Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Tin Collector

My tin collection has grown this Christmas. Long after the taste of butter cookies, chocolate biscuits and English toffees has been forgotten, these beautifully designed tin boxes remain, containing my little knick knacks - buttons, ribbons, pencils, photos and all kinds of odds and ends.

Christmas tin boxes are mainly European and traditional. One of my favourites this season is based on the song - The 12 days of Christmas. The lyrics of the song are captured brilliantly in pictures and what's more, the partridge in a pear tree takes centre stage on the box. I love the fairy one too with its almost stain glass art nouveau effect while the box of Farrah's toffees (right at the top) has a classic English design. And yes ! The biscuits and sweets taste lovely too.

Christmas puddings

I love Christmas puddings. There is something about the immensely dark pudding that contrasts beautifully with the white icing and green holly top. So while shopping at Selfridges, London in late November this year, I couldn't resist the set of tea pot and mug as well as a salt and pepper shaker set. Totally disregarding the possibility that I may not have space in my luggage, I told the sales girl to leave out the bulky box packaging and have them bubble wrapped instead. Then I took it back to the hotel and had them inserted in any conceivable space I could find in my already full luggage. When there's a will, there's a way !
And in the days leading up to Christmas, there they were in the corner of my living room, looking pretty sweet. In this case, indulging in some eye candy is the better calorie free alternative.

Christmas celebratory dinner

I cooked a Christmas dinner last night in a very non-traditional Christmas way. A roast would be easier but I decided to do it the Asian way because that is what I do best. There were Malay and Chinese dishes such as paper wrap chicken, beef rendang, satay beef, achar, sweet and sour fish, sayur lodeh and begedil, a Malay potato cutlet. Cooking Malay dishes do require quite a lot of work due to the need to blend and make the rempah. This is a fundamental step in Malay and Peranakan cooking. Imagine back in those days, it was all done by hand by furiously pounding away.

Cooking for your friends and family is the best way to convey appreciation and love. During special occasions, cooking dishes that you don't normally do as they require a lot more preparation makes the celebrations even more eventful. I do enjoy cooking immensely and sometimes wish I could take a year off work just to try a new dish every day.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Singapore National Museum

Chandeliers that swing in synchonised movement at certain times of the day

The restaurant Novus within the premise
Natural light flooding the interior
My favourite spiral staircase
Was at the Singapore National Museum and I must admit I haven't been there since the early 90's. Of course there were those school excursions way back and all I remember then were natural history drawings of early Singapore, old Raffles treaties and maps and my favourite spiral stairs. When young school girls congregate and weren't very interested in historical exhibits, they created stories. We each had our version about that spiral staircase and how haunted it was. My favourite was that of the curator and his room of body parts, preserved in lab jars of formalin. Of course that was absolute rubbish but we love the indulgence and how they created a diversion.
The spiral staircase is still there, untouched by the renovations at the museum but given a beautiful new coat of paint. It used to be a lot more antique looking with a chain and lock prohibiting anyone from ascending it ( because curiosity kills the cat ). That was wonderful as it created the ambience needed for our stories. Today, there is still a chain across it but I must say this modern chain doesn't have much of a character. It needs to be rusty and creaky.
And now, back from my silly little diversion of the spiral staircase. The National Museum of Singapore has been renovated a number of times since it was opened in 1887 by the Govenor of Singapore during the jubilee year of her majesty Queen Victoria. It is now twice the size of what it used to be, a very modern museum with two main galleries, history and living. The history gallery tells the story of how it all began for Singapore while the life gallery is divided into Film & Wayang, Photography, Fashion, and Food. You can tell the importance of food to Singaporeans by how it takes on a well deserved section of its own.
The Singapore National Museum has all the trimmings of a world class museum with state of the art audio and visual enhancements but what I like best was how the museum building has been renovated to bring in more natural light, highlighting the beautiful interior architecture and its original classical features.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Designing from Memories

Chong Kopi Set by Celia Law
Make thick, black coffee the updated traditional way

Kandil by Lee Leong Chye
A modern lamp inspired by the old kerosene one

Bobo -A piece of Cloud to bring back the fresh air from the good old days by Francis Chu

Nyonya has a little lamp by Alfred Lau
Lace motiff lamps inspired by a Peranakan neigbour

Bird Teahouse by Ng Pei Kang

Fu-Lo-Shou Bear by Rodney Loh
Ants can't Swim condiment holder by Lee Yun Qin
Kampong Cuckoo Clock by Chan Wai Lim
Turn back the clock for the good o'le kampong days
Where children frolic among the chickens and play hopscotch under the big blue sky!

Singapore Scarecrow by Alvin Seetoh
The latest bag design takes its inspiration from everyday life such as washings on a pole drying in the sun !
Two chair pieces inspired from the past.
The marble inlay above keeps it cool ( Marble seat by Len Lim ) while the chair below turns into a table when needed ( Mu Zhi Yi or Mother-Child Chair by Yang Tah Ching ) .

Ping Pong Wall by Woon Tai Woon
A little practice corner for budding paddlers.
And when that's done, tug it away for a decorative art piece of the Monkey God.

Glowbelly Steamboat by Tan Lun Cheak
A dual function design - a steam boat and modern lamp in one .
There 's no need to go searching for the steam boat once Chinese New Year reunion comes around. Just invert your lamp , add soup and ingredients and voila, a meal for the whole family !

Chinese chess bookshelf by Kittichai R (Naa)
Not your average, ubiquitous book shelves
But one chequered with little movable magnetic Chinese chess pieces
Enter the (Dragon) Mirror – A Tribute to Bruce by Jeremy Sun
A cabinet hinging on a multi-mirror concept when opened. Inspired from Bruce Lee's movie Enter the Dragon.

The Little Thoughts Group put up a its successful first-of-its kind product design exhibition at the Art House last year and I happened to catch it as I was having a seminar at the same venue. This year, the Little Thoughts Group is having its second exhibition at the Singapore National Museum to showcase once again the creative talents of local product designers . The theme “Imprints: Designing from Memories”, explores heritage and culture in product design and applies it in the Singapore context.

This showcase features the works of 19 local product designers who take old memories and creatively turn them into innovative modern day pieces. Singapore being at the crossroads between the East and the West is actually in the best position to cultivate designers who take the best from both worlds. A fusion of clean cut, modern designs from the West with the unique customs and practices of the East.
4th Dec 2010 - 1st Jan 2011
10am - 6pm daily
The Atelier GalleryNational Museum of Singapore

Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas at Tangs 2010

Pictures via oicsingapore - organisation of illustrators council

If there is a department store in Singapore that has its roots and traditions set in Singapore, then it must be Tangs. It was started by Tang Choon Keng who emigrated from China to Singapore in 1923. He had his humble beginnings as a door to door salesman peddling hand-made Swatow lace and embroidery products and went around with a hired rickshaw and his goods stored in a pair of tin trunks. He later became known as the "Tin Trunk Man" and the "Curio King" for his rags to riches legacy.

I still remember shopping with my mum when I was a kid at the original Tangs (previously called CK Tang) , a much smaller building at the same site with its signature imperial green roof. One of my most vivid memories of Tangs is lining up with my neighbourhood friends to get the autograph of Quah Kim Song, best known as Singapore's most celebrated striker during the days of the Malaysian Cup.

Today, Tangs has managed to retain its strong heritage and yet brand itself as a very modern department store. It is one of the very few department stores in Singapore with a nice window display. Most others have sublet the space for other brand display and retail.

And Christmas is the best time to shop at Tangs as the store embodies the Christmas celebrations most beautifully with well thought out designs and illustrations, well executed from its store decorations to shopping bags, from its Christmas wrappings to hampers. I particular love this season's offerings done in the style of shabby chic. The shopping bags are also done in the style of the past, brown bags with red and white strings. Must say I love the rocking horse and handbag icons best.

Britain has its Selfridges and Mark and Spencers while US has its Macys. Though not as large as the others mentioned, Singapore's Tangs has its own distinctive style and class ! It is beautiful without being too upmarket and its range of goods attractive and distictive. It recently opened a new store at the shopping complex Pavilion in Kuala Lumpur.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Vintage egg basket

One of the most brilliant designs for kitchen ware back in those days was the egg wire basket.
My mum had one where its shape could be manipulated so that it could take on a different structure. I actually treated it like a toy at times while growing up and was careful to put the eggs away carefully. In those days, my black and white nanny would buy no more than a dozen eggs each time and she loved me so much that I could get away with anything, including handling delicate items like eggs :)

I've also seen some that completely collapses into a flat structure when unused. It only holds its form when lifted or hung up. This is the version I found while flea marketing last week and my kids actually thought I had bought a special net for catching crabs. It does look like one and was in perfect stainless steel condition.

While you can still find new egg wire baskets these days in the shape of a chicken, it is definitely less malleable and less fun from those of yesteryears.

Gifts for Christmas from GRO Workshop

At the Children's Charities fair recently, I bought some hand designed and painted pots and vases at a stall run by the Spastic Children's Association of Singapore. Aren't they lovely ? These are goodwill gifts by the GRO Workshop and make fabulous Christmas presents.
To order, contact the GRO Workshop at
65855643 (main office)
65855603 (fax) or email

Vintage brooches

Above: Eloxal brooches from West Germany

Brooches in the form of coats of arms from the various European countries
I love collecting vintage brooches when I'm abroad as I can't really find them locally. But one afternoon, a moment of serendipity brought me to a shop in Singapore that has been around since 1968. The couple who now owns it inherited the business and they have a wonderful selection of vintage jewellery stashed amongst more modern pieces . These vintage pieces go all the way back to the 70's and unlike today where most costume jewellery come from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Korea, these older pieces were from Germany, Spain and England. Over the years, the high labour costs in these countries made it difficult for this industry to remain competitive. I love the aluminium alloy jewellery that was a specialty of West Germany (before the period of unification). They were known as eloxal (electrolytic oxidation of aluminum) which is an incredibly lightweight aluminum alloy. Much of the late 1950s-70s West German metal jewelry is made of Eloxal. This Eloxal metal has survived wonderfully over the years because of its inherent resilient qualities. It will not tarnish, is scratch resistant and many pieces look exactly the same as the day it was made. How wonderful is that !

The couple also had a few pieces of the most unusual brooches. These featured the coat of arms of England and even Bavaria, a state in Germany. The owner shared the story of how he managed to obtain these pieces years back when a friend who owned a similar kind of shop migrated to Hong Kong. I particularly like the design for the coat of arms of England's majesty service which features a lion and a unicorn. The lion symbolises England and the unicorn, Scotland. The inscription Dieu Et Mon Driot is a French word meaning God and my right.

Singapore which follows the British judisciary system also has its coat of arms which features a lion and a tiger. The lion represents the current state while the tiger honours our cultural link to Malaysia. The inscription Majulah Singapura means Onward Singapore in Malay.