Autumn Around the World and in Singapore

If Spring is the season for blossoms to shine, then Autumn is the time for the leaves to take centre-stage.

Despite its frequent association with melancholy, Autumn brings about resplendent foliages in bursts of scarlet, amber and gold in various parts of the world, notably North America, East Asia, Europe and some parts of Australia. Especially in Eastern Canada and New England, the beauty of the autumnal foliage is so renowned that they become major sources of tourism in the Autumn months.

Elizabeth Lawrence, a distinguished author and gardener, famously said, “Even if something is left undone, everyone must take time to sit still and watch the leaves turn.”

Taking a leaf out of her book, there are some who specially travel to places where foliage turns colour to view and photograph the scenery. They are informally referred to as “leaf peeper”, while the term “leaf peeping” is used to refer to this activity.

If you travel during Autumn, do consider leaf peeping in your travel itinerary. It is a relaxing and visually-stimulating activity that brings one closer to Nature.

Temperatures and time frame for the “turning of foliage” seasons vary based on the specific region you are visiting and global climate influences each year. Be sure to visit www.weather.com or the country’s tourism website for the status of fall foliage or risk being disappointed.

Autumn in Singapore

In Singapore we may not have the four seasons, but certainly we too, have our own romance with Autumn. For us, this is hailed as the season of the harvest, when we reap what we planted in the spring. Where we may be lacking in the carpet of brown and red leaves, we are compensated with the multitude of coloured lights against the night sky to mark the Mid-Autumn Festival.

In the weeks that run up to the festival, which falls on 19 September this year, traditional paper and animal-shaped lanterns, festival lights and vibrant stage performances, along with mooncakes and goodies unique to this festival, contribute a different flavour to the usual melancholy of Autumn.

To immerse oneself in the Mid-Autumn atmosphere, it is imperative to head to Chinatown for the Chinatown Mid-Autumn Festival, a month-long event organised by Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng Citizens’ Consultative Committee each year. This year’s event takes place from 2 to 30 September.

Activities usually include a festival carnival where one can buy festive goodies and mooncakes in a generous variety of flavours, handicrafts and souvenirs unique to the festival, stage shows featuring Chinese cultural performances, folk songs, lantern riddles, song, music and dance performances by local entertainers and troupes from China, and street light-ups. On some days, there will be special competitions and parades. The most exciting item is usually the Opening Ceremony which features performances and fireworks. It also marks the start of the street light-up where visitors get to witness the festive lights illuminate the black sky for the first time.

Elsewhere at Chinese Garden and Singapore River, there are special themed displays often of elaborately designed electric lanterns featuring icons of famous Chinese mythologies. These enchanting and educational displays are favourites among photographers and children.

Many shopping malls, places of interest and organisations will have their own Mid-Autumn festive decorations and events. Be sure to check those out as well to indulge in a fulfilling Autumn!

– This article first appeared in a lifestyle magazine

Yes! You can live a longer, healthier life!

As part of a permanent effort to promote a healthy and fruitful lifestyle for the elderly residents in Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, the Town Council will be bringing in new fitness equipment and instructors complete with a comprehensive exercise regime in the near future. These will be tailor-made to suit the abilities and pace of senior citizens, so that they will feel comfortable, safe and encouraged to exercise regularly.

Exercise for a better silver age

It is a common misconception to use old age as an excuse to avoid exercise or physical activity. Lack of strength, tiredness, stiff and painful joints, brittle bones, fear of falling are common reasons senior citizens give. Unbeknownst to them, not staying active cause these problems to worsen.

Exercise is the very solution that helps to improve these problems. Exercise helps to improve balance and coordination of limbs, thus reducing the danger of falling down. Some forms of exercise help with strength training, improving the ability to partake in more fun activities with less strain, such as carrying the grandchildren or gardening. Strength training also brings relief to conditions like arthritis.

Indeed, exercise can help to delay the onset of chronic diseases, or reduce the impact of it. Regular exercise leads to a stronger immune system, a fitter heart, stronger bone density, healthier blood pressure and smoother digestive functioning. According to Helpguide.org, lowered risks of Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, osteoporosis, and colon cancer are among the benefits of exercise.

As one ages, metabolism slows down. This means less calories are burnt for the same activities you perform in your youth, and it can lead to weight gain. Exercise is important to keep you at the healthy end of the weighing scale, or at least prevent you from gaining weight.

That is not all, exercise also aids with mental wellness. Immobility or restricted mobility in old age can be a highly depressing problem. When senior citizens need to rely on others for once-simple activities, they tend to feel as though they are losing their dignity. Not being able to participate in favourite pastimes also contributes to dejection. Exercise improves mobility and in turn, self-reliance and confidence. The process of exercise releases endorphins, which are “feel-good” hormones that make you more cheerful.

Exercise keeps brain functions active, preventing dementia, memory loss and cognitive declination. It also helps you fall asleep more easily. With quality sleep, you will start the day happier and be able to accomplish more.
Using fitness equipment safely

With so many benefits to exercise, there’s simply no reason not to! There are many options out there, but for the majority, including beginners, using the existing fitness equipment around the estate, and participating in community work outs, are particularly beneficial for a variety of reasons: Greater flexibility with the variety of equipment available
– Many low impact options
– No restrictions on number of people. You can go solo or exercise together with any number of friends
– Fitness equipment are usually accompanied by instructions on how to use them
– Can be used as a congregation point and fosters friendship among neighbours
Fitness equipment may look daunting for senior citizens, but they are built to accommodate for the masses. As long as safety precautions are followed, you’ll find them easy and safe to use. The following are some common equipment that are suitable for senior citizens, and how you should use them safely.

 

Elliptical machine

This is a stationary machine that simulates activities like cycling, walking, running, stair climbing etc. It does not cause excessive pressure to the joints and is great for easing stiffness and joint pain.

When mounting the machine, always ensure that you are at ease and not in danger of falling off, before starting your work out. If your feet should be on pedals, make sure they are centred. If you’re to be seated, ensure that your bottom is resting firmly on the seat. The height of your seat or your posture should allow your hands to grip the handlebars comfortably without having to lean forward or put additional stress on your back and shoulders.

Work out at a speed that you are comfortable with. If you are a beginner, start slow and gradually pick up speed as you get used to the motions. Going too fast can cause you to lose your balance, or become breathless. A good speed is one that allows you to still talk while exercising.

 

Rowing machine

This is a machine designed to stimulate the action of rowing a boat. It’s a low impact activity that helps to strengthen and build up muscle mass. When using it, always maintain a straight back. As you will be grabbing the handlebars with your palms and fingers throughout the whole workout, ensure that they are in good shape.

Pull the handlebars towards you in a gradual, controlled movement, with your feet pressing onto the foot pads to straighten your knees. When releasing, also apply a gradual movement while uncurling arms and bending knees.

 

Dumbbells

Dumbbells come in small weight increments, allowing you to take it slow while making improvements to your strength. Stand near a bench or raised surface so that you can set weights down without having to bend or squat down. When picking up weights, be sure to apply the classic safety rule of squatting down to pick up the object instead of bending over.

 

Stretching and Yoga straps

Stretching and maintaining flexibility is important in old age as it relieves aches and stiffness, and helps regulate functions like blood pressure. Sitting down with your legs together, stretched out in front of you and then stretching forwards to reach the tips of your toes is a good way to give your whole body a good stretch. However, it can be challenging for senior citizens, and one may over-stretch and get a nasty cramp.

For a more manageable start, sit with your legs together, stretched out in front of you. Loop the band under the base of your feet, so you can grab both sides of the band, allowing you to stretch as much as you can without the pressure of having to reach your toes.

 

Other general safety tips:
If you have pre-existing health concerns, get medical clearance from your doctor. Enquire about activities you should avoid, and get advice on how to make your work-out safer and more suited for your condition.

Stop if you feel uncomfortable. Exercise should not be painful or make you feel bad. Dizziness, shortness of breath, chest pain, and breaking out in cold sweat are problems that warrant a doctor’s attention. If a joint is red, swollen or feels painful when touched, you should get that looked into as well.

Wear protective gear that provide support for your joints. These are available at the pharmacies at economical prices. Measure the circumferences of your joints so that you can get sizes that fit you well.

Read and listen to instructions, and use the equipment accordingly.

Keep water handy.

Start slow, keep to a regular schedule and increase your pace gradually. Going all out during the initial attempts can cause injuries and put you off exercise.

 

With the above tips in mind, commit to an exercise schedule, and use short-term goals to keep you motivated, such as mood improvement and increasing energy levels. You will soon find yourself eager to make use of your newfound freedom to get moving.

– This article first appeared in a lifestyle magazine

 

Top keepsakes from hot travel destinations

When traveling abroad, we often bring back souvenirs for friends, co-workers and family. This is especially so when they’ve had to cover your responsibilities while you’ve been away. The key is to buy something simple yet unique, preferably unbreakable, so that it won’t be a burden carrying them home.

Here are exotic, unique, representative, meaningful and practical must-buys from all-time popular travel destinations that won’t break your bank!

Prague, Czech Republic

This European nation is famous for its garnets and Bohemian crystals, and many stores in Prague sell them. If you’re stopping by Charles Bridge (and you should as it is a stunning bridge and often touted as one of the top places to visit in Prague), then you can enjoy a wide selection of original crafts by the local craftsmen and artists, including paintings of all sizes, jewellery, puppets and wood carvings. For your alcohol-loving friends, look out for Becherovka, a traditional light, herbal liqueur (which you can try out at any bar in Prague before short listing as a gift). Spa wafers (lázeňské oplatky) are made in the spa towns, and mostly come in a variety of sweet flavours like vanilla, hazelnut and chocolate. You can get them pre-packed in the grocery stores. Opavia is a brand that comes well-recommended.

Istanbul, Turkey

You can’t walk around Istanbul without seeing The Evil Eye, or Nazar Boncugu. The Turks believe it wards off evil presence and thoughts, and they inculcate its design in charms and ornaments for display in homes, offices, cars and shops. Some common forms you can purchase it in includes jewellery, charms, key rings and ceramic ornaments, easily found in most shopping areas including the popular Spice Market and Grand Bazaar. Other recommended gifts include Turkish delight or lokum which is a gel of starch and sugar. Spices, ceramics and copperware from Turkey are also very unique. Turkey is known for top-quality hand-woven carpets and placemats, but it is easy to fall prey to fakes if you lack the expertise.

Rome, Italy

Rome is one of Italy’s top art cities, so what better souvenir to bring back than a piece of art? You will find street artists everywhere, at popular piazzas and tourist attractions like Piazza Navona and Spanish Steps. The watercolour paintings come cheaper than oils, and you should definitely bargain if buying more than a piece. You may also find hand-painted ceramic kitchenware, an Italian tradition.

For more practical gifts, go for dried pasta and amaretti biscotti (Italian almond cookies) for the foodies. Italy is famous for its good quality clothing and leather goods, so if you’re feeling a bit more generous, some scarves, ties, and leather wallets and purses make great souvenirs without weighing down your luggage.

London, United Kingdom

The English are big on tea, and they have some very fine ones. Harrods and Fortnum & Mason have teas packed in beautiful tins that your recipient can keep as a souvenir after drinking. You can also get tea from the markets like Borough’s Market and Coventry Garden, albeit less posh, but you can find out more about the tea from the friendly stall holders and possibly even do some sampling.

The gift shops at the London museums are also interesting places to find enticing souvenirs. Many museums in London are free, and these gift shops are their main source of income, spurring creations of distinctive souvenirs from stationery to antiques to clothing. Depending on the nature of the museum, the general theme varies. The London Transport Museum shop for example, has a Christmas bauble in the appearance of a London taxi while the British Museum has rubber duckies designed with the headwear of a Roman soldier or Egyptian sphinx.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong is famous for traditional Chinese bakery items like Lao Po Bing, literally translated as “Old Wife Cake”. A few boxes of authentic Lao Po Bing from Hong Kong would be a treat for your colleagues and guests. This delicacy can be easily found all over Hong Kong, but for quality assurance, Kee Wah Bakery and Hang Hueng Bakery, which have branches around Hong Kong, have sound reputations.

For mementos, the popular markets like Temple Street Night market, Stanley market and Jade market are chock-full of interesting knick-knacks. Some items that would make fine souvenirs include traditional paper-cuts, Chinese paintings and calligraphy scrolls, souvenir chop sticks, tea sets and Chinese tea (there are flavours that will be difficult to find in Singapore), and jade accessories from the Jade Market. Jade is a very meaningful gift is thought to protect its wearer. If you plan on investing in good quality jade, do your research so you don’t get scammed.

Bangkok, Thailand

Elephants are cultural and national symbols in Thailand, and chances are, you’ll find many practical, lovely and economical products in all manner, bearing the image of elephants or made in the appearance of an elephant. For something really one-of-a-kind, get a painting made by an elephant, while helping to fund the Elephant Stay programme at Ayutthaya. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is a short train trip from Bangkok.

Thai cuisine is popular in Singapore, making dried Thai spices and vacuum-packed dipping sauces delightful gifts. If you want to look for tshirts and other apparels, you will be spoilt for choice in Bangkok.

Taipei, Taiwan

Taipei, with its bustling street markets filled with food stores, is a food paradise. While it’s regrettable that one can’t bring back most of it, there are pre-packed delicacies that you can easily bring back. In Singapore, most of our braised meat can only be found in variety during Chinese New Year, but in Taipei, you can easily find them any day at the street markets, vacuum-packed for the tourists.

The pineapple cake is an iconic Taipei souvenir, and the good ones are tangy and fibrous with a suitable mix of sweet and sour. Most of them have interesting fusions with other flavours like cranberry, melon and walnut. Famous bakeries include SunnyHills and Chia Te Bakery. If you think its too mainstream, then for novelty’s sake, head to大雕燒A Piece of Gayke in Shilin Night Market for phallic-shaped ones, which are bound to amuse your receivers to no end.

Seoul, South Korea

Dojang, or Korean seals, are perfect for personalised gifts as they are essentially stamps bearing your Korean name, usually written in Hangeul. You can get some made in Insadong, but for more economical options, try the Hongdae Free Market where the stallholders are indie artists who participate just to share their art. Incidentally, this is also a nice place to shop for some creative souvenirs.

With the popularity of Korean beauty products in Singapore, you might also want to consider bringing some back for your friends in Singapore, as they’re really cheap over there. Generic face masks going for a couple of dollars in our local beauty stores are being sold by the carton in Korea with each mask averaging a few cents. Gifting them could help your friends save some money. Korean seaweed is always a safe and healthy choice, available in large varieties of packaging and flavours in the local grocery stores, and very light to bring back.

Bali, Indonesia

Wooden handicrafts are a reflection of the rich culture and heritage of Bali. You won’t go wrong with a hand-crafted wood display piece or accessory. These products are often of good quality, with a smooth and glistening finish. Animals are popular designs for these works of art. Balinese batik is also highly-revered, comfortable on the skin and affordable, which makes batik clothing a thoughtful gift. As batik is manually dyed, this means that no two pieces of fabric will look identical.

If you’re overwhelmed by the wide selection of traditional snacks, Rempeyek is definitely one that you should bring back. A Javanese cracker containing peanut and anchovies, it is a crispy savoury snack that is highly addictive. The Balinese really know their spas, and you can expect to find plenty of body scrubs and aromatherapy products, made from natural ingredients.

Melaka, Malaysia

During the Hari Raya festivals, many Muslims, including Singaporean Muslims, would flock to Melaka for Malay goodies, and little wonder it is for Melaka sells so many of these goodies for cheap. Best of all, they are practically available all year round. Tan Kim Hock Product Centre is a one-stop shop selling food specialities of Melaka such as Dodol (a chewy, sweet cake), belacan, durian cake, coconut cookies and various other snacks that you would be hard-pressed to find in Singapore despite our close proximity.

For cultural mementoes, you can find many traditional artworks and crafts along places like Temple Street, Jonker Street, Jalan Tukang Besi and Heeren Street. Head to Jalan Tokong for bound feet shoes. These are handcrafted shoes worn by women of aristocracy, whose feet are only about 4 inches long due to being bound from a tender age. Despite being a practice that originated from feudal China, it spread to other parts of the world and was deeply rooted among rich and powerful families in Melaka. The story behind the bound feet may be somewhat grotesque, but the shoes are really cute and exquisite.

– This article first appeared in a lifestyle magazine