Singapore zing

Is this the next Crazy Rich Asians?! Expat mum-of-two Stephanie Suga Chen is the author brand new book, Travails of a Trailing Spouse. She tells Carolynne Dear what prompted her to put pen to paper

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Author Stephanie Suga Chen and her new release

So what’s it all about?

The story begins with Sarah, a lawyer in the US, quitting her job and moving to Singapore with her husband and children. They become part of a close-knit group of expatriates, enjoying alcohol-fuelled evenings together. But when cracks appear in this seemingly perfect world, Sarah and her friends discover how complicated life can be.

How long did it take you to write?

The answer usually shocks people! It took me about five weeks – I wrote a chapter a night. I think I just had it all pent up inside me, ready to flow out. Editing, well, that’s a whole other story – I think that took five months.

Have you always been a writer, or is this a shift from a previous career?

It was a complete shift; I left my career in finance when we decided to move to Singapore in 2012. Although one of my goals had been to possibly find a new career for myself, I admit it took longer than I had expected. I spent about four years floundering quite a bit – lots of yoga, lunches and volunteering until I discovered writing.

How was the writing process?

I wrote everywhere – at home, on the MRT, at school waiting for the kids. And I used many different media – laptop, phone, scribbles on a scrap of paper.

How much of the story is autobiographical?

This is everyone’s favourite question. It did start as a memoir, but I found it a lot more fun to fictionalize it. So if you’re wondering, the juicier bits are probably made up. Although I’ve heard many readers say “I know that exact person!”

Why do you think expats often struggle despite their comfortable lifestyles?

Although the novel centres around expat life, the problems that the characters face are not necessarily unique to trailing spouses. I think the journey of self-discovery applies to anyone at a crossroads in life; it just happens to have a more exotic setting – similar to Eat, Pray, Love.

What would you say are the best and the worst bits of being an expat?

For me, I would say the best is having my children experience diversity on a daily basis. The worst is definitely being away from family and friends, although that can sometimes be a good thing, too – being shielded from the stressful, Christmas holiday period is one example that springs to mind.

Any downsides to life in Singapore?

The unyielding heat takes quite a bit of getting used to.

What would be your advice to expats moving to Singapore?

Three things: 1) The fight against mold is real, 2) Enjoy every moment, 3) Read my book!

Do you have any plans for a follow-up novel?

I have several projects in the pipeline, and I’ve already collected dozens of stories for a possible sequel. If you’ve got any of those ‘too crazy to be true’ expat stories, please do send them my way!

Travails of a Trailing Spouse by Stephanie Suga Chen is published by Straits Times Press and is available internationally from stpressbooks.com.sg.

Holiday luxe – at mates rates

 

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Relaxation in Bohol, Philippines, is just a click away

As expats we all have ‘that’ friend, or friends, with a villa in Bali or a farmhouse in France, a ski chalet in Japan or an apartment in a funky European capital. Or maybe we own a holiday house ourselves.

But what happens to these properties when they’re not being used? Home owners could opt for short-term holiday rentals, but with it comes myriad issues such as cleaning, maintenance and just being constantly available to answer queries. Or there’s long-term rental, but that means you never get to use it. Or just leave it empty, which is often not ideal but the best case scenario.

So former Hong Konger Thomas Bennett and colleague Jorge Munoz claim to have come up with a solution. Stay One Degree is a social network for luxury holiday home rentals. The online platform connects homeowners and friends and mutual connections from around the world.

Bennett says the idea sprang from their own rental experiences, which frequently left them frustrated and disappointed with uninspiring homes at over-inflated prices. Meanwhile, beautiful homes within their social network lay empty.

Word spread, and today Stay One Degree has a plethora of villas, townhouses, apartments and ski chalets on its books in over 40 countries. Prices start at a very friendly ‘mates rates’ of $1,000/night.

All properties are hand-picked by the team, based on ‘outstanding locations and unique elements’. Think cliff-top infinity pools in Bali to villas with vineyards in Tuscany. The social network allows members to grow connections and relationships so owners have the option of renting to like-minded guests of not much more than ‘one degree’ of connection, or to a wider pool of clients.

“We’re finding that owners who would never have considered renting out their holiday homes are now choosing to do so on this exclusive basis,” says Munoz. “Members therefore have access to special homes impossible to find anywhere else.”

Sign up at stayonedegree.com.

Rags to recycling

Start 2018 as you mean to go on – reduce, reuse and recycle. An environmental initiative from local university student Kathryn Davies hopes to rid Hong Kong of plastic bags. Find out how to join the movement…

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All sewn up. Davies with her shopping bags made of recycled scraps from the textile industry

What’s the big idea?

My big idea is to kill two birds with one stone – upcycle unwanted fabrics such as scraps from the textile or hotel industry to stop them going to landfill; and to create reusable, cloth bags that are a cheap alternative to plastic shopping bags. A further goal is to offer employment to those in need, particularly women.

How did it come about?

I was working on a PhD at Hong Kong University (HKU) until quite recently, but I was frustrated with the disconnect between lofty research and down-to-earth problems. Since being in Hong Kong, I’ve been mesmerized by the stunning natural environment that we have, but through participating in beach cleanups I have been heartbroken to see the senseless, even selfish, damage that we are causing. So, I decided to focus my time on doing something practical that would address the very real problem of plastic bag pollution. I thought putting together my skills with sewing would be the most realistic thing I could do.

So how does it work?

I want to create new systems of consumption and shopping so that there are reusable bags in place of plastic ones. The idea might involve rethinking how we can conveniently get reusable bags to where people need them – such as the supermarket or bakery – and how we could create a system for returning them. We’re very much in the planning stages at the moment.

How long has the idea taken to evolve?

It’s been brewing in my mind for a couple of years – as a PhD student you do a lot of procrastinating – but it was last September that we started to set the ball rolling by collecting fabric and sewing our first bags. We have just completed our first semester working with HKU social venture management students and we are still considering how best to move the idea forward. In the near future we hope to reach out to businesses who could distribute the bags, either as packaging for their products or directly into supermarkets.

How can readers get involved?

I hope one day all Hong Kongers will have a convenient reusable bag option available to them as an alternative to plastic bags. We may not be able to accomplish this easily in Hong Kong, so we may have to start by distributing the cloth bags to other countries where laws and habits are already favourable to less plastic consumption. I would encourage everyone to always carry a reusable bag with them – with each small change a difference is made. And I’ve discovered myself that it’s really not that inconvenient to live without disposable packaging. I’m also hoping to start up volunteer workshops, so people can come and help us sort and cut up the fabric to send to the ladies who sew for us. I’d love for Expat Parent readers to like us on Facebook and follow us when we advertise sales at local markets. Please do drop us a line and order some bags – our first prototypes! We hope to formally launch mid-year and have a website up and running by the end of this month, so stay tuned.

Follow Davies and her team at facebook.com/StitchUpX/

 

Yoga poseur

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Taking time out between yoga classes in Central, Hong Kong

 

From bubbly tv presenter to energetic party organiser, it’s been a rollercoaster journey to yogic bliss for Mindy Tagliente. She tells Carolynne Dear her Hong Kong story

When I was at university in England in the early ‘90s, I used to come to Hong Kong to visit family, look after my cousins and work in the bars. This was during the long summer holidays and I needed to bump up my finances for study. I totally loved the fast pace and buzz of the city. So much so that after I graduated I made the decision that this was the perfect place to start my career in television. I moved on April 17 1997 – I remember it clearly.

There have since been many highs and many lows – but luckily mainly highs. One of my biggest career highlights was presenting and producing a children’s show on ATV. I was pretty much given free reign and I tried to empower children by raising awareness about various, cultural, social and environmental issues.

The lowest point was when my programme was axed. It was decided that there would be now more English speaking productions filmed in Hong Kong. That was a turning point in my career.

I headed a start-up company in 2000 that focused on empowering young people through on and off-line market research, entertainment and online television. It was a great project but a little bit forward thinking. Not many people believed us when we said in a few years everything would be accessible from their phones! Sometimes timing is everything. So I decided to take a step back from the corporate world and start a family.

These days I’m a yoga instructor living in Sai Kung with my husband and three children. Yoga and wellness have always been a big part of my life so I thought it would be a good thing for me to pursue. I thought teaching yoga would allow me a degree of fIexibility (both literally and figuratively!) whilst concentrating on starting a family. So in 2004 I ended up founding Yoga For Life, the first organisation in Hong Kong to offer private yoga classes at home. I then went on to co-found Events for Life with a good friend – we organise all kinds of things, including wellness retreats.

I love everything about yoga. It keeps me young, grounds me after 20 years of practising and it’s become a huge part of my life. The physical aspects, like that all-round sense of well-being that you feel after every class, is just one reason why I would recommend yoga to anyone of any age. For me, it creates space in my body and space in my life, which allows me to see situations more objectively. It allows me to respond to events instead of react to them – well, most of the time. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to bring your mind and your emotions into a physical practice. Over time, you find you get better at aligning them and you finally manage to arrive at that place you never thought was possible – a handstand for instance. It’s an incredible feeling.

I teach classes all over Hong Kong. Although private classes is the majority of my work, I do hold a couple of group sessions in Tseung Kwan O and once a month I hold half-day retreats at Five Elements at the Hong Kong Golf and Tennis Academy in Sai Kung. These retreats include yoga, wellness treatments and the best plant-based lunches in Hong Kong at the Academy’s vegan restaurant.

Life is hectic, but in my spare time I like nothing better than hanging with my family in my pyjamas watching a good movie. If I’m out and about, I love heading over to Sham Shui Po to source new ideas for our events business. And I love my home in Sai Kung for its hikes, countryside and laid back nature – a rare thing in Hong Kong.

My favourite spot in Hong Kong? The view from the Peak at night – it still sends shivers down my spine after 20 years.

I have no resolutions this year. I gave them up a couple of years ago after realising I was just putting more pressure on myself to achieve goals that were often unrealistic. Ironically once I stopped making them, they started happening.

Contact Yoga For Life at mindy@yogaforlife.com.hk or WhatsApp 9748 4567.