honest: having casual sex is inherently hedonistic, and we know it.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating for Singapore to be more (or less) promiscuous. Instead, what I’m proposing is for us to think about how much we are talking about sex and how we are talking about it.
Ultimately, I think we need to establish the difference between accepting and glorifying sex and promiscuity. It’s one thing to be more open-minded and to encourage a more liberal society, and another to promote or encourage mindless promiscuity. Let me assure you that I am not gunning for the latter. Neither am I promoting the idea of polygamy or cheating, or for every conversation to be about sex.
What I’m saying is that it’ll do us good to have more acceptance.
Something I’ve learnt from reading up about the Undertable Community is the need to have mutual respect and non-judgment.
With all that said, there are still behaviours that I don’t agree with. But that doesn’t mean that I expect other people to believe in my belief. I’d agree to disagree, because just like how I wouldn’t want others to judge my (sex) life, I believe there’s no win in judging others just for their sex drive.
Despite being inherently conservative, I’d say ‘it’s your life.’ Do whatever you want as long as you keep yourself safe, and you don’t affect anyone who isn't willing.
These days, there’s no more clear definitions of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ as lines are blurred. More often than not, we know that behind cases of infidelity is also very likely a complicated history between two adults.
As the generation that grew up with a mix of Eastern and Western values, we are one that are increasingly receptive of liberal perspectives while we continue to police ourselves with morals of fidelity and monogamy.
Some may think that we are becoming desensitised or that we are normalising promiscuous behaviour and to a certain extent, we are. However, I don't think that this is necessarily a bad thing. It’s just growth. And being part of a society in a first-world nation, I think growth is good.
Going forward, it's probably also one of the things that is going to change a good deal in several generations' time.
* Names have been changed to protect the identity of the individuals.
Also read: Is There A Need For Better Sex Education That’s More Than STDs And Abstinence?.
(Header Image Credit: Marvin Meyer on Unsplash)
In the earlier days of his training, going home with cuts and bruises were nothing. Because when one is training in a sport that employs everything from punches and kicks to chokes and throws to achieve dominance in combat, injuries are inevitable.
For the uninitiated, the bloodied faces and broken bones that accompany Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fights paint the sport as violent or even brutal, but for 26-year-old Niko Soe, it is also one that drastically changed his life path.
The professional MMA fighter was exposed to the world of martial arts when his mother sent him to Silat classes at 8-years-old. However, it was not until he discovered MMA at 15 when martial arts became more than a pastime.
“My friend showed me some videos of different martial arts versus different martial arts. Then, when I looked at them, I thought ‘Woah, interesting!’”
He was particularly fascinated with how powerful MMA is but back then, martial arts weren’t as widely taken up in Singapore, and it took him a year before he decided to hit search on Google for ‘MMA gyms in Singapore’.
That search led him to his first martial arts gym, where he would meet one of the coaches that played an integral role in guiding him in his pursuit of a career in martial arts.
Although his parents always worried for his safety, his dad gave him money for the classes in the end because “they just wanted me to do something, as I had stopped Silat for a year at that point.”
However, the initial support soon turned into aversion when it became a new norm for Niko to return home with cuts, bruises, sprains, and stitches.
“They started telling me to stop, but I’m not willing to stop. I want to continue training.” And the more he learnt, the deeper he ‘fell into the rabbithole’.
“It’s fun lah,” he told me later on when I asked him ‘why MMA’, “it’s the reason why I’m still doing this after 10 years.”
He understood his parents’ concern for him, but explained that the worst part of getting injured isn’t so much the pain or the impact it has on his body, but in having to put a pause on something he has so much passion for.
“When I get these injuries, I'm sad not because I got a cut or anything. I'm sad that I cannot train because of that cut.”
These injuries are just some of the sacrifices that Niko has learnt to deal with. We’re talking martial arts after all—a sport that relies heavily on one’s physical ability to fight, as well as the mental capacity to overcome its corresponding tribulations.
Refusing to give up on his passion and not wanting to rely on his parents to fund his MMA pursuit, Niko took up a part-time job after he completed national service.
On top of juggling work and MMA trainings, he also enrolled in a part-time diploma course in hospitality management. Because back then, Niko never fathomed being a full-time fighter. In fact, he had planned to work in the hospitality industry.
It all changed when Niko had his first Sanda fight which his head coach then, Bruce, a Singapore mixed martial arts pioneer, had signed him up for.
“Honestly, that match was terrible because there was no game plan. My objective was just to beat him up, But it was a turning point because the adrenaline I felt there reminded me of why I started doing MMA in the first place.”
Something clicked within Niko. Subsequently, MMA wasn’t just a casual pursuit to him anymore. Neither were the matches: “I started to know how to think properly, know how to control my mind properly, how to prepare for a fight.”
It was a pivotal moment.
However, survival in this industry goes beyond knowing how to fight in the cage.
“Money-wise, the beginning definitely wasn’t easy.”
His weeks were packed to the brim: Every day, he’d train in the morning and afternoon, then head to school or to work at night. This went on for a year.
“So when people say they got no time [for their dreams], that's crap,” he quipped.
Eventually, he switched over from his part-time job in a hotel to teaching martial arts—a step towards making a sustainable career out of his passion. Subsequently, he was also signed by Impact MMA and is one of the youngest trainer there today.
Despite his age, this Singaporean millennial is also one of the most experienced MMA practitioners around and is signed with ONE Championship. When he made his debut at the ONE Championship stage in 2016, he scored an impressive submission victory. He was also highly lauded for his second victory in the 2019 ONE: Roots of Honor.
Looking back on more than 10 years of his journey, he talked about how he had, in pursuing what he loves, popped his knee and elbows, lost his ability to walk or even sit properly for almost 3 months due to a very bad back injury, sacrificed time with friends and even the relationship with his family.
“So, I mean, it's how bad you want it lah,”
Many would see MMA as a violent sport. Some would even argue that it’s just ‘glorified fighting’. To which Niko acknowledged, “Yes and no. It is fighting, but it is also life changing.”
Speaking about the many students he had seen starting out uncoordinated, slow, and shy, he highlighted that the important thing is that these students didn’t give up: “Now, you see them move flawlessly and they have so much more confidence in themselves.”
“A lot of people, when it's too hard in training or if it gets too tiring, they just give up. They don't want to do it again. Or if they get injured, they stop and they say they cannot do it.”
For Niko, perseverance is what got him to where he is today. And despite his admirable accomplishments, he remains rooted to his goals not of achieving fame, but to be the best in the sport.
“That's what I've been working on since I was younger, and that’s what I [still] train hard for [today].”
For Niko, his end goal is simply, to be the best MMA fighter.
Though, when I asked about his thoughts on being able to be recognised on such an established stage like ONE, Niko shared something that I didn’t expect to hear from a pro-MMA fighter who loves what he does.
“Fighting is a chore,” he said, “because after you finish, suddenly it’ll feel a bit lighter.”
He explained that behind every fight is a considerable amount of preparation for these matches. Not only is it a sacrifice on his own time and money, it is the time and, often literally, also the blood and sweat of the team of coaches and partners that train him.
“Everybody's really doing this as a team. It's for the team.”
There are two types of fighters in Singapore: The one that wants others to know that they are a fighter, and the one that just wants to win.
For those who want to be a fighter, it's not about all the fame and glory, but it's all the hardship and whether you can take it. Niko emphasised, “it's a lot of sacrifice.”
“Don't give up. No matter how slow you are, don't give up. Persevere. Of course, you have to be consistent as well, but persevere.”
Also read: Look At My Ability, Not Disability: This S’porean Plays Tennis Despite Being Blind.
We all love to travel, but you’ve got to admit that sometimes, travelling can be a huge pain in the ass too. And one of the times you will feel that pain the most is when you try to travel with your other half.
Somehow, exploring beautiful, new places together brings out the not so beautiful parts of people. But it is also why there’s a gazillion articles out there promoting the benefits of travelling as a couple: It’s the best way to test one’s relationship.
While it’s no secret that travelling is a big test, the bigger test for couples is going on a road trip together.
We’ve seen many stories of couples dropping everything to road trip around the world and it’s really envy-inducing. A road trip is fun, but it isn’t easy at all.
Road trips are not only more challenging to plan, it’s challenging to do the actual road trip, especially if you have never done one before. For a couple, each stop you make on your road trip can also be a test for the both of you, and your relationship!
Take for instance a road trip in Perth, Western Australia (WA)—a popular travel destination for Singaporeans for its affordability, location, ease of communication, and variety of attractions. (Not forgetting how easily you can snag a cheap flight ticket there from Scoot.)
There are a lot of factors to stress over when you travel. Even details like an ideal parking spot can easily be a reason for couples to bicker while on vacation. The real test, however, is when you're facing a challenge, and on a road trip, navigation alone is enough to tip the scales.
It’s easy to get lost, especially if it is your first time driving around in Western Australia. Thankfully, we live in a time where resources are easily accessible through our mobile—there’s always the GPS and road trip guides online.
Another kind of stress test is when you push each other out of your comfort zones, like walking 40 metres above the forest floor in Western Australia’s Southern Forests.
Walk among the majestic giant jarrah, karri, marri and tuart trees on the Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk. It’s even ‘better’ if you fear heights, as the stress from feeling vulnerable will help to bring the two of you closer as you overcome the fear (or the nerves) together!
Alternatively, Perth’s marine playground, Rockingham, offers a variety of other thrilling experiences like kitesurfing, jet skiing, wakeboarding and even jet packing! Otherwise, you can dive into the marine world through snorkelling, or enjoy an incredible eco-tourism experience—swimming with wild dolphins!
Home to the finest displays of wild sealife and birdlife, the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park will also give you numerous opportunities to see the little penguins and sea lions!
Money is the root of all evil and it’s the same in a relationship. Financial management is important, and this can become a big issue for couples, especially on long-haul trips.
Fortunately, there are several travel options for couples on a budget, and Perth (or Western Australia in general) is one of the most affordable destinations for Singaporeans. Located slightly over five hours away by plane, flight tickets to Western Australia are usually cheaper than other states.
Those potential savings can be put to better use, like treating your partner and yourself to a romantic stay at one of the many accommodation choices in Perth, or in shopping—one of the vacation must-dos! And when you talk about shopping in Perth, there’s one place that you have to put in your itinerary: Westfield Carousel.
Otherwise as Perth's largest shopping centre, the shopping paradise houses more than 250 shops and features a wide range of fashion outlets, dining spots, and multiple entertainment options. With so many opportunities for pampering and indulgence, it’s easy to get caught up with ‘retail therapy’, only to realise that you have spent a little too much for a day when you return to your campervan.
This is the perfect scenario to test not only your financial management skills individually and as a couple, it also helps to cultivate your understanding and respect for each other. After all, you guys are on vacation, and that means knowing how to ‘live a little’ without breaking the bank.
It’s important to appreciate the little things but amidst our busy lives, we tend to forget what we have.
Take the chance to slow things down with a relaxing walk at Kings Park and Botanic Garden. One of the world’s largest inner-city parks, the park boasts a wide range of flora and fauna, including over 70 bird species!
King’s Park’s stunning location lets you admire the panoramic views of Perth City, and take a stroll around the park after, and watch out for the 750-year-old, mighty boab tree!
Alternatively, pack some sandwiches and have a picnic there instead! And when the sun sets, imagine lying on the picnic mat and gazing at the stars together—simple pleasures in life, and so romantic!
Wrapping up the list of tests is a challenge for the both of you to return to the first day of your relationship: To test how you romanced each other from the start.
Oftentimes, romance between long-time couples fizzes out as each person starts to lax on simple gestures like dressing up or on compliments. Some couples may also find themselves communicating lesser as the years go by, as it will seem like there’s nothing else to talk about after so many years.
Road trips are the best way to fix this. As the both of you are confined in a metal box for hours at a time, driving from place to place, you’ll find yourself having quality conversations with your partner that you rarely get to have on an average day. The panoramic views of the clear, blue
skies, the seas, the greenscapes, the mountains, and the wildlife along the drive helps set the mood for such conversations.
There are plenty of romantic destinations within Perth as well. For example, the 19 metropolitan beaches of Perth’s Sunset Coast are beautiful places to catch an Indian Ocean sunset.
The glorious coastline encompasses the Cities of Stirling, featuring popular Scarborough Beach. Stop by Joondalup for Hillarys Boat Harbour, where you can enjoy a romantic dinner by the marina.
Don’t forget to stop by one of the most iconic landscapes in Western Australia, The Pinnacles! Head there during sun set because when night falls, the place transform into a perfect stargazing spot. Nothing’s more enchanting than looking at the stars and the magnificent views of the Milky Way with your other half!
Perth’s iconic Swan River is another romantic spot for couples.
Park your ride and take a cruise down Swan River instead! Set against the lights of Perth’s cityscape, the various tours from operators like Little Ferry Co and Captain Cook Cruises offers romantic evening cruises down the river, with options for dinner aboard.
For an even more enchanting experience, Gondolas on the Swan will transport you back in time as you sail down the river on a Venetian Gondola, with romantic Mandolin music in the background to boot.
There are plenty of other places in Perth that offers you a chance to connect with your partner through different activities. For example, the famed Margaret River region is the perfect starting point to go on an indulgent tasting journey, where you can enjoy marron, trout, and venison fresh from the farms, as well premium wines, boutique beers, crisp ciders, indulgent truffle and cheeses.
Located offshore, Rottnest Island is a paradise of island activities for couples. Go for a cycle around the island and keep you eyes peeled for the happiest animals of earth—quokkas!
You can also spend a night at one of the dreamy beachfront glamping tents. If you’re there at the right season, you may even catch the sight of majestic whales out Indian Ocean!
Road trips are a lot more challenging but that also means that it will be extra fulfilling when you get down to doing it. For what it's worth, a road trip will help you grow closer with your better half and leave the both of you with a treasure trove of memories.
As we approach yet another year-end, take the opportunity to scoot away for a couples’ retreat!
To help with your planning, you can find some recommended itineraries in Western Australia here!
Scoot will be having a special promo from 4 - 17 September: Fly to Perth from just $129! Find out more about the promo here.
Need more help in planning your road trip in Western Australia? Visit Tourism Western Australia’s website here for more information on the various places of interests.
(This article was written in collaboration with Tourism Western Australia and Scoot.)
It’s funny to think about how we went from crazing over anything salted egg and mala to increasingly obsessed with healthy living. (Yet, it’s intriguing how our love for bubble tea never died)
So many people are buying into leading a healthy lifestyle these days that sometimes, I can’t help but wonder: what’s with the hype?
We are more willing than ever to throw our money at pricey bowls of salads, acai bowls, and anything that sells the concept of better, healthier, and more wholesome. But as much as our society is slowly embracing all-organic or all-natural lifestyles, the majority of us honestly do not give a damn.
To truly understand what the big deal is with this increasing obsession, I decided to (was tasked to) challenge myself to living organically for one week.
“Seven days only what,” I thought to myself when I made that resolve. If only I knew how naive I was—The seven days turned out to be 168 hours of emotional turmoil.
As someone who never really cared about the organic-ness of anything, I quickly realised the weight of my momentous decision.
I had zero knowledge in this. To me, organic living just meant having to eat clean. But according to a step-by-step wikiHow guide, leading a 100% organic lifestyle would encompass everything from the food one consumes to the products one uses in everyday life. This includes hygiene and beauty products, like shampoo and face wash.
There’s even organic underwear that lets you protect the environment while protecting your nether regions. Very functional.
I’m quite auntie, and I love supermarkets. But it isn’t fun at all when you are someone who only cooks great instant noodles and have to plan the next seven days ahead in ingredients. What's more, I was at an organic grocer with only a $100 budget.
Miraculously, dinner was served without me hurting myself, or the kitchen. But Gordon Ramsay would have flipped the f**k out if he saw how I peeled and chopped a clove of garlic.
The thought of having instant organic oatmeal for breakfast two days in a row made me queasy. There’s a reason why it’s been sitting at our pantry for months.
I skipped breakfast instead and had a bit of the organic cocoa beverage I bought. It was delicious.
I considered going to a fashion swap event, but after finding out how much it costs, it became a secondary concern. I needed the remaining budget for survival.
Fortunately, I saved some money from donated products from some colleagues, like an organic bamboo toothbrush. I thanked the others for rendering their emotional support.
Luck has it that this challenge is also partially inspired by a client who wanted us to talk about a new organic shampoo and conditioner that will be launching in Singapore. Naturally, I added them to my list of ‘donated products’ for the experiment.
Dinner was a Nice & Natural SUPERGRAINS MUESLI BAR as I had a fitness class that night. The muesli bar did taste natural, but ‘nice’ is very subjective. It wasn’t awful at least.
What’s awful is not being able to buy that prata when I smelt it on the way home after class, even though I was starving.
They bought Jollibee for a company farewell lunch today. I love Jollibee. But lunch was organic fried brown rice with Day 1’s minced chicken instead. It wasn’t bad, but I died inside in having to abstain.
Dinner was the same unexciting affair of a muesli bar, and it took immense willpower and determination to not buy any food from the coffeeshop again.
I felt like my stomach was eating itself by the time I reached home.
I was beginning to have an existential crisis as I thought about how I started yesterday miserably hungry and ended my day the same way. It is depressing for a food lover.
I cheered myself up and reminded myself of the positives.
I comfort myself that at least, my hair is being fed well. It is not only smelling like sweet honey, but also starting to feel a tad healthier. I’m not sure if it’s a placebo effect, but it is definitely less frizzy than before. I’m just glad that at least something was serving me well.
They say that you are what you eat, and it’s true.
If you think the dish looks sad, you’re right. Because that is me.
The obvious lack of colour very much reflects my mood. By this point, I noticed how the heavy focus on living organically has turned me into a pretty terrible person.
Case in point: Instead of visiting a loved one at the hospital, I have been rushing home to cook my meals. I have also been turning down social obligations so as to retain the organic-ness of my meals.
I was beginning to realise that on hindsight, it would have been wiser for a more gradual transition over a longer period.
I made myself feel better with some potato chips that afternoon. It is not organic.
I ended up in Marché for lunch with my team. They feasted on their $9.90 rostis and beef steaks while I went for the salad, which included selections of organic ingredients.
I have never hated dining there until today.
After going organic for six days, I am not too sure if I am supposed to feel any difference physically, emotionally, or spiritually. But I did poop three times by mid-afternoon today.
Happiness comes from many things and today it is from counting down to the end of this tormentous organic living challenge.
As I had my very last organic lunch for the challenge, I may have teared.
I probably only scraped the tip of leading an organic lifestyle with my foray into food and a couple of hygiene products, but the mindfulness of what I used and did was beginning to rub off of me. I’d even feel guilty from forgetting to bring my reusable bags to the supermarket.
Leading an organic lifestyle is f-ing hard.
In our modern-day life and as an average millennial, it’s almost impossible to lead a 100% organic lifestyle. At least not immediately. It really is the time and constant conscious effort in choosing that lifestyle.
While I don’t doubt the benefits or at least the intentions of organic living, there are things that are way too tiresome to practice in daily life, like only eating organic. However, there are definitely things that is very doable and can be easily incorporated into daily life. For instance, the organic body wash a colleague donated to me, or the organic shampoo and conditioner I got from Hair Recipe.
Granted, these items were given to me. But they really are the simplest ways to get started on the whole organic lifestyle.
I’m no expert in beauty or haircare, but as a female, I definitely appreciate a product that makes me feel good about myself. And it is what the Hair Recipe shampoos gave me for the one week—comfort, and contentment in having good hair days.
Available in three ‘flavours’: Honey & Apricot (Moisture Recipe), Kiwi & Fig (Volume Recipe), and Apple & Ginger (Damage Care Recipe), their shampoo, conditioner, and hair mask, are special recipes formulated with the help of Japanese nutritionists.
The Hair Recipe products are made from nature inspired ingredients as well! In short, these products are in a way, a superfood that is meant to ‘feed’ our hair with food ingredients (like honey and apricot). The whole concept is to ensure that our hair will only be fed the best of what it needs and nothing more.
It sounds a lot like well-written (and fancy) marketing, but I have to say that I genuinely enjoyed the good hair washes amidst all the pressure of trying to be organic. It’s also a bonus that after trying all three flavours, they are all one of the best smelling shampoos I’ve tried. The best part is: I got them for free.
Hair Recipe products are now available in Singapore! Get them at Guardian stores or online here.
(This article was written in collaboration with Hair Recipe)
Even when you walk up to her humble 4-room flat, you can already tell from the packs of cat litter and assortment of pet accessories lining the corridor that this person keeps cats. A lot of cats.
38, to be precise, of which only 10 are her pets. The rest are strays that she has rescued to treat and rehabilitate. Even the 10 are rescues that she didn’t have the heart to release back to the streets due to their conditions.
When I visited Tiff* last Saturday, it quickly became apparent that this is a real-life Singaporean crazy cat lady—an identity that Tiff has come to embrace.
Her home puts any cat cafes in Singapore to shame. There were literally cats everywhere, and these are cats that clamour for your attention: running up to you, rubbing against your legs, and following you wherever you walk (even without the lure of food). But even for a long-time cat lover, I was a little overwhelmed by how manja the cats were when I first stepped into her flat that afternoon.
I first got to know of Tiff’s rescue efforts through a Facebook page she runs, Purrs & Meows.
Although she holds a full-time job in the government sector, I’d make a confident claim that her real full-time job is caring for the cats. Every bit of her time, besides the government job, is spent on improving the lives of the stray cats she encounters in her neighbourhood.
Contrarily, she used to see herself as a dog person, that was until she started looking out for a cute ginger cat around her neighbourhood. What started off as casual cat feeding sessions became a desire to do something to help cats that are in need of medical attention.
“I didn’t know about sterilising back then and started reading up a lot on it. I read this article that explained the benefits of sterilising, so I decided to bring [the ginger cat] to get sterilised.”
It was then that she started to get increasingly involved in the welfare of stray cats she encounters. That was 10 years ago. The simple sterilisation efforts has since evolved into a noble cause of saving abused cats or those suffering from complicated medical conditions.
A ‘new’ 4-room HDB flat isn’t very spacious and with 38 cats living under one roof, I would imagine it to be a hell of a job to keep the place in order. And it is—a big part of Tiff’s daily routine is spent on cleaning. One full cleaning session alone would take her three hours to complete, which is only possible on weekends. And showering the cats is something that can only be done across a few weeks.
However, her daily routine do include regular cleanings. It is the first thing she does when she wakes up at around 6.30am daily. She cleans again after feeding the cats, and then showers before heading for work from 10am to 7pm.
When she returns home after work, she repeats the same cycle of cleaning-feeding-cleaning again.
“I [also] clean the litter box quite often. I’m a bit OCD because I don’t want the smell to escape [to the corridor].”
And indeed, when I stood at her doorstep before entering, I didn’t pick up any trace of odour at all. Although, there was a faint scent that’s reminiscent of a typical pet shop with dogs or cats, and the floor did feel a little clammy when I walked around.
After her night routine at home, she would head out to feed the strays at three locations: Northlink Industrial Park, the area around Sembawang Shopping Centre, and Woodlands industrial area. It is also the time where she goes on the occasional cat rescue missions, depending on whether she spots any cats in-need, or from any public tip-offs.
By the time she cabs back to her home, it would have been 2.00am to 2.30am. She would clean again if required, and unwind a little by catching up on Netflix shows. Every weekday night, she gets an average of three hours of sleep before the whole cycle of caring for cats-work-and caring for cats repeats.
Even thinking about such a lifestyle made me feel stressed out.
A single woman, Tiff runs her cause independently. Although she does get the occasional help from friends who also do cat rescues, most of her rescue and rehabilitation efforts are handled by her alone. This includes the funds that are pumped into it.
Over the years, almost all of those efforts are self-funded. The money goes into everything from essentials like cat food and litter, to hefty vet fees to treat the cats. Sometimes, she gets donations from kind souls who supplement her with assorted items that help with daily maintenance.
She appeals for financial help for cats that require expensive surgeries or treatments and occasionally, she does get monetary support in offsetting the expensive medical bills. These bills can range in the thousands, and it is not unusual for her to be forking out $4000 just to treat one stray cat for one issue—which is what she had recently done for two cats, one with Parvovirus and the other fighting an autoimmune disease.
When I asked her how much she has spent on Purrs & Meows over the years, she trailed off after a “wah…”, pondered over the question for awhile, and explained that she has lost track. But she estimates the figure to be over a hundred thousand.
“I hardly have any savings,” she tells me, “but I do have a savings plan for myself.”
She went on to tell me about how she has cut down on a lot of things, and only sets aside money for transport, as it is one aspect that she needs in order to continue her cat feeding and rescue efforts. Unlike ten years ago, food, leisure, and material goods for herself are hardly a priority now.
Being a full-time ‘cat guardian’ has also drastically changed her social life. “I don’t have any friends,” she answered me flatly when I asked about it.
In a way, it made sense considering the amount of time she spends on her cats, whom she sees as her babies. But even as a cat lover myself, I can only imagine the kind of deep love she has for the cats in order to give up almost everything that makes up an average person’s life, and devote in to improving the lives of these strays.
Tiff’s extreme devotion has also been a cause of many squabbles between her mother and her. Although, things have improved and her mother, who lives with her, do help her with the daily feeding and cleaning.
I asked Tiff if she had ever wanted to give up, to which she instinctively answered: “Everyday.”
“It’s very stressful, but at the end of the day, this is how they show that they love you,” she continues as one of the cats gave her kisses and cuddled up to her. “At the end of the day, they just want your company.”
For Tiff, this is something that she has invested way too much into to have second thoughts. What more, when she wakes up everyday to more than 30 cats meowing for her care and concern, it is impossible for her to just stop doing what she has been doing. She just cannot bear to.
Although she had never started Purrs & Meows with the intention of being a crazy cat lady or an avid rescuer, it has, over the years, morphed into that today.
“My aim is to rehabilitate the injured cats, get them well and get them adopted. For those who are terminal, I just want to treat them well and give them a comfortable home before they pass on. If I turn a blind eye to these cats, they will probably just die and they will probably die sooner. If they die just like that, nobody will know, and I think it’s just really very sad.”
*The name has been changed to protect the identity of the person.
Also read: “I See Myself In Them”: This Once “Wannabe Beng” Now Helps S’pore Youths Live Limitless.
There’s a blind tennis team in Singapore.
Yes, blind tennis.
In a sport that relies on one’s visual acuity to chase the ball and hit it back with as much precision, it’s challenging as it is for a sighted person, so how the hell does one play tennis blind?
I was dumbfounded.
It was only when I met the players from Soundball Singapore, our blind tennis team, during one of their weekly trainings that it started to make sense.
One of them is 39-year-old Marc Chiang, who has almost zero central vision and relies mostly on his peripheral vision for sight.
After giving me a brief history lesson of Soundball, he explained that certain elements are modified to make the sport feasible for visually handicapped players.
For example, the balls and rackets used are specially manufactured for this game.
Rules are also tweaked, and differs depending on the class of the player—players are assigned the B1 to B4 class <a href=" on their ‘level of sight’, B1 players being those who are completely blind.
While the other players went on to set up the court and warm up for the training, I sat down with Marc at the side of the main hall at Pathlight School.
“I got to know of Soundball through another Runninghour member, Hock Bee. He’s one of the first few Singapore Soundball players.”
Runninghour is an inclusive running club that Marc had been running with after he started to lose his vision. It was also there that he found himself a second family of sorts. It’s where he found the comfort and support that helped him tide through the struggles he had been having with his vision loss.
“It was quite a setback,” Marc shared when I probed about his fears when he was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a degeneration of the retina that causes him to experience a gradual loss of eyesight, eight years ago.
“I was just lost. I wasn’t clinical diagnosed with depression, but I was [feeling very down] and I just withdrew [from everything]. I cut myself from a lot of social activity. I struggled with meeting my own friends.”
Social situations were a big hurdle as Marc found it hard to handle his own condition, much less explain it to the people around him. As a result, it was very easy to get frustrated. Especially when he tries to do something but realise that he has lost the ability to do so. It was an everyday struggle because he had to come to terms with the fact that he needed help in the simplest of things like scanning a document or going to the toilet.
He had been working as a facilities engineer for almost four years back then and fortunately, his company was willing to transition him to a more backend role, which he still works full-time at today.
Sports, however, was a major part of his life that he had to ‘give up’ due to his inability to see properly.
“I cut down on a lot of sports. I used to run, swim, play tennis, soccer, basketball. I still go trekking, running, and also travelling, but I can’t do any of that independently anymore.”
After speaking to three of the Soundball players, I came to understand that the biggest joy and fulfillment for the visually handicapped is in knowing that they are still capable of achieving something that they thought they have lost the ability to do.
For Marc, it is the ability to play tennis again as it is a sport he has been playing since he was 10 years old, and had even represented his school and army unit in competitions.
It’s evident that he hasn’t lost his competitive streak. In fact, together with a couple of other players, he represented Singapore since the first International Blind Tennis Tournament in 2017. He was even ranked 4th in the B2 class in 2018.
Chairperson of the group, homemaker Chris Tan, is another player who never lost her aspirations.
Like Marc, Chris experienced a gradual loss of eyesight. Although, her condition is somewhat the opposite of Marc’s as she has tunnel vision (from Glaucoma).
Now 46, she tells me that her inspiration behind being active and keeping fit is her two boys.
“I didn’t want to be the mom who sits at home and does nothing, I want to be a role model for them. To demonstrate to my young children that disabilities shouldn’t stop you from doing what you want to do.”
With the support from her husband and friends, she also volunteers her time to Runninghour, assisting the group in events. She also took over the role as the head of Soundball Singapore when the previous chairperson stepped down, as she didn’t want the sport to die out in Singapore.
Despite the improvements in the group over the years and the encouraging results from the international tournament however, Marc and Chris told me that there’s still a long way to go for Soundball Singapore in terms of recognition and structure.
While they do have support from Singapore Association Of The Visually Handicapped (SAVH) and WITS (Women's International Tennis Singapore) for certain areas, the group is run solely by chairperson Chris Tan, and assisted by Marc.
They’ve also managed to get by through the years with support from different groups of people—donations that covers part of their training and competition expenses, training venue sponsorship, and volunteers to coach and assist in training. But they still face a ‘chicken and egg’ problem when it comes to getting a permanent coach and growing the team.
Marc: “We’ve had players who left because there was no structured training programme, because we don’t have a permanent coach. And when you want to get a coach, you need players.”
Getting a permanent coach will also make it possible to track players’ progression, which will be very beneficial for the regulars who have been working hard for the international tournament every year.
However, how does one find a coach to teach blind tennis—a sport that is still so new to society?
Later, I learnt from Marc that there are only about 10 players in the group, out of which only about four are regulars. These numbers surprised me. I assumed that there would be at least twice to three times more players, since the group was established in 2012. My heart sank knowing the struggles that the group faces despite having big dreams of establishing themselves as a formal sports group in Singapore, and in helping to get blind tennis recognised as a paralympic sport.
One of Chris’ aims is also to turn Soundball Singapore into a platform for visually impaired persons to find joy. More than the sport, she hopes that it can be a space for people to socialise, to share their stories and problems with each other—a support platform of some sort.
And it is evident from the interactions I observed throughout the two hours training session that the group is more than a gathering of visually impaired individuals who want to play tennis. Among them, it was this feeling of comfort and familiarity when you finally meet your close friends amidst all your busy schedules.
Something else that struck me was what 54-year-old uncle Hock Bee, the first Soundball player in Singapore, said: “I have always believed that being visually impaired, we don’t need to do different things, just have to do the things differently.”
Beyond the sport itself, it’s also clear that this is where the players get empowered. Being able to hit a tennis ball is no big deal for most of us, but for them, playing blind tennis cultivates within them resilience and gives them the confidence they need (and deserve). They may have lost their eyesight, but through the empowerment from playing, it reminds them to never lose sight of their dreams.
Also read: The Struggle Of A Mother With A Special Needs Child – “I Can’t Always Be There”.
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