The Singapore BLOG Awards 2009 voting is coming to an end (31 Jul).
Since last month, many of you have voted for Vanilla. Some of you have read my articles and have given your valuable feedback. Some of you have left your kind words in this blog. Some of you took the trouble to send me emails and some of you have quietly voted and I may never know who you are. I appreciate all the support you have given.
When I started blogging here about a year ago, no one was reading it and I did not expect anyone would be doing so. I wrote because I wanted to and not because I am expected to. Slowly, I had a handful of regular readers and now I believe there are many more.
Being one of the finalists for the Singapore BLOG Awards has been a flattering and humbling experience. Regardless of the outcome, the writing will continue. I hope you too will continue to enjoy reading the articles here as much as I enjoy writing them.
Just to round up the voting frenzy over the last few weeks, I will share an extract of a recent news article from My Paper (27 Jul 09) featuring this blog and a few others.
Thanks for all your votes.
MyPapers 27 Jul 2009
用一只猫来代表这个空间， 想必也代表格主强烈的好奇心 （所谓curiosity killed the cat）。
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Water, water, in the bottle. Oh! What a bother...
Earlier this month, it was reported that the people from a small Australian town of Bundanoon, south of Sydney, have voted to ban bottled water. It is thought to be the first place in the world to do so.
Two conflicting thoughts came to my mind:
(1) What took you people so long to ban bottled water?
(2) Are you people over-reacting?
My thoughts are not uncommon. It is easy to understand why people hold such conflicting views as water issues have all along been contentious. We live on this planet with more than 70% surface area covered with water. Out of this huge amount of water, only 0.036% is found in lakes and rivers and can be consumed quite readily.
Water is important to us ever since we existed. Ancient civilization is known to have evolved along major rivers. Up till today, water issues continue to be a touchy one.
Just one example near home: In 1961/1962, Malaysia and Singapore entered into agreements for the supply of water from Malaysia to Singapore. For a long time, the two countries have been having disputes and they frequently revisited the agreements, which are not due for review until 2061.
Fortunately, water from Malaysia is just one of the four main sources of water under Singapore's "Four Tap" strategy. Besides importation, water in Singapore also comes from rainwater, recycling and desalination.
If you ask the Singapore Public Utility Board (PUB), they will assure you the high quality of Singapore water. That's right. Singapore tap water is potable, which means that you can drink it straight from the taps. Notwithstanding that, many of us still stick to the safer routine of have our drinking water boiled first.
We always want to be sure. When we are in doubt, we prefer bottled water. Just last year, more than 135,000 tonnes of bottled drinking water, worth more than $100 million, was imported to quench the thirst of this tiny country of of 4 million people, blessed with piped-in water which is save for drinking. Is this a case of insanity or ignorance?
Bottled water is 850 times more expensive than tap water. I do not need any research to tell me that the benefits of bottled water is not 850 times more than tap water. In fact, if there is any, it far less and probably negligible. Curiously, many people still hold on to the belief that bottled water is better and much better.
Bottled water should be consumed in places where safer and cheaper alternatives are not available. Singapore is definitely not one of those places. Each time we consume bottled water, we hurt our pockets and we hurt our environment by adding carbon emissions. Overall, I think bottled water brings us more harm than benefits.
It seems that consumers are attracted to the health benefits promised by bottled water. Numerous minerals and in some products, vitamins, are said be have been added. We feel good each time we gulp the water thinking that we have done our bodies good. The thing is, you do not and will not get sufficient nutrients by drinking mineral water. You get those things from the food you eat. I hate to say this but it is true that the benefits of mineral water is way over-sold.
A recent study on 10 top-selling brands of bottled water was carried out in the United States. It was found that the drinks contained a total of 38 pollutants, including fertilisers, industrial chemicals, bacteria and the residue of drugs such as Tylenol (a pain relief drug). On an average, the bottled water showed 8 pollutants in each sample.
Not convinced? Well, I don't blame you.
Each time we are presented with bottled water advertisements, we are made to believe that the drinks originated from unpolluted mountain springs. It is no surprise that we have been brain-washed to think that bottled water is pure and unadulterated. The truth is, tap water is much better regulated than bottled water and I leave it to you to deduce on which is the safer choice.
I think most of the consumers are sane but just plain naive. It is no wonder that I see "NAIVE" in EVIAN". Do you?
If I compare between the consumers of beer and bottled water, I find beer drinkers a better informed group. People who drink beer either enjoy the beverage or think that it is a symbol of a certain lifestyle that they would like to depict. They know the fact that, if taken excessively, beer will certainly harm their bodies. It is more an issue of self-control rather than product knowledge.
In the case of bottled water, many consumers know more myths than facts and their naivety leads them to think that they are being health conscious. For those who are aware of its lack of usefulness, they may still continue to do so because, just like the beer drinkers, they think it is a lifestyle.
Before you drink your next bottled water, be well-informed beforehand of the facts. Consider the cost (even if you can afford it), the health benefits (or the lack of it) and most importantly, the environmental issues. Weigh the overall cost against the (only?) benefit it has, that is, the convenience it brings. Ask yourself honestly, "Do I have an alternative?"
For those of you with young children, take note of the fact that drinking bottled water may increase the risk of tooth decay. On the other hand, drinking tap water, which contains fluoride, helps to improve dental health.
Be a savvy consumer and make a wise and responsible choice.
Further reading: Bottled Up and Tapped Out
The Ban Takes Effect Today (26 Sep 09)
(English Writer, 1608 - 1661)
Thursday, July 23, 2009
I have been eating ice cream this month...
I am not going nuts about ice cream but somehow I seemed to have consumed more of it this month. There are no particular reasons and there is no sudden change of diet. It just happened. Sometimes, things in life just happened :)
While I dug into those delicious treats, little did I know that this month is National Ice Cream Month. Even though this is very much an American thing, I thought we should also celebrate this month as it is such a 'sweet' thing to do. Or if you like, we could designate another month as our very own 'Ice Kachang' month, just to add a local flavor to it, so to speak.
OK, how did July become the the National Ice Cream Month?
It seems that it happened 25 years ago, when America's 40th President, Ronald Reagan designated July as National Ice Cream Day and the third "Sundae" of the month (19 Jul 2009) as National Ice Cream Day. To me, it is rather 'sweet' of him to do that as I would not have related ice cream to politics, would you?
He recognized ice cream as a fun and nutritious food that is enjoyed by a full 90% of the nation's population (I wonder what happened to the other 10%). President Reagan even encouraged the people of the United States to observe these events with "appropriate ceremonies and activities." Nice!
If you are considering celebrating this sweet month, here are some suggestions (I'm giving you a good excuse to chomp ice cream).
1. Go on an exploration trip
According to the International Ice Cream Association, top and all-time-favorite flavor is Vanilla and the top 10 flavors include Chocolate, Butter Pecan, Strawberry, Chocolate Chip and Cookies & Cream. Go celebrate this month by exploring ice cream flavors which you have not tried before. Don't be a chicken, be more adventurous.
2. DIY and stay healthy
For the health conscious (but won't give up ice cream), you can consider a treat of home-made blend of ice cream and fruit. Take a small tub of sugar free vanilla ice cream, combine it with a cup of sugar free fruit preserves or fresh juices. Stir well. Pack the ice cream back in its container. Refreeze. Indulge.
3. Everyday is Sundae
Be creative and come up with your own style of Sundae. Choose your favorite fruits such as sliced kiwi, banana, strawberries, lychee or mango. Place fresh fruits in a dish. Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Top with more fresh fruits. If you desire, sprinkle some chopped-nuts and chocolate rice or slap on some whipped cream. Want it wilder? Add durian. Want it 'stronger'? Add a dash of Bailey's.
4. Go in between
Sandwich is yummy and ice cream sandwich is yummier. Let's do it the 'Singapura' style: Buy some 'traditional' bread from your neighborhood shop. Put a small scoop of your favorite ice cream between the bread slices. Chomp immediately! By the way, National Ice Cream Sandwich Day happens to be on 2 Aug.
5. Do it the local way
You can celebrate this month even though you do not like any of the 'ang moh' aka western ice cream? Head on to your favorite hawker centre or foodcourt and get yourself a sumptuous 'ice kachang'. If you know where to get a good one, share.
6. Read up
Want to celebrate the month but not wanting to eat ice cream? Well, why not read up about the history of ice cream which has more than 4000 years of sweet and cool years. Err, by the way, why wouldn't you want to eat ice cream??
7. Buy me a treat
July is my birth month. Come celebrate the month with me and buy me some great ice cream treats!
8. Just for one day
If you would only want to eat ice cream for just one day in July (weight watching?), it has to be TODAY because it is the National Vanilla Ice Cream Day! Why not get a tub of the all-time top flavor of vanilla ice cream and celebrate the National Vanilla Ice Cream Day with Vanilla?? What a great idea!
Here are other special days in July designated for some ice cream flavors:
July 1 - Creative Ice Cream Flavors Day
July 7 - Strawberry Sundae Day
July 17 - Peach Ice Cream Day
July 19 - National Ice Cream Day (3rd Sunday of July)
July 23 - Vanilla Ice Cream Day
For some unknown reasons, Chocolate Ice Cream Day falls on 7 June.
If you are waiting for free ice cream, hang on till April 2010. Every year since 1979, Ben&Jerry will hold an annual event known as 'Free Cone Day'. On this very sweet day, Ben&Jerry outlets would give out free ice cream. This year, it took place on 29 April and in the previous years 'Free Cone Day' was on 21 Apr 08, 17 Apr 07 and 25 Apr 06. All the past few 'Free Cone Days' were on Tuesdays. Go figure when you can get your FOC ice cream fix in 2010.
Ice cream is probably the most popular form of dessert. According to Vanilla's "research", 12 out of every 10 individuals love ice cream. 7 of them will scream "I Love Ice Cream!!"; 3 of them love ice cream too but are too shy to scream; the other 2 love ice cream but would not admit.
The truth is, everyone loves ice cream. It is just a matter of degree. After all, there must be some kind of subliminal message when you spell "stressed" backwards, you get "desserts". We will always create a little space for desserts even after a big meal, no?
Happy Vanilla Ice Cream Day to all of you!
"Ice cream is happiness condensed."
~Jessi Lane Adams~
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Voting for the Singapore BLOG Awards 2009 is still on-going...
Many of you have voted for Vanilla and some have done so repeatedly. I am very thankful for all the support you have given and I hope you will continue to enjoy reading this blog. Meanwhile, here is a recent interview by OMY.sg with Vanilla.
For those of you who are voting, do note that it will end on 31 July. I wish you good luck in winning either a Creative Vado (worth S$169) or a ST701 Portable External Hard Disk (250GB).
Note: Want to vote but don't know how? Check out this earlier post.
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Tell us about yourself in 50 words.
“Vanilla” adj. ‘ plain, basic & original’. A blog with plain but nicely written articles, giving basic but often forgotten insights and of course, original, added with a dash of humor.
Being insightful is not about pushing information to my readers. It is about giving them the relevance and meaning of what I have to share. It is about revealing the value hidden behind each thought. It is about being objective to the facts I know, staying honest with myself and being sensitive to my readers’ perspective.
Being insightful is a humbling experience. It has to be.
How long have you been blogging and why did you start blogging?
I have been blogging since 2007 and in this blog since last year. Short answer: I blog to share my views. I like the fact that I can potentially reach out to the entire cyber population. Long answer: “It Feels Right To Write” ”http://whatsayyouvanilla.blogspot.com/2009/05/it-feels-right-to-write.html
How do you feel as one of the finalists in the second Singapore Blog Awards? What do you think is your chance of winning?
As a new blogger, I did not expect to be one the finalists. In this sense, I feel that I have already won.
Who do you think are the strongest bloggers in the category you are nominated for and why?
Honestly, I do not ‘follow’ any blog in the manner of a Twitter follower. Whenever I am interested in a topic, I would search for blogs with the relevant entries. I read their blogs with an open mind, constantly looking for something positive to harvest. Most of them do not leave me empty-handed.
Name some of the bloggers whom you look up to and why (need not be in the running for the Singapore Blog Awards, and can mention overseas bloggers too)?
There will be none in particular.
What would you like to say to your blog readers and those who voted and supported you?
I will continue to blog even if I am not the finalist/winner. However, the fact that you have voted and supported me, makes my writing even more fulfilling. Thank you.
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You start from nothing and learn as you go."
~ E. L. Doctorow ~
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
If you have not already known this person, you would at the end of this article.
I read about Dr William Tan's illness in the Straits Times on 12 Jul. I was saddened but at the same time motivated.
Dr William Tan has an extraordinary life. At a young age of two, he contracted polio and that left him paralyzed from waist down. His family was too poor to afford a pair of crutches and he had to be carried around or 'walked' with his hands and dragged himself on the floor. It was not until he was ten that he was given an old pair of crutches.
As a kid, he was laughed at and that was to be the reason why he was expelled from Kindergarten while attempting to defend himself. His difficult childhood made him set up his mind that he did not want to be 'stuck' with such a 'diminished' life.
He studied hard and dreamed of becoming a doctor. He went to prestigious schools and scored straight distinctions for his 'O' and 'A' Level examinations. He wanted to do medicine in the National University of Singapore but was rejected due to his physical disability. He was asked to do life sciences instead.
After graduation, he did not forget his dream. He worked hard and saved enough for further studies in the United States. He went to Harvard University to study Medicine. He continued to do his Master and ended with a PhD in Neuroscience. He worked in world famous Mayo Clinic in the US and yes, he fulfilled his childhood dream of becoming a doctor.
Dr William Tan's great feats did not stop there. He raced on his wheelchair and in 1980, he became the first person in Singapore to have done a marathon in a wheelchair. He also became the first man in history to complete 10 marathons over 7 continents over 70 consecutive days. He has completed many marathons in many parts of the world and notably in the Antarctic under extremely harsh weather condition.
Besides his impressive sports records, Dr Tan is also no stranger to many charitable organizations. He has done a great deal for various charities, raised millions of dollars here and abroad. Watch this video which shows some of the events in his life.
Three years ago, I attended one of this motivational talks (bought the above book then) and was convinced that his man is truly exceptional. He was seated on his wheelchair on the stage, shared his life story and his philosophy. In a very moving way, he motivated and encouraged everyone to be courageous and learn to turn adversity into advantage. At the end of his talk, he remained seated (but of course) while the entire audience stood up, applauded and many were with tears welling in their eyes.
It seems that at times, life just has to play some jokes on us which are totally not funny. On 14 Apr, Dr William Tan was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, and his doctor told him that without treatment, he would not survive a year. Understandably, his world fell apart. He soon climbed up again and ever so determined, he is now fighting one of the toughest battles in his life.
I am saddened that this has to happen to him, someone who has done so much for the under-privileged and has given so many motivational talks and touched so many lives. On the other hand, I am also very motivated to see that he is fighting on, persevering the harsh side-effects of cancer treatment.
He is indeed walking his talk. This time, he is running the toughest marathon of his life and he is running a truly amazing race. This would definitely be another big chapter in his life from which many people are going to draw valuable life lessons.
From time to time, we may find the going tough and we whine. Very often, we forget to examine our lives in perspective. We forget to count our blessings and we even inadvertently let go what we already have while mourning for something less important.
Try to recall some events in the past, those that were so tough that you thought you might not be able to cope with. Now that you look back, with better a perspective of things, many of such events appear not so significant, right?
When we wallow in self pity, we tend not to see the big picture. The shrunk world would look gloomy and we cannot see how we could ever get ourselves out of it. However, if we were to stick our heads a little higher, out of the pit, we would realize that the world is much bigger and promising.
Life can be as bad as we want it to be and the reverse is also true. We get to choose.
By September, Dr William Tan would have completed his chemotherapy treatment and he would be ready for the life-giving bone marrow transplant then (he has found a match with one of his siblings). I sincerely wish him all the best.
Reflection: Very often, we are disabled by our minds, not our bodies.
Further Reading: News articles on his marathons.
CNA: "Dr William Tan first man to complete North Pole Marathon on wheelchair"
CNA: "Dr William Tan breaks world record for marathons across continents"
The Straits Times blog "A true Singapore inspiration".
it is the courage to continue that counts."
~ Winston Churchill ~
Saturday, July 11, 2009
I was one of the one billion people who tuned in to watch the MJ Memorial.
MJ's death on 25 Jun sent shock waves across the globe and the media have been quite busy feeding the hysterical fans with the latest news. While millions of fans wept, many continue to shower harsh comments about him. However, I have yet to come across any criticism on his music talent.
Many of MJ's songs are master pieces. I would not go on to elaborate on his songs for there is nothing much you would not know by now. What is rare is that MJ's remarkable singing talent is so well coupled with his equally, if not more spectacular dance moves.
MJ's signature move has to be the moonwalk although he was not the originator. Many artists before him, such as David Bowie, have performed the move. The first recorded moonwalk actually dates as far back as 1955 by tap dancer Billy Bailey. Watch how Bailey does his moonwalk three years before MJ was born (towards the end of the clip).
However, MJ was the one who perfected moonwalk to such a height which makes imitating impossible. To be able to do those surreal steps, you would need lots of practice and talent. If you have neither, try getting a quick fix by walking on a conveyor belt or travelator. It gives you the same effect.
Whether you like his music or not, you will find it hard to deny the magnitude of influence that MJ had on the world. His short stay on Earth will always remain legendary. Coincidentally, the year of his death marks the 40th year anniversary of the real moonwalk.
On 20 Jul 1969, Neil Amstrong went aboard the Apollo11 and became the first person who walked on the Moon. He spent two and a half hours doing the real moonwalk. When he placed his left foot on the surface of the Moon, he said "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." Indeed.
I am sure when Amstrong moonwalked 40 years ago, he stirred the world just as much. You must remember that those were the days without the Internet, Facebook and Twitter. The fastest way to transmit the news was via the radio or television. Just imagine how curious and concerned people would crowd around the only black and white television in the neighborhood, watching footage of Amstrong landing on the Moon. It must have been one heck of a 'moment of truth'.
14 years later, in Mar 1983, MJ performed his moonwalk with his song 'Billie Jean'. Since then, the dance gained worldwide popularity and that marked the start of MJ's legendary move and the rest is history.
I do not consider myself an ardent fan of MJ. But, if you were to ask me what I really like about him, I would say that I regard him as the epitome of 'the best is not good enough'. His great desire to pursue the best in music should be modeled in everything we strive to achieve.
I sometimes wonder what we really meant when we said 'I have done my best' or 'I will do whatever I can'. Somehow, these expressions carry the connotation that we cannot do any better and that we have reached our limits. They also make us sound like we are giving ourselves excuses that there is no need to push on anymore, since we have done our best. Somewhat like giving a disclaimer.
Winston Churchill once said, "It's not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what's required."
He is right. The best is never good enough. The best is a snapshot of a moment in time. As we move on, there are always rooms to better the previous 'best'. We must not rest on our laurels despite the extent of achievement we have attained.
We often are the only deterrent in our own progress. We tell ourselves that we are not good enough. We convince our own minds that we have limitations. We reaffirm our belief of our inadequacies by acting them out. When others comment on our behaviours, which are guided by our minds, we conclude that we have always been right about our lack of ability to do better. That is how self-fulfilling prophecy works and that is really sad.
Fortunately, the reverse is also true.
Napoleon Hill, author of "Think And Grow Rich", said that "Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve." He had a spot-on. It is all in our minds. If we constantly inject possibilities rather than impossibilities in our minds, we will find our behaviour gradually being shaped towards what the minds are 'told' to think.
I was in the washroom inside a shopping mall recently. While I was enjoying the convenience of the modern infrared sensor tap (contactless), a middle-age lady next to me was struggling with it. She had no idea how to get the water out and I had to help.
It was an amusing sight initially but it soon turned into a sense of heavyheartedness. I began to see myself in a similar situation within the next decade if I were to keep telling myself 'I have done my best' and 'this is my best'. The things around us are mutating at a speed many of us find it hard to keep up. And yet, we do not seem to realise that many of us are slipping backwards.
There is no other way out but to constantly stuff new things and ideas into our heads. We eat three meals a day (sometimes more?) and we do the same day after day. That is because what we have eaten the day before would have been either used up or discarded by our bodies.
The same goes with what we have learnt. If we starve ourselves of continuous learning, we will end up being intellectually deficient. I make it a point to learn, at least a little something everyday. Blogging is one of my ways of continuous learning. What are yours?
The author of best seller "Life's Little Instruction Book", H. Jackson Brown Jr. had put it across appropriately when he said, "The best preparation for tomorrow is doing your best today."
We do and achieve our best now so that we can leverage on that to meet a greater demand on us tomorrow. We cannot afford to stay put, celebrating old achievement repeatedly. On this, I will always remind myself of the lady who could not even cope with a simple daily chore of washing hands.
We shall live today like it is our last but we shall learn as if we will never die.
"I have been impressed with the urgency of doing.
Knowing is not enough; we must apply.
Being willing is not enough; we must do."
*Leonardo da Vinci*
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
I received an email last week from an advertising company.
The company is looking at the possibility of placing advertisements on this blog and said that "why waste the space on your website when you can use it to earn money?"
This is not a new business model where bloggers like us essentially sell 'eyeballs' to the advertisers. Well, the 'earn-as-you-publish' idea seems great but I am not sure if the traffic here is good enough. Well, perhaps the next time. Anyway, thanks for considering Vanilla.
Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against advertisements. In fact, I tend to get lots of inspirations from clever and witty adverts.
No matter how it is done, the purpose of an advertisement remains the same, ie. to grab attention. The true test, therefore, is whether the adverts leave behind the desired impressions which lead to consumer actions.
Generally, there are a few types of advertisements:
- Print Advertising: eg. newspapers and magazines.
- On line Advertising: eg. pay per click, search engines and banners.
- Media Advertising: eg. radio and television.
- Outdoor Advertising: eg. billboards and blimps.
- Mobile Advertising: eg. adverts on buses
In my earlier article (The $40 Million Retail Therapy), I was hoping to see a more vibrant Orchard Road after pouring in $40 million to spruce up the famous shopping belt. In this article, it is appropriate for me to further add on that, creative and inspiring billboards can also help to enhance the colors and uniqueness of Orchard Road.
In this aspect, I find local billboards rather uninteresting. They usually carry very safe and straight-to-the-point messages. There are lots of hard selling and direct information. As a consumer, I find these adverts informative but not inspiring.
Boring billboards?? Why is that so?
The first reason I can think of is that the local advertisers are not so creative. However, I am quickly reminded that we are in a rather globalized city state with lots of local and foreign talents. Surely. talents can be bought and creativity can permeates international borders. I do not think that the local players are to be blamed or at least, not entirely.
I begin to wonder if the local adverts playground is too stifling? Are the censorship authorities too strict and hence clamping down much of the creativity? Perhaps that is so but I have no evidence to suggest that. In fact, a recent local advertisement has received criticism from overseas that it is too outlandish and outrageous. Take a look a the Burger King advertisement in the picture below, wouldn't you agree that it leaves little to imagination? Totally inappropriate!
Guess what? The advertisement is produced locally by a Singaporean agency. It can be seen in public places especially near Burger King outlets under the full view of the underage. For something which has so much, shall I say, sexual innuendo, I am puzzled as to how it has escaped the merciless local censorship? The Burger King episode leaves me unsure if the censorship board is to be blamed for the seemingly lack of creativity in the local billboards. After all, they appear to be able to accept this offensive and objectionable promo adverts.
So, is it the consumer preference that shaped the local advertisement scene? Singapore is a multi-lingual and multi cultural country and I can understand why the advertisers choose to have their messages plain and direct. In this way, the majority of the potential customers would be able to relate to the message and there will be little chance of offending anyone.
I leave it to you to accord your judgment on who is to be blamed for the rather bland billboards seen around us:
a) the advertisers and the advertising agencies?
b) the no-nonsense censorship?
c) the consumer profile?
While you chew on the question, let's look at some of the street adverts which have inspired me....
Finally, since we are talking about advertisement, watch this TV commercial from Japan which is promoting Singapore as a tourist destination. I am not sure about you but if I were the Japanese, I would not have found Singapore a great lure. Putting its effectiveness aside, it is quite a LOL adz.
A billboard lovely as a tree
Indeed, unless the billboards fall
I'll never see a tree at all."
*Ogden Nash (American poet, 1902–1971)*