Iconic Singapore Landmarks

As Singapore gears up to celebrate 50 years of independence in August, my country has never been more beautiful, modern or cohesive. Sadly, on the cusp of our golden jubilee, we also experienced the loss of our founding father Mr Lee Kuan Yew on 23 March. Mr Lee’s death made a shocking impact on our national psyche, with nationwide mourning, snaking overnight queues at his public wake, and a tearful send-off as more than 100,000 people weathered a tropical thunderstorm during his state funeral on Sunday, 29 March.

After unprecedented national mourning however, the rain has stopped and the sky is clear. And instead of grief, we look back in gratitude at our late founding father, and pay tribute to three iconic landmarks that he has helped to shape.

Singapore Changi Airport

Singapore Changi Airport. Picture: changiairport.com

Changi Airport

I love travelling. But no matter how exotic or exhilarating my adventure, the moment of touchdown at Changi airport is always my favourite. The first thing I do is send a message to my family and friends, and it would invariably be the same one – “I am home”. Yes, those words succinctly encompass how I feel about Changi Airport.

It is difficult to explain why even as a global citizen, Changi Airport elicits that kind of response. It could be partly due to the modern architecture, the comfort of being amongst my people, or the tree-lined boulevards that lead the way home.

Mr Wong Yew Kwan, Singapore’s first Commissioner of Parks and Recreation shared that during a 1978 meeting regarding the development of Changi Airport, Mr Lee gave specific orders for the planting of these trees because “when the first plane lands, [he wanted] people to look at planted vegetation, not rank vegetation.” This has certainly contributed to our airport’s famed beauty. That was Mr Lee’s first gift to me.

Singapore Botani Gardens. Picture: Singapore50.sg

Singapore Botanic Gardens. Picture: Singapore50.sg

Singapore Botanic Gardens

I’ve spoken about Mr Lee’s love for nature, and his care for our environment. And this was of course reflected in our City in a Garden. Our roads are lined with Angsana and rain trees, and our urban jungle is speckled with pockets of green – lush verdant parks, gardens and reservoirs.

Of these, my favourite garden has always been the Singapore Botanic Garden, not just for its heritage trees, and diverse fauna, but also because it was one of the favourite dating spots of my parents’ time. In a sense, it provided the seedlings for many of our families to bloom. This was Mr Lee’s second gift to us.

This week, a new orchid hybrid was created by NParks in honour of our ‘chief gardener’. Fondly named Aranda Lee Kuan Yew, it joins Vanda Kwa Geok Choo, the orchid hybrid created in honour of his wife. Both orchids are now an everlasting part of Singapore’s fauna and may be seen at the tribute site at Singapore Botanic Garden.

Singapore River. Picture: Wallpaperist

Singapore River. Picture: Wallpaperist

The Singapore River

My city never sleeps. So even on long pensive nights, it is rarely dark enough to behold the celestial universe. But we have our own stars – the thousand iridescent lights reflected in the Singapore River.

The Singapore River was not always this beautiful. Like many developing countries, it was a trash dump with a particularly pungent stench. How Mr Lee cared for it went beyond the development blueprint. And this is best revealed by an anecdote shared by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat.

“In 2010, Mr Lee was hospitalised… for a chest infection. While he was in the hospital, Mrs Lee passed away. As soon as he could, he left the hospital to attend the wake at Sri Temasek. At the end of the night, he was under doctor’s orders to return to the hospital. But he asked his security team if they could take him to the Singapore River instead. It was late in the night, and Mr Lee was in mourning. His security team hastened to give a bereaved husband a quiet moment to himself.

As Mr Lee walked slowly along the banks of the Singapore River, the way he and Mrs Lee sometimes did when she was still alive, he paused. He beckoned a security officer over. Then he pointed out some trash floating on the river, and asked, “Can you take a photo of that? I’ll tell my PPS what to do about it tomorrow. I can guess that Mr Lee probably had some feedback on keeping the Singapore River clean.”

That was his third gift to us. And even while recovering from an illness, and losing his life partner, his care and dedication for Singapore was steadfast. He continued to ensure that none of the stars that shined in Singapore dimmed even for a fleeting, moment of grief.

May we do the same for him during this time of loss. So that on the eve of our golden jubilee, we may celebrate SG50 and Mr Lee’s contributions with gratitude, not grief. A beautiful new era is dawning in Singapore. In our founding father’s own words: “Look at the horizon, follow that rainbow, go ride it.”


Discover The Wellness Retreat at Capella Singapore

I love exploring the furthest corners of the world.  However, very often, I find myself returning from a vacation feeling like I need another one to recover from the first.  So after all the excitement of New Year, Valentine’s Day and Lunar New Year, I finally decided that it was time to take a quieter sort of vacation.  I checked myself in for Capella Singapore’s new Wellness Retreat.

The retreat began with a private consultation with a dietician, and a wellness dinner at The Knolls.  I was fully expecting ‘rabbit food’, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that beyond a tasteless plate of greens, I was treated to a Thai Beef Salad, Baked Cod Fish with Olive Mozzarella Crust and Homemade Tiramisu – all nutritionist approved.  They tasted delicious, and left me feeling less lethargic than usual.

Baked Cod Fish with Olive Mozzarella Crust

Baked Cod Fish with Olive Mozzarella Crust

Day Two began bright and early at 7:30am with a personal training session with multiple Manhunt Singapore winner, Jovin Koh.  Jovin discussed my fitness abilities and goals with me before putting me through a series of weight resistance and intensive cardio exercises that gently tested my personal limits.

After ‘paying my dues’ at the gym, breakfast and lunch were rare treats. The highlight of the day however must have been the spa session at Auriga Spa.  The herbal steam room, ice foundation, vitality pool and 90-minute Shiatsu massage were uniquely revitalising.

By Day Three, I didn’t even need my alarm clock get up in time for sunrise yoga at 8am.  My body was so well rested that it didn’t scream for more snooze time.  Going through the gentle yoga postures also helped me discover a newfound sense of balance and well-being.

15. Sunrise Yoga

I emerged from the retreat feeling more than five years younger and absolutely radiant.  I also scored useful tips to embark on a lifelong journey towards healthier living. Here are five detox tips I learnt from senior therapists of Auriga Spa Amapola Nazareno and Chang Huang Mei.

GET REAL – Avoid processed food as they are packed with chemicals and preservatives. Pick real and whole food, whenever possible.

DECAF – Avoid drinking too much coffee and black tea – these stimulants dehydrate the body.

REHYDRATE – Drink up to 2 litres of water daily. Keep a bottle on your desk so you won’t forget.

BRUSH UP – Use a body brush in the morning to stimulate lymphatic circulation and drainage.

SUPPLEMENT – Natural supplements can help your body cope with a hectic and stressful lifestyle. Vitamins, antioxidants, probiotics and other superfood sweep away harmful free radicals and flush out toxins to keep your body in tip top condition.

To find out more about Capella Singapore’s Wellness Retreat or making reservations, please dial +65 6591 5000 or email reservations.singapore@capellahotels.com.


An Unforgettable Lunar New Year

Every Lunar New Year’s Eve, if I’m not abroad, you can expect me to be having dinner with my family.  By family, I mean all 23 of them from my 93-year-old grandmother to my 2-year-old niece.  It is something my grandmother insists on—she believes a person who forgets tradition, forgets family.

Like any cosmopolitan city, it’s nothing short of a miracle to get so many people to sit down to dinner together in Singapore.  It requires the expert management of multiple clashing schedules, packed with the million little demands modern life makes.

As you can imagine, arranging an unforgettable dinner for 24 is no simple affair.  So this year, I’ve decided to take a leaf from Executive Chinese Chef Lee Hui Ngai of Cassia, Capella Singapore.

During the 40 years of his culinary career, Chef Lee has charmed diners at top hotels in Beijing, Hong Kong and Singapore, and made Lunar New Year memorable for so many families.  He generously shares his ‘recipe’ for happiness this Lunar New Year.

Executive Chinese Chef Lee Hui Ngai from Cassia

Executive Chinese Chef Lee Hui Ngai from Cassia

What is the most unforgettable Lunar New Year meal you’d recommend?

Chef Lee: One of the top five fish I’ve tried over the past four decades of my culinary career is the Unforgettable Fish.  In Mandarin, it’s called 忘不了鱼, which actually translates to ‘unforgettable fish’.  Once you’ve tried it, you’ll see why.  The first time I savoured this fish was when a guest from China specially requested it.  I took my first bite, and was instantly enraptured.

The Unforgettable Fish

The Unforgettable Fish

Why is this fish so exceptional?

Chef Lee: I could tell you how sweet, succulent, silky and tender it is, but that barely begins to describe it.  The Unforgettable Fish swims against the current, and its scales are unusually crisp when steamed.  Unlike other fish, we tend to steam this fish with its scales intact.

At Capella Singapore, we import the Unforgettable Fish ‘live’ from Sabah, Malaysia when it’s fully-grown and at least 2kg in weight—any smaller, and it loses some of its unique flavour.  As with the best ingredients, there’s no need to do too much with it.  It is best enjoyed lightly steamed, with a glass of white wine or champagne.

Any other dining tips for an unforgettable Lunar New Year?

Chef Lee: Lunar New Year has special significance for Chinese around the world.  We believe it is auspicious to enjoy a beautiful and unforgettable meal to herald an amazing New Year.

Fortune and good luck aside, what really warms my heart is being with my family, and watching their sheer delight in enjoying a meal together.  As a chef, this naturally fills me with a deep sense of pride.  But as a father, husband and son, this gives me a glimpse of true happiness, in all its richness and simplicity.

Cassia's signature Lou Hei

Cassia‘s Signature Lou Hei

If you are planning your own Lunar New Year’s celebrations, be sure to check out Cassia’s Lunar New Year specials here.

#SG50 – Five Reasons To Visit Singapore in 2015

I love travelling.  I am deeply convinced that travel is the only thing money can buy that will make you richer.  Most days, I’m just looking for any plausible excuse to hop onto a plane.  As I grow older, however, I tend to look less abroad, and closer towards home for inspiration.

Singapore is evolving.  Yes, we still retain our quirks and hybrid culture.  Most of us still call any elderly man, especially taxi drivers, “Uncle”.  And we still love durians enough to have durian buffets.  But as a country, we are also rapidly modernising and progressing.  And by “progress”, I mean we are developing a more vibrant art, culture and music scene, and a greater sense of national identity.

Recently, Singapore was listed by CNN as one of the 10 top destinations to visit in 2015, and Lonely Planet elected us as #1 on its Best in Travel 2015 list.

All this couldn’t have come at a better time.  As a born and bred Singaporean, let me share with you five reasons you should visit me at Capella Singapore this year.

2015 Is One Big Party

Party With Us In Singapore

Party With Us In Singapore

New Year’s Eve last month was just the beginning of a year long party.  If you were here, you’d remember how top DJs were flown in from the coolest cities in the world (including DJ Mr. Best for Capella Singapore).  Fireworks also lit the sky everywhere—not just at Sentosa where Capella Singapore is nestled, but even at suburban areas around the island.

This is but a taster of what to expect this year.  In a couple of week, Chinatown will celebrate a special light-up ceremony, with lion dancers prancing around our ‘Lion City’ to cue in Chinese New Year.  After this, you can look forward to holidays such as Vesak Day and Hari Raya Pusa before Singapore officially turns 50 on 9th August.  You can be sure we’ll pull out all the stops for that party.

We Are Committed Foodies

Your taste buds will love Singapore.  Our running list of celebrity chefs includes Joel Robuchon, Tetsuya Wakuda, Jamie Oliver, Wolfgang Puck and Daniel Boulud, to name a few.  And this year, Gordon Ramsay joins the fold.

Our food culture, however, extends way beyond these international culinary stars.  New dining concepts are sprouting out by the minute—including NOX where you dine completely in the dark, and secret bars such as Operation Dagger and The Library with no signage and password requirements for entry.

We are also one of the few countries in the world that truly believes in supper.  If you happen to be hungry at 1am, you won’t have to satiate yourself with cold bites.  You can find piping hot Singaporean food anywhere, including Bak Kut Teh (peppery pork rib soup), Indian food, noodles, oyster omelette…  Here is a list of places.  Supper in Singapore is a unique and bustling experience, and one of the best ways to get a true taste of local culture.

The Art Scene Is Booming

Let’s not talk about the iconic ArtScience Museum, which of course, is a must-visit.  We’ve also got the Gillman Barracks, a colonial army base-turned-contemporary art cluster, and the upcoming National Gallery Singapore, which will house an extensive collection of Southeast Asian and Singaporean art when it opens in mid-2015.

Music is also thriving in Singapore.  If you love seminal music, St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival is just a few days away, and if you prefer jazz, Singapore Jazz Festival is scheduled for early March!

Green Is The New Black

Gardens By The Bay

Gardens By The Bay

Granted, our ‘garden city’ moniker is a bit of a tired cliché for locals.  We are however, embracing the global green movement.  Whether you prefer real food or raw food, you can probably find a quaint café nearby.  You could even saunter into an organic farm such as Bollywood Veggies, and ask for farm-fresh Indian fare.

On cool evenings, we also love to spend time in our little pockets of green.  And being city folks with famously short attention spans, we need to be entertained.  Gardens by the Bay and Singapore Botanic Gardens regularly organise music performances, artists’ workshops, writers’ workshops and seasonal exhibitions.  So pack a picnic basket and some wine, and enjoy round-the-year summer.

Superlative Creature Comforts

From the minute you step into Changi Airport, you’ll sense how obsessed we are with shopping.  In space scarce Singapore, we’ve somehow managed to cramp an incredible number of big name designers into our airport.  In fact, many of us head there for our shopping and dining fix, even when we are not travelling.

That said, I’m sure you’re not in Singapore just to shop at Prada.  We’ve got amazing local designers such as Hansel and Ong Shunmugam as well.  Check out this list.  Other local brands I love include Carrie K, founded by advertising managing director turned artisan jeweller, and Merci Encore, an aromatherapy atelier founded by the former senior beauty editor of Harper’s Bazaar Singapore.

Of course, to end your trip with the ultimate indulgence, you should definitely make Capella Singapore your final pit stop.  As part of SG50, we are launching a decadent 50 fingers massage from mid-2015.  In just 60 minutes, our five dedicated spa therapists will knead out tension and aches you didn’t even know you had.  You’ll emerge feeling utterly renewed and as light as a cloud.


Hey Mr DJ – Get To Know DJ Mr. Best

DJ Mr. Best rounds up 2014 at Capella Singapore's New Year's Eve Countdown Party

DJ Mr. Best rounds up 2014 at Capella Singapore’s New Year’s Eve Countdown Party

I personally believe that there can be no party without good music.  Music is the heartbeat of any party—it breathes life into it, injects new emotions, and brings dissimilar people and diverse worlds together.

Few people understand this better than DJs.  The best DJs jet between cities and style epicentres, bringing the party to people.  Their music is always rich, hypnotic and refreshing.

This week, I had the honour of speaking to Los Angeles-born DJ Mr. Best (Ryan), who has performed at some of the world’s most prestigious parties, including The Academy Awards, The Golden Globes and The Emmys.

Ryan has kept crowds riveted at movie and television premiere events such as Seven Pounds, Salt, Black Swan and Lost, and graced private A-lister parties for Paris Hilton and Lauren Conrad.

After a year of fabulous performances, he will be rounding up 2014 at Capella Singapore’s New Year’s Eve Countdown Party.  I managed to catch him just before his big performance to find out what sort of music gives closure to one amazing year, and launches the next fabulous one.

If you are planning your own year-end parties, this might inspire you as well.

What are your all-time favourite end-of-year songs?

For the most part, these consist of holiday music, along with the biggest tracks of the year. The holiday music I love playing the most is Christmas In Hollis by Run D,M.C., Last Christmas by Wham!, All I Want For Christmas Is You by Mariah Carey, and Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses.

What is currently on your playlist?

The artist Banks is on my playlist. Her music makes me feel that ‘something’.

Which are three of the best musical festivals to look out for in 2015?

I’m looking forward to Coachella (an annual Californian music and art festival in April) and Lollapalooza (an annual music festival in Chicago from end-July). At some point, I’d also want to experience Burning Man (an annual event that takes place in the Nevada desert every August).

What is it like spending New Year’s Eve in Singapore?

The word that describes New Year’s Eve in Singapore is ‘magic’. It’s a magical place that leaves me feeling inspired from its culture and architecture.

What’s in your music line-up for Capella’s New Year’s Eve party?

I’ll be including all the big hits from 2014 and years past. It will be a fun-filled night, and my mission is to make guests smile and dance through to the New Year.

What is your 2015 New Year resolution?

It is to stay hungry.


For more information on Capella’s New Year’s Eve Countdown Party, click here.

Gastronomic Journeys with Reine Sammut

I have always believed that it is impossible to fully enjoy a chocolate éclair without ever being in love, being to Paris, or being in love in Paris.  Food, to me, has always offered the most immediate path to emotions and experiences – whether it conjures up a crisp Spring morning in France, riotous family dinners at home, or warm fuzzy feelings of love.

The best chefs maintain this ongoing ‘conversation’ with you at the dining table.  Like master storytellers, their food tells you about themselves; their personal journeys, joys and heartbreaks; and also trigger your most private memories and intimate experiences.

So it was a rare treat to speak with one-star Michelin chef Reine Sammut before relishing her creations at The Knolls, Capella Singapore, from 13-16 November.  In this short tête-à-tête, the reigning Queen of Hearts talks about meeting her husband, her greatest source of inspiration, and what true love tastes like.

Queen of Hearts Reine Sammut whipping up love

Queen of Hearts Reine Sammut whipping up love

Reine Sammut on Food and Love…

If I weren’t a chef, I would have been a doctor.  I fell in love with cooking when I fell in love with my husband Guy.  I was studying medicine then, but I decided to leave school for him and learn cooking from my mother-in-law Claudette.

My greatest source of inspiration comes from travel and books.  They are my portals to new worlds and perspectives. These experiences help me create food that evokes genuine emotions and create a sense of place.

My favourite comfort food is pasta.  It’s like how some people would dig into a tub of ice cream when they are having a bad day…  I think it’s impossible to have a bad day when you have freshly made pasta.

My favourite ‘cheap thrill’ food is sardine.  They are chockfull of omega-3 fatty acids, and are sustainable and delicious. Even when prepared simply with olive oil and salt, they will win you over with their rich flavour.

An unusual and delicious food I’d recommend is Melokhia.  This popular Middle Eastern soup or stew contains a namesake vegetable, which has a thick, viscous consistency somewhat similar to okra.

One of my favourite French restaurants is La Chassagnette in Arles.  Set in the middle of an organic vegetable garden, this restaurant’s décor and food are irresistibly charming.

If I had to prepare one last meal, it would be bouillabaisse.  This traditional Provencal fish stew contains many kinds of fish, seafood, olive oil, vegetables and herbs. You can taste the freshness of the sea and the garden in every single bite.  We usually make this in a large pot and share it with family and friends, so this dish always makes me feel warm and think of the people I love.

"Calissons” is a Provencal-style iced cream made with almonds

“Calissons” is a Provencal-style iced cream made with almonds

Reine Sammut will be conjuring up culinary magic at CapellaSingapore’s The Knolls from 13-16 November. View her stellar menu HERE.