You hit the right spot!

“It hurts at this spot, right?” the Malay assistant at the hair salon asked as she pressed her fingers on my shoulder. She seemed to have a knack for identifying problem spots. Her skillful kneads got rid of all the culprit aches.

No, I wasn’t at a massage session at a spa but at a hair salon in Kuala Lumpur. I realized she had spent a good 15 minutes giving me a shoulder massage. No wonder the hair stylist had said earlier on that a wash and blow would take an hour. This is one of the things that I like about hair salons in Malaysia and China – they give you a thorough and relaxing experience – something that you can’t get in Singapore.

That hair salon wasn’t a high end one either. In fact, it was a home-based salon. Basic, yet meets its needs.

I had spotted the signage on the ground floor earlier on when I was along Jalan Imbi.

There is a whole block of old flat in the area. Huge, drab, grey boxes they are. A flight of steep stairs zipping up its  side. Capped off by the balconies, jutting out proudly of each front room – the main highlight.

A wall of metal grills wrap round these balconies. The grills are minimalist at their best. Small metallic squares skewered on vertical metal rods. They showcase the local architectural design of the 1960s.

Some creative owners had added a ledge on top of the wall so they could place potted plants on them. Geometric shapes like trapeze or simply patterns of S-shaped curves are embroidered onto these ledges.

Besides making the balcony higher, some functional owners had added awnings, probably to prevent the rain from coming in.  Given the heavy monsoon rains coupled with strong winds over here, it is a practical necessity. The ultimate is those who cage up their entire balcony, building additional metal grills on the second top half of the balcony, all the way to the ceiling.  These owners obviously favour living in mid-air cages.

Before retro became chic, I had long fallen in love with the balconies of these old flats. These balconies are also the windows to each household’s lives. They tell the stories of their inhabitants.

Do they hang their laundry in the balcony? Or do they have chairs and a table there? Potted plants on the ledge? Or old junk thrown out there?

After admiring these unique windows to each unit’s lives, I then climbed up the steep stairs in the rather dark stairwell.  Such stairs are common in these old flats. When I press the doorbell, I realized that the proprietor had created another entrance to the flat.  The door to the hair salon was on the right, perpendicular to the original entrance to the flat. It was a wooden framed door with a fan-shaped pattern at the top and four rows by three columns of squares filled with glass panels.

The left entrance was locked by a retractable metal gate.  The retractable parts looked like two rows of giant X-shaped metal arms at the top and bottom. This type of gate is typical in many old houses of that era. I noticed three rows of small rectangular openings at the top of the wall, each one extended from the gate to the ceiling. Wow! These old houses think of everything!

Before stepping in, I managed to steal a glance of the other side of the flat on the far left through the gates. A very long corridor connecting the first half of the flat with the second surprised me.

When the door opened, I was ushered to a row of chairs on the right, for waiting customers. The hall area housed the hair salon.  There were 6 salon chairs in there with all the usual equipment like steamers and heaters. In fact, it looked like any other hair salons in town.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long. When I was finally seated on the salon chair, I happened to turn my head to the left and a door from the salon leading to the area near the original entrance, caught my eye. I wondered if customers are allowed to use the washroom. Then I could take a look at how the flat looks like.

The assistant gave me a good hair shampoo and led me to the hair washing area, in the front room.  As I lay there with my eyes closed, I was very curious what was in the balcony.  Towels from the salon drying on racks? Pots of flowers?

I opened my eyes a little but all I saw through my eyelashes was the louvres of the windows and the door towards the balcony.

“Did you colour your hair?” the Malay assistant asked in Malay.

I was jolted out of my thoughts.

“Yes, I did.”

“Oh, I thought you didn’t. It looks so natural,” She smiled.

I was glad I could still speak some basic Malay though hardly fluent at all. And I’ve forgotten many words by now, not having spoken it for ages. Hmn, I should really brush up on it.

When I visited different cities in Malaysia this few years, I was surprised to see many Malays being employed in different business establishments owned by the Chinese. This is especially prevalent in coffee shops, where I thought non-Halal food items would be a problem for them. But I must be wrong as I see many Malays working in these coffee shops.

This is rather surprising given the worsened race relations in Malaysia in recent years. So it seems race relations are not that bad after all and it could be just the politicians who are making it up for their own political gain. Or is it a matter of survival that triumphs over religious inconveniences? Or we should all take a leaf from the grassroots for religious harmony – they just find a way of working together, in spite of whatever differences.

That’s ironical really, for I’ve never seen Malays working at Chinese businesses in the past, when relations between the races were good. This is indeed an interesting phenomenon.

“Is this right for you or do you want it to be harder?” the Malay assistant asked if she was using the right amount of strength to scratch and massage my scalp.

“Yes, it is. Thanks.”

After I was whisked back to my seat at the main hall and had my hair towelled dried, the Malay assistant started on my shoulder massage. She would have continued if she didn’t have to help the hair stylist with preparations for another customer’s hair colour. She deftly mixed the colours and wrapped the customer’s coloured hair with those plastic wrap that one uses for covering food.

I see that they work in perfect rhythm, she handing the utensil-in-need to the hair stylist at just the right time. Like a chef’s assistant who can anticipate what the chef needs at the next step in their dance of creation. Indeed, it’s important to have an able assistant.

While waiting for the hair stylist to attend to me, I overheard her talking to the customer who was colouring her hair.

“So how’s Ho Jie? I heard she had a stroke.”

“Oh, she’s better now. I think she should be up and running soon.”

That’s what I like about such neighbourhood shops, everyone knows everyone and are friends with each other.

When the hair stylist finally came over, I had to ask her about the layout of the unusual flat.

“I see a super long corridor connecting the first half of the flat with the second. Seems you have a huge flat here.”

“Yeah, it is. You know, these old flats are really deep. The second half behind has 2 other rooms, a small dining area and a kitchen. There are 2 toilets and a dry kitchen in the corridor. In fact this front section also has 2 rooms besides a main hall. I had broken down the walls of one of the rooms to maximize space.”

“Wow! Amazing! Very practical layout too.”  OMG! This is even bigger than I thought!

“Ya, many have 2 families staying under one roof.”

“Seemed to be custom-made for that, isn’t it?”

I love this salon, it has so much character. I will definitely be back.

I don’t mind staying at this type of apartment too and renting the other half out. The long corridor act as a bridge. It serves the dual function of being both a link and a buffer, affording both privacy and separation at the same time. Whenever I wish to chat with someone, I could go over to the front of the house and speak to the tenant. If not, I could have my own space at the back of the house.

It reminded me of the dual key concept apartment of recent years, except this doesn’t come with a separate entrance.  It shows that back in the 60’s the developer already had this concept in mind. Ideas from this era aren’t as new as we thought.

Perhaps I should buy an apartment like this and create a dual entrance on my own. Something to dream about…

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Dreaming of Clear Skies

When the sunshine of his life was born, Huang Ming wanted the best for her. Then, he realized that by the time her daughter grows up, there may not be any clear skies left for her to enjoy. So, he vowed to make his dream of clear skies for her come true.

While still working as a research engineer in the petroleum industry, he secretly built his first solar panel in a small, dimly-lit store room, funded by his salary and surviving on small loans. He even gave away his initial products. In 1995, he was ready to set up Himin Corporation and within ten years, he became the “Solar King” – the Father of Solar Energy in China. With innovative ideas and the adoption of cutting-edge technology, Himin became the one of the world’s largest solar water heater manufacturers.

One only needs to step foot into Solar Valley, in Dezhou, China’s Shandong province, to witness this solar revolution. A complete town in itself, the valley runs fully on solar energy.  It represents the realization of a vision. Sun Moon Mansion, which houses Himin’s headquarters catches one’s eye immediately. The flagship building semi-circle in shape, covered by solar panels, resembles a giant sun-dial. Covering an area of over 333.5 hectares in total, the valley boasts the world’s first low-carbon conference cum exhibition centre, several micro-emission hotels, a theme park, a spa, a university, a vocational institute, solar buildings, a testing center and a solar thermal manufacturing plant.

The plant is the world’s first automated production line for vacuum tubes. Solar architecture is on full display in the Seven Stars villas, a series of clean energy buildings built on the principle of “humanity, ecology, energy saving, beauty and harmony.”

Further on the outskirts, a green housing project, Utopia Gardens, based on the same renewable energy concept, completes the model for the future.

His ultimate dream is to replicate this model all over the world. China’s solar energy industry has certainly come a long way since the 1990’s when it was virtually unknown. Today, many roof tops are dotted with solar panels and Himin sells 300 square metres of solar heaters annually, which is equivalent to the total amount produced by the European Union and twice that of North America. From its initial stages where it was found mainly in residential areas, today’s solar energy usage has expanded to hotels, schools, public buildings and shopping malls. So Huang Ming’s dream may well come true one day.

But it was not always sunny days when Himin started off. They first had to battle ignorance and convince the everyday man of the advantage of solar energy. After business poured in, they were faced with many teething problems. Among which, complaints of dated products made them sit up. Firmly sticking to their belief in product quality, they swiftly discarded many new products in the blueprint and started to build a new generation of products from scratch. It made them realized the importance of research. Himin quickly reorganized itself and invested heavily in R & D. A solar energy technology research institute was established. They have never looked back since. Today, Himin owns more than 300 patents.

A solar testing centre was also set up in October 1997. With 18 laboratories, it ranked as the most advanced and professional centre in the world. Its rigorous testing standards mean that its tests are 24 times above the national test requirements and 7.5 times that of international requirements. All the company’s products including its solar water heaters, Winpin energy-saving glass, solar panels , lamps and many more are tested here to ensure top-quality.

They next focus on branding. Although in the early days, there were not many players in the market, Himin knew it was crucial to build its name.  Despite their limited budget, they took a huge risk and bought costly commercial slots on national TV. They also went on a nation-wide road show campaign to educate the public on solar energy. Product demonstrations on town squares were held, bringing them closer to the masses. Cost is definitely a major factor in any purchasing decision. Himin’s sales staff took pains to explain that the cost of solar heater is merely one-fourth that of a conventional water heater. They would also get their return on investment in two to three years’ time. Their efforts paid off and Himin became the market leader.

Its proven track record enticed Goldman Sachs and CDH Investment to invest US$100Mil in Himin in 2008.

While Huang Ming may seem like a dreamer, he is actually an astute businessman with a practical edge. The model on sustainable renewable energy is based on a viable business model that can be reproduced in other countries worldwide, with some tweaking to suit local conditions. An advocate of the market economy, he urged companies to be self-reliant and not dependent on government subsidies. He believes commercialization is the only sustainable way to go.

In May 2005, Huang Ming was invited as a guest speaker by the 14th UN Conference on Sustainable Development. He shared with the world this model based on the principles of commercialization and the “Butterfly Effect”. This works on the twin engines of the enterprise investing first in the public to build up the market, eventually expanding it and the enterprise beefing up the industry as a whole. This in turn creates employment opportunities generating a positive cycle of renewable energy and in turn reducing the use of conventional energy sources.

In 2010, Himin hosted the Fourth International Solar Cities Congress (ISCC). The low-carbon conference centre in Solar Valley was the natural site for this conference.  As the Vice Chairman of the International Solar Energy Society and Chairman of Himin Solar Energy, Huang Ming shared with over 3,000 government representatives and entrepreneurs from more than 200 cities around the world, his vision of the “Micro-Emission Earth”. He urged every country to cooperate to utilize clean energy technology, such as solar energy, to build a green and sustainable ‘Micro-Emission Earth”. This would lead to a reduction in the emission of waste gas such as carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide and other harmful gases, waste water and solid waste.

A crusader for the cause of renewable energy, Huang Ming pushed for having a law on renewable energy in China, when he served on the 10th and 11th People’s Congress (China’s Parliament). He drafted the Law on Renewable Energy and lobbied for its support. The Renewable Energy Law was finally passed in 2005 and took effect in 2006 in China.

Recognizing his efforts in promoting renewable energy, Huang Ming was awarded the Right Livelihood Award in 2011. Also known as the ‘alternative’ Nobel Prize, the Swedish-based foundation recognizes work being ignored by the Nobel Foundation.

In June 2012, Himin launched the campaign, “My Climate, My Change – Changing Climate Action” at the Rio +20 conference in Rio de Janeiro.  He set a target to build 50,000 Climate Mart worldwide in five years’ time. These one-stop stores would sell every type of solar energy products from solar water heaters to energy-efficient windows and doors as well as other environmentally friendly products. Climate Mart would be run on a franchise basis. Not unlike electronics and computer stores, Huang Ming feels that this is the most commercially viable and effective way to promote and execute renewable energy.  He appealed to global environmentalists and renewable energy advocates alike to work together to achieve this goal.  

This significant act changes China’s renewable energy initiative from passive to proactive. It also provides a practical solution for the global energy crisis.

After almost a decade of sunny days, Himin has been battling cheaper, substandard products that flood the market in recent years. While Himin used to own the lion’s share of the market, that has been taken over by its rival. With the industry at the price-competitive stage, this seems to be an inevitable development. Himin has been clamouring for mandatory regulation and standard in the industry. With the present recommended standards, many manufacturers cut corners and hurt the industry in the long run. How would Himin rise to this latest challenge? Looks like he needs some help from the Sun Goddess!

This down-to-earth, “mad professor” look alike, who is an inventor, developer, visionary, missionary, manufacturer and entrepreneur, all roll into one; may just be the person to come up with another innovative solution that would take many by surprise!

Whatever turn Himin’s story takes, it shows us that dreams do come true! It is also everyone’s responsibility to do our part to find a solution for the global energy crisis. We should all work to find effective ways to harness the energy of Mother Earth. Who knows, sun-grilled food may well be available at each and every household in future and not just at Solar Valley!


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Women Who Run With Wolves

The International Women’s Day on 8th March, got me thinking on what it means to be a woman and reminded me of Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ “Women Who Run With the Wolves”.

It is a hand-book that every woman should have – a book that one could refer to now and again throughout one’s life.

Clarissa tells us how to get in touch with one’s ‘wildish’ self, our intuitive self. She wants us to unlearn years of social conditioning on how a woman should be and start becoming what a woman really is instead.

She touched on many aspects of life like grieving, forgiveness, rage, humour, endurance, battle scars. Through stories, she illustrated how one should deal with these as a “Wild Woman” would.

She guides us how to navigate life’s Life/Death/Life cycle – ‘What must die, die.” Nevertheless, there is rebirth in death. One could triumph through it by drawing from such experiences. Such tensions actually create a certain energy that heals and help transform a person.

She also advocates that one should grieve for all deaths, no matter how small they are. Only with proper grieving would one be able to let go of that matter. That was why she cited the importance of tears in grieving. Tears allow one to be in touch with one’s instinctive self and have a healing effect.

Clarissa pointed out an important definition and process of forgiveness. It is not a one-off thing but rather, a multi-step process that may take years to complete. One should not be pressurized into forgiving someone a 100% all at once. It is actually natural for one to progress incrementally rather than give blanket forgiveness.

Humour, especially bawdy ones, has healing powers that goes deep within. Perhaps it is as earthly as the ‘Wildish Mother’ that nourishes our soul.

Girls were taught to be obedient and suppress their anger. However, one should rage when one needs to. It is not only appropriate to do so; it ensures that one is not cut-off from one’s intuitive self.

Be a member of the “Scar Clan” – wear one’s battle scars with pride, document them on a piece of cloth. A true woman wears them like a badge of honour.

Loss and hardship drives us closer to our instinctive nature, pushing our limits to new boundaries. Through it all, one gains endurance and learns to be more perceptive, allowing one to find insightful solutions.

The “Wild”, has a certain savage creativity that would nurture and renew the soul. As long as women return to their ‘wild’, intuitive self, they would be able to survive the trials and tribulations of life in a way a real woman would.

So the next time you feel like you’re “walking into a wall”, be a “Wild” woman and “walk through walls” instead.


Note: This article first appeared in my other site,, on 12 March 2008.

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The importance of closure

In life, everything comes to an inevitable end. When it does, it is healthy and important that there is proper closure.

How? Let go

The first step to closure is letting go. What does it mean to let go? Letting go does not mean forgetting someone or something. Nor does it mean no longer caring for someone. It means caring in another way and on another level. It just means being at peace with the parting or a particular outcome or decision.

Why is it difficult to let go?

Truly letting go is one of the hardest things to do in the world. Often sadness, fear of separation and especially changes, discomfort in venturing outside of one’s comfort zone, anxiety and guilt (especially when it makes one feel that one is forgetting that particular episode or person); all make it tough to truly let go. Bizarre as it may sound, but sometimes holding on to something or reliving one’s suffering may seem easier than letting go. This is because letting go requires courage – the courage to cease control.

What happens when one let go?

When one lets go, it means that one has overcome that particular life episode. In the process, one has drawn lessons from it and grew as a result. Contrary to what others think, when one can truly let go, it means that one has cherished the experience. Only then can one be at peace with the outcome; accepting change, especially when it is inevitable. With this, you set yourself free at last!

Why? Allows one to move on

Only when one lets go of the past can one move on to the next chapter in life. Closure allows one to clear the path and open the next door. When one cycle ends, another begins. To cling on to something old is to deny the new cycle from beginning and to deny oneself from receiving the gifts of this new cycle. Life is a constant flux and one needs to learn to find the strength to keep moving on.

What happens during closure?

Closure is a time set aside for grieving. The loss or end of anything deserves enough grieving in order for a fitting closure to take place. When there is proper closure, one feels satisfied even though there is a sense of loss. This is when acceptance finally sets in.

How? Have a ‘closing ceremony’

So how does one achieve closure? Performing a ritual of some kind is the easiest way to do so. Basically, it is a symbolic gesture that marks the end of something. This could include burning old letters or photos from a past relationship or simply keeping them shut in a box; taking a picture of an object before parting with it; writing a poem/story/play/song on something/someone that one separates with; painting/drawing a picture of the departed object/person; toasting the end of a particular cycle. For some kind of relationship, e.g., mentoring or group programs, pre-planning the closure allows one to be better prepared for the final departure. All these let one bid farewell in a proper manner, providing a fitting ‘closing ceremony’.

When one can’t find an answer, how to close?

Sometimes one finds it hard to achieve closure when one remains puzzled or can’t find a reasonable answer to a sudden end of any kind of relations. Often, this happens in a relationship, especially when a partner leaves abruptly without any particular reason. It can happen when a friend ends a friendship out of the blue too. In life, occasionally there are no easy answers and one has to learn to find a way to rationalize these occurrences which are out of our control. In short, find closure in one’s own way.

This is arguably one of those things that are ‘easier said than done’. Perhaps one way to rationalize it is to take a philosophical approach, like getting ourselves to think that everyone appears and disappears in our lives for a reason even if we may not know why. Tough as it may be, you just need to let go and let God; instead of going in circles, trying to find an answer.

Don’t bleed to death, close it!

When there is no closure, it is like having a gaping wound where one could bleed to death eventually. Hence, it is imperative to close a ‘case’ well. We need to recognize that everything comes to an inevitable end in life. There is a Chinese proverb that illustrates this well – “There is no feast that does not come to an end.” So when the end comes, close it with a ‘Bang!”


Note: This article first appeared in under “Expert Advice” at:



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“Things Falls Apart” – One of my Fave Books

One of my fondest Literature texts is undoubtedly, “Things Fall Apart”, by African writer, Chinua Achebe.

Who could forget the story of Okonkwo, once “the greatest warrior and wrestler alive,” but whose death ironically made him an outcast.

Okonkwo was a man of contrasts; he was outwardly fierce and made a show of bravery. In truth, his whole life was ruled by fear – fear of failure and fear of being seen as weak. He believed that the only thing worth showing was strength. No doubt, he was a brave and great warrior. However, true bravery and strength is the courage to show and do what one’s heart feels is right to, and not fear what others think of him.

He resorts to anger and violence to settle all matter. And it inevitably, brought his own downfall. Although to a certain extent, his last action was justified in a way, his doom became inevitable.

Okonkwo was a self-made man who rose from humble beginnings to become a man of status in his clan. His success was certainly commendable given his disadvantaged background and his early difficulties. However, his fear of being seen as weak made him a perpetually angry and violent man. He was impatient, quick-tempered and suffered no fools.

He wasn’t sympathetic to the less successful and could be unreasonable. In the end, his eldest son, Nwoye’s sensitive soul is buoyed and eventually won over by the ‘new religion’. In all fairness, Nwoye’s conversion could not be attributed entirely to Okonkwo’s heavy-handed ways. Nwoye also questioned certain traditions; like the killing of twins and especially the innocent killing of his best friend and surrogate elder brother, Ikemefuna. Something in him snapped after these 2 significant incidents. Since he had no one else to turn to for answers; the ‘new religion’, Christianity, seemed to offer him answers for these nagging doubts and comfort his parched soul.

Despite his shortcomings, one still feels for Okonkwo and his ultimate downfall is heart-rending. He was after a responsible man who cared for his family in his own ways. What is more poignant is the tragedy that befalls him after his successful comeback from exile. It is as if the gods have played a cruel joke on him. Somehow, one feels that he deserves better.

Was his ultimate downfall the result of his own doing or his fate? This begs the question, “Does character maketh a man?” and “Can one escape one’s destiny? Was Okonkwo a victim of his circumstances or his character or both? If he had adapted better to the changes in society, would he fared better?

It is interesting to note that Chinua Achebe, a son of missionary, chose to tackle the subject of white man’s destructive nature on the traditions and unity of one’s clan. He saw clearly that while the white men brought them progress, they also exploited the natives. Through “Things Fall Apart”, we see the negative impact of the white men on the African traditions and kinship. Those who do not adapt to the changes fast enough are left high and dry. But in adapting successfully, they had also compromised and lost a little of their own culture.

However, the winds of change run through the course of history worldwide. It is as inevitable as the passage of time. Alas, no men could stop the changes that sweep through a society. 

This is a book that had remained close to my heart for many years. It is poignant, realistic, honest as well as informative. Needless to say, it is also a great tale!

Note: This article first appeared in my other site,, on 28 February 2008.

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Swallow cloud at Cloud 9

He has a vision to revolutionalize the Chinese fast-food scene.

At Cloud 9, it is fast-food with service – making it a hybrid of casual eatery and fast-food chain.

Serving Taiwanese fare and its signature ‘wonton’, Cloud 9’s Chinese name, “吞云小莳”, plays on the word for this well-known snack loved by many around the globe. “Swallowing cloud” (吞云), alludes to the white, translucent dumpling that looks like white fluffy clouds in the sky while the last word of the name, “shi” (莳), puns on the sound for food (食). The word lends it a poetic touch, conjuring images of leisurely plant cultivation. It is this clever dash of sophistication that makes the brand appeal to China’s growing class of white collar workers.

Well, they seemed to have lapped up Cloud 9’s formula. Within 2 months of its opening, 6 of its 12 stores had reaped a profit. So looks like Cloud 9 is on track to meet its target of opening 42 outlets this year. It currently has 12 outlets inShanghaiand plans to expand to Beijing too.

So who is behind this dynamic chain? Helmed by Singaporean Chris Tay and financed by global venture capital firms such as Qiming Ventures, Hotung Investment and Mitsui Global Investment, as well as renowned entrepreneurs such as former DBS Bank and Singapore Airlines chairman Koh Boon Hwee, and NASDAQ-listed founders, Mr Norman Lui and Mr Michael Feng Yunlei; Cloud 9 has a strong management team with 80 years of combined experience in the F & B industry.

Starting a new brand in the cut-throat food industry in China doesn’t faze Chris at all.  He has honed his entrepreneurial skills since the age of 21 from food to IT industry. The intuition that he has developed for the food industry started way back inSingaporewhere he once operated the Billy Bombers restaurant. Backed by experience at Yoshinoya inBeijingandChina’s fried chicken chain, Dico; he is an old hand in the China market.

Perhaps what sets Chris apart from other F & B owners is his quest to find that elusive, formula for Chinese fast-food. As the nature of Chinese cuisine does not translate that well into fast-food, relentless research and development (R & D) is required to perfect that transition. Cloud 9 has been committed to its R & D efforts since its inception, working to perfect its menu from time to time.

Besides the menu, Cloud 9 has also managed to simplify the food preparation process to less than five steps. With an outsourced central kitchen supplying the food as either end product or half-finished product, staff at the outlets needs only reheat or prepare the food in a few simple steps before they are ready to be served. Only simple tasks like cooking rice and making soup are done at the outlets.

Chris has no qualms paying top dollar to rope in talent as he believes getting the right person is the key to rapid expansion. Its ability to adjust to changing market conditions with lightning speed attests to this nimbleness. Changing its menu 3 times within a month is something a lesser team would not be able to achieve. Having assembled an A-team also enabled it to open 8 outlets at an incredible speed within a space of 7 months.

Believing that a swift set up rate of outlets and staff training is instrumental in lowering operating cost by as much as 40%, Cloud 9 hopes to increase its turnover from S$32.1 million to S$42 million when all its planned 42 outlets are up and running by this year. In fact, it hopes to multiply to 220 outlets by 2015. This would significantly bring down the current set up cost of S$200,000 per outlet.

Cloud 9 aims to be able to list in either Taiwan or New York in 2015. Cloud 9 is the group’s first brand. Its parent company, YPX Cayman Holdings, aspires to build a multi-brand, multi-concept group of casual F & B chains in China. If their Midas touch continues, this would no doubt become a reality.

The lament that there is a dearth of home-grown entrepreneur can take some comfort in the likes of Chris Tay. Perhaps their success stories would be an inspiration to budding business owners out there and fuel a wave of entrepreneurship. Seeing Chris’s tenacity, one can’t help but makes you root for a fellow Singaporean. I look forward to “swallowing” more “clouds” in China in the near future.

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Rebirth of an old Shanghai icon

The history buff in me is intrigued by the recent rebirth of an old Shanghai icon – Shanghai Vive. Banking on the glamour of old Shanghai, the great grandson of the late Chinese President, Chiang Kai Shek; Demos Chiang is reviving this cosmetic brand of choice of the society ladies of 1930’s Shanghai.


Shanghai Vive or literally, “Two Sisters” (双妹, pronounced as “Shuang Mei”) in Chinese, is vowing successful ladies in their mid-30’s with its retro chic and clean cut contemporary look.  Set in the equally legendary Peace Hotel, Shanghai Vive is making a comeback after an absence of half a century.


No expenses have been spared on its re-launch.  French creative firm Cent Degres, was commissioned to design its product packaging and stores.  Demos’ firm, DEM, is responsible for its restructuring and marketing strategy.  Infusing the spirit of the swinging 1930’s with a modern feel, the logo bearing the “Two Sisters” has been updated with a streamlined look.  Its sleek perfume bottle is designed to resemble a lady in a long dress, wrapped with a fur stole.  Complete with an old-fashioned atomizer pump, this perfume bottle is vintage at heart with a contemporary beat.


Born in 1898, this century old brand first gained international recognition when it won the gold medal at the 1915 Panama World Expo for its “Radiance Restorative Cream.”  Following that, it slowly expanded toParis and even gained a small but loyal following there.  And this was at a time when big and successful brands like Shalimar, Mitsouko (Guerlain) and the iconic Chanel No. 5 were all the rage then.  No small feat for a small, China-made brand.


The rejuvenated Shanghai Vive has added jewellery and accessories to its line besides its staple of cosmetics and skincare products.  Drawing on its heritage and expertise in cosmetology, Shanghai Vive has modernized its 100 year-old beauty formula to incorporate cutting-edge technology. Instilling the essence of East and West, Shanghai Vive’s jewellery design brings out the best of both worlds, with a quintessentially Asian spirit.


State-owned chemical consortium, Shanghai Jahwa Group (which owns the brand) plans to spread the magic of Shanghai Vive across Shanghai with more than 20 branches in the next 2 to 3 years.  It is confident that the brand would be profitable in 7 years’ time.


Having successfully revitalized another old Shanghainese brand, Herborist, Shanghai Jahwa is lending its Midas touch to Shanghai Vive.  With is smart positioning and slick marketing, Shanghai Jahwa is just the company to breathe new life into Shanghai Vive.


However, sceptics are unsure if Chinese consumers would bite given its high price.  Unlike the mid-priced Herborist, Shanghai Vive is marketed as a high-end luxury good.  Price-wise, it is competing head-on with well-known foreign players.  At RMB $1,000 per bottle of 50ml perfume, this places it in the league of Chanel and Dior.  In fact, these established brands cost even less, at between RMB $500-900 per bottle. So, is Shanghai Vive pricing itself out?


Price aside, brand worshipping Chinese consumers typically turn their nose up at local Mainland products, preferring well-known foreign brands.  It would be a real challenge to get them to pay a premium for a Chinese brand.


Are chic design, sleek packaging and smart marketing enough to convince the well-heeled 30-something ladies to part with their money?  This is a group that cares for the quality of their beauty products more than brand stories.  Perhaps Shanghai Vive should rev up the marketing of what’s in their secret formula, making it a must-buy for the ladies.


While it would take more than nostalgia to sell to the Chinese, the romance of 1930’s old Shanghai has great appeal to Westerners.  Retro chic is hip and there is a genuine appreciation of quality Chinese products in the West.  So, perhaps Shanghai Jahwa should consider opening a branch in USA and Europe as well?


Whether Shanghai Vive eventually endears itself to Chinese or Western consumers, it is heartening to see an old Shanghai icon being given a new lease of life.  Trying to make its mark among the big boys of international luxury brands, makes you want to root for its success.  Somehow, you wish to see it return to its former glory and be the darling of high society ladies again.

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Wish These Could Be On My Wrist

These watches have always appealed to me and I wonder when they would end up on my wrist, if ever. Though Christmas is still 3 months away and Halloween is not even over yet, but I guess it’s never too early to start wishing. Santa, are you listening?


Cartier Tank Francaise Watch

When I first set eyes on the Cartier Tank Francaise Watch, I fell in love with it immediately. Its clean-cut lines, cool steel bracelet and square face reflect minimalist chic at its best. This 1917 creation has an androgynous look and exudes quiet strength without being overtly masculine. Inspired by American forces’ Renault tanks in World War I, the watch is modelled after these war machines; with its lines and proportions mirroring them. Its brushed and polished steel strap attaches seamlessly to a thin curved steel case including an ingenious hidden deployment clasp. This is one versatile watch that could bring you from the boardroom to a dinner party.


Hublot Classic

Hublot Classic appeals to my love of all things unique. With its matte and polished steel case and rubber strap, Hublot is simplicity crystallized. Its signature rubber strap specially designed to be corrosion, abrasion and sweat resistant as well as flexible and water-proof sealed its one of a kind stature. The twelve steel screws around the bezel serve as hour makers and give it attitude. This porthole theme watch has an irresistible rugged appeal with an understated urbaneness. Hublot is your everyday watch with lots of character.


Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso

Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Reverso caught my eye with its iconic reversible watch. Encased in classical Art Deco design with its linear symmetry, Reverso embodies Jaeger-LeCoultre’s spirit of invention, superb craftsmanship, meticulous precision and heritage. Specially commissioned for the British officers stationed inIndiain 1931, this horological masterpiece is designed to withstand the hard knocks of a polo game. Its swivel system allows the watch to turn 180 degrees within the case, protecting the watch during a game. Oozing the glamour of 1930’s, this timeless watch fuses technical mastery, functionality and aesthetics effortlessly.

 Rado Ceramica

Rado’s distillation of purity of lines captured my heart. Its sleek, slinky bracelet slips on like a second skin. This futuristic look is befitting of its philosophy of synthesising innovative design with cutting-edge, pioneering technology. The use of scratch-resistant materials is one of the hallmarks of a Rado watch. Hard metal, high-tech ceramic that is skin-friendly and a high-tech diamond born by transforming carbon into a Nano crystalline diamond with a Vickers hardness number of 10,000 are just some of Rado’s long line of magical creations. Rado draws the individualistic in me and fascinates the dreamer within. It is a testimony of turning imagination into reality.


Bertolucci VIR

Sensuous, graceful with streamlined silhouette, without being fussy; Bertolucci VIR is my ideal dress watch. In fact, this is as dressy as it gets for me. Its round shaped links on the bracelet echo the founder, Remo Bertolucci’s enthralment with pebbles on the Mediterranean shores of his childhood. The polished finish resembling the smoothness of pebbles having been caressed by the infinite waves of the sea.  The softness of the curves lends it a feminine touch, while its Italian sharpness ensures it is elegant with an edge. Epitomizing the love story of the founder, Bertolucci VIR is a union of Italian’s innate sense of style and flair for design with Swiss’s precision, craftsmanship and reliability.

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These Arms are for your Hair

His macho looks and muscled arm makes him seem more at home at a construction site than a hair salon. But that’s exactly where I met him. In fact, he is a hairdresser. I was surprised and intrigued at the same time. I would have to wait to find out more though.

When I stepped into this family-run, neighbourhood hair salon, I was expecting middle-age aunties to serve me. Granted there were two such aunties but they were cashiers and managers, not hair-dressers. The men are the hair-stylists here.

I arrived at the salon at 11pm but it was still doing thriving business, like many hair salons inGuangzhouand mainlandChina. I requested for a hair wash and was promptly whisked upstairs by a young girl. As I settled into the reclining seat at the wash area, a young man in his twenties came bounding up the stairs. He had thought it was his turn to do my hair. When he realized the girl had volunteered for it, he beamed and exclaimed, “You’re the best!” before disappearing again.

The girl who washed my hair was an eighteen year-old vivacious teenager, chatty and attentive at the same time. While washing my hair, she asked if the water temperature and pressure exerted was to my liking. She then commented that I was very tall and has such long neck. She sounded like a junior at high school, admiring a senior dreamily. How could I not be flattered? “But you’re very thin! “Well, yes, in fact, too thin,” I said. “How I wish I could transfer some of my flesh to you, “she sighed. “I wish you could too. That would be the perfect solution, isn’t it?” I chuckled. And I meant it. I am desperately trying to put on weight but without success. “Do you always knock off this late?” “Sometimes, but today I went shopping.”  (Yes, I was pretending to be a native. So far I had been convincing enough thanks to my pseudoGuangzhouaccent.)

After the initial chat, perhaps sensing that I wanted to relax, she let me escape to my land of fantasy. Leaving her to work her way through my scalp, I entered into a state of bliss. At that moment, I really understood why a visit to a hair salon could help one de-stress.

When she was done, I was ushered downstairs. While waiting for my turn, I observed the macho hairdresser patiently sculpt the hair of a lady, his sinewy arms guiding the hair with grace. His was definitely a masculine kind of grace unlike the usual effeminate gentleness of gay hairdressers. I wonder how he ended up being a hairdresser. Of course, his manly ways and muscular physique does not mean he’s not gay either. I guess we’re basically used to the effeminate type of gay hair stylist found in salons. The rest are straight men who are almost never muscular and not very good stylist either. Somehow this is more or less true anywhere in the world. That’s what makes this hair stylist’s combination so unique.

Understandably, I perked up my ears to listen in on his conversation. While advising his customer on what to do with her hair for the following day, he was chatting with the two aunties in the shop at the same time. They commented on how dirty his suitcase was and he told them he had made it grubby on purpose so as not to attract the attention of potential thieves. They chuckled uncontrollably at this. I couldn’t suppress a smile either.

“Hey, the konnyaku jelly you bought fromHong Kongtaste superb! The ones over here in MainlandChinajust aren’t as nice.”

“Have more then.”

“Join us for supper later on. We’ve got something to discuss with you. …Oh, but you’ve got that suitcase of yours…inconvenient, I know.”

“It’s OK. I can leave the suitcase here and collect it tomorrow.”

That piqued my curiosity, I wondered what they were going to discuss after they close for the night. Plans to renovate the shop or how to improve business or personal matters? My imagination ran wild too. Somehow the informal Cantonese expression for ‘discuss’, ‘jum’, has an air of conspiracy surrounding it.

When he finally moved on to serve me, he greeted me and got on with the job. We didn’t end up chatting much, so couldn’t find out more about him. I had let nature take its course instead of trying to force a conversation. So, I turned to observation instead.

He blew dry and styled my hair with both sensitivity and a briskness that indicated practicality. His was the manly type of sensitivity, very much different from a gay man’s sensitivity. After my hair was blown till it was half dried, he took out the de rigueur round brush from his kit and carefully wrapped my hair around the contour of the brush before styling it; giving my hair that lift which one only gets at the hair salon. In fact, he did a much better job than the young hairstylist from a bigger, chain salon the night before. His experience shone through in his deft hands and seemingly effortless styling. His muscled arm, toiled away with an artist’s grace.

Further away, the young girl who had washed my hair earlier on was now having her hair washed by another girl, who seemed a year or two older than her. They were fooling around and in the excitement; the girl washing the hair had accidentally splashed water onto the younger girl. She quickly proffered an apology in surprisingly, English, instead of her native Cantonese; “Oh, I’m so sorry!” to the squeals’ of laughter from the ‘victim.’ I wasn’t sure if she was laughing at her deliberate attempt to speak in English or was secretly delighted at having water squirted onto her. In any case, they both looked like they were having fun. I, as a spectator, enjoyed the scene too. And this is something which I would definitely not have witness at a chain salon. And mind you, a wash and blow here cost half the price of those at a chain salon. You can be sure I’ll be back the next time I visitGuangzhou. Meanwhile, I’ll keep guessing what they had discussed that night after calling it a day.

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I am a sandal queen


I simply love sandals! To me, it is an uninhibited way of looking good. Take your pick on the look that you wish to achieve – elegant, professional, sexy, sporty, cool, funky, playful, cute, goofy, adventurous and feminine.

My mum doesn’t understand why I’m always in sandals instead of a pair of warm, snug and to her, comfortable and safe, shoes. (Yes, exposed toes are dangerous to her!) My feet are as free-spirited as its owner, they like the liberty that sandals afford them. My toes need the space to wriggle and breath, they feel suffocated in the confines of shoes.  This is especially so in pumps, where they would be tightly pressed together into an uncomfortable mould.

Freedom aside there is something special about the sandal – it is light, sexy, sensual, airy, easy-to-slip-on, versatile, fun, cheerful and simply irresistible! Who needs stuffy shoes when you can have pretty dress sandals?

Naturally, I have different sandals to suit different occasions – smart ones for work, casual ones for the beach, summery ones with sundresses, sexy ones for that LBD (little black dress), sporty ones for those brisk walk – well, you name it.

My all-time favourite is the slide sandal as it is the most versatile of all. An open-toed and back footwear with a strap across its top, a slide can be casual or dressy depending on the design. Make it higher with heels; add a little embellishment and you have a dress sandal fit for the evening or even for your own wedding. Smart, leather slide in black or other basic colours works for the office. A simple, low-heeled one would bring you from a girl’s day out shopping to a casual date. Best of all, you can just slide your feet in! And there are no straps at the back to cause painful blisters. Fuss-free and they bring you from the boardwalk to the boardroom.

Thongs are my next best friend. With a very open upper part except for the Y-shaped strap that separates the big toe from the second toe; thongs are comfortable, casual and sexy. Best paired with summer sundresses and smart casual attire, they jazz up any outfit. Floral pin with kitten heels perks up a sundress or a long skirt. Gem or stud embellishments or leather sandals are great with jeans or khaki coloured pants. Thongs are great for travelling too. They afford comfort without looking sloppy. 


For the ultimate comfort, nothing beats the humble flip-flops. Known by a multitude of different names, from ‘jandals’ to ‘pluggers’ to ‘toesies’ to ‘slip slaps’ to ‘zori’;  flip-flops is the original thong sandal in its ‘primitive’ form – flat rubber sandals with a band that separates the big toe and other toes. Slip them on when you venture to the neighbourhood shops or chill out at the beach. With the popularity of Havaianas flip-flops, it is now cool to wear it everywhere. Many have worn this trendy footwear for shopping and even to casual parties. I always bring a pair along for my travels too. You could walk for miles in them and let your tired feet stay happy.

When you can look that good in a sandal, you wonder why did anyone needed shoes in the first place. :p

Without being coop up in shoes, you feel as though you can dance your way to the top in a sandal. And you can. 🙂

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