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Growing up with a special needs sibling

Having a sibling with special needs is a reality some children are born into and the parents’ attention is often occupied by the children with impairment. It is the needs of these “normal” kids that often get neglected and have their stories untold. Additionally, an often overlooked consideration is that these siblings would inherit the role of lifelong caretakers, causing feelings of resentment and stress.

We often hear from parents of special needs children. But what about their siblings? Why are they not routinely talked about? Do they feel overshadowed by their special needs brothers or sisters? When they are older, how far are they willing to go to take care of their kins who have disabilities?

Special needs = special treatment? 

Growing up with a brother with autism essentially made student Jonathan Ng, 25, feel like he never really had a brother. “I’d never really considered him an actual person in a sense that I can’t hold a conversation with him about anything important,” he says. “I can only give him instructions like, ‘lower the volume’.” 

Mr Ng used to fantasise about what it would be like if his brother wasn’t on the spectrum. Oh, the kind of conversations they would have. 

His brother Joshua, who is two years younger, has the mental age of a three to four-year-old child. Joshua spends his day at Eden School, and enjoys watching kids cartoons like Sesame Street, or playing old school computer games when he is home. 

Growing up, Mr Ng did not understand why his parents treated them differently. “It felt like my parents allowed him to get away with a lot because of his condition,” he says. 

“I wish my parents had explained things a little bit more, instead of just telling me that Josh is special and that we need to give him special treatment because that always made me feel that they weren’t putting in any effort. I actually thought they were being hypocrites,” he adds. 

When the brothers fight, things used to get physical. “My parents would try to mediate, but I think they didn’t know how to explain the situation very well, and would usually take the shortest route out without much care for how I felt,” Mr Ng recalls. 

Going away for his National Service and then to university was what gave Mr Ng new perspectives on how he could have treated his brother and family differently, and he believes that the physical distance and time apart allowed him to mature. “It was also nice finding out that a friend has a special needs sibling. We were able to share similar issues that we went through,” he adds. 

These days, Joshua still has his difficult moments, and would sometimes shove their mother or youngest brother, but he continues to be afraid of Mr Ng. “I used to be violent with him when we were kids, so whenever I go near him now, he’d flinch a little from the memory, but I don’t ever hit him.” 

Mr Ng wishes that he had treated his brother with a little more kindness when they were growing up, but as the pressures of adulting set in, the looming prospect of him being his brother’s lifelong caretaker has put significant stress on Mr Ng. “I’ve been thinking about moving overseas,” he says. “But if I set up my life abroad and my parents pass, then I would probably have to uproot again and come back to take care of Josh.”

Their father has set up a trust fund for Joshua, but the responsibility of taking care of him is highly likely to fall on Nr Ng, since he is the eldest of the three boys. Also, despite a handful of hospice facilities in Singapore that will help take care of Joshua, Mr Ng still believes that cultural factors contribute to the lack of supply of such resources. “They definitely have more of those in America, but here, it’s like a ‘take care of them until they die’ situation,” he says. 

“I sometimes worry because it seems like my family is just postponing the conversation about what we would do with Josh in the future. It seems we are always uncomfortable with tough conversations like this,” Mr Ng adds. 

Jonathan Ng, 25 (right), and his brother, Joshua, 23 — who has autism. (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Ng)

Uncertain future for lifelong caretakers 

Like Mr Ng, Ms Cara Ann Lee’s only sibling has special needs. Matthew, 21, has Down syndrome — a chromosomal condition that develops in the womb, yet her parents went ahead with the pregnancy. “I don’t think they’d be able to live with themselves if they didn’t,” says the 26-year-old. “But I see what my parents go through every day and I definitely couldn’t do the same.”

Though she knows she can never have a typical sibling relationship with Matthew, Ms Lee finds the little things about him endearing. “He sits in a corner and stares at running water for hours,” she says. “He also likes to watch the National Day Parade on TV over and over again— the one from 2019, specifically.” 

Ms Lee volunteers at the Son-Rise program, which allows participants to interact closely with special needs children with the aim of joining them, not changing them; and that was one of her biggest takeaways. One of the boys there, for example, really likes movie credits, so he would find things to line up like movie credits repeatedly and the volunteers would do the same alongside him.

“I joined that programme because I wanted to understand Matt just a little bit better,” she says. “But I also realised that there’s no single template that applies to them, and every special needs child is unique.” 

Regardless, it wasn’t always easy for Ms Lee to come to terms with having a brother with special needs. She says she found it scarily relatable when she watched a scene in the Pangdemonium play Falling

“The mother dreamt that her autistic son choked on something and died, and the sister started celebrating because she could finally live her life,” she says. “I thought, it’s bad that I resonate with this, right? Sometimes I do wish he did not exist because it’s a lifelong commitment for me.” 

Ms Lee says that it was also a big consideration for her partner Trevor Martens-Wong, 26, especially when they first started dating. 

“We had a long discussion about this and I think a lot of my repressed feelings about Matt came up then, because I honestly do not want to take care of him in the future,” says Ms Lee, who adds that she understands if her partner does not want to stay in the relationship because of this. 

She believes that his attitude towards their now-shared responsibility has since evolved greatly. “I think prior to this, taking care of kids or having anyone dependent on him was a big no-no,” she says. 

Now, he takes the lead when it comes to planning for Matthew in the long run. In choosing their future home, Ms Lee says it is her partner who brought up the fact about getting an extra room in case Matthew needs to live with them in future. “It wasn’t even in my consideration,” she says. “I can tell he’s not excited about it, but he does things like this and I’m really grateful for it.”

Cara Ann Lee, 26, and her brother, Matthew Lee, 21, whose favourite pastime is swimming. (Photo courtesy of Cara Ann Lee)

Early exposure is key

Student Sebastian Gan, 11, has understood from a young age that he needed to be very patient when interacting with his older brother, Aloysius, who is 16 and has cerebral palsy. 

“I think some people think that he’s not very intelligent because they don’t know that cerebral palsy only affects [his] muscles,” he says confidently. “He can think perfectly fine, but speaking is sometimes hard for him and his words may not be very clear.”

Sebastian also accompanies his brother, who is a Boccia athlete, to his games. “Boccia is a disability sport, but it still requires a lot of strategy and thinking,” he says, adding that the family also plays the game together on weekends. 

Mr Loh Ngiap Kiang, Pathway and Participation, who oversees the sport of Boccia at the Singapore Disability Sports Council, says that Sebastian’s early exposure to an inclusive community through Boccia has allowed him to grow up with a unique attitude towards persons with disabilities. “He has gotten to interact with other special needs athletes and their family members who play as ramp assistants,” he says. 

Sebastian’s mother Eve Cher believes that including Sebastian in her focus on Aloysius has made him mature a lot earlier than his peers. “We tried to constantly explain to Sebastian why things are the way they are, so he won’t have to question why he doesn’t get as much attention as his brother,” she says. 

The brothers sleep in separate bedrooms, but every Friday and Saturday, Sebastian would have a sleepover in his brother’s room to catch up with him and find out about his school life, Boccia games, or help him with his homework. 

“Sometimes, I get upset with my brother because I don’t really understand what he’s saying,” he says. But the brothers use symbol-based communication tools like the app Proloquo2Go to stay connected. 

Sebastian looks forward to becoming his brother’s Boccia ramp assistant. “Currently, my father is his ramp assistant. But years from now, I’ll do that, and my father will be the coach,” he says. 

Sebastian Gan (right) and his brother Aloysius, who has cerebral palsy. Sebastian hopes to be Aloysius’ ramp assistant in Boccia in future. (right image) (Photo courtesy of Eve Cher)

For information on resources available for loved ones with special needs, check out SG Enable

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Culture Local People Singapore

In Conversation With: Marian Carmel, Singer-songwriter

Through our weekly series In Conversation With, TheHomeGround Asia amplifies and celebrates the ideas, achievements and experiences of extraordinary individuals who are creating ripples in unique ways. This week, we speak with singer-songwriter Marian Carmel on her journey of self-discovery and growth.

Marian Carmel grew up in a home filled with music. 

“It’s like that for a lot of Filipino families,” she says. “Music was a huge part of our lives. We have this thing called a Wow! Magic. It’s a microphone that when you plug into a TV, becomes a karaoke machine… The first song I ever sang was Christina Aguilera’s ‘I Turn To You’. And I just never stopped.” 

While she always had a love for music, it never occurred to her to pursue it as a career until she moved to Singapore and chanced upon a musical titled Forbidden City in 2003. Enamoured by their work, Ms Carmel knew at that moment that she wanted music to be a part of her life. 

She recounts, “[My mom] got me the soundtrack [from the musical], and I played that every day for the next one to two years.” 

Ms Carmel would go on to pursue musical theatre in her childhood and adolescence, before finally discovering that her calling is in songwriting. She says of the switch, “When I was reflecting about how I wanted to express myself, it came down to being able to tell stories through music… That’s why I turned to songwriting.” 

Growing up in a house filled with music, Marian Carmel’s venture into it was no surprise. Starting out in musical theatre initially, Ms Carmel eventually found her calling in songwriting.

To hone her skills, Ms Carmel participated in the Noise Music Mentorship, organised by the National Arts Council, in 2016. 

“It was a real eye-opening experience that had me put one foot through the door,” she recounts. “It just snowballed from there. Being in a community where everyone is making [music], it’s inevitable that you feel inspired as well.”

Today, the 23-year-old is a bona fide singer-songwriter with numerous tracks to her name. It is an identifier she upholds with pride. 

“It’s the way I like processing things in my life,” she says. “The moment that I’m past this threshold of emotions, I need to write it down. Out of all the things like being a musician, singer, or producer…the thing that I love and enjoy doing the most is songwriting – being able to tell stories, paint environments, and express universal emotions into my own creation.”

Sitting down with TheHomeGround Asia, Ms Carmel shares about her songwriting process, her music, and her journey of self-discovery and self-love. 

[Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length]

Marian Carmel (MC): I love making music when the sun is down. It feels timeless, like you’re in a liminal space. It’s like when you go to Cheers in a petrol station, it feels like time is paused and you have all the time in the world. Maybe it’s because like when the sun is up, you can see it setting, and you’re like, I need to finish this. But when the sun is down, there’s no sense of time whatsoever. I feel like I can really focus on making music without having to feel like there’s not enough time left. 

Singer-songwriter Ms Carmel has a penchant for making music in the night, drawn to the feeling of timelessness when the sun is down.

For me, [a song] starts with an idea or a concept. For example, a friend and I will be talking about something then I’m like, ‘Oh! That’s an idea.’ I whip out my voice memo, and I start humming or singing the first thing that comes to mind. Depending on how much I like it, I will decide whether or not I’m going to expand on that idea and turn it into a song. Usually, it starts with an idea of something to say, a message to convey. That’s the core of it. Then I build on the story and the imagery around it, and the punchline at the end of the chorus. [I like to tell] all sorts of stories. As of late, a lot of down, bad love stories, because I’ve been rejected a lot. 

TheHomeGround Asia (THG): How would you describe your style of music? 

MC: Honestly, I’m still discovering it. I feel like my style is very honest. Honest and truthful. Sometimes way too brutal. But it has a lot of restraint. It bleeds from my personality. I don’t like to belt when I sing. And even though I have a lot of energy, it’s still very soft-spoken.

THG: What would you want people to take away when they hear your music? 

MC: I would love to know that they relate to the music, that it gives them a sense of comfort, and that they feel understood and heard, because that’s the role that music played in my life, whenever I felt lost. Whenever I just feel very existential, depressed or down, music has always been there to make sense of the emotions that I’m feeling. And to be able to know that there’s someone else out there who feels this way makes me feel less alone, and makes me feel that maybe I’m not so crazy after all. I want to be able to provide that solace for other people. It would be amazing if even just one person would be like, this song helped me get through my breakup or something, or just, oh my god, thank you so much for turning this into words. The art would have already done what it was intended to do.

THG: Is there a song you’ve written so far that you hold particularly close to your heart?

MC: I hold all of them close to my heart. There are so many. That’s like asking me to choose from my one billion children. 

It changes every time. For me, I think it’s always the most recent song simply because it would mean that you’re still somewhat in that space of your life. If you asked me now, I would probably say the song that I just wrote last night, because I still feel it. 

But if I were to really pick, I think I would pick Rose. That song feels timeless to me, not in terms of sound, production or music, but because of the message. I wrote it when I hadn’t written a song for two years.  I was in a huge creative rut. And this was a song that I wrote with remnants of verses that I scribbled out months apart during that two year period. When I listen to it, it reminds me of how much I’ve grown, and to be patient with myself. It’s a message, and a reminder that I’m hoping to keep with me, like a piece of advice from my past self to my future self.

The last verse of Rose goes, ♪ I have grown a little older. I have learned a little more ♪ . It’s talking about how much I’ve grown. Even though there were some ups and downs during that process, and I was directly impacted by the people around me, I’ve also made the effort to grow. It’s me giving myself credit and a pat on the back for doing a great job. I’m a lot more grounded now, or rather, sure–of myself and my artistry. Even though the things that I put out sound very different from one another, I know that that’s okay because that’s a part of who I am. I don’t need to pigeonhole myself into one genre, one style of writing, or one type of way of portraying myself, because I’m a three-dimensional human being. These are all facets of myself that I’m allowed to show.

THG: Besides music, you also do digital illustrations, animations, and create zines. Is visual art something you would want to pursue further in the future? 

MC: I strictly want to keep it as a hobby. Going into music, I know that once you make art your job, you can’t just make art for art. I’m very picky with the things that I say yes to so that I can respect this outlet that I have and so that I can keep it as a happy place for me. There are people who take it seriously. They practice for hours and hours and they’re so amazing. As much as I want to do that, I don’t want to put that pressure on myself because then it stops being fun, and I won’t want to do it. If it makes me happy, then that’s all I need it to do. It’s an outlet for my energy. It gives me the serotonin that I need. 

THG: You mentioned wanting to keep art as your hobby, but music is your career as well as your passion. Is there ever a conflict with what you want to make versus what you think will work? 

MC: I’m really lucky, because whenever I write stuff, people generally tend to like it. And I think it’s also because it shows how happy it made me. Sometimes, I don’t even have to try, it just shows in the music because I genuinely do enjoy the process. Even recording vocals for a song that I don’t 100 per cent, because it’s cheesy or whatever, just the process of singing and doing this and that, is very fun. There’s always something good to take out of it, and I just try to focus on that.

THG: These two loves of yours (music and art) collide in your video series, Crying and Crafting. Can you share a little more about how the series came to be? 

MC: It was actually a split second decision. I was going to promote You Like The Chase as a pre-save, and me being me, I thought, ‘What if I make a video in order to promote it? And what if the video is about a Zine from the previous song?’ [I decided to make it] a series, and do it for all my songs. 

When I was recording it, my sister and my dog were about to leave for the Philippines. I was facing the wall, making the collage, and then I just started sniffing, because I remembered that my sister and my dog had seven days left in Singapore. I just couldn’t imagine life without them. [Then, I decided,] that’s what I’m gonna call [the series] – Crying and Crafting. Now, I’m going to be making a Crying and Crafting episode for every song that I release as a part of this album. It’s such a fun thing to immortalise your song. I think it just offers a lot more value. You get to show people what it was like to make it or what it looks like in your head, how you experience it, and what the song is about. I’m a very hands-on person, so I like being able to express it like that. 

THG: You identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community. Could you tell us a little more about your journey of self-discovery? What would you like to see for this community here in Singapore? 

MC: The last year and a half has been very transformative for me. I discovered a lot about myself in terms of my queerness, being able to accept it, coming out to my family. Them being able to accept it was one less thing on my shoulders, which enabled me to make the things that I’m making. When you’re not out of the closet, it’s like a huge burden on your shoulders. It’s so tiring to have to hide that part of yourself. And to know that I don’t ever have to do that with my family anymore alleviated a lot of the stress, and helped me focus a lot more of my energy into doing what I want. 

It was also about coming home to myself. Coming out feels like rediscovering myself, because this was such a huge part of my identity that was locked away, and I didn’t know that I was actively doing that. That’s the sad part about it: it was very internalised. You accept the fact that you have to be a certain way, because that’s how society accepts it. But once you’ve told your inner circle or the people that you care about, and they accept that, for me, I think that is enough. It empowered me to try new things. It’s very freeing. 

I would love for us to have a space here in Singapore. Not a physical space, but a space in the minds of Singaporeans. Because there’s not much that separates us from the rest of the community. We are a part of it. I would love to see policies and, just to have us in mind, whenever decisions are being made. 

THG:  What kind of impact do you want to make on others? 

MC:  I would love to be able to inspire those around me, and to be able to impart knowledge to others.  Creativity is such a powerful thing. And it doesn’t just have to be with art, it could be resourcefulness, being inspired to do better, or to make the world a better place. It could just be a tiny thing, like providing for your family, cooking for someone, as simple as that. It really makes your day and then when someone’s day is made, they’re pushed to do better. That creates a ripple effect. When they do better, they’re probably making another person’s day. I love to be around people, make them smile, make them laugh and you know, just good vibes. Enjoy life.

In October, Ms Carmel is set to release a new album titled To You, To Me, an ode to her past lovers and herself.

THG: You’ve an album coming out in October. Tell us more about it.  

MC: It’s called To You, To Me. Basically, it’s eight songs cut into two parts. The first four are to you. And the last four are to me. The concept of the album is about writing letters to my past lovers,  addressing some issues that we had and the realisations that I want to be able to immortalise and remind myself so that I don’t make the same mistakes in the future. Throughout this process, I learned accountability and was able to realise and accept that it’s a two way street. 

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Arts & Music Entertainment Lifestyle Review

Billie Eilish’s album Happier Than Ever chronicles her struggles that accompany fame

In her sophomore album Happier Than Ever, pop savant Billie Eilish chronicles her struggles that accompany her thrust to sudden fame and contemplates her relationship with stalkers, paparazzi, critics and the media. Our writer Sng Ler Jun takes a journey with her through her music to find out how she manages to sound so self-assured despite her fears.

From her 2019 blockbuster debut album When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go, the world got to know Billie Eilish as the teenage singer-songwriter who refutes what a female pop sensation — think Taylor Swift, Hailey Williams or Olivia Rodrigo — should resemble. Famous for her jet-black mop that boasts neon green highlights and her idiosyncratic fashion sense that took after oversized hip-hop and skater looks from the ‘80s and ‘90s, Eilish’s music veered towards the gloomy and insular while her personality runs the gamut from the occasional nonchalance to rebellious or depressive episodes. It was a far cry from most female teen pop stars who are usually charismatic, flirtatious, or exude innocence.

Her meteoric rise to fame has seen her performing the theme song for a James Bond film, starring in her own documentary film Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry in 2020, as well as clinching seven Grammy awards (she is also the first female artist to win four main Grammy categories — Best New Artist, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Album of the Year— in a single year), three MTV Music Video Music Awards, several Guinness World Records, and more. This year, the pop sensation returns with the release of her highly-anticipated sophomore album Happier Than Ever, which explores the effects of fame on her.

A beautiful and raw introduction to the album rooted in her vulnerabilities, the airy opening track “Getting Older” documents Eilish’s growing unfamiliarity with herself. She croons “Things I once enjoyed / Just keep me employed now / Things I’m longing for / Someday, I’ll be bored of,” explaining how the music she used to make for fun in the confines of her bedroom now comes with an added pressure needing to outdo herself and perform well. It also talks about “deranged” strangers appearing at her doorstep, reflecting how people often clamoured for her attention.   

In the same song, she sings “I’m gettin’ older, I’ve got more on my shoulders / But I’m gettin’ better at admitting when I’m wrong”. Eilish was most recently a subject of ridicule. Her newfound notoriety saw her being accused of queer-baiting and tacit racism for mouthing a racist slur in an old video that went viral on TikTok. Eilish has since apologised.     

The same theme of introspection reappears in “my future”, the lead single which dropped last year. Written during her quarantine, the song begins slow and dreamy before gaining tempo and becoming more upbeat in the third verse. Here, Eilish contemplates what the future holds and welcomes it with open arms despite its uncertainty. We know this as she whispers “ ‘Cause I, I’m in love / With my future / Can’t wait to meet her”, although for the most part, like many confused youths, she does not know where she is going. And that is okay.

The dark and pulsating number “NDA” is a compelling piece filled with Eilish’s signature whispers alongside the eerie plucking of string instruments and noisier tracks. Here, she seemingly recounts her experience with the paparazzi and stalkers. Eilish’s physique was also a target of scrutiny. In 2020, a paparazzi image featuring the singer in tank top and shorts outdoors went viral, and a slew of derogatory and body-shaming comments toward the teenager followed. She seems to take on these criticisms in the interlude monologue track “Not My Responsibilities”, most evidently through the question: “The body I was born with / Is it not what you wanted?”

Written by Eilish and her equally talented brother Finneas O’Connell, the track “Oxytocin” is a fan favourite. One of her raunchiest songs yet, “Oxytocin” starts off sultry but gradually gathers momentum, beat and tempo to become a track reminiscent of the kinds you hear in a steamy club. It also features erotic lyrics (“If you only pray on Sunday / Could you come my way on Monday? / ‘Cause I like to do things God doesn’t approve of if she saw us” or “And what would people say, people say, people say / If they listen through the wall, the wall, the wall?”) describing a casual hook-up. Eilish eventually lets off a feral scream for her lovers to run away.  

The penultimate title piece “Happier Than Ever” is the longest track from the album. Half-part whisper ballad and half-part electro punk-pop, “Happier Than Ever” merges two distinctive genres and narratives into a compelling piece that is guaranteed to reel listeners in. The first part of “Happier Than Ever”, which featured a sombre Eilish, highlights the emotional turmoil of her former relationship and the joy that followed when she finally got away. The latter half is best described as a catharsis of sorts when she continues to diss her abusive ex. In simple words, an unexpected diversion from the overarching theme of the album.

Other noteworthy mentions from the 16-track album include the soothing “Halley’s Comet”, which is all about yearning and learning from her past relationship mistakes, and the hip-hoppy “Therefore I Am”, which takes a play on French philosopher’s René Descartes’ famous saying.   

Wildly imaginative and brutally honest, Happier Than Ever has thoughtfully documented Eilish’s emotional maturity as she transitions from a teenager to a young adult. Nevertheless, the pop savant’s album is brimming with earworms that are relatable and occasionally ASMR tingle-inducing. As she retells the ups and downs following the success of her debut album, the 19-year-old deals with the pressure of releasing a sophomore album by baring it all to be as genuine as she can be.

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Review Tech and Gadgets

The Oppo Reno6 Pro 5G, A Decent Phone for Day-to-Day Tasks

Makers of smartphones are always working on ways to help their latest devices appeal to users, especially the young and trendy. They come in good-looking, feature-packed packages with a camera that supports a variety of photographic techniques. Oppo Reno6 Pro 5G was recently released in Singapore on 28 August this year (2021) and it retails for $899 with current ongoing deals at specific retailers. Ziyaad Siddique, VFX artist and video editor with a keen interest in the world of emerging technology, spends a week using the Oppo Reno6 Pro 5G and here is what he thinks.

Ranked the Number 5 smartphone brand, Oppo is fast becoming a powerful player with its constant reworking and improvement of its software and increasingly competitive devices.

Its latest, the Reno6 Pro 5G is 7.6mm thick and weighs about 177g, making it the right weight and size to hold on to and very comfortable to use. The phone comes in Aurora or Stellar Black and its glittery and shimmering finish can be credited to OPPO’s Reno Glow process, that was first featured in its Reno5 Pro 5G smartphone. Apart from visuals, it is fingerprint-free and anti-glare. 

There is no change to the physical design , so the phone remains familiar and easy to get used to. Its power button is still located at the right of the phone, with volume buttons on the left. The USB-C port, speakers and a sim card tray are all at the bottom.

General use

The Reno6 Pro 5G is straightforward and quick to navigate, making it easy to use. It comes with a 4500 mAh battery, that, when fully charged, lasts over two days with moderate use. Charging times are pretty fast too when using the SuperVOOC 2.0 charger. Unfortunately, the phone does not support wireless charging.

The phone runs on ColorOS 11.3 and Oppo’s personalisation options have always been great on ColorOS. One nifty feature called Portrait Silhouette allows the user to take a portrait photo of someone and traces the silhouette to generates a cool outlined version of the picture, to be used on your lock screen. 

Sadly it has a single speaker setup, making it decent only for casual gaming and video content.

Display and performance

The Reno 6 Pro 5G sports a 6.5 inch or 16.5cm OLED curved display that supports HDR10+ and has a 90hz refresh rate, delivering clear visuals and vibrant colours. The screen is bright enough that there are no issues with visibility, even if you are using it outdoors in bright sunlight.

The Reno 6 Pro 5G runs on a Mediatek Dimensity 1200 chip, along with 12GB of ram, bringing a good amount of performance to the phone. There is no discernible lag and if you need more performance, it can be acquired using the RAM expansion feature that is easily accessible through the settings menu. Here, you can convert a portion of available ROM into RAM, to expand it up to an additional 7GB.

And if you are using the phone for gaming, its performance will not leave you wanting. All the games performed well even when you are using the highest settings available. The phone also does not get too hot during the gaming sessions, even when it is running at the highest performance.

Camera

Studies have shown that 92 percent of smartphone users use their phones to take pictures and that smartphone photography is more popular than Internet browsing, emailing, app downloading, and gaming. So it is no wonder that the camera quality and specs are usually front and centre whenever new smartphones are announced.

It is also no surprise that Oppo included photo and video features, coupled with capable camera hardware on the Oppo Reno 6 Pro 5G. The phone comes equipped with a 64MP main camera, a 32MP front selfie cam, an 8MP Wide Angle cam, a 2MP Macro cam and a 2MP Mono Cam.

Daylight shots generally look good, especially when you use the 64 MP main camera. The wide-angle and macro cameras may not be as great as the main cam, but they do a good enough job too. Good low light shots can be captured using the AI colour feature and Night mode.

For video, you can record up to 4K at 30fps. The video stabilisation feature works with video up to 1080p 60fps.

The new Cinematic Bokeh Flare Portrait video filter, which takes advantage of OPPO’s AI capabilities, simulates the bokeh effect usually seen in cinematic videos. It works decently enough, especially if the background you’re shooting against has a lot of visible light sources. Otherwise, it’s not going to get the best results with plain backgrounds.

The Oppo Reno 6 Pro 5G is decent phone when it comes to day to day tasks and as a camera phone, it does its job well.

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Culture Home & Family Lifestyle Local Singapore Wellness Youth

Overcoming Negative Stereotypes Amid Calls for National Suicide Prevention Strategy

The 10 September is World Suicide Prevention Day, an internationally recognised day that seeks to increase awareness about suicidal behaviours and how individuals and organisations can develop programmes and policies to effectively prevent them. But even as suicide is decriminalised here in Singapore and there is growing awareness of mental health illnesses, the social stigma and taboo of suicide mean that the topic is not often openly discussed. TheHomeGround Asia speaks with professionals at the forefront of this increasingly challenging battle to save lives, delve into the mental health challenges faced by individuals in distress and how appropriate care is available for their needs with medical and allied health professionals.

(CONTENT WARNING: The article contains information on suicide.)

The adage that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem seems to hold true.

Dr Irene Tirtajana, who heads the Department of Psychiatry at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital, emphasises that “whether it is mental pain, physical illnesses, financial issues, anger, [or the feelings of] hopelessness, things do get better even when it seems impossible at the moment.”

Echoing the advice of many healthcare professionals on the need to reach out for help, Dr Tirtajana says, “Help is available and you don’t need to carry this burden alone. Please talk to someone you trust, call the suicide helpline, or seek professional help if you develop intentions to attempt suicide.”

Despite the greater awareness of mental health challenges and available resources for mental support, there are some who still fall through the cracks. Two such people were a Singapore Police Force national serviceman and a Singapore Armed Forces regular serviceman, who killed themselves in the past two weeks.

The year 2020 saw a significant rise in suicide and crisis-related calls to suicide prevention agency Samaritans of Singapore (SOS), with many seeking help as the pandemic severely disrupted lives and livelihood of many.

With more than 400 suicides reported in Singapore last year (2020), the decriminalisation of suicide in the same year was a milestone in Singapore’s suicide prevention policy and it has helped refocus strategies on supporting individuals experiencing mental distress and allowing survivors to recover and heal without the fear of criminal prosecution.

The global Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown have resulted in people struggling with uncertainty across a range of matters. (Photo source: Canva)

For decades, attempting suicide was considered a criminal offence to deter people from taking their lives. It was the result of such an outmoded societal mindset that made open discussions on mental health issues difficult, with many individuals choosing to remain silent and were suffering alone.  The global Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown have resulted in people struggling with uncertainty, more so than usual. Vulnerable communities are anxious about their health. Businesses worry about the ongoing challenging economic climate. Students, teachers and even parents do their best to cope with home-based learning and digital classrooms.

In a recent parliamentary reply (27 July), the Ministry of Education (MOE) cited that the suicide incidence rate for young persons aged 10 to 19 increased proportionally with national trends and “rose 4.0 per 100,000 persons in 2019 to 5.5 per 100,000 persons in 2020”.

The ongoing pandemic has worsened existing stressors that youths face, such as family relationships and academic and personal struggles. MOE observed that the increase in psychological and mental distress among the youth in Singapore is linked to various reasons such as “frustrations arising from disruptions of normal routine, a heightened sense of uncertainty about the future, and increased interpersonal conflicts at home due to restricted movement.”

Overcoming negative stereotypes, avoiding relapses and emerging healthier

Despite the rise in awareness of mental health illnesses, the stigma, prejudice and discrimination against people with mental illness still persist.  Dated assumptions that individuals with mental illness would behave irrationally and cannot be taken seriously still exist.

Data has shown that for every suicide, at least six suicide survivors are left behind and Voon Yen Sing, Senior Assistant Director, Clinical Services at Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH) highlights the challenges faced when clients, especially those with diagnosed mental illness, internalise negative stereotypes of mental illness (ie, self-stigma), and become unable to cope with stress; or relapse while recovering.

The decriminalisation of suicide last year allows caregivers to seek support and help for their loved ones without fear of being persecuted. (Photo source: Canva)

The decriminalisation of suicide last year allows survivors to focus on healing and recovery, instead of worrying about criminal prosecution. Society is now able to provide a more holistic approach — mental, emotional and physical support — rather than the threat of punishment. Caregivers are also able to seek support and help for their loved ones with depression, without fear of being persecuted for exposing their suicidal thoughts.

In addition, the updates to Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices removes a major barrier into the workplace as companies can no longer ask job applicants to declare if they have any mental health disorders.

Recognising the psycho-social impact of the pandemic and the mental health challenges faced by Singaporeans, the government has pulled resources together under a national mental health and well-being strategy to better provide information and a national mental health curriculum for the management of mental health issues.

Calls for a national suicide prevention strategy has been steadily growing.

Championing the need for such a strategy, former nominated member of parliament Anthea Ong highlights that “without a national strategy for [community support groups] to align to, we risk having a fragmented and sub-optimal approach to supporting survivors and bereaved families.”

Aiming for zero suicide, especially among children and teenagers, Ms Ong cites studies that “83 per cent of people who die by suicide visit some kind of doctor a year before their death” and recommends that healthcare facilities, especially emergency departments be at the forefronts of any prevention strategy.

Treatment after a suicide attempt

Dr Tirtajana says at the hospitals, patients presented after an attempted suicide are treated with the same level of respect, attention and professionalism as any other patients and those in an acute hospital setting is cared for by teams of medical and allied health professionals.

A psychiatric assessment is typically only performed after these patients have been stabilised medically. Those who have lost consciousness or needed life support would be allowed to take some time to return to a normal level of consciousness.

Dr Esther Tan, a consultant with the Department of Emergency Medicine at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital says that in caring for a patient who has attempted suicide, it is “an opportunity for us to engage the individual, empathise with their current emotional and mental state and to provide reassurance that we are here not to judge but to work with them to get the most appropriate care for their needs.”

And doctors have observed that a significant number of patients regret the attempt and no longer have intentions to harm themselves. Similarly, research have shown that 9 out of 10 people who attempted suicide and survived will not go on to die by suicide at a later date.

Individuals with strong and persistent suicidal ideas after an attempt may need to stay a little longer in hospital for further treatment. (Photo source: Canva)

It is important to focus on recovery and for both the patient and their loved ones to journey together towards mental wellness after a suicide attempt. The first step is building a supportive community around the patient.

Surviving suicide and support for suicide survivors

It is never easy to lose a loved one to suicide and the grief is often accompanied with feelings of “stigma, shame and embarrassment.”

Senior assistant director at SOS Wong Lai Chun explains that suicide survivors need a “supportive and understanding environment to allow them to heal.” She adds that feelings of rejection and an inability to express their feelings “could lead to social isolation” and reduce their outreach for support.

A national suicide prevention strategy should therefore include and recognise the impact of a suicide death on loved ones who are left behind and the struggles they face from their loss. Ms Wong believes that “a supportive and understanding environment [will] allow them to heal.”

As conversations on mental health and suicide become more open and accepted in the community, it is important to understand that individuals who attempt suicide do not view it as the only option but rather have exhausted their emotional reserves and physical energy to pursue other options.

Suicide is not just a decision but a tragic outcome of extraordinary circumstances that few of us have a lot of control over. The presence of better and more extensive social safety networks is needed and it is only through the recognition and destigmatisation of mental illness and a coordinated delivery of care for mental health illnesses can we better manage the incidences of suicide.

Seeking help

“There is absolutely nothing wrong with seeking help. [However], it takes a lot of strength to ask for it,” says Ms Voon.

“We recognise that mental health and illness [is] often clouded by stigma. Most of which is enveloped by shame and fear of being judged by people,” she adds, encouraging individuals to take the active step to care for themselves.

SAMH Insight Centre has observed an increasing pool of clients (50%) below the age of 30 searching for help for mental health issues with a larger proportion being women (about 60%) looking for counselling. (Photo source: Canva)

Prior to seeking professional help, it is usual for individuals to have considered the need for some time first. Even after making the call, it is rather common “they may still be ambivalent about having counselling – wonder[ing] if there’s a need and unsure of what may happen during counselling,” Ms Voon says.

Depending on what the needs of the callers are, counsellors provide different resources and coping strategies for personal reflection and practice, or arrange for counselling appointments to work on the issues that they face.

Research has shown that 46 per cent of people who die by suicide had a known mental health condition and it is, therefore, important that such signs are recognised and the right mental health support made available.

It is important to create a safe environment for suicidal individuals, and their family and friends, to share and seek help. Despite searching for solutions, despair often sets in and the sense of hopelessness pushes individuals towards suicidal thoughts. The following professional resources are available:

  • National Care Hotline: 1800-202-6868
  • Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444
  • Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019
  • Institute of Mental Health’s Mobile Crisis Service: 6389-2222
  • Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800
  • Silver Ribbon: 6386-1928
  • Tinkle Friend: 1800-274-4788
  • TOUCHline: 1800 377-2252 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)
  • Brahm Centre Assistline: 6655-0000 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm) After hours: 8823-0000 (WhatsApp available)

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Asia Culture Local People Singapore Youth

These Radical Career Switchers Embody Values of Lifelong Learning

Pandemic layoffs and economic downsizing have made mid-career switches the in-thing these days. For some, it can be one of the most life-changing decisions they make. What drives people to take the leap of faith to do something totally different? What are the motivating factors and the struggles behind their decisions? TheHomeGround Asia speaks to a lawyer turned startup entrepreneur, a fitness junkie turned tech guy, and a platoon commander turned nurse to find out why and how they made the change.

In 2020, things looked bleak. The Covid-19 pandemic battered workers with job losses and wage cuts and unemployment in Singapore rose to 4.6 per cent, the highest in over a decade. This forced a large number of people to start thinking out of the box, whether they should be looking elsewhere, or even making a total career switch, to support themselves and their families. Taking that plunge into a mid-career switch can undoubtedly be daunting as it requires getting out of the comfort zone. 

Corporate Lawyer turned start-up lover

Crazy was what friends told Elisia Retsas, 36, when she dropped her law books to immerse in the start-up scene. 

“Lots of people thought I was crazy for leaving such a secure and esteemed profession. But I knew that a switch was the right thing to do, even though it was a little bit scary,” she says. 

But what was even scarier for Ms Retsas, was having her entire life planned out for her. “I could tell you exactly how my career would end before it even started,” she says. 

And as the old adage goes, one man’s meat is another man’s poison, “even though lots of people love being in law, it felt too rigid for me. I didn’t feel like I could change anything”, says Ms Retsas. 

For Ms Retsas, it was all about recognising that her switch was a long term investment. “Going from the corporate world to startups, I definitely had to take a big pay cut. While that was a bit of a hurdle for me, I knew I had to make some sacrifices in the short term,” she says. 

Compared to the corporate environment, the pace in start ups was much faster — something that she took awhile getting used to. “But at the same time, I was able to make changes much faster in a startup, because many of the work procedures weren’t already formalised like in large corporations.” 

“It also meant that I was able to accelerate my career a lot faster,” says Ms Retsas, who is now the regional vice president of operations at General Assembly (GA).  

Ms Retsas wanted to work with a company that was mission-driven and focused on changing people’s lives. (Photo courtesy of General Assembly)

In Singapore, the Infocomm and technology (ICT) sector has proven to be a bright spot during the pandemic. As of November 2020, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) reported strong hiring demand in the sector, with more than 12,000 job openings available. Most (95 per cent) of which are for professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs).

And as individuals and companies struggle to compete in an increasingly technological economy, GA provides training to close the skills gap.

Ms Retsas says leveraging on one’s existing transferable skill sets is key when making a switch from one career to a totally different one. 

“A lot of mid-career professionals have so much value to bring to organisations. It doesn’t mean that you have to start at the bottom again. It just means that you’re bringing old skills into a new profession,” she says. 

Swapping army fatigues for scrubs 

For Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) platoon commander Lau Yee Cheng, 30, a different phase in life drove her to swap her combat boots for medical scrubs. She decided to go back to school and is now a second-year nursing undergraduate at the Alice Lee Centre for Nursing Studies

“[My husband and I] planned to have a kid, but it was only during my pregnancy that I realised I needed to leave the army and my role as a commander,” says Ms Lau, who was six months pregnant when she resigned from her military position.

As someone who believes that she should be on the ground with her platoon and lead by example, she continued her usual duties carrying field packs and going on outfields despite being an expectant mother. 

Leaving was bittersweet because Ms Lau “loved the job and left rather prematurely when [she] actually had plans to become a company commander”. But she decided to put her unborn child and family before her career. 

“The training hours at SAF can be quite irregular, and most other industries would allow me to be more present in my child’s life. So even though I’ve taken more than a 50 per cent pay cut, I’m much happier now,” she says. 

Ms Lau adds that becoming a mother has, in many ways, turned her back to the healthcare industry. She had majored in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and now derives a similar sense of satisfaction from providing care for others as she did when studying TCM.

Ms Lau hopes that industries will start seeing past ages and embrace professionals undergoing mid-career switches like her. (Photo courtesy of Lau Yee Cheng)

Making a switch is never always a bed of roses, and there are bound to be irreconcilable differences across industries that would require a little adjusting. 

While she feels that her intense physical training in the army has serendipitously prepped her well for the long-standing hours that come with being a nurse, Ms Lau says she feels a little uneasy moving from a male-dominated industry to a female-dominated one. 

“Frankly speaking, I’m more used to communicating with men, who tend to prefer going straight to the point. Even now, I find it easier to work with my male colleagues,” she says.

She says she also experiences hints of ageism and insecurity. “Even though I’m about the same age as the full-fledged nurses, I still find it hard to talk to them at times, and am struggling with being different during the staff lessons,” she says. “I hope that [society] sees past the years and treats us like any other nurses that are new to the industry.” 

From gym rat to computer geek

Like Ms Retsas and Ms Lau, fitness trainer Billy Aw, 25, traded his weights and running shoes for a totally different field. Mr Aw, who was with Virgin Active for five years, took on the extra challenge of delving into UX (User Experience) Design. Even with two vastly different vocations, Mr Aw finds that they embody the same principles. 

“Whether it’s teaching a fitness class or UX design, you’re similarly thinking about how you can make the experience better for your participant,” he says. “You’re placing yourself in their shoes and trying to understand the pain points and problems.”

Mr Aw believes that design is fuelled by empathy, and with empathy, he can design great ideas. (Photo courtesy of Billy Aw)

Mr Aw feels the tech world is a refreshing change of scene for him and describes it as a “rebirth”. “When it comes to fitness, everyone’s self-esteem is jumbled up with their body image. Sometimes you can’t help but get really political or judgemental,” he says.

“In contrast, my classmates at GA were so supportive and didn’t set up a competitive environment at all,” he says. “We’re all from different walks of life, but we had one thing in common — we were all going through a career change together.”

Lifelong learning 

While many people associate learning with getting a formal education in school or university, lifelong learning from the school of life is the path increasingly taken today. 

“I had invested a lot in my university degree, but I realised quickly that what I’d learnt was quite outdated, even just after I’d graduated,” says Ms Retsas, adding that employers these days are looking past university certificates. “We should never take a job description at face value, because companies are increasingly looking at the skills and credentials that you can bring to the role.” 

Agreeing, Mr Aw says studies aren’t everything, but skills are. “I didn’t do well in ‘A’ levels at all but when I presented all my projects to the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), they took me in in a heartbeat,” he says. 

He believes that his decision not to pursue a university degree immediately after junior college was what ultimately helped him discover what he was truly passionate to learn later in life. 

“I was sent to Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and Jakarta to develop and educate other instructors. That was how I got to meet a lot of people and fostered deep experiences and relationships over the years,” he says.

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Asia Culture Home & Family Local People Singapore

In Conversation With: Sim Chun Hui, Charity Worker Who Beat The Odds

Through our weekly series In Conversation With, TheHomeGround Asia amplifies and celebrates the ideas, achievements and experiences of extraordinary individuals who are creating ripples in unique ways. This week, we speak to Sim Chun Hui, senior manager at Habitat for Humanity, a Christian organisation that builds and cleans up houses for low-income households globally. 

Born without a right forearm did not stop Sim Chun Hui from counting her blessings. But it hasn’t always been easy for the present-day senior manager of Habitat for Humanity, a US-originated Christian charity that provides decent housing to low-income families across the world. 

“When I was as young as three, strangers would always come up to my parents and ask questions,” says Ms Sim. “Sometimes, they would even come up to me when I was alone with my sister. I always felt like a deer in the headlights.”

People usually assume that she was a victim of a motorbike accident, and these unwarranted conversations occur at any time and place — even when she is waiting for the traffic light to turn green. 

For a long time, she adopted the “ostrich mentality”, even on her first date with her husband. The desire to prove to the world that she could do everything on her own despite her disability, coupled with her feelings of incompleteness, denial, and shame, eventually drove her to anxiety and she suffered from insomnia by her early 20s. 

It wasn’t until she embraced her faith and found fulfilling work in an inclusive workplace environment that her life changed tremendously. Today, she believes that being vulnerable and open about her disability makes for deep conversations, especially for anyone out there who might be going through the same struggles. 

Today, Ms Sim Chun Hui assumes a leadership position as Senior Manager at Habitat for Humanity Singapore. (Photo courtesy of Habitat for Humanity)

The HomeGround Asia dives into Ms Sim’s world and learns about her relationship with her artificial arm, how she confronted her disability, and eventually found meaningful work and love. 

The HomeGround Asia (THG): When did you first become acutely aware of your disability? 

Sim Chun Hui (CH): Throughout my childhood, I always knew that I had it harder than the other kids. But I think the point in my life where I felt that life was very unfair was probably in Secondary 2. It was around the time when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I was interested in singing, but my immediate thoughts were, “why would anyone listen to a disabled singer?” That was when I realised that some things would never be possible for me because I am disabled. 

THG: What was it like being born and growing up with a disability? 

CH: I always felt ashamed of my disability; like I was created with a flaw. For many years, I was in denial. Whenever I looked in the mirror, I didn’t actually see my handicap. I pretended that it didn’t exist. I became depressed by the time I was in my early 20s. I had trouble sleeping and constantly felt anxious. 

THG: What helped you cope?

CH: I was from Anglican High, a Christian secondary school, and we would sing hymns. Even though at the time I hadn’t yet believed in God, I still prayed because I had nothing else left to try. It was the only thing that could bring me peace to help me fall asleep. 

THG: What is it like wearing your artificial arm? 

CH: It’s nice because there are only some things I can do when my [artificial arm] is on. But there are times when I felt this literal weight on me, which was quite frustrating. For example, if I were to go swimming with my friends in a public pool, where do I put it? If I had to leave it out in the open, it might give somebody a shock!

Once during a school camp, there was an activity that involved us jumping into the water. At the time, I was still in denial, and only my close friends and family had seen me take off my arm. Since the entire cohort was there at the time, I just jumped into the water with the arm. It was buoyant and I had to keep pushing it under. I remember being worried about water damage. 

THG: Do you still wear your artificial arm? 

CH: My arm and I … we share a love-hate relationship. Nowadays, I usually wear it when I go out. Whenever strangers ask me about it, I sometimes don’t know how to answer still. But it is definitely better than in the past when I was still bitter and would make snarky remarks, telling them to mind their own business. 

One day it struck me that maybe they were asking because they have a loved one who is going through something similar. That’s when I started taking a different approach when dealing with such questions. There were times that when I shared, people opened up about their own lives. I realised that whenever I allow my weaknesses to show, it actually makes for deep conversations. 

THG: Did you experience any unique difficulties in the romance department? 

CH: During my first date with my then-boyfriend-now-husband, I pretended nothing was amiss, hoping he wouldn’t notice my disability and think I was perfect. So, on our first date, we went to the Science Centre and there was this thermal scanner exhibit. I didn’t think that if I were to walk through the scanner, my artificial arm would not light up on the screen. That was how he found out. He thought maybe I wasn’t ready to talk about it, so he didn’t ask me. 

When things got serious, I decided one day that I would not put on my artificial arm. That day, when he came over and sat down, he held my right arm and cried. He told me he felt the pain that I went through. I will never forget that. 

THG: Have you ever experienced any prejudices as a disabled person? 

CH: There were instances when I felt I was being “cancelled”, such as during my first interview for an internship when I was in polytechnic. The role was for an events company and it required quite a bit of physical work. Once the employer realised that I had a handicap, she said, “I don’t think you can do the job”. To make matters worse, she started to psychoanalyse me and wanted me to explain why I applied for a job “that I knew I couldn’t do” and it really affected me. The sense of hopelessness she gave me rose to the surface whenever I applied for a job after I graduated. 

Looking back, I guess I’m just hoping for people to give me a fair assessment instead of assuming my capabilities based on my disability. Like, “okay, she has a disability, but she also has these other strengths”, rather than focusing solely on what I can’t do. 

THG: Looking back, what strengths did your disability give you? 

CH: Having just one arm, even for the simplest of things like drawing a line, I would have to figure out how to hold the ruler while I draw the line. I had to anticipate more than the average person, and I have become a very organised person because of it. Over the years, I found out that my strength is in organising messy situations, which is perhaps why my present-day job suits me well. 

THG: How did you end up with Habitat for Humanity (HFH)? 

CH: This happened in 2011, the same time as when I became a Christian. Then, I was praying to God to show me direction — in my life and in my career. After praying for months, I received a strong and clear message that I should give back to society. It was like a moment of absolute clarity. 

I started looking around and whenever I volunteered, it was always at an HFH event, so I continued with them for a year. In December 2012, I wrote an email to the National Director, saying that I really wanted to work with HFH. He told me then that a vacancy just became open. It was like divine intervention. 

THG: Do you face any physical challenges at work then? 

CH: There is sometimes a lot of physical labour at HFH, including cleaning and decluttering the beneficiaries’ homes. The homeowners would often notice that I have a disability, and I think they see a bit of themselves in me. Some of them may have health issues such as stroke, which prevents them from cleaning up their own homes. I think I have given them hope, which they could have lost along the way. 

My colleagues, managers, and employers are all very supportive. They’re willing to get creative or even do more in some areas, such as drive me around because I don’t have a license. I’m really thankful for the culture at Habitat for Humanity (HFH). I think if you were to ask my boss now, he would say that he never saw me as a disabled employee.

In Singapore, Habitat for Humanity runs Project HomeWorks, where volunteers work to clean up pest-infested or overly cluttered households. (Photo courtesy of Habitat for Humanity)

Check out housing charity Habitat for Humanity’s projects here

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Food Lifestyle Local Singapore

Crew Eats: The team at three of COMO Dempsey’s restaurants share where they eat

You may presume the staff of high-end restaurants eat fancy meals all the time. In fact, when they dine outside of work, they tend to look for simple comfort food that is warm and fuzzy. In our new monthly column, Crew Eats, we reach out to staff in both the front and back of houses of popular restaurants in Singapore to hear where they like to eat.

Nestled a few minutes away from Orchard Road is the quaint and hip neighbourhood surrounding Dempsey Hill. It was once a nutmeg plantation in the 1850s, before getting repurposed as a military camp, known as Tanglin Barrack. Today, the tranquil neighbourhood still boasts the unique rustic charm of yesteryears and is known to be one of Singapore’s leading dining and shopping destinations.

In this special series, we interview staff from not one, but three renowned dining establishments in Dempsey Hill — COMO Cuisine, The Dempsey Cookhouse & Bar, and Ippoh Tempura Bar by Ginza Ippoh — all of which are within spitting distance from one another.

Read on to hear from Sous Chef Sorasit Duangeesai and Service Leader Tan Li Yee from COMO Cuisine; Executive Chef Lisa Revilla-Thien and Guest Relations Assistant Manager Natasya Jaaffar from The Dempsey Cookhouse & Bar; Restaurant Manager Alexis Wong and Assistant Restaurant Manager Chloe Ong from Ippoh Tempura Bar by Ginza Ippoh.

Sorasit Duangeesai, Sous Chef at COMO Cuisine

Photo courtesy of Sorasit Duangeesai

37-year-old Sorasit Duangeesai, or Tar as his colleagues call him, has had over 10 years of culinary experience with the COMO Group. His impressive resume entails working as a Chef de Partie in COMO Metropolitan Bangkok in Thailand and COMO Parrot Cay in the Turks and Caicos Islands, as well as a pastry chef at COMO Uma Paro in Bhutan. For the Thai native, comfort food entails a fresh serving of spicy green papaya salad of which, according to him, reminds him of home.

When asked about his favourite dining haunt on the sunny island, Tar reveals that a meal at Hanashizuku Japanese Cuisine at Cuppage Plaza is extremely satisfying and akin to what he had tasted in Japan. According to the sous chef at COMO Cuisine, the restaurant’s Alaskan King Crab Tempura is well-worth every penny. He says: “The texture on the crab is superb.”  

Photo courtesy of Sorasit Duangeesai

Hanashizuku Japanese Cuisine

Address

Cuppage Plaza, 5 Koek Road, #02-01, Singapore 228796

Opening Hours

Monday to Friday: 11.45am – 2.30pm, 5.30pm – 10.30pm

Saturday and Sunday: 5.30pm – 10.30pm

Tan Li Yee, Service Leader at COMO Cuisine

Photo courtesy of Tan Li Yee

COMO Cuisine’s service leader Tan Li Yee prides herself as a purveyor of good Japanese grub in Singapore. One of her favourite Japanese restaurants here is Gaijin Japanese Soul Food, located in King Albert Park (KAP) Mall in Central West Singapore. When not at work, she would find herself indulging in a light and flavourful bowl of dumpling soup. “My friend recommended this place,” she says. “I find the food here value-for-money and I like how cosy it is.”

“I would recommend the Ebi Tempura Udon,” she says. According to the 27-year-old, the udon noodles hail from the Akita prefecture in Japan, and are known for their chewy and easy-to-slurp properties.

Photo courtesy of Tan Li Yee

Gaijin Japanese Soul Food

Address

KAP Mall, 9 King Albert Park, #01-40, Singapore 598332

Opening Hours

Monday to Sunday:  12pm – 3pm, 6pm – 9.30pm

Lisa Revilla-Thien, Executive Chef at The Dempsey Cookhouse & Bar

Photo courtesy of Lisa Revilla-Thien

Growing up in the Philippines, executive chef at The Dempsey Cookhouse & Bar Lisa Revilla-Thien frequently reminisces about the time when her parents would bring her sister and herself to the famous restaurant chain ‘Pancake House’. “They serve the best spaghetti with meat sauce,” she adds. “It just gives me a warm, fuzzy, comforting feeling each time I have a warm bowl of noodles with meat sauce and cheese.” Married to the French-born Eurasian chef David Thien, Mrs Revilla-Thien is also the first Filipino to become an executive chef for Michelin-starred Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten at The Dempsey Cookhouse & Bar. 

On what is her definition of a good meal, she says, “The best meal is always cooked by my husband.”

Photo source: Beauty in a Pot

For her, a post-work supper escapade with her fellow colleagues to Beauty in a Pot had her fall in love with the quintessential soup dish. “Not only is the broth rich and satisfying, but I also love how you can customise your own sauce with their wide range of condiments. All these yield a different taste and texture with each bite.” Her go-to soup base is the beauty collagen broth and some of her favourite toppings include otak otak fish paste, fried beancurd skin, and sliced meat.

Beauty in The Pot at The Centrepoint (one of seven outlets)

Address

176 Orchard Road, The Centrepoint #05-16, Singapore 238843

Opening Hours

Daily 11.30am – 3am (Last order at 2.15am)

Natasya Jaaffar, Guest Relations Assistant Manager at The Dempsey Cookhouse & Bar

Photo courtesy of Natasha Jaffar

Guest relations assistant manager of The Dempsey Cookhouse & Bar Natasya Jaffar prefers staying in and binging on the latest TV series on her days off. But when she does head out, she would dress up and pamper herself and her friends, with a hearty meal. Ms Jaffar recommends dining at tcc – The Connoisseur Concerto, specifically the branch at International Building. Her favourite dishes there include Soft-Shell Crab Tacos and Baby Crabfish Spaghetti.

Photo source: tcc – The Connoisseur Concerto

tcc – The Connoisseur Concerto (one of nine outlets)

Address

International Building, 360 Orchard Road, #01-01, Singapore 238869

Opening Hours

Monday to Sunday:  10am – 3am

Alexis Wong, Restaurant Manager at Ippoh Tempura Bar by Ginza Ippoh

Photo courtesy of Alexis Wong

“I love izakaya (a type of Japanese bar that is neither a full-fledged restaurant nor a pub, but offers up affordable bar bites, such as grilled skewers or fried snacks, and booze) and I’m always on a lookout for good casual restaurants,” says Alexis Wong, restaurant manager at Ippoh Tempura Bar. For the 36-year-old, the casual izakaya Yakitori Yatagarasu located at Circular Road ticks all the boxes for a satisfying chow down.

Replete with plenty of wooden accents, the walls along the narrow bar are adorned with Japanese memorabilia — sake bottles, ornamental fans, and exquisite clay or porcelain potteries — while a small sushi counter is placed in the middle. There, a good selection of izakaya food, bar bites and booze beckons. Ms Wong recommends that first-timers savour the Bonjiri Yakitori, a succulent, collagen-rich chicken tail skewer, and rounding up the meal with a hearty bowl of chicken soup noodle. “Sharing is caring, so I don’t mind recommending this place to others, even though doing so might make securing a spot more difficult.”

Photo courtesy of Alexis Wong

Yakitori Yatagarasu

Address

72 Circular Road, #01-01, Singapore 049426

Opening Hours

Monday to Saturday:  6pm – 10.30pm

Closed on Sundays

Chloe Ong, Assistant Manager at Ippoh Tempura Bar by Ginza Ippoh

Photo courtesy of Chloe Ong

Ippoh Tempura Bar’s assistant manager Chloe Ong is a fan of local zi-char (which is Hokkein for ‘stir-fry’) dishes. “I am a believer that good food ought to be shared, especially with friends,” she says, noting that her go-to zi char restaurants include Long Ji Zi Char and Keng Eng Kee — the latter is also Candlenut’s chef-owner Malcolm Lee’s favourite dining haunt. One of her favourite dishes to try at Long Ji Zi Char is the Crab Bee Hoon, comprising rice vermicelli and a whole crab, served in a claypot and milky broth. For an even more savoury option, Ms Ong suggests trying the Pan-fried Coffee Pork Ribs. “It’s flavourful and the coffee taste is neither too bitter nor sweet; it’s just nice.”

Photo source: Long Ji Zi Char / Facebook

Long Ji Zi Char

Address

253 Outram Road, Singapore 169049

Opening Hours

Monday to Sunday:  5pm – 10.30pm

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Entertainment Review

Watchlist: 8 must see shows and films on Netflix, Viu and Apple TV+ in Sept 2021

An uncertain 2021 looks heading for a wet finish, with the skies opening up practically every day over Singapore, and flash floods becoming all too common. How about staying indoors a bit more? And maybe plan out a proper binge-watching schedule? Check out TheHomeGround Asia’s recommendations for this month. 

As the nation braces itself for heavier rain due to the Indian Ocean Dipole for the next two months, expect yourself to cancel plans and stay indoors in the coming weeks. Put simply, cuddle weatherperfect for you, your friends and family to gather on a comfy sofa and binge on your favourite shows beckons. As August wanes and September approaches, a slew of exciting new shows and films await us on our favourite TV streaming services: Netflix, Viu and Apple TV+. From an award-winning crime drama series to a thriller drama series about a survival game, we are sure you’d be hooked. 

Truth To Be Told: Season 2


In this award-winning crime drama series, Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer plays Poppy Parnell, a true-crime podcaster and former investigative reporter, while Kate Hudson—her first lead role in a television series—plays Poppy’s childhood friend Micah Keith. In its second season, Poppy dives into a case involving the murder of Micah’s husband, putting a strain on her relationship with Micah along the way. Nichelle Tramble Spellman serves as writer, showrunner and executive producer, alongside Spencer who is also an executive producer. 

Truth To Be Told: Season 2 is now streaming on Apple TV+. 

Money Heist Part 5: Volume 1

As one of our favourite Spanish crime dramas on Netflix, it’s sad to say that Money Heist (or La Casa de Papel) will end its run with its fifth and final season soon. Bittersweet as it may be, there’s a lot to love from watching the characters—with captivating personalities, no less—pull off seemingly impossible robberies with high stakes. According to Netflix’s synopsis, which has us all hyped up, the gang finds themselves stuck in the Bank of Spain for over 100 hours and yes, even the ever-prepared Professor does not have an escape plan. Its creator Álex Pina promises in an interview with Deadline that the fifth season will be the “most epic and exciting season” where characters see themselves getting into “situations that are irreversible”. 

Money Heist Part 5: Volume 1 will be streaming on Netflix from 3 September 2021. 

Beautiful Vampire

Having lived a quiet life for half a century, Ran, who is a vampire, makes ends meet as a boutique makeup artist. Having made peace with her thirst for human blood, she has lived peacefully with humans and only drinks animal blood to survive. She owns and runs a quiet makeup business in the neighbourhood of Mangwon in Seoul. And yet, things change when the new landlord’s son stumbles into her life and falls in love with her, resulting in her appetite for human blood to return. The film, which was first released in 2018, stars Jung Yeon-joo as Ran and Song Kang as Lee So-nyeon, Ran’s love interest. 

Beautiful Vampire will be streaming on Viu from 3 September 2021.

Squid Game

This brand-new South Korean thriller drama Squid Game is sure to have you on the edge of your seat. Here, 456 contestants are invited to participate in a secret survival game to stand a chance to win ₩45.6 billion. Financially motivated and cash-strapped, the contestants come from various backgrounds. At first glance, the games the contestants will be playing resemble the likes of what they played in their childhood, but a closer inspection reveals their killer nature. Those who fail to survive the ground or refuse to play will be executed. 

The eight-episode drama stars Lee Jung-jae, Park Hae-soo and Heo Sung-tae. The show’s director Hwang Dong-hyuk is most known for his films “The Fortress” (2017) and “Miss Granny” (2013). In an interview with South Korean entertainment site Soompi, Hwang says: “I wanted to create a sense of connection between the nostalgic games we played in our childhood and the sense of never-ending competition that modern adults feel. There’s an irony in our most beautiful and innocent memories being changed into the most horrifying reality.”   

Squid Game will be streaming on Netflix from 17 September 2021.

One The Woman

The up-and-coming South Korean rom-com drama tells the story of a corrupt prosecutor Jo Yeon-joo (Lee Ha-nee) who loses her memory after getting into a car accident. When she wakes from the coma, the hot-tempered prosecutor soon discovers she is now living as Kang Mi-Na, the youngest daughter of a chaebol (a large family-owned business conglomerate) family, with no recollection of her past. Lee is joined by actor Lee Sang-yoon, who plays the son and third-generation chaebol. Princely South Korean actor Lee Won-keun (who starred in the popular historical TV drama “Moon Embracing Sun” in 2012) will also Ha-nee and Sang-yoon in this drama, and this would be his first drama since his discharge from the military.  

One The Woman will be streaming on Viu from 18 September 2021.

The Morning Show Season 2

For the uninitiated, The Morning Show is one of Apple TV+’s flagship series. Come September, the iconic TV series, starring Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell, will return for its sophomore season, and this time it promises to up the ante. The show, which revolves around the ever-chaotic and cutthroat world of newsrooms (and their anchors), received an Emmy nomination for its first season. Season two will pick up from the aftermath of co-anchors Alex Levy’s (Aniston) and Bradley Jackson’s (Witherspoon) actions and address issues—such as racism—that are even more relatable today.     

The star-studded returning cast for season two includes Billy Crudup, Mark Duplass, and more. Greta Lee, Ruairi O’Connor, Hasan Minhaj, and Emmy Award-winner Holland Taylor will join the team as new cast members.

The Morning Show Season 2 will be streaming on Apple TV+ on 17 September 2021.

Dali and the Cocky Prince


Despite lacking formal education and book smarts, the second son of a global restaurant chain Jin Mu-hak (Kim Min-jae) is extremely resourceful and possesses a talent for making money. Researcher Kim Dal-li (Park Gyu-Young) hails from a prestigious family and is well-educated, but fares poorly when it comes to handling household chores. An initial encounter at the airport propels the two of them to develop interest and fascination for each other. Despite not knowing each other’s background, Mu-hak and Dal-li join hands to save an arsingaporeasiaasit gallery from going bankrupt. 

Dali and the Cocky Prince will be streaming on Viu on 23 September 2021.

Bangkok Breaking

sFor most people, we know Bangkok as a food haven or a city of opportunities. For Wanchai (played by the hunky Sukollawat “Weir” Kanarot), the main protagonist of Thai film Bangkok Breaking, what’s meant to be a simple redeployment to Bangkok city eventually unveils as an unfortunate series of events, leaving him and local journalist Kat (Sushar “Aom” Manaying) tangled in a dark mess. As the duo dives deeper to unravel the city-wide conspiracy, they find themselves getting acquainted with dangerous individuals, many of whom hold political powers. This up-and-coming film will be the second Netflix Thai original production. 

Bangkok Breaking will be streaming on Netflix from 23 September 2021.

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Categories
Asia Culture Lifestyle Local People Science & Nature Singapore Wellness

In Conversation With: Chithra Rogers, Horse Therapy Facilitator

Through our weekly series In Conversation With, TheHomeGround Asia amplifies and celebrates the ideas, achievements and experiences of extraordinary individuals who are creating ripples in unique ways. This week, we speak to Chithra Rogers, Founder and Programme Director of Healing Horses, a riding school that provides equine (horse) therapy for those with special needs. 

She had always wanted to be a racehorse jockey and even had big plans to train in Brisbane, Australia. 

“My mum was concerned about the dangers involved in racing, so she wasn’t too keen,” says Ms Chithra Rogers, Founder and Programme Director of Healing Horses. “Besides, she also wanted me to continue my studies since I was only 16.” 

But her dad encouraged her and she eventually went ahead to pursue her passion abroad for two years.  

“ I was terribly, terribly homesick,” she says. She felt torn between her aspirations and family, so she returned to Singapore after completing her studies and with the proper certifications.

Ms Rogers trained to be racehorse jockey for two years in Australia. (Photo courtesy of Chithra Rogers)

Her realisation that she didn’t want to leave her family again was the point at which she decided to get creative with her career options. That was when she found a way — to help improve the lives of those with special needs through horseback riding.

“My first passion has always been horses. Second, children,” she says. “Even when I was training in Australia, I spent all my free time volunteering with Riding for the Disabled (RDA) Australia to help kids with various disabilities.” 

That prompted her to pursue her tertiary education in child psychology and equine therapy, and she trained under the chairperson of RDA Australia. 

She returned to Singapore, and it was 10 years ago that she founded Healing Horses, a social enterprise that focuses on early intervention for young children and teenagers with special needs. Today, Ms Rogers is pursuing her masters in special needs education. 

The HomeGround Asia caught up with Ms Rogers at one of her sessions to learn more about what it’s like to be an equine therapist, her methodology, the day-to-day struggles she faces and how she manages both horses and her special needs students. 

She found a way to unite two of her biggest interests — horses and children.

The HomeGround Asia (THG): Is every lesson the same? 

Chithra Rogers (CR): Most of the exercises aren’t one-size-fits-all. [At Healing Horses], I actually tailor every programme based on each individual. The parents [first] fill up the questionnaire form to explain the issues the children are facing. [Then,] they’ll come for a trial lesson, and based on which I’m able to understand their needs better for the next ten weeks. 

For Bella, [for example], I started working on her core areas, because her mum mentioned that she was not able to sit upright. So I thought that it was really important to work on her posture and trunk control before she could start walking with proper strides.

I do have students who are twins and on the same spectrum, but I’ve tailored different programmes for each child because they face different challenges.

THG: What are the challenges you face doing what you do in Singapore? 

CR: Initially, it was quite a challenge helping parents understand horse therapy. This is especially so in Singapore’s context where the awareness is really limited. I would say now, parents at the school have seen progress in their children, and [have started] to share with other parents, so the awareness is growing. 

THG: Are there specific breeds of horses that are better suited for therapy? 

CR: There are many breeds of horses, but the best recommended [for equine therapy] is quarter horses. The quiet-natured ones are the best. Some of the kids have sudden movements, so ex-polo horses are especially suitable because they are not as easily spooked. Polo is quite rough and tough, and so they’re already adapted to [these sudden] movements. 

THG: Are there any risks involved in horse therapy? How do you manage them? 

CR: With horses, there are definitely risks. So, prior to any of the sessions, we’ll do some walks first to check the horse’s mood. Of course, sometimes they do not react prior to the session, but during the session [itself]. It could be [because of] the noises nearby, or something else triggering them —  [in which case] we will immediately dismiss the session and dismount the child.

[We also have to observe] the child’s mood, and make sure the handlers are able to communicate with each other and the child. In [case] of an emergency, [we have to know] who would be the one to pull the child out, stuff like that. During that whole process, everyone needs to be alert. 

THG: Do you face any unique challenges when managing a child with special needs?

CR: We have aggressive children — not because they want to be aggressive, but because they are on the spectrum and experience sensory overload. When that happens they tend to be very fidgety, especially when they are non-verbal. 

Most of their communication methods when they are frustrated would be to hit or bite. [But] once they are on the horse, they’re in a different world. They are very excited, [yet] they are very calm. They are much more manageable when they are sitting on the horse, because the horse’s movements and gait actually help to regulate the kids emotionally and calm them down. 

THG: Could you recount an especially rewarding moment on the job? 

CR: There was this seventeen-year-old teenager who had never spoken a word before in his life. So, after the riding session, we usually bring them to feed and groom the horses, to teach them an appreciation for the animal for giving them the ride. When I gave him a carrot treat to feed the horse, I mouthed the word, “carrot”, and told him to repeat after me. He was trying his best, and finally, he did manage to say the word. 

When I told his parents, they did not believe me. The next time around, I managed to record it. His mum was so happy, she had tears of joy. 

THG: What do you wish our readers to know about Healing Horses? 

CR: At Healing Horses, we provide free lessons for single mothers. I highly support single mothers with special needs kids. It’s really challenging for these mothers, who don’t have financial or physical support to help the children. So the mothers actually have to choose between work and taking care of the children’s needs. 

Having a kid with [special] needs, even in a [nuclear] family, is especially challenging. The main caregiver is the mother and she needs a lot of emotional support. It’s really easy for her to burn out. So I encourage organisations and riding schools that are providing similar services to come forward to help single mothers.

I do have overheads to cover and we’re not a charitable enterprise, but I try my best to help within my means. For lower-income families, I also accommodate flexible payment methods. 

CR: My wish is for Healing Horses to be given our own premises one day, so that I can approach the relevant authorities for subsidies. That way, parents who have more financial constraints can attend our lessons. We’re currently leasing from another organisation, which can be challenging. We have a long waiting list and it would be great if we could do lessons on Sundays!

For more information on Healing Horses and equine therapy, visit their website here.

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