Monday, October 8, 2007

The price of your b@nk account: Just $440

07 Oct 2007, ST

Personal information pilfered by hackers can be sold and used for crimes like fraud and identity theft

By Loh Wei Loong

YOUR bank account might contain thousands of dollars, but in the black market, information on hacking into it is worth only about US$300 (S$440).

Credit card data goes for even less: Cyber thieves sell such details for just US$1 to US$6.

And information about your life, from birth date to credit card and identification numbers, sell for only up to US$18.

Welcome to the world of organised online crime and the underworld economy, in which details stolen by hackers are traded for a mere fraction of their worth.

Symantec and McAfee, two major security companies which distribute computer software that prevents hackers from accessing your computer, have been studying cyber crime trends, including identity theft, phishing and e-mail fraud.

Personal information can be obtained online by hackers in various ways - by installing key loggers onto your computer that track keyboard button movements to uncover passwords; or by using bots or programs installed in a computer to give control of it to an unauthorised user remotely.

A large number of these computers can then be used to launch cyber attacks onto others, or to harvest confidential information stored within.

Symantec tracked how information stolen is being traded, and details of the study show the blatant disregard hackers have for sensitive data.

Details of an online banking account with at least US$9,900 in it is worth only US$300 on the black market.

A list of 29,000 e-mail addresses costs just US$5, while a verified PayPal account fetches between US$5 and $500, depending on the balance in the account.

And for all those World Of Warcraft players out there, details of an active gaming account nets a hacker US$10.

When one considers that black markets normally trade such information in bulk, it means that hackers are constantly on the prowl for more ways to get more data to sell.

Although illegal, it is a lucrative business.

Just look at New Yorker Shiva Brent Sharma, who at the age of 20, amassed a cyber loot of US$150,000 before he was nabbed in 2005 for identity theft.

He bought stolen credit card accounts online and managed to transfer large amounts of money to himself. He once stole US$20,000 in less than 36 hours.

And while such crimes have generally been assumed to be concentrated in Western countries, there is evidence to show that Asia is fast becoming an attractive target.

'Online users in Asia assume they are not being targeted, but hackers don't care which country you live in. Everyone is a target,' warns McAfee's marketing director for Asia-Pacific, Mr Allan Bell.

A Symantec study found that an average of 15,447 active bot-infected computers per day are in the Asia-Pacific region, which makes up 29 per cent of the worldwide daily average of 52,771.

According to Symantec's consumer product marketing manager for Asia-Pacific, Mr Phil Hickey, 95 per cent of all online attacks are targeted at 'unsuspecting home users'.

He said: 'It goes without saying that criminals can buy all kinds of goods and subscribe to all kinds of services at your expense.

'But it's even more worrying to think that your identity can also be used in fraudulent activities, to provide a 'cover' for criminals.'

Protect yourself

DESPITE the ever changing methods hackers use to get information, the ways to protect your computer have not changed much.

Never download anything from an unverified source, never share sensitive information via instant messaging systems, and avoid storing such data on a laptop, which is easier to lose.

And while it might be attractive to download free anti-virus software, there is an advantage in using all-in-one security programs, including those provided by Symantec or McAfee, which include anti-virus, anti-phishing, anti-spyware and other useful tools in one handy package.

Symantec's new Norton 360, for instance, prevents phishing by actively verifying the origins of a website to ensure that the sites visited are not fraudulent ones created to obtain private information.

Another security tip is to always remember to update software definitions to ensure your computer is protected against the newest hacker programs.

Beware, too, of lulling yourself into a false sense of security.

A study by McAfee and the United States National Cyber Security Alliance discovered that while users felt keeping their computers safe was important and had taken steps to do so, the facts proved otherwise.

A large percentage of those surveyed owned expired anti-virus software, disabled firewalls and less than half of them had anti-spyware software. And for those who did, less than half actually installed it.

So which half are you? The half that has thousands in the bank, or the other half who stands to lose everything while a hacker makes US$300?


How much on the black market?

# Details of an online banking account with at least US$9,900 (S$14,600): US$300

# Information about a person's life, including birth dates, credit card and identification numbers: Up to US$18

# Credit card information: US$1 to US$6

# A list of 29,000 e-mail addresses: US$5

Friday, October 5, 2007

Foot forward

04 Oct 2007, ST, Urban

Singaporeans are embracing the era of the cult sandal and putting comfort before fashion. Even premium prices aren't getting in their way, finds NOELLE LOH

Singapore has racked up many lofty achievements over the years in terms of infrastructure and economics, but Urban can reveal a little-known, down-to-earth area in which the Republic has put its best foot forward too: cult sandals.

For when it comes to wearing sandals - humble, open-toe footwear that has graced Man's feet since prehistoric times - Singapore has a track record to be proud of.

For example, hark back to the colonial-era 1930s and migrant Samsui women who, in trademark blue tunic suits and red headdresses, toiled under the hot sun.

What was on their feet? Why, strappy soles that they fashioned (rather creatively, actually) out of the rubber of old tyres.

They may not have been pretty, but they were a triumph of function over form.

Later in 1972, sandals again made their mark - this time in the form of Peranakan-inspired beaded slip-ons that completed the Singapore Girl look. Now, those were pretty.

Today, both men and women have made sandals - whatever the style - a staple in their wardrobe, wearing them on adventure trails, at the beach and even at clubs.

Sandals may have once been humble footwear, but prices these days can be anything but.

Sure, you can still buy basic slippers and sandals at the neighbourhood market for under $5. But to step out in sandals that combine comfort and that 'cool' factor, be prepared to pay anything from $26.90 to $589.

Take the ones at outdoor specialist store Camper's Corner at Capitol Building, which sells criss-cross laced, polyeurathane sports sandals under the Colorado-based Chaco brand.

The sandals are said to offer a middle-arch support like none other, thanks to 'BioCentric' footbed technology, and a flip-flop leisure version costs at least $78.

A pair in its premium performance series, the ZX2 Unaweep, costs $187.

Despite the steep prices, sales are good, says Calvin Tay, owner of Camper's Corner.

'The market for Chaco sandals has been growing steadily since we started bringing them in about 12 years ago,' he says. 'People are beginning to appreciate the importance of the appropriate fitting and support when it comes to shoes.'

While he declines to reveal exact sales figures, he says the record number of Chaco shoes that one customer owns is 25.

Functional and fancy-priced sandals can also be found at German footwear company Birkenstock, whose cult status is apparent from the mass of imitation designs in the market.

Love 'em or hate 'em, Birkenstocks are known for their chunky soles and straps with fashionable prints and cost an average of $110 a pair.

Geraldine Lee, brand director of Birkenstock in Singapore, says the main appeal of the cork-soled sandals lies in their anatomically designed, contoured footbed that ensures comfort.

'There is nothing quite like a Birkenstock that combines comfort and quality in a wide choice of styles,' she says of the sandals.

The other clompy sandals that have gained a cult following are, of course, Crocs. When Crocs first appeared in 2002, the brightly coloured lightweight plastic shoes with holes were ridiculed by the fashion world.

But the United States-based makers used that positively, coming up with the marketing tagline 'Ugly can be beautiful'.

'The beautiful aspect of Crocs shoes is that they are soft, comfortable, lightweight, non-marking and odour resistant,' says John McCarvel, managing director of Crocs Asia.

British actor Ian McKellen seems to endorse this, having been seen almost everywhere - from last year's London premiere of the movie The Queen to his recent interview on Channel NewsAsia - in a fire engine-red pair.

Equally unconventional is the design of new British strapless flip-flops Dopie.

You heard right - these rubber sandals, which were launched in Europe in April, have no straps.

Instead, the brightly coloured thongs feature a rounded slot for the toe cleavage, though Dopie newbies can hook on a detachable strap to get used to walking in them.

'Customers tend to be design and fashion enthusiasts who are a bit ahead of the curve in terms of cultural trends,' says a spokesman for Spin the Bottle, Dopie's first official retailer in Singapore.

Corporate banker Valerie Loh, 24, says she doesn't think most cult sandals on the market look very nice and are, for most people, a temporary fashion statement.

'I own three pairs of Birkenstock sandals, but that's because they really are very comfortable,' she says. 'I don't think they are very fashionable and would never be caught wearing them to an event.'

However weird-looking or expensive, there is no denying the star appeal of cult sandals. Urban walks readers through five of the most popular brands.


What originated as orthopaedic footwear used solely for podiatric care has developed into must-have footwear for generations of flower children and fashion followers.

Geraldine Lee, brand director of Birkenstock in Singapore, says the key draw of the cork and rubber-based sandals is their comfort - thanks to a signature anatomically designed, contoured footbed.

In 2003, the brand upped its street cred even further when it collaborated with supermodel Heidi Klum to come up with a more luxurious range embellished with stones, studs and chains.

Celebrity fans include British chef Jamie Oliver, actress Naomi Watts and Singapore MTV VJ Denise Keller.

This pair (right) is from Papillio, which is an official Birkenstock licensee.

$79 for kids' shoes to $589 for a pair by Heidi Klum, from World of Sports, Wisma Atria Isetan Level 4 and all authorised Birkenstock retailers, tel: 6835-2702

These Grecian-style sandals with their signature adjustable criss-cross straps are said to provide maximum comfort and foot support.

You can recognise a hard-core fan from the Z-shaped tan lines on his feet.

Once favoured only by instructors from the local Outward Bound School, the sandals are gaining popularity among both men and women as streetwear, says Calvin Tay, owner of retailer Camper's Corner.

A new batch in seven colours arrives at the store every alternate month, he adds.

Its bestseller is the ZX2 Unaweep from the brand's top performance series.

$78 for a pair of Flipsides, Chaco's range of leisure flip-flops, to $187 for a performance pair, from Camper's Corner, 01-13 Capitol Building, tel: 6337-4743

Despite being called 'goofy' by The Washington Post and 'hideous' by pop culture magazine Radar, Crocs have gained a strong following. Fans include Hollywood stars like Matt Damon, Jennifer Garner and Heather Locklear.

The sandals, known for their signature Swiss cheese-like hole-ridden surface, even made their appearance on hit television series Grey's Anatomy.

The secret of their appeal is their softness and comfort. The use of the material Croslite, a proprietary closed-cell resin, means the shoes are lightweight, non-marking and odour resistant, says Crocs Asia managing director John McCarvel.

The bestsellers in Singapore are the original Beach design in khaki and chocolate, and women's model Sassari in monochrome.

$48.10 for the Prima range, which look like ballet slippers, to $85.60 for the Islander range, a leather version of the Beach design, from Check, 04-23/24 The Heeren, and all authorised Crocs dealers, tel: 6755-2236

The newest kid on the block, these strapless sandals from Britain feature a rounded slot for toes. The result is that you can frolic in the sun without worrying about getting tan lines on your feet.

Its makers assure customers that the sandals' soft moulded rubber means Dopies won't slide off. But, for practice when you start wearing them, a detachable strap comes with each pair.

A spokesman for Spin the Bottle, the first official retailer of Dopie in Singapore, calls the slippers 'stylish and fashion forward'. Customers are usually from the fashion or design industries.

While no celebrities have yet to be seen in a pair, the spokesman says Hollywood stars such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Cate Blanchett are fans of Terra Plana, Dopie's manufacturers.

'It'll only be a matter of time before they start showing up on celebrities' feet,' he says.

$59.90 per pair, from 01-02 The Cathay, tel: 9150-2297

First brought into Singapore by lifestyle brand (NUM) four years ago, these Brazilian slippers are made of a special rubber formula that gives them a 'butter-soft' feel.

What makes Havaianas different from the average pair of rubber slippers from the market is their quality, non-slip sole and the wide range of styles and colours that they come in, says Chua Shenzi, director of NUM.

'Some customers boast wearing their pair of Havaianas for three years or longer,' Chua says.

Since debuting outside Brazil six years ago, the premium brand of flip-flops has gained something of an iconic status, showing up on the feet of celebrities on the red carpet and featuring as a sponsor of the recent Mercedes-Benz New York Fashion Week.

According to Chua, hot favourites among local customers are Havaianas in gold, silver and bronze.

$26.90 for the basic range to $49.90 for the premium range, from, B1-11/17 CityLink Mall, tel: 6884-4253

Beauty talk

04 Oct 2007, ST, Urban

Beauty tips at your fingertips - just go to these fashion forums, says EMILY LEK

For your daily dose of beauty news, click on to online beauty forums.

Fashionistas are now hogging forums like Flowerpod and Cozycot to yak about everything from hair extensions to pedicures.

They post threads seeking fashion advice, rave about favourite make-up brands and trends and even double as fashion consultants to dispense help to hapless wannabes.

It's like a big bonding bash over shoes and bags. Which explains why several forums, both local- and foreign-based, have already attracted tens of thousands of members, many of whom are in their tween and teen years.

Urban picks out five of the hottest online beauty zones.


With a sleek homepage - chick-lit cover illustrations rule - and a slogan like Where Beautiful Minds Meet, you know this local website is out to seduce all women.

Here, Cotters - as CozyCot users are called - can find forums on fragrances (CozyFragrance) and spas (CozySpa), which are noticeably missing from most other forums.

If you're feeling narcissistic, tell the world what you wore today on Look of the Day, a thread in the CozyFashion forum.


Oh Genki, one of the most popular local online forums, hosts more than 60 sub-forums ranging from Automobiles to Pets.

Little wonder then that it has a shoutbox for fashionistas too. Under the Fashion sub-forum are seven categories like Shopping Sprees, Footwear and even Body Art for tattoos.

It may be fascinating, but the most popular of them all is still Beauty And Grooming, which has more than 800 threads and 16,000 posts to date.


This local site may just be the complete package for beauty fanatics. Hair Talk, Nails Talk and Intimate Apparels Talk are just three of more than 30 sub-forums available to members, most of whom are Singaporeans. Podders, or users, can devour beauty-related news and tips or even post their own. Watch out also for the Videos segment where you can view video tutorials on make-up.

Non-beauty-related sub-forums like Finance Talk and Food Talk offer respite for first-time users dizzy from beauty overdose.


This site, which attracts members mainly from the United States and Europe, is the only foreign site among this lot. Introduce yourself to other members worldwide at sub-forum Introductions before making a stop at Homemade Beauty Secrets where users share quirky stories of homemade beauty recipes. Tales of using toothpaste and banana peel to ward off zits are included.

The New And Upcoming Products section may be useful for its make-up and skincare recommendations by fellow users, though reading the posts feels a tad like watching commercials on the telly - buy, buy, have a heart, please buy.


This local site is more of a beauty site than a forum. It is divided into rather broad sub-forums like Skincare & Face and Fashion & Accessories, so looking for body part-specific advice may take quite a while.

The DIY Makeover section dispenses essential fashion tips such as how to choose the perfect sunglasses to suit your face shape. Extras like the What Is Your Nail Polish Personality? quiz entertains while the Bra Size Counter calculates your bra size in a jiffy.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Is it time to slow down?

03 Oct 2007, ST, Mind Your Body

Wendy Chua K. Wand

The writer is the founder of Wand Inspiration and author of All Kids R Gifted and Break To Dawn.

Q I am 35, have been working in a prestigious law firm for seven years and am likely to be made partner in one or two years.

Although I used to enjoy my work, I am now starting to question if I am cut out for this. I work such long hours that I am always tired, and I have no time to exercise or spend time with my friends and family. I am contemplating a career change.

Recently, my mother was diagnosed with cancer and I realised how little time I may have with her. I am also single and would like to get married and have a family.

Of course, there is no guarantee that I can find a man to love, or even begin to date. It has been years since I have dated. Is it ridiculous to say I want to reduce my working hours, or to change my career, because I want to stay home more and have time to date?

I am concerned that I will make a career mistake and regret it; if I am not happy, however, money and status are meaningless. Please advise.

A For most people, the mid-30s is when they start to reflect on the meaning and purpose of their lives and careers. If they have yet to create meaningful emotional connections with significant others, they are likely to have a sense of emptiness. Some deny this emptiness; others immerse themselves even more deeply in their work. Some others face up to their internal questions and so decide to make changes to their lifestyles and careers.

Your distress is exacerbated by your mother's illness and your desire to find a life partner.

How much time do you spend with your mother? How would you describe your current relationship with her - warm or distant? How would you like this relationship to be like for the remaining days of her life?

I am sure your mother appreciates the physical comfort that your money can give her. Nevertheless, she would crave your company and encouragement even more. When people think they are dying, they may have a sense of despair and wonder if they have lived their lives well. If your mother receives your care and attention, and you show your appreciation for what she has done for you, she will be happy to know that she has created a precious and worthy person in you.

How much will you regret if you lose her now, without giving her your time and showing her your love?

Your desire to date, find someone and be married will be welcomed by your mother. Of course, you must want to enter into such a commitment with confidence and personal conviction.

The risks inherent in dating and falling in love are that you may get rejected or the relationship may not work out. Compare that risk with working hard, clocking the billable hours. It looks like there is more guarantee you will succeed at a career than in love, so it's no wonder many single people choose to pay more attention to their careers.

How much is this interpersonal risk important to you?

I think that you need time to discover yourself - who you are, your strengths and contributions, your weaknesses and your goals.

If you are working long hours every week, when will you find the time for your mother, yourself, and dating? How can you recharge yourself?

You have options.

Discuss with your present firm if there are other roles you can play, depending on whether you are willing to take a pay cut or make a change within the organisation. If you are happy with the organisation and it appreciates you, you may be able to create a new role for yourself there.

The advantage of this is that you do not face too many changes while you are facing possible changes in your family. Be open with your supervisors regarding your mother's illness, and go to them with some workable solutions. Can you serve fewer clients? Can you slow down your progress towards partnership?

If this is not workable, there are roles in other organisations in which your legal training and experience can come in handy. Some lawyers have switched to become in-house counsel for organisations so they have more regular hours and serve only one organisation. They accept that they are giving up some benefits.

It is not ridiculous to make changes to your career so you have time for your mother and for a social life. You make that choice with maturity. Bear in mind your purpose for making this change, and be steadfast in pursuing your goals. Don't let other people tell you it is wrong.

It is your own life, your mother and your future. Live it wisely and with love.

A dose of dark chocolate a day helps keep fatigue away

03 Oct 2007, ST

LONDON - A DAILY dose of specially formulated dark chocolate may help cut chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms, researchers have found.

A team from Hull York Medical School found in a pilot study that patients experienced less fatigue after having dark chocolate with high cocoa content than with white chocolate dyed brown, the BBC reported.

They said the results were surprising but dark chocolate may be having an effect on the brain chemical serotonin.

Chronic fatigue syndrome has a range of symptoms but is particularly characterised by profound muscle fatigue after physical exertion.

Study leader Steve Atkin said the idea for the study came after a patient reported feeling much better after swopping her normal milk chocolate for dark chocolate with a high cocoa content.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Much ado about 'nothing'

01 Oct 2007, ST

Talking to a woman can be like watching Shakespeare: It requires a lot of concentration and it's difficult to understand

By Jeremy Au Yong

IT STARTED innocently enough.

I was having tea with a friend at a coffee shop. And we were engaging in what I thought was a casual chat when, out of the blue, it happened.

'It' refers to my friend getting angry with me. It would not surprise you to learn that this friend was female. Let me recount to you the chain of events leading up to this unfortunate incident.

1. The Australian World Cup (yes, World Cup!) rugby team scored a try against Fiji.

2. A cheer rang out from the TV behind me which was showing the game.

3. Instinctively, I turned my head to the TV to see what had happened.

4. No more than two seconds later, upon seeing that Australia had indeed scored a try, I turned my head back to continue the conversation with my friend.

Let me just stress at this point that guys cannot help but look at the TV if somebody scores. It might be any sport, football, cricket, canoe polo, it doesn't matter.

If there's a sudden cheer, we must look. We cannot not look. It's in our DNA.

That doesn't mean we are not paying attention to you women. For example, during the briefest of moments I had my head turned, I had diverted some extra brain power to my ears to monitor the words she was saying, just in case I was given a spot test.

Women are always giving men these listening spot tests. 'What was the last thing I said?' they will ask in a stern teacherly voice. And if you don't get it 100 per cent correct, you will be in trouble.

Sometimes - as in my case - I got it right and still got in trouble.

Apparently, she was in the midst of saying something important, something momentous, something so crucial that it required my full undivided attention.

Yes, so monumentally important and urgent this piece of information was that - in the absence of my undivided attention - it shrivelled up, died and was reduced to 'nothing'.

She: I have decided that..... (notices the turned head)

I: (turning head back after a split second) You have decided that...?

She: (with upset look) Nothing.

Now, let's consider why this has happened.

Women might say it was because I was being insensitive.

Just when someone was opening up to you about something she felt very deeply about, you decided it was more important to look at some strangers a few thousand kilometres away run with an egg-shaped ball across a line. 'How incredibly dense are you?' women will say.

Men in turn will respond that, once again, women have taken a trivial matter and blown it right out of proportion.

I say it's just one big misunderstanding.

You see, women and men have vastly different approaches to talking. For men, it's just a means of telling people what you want. For women, it's an event, an experience to be enjoyed and is full of little nuances,

That's why talking to a woman can be like watching a play by Shakespeare. It requires a lot of concentration, it's difficult to understand and it always takes longer than you think.

It's quite clear men have the far superior approach.

For example, no man would ever get angry at another for ignoring him momentarily to check out sport. As a matter of fact, men would find it quite strange if another did not actively look. ('Are you okay? You didn't look at that goal?'')

In fact, if there is a TV with sport on in the vicinity, it is quite likely all men will talk to one another without ever making any eye contact. It's a very efficient system.

Men are also more efficient with the phone. Our conversations are short and straight to the point.

('Eh, help me buy 1143, $2 big, $2 small. Okay, bye bye.')

Women, on the other hand, are unable to have a phone conversation under 30 minutes.

('Can help me buy 1143, $2 big, $2 small? It's not too much trouble, right? I mean, if it is, just let me know, I can go myself. I just thought that since you are in town you could help... Sure? Okay, thanks. Oh, do you know why I am buying this number, it's very funny. You see, yesterday my son was on the bus coming home from school when he saw this horse...')

And it goes on and on. A casual call from an old friend can take upwards of two hours. If they are planning a birthday, it can stretch to two days.

Aside from being more efficient, men are also easier to understand. That's because we adopt the dictionary meaning of the words we use. Women, on the other hand, invent new ones, especially when they are angry.

For example, 'Fine' never means 'Fine'. It means something more like 'Very very not fine and it's all your fault'.

'Nothing' means 'something very very bad that is all your fault'.

But even when they are not angry, the meanings of words tend to get muddled. Among the most problematic are 'hungry' and 'full'.

I have a friend capable of moaning about how 'hungry' she is on the way to a restaurant, and then order a salad of which she will eat only half.

I have another friend who - no matter what she eats, it could be two peanuts - will proclaim: 'I'm so full. I ate too much.'

It's indeed a serious problem. One that men and women have to tackle together.

Women can try to talk to men only when the TV is off.

Men, in turn, can try not to take everything women say literally.

It's worth a shot.

I mean, we've got 'nothing' to lose.

Homosexual friends: Let's fight the hypocrisy

01 Oct 2007, ST

By Tessa Wong

WHILE working on last week's story about youth attitudes towards homosexuality, I found myself thinking about the time I went through a sea change in my own perceptions about this issue.

Until I entered university, I had always fancied myself as someone who could strike an adequate balance between reason and matters of faith.

But it wasn't until I made my first gay friend, Mark, that I realised the unbridgeable gap between the two.

Mark and I met and clicked on the first day of class at university in England when I was 19. What with me being a typically sheltered Singaporean youth - my previous experience with homosexual issues was limited to gossiping about the resident lesbian couple at junior college - I found Mark's sexual orientation fascinating.

It was a novel experience hanging out with him, just as I would with any other girlfriend, chatting all day about guys and Christina Aguilera's latest fashion disaster.

But as our friendship deepened and the novelty wore off, Mark shared with me the constant struggles he faced to be accepted as a gay person, not only with his devoutly religious family, but also in society in general.

As I began to see him more as a person rather than just 'the gay friend', I also became aware that I had been 'exoticising' Mark. By deliberately preventing myself from seeing him as a regular person, I was not facing up to the fact that his homosexuality was something I was supposed to see as an abomination.

Having been brought up in a conservative background, I had always subscribed to the notion of 'love the sinner, hate the sin'. Gay people were all right, I thought, just as long as I didn't have anything to do with their 'wrong' lifestyles.

But as Mark and I grew closer, I began to see how difficult it was putting that truism into practice.

Being gay wasn't a detachable part of Mark's identity. His sexual orientation was also embedded in every aspect of his life, from his relationships with his family to his outlook on life, to how he treated others.

So how could I as a friend truly love him for who he was, when I could not accept every single part of him?

At this point, I began to question what exactly was so wrong about homosexuality. From what I saw in Mark's life, gay people were just like everyone else, and fully capable of holding stable, loving relationships, unlike what I had been taught previously.

After some soul searching, I realised that not only could I not accept the illogical flaws of that truism, but I also had to make a stand about what had become obviously clear to me - that homosexuality is not something intrinsically wrong.

I'm sure that a number of young people reading this are facing a similar dilemma when it comes to dealing with homosexual friends.

My advice? If you really want to love the 'sinner', don't call it a sin. Otherwise, it would just be pure hypocrisy.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Pho the love of Vietnamese noodles

30 Sep 2007, ST

By Foong Woei Wan

IF YOU'VE been to Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi, you'd have come across Pho 24, the MacDonald's of Vietnamese beef noodles.

Now, you can try its food right here in Millenia Walk, where a Singapore franchise of Pho 24 opened its first outlet last month.

As far as I can tell, its beef noodles are quite authentic.

The shop serves dishes that range from pho bap (noodles with beef muscle, $6.90), pho chin (noodles with well-done beef brisket, $6.90), pho nam (noodles with well-done beef flank, $6.90) to pho bo combo, a $10.90 special that comes with fillet, flank, tendon, tripe, muscle and brisket.

For non-fans of cattle, there are also options like pho ga (noodles with sliced chicken, $6.90).

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PHO-BIA: The Vietnamese noodels are authentic enough with good-quality beef. -- PHOTO: PHO24

I tried the pho bo combo recently and its beefy, tasty broth brought to mind the bowls of pho I had in Ho Chi Minh City months ago.

I also liked all the cuts of beef, from the squishy bits of tendon to the firm bites of tripe.

Franchise co-owner Alvin Chia tells me that his company does not skimp on the quality of beef.

'We actually use the same tenderloin you find in steakhouses,' he says.

But although most restaurants in Vietnam serve noodles with a basket of greens, including all manner of minty herbs, all I got with my bowl was a small dish of garnishes like bean sprouts and chilli.

Mr Chia explains that even in Vietnam, Pho 24 outlets do not serve as many vegetables as regular noodle restaurants so that they would not have to recycle uneaten garnishes.

Still, a friend who tried the pho ga liked that it came in its own chicken broth.

We washed down our dinner with Vietnamese coffee ($2.80) and tea ($1.50). The drip coffee was strong but smooth, and I enjoyed it even without any sugar or condensed milk.

The tea was served with candied lotus seeds - a nice sweet note to end a meal on.

And, good news: A second shop in Yio Chu Kang, opposite Serangoon Stadium, now does deliveries and there are more outlets in the pipeline, says Mr Chia.

PHO 24

Two outlets at 01-26 Millenia Walk, 9 Raffles Boulevard, tel: 6337-4475, Open: 11am to 9pm, and 56 Yio Chu Kang Road, tel: 6286-8424,

Open: 11.30am to 9.30pm

Rating: ***1/2

Roast with the most

30 Sep 2007, ST

By Chris Tan

Q I would like to prepare roasted char siew for a gathering. Which part of the meat is suitable? Should I buy a ready-made char siew sauce or do you have a 'secret ingredient' to share? What are the differences among local, Cantonese, Teochew and Japanese char siew preparation?

Lee Seng Choon

A Cantonese char siew is distinguished by its toothsome succulence. You need well-marbled meat from the upper shoulder just behind the head, that is, pork neck, pork collar, neck end, collar butt or Boston butt. Loin is too lean.

According to Chef Wilson Goie, who mans the roasting ovens at the Oriental Hotel's Cherry Garden restaurant, shoulder meat has tendons and fat, which add to the texture. Without the fat, the fragrance and flavour of the char siew are lessened.

He says that lower-grade local char siew - the kind you get in inexpensive wonton mee - typically uses cheaper lean meat, painted with sugar, salt, MSG, light soy sauce and artificial red colouring. Hence, it needs a sauce on the side to keep it moist.

He adds that by comparison, Cantonese-style char siew tastes good on its own, even without any sauces.

A marinade should enhance but not camouflage the flavour of the pork. The common-denominator ingredients are light and/or dark soy sauce, and a sweetener - sugar, maltose syrup, honey or a blend of these.

To these, chefs may add taucheo, rice wine, garlic, Chinese herbs and other seasonings.

Chef Goie's Cantonese recipe has 'hoisin sauce, bean paste, five spice powder, sugar, soy sauce and oyster sauce'.

Good hoisin and soy sauce should yield a pale red tint, but for a rosier colour and a delicious beany lilt, add a little mashed nam yee (red fermented beancurd) to the marinade.

Your last question had everyone I asked scratching their heads. No one understands char siew to be part of Teochew tradition. The only version in existence seems to be at Alexandra Village hawker centre and seems to differ from Cantonese char siew only by being sweeter and less complex-tasting.

To make Japanese chashu, a ramen garnish, pork butt or belly is rolled and tied into a log, then slowly braised in soy-seasoned stock.

It is left to cool in the stock - which is later often used to flavour the ramen broth or seasoning base - before being untied and sliced thin.

Sometimes chashu is grilled or roasted to brown the outside, but this is uncommon outside Japan.

Getting the best in biryani

30 Sep 2007, ST

By Chris Tan

Q How can I achieve a flavourful mutton/ chicken biryani? The biryani I cook turns out like normal curry rice. Some recipes call for cooking over low heat on a stove and some in an oven. Which method would yield a more genuine taste?

Yeo Li Ling

A True biryani is thought to be the offspring of northern Indian cuisine and Persian influences ('birian' means 'fried' in Farsi) via the Mughal empire.

It layers rice, meat marinated in yogurt and spices, and aromatic seasoning in a pot. It is then covered and sealed with a flour dough, and slowly baked until done.

This dum pukht - literally 'steam choked' - technique enables the rice to absorb meat juices, the meat to slowly relax into tenderness in its insulating bed of rice, and the spices to infuse and permeate the whole.

If the elements are cooked separately and then combined, then it's not the real McCoy.

Although the dish originated in Uttar Pradesh, the most famous biryanis are those of Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh.

The most prized is perhaps kachche biryani, which cooks the meat and rice together from their raw state, rather than separately part-cooking either or both first. This requires very precise timing and marinating to produce tender meat without soggy rice.

Singapore's Indian Muslim and Muslim biryanis are fairly close to northern Indian models.

Peer into the pot of a local biryani stall and you'll typically see and smell fried onions and saffron - usually unnecessarily augmented with eye-blistering food colouring - rose water, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon stick, mint and coriander leaves, raisins and cashew nuts.

I have no space to give you recipes here, but has many.

Madhur Jaffrey's book From Curries To Kebabs: Recipes From The Indian Spice Trail also has a couple of easy-to-follow recipes. There are also a few entertaining videos of homestyle biryani-making on Youtube.

Traditionally, coals are bedded under and heaped on top of the biryani pot. At home, you can replicate this best in an oven.

Stovetop would be my second choice as long as you do not make the layers too deep, use a heavy-based pot, and keep the heat low.

If you're a beginner, make a pukki biryani - cook the meat and rice until each is about three-quarters done before layering them.

As you get more experienced at judging how much moisture and time are needed to complete the cooking, you can shorten the pre-cooking and prolong the dum period, melding the flavours better.

Gourmet store cafes the rage

Gourmet food stores have branched into cafes which serve the quality food they sell
By Huang Lijie
YOU'D imagine that dining on the same brand of smoked ocean trout used by one of the best chefs in the world, Sydney-based Tetsuya Wakuda, would be a pricey experience at a fancy restaurant.

Not so. Dreamy nosh endorsed by the world-famous chef is available at a low-key cafe here, of all places.

Just head to the hip hub of Tanglin Village - Dempsey Road, to be precise - and a place called Culina, which is best known as a food store that sells gourmet delights.

Culina serves the trout on a bed of salad greens at a discreet little cafe tucked in a corner of its store. The fish used in this $25 dish is part of Wakuda's line of gourmet food products that Culina stocks, which they serve straight from the package, dressed with a little balsamic vinaigrette.

The Culina experience is part of a trend here to have intimate casual eateries in speciality food stores.

Diners enjoy relaxed meals featuring quality produce, as shoppers pop in for anything from premium chocolate truffles and exclusively sourced cheeses to Iranian oscietra caviar.

In the last year, no fewer than six gourmet food stores have opened such cafes that seat around 30 people, bringing the total number doing this to at least nine.

These cafes showcase and promote the speciality food items available in the shops' retail aisles, say storeowners.

Ms Tuyet Nguyen, 32, managing director of organic grocer L'Organic in Dempsey Road, which opened a cafe in June within its six-month-old store says: 'Gourmet food stores carry products that are typically unfamiliar to local taste buds. An in-store cafe brings these items together in dishes, which allow customers to try the merchandise.

'The idea is that the customer will like the food products enough to buy them off the shelves.'

And this concept is working. Ms Nguyen estimates that the cafe has boosted the store's retail business by about 20 per cent.

Likewise, Mr Murray Aitken, 37, president of Corduroy Lifestyle Holdings, has observed a 'good number of such crossover customers' at its two-year-old gourmet food store and cafe outlet, Corduroy & Finch in Bukit Timah.

Indeed, marketing director Abhijit Patwardhan, 43, ordered the dips platter from Jones The Grocer's cafe on a recent visit and loved the taste of the beetroot and almond dip so much - 'sweet, with the hint of a wasabi-like bite' - that he's determined to pick up a tub of it on his next trip.

Six of the nine premium food store-cum-cafe outlets that LifeStyle interviewed stressed, however, that retail remains their main focus and while their cafes feature fine food products, they do not claim to offer fine dining.

Mr John Burdsall, 37, managing director of three-year-old premium organic food store Bunalun in Chip Bee Gardens, says: 'The dining in our store is more a tasting bar than a full-fledged cafe.'

That said, these informal cafes continue to draw a following based on their own merits.

'The dishes may be uncomplicated, but it is this simplicity in preparation that allows the premium quality of the fine food products to shine through,' says personal chef Ryan Hong, 44, who is a fan of the beef burger offered at Culina.

For public relations executive Melissa Tan, 26, the laid-back atmosphere at these informal cafes, where maintaining a steady customer turnover is not a store priority, makes them ideal weekend brunch escapes.

In fact, the cafe at Bluespoon in Ghim Moh has been so successful that its sales are more than double those of the store's speciality frozen food such as New Zealand ribeye steak and Swedish meatballs.

'My customers are hungry for convenience, and dining at the store's cafe saves them the trouble of preparing the frozen food products at home,' says Bluespoon owner Dillon Chew, 44.

The rash of speciality food-store cafes has not prompted stiff competition among players, however. Storeowners say their unique offerings differentiate their cafe menu and appeal.

Mrs Verena Raveton, 41, managing director of luxury French food brand Hediard's local cafe-boutique, says: 'There might be other grocer-cafe concepts out there, but none share our Parisian signature and European stamp of luxury.'


Other gourmet store cafes

YOU'D imagine that dining on the same brand of smoked ocean trout used by one of the best chefs in the world, Sydney-based Tetsuya Wakuda, would be a pricey experience at a fancy restaurant.

Not so. Dreamy nosh endorsed by the world-famous chef is available at a low-key cafe here, of all places.

Just head to the hip hub of Tanglin Village - Dempsey Road, to be precise - and a place called Culina, which is best known as a food store that sells gourmet delights.

Culina serves the trout on a bed of salad greens at a discreet little cafe tucked in a corner of its store. The fish used in this $25 dish is part of Wakuda's line of gourmet food products that Culina stocks, which they serve straight from the package, dressed with a little balsamic vinaigrette.

The Culina experience is part of a trend here to have intimate casual eateries in speciality food stores.

Diners enjoy relaxed meals featuring quality produce, as shoppers pop in for anything from premium chocolate truffles and exclusively sourced cheeses to Iranian oscietra caviar.

In the last year, no fewer than six gourmet food stores have opened such cafes that seat around 30 people, bringing the total number doing this to at least nine.

These cafes showcase and promote the speciality food items available in the shops' retail aisles, say storeowners.

Ms Tuyet Nguyen, 32, managing director of organic grocer L'Organic in Dempsey Road, which opened a cafe in June within its six-month-old store says: 'Gourmet food stores carry products that are typically unfamiliar to local taste buds. An in-store cafe brings these items together in dishes, which allow customers to try the merchandise.

'The idea is that the customer will like the food products enough to buy them off the shelves.'

And this concept is working. Ms Nguyen estimates that the cafe has boosted the store's retail business by about 20 per cent.

Likewise, Mr Murray Aitken, 37, president of Corduroy Lifestyle Holdings, has observed a 'good number of such crossover customers' at its two-year-old gourmet food store and cafe outlet, Corduroy & Finch in Bukit Timah.

Indeed, marketing director Abhijit Patwardhan, 43, ordered the dips platter from Jones The Grocer's cafe on a recent visit and loved the taste of the beetroot and almond dip so much - 'sweet, with the hint of a wasabi-like bite' - that he's determined to pick up a tub of it on his next trip.

Six of the nine premium food store-cum-cafe outlets that LifeStyle interviewed stressed, however, that retail remains their main focus and while their cafes feature fine food products, they do not claim to offer fine dining.

Mr John Burdsall, 37, managing director of three-year-old premium organic food store Bunalun in Chip Bee Gardens, says: 'The dining in our store is more a tasting bar than a full-fledged cafe.'

That said, these informal cafes continue to draw a following based on their own merits.

'The dishes may be uncomplicated, but it is this simplicity in preparation that allows the premium quality of the fine food products to shine through,' says personal chef Ryan Hong, 44, who is a fan of the beef burger offered at Culina.

For public relations executive Melissa Tan, 26, the laid-back atmosphere at these informal cafes, where maintaining a steady customer turnover is not a store priority, makes them ideal weekend brunch escapes.

In fact, the cafe at Bluespoon in Ghim Moh has been so successful that its sales are more than double those of the store's speciality frozen food such as New Zealand ribeye steak and Swedish meatballs.

'My customers are hungry for convenience, and dining at the store's cafe saves them the trouble of preparing the frozen food products at home,' says Bluespoon owner Dillon Chew, 44.

The rash of speciality food-store cafes has not prompted stiff competition among players, however. Storeowners say their unique offerings differentiate their cafe menu and appeal.

Mrs Verena Raveton, 41, managing director of luxury French food brand Hediard's local cafe-boutique, says: 'There might be other grocer-cafe concepts out there, but none share our Parisian signature and European stamp of luxury.'

All fired up by shared memories

30 Sep 2007, ST

By Mathew Pereira

I HAVE been carrying around in my car a letter I received in May this year. I have pulled it out on several occasions to read it, sometimes just portions of it, at other times the whole letter.

It was written and sent to me in response to a column I had written a few weeks earlier on Kolam Ayer Estate - a small, kampung-like place I grew up in.

The letter writer, who is close to 80, said that she and her brother had enjoyed the piece.

But it was not for the nice things she said that I decided to keep the letter in my car. Rather, it was because of an immediate connection I felt with her after I had read it.

Usually, responses I get from readers would be about how they agreed or disagreed with me, or to give a different take on what I had written - intellectual responses.

But in this two-page handwritten letter, the writer opened her heart to me.

She had lived at MacPherson Junction which was very close to my old estate. She remembered the huge incinerator in Kolam Ayer Estate and even knew the 'big boss of the incinerator', and her siblings had studied in St Andrew's School - all landmarks I had mentioned.

The column sparked in her memories of her younger days and also of her father 'who was a writer in the Press once'.

I could tell from her tone that, like for me, the area she grew up in was special and it brought back fond memories and that we, having lived there, shared a common bond.

In spite of her not leaving a name (she signed off as 'A senior citizen') or address (she wrote 'Somewhere in Singapore') I felt a connection.

It was the same kind of emotions that were evoked in me when I walked through some stretches of the galleries of the Army Museum, which was officially opened last Thursday.

There is a section which showcases the stories of servicemen, along with their friends and families. The photographs of old soldiers, the postcards and letters captured the history of the Singapore Armed Forces in a manner which touched me.

I felt a connection with the SAF which I never would have experienced had the museum been another hardware-focused exhibition.

One of the postcards was written in 1976 by a recruit called Paul Supramani to his parents. His opening sentence '90 per cent of people in my section Chinese-educated - the communication barrier very real' made me laugh, yet it captured for me what the SAF was trying to do.

The SAF was the great leveller regardless or race, language or religion - everyone started off as a bald recruit.

He spoke for many other teens like him who were enlisted and, overnight, had to grapple with the switch from civilian to military.

In the Making Of A Soldier gallery, a mock-up of a recruit's bunk from the SAF of old caught my eye. How quaint, I thought. The barracks had wooden louvre-like panels unlike the almost HDB-like bunks which the SAF now houses its recruits in Tekong camp.

But the old barracks had a certain charm and only when I read the description did I realise why I had this fuzzy-warm feeling. It was a mock-up of an original 1970s Pulau Tekong BMT Bunk. Tekong was where I had done my BMT in 1976 and no wonder everything looked familiar to me.

I moved on and stopped at a blown-up picture of an SAF soldier carrying an old woman during an evacuation of residents during a major flood in Singapore - he was expresionless. Surely, he must have felt proud of himself, I thought. But no nothing - just doing his duty, it appears.

SAF exhibitions have a tendency of focusing on hardware. They parade the latest equipment, like during a recent Open House where the army's latest acquisition, the German-made main battle tank the Leopard, was on display.

Other organisations also have the tendency to capture the heritage and history of their organisations via technology, equipment or profits, to show what a long way they have come.

But sometimes the softer approach works better.

When I read the letters, postcards and experiences of the soldiers at the Army Museum, I got a feel of the blood, sweat and tears of the men who had gone through the ranks and been a part of the SAF as it grew.

Like the senior citizen who had written to me, I felt the SAF had opened its heart to me, too.

The magic is in the moment

30 Sep 2007, ST

I thrive in the fast lane but a recent trip to see my parents in Malaysia taught me the wisdom of simply slowing down

By Cheong Suk-Wai

THE question that always makes me cringe is also the one people who know me most frequently ask.

'How often do you visit your parents?' they go, whenever we meet for a drink.

Not often enough, my friends, not often enough, I think to myself, itching to change the subject.

With each passing year, leaving my folks back in Malaysia after every visit has become an agony. For me, family is where it is hardest to square what one should do with what one must do.

I realised only recently that my rising impatience with those who ask me that question was my way of dealing with the frustrations of not being able to be with my folks as often and as long as I want to, and should.

That is, perhaps, also why I am only too happy to hurtle along on the hamster wheel of work. It helps me be in the moment, an exercise in forgetting, if you like.

But life is about balance and constant change, and I believe the universe conspires to drum into me the lessons I must, or won't, learn.

So, back with my parents a fortnight ago to celebrate their birthdays, a series of uncommon events gradually won me over to the idea that the art of living is knowing how to slow down and the value of going slow. No mean feat for a speed and convenience junkie like me.

It began with my mother greeting me at the door with her hand clapped to her jaw. She had just come from minor surgery at the dentist's. Any pain my parents feel pains me too, so I was eager to ease hers as soon as possible.

Luckily, the local cable channel had just the ticket.

They aired the finals of the Japan Open and the relationship between my mother and badminton is such that she has been known to insist that I time my leave to coincide with the game's main championships, such as the Thomas Cup and the All-England. 'It's no fun cheering the players on alone,' she likes to say.

So there we were, on a Sunday morning, yelling and whooping at all the swift wrist action and darting footwork flashing on our goggle box. Playing 'the best badminton of his life', as the Aussie commentator put it, Malaysia's Lee Chong Wei stretched the game to a rubber and the excitement numbed my Mum's aching gums (Lee took home the title eventually.)

My father was with us, but not looking on. He had coached me in the game for most of my schooldays, but had never taken to armchair badminton. So, instead, he was rifling through his desk drawers. 'Where's my pack of cards?' he called to my Mum.

I groaned inwardly. He, the casino virgin, would be wanting to show me card tricks again.

Don't get me wrong. As a tyke, I used to be thrilled to bits whenever he got out his card deck. Thanks to his ministrations, I could wow my pals with a few party gambits that I have long since lost to time.

A particular favourite of ours had something to do with my laying out the 52 cards in four rows, facing the wall (for effect), asking my pals to eyeball one of the cards, turning around and then picking out the card they had chosen.

But now, he sat arranging and re-arranging the cards, rueing aloud the hide-and-seek his memory plays with him these days.

Time to be with him, I told my Mum, ambling over to my Dad, who was trying hard to recall his killer sleight of hand.

Not strong enough to let him let himself down, I began distracting him by dusting off my Cluedo set, a game he had somehow never played till now.

Its rules took some explaining, and I learnt to slow down my chatter to his current speed of thought. Once he got the hang of the game, he still very much had his wits about him, and pronounced the murderer 'Mrs Peacock in the billiards room with a dagger' within 10 minutes (with no concessions from me).

'Beginner's luck,' he said, grinning from ear to ear.

Over birthday cake later, we got to reminiscing about our happy days in Muar, Johor and how my sister and I would come home from school to the musty-sweet smell of black olive pits being toasted over charcoal till they split and cracked.

Pounded till they resembled coffee grounds, mixed in water and drunk, black olive pits have cured many a sufferer of piles, including my parents and most of their friends for whom my Mum would prepare the remedy, which she had learnt from a kindly widow.

I mentioned a friend of mine who might still be having the ailment and good old Mum volunteered to prepare it for her.

The next evening, I came downstairs to the sound of something heavy being dragged across the patio. It was my Mum, getting our big charcoal stove out to toast the olive pits.

She then nipped upstairs to check on my napping Dad, whom I hoped was having happy dreams of nailing card tricks.

Me, the one with two left thumbs, called out to her that I would get the fire going. How hard could it be, I thought with a shrug.

Half a box of matches, a rice bowl of oil and a stack of newspapers later, all I got was a taunting wisp of acrid heat. I fanned furiously at the flickers of flame, only to see them go out minutes later.

'You must wave it to and fro gently and constantly,' she said, re-appearing at the doorway and taking hold of the fan.

Watching her, I was her little girl again, observing her all those years ago as she showed me how to choose ikan bilis, peel vegetables and chop herbs.

'Now you try it,' she said, after showing me the ideal rhythm. 'You must learn to be more patient, not hurrying, hurrying all the time.'

Yes, Mum, I sighed, still convinced her technique would take us way past midnight around this insipid fire, with mozzies starting to swirl around us.

But ... voila! Tongues of fire licked the charcoal, which began to crackle and pulsate white-hot. Triumph coursed through me. Less is more. And so, lulled by the alchemy of air and spark, I allowed myself to be overwhelmed by a rare sense of peace. This was as close to magic as I will get.

It was too muggy an evening for deep talk, but as my Mum sat toasting the olive pits, she surprised me by musing: 'Maybe my purpose in life is to help people this way.'

Pulverising the pits with pestle and mortar, I thought about this. Then I thought about how her days were made up of dressing my Dad's bedsores, massaging his aching legs and going up and down the stairs with his meal tray.

Then I said, lightly: 'You have done much more than that.'

She gave my arm a squeeze. 'Firm flesh. You got it from me.'

It's a good thing to have, I thought to myself. It's a good thing to have.

Out of the doghouse

30 Sep 2007, ST

Dog owners who have not licensed their pets don't have to fear the $5,000 fine if they come forward now

By Mak Mun San

IF YOU still haven't got your dog licensed and worry that you will be slapped with a $5,000 fine if you try to do it now, sleep easy.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) says dog owners who come forward to license dogs they have kept unregistered for some time will not be penalised, even though the deadline concerning new fines has passed.

'However, if our officers visit their premises and find them keeping unlicensed dogs, they will be penalised,' AVA spokesman Goh Shih Yong tells LifeStyle.

The AVA announced on Aug 3 that it is raising the maximum fines for unlicensed dogs from $500 to $5,000.

Licence fees have also gone up from $14 a year for an unsterilised male dog to $70, the same for an unsterilised bitch. The licence fee for a sterilised male dog or bitch remains at $14 a year.

The new rules kicked in on Sept 1. All dogs that apply to be licensed from this date must also be microchipped. Mirochipping was not a requirement previously.

Tiny electronic chips, which are implanted under the skin of a dog using a needle, contain the contact details of the dog owner. These chips make it easy to trace the owner should the dog be lost or abandoned.

Microchipping is carried out by vets and is different from an AVA licence.

Mr Goh says the AVA has not taken action against anyone since Sept 1. However, about 1,000 dog owners were fined last year for keeping a dog without a licence.

'We are not out to collect fines and fees,' he stresses, adding that the whole exercise is to emphasise the 'importance of being a responsible pet owner'.

'Dogs need to be licensed so that we will know where they are. In a situation where there is an outbreak of rabies, the AVA can arrange for the licensed dog to be vaccinated quickly,' he says.

You can apply for a licence online ( or at the Animal Welfare and Control office in Pasir Panjang.

For housewife K. Tan, 71, the good news from the AVA means that she no longer has to worry about being fined.

She realised that her three-year-old bichon frise was unlicensed only after the new AVA rules were announced.

'I bought my dog as a puppy from a pet shop and it came microchipped. I had assumed that it also came with a licence,' she says.

When the new rules were announced, she went to look for the dog's licence and realised he didn't have one.

'I'm so relieved I won't be fined if I apply for a licence now. I will apply for one straightaway,' she says.

While Mrs Tan's pet dog can continue to run around without fear, some dogs are not so lucky.

Last week, The Straits Times reported that the number of dogs that are abandoned or given up has gone up alarmingly since the new AVA rules were announced.

From Aug 3 to Sept 1, pet owners had left 107 dogs with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). In the month of July, the number of dogs given up was just 62.

The SPCA also took in 76 lost or abandoned dogs during that period, more than the 64 or so for June and July.

It says owners are giving their unlicensed dogs up or abandoning them because they do not want to pay the fines.

This 'amnesty' of sorts from the AVA is also unlikely to improve the situation for some people with unlicensed dogs, such as a dog owner who wants to be known only as Jeremy.

The 31-year-old sales executive has been keeping a large golden retriever in his five-room flat for about two years. This despite the HDB rule that allows just one dog of an approved breed, generally small canines, in each flat.

Jeremy says he gave the dog to his ex-girlfriend as a gift and it used to live with her in a terrace house. But she returned the pet when they split up and he had 'no choice' but to take it in illegally.

'I know I'm risking hefty fines from both the AVA and the HDB but what can I do?' he laments.

The maximum fine for keeping a dog of a non-approved breed in an HDB flat is $4,000.

He adds that the dog was registered under her name but as she has since moved to a flat, he has not been able to renew the licence or transfer the ownership of the dog given his HDB address.

'I don't want to give the dog up for adoption because my family members have become very attached to it, and abandoning it is out of the question.'

He says he is now exercising extra caution and will walk his dog only 'very late at night' when fewer neighbours are up and about.


Owners' FAQ

At what age must a dog be licensed?

A dog that is three months old and above must be licensed.

Where can I get my dog microchipped?

You can get it done at any veterinary clinic. The cost may range from $40 to $80. When applying for a new licence, dog owners must submit documentary proof from a veterinarian to show that their dogs have been microchipped.

I currently have a licensed dog. Do I need to microchip my dog before I can renew my dog's licence?

Only dogs registered after Sept 1 need to be microchipped. You do not need to microchip your dog if it has already been licensed. But for better identification of your pet, you are strongly encouraged to have it microchipped.

Source: Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority

Join the club

30 Sep 2007, ST

Cineplexes are counting on loyalty programmes to retain customers

By Ong Sor Fern

YOUR movie ticket can now admit you to restaurants, spas and even a hotel.

As credit card adverts used to sniff, 'Membership has its privileges' - and cineplexes have jumped on the bandwagon. They now boast an array of loyalty programmes that reward faithful cinema-goers with more than just movies.

Perks include discounts on retail services and goods, free drinks and premiere tickets.

They will be even more spoilt for choice in December as Shaw Organisation and Cathay Cineplexes join the fray. Shaw is revamping its old programme while Cathay is streamlining its gaming zone e2max and arthouse cinema Picturehouse memberships into one umbrella programme for all Cathay patrons.

The move to woo loyal patrons comes as the industry reaches a new level of maturity, now that comfortable seats, digital cinema and surround sound are the norm.

One of the companies that realise the importance of rewarding loyal patrons is Eng Wah Organization. Its Friends Of Eng Wah programme has existed in various forms for 10 years. But it started marketing the programme more aggressively last year as more people signed up, says its managing director Goh Min Yen. The company now has an employee devoted to looking after the programme.

Friends Of Eng Wah has some 30,000 members while Golden Village's Movie Club, launched last September, has 86,000 members and is growing.

Over at Shaw, its membership programme will be tied to its website, says Shaw's vice-president of media Terence Heng.

Prior to the revamp, Shaw's website attracted some 250,000 members despite offering just one service: Customers could bookmark their favourite cinemas.

Cathay's president of business operations Suhaimi Rafdi says its membership programme will bank on the company's diverse holdings in entertainment and leisure. Soon, members will be able to win stays at its hip budget hotel hangout@mt emily and even use their membership privileges at Cathay cineplexes in Malaysia.

The purpose of all these frills is to ensure brand loyalty. As Shaw's Mr Heng points out: 'If it's a blockbuster like, say, Spider-Man 3, every cinema is showing the same movie, everyone has the same pricing and the same seats. What else is value-added for the customer?'

GV's managing director Kenneth Tan adds that Movie Club helps the cinema chain 'deliver a differentiated brand experience and customised patronage experience'.

However, cinema-goers LifeStyle spoke to cite location and a wide selection of movies as the main factors in their choice of cinemas.

Friends Of Eng Wah member Mohd Aidil Bin Sufyan, 34, admits he seldom uses the retail discounts offered with the card. The engineer, who frequents Eng Wah's cinemas at West Mall and Suntec City with his wife and three children, says: 'What's most important is the movies they show.'

But everyone appreciates the discounts.

Nurse Carynn Lee, 21, says cinema tickets are not cheap, so she makes use of GV Movie Club's $6.50 ticket offer on Tuesdays.

Polytechnic student Lim Huan Wei, 24, appreciates the free Coke-with-popcorn offers. The GV Movie Club member points out that these can add up to substantial savings: 'A Coke is about $2. When I watch a movie with six friends, we can save $14.'


Benefits of loyalty

Now showing

Friends Of Eng Wah, joining fee $5 but no renewal fees

Discounts at five food and beverage outlets including Legends Garden at The Legends Fort Canning Park, seven boutiques and two spas: Ayuthaya - The Royal Thai Spa and SKN Medical Spa

# Discounts at three retail outlets including Simply Toys at Suntec City
# Collect points for every $1 spent and redeem tickets, drinks and/or popcorn
# Invitations to special previews and gala premieres

Movie Club, free membership

# Discounted movie tickets at $6.50 on Tuesdays
# Priority seat selection
# Invitations to premieres
# Free Coke with popcorn purchase
# Top-spender giveaways
# Monthly lucky draws


Coming attractions

Free membership

# Discounts at participating retail outlets in Cathay's malls
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We're (Net)Working

30 Sep 2007, ST

Does virtual sheep- throwing have a place at work? The rise of Facebook has made employers address the issue of cyber-loafing in the office

By Sandra Leong

OFFICE workers hunched in their workspaces. The tap- tap-tap of computer keyboards over the whir of fax machines and photocopiers.

A pleasant picture of a company's white-collared brigade hard at work? Think again.

Max from accounting could really be throwing a sheep at Sue from finance. And, oh, that secretary Ling? She's getting a little boozy from that martini she received from administrative assistant Boon.

If the above sounds like loony-speak to you, then you probably haven't been clued in to the latest online distraction to hit the workplace - Facebook.

The social networking site - where users upload personal profiles of themselves to communicate with real-life and virtual friends - was founded in 2004 by Harvard college kid Mark Zuckerberg (see box on facing page). At last count, it had 43 million active users worldwide, with more than 200,000 new registrations a day.

In Singapore, its popularity is fast catching on.

According to online intelligence firm Hitwise, rival social networking sites Friendster and MySpace are still ahead in terms of market share of global web communities and chat sites, with 16.29 per cent and 2.36 per cent respectively last month. But Facebook's growth over the past six months has been phenomenal - its share grew from close to zero in March to 2.61 per cent this month.

Like earlier social networking sites, Facebook thrives on the promise of popularity ('friends' can be added with a simple mouse click) and appeals to the voyeur in everyone (surreptitious spying on exes, enemies and crushes can provide hours of fun).

But what makes Facebook different is that its users are connected to real-life networks such as schools and companies, which makes it harder for one to assume a fake identity.

Its addictive value also comes from its applications - third-party software ranging from online games to quizzes to random time-wasters like a virtual garden where you can plant flowers.

And if you're still baffled about the sheep and martini, these are 'virtual' gifts users can send to one another.

$390 million lost a day

BUT not everything is coming up roses in Facebook-land. Some bosses are worried that employees are cyber-loafing, spending too much time on Facebook at work.

Indeed, one local Facebook user, who declined to be named for fear of repercussions, confesses: 'I'm addicted to Facebook and I find myself taking longer to complete my work because I'm always logging in to see what's happening.'

Studies emerging from some quarters seem to paint a dire picture for productivity.

In Britain, employment law firm Peninsula estimates that businesses lose 233 million hours every month to staff who visit networking sites when they should be working. The cost in lost productivity was calculated at &pound130 million (S$390 million) a day.

In Australia, Internet filtering specialist SurfControl says the Facebook craze could cost businesses more than A$5 billion (S$6.5 billion) a year.

Showing that bosses are already concerned, a poll of 600 workers worldwide by IT security and control firm Sophos found that 50 per cent of employees are blocked from accessing the Facebook site on their work computers.

Forty-three per cent were completely blocked; 7 per cent had restricted access. Companies cited included bank Lloyds TSB, financial services company Credit Suisse and investment house Goldman Sachs.

In Singapore, a LifeStyle poll of 20 companies found that four blocked Facebook and other social networking sites entirely, while six had limited access, depending on what purpose employees were accessing the sites for.

Two reasons were cited: Such websites are a waste of bandwidth that can be put to better use for work-related matters; and employees don't need the interruption to their duties.

Observes Sophos' senior technology consultant Graham Cluley: 'Companies are split on the question of Facebook. Some believe it to be a procrastinator's paradise... others view it as a valuable networking tool for workers.'

Indeed, Ms Mylinh Cheung, spokesman for HR consultancy Mercer in Singapore, says: 'It's a well-known fact that the productivity of knowledge workers isn't determined solely by the number of hours worked. At the end of the day, it's the outcome and the deliverables rather than the official number of hours clocked.'

Adds Dr Adel F. Dimian, a professor of management at the Singapore Management University: 'The very definition of a knowledge worker suggests that more networking supports their productivity. If a friend, colleague, supplier or outside industry connection can inform or teach an employee, then the employer benefits from the learning.'

But there is no denying that cyber-loafing in the workplace - and the boundaries that might be needed - is a hot issue.

The Singapore Human Resources Institute, an organisation of human resource professionals here, has recognised this. This week, it launches the Singapore HR Challenge 2008, a competition urging tertiary and pre-tertiary students to come up with new HR practices under the theme New Workforce, New Workplace.

SHRI's executive director David Ang counts motivating employees amid the era of online distractions as one of the pertinent topics to be addressed.

Where to draw the line

FOR now, the debate on whether staff should be given free rein in cyberspace boils down to: Lax IT policies leave the workplace open to abuse, versus: workers shouldn't be nannied, but trusted to do what's best for them and their company.

Recruitment company Kelly Services, which is headquartered in the United States and has an office here, is a believer of the former. Facebook and other social networking sites are blocked from its 170 staff.

Senior human resource director Jonas Ang explains: 'We have a high performance culture and we hold the firm belief that we want to keep everybody as focused as possible on the roles.'

He adds that companies which allow such privileges to their staff also have to consider that not everyone may want them. 'For example, if you have two people working very hard and the rest surfing the Web, the two will definitely be affected.'

For others, it's a simple matter of removing all temptation.

Real estate company Pacific Star Holdings blocks social networking and leisure websites because they are 'bandwidth intensive and have no productivity value'.

Its IT executive Marshall Ho adds that employees get 'addicted' to such sites and 'do not know when to draw the line, or when or when not to use them'.

Still, with such clear-cut restrictions, there could be a danger of 'demotivation' and inflicting 'low morale' on employees, note HR experts like SHRI's Mr Ang.

Clearly, there is no 'one-size-fits-all' policy on the issue. In front-line industries where staff are expected to be attentive to customers and project a certain image, fiddling with Facebook is usually a big no-no.

The opposite could be true for companies in, say, the creative industries that value an open culture and need to keep up with the latest trends.

A prime example would be Sun Microsystems in the US, which started using Facebook as part of an alternative to the company's intranet portals about six to nine months ago, says its director of systems engineering marketing Jeremy Barnish in an e-mail interview.

He adds: 'Using Facebook - as well as another online social networking portal called Ning - we were able to re-energise our employee communications. We expect that these tools will replace our internal portals pretty quickly.'

As of today Sun has over 2,796 users from all over the world on Facebook - from the CEO to the janitor.

On the local front, at advertising agency TBWA\Tequila, all websites - save for dodgy ones with porn, obviously - are allowed. Probably everyone from a junior executive to managing director Dan Paris is on Facebook.

Says Mr Paris: 'Social networking does have a work connection. People at TBWA need to spend time talking to one another and sharing feedback.

'If platforms like Facebook are well contextualised and people use them for honest, decent reasons, they become assets.'

TBWA also has a 300-member Facebook group started last year by head of production Joanny Wong. Apart from getting staff from local and overseas offices together in an online community, it has been useful with recruitment, she says.

'We have people writing to us from as far as France and Arab countries asking if they could work in the Singapore office.'

At MTV Asia, another company with an open policy to social networking, its senior vice-president Ian Stewart - who is on MySpace - notes that with the lines between work and play blurring, there is little point in denying employees some leisure time during office hours.

Most of MTV's 140 employees are on Facebook or MySpace. He says: 'If we block them during office hours, they're not going to want to check their e-mail after work.'

The idea is to 'empower employees to manage their own time'.

Other bosses, like Mr Patrick Grove, executive chairman of real estate portal, are adopting a wait-and-see approach.

He has begun to notice more of his team members using sites like Friendster, MySpace and Facebook during work hours.

'My pet peeve is staff who ask me to 'be their friend' during what are clearly working hours. That takes some courage.'

If the situation exacerbates, he will consider blocking the sites.

Evidently, being free and easy with social networking in the office is a potential minefield for bosses and employees.

Already, stories have emerged in the US of job applicants given the boot after potential employers checked up on them on Facebook and realised they were not who they seemed.

And questions abound: Do you want your boss as a friend? Is it an appropriate medium to pass work-related messages?

Says Mr Stewart: 'At the level of senior vice-president, it would not be appropriate for me to send a company directive through my MySpace page.

'People have to realise that how they project themselves can be seen by parents, employers and potential employers.'


Can't beat them? 'Poke' them

EVEN as some employers moan that too much cyber-loafing on Facebook lowers productivity, new media bosses like Paul Soon, 33, are hooked on it, are encouraging their workers to embrace it and, what's more, have already used it as a business tool.

Mr Soon is the managing director of digital consultancy XM Asia Pacific, which advises big-name clients such as Nokia, Tiger Airways and Hewlett-Packard on online advertising and marketing campaigns.

Just last month, XM used Facebook as a marketing tool for Tiger Airways, setting up a Tiger Airways Roars group in Facebook. More than 100 public users have since joined to get first dibs on the low-cost carrier's latest promotions.

Mr Soon's team is also looking at designing Facebook applications that would be proprietary to XM.

Citing Booze Mail, an application where users can send virtual drinks to their friends, he ponders: 'How can a brand of beer, for example, get into something like that?'

He adds: 'We're only beginning to understand the power of social networking.'

The bespectacled techie himself discovered Facebook about three months ago and says: 'It totally rocks me.'

He openly admits that he spends a total of about 21/2 hours a day fiddling with his Facebook account. He logs on 'multiple times' a day, and has an ever-growing list of 210 friends.

'It's got to a point where I wake up in the morning and the first thing I check is not my work mail but my Facebook account,' he says. 'I spend way too much time on it.'

With these words from the horse's mouth, it is no surprise that as far as workers surfing the Net goes, XM has an open policy towards websites - none is blocked by the server.

His company, which has 75 employees, even has its own exclusive group on Facebook's Singapore network. Called XM Asia Pacific, it rallies current and former employees of the agency to come together to share information and photographs.

In just two months, it has amassed about 50 members, with new additions being made every day.

The group was created by associate media producer and analyst Balasingam Chow Yu Hui, 30, who was inspired when he saw that many of his colleagues had personal pages on Facebook. He decided to form a virtual watering hole where they could all hang out.

Declaring himself the group's administrator, he began to invite other work buddies to be part of the fun. Then, after a company meeting where he announced the formation of the XM Facebook site, requests came in fast and furious.

With the group quickly taking on a company identity, he decided to pass on administrative duties to Mr Soon and another boss, Mr Vince Lui, director of technology.

Mr Lui, 34, another self-confessed Facebook fiend, has 130 friends on it. He even uses a scaled-down version of the site on his mobile phone.

The bosses take it upon themselves to set the tone of communication. Says Mr Lui: 'Sometimes, we're the ones making silly comments.'

'We want to keep it fun, not corporate,' says Mr Soon, who adds that he frequently sends his colleagues virtual 'pokes'. The victims retaliate - by 'poking' back, of course.

From e-mail to instant messaging to social networking, Mr Soon adds that online communication is taking over the workplace in a big way.

'If a colleague needs to 'poke' me to speak to me, that's fine. Not everyone likes to do so face to face.'

But amid all the cyber capers, do they get any work done?

Mr Soon says with a grin: 'I don't care how much time we spend on it. We tell our clients that they should be open to new technology, so we have to walk the talk.'

So far, none of the staff has been reprimanded for neglecting his duties in favour of Facebooking, he says. The only abuse he takes seriously is the leaking of commercial information via social networking sites and blogs.

Facebook has also been good for team bonding.

'I find out a lot of things about my colleagues that I wouldn't have known before,' says Mr Soon half-jokingly. 'Like I never knew that one of them, just an ordinary, technical guy, had so many good-looking friends. He's a stud.'

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Invasion of the Facebook oldies

29 Sep 2007, ST

By Deanna Lee

I'M EMBARRASSED to say that after reading Newsweek's recent cover story on Facebook... I joined. The majority of the social networking site's new members are people over 35: oldies like me.

Still, it's uncool - and supposedly 'old school' - to join because of pieces in 'old media' like Newsweek. And what's the point of joining Facebook if not to be cool?

In my defence, I work in new media, plus I come from a Web-savvy family. My 72-year-old father recently answered the phone saying: 'Can't talk, in Second Life (the online virtual world)!'

And I'm delighted with my first 'friendships'. It's great to see people I'd known professionally in a more informal light, with family photos and droll daily updates. Who knew an oldie journalist I really admire could recommend new tunes by The Hysterics and Rilo Kiley?

Less delightful was the reaction of my younger friends. Alex, my 23-year-old consigliere on all things new media, wrote: 'As one of the first 10,000 users of Facebook, I'm officially uncomfortable with John Pomfret (a respected Washington Post reporter) et al... having profiles.'

He was jokingly referring to some of my new Facebook friends, but here's the point: Young people do feel somewhat uncomfortable with established and 'establishment' people - a.k.a. older people - on their social networking site.

A 20-year-old friend then forwarded me an article called 'omg my mum joined facebook!' Hmm... not so subtle.

So, to all my young friends, let me first say: We're not trying to encroach on your territory.

We oldies arguably need ways to stay in touch with one another more than you do. For us, having any social life is a challenge, with kids, workaholism and so on. Already I'm back in touch with friends now living in China, Lebanon and Britain. And, like you, we love meeting new friends and networking.

Some say LinkedIn is good networking for oldies. But that's a professional network and, frankly, not much fun. Facebook is more like a 'play network'. Any chance for a middle-aged mum to 'play' is well worth it.

Now, I know youngsters are concerned about what we'll see about you. But take it from me, we don't necessarily want to see it either.

A number of my young colleagues are on Facebook, but it's doubtful I'll 'friend' them. Do I really want to know whom they're getting blitzed with this weekend? No. Do I want them to know whom I'm getting blitzed with this weekend (Okay, all the things I'm not doing this weekend)? No.

So don't worry about not wanting to be my Facebook friend if it makes you feel awkward.

My young friend Eric is a sort of new media guru who blogs for CBS News and Huffington Post. He says: 'If a boss Facebook-friended me, I would be put in a hard position. You don't want to say no, because that would be bad, but you don't really want to say yes either. So I could compromise, and say yes, but 'block' some of my profile.'

I could do that too (after I learn how to), but doesn't that kind of defeat the purpose? It also feels funny - I can tell when I've been blocked from certain areas of others' lives... er, profiles. Should I feel offended? Should I do the same to others?

Clearly, there's a social networking etiquette still being worked out, especially now that, as the home page says, 'anyone can join' - not just college students.

Here's an even dicier issue: What about 'friending' your friends' kids or even your own? If you ask me, any parent who's just on Facebook to learn about their kids is both missing out on most of the fun, and probably overstepping some parenting boundaries.

I believe kids have to be able to work through many social issues, online and off, in their own ways and time. This is particularly important now Facebook includes high schoolers. Maybe this is easy for me to say since my daughter's not that old yet (she'll probably call me on this later).

Eric, it turns out, is friends on Facebook with friends of his mother. But, he says: 'You have to know mums gossip with mums. It's almost like breathing for them.'

So here's my message to young people - let us have fun too. After all, you'll be 'old' one day, and probably still on something like Facebook.

And to oldies - if you join, join for yourselves, not to keep tabs on your kids.

Oh, and remember... it's really uncool to 'poke'.

The writer is vice-president of communications at the Asia Society.

Don't let go!

29 Sep 2007, ST

This flying fox or zip-line across a body of water is a first for Singapore and allows the public to take part in a treetop adventure course at Bedok Reservoir Park.

At $18 for a shorter children's course and $25 for adults, Forest Adventure, which started last month, is a 1-1/2 hour series of activities; up ladders into sturdy trees, across swings up to 7m high, rope bridges and trapezes, and down the flying fox up to 180m across.

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Managing director Stephanie Besse, 40, who invested about $800,000 in the project, said it was an idea she pitched to the National Parks Board (NParks). 'NParks and PUB picked Bedok Reservoir Park because it's a place they wanted to develop for recreation, and it has strong mature trees which we need for safety reasons.'

Seven instructors, who have undergone various certification courses, conduct a half-hour safety lesson before anyone gets off the ground, and ensure safety standards are adhered to. Those interested in signing up can visit

Friday, September 28, 2007


27 Sep 2007, ST, Urban

Instead of hitting the gym, some busy men are wearing body-transforming undergarments to turn from chunk to hunk. NOELLE LOH reports

When it comes to looking great in a tight pair of jeans, it's a cinch for some urban males. Literally.

Body-conscious guys are donning undergarments to help them compress bulging bellies and to fill out those bits that don't, er, bulge enough.

Instead of the usual boring boxers and briefs, they are girding their loins with items ranging from waist cinchers to padded briefs to butt-lifters.

The use of underwear to tweak a physique used to be a trick embraced by women. But now, with fashion trends for both sexes requiring slimmer silhouettes, it's become a guy thing too.

But think of it more in macho terms, as Transformers for the testosterone crowd - to borrow the title of the cult American animated series inspired by a line of Japanese robot toys.

German underwear manufacturer Triumph International stocks a line of men's girdles, while Japanese competitor Wacoal has introduced a line of tummy-tightening briefs. Unfortunately, both are available only in Japan.

But there are two local independent retailers - New Urban Male and - that local chappies can go to for some help.

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IT'S A CINCH: According to Ken Hong, director of, this generic slimming wrap for men helps to support the back, maintain good posture and prevent sagging of the abdominal area. $38.90 from, cotton shorts, $49.90, from New Urban Male

New Urban Male, a multi-label fashion and lifestyle store, has been stocking such underwear since it first started business at its Heeren outlet in May 2003.

Among the body-sculpting intimates on sale are AussieBum Wonderjocks, which e-zine Trend Hunter calls the equivalent of the Wonderbra in men's undies, and sling support briefs from New York-based brand C-IN2.

Wonderjocks depend on a fabric cup to 'lift and promote' essential bits, while the sling support briefs make use of an adjustable elastic sling that encircles the scrotum to lift it forward.

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RIGHT ON TARGET: These cotton briefs with sling support by New York brand C-IN2 have an adjustable elastic sling that forms a ring around the scrotum and lifts it forward.
$39.90 from New Urban Male, padded jacket, $329, from Calvin Klein Jeans

Over at Chinatown Point, men's underwear specialist store SportsmenAsia has also been catering to what company director Ken Hong calls an 'untapped demand' for the past year.

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TRICK OF THE EYE: Three-dimensional underwear by Japanese company Vaux helps accentuate the male profile with strategically placed seams.
$109.90 from, denim jacket, $407, from Energie, embroidered trucker cap, $130.03, from Ed Hardy

Its array of men's underwear brands includes those that offer 'lift-up' effects and 'three-dimensional support'. The shop also sells a slimming wrap that helps prevent sagging of the tummy and 'far infrared' spandex shorts that claim not only to burn excess fat but also to shape attractive curves and are 'truly the killer of bulgy abdomens'.

Amusing as these products might sound, their sales are no laughing matter.

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RAISING THE FLAG: These Italia boxer briefs by American brand Andrew Christian come with a built-in adjustable c-ring in front to enhance the male profile and a square-seamed back that provides added support for the rear.
$39.90 from, zip-up bomber jacker, $239, from Industrie at Tangs Orchard

'Such body-transforming underwear makes up 10 to 20 per cent of our monthly sales even though they are not cheap,' says Hong.

For example, the three-dimensional briefs by Japanese company Vaux - said to be designed to 'accentuate the male profile' - cost $109.90, while the Far Infrared undies are $39.90 a pair. Prices are comparable to high-end women's lingerie.

Average monthly sales at hit a six-figure sum, Hong reveals.

New Urban Male, too, sees a 'constant demand' for its body shapers for men, with its C-IN2 sling support range always sold out, says company director Chua Shenzi.

'Basically, the guys who are buying these items are looking to enhance or to improve their physical assets both front and back,' Chua says. 'Most were pretty shy when we first started the business, but now that these products are more common, customers are more at ease with the idea.'

Customers are usually a well-heeled bunch, made up mostly of professionals, managers, executives and businessmen (PMEBs) with spending power.

'Based on their spending habits, I dare say that these customers definitely earn high incomes,' Hong says.

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BUTT OUT: These padded butt briefs by American company Go Softwear give the rear a boost with sewn-in foam pads in the back.
$62.90 from New Urban Male, nylon jacket, $149, from FCUK

Explaining how padded undies are a quick fix if you can't hit the gym, he adds: 'The gym culture among relatively young PMEBs is still very strong, so these select few really have very busy schedules and no time to work out.'

Equity analyst Liang Wei, 26, works a 12-hour day on average, but has no intention of getting into a pair of wonder briefs or tummy tuckers anytime soon.

'Those things look really uncomfortable. I would rather look unfit than wear one of them,' he says.

But Hong wants to convince sceptics like Liang otherwise. 'With the exception of Infrared, all the body-transforming underwear that I sell are fashionable and comfortable. I believe men buy them because they can look and feel sexy in them. And when something looks sexy and feels comfortable, it sells.'

Which might explain lingerie giants Wacoal and Triumph's foray into the niche 'transformers' market in Japan last year.

A Wacoal spokesman says the company drew inspiration for its 'Completely Nude' tightening briefs from women's needs.

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UNDER WRAPS: This pair of perforated tights are said to contain "far infrared" powers, which come from the rays of the sun, and help lift the butt and restrain the abdomen while burning excess fat. $39.90 from

'The product development of men's underwear was based on what women want in lingerie - to wear comfortable underwear and look more attractive at the same time,' she says.

Using a netted lining, the tightening briefs help compress a wearer's body by 2 to 3cm. However, she adds that although sales in Japan are growing fast, there are currently no plans to bring the line of control underwear for men here.

'The Singapore market for this category is too small for business.'



New Urban Male
04-08 The Heeren, tel: 6378-8329

C-ring briefs that enhance one's natural assets - thanks to an elastic pouch-shaped ring of fabric - from American company Go Softwear. Wonder Jocks from Australian label AussieBum and sling support underwear from American men's underwear company C-IN2.

Price range: Between $39.90 and $69.90
03-36 Chinatown Point, tel: 6327-4088

Over five different brands, mostly from Japan and the United States. Includes Toot 432 briefs, which have a deep-seamed front pouch and Y-seamed back that provide a 'lift-up' effect, and Japanese label Good Men Wear's jock strap, a daring update on the traditional jockstrap design to provide firm support for the butt.

Price range: Between $39.90 and $109.90.