Showing posts with label Singapore. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Singapore. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 17, 2022


Appalled at the plight of young girls involved in the flesh trade moved author Paul Callan to pen The Secrets of The Sakura Girls.

Central to the heartrending story is Aoki and her fellow karayuki-san – Japanese women and girls who were forced to become sex workers in 19th century Singapore.

Similar to his previous works such as The Brigadier’s Daughter and The Dulang Washer, Callan once again brings a richly nuanced landscape and multiple social vagaries to life: from the limitations faced by the local police force to the inner workings of the Sakura or Cherry Blossom brothel.

The story opened on a sombre note, with Reverend Harry Gilmore and his young son Rupert suffering an unexpected personal loss during their voyage en route to Singapore.

As the pair tried to settle down in their new home, Reverend Gilmore had to grapple with his single parenthood, the lack of funds and necessary church repairs, as well as his own desire for companionship.

A brutal murder in the community created astir and drew constant police visits to the brothel. The investigations caused undue stress to the Sakura Girls which later led to unexpectedly tragic consequences for one of them.

According to Paul Callan, he was working on another story when the topic of prostitution in Singapore in the bygone years touched him so deeply that he became diverted.

Callan said he was appalled at the plight of the young girls and the lives they found themselves living. "I was outraged, angry, and disgusted, especially at the thought such treatment of young girls could still be happening today.

“I wondered, would men really visit a brothel if they knew girls of such tender years, or so vulnerable, would entertain them? I decided I would write the story as a mark of respect for the girls, both then and today.

“I wanted to write, not a sex story, but a story about the lives of the girls, their hardships, and what they had to endure. I want the reader to know them through their emotions, and nothing at all about the activities they were forced to undertake.”

It took Callan two years to complete research for the book. Often, he found himself waking up in the middle of the night, to write a thought down. “I learned from past experience if I didn’t get up and write what had awakened me, I’d lose the thought forever. So, I often write at unholy hours of the day or night. Many times, I write until the wee hours to get the story down.”

When asked about parts of the book that resonated with him, Callan said “Many years ago I was confronted with the issue of suicide. To find young girls resorting to such action (as my research revealed) drove me to seek justice for them by writing the story I did.”

After reading the novel, I asked Callan if he has any plans to follow up with a sequel as there seem to be some potential leads to develop a few of the protagonists’ stories.

Callan responded, “I’ve been asked frequently if there might be a sequel to the book. Right now, I’m waiting for the publication of my next book – a part historical, part fantasy story set in Malaya in the early 19th century by Penguin. While I’m deep into a new story, it’s very much outside my comfort zone and it's a story dominated by one character. Perhaps, after that, I will look at writing more on the outcome of the characters in The Secrets of the Sakura Girls.”

It looks like readers will just have to console themselves with The Secrets of The Sakura Girls for now.

Note: The review copy of The Secrets of The Sakura Girls was courtesy of Paul Callan and Penguin Random House SEA

Tuesday, February 02, 2021


Planning a staycation in Singapore? There's plenty to eat, see and do

With Chinese New Year less than a fortnight away, it seems unlikely my old friend AK will get the chance to welcome the Ox Year with her parents in Malaysia. Since the coronavirus doesn’t look like it’s disappearing anytime soon nor will the Malaysia-Singapore borders be opening in time for CNY, I told AK to forgo her trip home and use the festive break to rediscover Singapore instead. 

“AK, thousands of people fly from around the world to visit Singapore every year. Why don’t you take a step back, pretend you’re a visitor and see Singapore through that perspective? Sometimes we take our own backyard too much for granted-lah!” I rationalized with her.

Savvy travellers will find tons of info in Traveloka

When AK groused about not knowing where to start, I pointed her to Traveloka. The online portal is chockful of useful travel tips and information with links to hotel, restaurants, activities, packages, promotions and everything savvy travellers need to enhance their travel experience.

I believe AK will be able to enjoy her CNY break if she puts her mind to it and does her groundwork using Traveloka. Not only would it save her time and effort with the overall planning, she can’t make any lame excuses about not knowing what kind of staycation she wants. For instance, if she looks under Staycation Singapore in Traveloka, out pops a list of inspiring staycation ideas: from romantic rendezvous for couples to family-friendly escapades and gourmet getaways for friends.

Food paradise...from humble fare to refined restaurants, Singapore has it all

Depending on her budget, AK can take her pick from the mind-boggling range of hotels, be it budget-friendly or budget-busting … oooh, how I wish I’m going on staycation too!

As for the types of activities to fill her time, I daresay AK would be spoiled for choice. I must remind her to take advantage of the Singapore Rediscovers Vouchers in Traveloka. I bet many Singaporeans haven’t been on the interesting tours offered in the Singapore Rediscovers section! I find the activities are varied enough to please sporty go-getters and adventure-seekers, animal and nature lovers, history and modern entertainment buffs — there’s something to suit everyone.

Thinking how Chinese New Year is synonymous with our roots and heritage, AK may like booking a Kampong Buangkok tour. I’m sure the charming village will  stir up nostalgic feelings of her hometown back in Perak.

Few visitors can resist the captivating call of a day trip to Pulau Ubin
Hmm…she may want a full-blown tour to Singapore’s last surviving Kampung followed by visits to urban mushroom, wheatgrass and vegetable farms or an exciting day trip to Pulau Ubin. Ah, if it wasn’t for these pandemic times, I’d dearly love to join AK on these interesting excursions.

Of course, no staycation is complete without good food. Since it’s Chinese New Year, I wonder if AK would be game to embark on a Crazy Rich Asians Insta Tour with Cocktail Making Workshop…Hey, it’s not every day one gets a chance to ride in a Vespa sidecar touring some of Singapore’s ritzy locations and... YOLO, so why not?

The much-talked-about "Jewel" in Changi Airport's crown is a sight to behold

Again, I found Singapore Rediscovers Vouchers aplenty for guided walks, immersive tours, and hands-on cooking workshops — such a boon for those who are keen to learn and discover local culinary secrets and gems through experiential sessions.

Should AK prefer more sensible suggestions, then I’d propose she goes for the ‘Singapore: Melting Pot of Tea’ tour where she’ll have a chance to learn about more than 20 tea blends, sample delicious tea from traditional to modern, and even try making her own. Although I’m unsure about her interest in kitchen forays, perhaps a Hainanese or a Hokkien cooking class may strike a chord in view of the festive season or would that remind her too much of what she’s missing back home?

Even though she can’t return to Malaysia this Chinese New Year, I’m willing to bet AK will enjoy her staycation in Singapore thanks to all the tips I’ve shared with her from Traveloka. Now won’t that be an Ox-spicious way to welcome the Lunar New Year?

Tuesday, December 24, 2019


Imagine a huge hotel, shopping mall and entertainment city all rolled into one. Royal Caribbean Quantum of the Seas is the world's smart ship with an under-stated opulent interior. At 1,141 feet long with 16 decks and an international crew of 1,500, it can accommodate 4,905 guests.
Being the cruise newbies we are, the sleek, refined interior adorned with modern accents: glass artworks, arty installations and ambient lighting left an indelible impression.
Designer boutiques and epicurean dining venues like Jamie’s Italian restaurant amplify the sense of sophistication. We proceeded to Two70, a theatre-style entertainment and activity space for the welcome address by Royal Caribbean’s Managing Director, Asia Pacific, Angie Stephen.
In her opening remarks, Stephen said Royal Caribbean International will be celebrating its 50th global anniversary by rolling out a 5-year deployment in Southeast Asia, from November 2019 up to 2024.
“The deployment starts with Quantum of the Seas, one of Asia’s largest and most revolutionary cruise ships after her multi-million dollar refurbishment. The ship is slated to make a record-breaking 55 calls to Malaysia during its upcoming 2020-2021 season, starting October next year.”
L to R: Elya Marini Darmin, Deputy President of the Klang Municipal Council; Datuk Abdul Rashid Asari, Selangor State Exco, Tourism Selangor; Angie Stephen, Managing Director, APAC, Royal Caribbean; Syed Jaaffar Syed Mohamed, General Manager, Boustead Cruise Center and Captain Sindre Borsheim, Master of Quantum of the Seas
Lauding the cruise-friendly infrastructure of Malaysia and the pertinent roles played by the government including local municipal councils, port authorities and tourism stakeholders, Stephen said, “Royal Caribbean will bring 430,000 tourists to Malaysia in the next two years. Quantum of the Seas will be Asia’s largest cruise ship to call in at Port Klang since Kuala Lumpur and Penang’s vast array of gastronomic, cultural and shopping options remain popular with our guests on board.”
She continued, “Cruising holiday is fast gaining popularity amongst Malaysians and the numbers have grown significantly from the time Royal Caribbean started some 11 years ago. Malaysia is one of our fastest-growing markets and Royal Caribbean cruises have everything that appeals to different generations. For the MICE business, we offer customised cruising experiences.”
Stephen said while Royal Caribbean incorporates cutting-edge technology to streamline some of its services and facilities on-board, she emphasised it won’t replace their battalion of personnel as the human touch is the key factor in ensuring Royal Caribbean guests enjoy their cruise experience.
After savouring a simple, delicious lunch at the American Icon Grill restaurant, we toured the new facilities: FlowRider, RipCord by iFly, Bionic Bar, an escape room and glow-in-the-dark laser tag on board the Quantum of the Seas.
It’s easy to be caught up in the palpable excitement, especially when we witnessed how AI is used to power the robotic ‘mixologists’ at the Bionic Bar. Laughter, convivial conversations and happy recreational bustle bore testament of a great time the holidaymakers were having.
We also took turns to be whisked up high, to admire the surrounding panoramic views from the ‘North Star’ observation capsule. Raised up to 300 ft above sea level, the breathtaking scenery glimpsed from high above was unforgettable.

The hi-tech entertainment facilities inside the ‘Two70’ venue also set the stage for live performances and whimsical large-screen projections.
Different sized pools, rock climbing wall, various shopping and entertainment options, in addition to themed dining outlets will keep the ship’s multi-generational cruise passengers fully occupied. Tour itineraries for whistle-stop ports of call can also be booked on board.

For more information, visit Royal Caribbean's official website: or


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