Categories
Lifestyle Relaxation THG Youth

6 Techniques Therapists Recommend to Reduce Stress

Experiencing stress is inevitable at any point in our lives. With the evolving COVID-19 situation, fear and anxiety about the future could cause overwhelming emotions in adults and children. Social distancing measures, albeit necessary, can also evoke feelings of loneliness which might further increase stress.

It’s important to handle stress proactively to minimise its impact and prevent anything from spiralling out from control. If not managed or kept on track, high stress levels over time can negatively impact your health, such as risk of anxiety and depression and high blood pressure. If you’re currently going through a rough time or know someone who is, here are some therapist-approved stress reduction techniques to employ. 

Practice journaling

avasol/Unsplash

Journaling, a tried and true practice for many therapists, is a simple yet powerful tool that reveals your internal thoughts and worries. Not just that, it helps create order when you feel like your world is in chaos. According to professionals from the University of Rochester Medical Center, not only does journaling help you prioritise your problems and fears, it also tracks day-to-day symptoms so you can recognise triggers and learn ways to better control them. Maybe you’ve been stressed over work, but could there be other larger factors at hand, such as demanding perfection from yourself? Journaling provides the opportunity to gain greater insight into your thoughts so you can work on a plan and reduce your stress.

Have a daily ritual

eutahm/Unsplash

Do your days tend to get overwhelming? Try to work with a schedule, and fit in intervals throughout the day where you can pause and get some me-time. “Take five seconds to pause before you get out of the bed, before you get in the shower, get to work or go on your next task,” says clinical social worker Jihan Madyun, LICSW, in an interview with Bustle. She recommends taking that time to do some gentle breathing, or think about what’s gone well for the day. “Make this a regular daily habit, and your feelings won’t feel so scary.”

Practice the 4 A’s of stress management…

Stress can hit us anytime and anywhere, whether it’s at a meeting with your boss or dealing with difficult family situations. In such instances, you can either change the situation or your reaction. Regardless of what you choose, it’s helpful to keep in mind the four A’s: avoid, alter, adapt, and accept. Avoid unnecessary stress by learning how to say no; alter the situation by changing the way you communicate and operate in your daily life; adapt to the stressor by reframing problems; and accept the things you can’t change.

Try breathing exercises

When you’re feeling stressed out and overwhelmed, the first thing you need to do is breathe — better yet if you employ breathing techniques. Try the diaphragmatic breathing technique, which uses patterns of deep, regular breathing from the diaphragm, and is found to reduce stress and muscle tension. Psychologist Shiri Sadeh-Sharvit, Ph.D, recommends practicing two to three times a day for three to five minutes each time. The 4-7-8 breathing technique (also known as rhythmic breathing) is also another effective method to employ — focus on breathing in quietly through the nose for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds, and exhale forcefully through the mouth for eight seconds. Remember to take your time.

Spend time in nature

Spending time in nature has great therapeutic effects. A 2019 study show that taking at least 20 minutes out of your day to stroll or sit in a place that makes you feel in contact with nature will significantly lower your stress hormone levels. By being in the outdoors, many discuss feeling a greater sense of peace and less rumination. So the next time you procrastinate on going on that walk — don’t.

Talk to someone

priscilladupreez/Unsplash

It’s important to get help and support from others, as humans are social creatures. “Having a heart-to-heart conversation with a family member can diminish your stress. Not only that, the other person will provide important perspective, instrumental support and emotional feedback,” Sadeh-Sharvit tells Bustle. If you’re not comfortable confiding with your family, a friend or therapist is just as good. Some social time can also provide immense benefit as spending time with people who care can help you feel better. So make it a point to connect regularly with family and friends. 

Categories
Culture Featured Lifestyle Local Singapore

Hungry Ghost Festival in Singapore, Explained

Growing up in Singapore, there was always a month in the year where respect to the dead was commissioned. The trail of incense and joss paper burning signaled the beginning; the flashy live performances (‘Ge Tai’) its peak.

The seventh month of the lunar calendar (July or August in the Western calendar) is known as ‘Ghost Month’ and the 15th day of the seventh month ‘Ghost Day’. A special custom to honour the spirits of the dead, it celebrates the Taoist (and Buddhist) belief in the afterlife. This year, the festival is held from 19 August to 16 September 2020, and as I’m writing, a familiar haze of smoke signals Ghost Day (2 September) is in full swing.

History

The festival’s origins come from a Buddhist tale of filial piety, where a Buddhist monk called Maudgalyayana (or Mulian) wanted to save his mother from perpetual hunger in the pits of hell. Buddha explained the only way was to make offerings to the monks returning from their annual retreat (15th day of the seventh month), as they could offer prayers that would bless his ancestors and relieve their suffering. As the story goes, Mulian’s mother was eventually raised from the status of hungry ghost to human being through this ritual, and thus, a new tradition was born.

Background

During Ghost Month, Chinese believe the Gates of Hell are opened, allowing spirits to roam the land of the living and visit their family members and descendants. These hungry ghouls are in constant search of food and entertainment, which is why all sorts of offerings are made — to keep the dead appeased and out of trouble.

While Taoists celebrate the festival as ‘Zhong Yuan Jie’ (or中元), the Buddhists name it ‘Yu Lan Pen Jie’ (or兰盆节’) — after the sutra from which the origin of this festival was derived. In Chinese tradition, deference and reverence to all ancestors is demanded; one of my earliest memories of Ghost Month was being instructed to say ‘excuse me’ whenever I passed offerings or prayer sticks, as an expression of respect.

Today, accidentally trampling on food, stepping on incense ashes, or kicking over joss sticks is still very much taboo, unless you’d like to suffer the wrath of angry spirits. The Chinese are a superstitious lot, but much of these special customs are centered around educating the next generation on proper decorum and the value of respecting the community’s elders and family members.

Offerings

Following that line of thought, making offerings are a significant part of Ghost month tradition — families burn joss paper replicas of anything their ancestors might need in the afterlife. Paper money is the most common offering, but believers also burn paper cars, luxury houses, clothes, even paper durian and pets.

Much of the joss paper burning now takes place within dark-coloured metal bins scattered around heartland estates and at temples where large furnaces facilitate mass prayer. The tradition of offering joss sticks or plates of food (often unpeeled fruits, cake or a cup of tea) still holds, and you’ll see these along pathways and public housing void decks as an aid to prayer.

travel_hungry-ghost-festival-singapore_1
kiawui/Instagram

Ge Tai

Because wandering ghouls need entertainment, flashy performances and raucous auctions are also a mainstay. Unique to Singapore and Malaysia, these live performances are called ‘Ge Tai’ (literally translated to be song stage), and it’s often thrown by religious affiliations and temples as a culmination of Ghost Day. Large tents are temporarily set up in open fields, or in my case, an open car park and crowds of heartlanders and believers gather to watch.

Auctions are part of the lively affair, during which dinner attendees (usually members of the hosting association) bid for items ranging from a fan to thousand-dollar liquors. Winning the bid is as much about saving ‘face’ (prestige and social standing in the Chinese context) as an ego boost; things can get heated as bidders try to one-up each other.

As the night wears on, the live performances take over — singers in flamboyant, glittery costumes take center stage to perform songs in dialects — Hokkien, Cantonese, Teochew, Mandarin. The occasional Chinese opera performance and irreverent comedy dialogues intersperse the jazzed-up performances — it’s a heady mix of old and new that entertains with choreographed song numbers and technopop LED. Just be sure not to sit in the first row, as that is purely reserved for the ‘honoured guests’.

Categories
Culture Lifestyle

Are Socially-Distanced Festivals Part of Our New Normal?

We live in strange, strange times. As the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has crippled most of the world, we’ve had to struggle to adapt to what’s colloquially called the “new normal”. This translates to masks being a permanent face accessory, only being able to go out in groups of five, figuring out how to work remotely from home, and so on.

However, as various governments start to gain a stronger hold on the spread of the virus, countries around the world are starting to regain some sense of normalcy. So, what does the future look like or, at least, what can we expect in the conceivable days that lie ahead? 

Perhaps an answer to this question lies in the form of socially-distanced festivals, which might be the key in helping to get the badly-beaten entertainment and music industry back on its feet!

Sure, there have been various livestream gigs but nothing can compare to the experience of witnessing live music acts in the flesh. At the start of August, the United Kingdom’s first socially-distanced concert was held in Newcastle, where around 2,500 people were in attendance. They were segregated into groups of five, with each group having their own elevated platform. Each platform even came with its own table, chairs, and even a fridge! Cars had to be parked two metres apart, with food and drink ordered in advance via an app. 

These socially-distanced concerts also come in many forms such as a drive-in concert, where people can enjoy the live acts whilst being socially distanced in their cars. The vehicles are spaced around six metres apart, allowing people to tune into the music via their car radios. The duration of the event is also kept to the maximum of one hour, with security teams on constant patrol to prevent anyone from getting out of their cars.

Such concerts have been popping up in parts of Europe and the United States, with DJs and performers finding creative ways to interact with the passengers in their respective vehicles. For example, at DJ D-Nice’s drive-in concert in Miami, he asked people to press their car horns in unison — replicating, in a way, the energy of the audience’s cheers!

Tuk Tuk Fest/Facebook

And it seems as if event and concert organisers are not afraid to get creative — in Thailand, the Amazing Tuk Tuk Festival saw hundreds of tuk tuks at the Asiatique promenade, where passengers were treated to a slew of live acts. These tuk tuks stayed within their designated zones, which were clearly demarcated with tape. 

In the Philippines, a drive-in concert was held at the Laoag Sand Dunes, where each 4×4 vehicle had its own dedicated driver/tour guide. Each vehicle could only carry a maximum of four passengers, with sandboarding and an off-road tour thrown in as part of the experience. Measures such as wearing of face masks at all times and banning alcoholic beverage consumption were among some of the protocols implemented.

O.Torvald/Facebook

In Ukraine, the rock band O.Torvald even played their entire set on a building rooftop — where fans could watch the performance from the comfort of their own balconies! Booking of hotel rooms replaced the purchasing of tickets for this ‘vertical concert’, where they could sing and dance freely without being inhibited by a mask.

Tuk Tuk Fest/Facebook

No matter the event, stringent measures are implemented, such as only having outdoor live stages, temperature checks upon entry, the presence of multiple hand sanitising booths and water points, as well as social distancing enforced in areas like bars and campsites. The upcoming Stendhal Festival in Northern Ireland even goes as far as to implement a minimum age of 21, as they acknowledge the trickiness of mandating social distancing practices for younger individuals.

This is a far cry from events that seemed to have forgone safety measures altogether — the recent music festival at Wuhan Maya Beach Water Park shocked the world when photos and videos of its party-goers went viral. The crowds were seen in close proximity with no masks in sight, reminiscent of concerts pre-COVID.

The effectiveness and sustainability of socially-distanced events have been thrown into question. As stated by Melvin Benn, managing director of Festival Republic, such events are simply not financially viable. If he had his way, he would use compulsory coronavirus testing as an incentive for partygoers looking to attend acts that are performing at full capacity. However, with the high costs involved, it’s unlikely that this will materialise anytime soon.

There have been mixed reactions from performance attendees as well, with some declaring that such socially-distanced concerts simply don’t offer the same atmosphere as packed live acts. However, these events have generally been met with much acclaim, with some attendees even joking that there are now VIP seats available for anyone and everyone. In fact, these socially-distanced concerts are so popular that they draw attendees from all walks of life! 

For now, no matter the perspective, it looks like we’ve entered a reinvented new era where crowded mosh pits are a thing of the past, with socially segregated concerts indefinitely here to stay. Or at least, for the foreseeable future!

Categories
Lifestyle Travel Insights

Yes, Travel is Finally Possible! Here’s What You Need to Know About Singapore’s Travel Bubble

What a tumultuous year 2020 has been. With most of us having been confined to our homes during the COVID-19 lockdown, it’s little wonder that we’re all yearning for a getaway. 

Thankfully, as the spread of the virus starts to slow, various countries have gradually started to relax their border restrictions. And yes, with that, travel – in the form of travel bubbles – has indeed become possible once again! 

What exactly is a travel bubble?

Travel bubbles comprise exclusive partnerships between countries that have managed to control the spread of COVID-19 within their borders. This agreement permits travel between the respective countries without the need for mandated quarantine upon arrival. 

Examples of existing travel bubbles include those between selected cities in China and South Korea, as well as between India and Canada, among others. 

What countries are in Singapore’s travel bubble?

1. Singapore – New Zealand

kewl/Pixabay

Singapore has allowed travel to and from New Zealand, effective from 1st September 2020. This also applies to students studying at institutions in New Zealand that do not permit long-distance learning.

Visitors to Singapore from New Zealand will not have to undergo quarantine upon arrival, under the condition that they have not travelled out of New Zealand in the last consecutive 14 days. However, they would have to undergo a COVID-19 test at the airport and will only be allowed to resume their trip after a negative result.

2. Singapore – Brunei

AdamHillTravel/Pixabay

Similar to New Zealand, Singapore has allowed travel to and from Brunei from 1st September 2020 — with all the same rules applied.

For visitors from both New Zealand and Brunei, they would have to apply for an Air Travel Pass between seven and 30 days before their intended date of arrival. They would also have to bear all costs of medical treatment should they be diagnosed with COVID-19 whilst in Singapore.

Do note that Singaporeans looking to travel to New Zealand or Brunei should also check the countries’ respective entry requirements before planning their trip.

Countries permitted for essential travel

1. Singapore – Malaysia

Thilipen Rave Kumar/Pexels

Limited cross-border travel between Singapore and Malaysia has been approved and ongoing since 17th August 2020 under two schemes:

  • Reciprocal Green Lane (RGL), which allows short-term travel for essential business or official purposes for up to fourteen days
  • Periodic Commuting Arrangement (PCA), which allows Singapore and Malaysia residents holding long-term immigration passes for work or business to enter either country for work

This undoubtedly came as a relief for many Malaysian residents, with up to 100, 000 crossing the causeway daily pre-COVID-19! However, Malaysia has also imposed a daily quota of 400 and 2000 travellers under the RGL and PCA schemes respectively. Also, those that enter either country under the PCA option must stay in that respective country for ninety days before they’re allowed to return home. 

Singaporeans and Permanent Residents, on the other hand, do not require the PCA to return to Singapore. However, from 1st September 2020, they will still need to serve a seven-day stay-home notice – which has been reduced from the previous fourteen-day mandate.

Before making the trip, travellers will have to make an application through the Johor Immigration Department or the Safe Travel Portal, depending on which country they’re coming from. 

2. Singapore – China

steven_yu/Pixabay

From 8 June 2020, visitors from China are permitted to enter Singapore for essential travel via a ‘Fast Lane’. This is exclusive to visitors from six Chinese cities, such as Guangdong, Shanghai, Tianjin, Zhejiang, Chongqing, and Jiangsu. If all goes well, the fast lane arrangement will be extended to other parts of China.

Travellers from China have to be sponsored by a company of Singapore Government agencies, who will have to submit an application for a Safe Travel Pass on their behalf. When this is approved, travellers will have to undergo COVID-19 tests at the airport at their own costs. This also applies to travellers from Singapore to China.

3. Singapore – Japan

Bagus Pangestu/Pexels

In September, travel between Singapore and Japan will be permitted for short-term business travellers, expatriates, and other long-term residents. Expatriates and long-term residents will still have to undergo a fourteen-day mandated self-quarantine period upon arrival in either country. However, business travellers will not be subject to this quarantine, on the condition that they provide a full trip itinerary, refrain from using public transport, shun crowds, and only travel between their accommodation and place of work.

All travellers to Japan will also have to install the Cocoa app, a COVID-19 contact tracing app, as well as agree to store their phone’s GPS data and report their health conditions via the Line messaging app for two weeks after arrival.

What else is being done?

Addie, Pexels

Restrictions for other countries have also been relaxed. For example, visitors from Australia (except the Victoria state), mainland China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Macau will only have to serve a seven-day stay-home notice period, which is halved from the initial fourteen-day period.

In a bid to revive its travel sector, Singapore is also looking to replace the two-week self-quarantine period with a meticulous testing regime. 

As time goes by, we’ll hopefully see more countries having success in curbing the spread of the virus — allowing more travel restrictions to be eased. Till then, stay safe and stay tuned for more updates!

Categories
Adventure Asia Destinations Lifestyle Singapore

Undiscovered Hiking Trails in Singapore for Your Next Weekend Adventure

What plans do you have for the upcoming weekend? If, like us, you’ve spent most of the week in an office chair in front of a computer screen, there’s no better time to stretch your legs and enjoy some fresh air.

Hiking has become one of the most popular things to do in Singapore, with some hotspots seeing high footfall over the weekends. If you’re looking for something a little quieter, head to these undiscovered trails in Singapore for some well-deserved nature lovin’ — sans the crowds! 

1. Kranji Marshes 

Kranji Marshes is Singapore’s largest freshwater marshland, containing 57 hectares worth of natural and green habitats. Home to three unique biomes, the area is home to 170 species of birds, 54 types of butterflies, and more. You might also chance upon an estuarine crocodile or monitor lizard along the way!

Head up the Raptor Tower for a panoramic view of the area. Bird enthusiasts will also be delighted to discover species like the Grey-headed Fish Eagle, Purple Heron and Changeable Hawk Eagle. If you’d like to learn more, join the free ‘Evening Chorus at Kranji Marshes’ guided tour through the core conservation area, which is usually not open to the public.

How to get there: Take the Kranji Express Bus from Kranji MRT Station to the D’Kranji Farm Resort, followed by a short walk to Kranji Gate.

2. Bukit Batok Nature Park

Witness a slice of history at Bukit Batok Nature Park, which was developed on an abandoned quarry back in 1988. During the Japanese invasion, one of the most vehement battles took place at the Bukit Timah area. Bukit Batok Nature Park is home to a hill that overlooks the battleground; a WWII memorial was hence constructed on this very hilltop to commemorate the lives lost during the battle.

In addition, the park offers multiple hiking trails that offer magnificent views of the lakes and granite quarry. 

How to get there: Take buses 61, 66, 157, 178, 852 and 985 to Bukit Batok East Avenue 6.

3. Tampines Eco Green

Hidden away between the Tampines Expressway, Tampines Avenue 12, and Sungei Tampines, Tampines Eco Green is a secret park that pays homage to all things natural. True to its theme, the park has no lights or pavements. It doesn’t even have a flushing toilet; instead, its toilet is a compost-based one! The park’s signboards and benches are also made from recycled and environmentally-friendly materials.

Take your pick from three trails — Diversity Trail, Forest Trail and Marsh Trail — through secondary forests, vegetated swales, and more. Keep your eyes peeled for any of the park’s 75 species of birds and 35 species of butterflies! The park is also home to the Hanguana Rubinea, a native flower that’s found only in Singapore.

How to get there: 20-minute walk from Tampines MRT Station.

4. Thomson Nature Park

Be spoilt for choice at Thomson Nature Park, which boasts five trails that span a total of 3.8 kilometres. Previously a Hainan Village, bits of its heritage have been preserved in the form of old village houses, old street signs and the remains of a rambutan plantation.

Check out the Run and Figs Trail, as well as the Stream and Ferns Trail. If you’re lucky, you might even chance upon a Raffles’ Banded Langur, an endangered primate; or the Sunda Pangolin and Malayan Porcupine, both of which are highly elusive.

How to get there: Take buses 138, 138A, 167, 169, 860 and 980 to Upper Thomson Road.

5. Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve

Comprising the first ASEAN Heritage Park, Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve is a haven for nature and wildlife lovers. Home to some of the island’s richest biodiversity, the swamps of Sungei Buloh are home to 140 species of birds, mudskippers, tree-climbing crabs, mud lobsters monkeys, otter, civet cats, monitor lizards, and even the occasional estuarine crocodile! 

The Migratory Bird Walk’s Aerie Tower is a prime spot for bird-watching, especially during the migratory season. To find out more, there are free guided walks available every Saturday at 9.30am.

How to get there: Take Bus 925 from Kranji MRT Station to Kranji Reservoir Carpark B.

If you’re raring for an adventure of bigger proportions, tackle the Coast to Coast Trail, a mega 36-kilometre route that stretches all the way from Coney Island to Jurong Lake Gardens. Along the way, you’ll also pass through Punggol Waterway Park, Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, Macritchie Reservoir Park, the Rail Corridor, and Bukit Batok Nature Park. 

Alternatively, the North Eastern Riverine Loop is a 26-kilometre trail that runs through Buangkok, Sengkang and Punggol — including Punggol Promenade and Lorong Halus Wetland. This trail is also suitable for cycling if you don’t wish to go entirely on foot! Another option is the Western Adventure Loop, which connects the five parks of Bukit Batok Nature Park, Jurong Lake Park, Zhenghua Park Dairy Farm Nature Park, and Choa Chu Kang Park.

That’s exactly what we love about Singapore — it may be a metropolitan city but, look close enough, and you’ll find little pockets of green space scattered all around that are the perfect escape from all that hustle and bustle.

So, which of these hiking trails will you explore first?

Categories
Culture Lifestyle

A Cure For Cabin Fever: How You Can Travel Without Leaving The House

As the battle against a worldwide pandemic rages on, most of us with grand plans to travel for vacations have seen such plans evaporate as quickly as a squirt of 70% alcohol-based hand sanitiser.

Firmly grounded in Singapore, I know how it feels like to look at the inches of dust accumulating on our passports and to feel woefully out of practice with the enhanced-Immigration Automated Clearance System (eIACS) at the ICA checkpoints.

Thankfully, I have a solution to quench your wanderlust: YouTube! Here are 7 channels worth checking out that will help you vicariously live out those adventures.

Mark Wiens

For many people, trying out local cuisine and involving the use of our sense of smell and taste during our travels is a big reason why we love travelling. Enter Mark Wiens, a guy who absolutely travels because of food. While he is based in Thailand, Mark’s mission to share his love for food with the world through YouTube knows no limits as he travels extensively to several continents just to scour for food. Mark often takes his viewers to the kitchens to see how to see how food of these lesser-known cuisines are prepared locally and this adds a layer of authenticity to his videos. Most of his fans know him as a chilly addict and his iconic sway every time he eats something worth his foodie approval!

Kara and Nate

This adventurous couple made a goal to travel to 100 countries by 2020. They have since done so and are now living the “van life” across the United States. There are a multitude of reasons why you might never travel to certain places, ranging from some places being too far away or simply having doubts over one’s security and safety. Fret not, this couple have braved the muggings and exhausting 10 hour train journeys so you won’t have to! For those who love travelling off the beaten path, their channel might be worth checking out.

Lost LeBlanc

Beach-lovers and people who like chilling in remote, exotic tropical locations will not be disappointed with Lost LeBlanc. From Bali to Boracay, Christian LeBlanc combines his love for filmmaking with his passion for travelling. For the people that religiously head to Bali 3 times a year to unwind, this is the channel for you!

Sailing La Vagabonde

Maybe one day you would love to retire and sail around the world on a sailboat. Maybe you love the sea but often fall prone to seasickness. No previous sailing experience? Not a problem! Australian couple Elayna and Riley said goodbye to landlubbers and hopped on their boat to travel around the world. This seafaring couple even had a baby while being based on a boat! If you are hunting for glorious tropical sunsets or just wondering what living on a boat travelling around the world feels like, this channel is for you.

Garlen Lo

The events of history shape the world as it is today and travelling allows us to see the last vestiges of those events that still exist. A UK Vlogger of the Year finalist in 2019 and 2019, Garlen Lo‘s channel is a peculiar one on this list as it caters to the history and culture buffs of the world. While one might arguably describe this as more of an educational channel than a travel one, Garlen is an awesome presenter whose inclusion of animation in his videos means facts are always illustrated in an engaging manner. And yes, he may have less than a thousand subscribers on YouTube, but make no mistake, this is a gem of a channel with a ton of quality content.

Expedia

More known for their website and app that facilitates travel bookings, did you know that Expedia has its own YouTube channel with plenty of travel guides?

Look past their videos of popular destinations and you will find quite a trove of videos on places that are less likely to be tourist traps.

Travel Thirsty

For people who cannot stop looking at food, here is another channel dedicated to those who eat with their eyes and can resist the urge to fight their hunger pangs while watching. Travel Thirsty is an all-you-can-only-watch buffet with a focus on Asian cuisines.

It boggles my mind how much content there is on YouTube that combines the best of film making and travelling. Like a teleportation machine (albeit without the ability to touch and smell), I reckon it is an utterly unique way to vicariously discover new places and experiences that have never crossed your mind. Feel free to explore beyond these channels I shared, with YouTube your travel possibilities are only limited by what you can type in that search bar!

Categories
Culture Lifestyle Singapore

Singlish: A Cornerstone of Singapore’s Culture

A ten-year-old boy once looked at his parents and his two siblings before proudly declaring with gusto: “I am English, not Chinese”. This boy was me many years ago, except if one were to look at my NRIC, one would clearly see that it reads “CHINESE” for race, and nobody in my line of ancestors have come from the United Kingdom. In truth, I was simply being a cheeky boy, trying my absolute best to avoid the Mandarin tuition classes which I found myself all too often in.

It took me until I reached adulthood before the intertwining relationship between our unique cultural identity and the languages we speak became salient. It is with this mindset that I came to appreciate our colloquially spoken language of Singlish as an important cornerstone of Singapore’s culture. So as a strong proponent of Singlish, let me give you several reasons why I think Singlish should not be abolished.

Singlish gives Singaporeans our identity

Singapore has all the trappings of a modern city and country with its glass skyscrapers, glitzy shopping malls, and world-class airport. Yet many of those elements can be found in other modern cities too and the real points of difference lie in the people themselves and the culture that characterises them.

When abroad, it is not uncommon for Singaporeans to recognise other Singaporeans instantly and unmistakably when we hear phrases like “can meh” or “cannot lah”. This is proof that Singlish as a language forms part of our identity as Singaporeans.

Singlish truly represents Singapore

Singapore’s multi-racial society means Singlish has become a melting pot for the different races that make up society. Singlish has been known to absorb and use the words of all the different races to adapt to the needs of its users. Singlish is one of those marvellous cultural icons because it is made from our multi-racial people into one united language and one unique cultural tapestry. Furthermore, one of the reasons why Singlish is commonly used in informal settings is because of its efficiency. We require simply require fewer words to communicate our intended message. We as a country pride ourselves by our efficiency in numerous fields, it is therefore extremely apt that our colloquial language of Singlish mirrors that same ethos of being efficient. Singlish simply embodies the Singapore spirit and represents us in a manner that not many other cultural landmarks can.

Singapore has few things which are unique to our cultural identity

While many countries have accumulated and formed distinct cultures surrounding food, art, music, sports, music, and beyond, Singapore is a young country with not many traits unique to its culture. Apart from local food and our pragmatic approach to governance, Singapore has very few cultural landmarks. Thus, it is even more critical that we hang on to Singlish as a national treasure.

The need to preserve national culture

One must bear in mind that Singapore is a highly cosmopolitan city with a diverse mix of people from all over the world. According to Statista, in 2019 there were about 2.16 million immigrants (classified as people living in a country in which they were not born in) in Singapore out of approximately 5.7 million. That is almost 40% of the total population in Singapore. Moreover, in a city state like Singapore, we do not have secondary cities with the population numbers to absorb the influx of new people and with them the cultures that they bring.  It is therefore even more critical that local languages unique to our cultural identity should be preserved.

A language worthy of celebration

I think of that young ten-year old boy I once was. Except for perhaps my still poor command of Mandarin, I could not be more different from that boy now. Today, when Singaporean friends of mine based overseas return to Singapore, I cannot be prouder to welcome them back home with a healthy dose of Singlish. I know a part of me knows that seeing someone dear will always be an elated moment, but part of me also knows that hearing Singlish, conversing in a familiar language after being away for so long, is just as poignant. Whether we consciously or subconsciously recognise them, it is in those moments where I strongly feel this language that binds all Singaporeans are worthy of celebration. Or as they say in Singlish: “This one confirm must celebrate lah”!

Categories
Destinations Lifestyle Travel Insights

10 Rooftop Pools to Dream About While Waiting For Your Next Holiday

Oh, imagine the cool water gliding over your outstretched legs as you sip on a sangria, watching a spectacular sunset that reflects off the pool. Or imagine lying with your back on a float and watching the clouds drift away without a care in the world. 

In the hectic hustle and bustle of our daily lives, what could be better than a short getaway to a rooftop pool that offers a beautiful view and ultimate relaxation too? What a beautiful way to soak up Vitamin D! It truly would be a dream come true, for me at least. 

All we can do right now is dream — as the pandemic has left us grounded to our home countries — and here are ten rooftop pools we can all dream about until we get the chance to pack our bags and set off.

1. Four Seasons Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC), Dubai

Unsplash

The rooftop pool on the seventh floor of this magnificent hotel is equally remarkable, holding a Mediterranean style. You could look out at the Dubai skyline with the Burj Khalifa on one side and the Arabia Gulf on the other. At night, the sight is truly one to behold as internal lighting illuminates the pool, making it shimmer.

2. The Old Clare Hotel, Sydney, Australia

A 69-room boutique hotel situated between two iconic buildings, The Clare Hotel Pub and the Carlton & United Breweries Administration Building, The Old Clare Hotel retains major architectural features of them both. It incorporates both vintage furnishings and modern, urban decor. The rooftop pool comes with a bar, a lounge and a heated pool, of course.

3. NH Collection Mexico City Reforma, Mexico City, Mexico

Situated in the heart of the upscaled neighborhood of Zona Rosa, it is surrounded by high-end boutiques, and restaurants. It is also just a stone’s throw away from the financial hub of Mexico. The red-tiled pool gives an illusion of a never-ending brilliant sunset with crimson hues. You could laze in a heated outdoor pool, admiring the urban views from a chic sun terrace.

4. Hotel Le Crystal, Montréal, Canada

Hotel Le Crystal is conveniently located just a mere twenty minutes away from Pierre-Elliott-Trudeau International Airport (YUL). On the twelfth floor, there is an outdoor hot tub, along with a rooftop hot tub, indoor saltwater pool, and a spa overlooking the breathtaking Canadian skyline.

5. Perivolas Hotel, Santorini, Greece

The Perivolas had a humble beginning, where a sailor and his wife purchased a piece of cliff, wishing to transform it into a picturesque holiday retreat. Today, some 300-year-old cliff faces have been changed to 20 beautiful individual suites. The infinity pool overlooking the crystal blue Aegean seas makes you feel like you’re taking a dip in the ocean itself.

6. The Norman, Tel Aviv, Israel

There is a beautiful rooftop infinity pool right next to a pampering wellness center, with complimentary drinking water and towels available at all times. You could unwind after some business meetings, and soak up the terrific cityscape fringed with fragrant orange trees.

7. The W, Santiago, Chile

Situated in the bustling financial district of Santiago, urban life coexists with the unspoiled view of the Andes Mountains. A fine sight to behold indeed, as you unwind and do a few laps.

8. Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona, Spain

Located on Passeig de Gràcia, the Mandarin Oriental is one of the city’s best loved hotels. It provides a wonderful balance of style and luxury as the rooftop pool offers a 360-degree view of the city as well as an iconic landmark of Casa Batlló.

9. Rome Cavalieri, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Rome, Italy

Indeed a mouthful, but the sights are truly mind-blowing. A shimmering canvas of blue awaits you, as you dip your toes in the rooftop pool and soak in the rich sights of Rome. Or perhaps you could splurge a little and get a private Jacuzzi that overlooks St. Peter’s Basilica.

10. Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

Last but not least, a little treat from our home country. Did you know that the massive infinity pool on the fifty eighth floor of Marina Bay Sands’ SkyPark, is one of the worlds longest pools at five hundred feet? It also boasts an observation deck at the same level, for more views.

So what are you waiting for? Hurry now, and pick one of these amazing rooftop pools for a quick vacation or stay-cation, once you are able to travel!

Categories
Asia Lifestyle Relaxation Taiwan

Hot Springs in Beitou, Taiwan: A Perfect Relaxation Getaway for Weary Travellers

Known for their street food and night markets, Taiwan is also famous for their hot springs, which are said to have a plethora of health benefits — such as raising one’s energy levels, and treating chronic fatigue, eczema, and arthritis. 

Hot springs have been a large part of Taiwanese culture since the 1800s, when Taiwan was under Japanese rule. During their rule, the government in charge developed the hot springs on the peninsula, with many influences from the Japanese onsen culture. The first hot spring hotel was opened in Taiwan in 1896, by Hirado Gengo; this paved the way for the development of hot spring culture. Fast forward to today, Taiwan now has more than 100 hot springs — one of the most in the world. Additionally, it has also been dubbed the “Hot Spring Kingdom”, and is ranked among the top 15 hot spring destinations in the world. 

The most accessible hot spring from Taipei City would be Beitou, which is easily accessible via MRT, with a journey that takes approximately an hour. Since the 1970s and 1980s, many hotels and resorts have been developed in the area as well. 

Here’s how to get to Beitou: 

  1. Take the Red Line to Beitou Station 
  2. At Beitou Station, transfer to the pink line and alight at Xinbeitou Station 

The hot springs and other interesting tourist attractions are a mere 5 minute walk away from the MRT station, so there’s no worry of getting lost. Alternatively, visitors may also opt to take a taxi, which would take about 30 to 40 minutes, depending on traffic conditions. 

Beitou not only has many hot spring resorts that cater to various price points, but is also home to a Hot Spring Museum, which provides visitors the origins of hot spring culture in Taiwan. What’s interesting about the museum is that the building is a restored Japanese colonial-era bathhouse which gives visitors a comprehensive introduction to hot springs in Beitou — a perfect way to learn about hot springs before (or after) experiencing it! 

At Beitou, the dormant Datun volcano provides Beitou with an infinite supply of thermal waters, and the area is surrounded with resorts across all price points to suit tourists’ varying budgets. First time visitors usually opt for the well-known public hot spring, located near the Hot Spring Museum.


In Beitou, there are three main types of hot springs: 

Green Sulfur Hot Spring

This type of hot spring has a high concentration of sulfur, and its colour is reminiscent of jade. It is the hottest out of the three, with temperatures ranging from 50 to 75 degree celsius. What makes this particular type of hot spring so highly sought after is its rarity—it can only be found in Beitou and Akita, Japan! Many believe that the green sulfur hot spring is useful in treating skin diseases, gout, rheumatism, and fatigue.

Red Iron (Ferrous) Hot Spring

Unlike the green sulfur, this hot spring’s water is clear, and has a slightly lower temperature of between 40 to 60 degrees Celsius. It is believed to relieve nerve strain and inflammation. 

White Sulfur Hot Spring

Do not be fooled by this hot spring’s creamy and milky appearance — the hydrogen sulfide in it gives off an extremely strong odour, similar to that of rotten eggs! It is also extremely rare, as it is only available in Beitou and the Kansai Region in Japan. Its temperature is the lowest out of the three, at approximately 45°C. This hot spring is typically used to treat ulcers, chronic skin diseases, liver diseases and diabetes. 

The most affordable option in Beitou would be the Millennium Hot Spring Bathhouse, which costs NT$40 per entry. Run by the government, this bathhouse has a variety of hot spring pools for visitors to experience a hot spring for themselves. However, a possible downside for some would be the restrictions at the bathhouse. As this is a shared public facility, visitors are required to be dressed in bathing suits. Hot Spring attendants are also constantly walking around the area, which might cause some unease. 

For those who would like to have a hot spring experience in private, there are quite a few privately-owned resort establishments in the area. One of the most reputable ones is the Yitsun Hotel, which was built in 1901. Its original name was Xin Nai Tang, but was later changed to its current name in honour or Dr Sun Yat Sen’s given name — Sun Yi Xian — who was believed to have visited this hotel and was impressed by the quality of the hot springs. 

Many of the guestrooms at Yitsun are decorated Japanese-style, in honour of Japanese influence on Taiwan’s hot spring culture. The baths are separated by gender — one for males and one for females — and are set in grey slate stone, and are about 60 °C, making them perfect for long dips. 

Being one of the hallmarks of Taiwanese tourism, and with such a rich history, Beitou is definitely a destination to add to your travel bucket list!

Categories
Asia Destinations Europe France Lifestyle Relaxation Singapore Spain United Kingdom

The Best Places to Relax in Any City (Other Than the Spa)

Did you know? National Relaxation Day is an internationally celebrated annual event, held every August 15th. The day was first founded in 1985, by an American fourth-grader, Sean Moeller. The intention is simple — to take a day off for yourself to refresh and rejuvenate your mind, body, and spirit.

Most of us live in a fast-paced, constant state of ‘doing’, but as the founder of this day suggests, it is important to find ways to relax and unwind from a busy lifestyle. So, in honour of National Relaxation Day, take a moment for yourself and explore the following places to let your hair down:

The park

With dozens of shades of green, fresh air, and a sense of expansion, parks top the list in terms of being ideal places for relaxation. Research has shown time and time again that there is a strong link between nature therapy and a decrease in physiological stress and immune function levels — because of our evolutionary history, it is thought that we are essentially adaptive to nature.

A recent study supports this, and shows that these stress-relieving benefits can easily be achieved in as little as 10-minutes. If you live in a concrete jungle, opt to take a stroll through the nearest park or spend a lazy afternoon picnicking with friends and family for the ultimate rejuvenation.

Hot picks

Some of the biggest cities in the world also feature the most stunning pockets of green —  from Hyde Park in London to Central Park in New York City. Indulge in an urban oasis — your body will thank you for it.

best-places-to-relax-city
Pixabay

The beach

If parks are not your thing, the beach is a fantastic alternative for outdoors relaxation. There’s a reason tropical vacations are in vogue — the mere visualisation of aquamarine waters and powder soft beaches can have a calming effect on the body.

Because beaches are often not centrally located, they’re best for the days you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. With no shortage of relaxation activities — ranging from getting that Vitamin D with friends to swimming and walking along the beachfront — it is easy to spend a whole day at this invigorating location.

Hot picks

While the Mediterranean cities in Europe (think Spain and Portugal) offer some of the coolest beaches in the world, Singapore comes a close second. Check out Sentosa Island in Singapore, for some of the island’s prettiest beaches.

The museum

Beyond being educational institutions of the arts, museums are also restorative sanctuaries of the mind and body. The beneficial effects of art on human health and well-being have long been documented, and art therapy is very much a trend.

A fascinating article by Psychology Today makes a strong case for museums as healing places, arguing that museums can provide the same revitalising effect as spending time in nature by offering the same characteristics that enable one to shift mental gears, and refocus attention in a less effortful way. Findings from a 2008 study showed that museum goers have reported benefits like restored attention, tranquility, and reflection, further corroborating the association between museum visits for leisure and stress reduction.

Hot picks

Home to the Renaissance, Europe is the best continent to visit for some of the most spectacular masterpieces of the world. Other than Le Louvre in France, check out The British Museum in England or The Uffizi Gallery in Italy for national collections that have withstood the test of time.

The library

Given that reading a book can help provide a welcome escape from routine and everyday demands, it makes sense to head to the one place where books are the ‘cells of life’. And in a world filled with distractions and white noise, the library provides a safe haven for those seeking absolute peace and quiet.

Cosy nooks offer the passing traveller comfortable corners to while away the afternoon, while a cornucopia of resources promise to entertain and inform. Individuals will face little difficulty in finding a new world to lose themselves in with columns of books and magazines to choose from. According to a 2009 study conducted by the University of Sussex, reading can reduce up to 68% of stress, and just 6-minutes of reading can reduce your heart rate and improve your overall state of being.

Hot picks

As with museums, Europe showcases some of the most beautiful libraries in the world due to the rebirth of the literary arts during the Renaissance. Trinity College Old Library in Ireland is one of the most magnificent of the lot, with dark mahogany arches and millions of rare manuscripts collated since 1712.

best-places-to-relax-city
Unsplash

A café

Often cosy and well-lit, cafés are great places to chill out in a city, be it for brunch or a mid-day break. For a lazy afternoon, bring along a book to read, or have an intimate setting with a couple of close friends or your date. If you run out of things to do, take up people watching — you’ll find that the conversations and interactions around you can be disarmingly familiar and pretty funny, usually unintentionally.

Hot picks

Korea and Japan feature some of the quirkiest and most Instagram-worthy cafés in Asia. Settle in with a cup of coffee or tea, and relish in a quiet afternoon amid a comfortable, affable ambience.