The tug-of-words between wallpaper and paint

Making the choice between wallpaper and paint has always been a challenge for home owners. Talk to an interior designer and they too may give you different opinions according to their personal bias. The ultimate decision will have to be yours.

To those who have been staying abroad for study or work in the West, they are likely to be exposed to living in accommodation where there is a wider usage of wallpaper. Wallpaper has been the choice of many owners of homes, hotels and offices in Europe and the US.

One key consideration must be the humidity of the environment besides your budget. If you are thinking of wallpapering your interior, bathrooms and kitchens are not ideal places as the wallpaper will peel away. Bedrooms, dining and living rooms are better choices.

Next you should know about the pros and cons of using wallpaper and paint. The choice of designs, colours and patterns in wallpaper is almost unlimited from floral to polka dots and even landscapes. With wallpaper designs, you may even create illusions. More than that, if there are unsightly or stubborn stains on the wall, you can hide the imperfections with wallpaper. It is not only convenient but it can also be affordable because you do not need to spend on priming and smoothing out the wall. You can make a surface look like wood or even bricks simply with wallpaper.

The setback with wallpaper is that it can be difficult to clean and maintain. Young children are inclined to scribble on the wallpaper thinking that it is material for drawing. Wallpapers do stain easily. And, if the wallpaper is exposed to sunlight in our tropical climate, the colours will fade. However, if applied correctly and left in a conducive environment, wallpaper can outlast a paint job.

Paint on the other hand is easier to maintain. Most dirt and stains can be wiped off, or you may even touch up the spots by repainting. A paint work can last for a few years. In today’s market, there is a wide choice of colours to suit your taste. The more creative and skilful painters may try decorating the wall with painting techniques, making a surface look like wood or marble.

Some may want to try colour washing which gives a soft, gently textured surface. This is done by brushing one or two thin successive washes of diluted paint over a smooth basecoat. Another technique is dragging. By pulling or dragging a dry brush over a coast of wet paint, you create a grainy effect. However, you need to ensure that the lines are continuous. You should be warned that doing a whole wall can be tedious, so perhaps you would want to get a professional to do it for you.

Another option is ragging which can be done by dabbing a rag into paint, and then dabbing it on the wall. Alternatively, you can do ragging off whereby you brush paint on the wall, and then remove some of it with a rag. You can’t use any old rag to do this. The rag to use is “chamois”. Chamois leather is a type of porous leather that is favored for its gentle, non-abrasive composition and absorption properties. Squeeze the chamois leather from time to time, changing to a new piece if necessary. If it has soaked up too much paint, it will make drips on the wall.

The con for paint is that it is not able to offer the designs that wallpaper can do. Yes, you can use stencils to paint designs, but the outcome will not be as flawless as those in wallpapers.

Hopefully this helps you to make a choice between wallpaper and paint. A noteworthy point is even after you have decided, weeks later you are likely to ponder and question; what if you had taken the other option… to paint instead of wallpaper or vice versa!

– This article first appeared in a lifestyle magazine

Blessings in Green

With at least three large parks in the vicinity of the residential estates, filled with floral and foliage, Bishan-Toa Payoh is certainly one of the greenest and most scenic estates in Singapore. Each morning, the faint fragrance of flowers adorn pure fresh air, while birds frolic amongst the trees and bushes. How wonderful it must be to open the windows daily to a pleasurable sight of fluffy white clouds, green acres of grass and even the red morning sunrise if you’re an early riser!

Yet these days, people are too hectic and busy to appreciate the goodness of nature right at our window sills. Slow down, give your senses a break and appreciate the floral and fauna in your midst. The trees and parks in our estates give us so much that we take for granted. Nature is not just aesthetically pleasing, but also has many benefits on your physical and emotional well-being!

Increase oxygen levels

Oxygen is vital to mankind. It is crucial for survival, and shortage in oxygen can lead to a variety of respiratory and allergy problems.

Most green plants photosynthesise in the day, a process whereby plants make food by taking in carbon dioxide (the air we breathe out) and producing oxygen. More fresh air for every one! This is also one of the main reasons why water plants are grown in ponds. If the pond is in an open area with sufficient exposure to the sun, these water plants photosynthesize, keeping the population of fish and other water creatures in the pond alive and well, and in turn, preventing the water from stagnating and becoming a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
Plants increase negative ions in our environment, which is beneficial for health. The air we breathe is largely made up of negative ions and positive ions. If the amount of positive ions surpass the negative ions, we will have less oxygen. The quickest way to set this right would be to install some plants in the house and around the environment.

A study from Reading University can ascertain to this. School children were discovered to perform better in exams when potted plants were placed in the classrooms. Hardly surprising, considering that oxygen makes your brain more alert.

Improve air quality

Popular tourists in Malaysia among Singaporeans are Genting and Cameron Highlands. Those who have been up there are always saying, “The air there feels so much fresher!” Well, they weren’t lying about that.

The air in those areas is fresher not because they have high altitudes, but because nature is in abundance.

Plants reduce levels of certain pollutants like Benzene and Nitrogen Oxide that are found in the air. Benzene is often found in tobacco smoke or second-hand smoke, while nitrogen oxide is released during combustion. Nitrogen oxide is known to aggravate asthma. In the long run, this gas, when mixed into the ozone, becomes a component of acid rain.

Natural air-conditioner

In an open air car park, it is advisable to park vehicles in the shade of a tree wherever possible to prevent overheating of the car surfaces and engine. When the weather is hot, standing under a tree gives much relief from the heat as the air feels much cooler. Why is this so? Trees have the ability to lower the temperatures of the surroundings because leaves absorb light energy from the sun to photosynthesize.

Natural noise buffer

Leaves absorb, diffract and reflect background noises. A well placed tree alongside other plants and shrubs can reduce noise levels by five to ten decibels. That is about 50% of regular background noise levels!

In noisy areas where sound frequency is high, the leaves are able to absorb these high frequency sound waves as well. Rows of trees are always planted along expressways to reduce noise from the traffic.

The Sin Ming golf course and Bishan Hai Bin U Enterprise Prawn Fishing in Bishan bubble with life on weekends, but residents in the nearby HDB estates are unaffected by the chatter and laughter. This is because these areas hold an abundance of trees that form an effective noise buffer.

Nature relaxes your tensed body and mind

Having plants at home or in the office makes a person feel more at ease. A stroll through a garden or park is just the right prescription to a hectic week.

The colour green is very soothing on the senses. Optometrists often advise people who have to work in front of computers for long periods of time to take half-hour breaks to look at greenery for at least five to ten minutes. Compared to eye drops, it is a free and natural way to relieve your tired eye muscles.

Nature spices up your life

Nature is Earth’s masterpiece. Exotic flowers of varying colours and physical forms are exciting subjects against a calming canvas of green and brown trees and leaves. Nature is attractive, evident from how the newly constructed Gardens By The Bay has earned itself the wow factor from tourists and locals who have visited it.

Do you get a trill of delight when you watch the funny antics of your pets or strays? Don’t you marvel about how some plants can bend in strange angles or move when you touch them? Nature draws us away from the mundane affairs of city life and gives us a paradise that was ours to begin with, if only we learnt how to appreciate and protect it.

Bring nature back into your life. Place potted plants in your homes and offices, and bask in satisfaction as you watch them bloom under your care. Go for regular walks around your estate and in the parks. You will find that life isn’t all about a rat race.

– This article first appeared in a lifestyle magazine

Hosting affordable parties

Parties… what’s the year-end without one? These gatherings have become part and parcel of New Year traditions across many nations and cultures, that to end your year without one is akin to leaving something important behind as you march on into the new year.

If you’ve landed the duty of hosting a party, the onus is on you to ensure that your guests enjoy meaningful time. In times of inflation, hosting a party may be more of a burden than an honour. When you consider the cost of venue rental, providing food, beverage and entertainment, and small token gifts, a huge bill seems inevitable.

Fortunately, contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a lot of money or resources to get your party grooving.

Getting a suitable venue

When hosting an intimate gathering of close friends and family, someone’s house should do. However, if you’re expecting a large group of people over, never underestimate the constraints of a small venue. It is advisable to hire a large venue, or the lack of space and activities will bring your party to a premature end.

One of the best ways to save money is to rope in some co-hosts. Get close friends and family involved and have everyone contribute to covering overhead costs. This is particularly effective for large extended family reunions, where you can ask each family pitch in to rent larger and more expensive venues.

If necessary, offer incentives like priority to choose items for the programme or the right to design game forfeits. Don’t forget to ensure that arrangements on how the resources are split are amicably agreed upon before the party. If some people fail to keep up the end of their bargain, you may have to bear unforeseen expenses.

If time is on your side, take some time to shop around for a good venue. Search online or ask around for more choices. Consider public facilities as these are usually more affordable, such as void decks, beaches, parks and community centres. Many of these places require a permit and fees to host large gatherings of people, so do remember to do the relevant paper work in advance. If you intend to party late into the night, bear in mind that public facilities tend to be closed off earlier in view of public interest.

Feeding the guests

Food and beverage rank among the costliest aspects of a party, more so if alcoholic drinks are expected. You can organise a potluck where everyone brings a dish, and the generous alcohol lovers can bring their bottles. To ensure variety, ask your guests to inform you about the food they will bring. Better yet, make up a list of preferred items items, allowing early birds to get first dips on what they would like to bring. Don’t forget to cater to special requirements from your guests, such as providing vegetarian and halal food.
If you prefer to do it yourself, think simple. Go with finger foods like sandwiches, chicken wings, nuggets, sausages etc. Supermarkets these days stock a wide variety of tasty finger foods that require minimal preparations. Large bottles of soft drinks and fruit drinks are also comparatively cheaper than packet drinks.
Do have disposable cutlery and napkins, which you can buy in bulk for cheap from stores specialising in party supplies.

Fun and cheap activities for the masses
Movie marathons on the telly, console gaming, board games and card games are all-time favourites at indoor parties. For more interactive games that will accommodate larger groups of people, get inspiration from game shows, especially those from Taiwan, Japan and Korea which are popular for their wacky and comedic games, usually requiring no or minimal props. For outdoor parties, a beach ball will suffice to inspire lots of sporting activities. Youtube is a great resource for some of the newest and trendiest games around.

Souvenirs
Door gifts may not be a custom followed by all, but if you’re hoping to let your guests bring home a little something for fond memories, this can be a pricey expense.
Instead of purchasing gifts, you can get your guests together for a craft making session, which doubles as a meaningful activity where they can make a memento for themselves.
If you have a good camera, what better gift can you offer than to capture their best moments? Take photos or videos of your guests and send the visuals to them, putting a smile on their face as the recollections return. For those with Polaroid cameras or photo printer, you can even print the photos on the spot for your guests to take home.

Decorations
Decorations, albeit fun to have, are aimed at delighting children for the most part and can be done away with, considering that they are often the most time-consuming part of organising a party.

If decorations are important to you, you can get them for cheap at various party supply stores in Singapore, where you will also find other essential supplies like cutlery and game equipment. Bugis, Middle Road, Tekka Mall and Rochor Centre are some examples of places specialising in wholesale party ware. Daiso, where most items are $2, has a nice selection of party supplies and even household wares for decorating confectionery products.

Anyone can have fun hosting a successful and affordable party. You just have to use exercise imagination, work within your means, and be willing to accept help from others.

– This article first appeared in a lifestyle magazine as a New Year’s Day special

Interesting Year-End Traditions Around the World

Most of us are accustomed to the usual activities like writing resolutions, watching fireworks, attending countdown parties, having reunions and the like. Want to do something novel for a memorable beginning? Get inspired by what other countries and cities are doing to ring in the New Year!

Every culture has its quirks, which makes the world such an interesting place! Regardless of the different ways we all celebrate New Year, good luck and aspirations for a good year ahead form the basis of many New Year practices.

The idiom goes, “Clothes make the man”, and some believe they make the lucky man. South Americans believe wearing brightly coloured underwear past midnight helps to attract good luck for the coming year. Red underwear is recommended for those who want luck in relationships. Planning to buy Toto or 4D in the New Year? Then yellow is your choice as it attracts wealth!

For a cute and youthful outfit, go for polka dots. In the Philippines, polka dotted clothes are in fashion over the New Year. It is believed that due to their likeness in shape to coins, doing so associates one with wealth. The Filipinos even make the effort to choose round food and fruits for the dining table on this special occasion.

Indeed, food is a significant aspect of New Year traditions, and some cultures consume specific food and even device specific ways to eat them! At the stroke of midnight, the Spanish eat 12 grapes, one for each month, to symbolise good luck for the 12 months ahead. The Peruvians have a similar practice, but they eat a 13th grape to seal in the good luck.

The Norwegians and Greeks have gone one step further to turn their dining experience into a treasure hunt. In Norway, a whole almond is hidden in a rice pudding. The lucky person who gets the portion with the almond can expect a full wallet in the coming year. Meanwhile, Vasilopita, or New Year’s Bread, is cut and served at midnight in Greece. This bread is baked with a coin or charm hidden inside. Whoever receives the coin will be lucky throughout the year.

It is common knowledge that the Chinese light firecrackers to ward off evil and bad luck with noise and fire during Chinese New Year. Do you know that cultures in the West have similar practices? In a Midnight Cacophony, towns and cities come alive with sounds from sirens, car horns, party horns, church bells, drums, even utensils like pots and pans banging against each other. Once it starts up, any one is welcome to join in the din to chase away the devil. For comparable reasons, the Japanese laugh heartily after the bells toll at midnight.

A noisy and destructive New Year tradition in Denmark is the throwing of breakable crockery at friends’ doors. While this may sound horrific, the household with the largest amount of broken crockery to clear up is actually the luckiest as it suggests that they have many friends.

Prefer a peaceful New Year? Some Germans tune in to the British show “Dinner for One” at midnight, every New Year without fail. This practice has been carried out since 1972, and though its origin is unknown, the Germans do enjoy watching it, and that’s all it matters. Do you have an all-time favourite movie? Pop it in the DVD player every New Year and make it your tradition!

Making resolutions is a staple of New Year, but so many “I want to”s go unfulfilled that it is perhaps more meaningful to reflect on the faults and problems to be rid of. In Colombia, it is a popular tradition to make a dummy out of bits of old clothing belonging to each member of the household, stuffed with straw and firecrackers. Each person then writes down a fault or bad luck that they want to get rid of on a piece of paper. At midnight, the paper and the dummy are set on fire and burnt to ashes, symbolising the removal of troubles from the old year.

If you’re a tall, dark-haired and handsome man, make your friends’ New Year by visiting them with a gift. According to the Scottish belief of “First footing”, the first person who walks through your door on New Year’s Day sets the tone for the rest of the year, and several cultures believe that the best person to do so is as above. Whether this is true remains to be seen, but certainly, few people would say “no” to a looker or a gift!

There are so many more unique traditions in this whole wide world to learn about! If you plan to see more of the world in the coming year, carry a suitcase around the house at midnight. Some South Americans believe this will fulfil hopes of travelling. Carrying the suitcase for longer distances outside the house ensures that one gets to go greater distances.

Over the years, many of these traditions and superstitions have been traded, adapted and modified, intentionally or subconsciously. Now, most of them are just for fun and laughter. Whichever traditions you decide to adopt, bear in mind that New Year celebrations are all about having a good time, so be sure not to upset people around you in the process!

– This article first appeared in a lifestyle magazine as a New Year’s Day special