“I’ll have the fried kway teow please,” I said as slowly as I could manage, in the stifling tropical heat of the hawker centre, eager to have my first taste of Singapore’s trademark cuisine.
“What you want ah?” came the sharp, and to my unattuned ears, completely indecipherable reply.
This was not going well.
As the line started to build up steadily behind me, I assumed that simply by speaking louder, I could make myself better understood.
“Fried kwaaay teow,” emphasising the “a” sound in what would prove to be a futile attempt to enunciate what was otherwise unpronounceable to me.
The matronly proprietor of the fried noodle shop, growing increasingly irate, shot me back a quizzical look.
“Eh, you want popiah (a Singaporean radish-filled wrap dish) go over there, you can see I have a lot of customers here or not?”
My lunch companion, by now unable to stifle her laughter at my inability to order the iconic dish, decided to step in, “Aunty, two char kway teow, no chilli, eat here.”
“Ah, why your friend don’t say? He ang moh or what? But he don’t look ang moh leh.”
Before I could express my indignation, my lunch companion dragged me aside as others in line for the rice noodle-based delicacy shot me evil glances for holding it up.
“What was that all about?” I protested.
“Aiyah, nothing lah. Your accent lah. The poor lady can’t understand a word you’re saying.”
“What accent? My accent is not that bad.”
“Are you kidding? I’d say the number of locals who can understand you are in the minority.”
“But I spoke English and I was told that’s the lingua franca of Singapore.”
“It’s not what you say that’s a problem, it’s how you say it. It’s your accent.”
Having just arrived in Singapore after most of a life spent growing up in Daytona Beach, Florida, I was determined to assimilate in a way I never quite had been able to in America.
After all, growing up as one of only two Asian kids in a small town on Florida’s Atlantic coast, I was for the first time in my life, surrounded by people who looked like me, surely, I would want to sound like them too.
Assimilation is in many ways a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, new emigres are often eager to adapt to the ways of their adoptive countries, but on the other hand, there’s a part of each and every one of us that clings to our identities, a concept that’s becoming increasingly plastic given greater global mobility.
Growing up as an Asian kid in a predominantly white town, I remember ladies coming up to me in the local Ponderosa and asking to touch my hair because it was so shiny and black.
Naturally, I took no offense to it at the time, there were certainly benefits to being the local Asian curiosity (such as an extra-large scoop of vanilla at the ice cream parlour).
Nor would I take offense when kindly strangers told my mother, “Your son speaks such good English!” as if I was some freak of nature.
I would always manage a, “You’re not too bad yourself lady,” before my mother would embarrassingly pull me away.
And perhaps more significantly, when I opened my mouth to speak, I sounded like everyone else in Daytona Beach.
Given how I had grown up in Daytona Beach instead of being a transplant like my parents were, my thick southern accent was a function of prolonged exposure to other Floridians, for whom any other accent would have been inscrutable.
Yet it was this very ability to assimilate in America that would prove to be an Achilles heel on my return to Asia—no one could really understand me (not that I could fully understand them either).
Undeterred, I tried my best to shake off my southern drawl and pepper my speech with suitable local colloquialisms, when a German friend one day remarked to me, “You’re pretty good at code-switching!”
“Code-switching? What’s that?”
As it turns out, code-switching is something many of us do, whether we’re conscious of it or not.
Whether it’s an attempt to sound more Singaporean so I could sample local dishes with minimal fuss, or a Singaporean trying to sound more anglicised, outside of America and other countries where English is the native tongue, most people code-switch.
Since the concept of codeswitching was brought to my attention all those years ago, I’ve grown more conscious of it and noted those who tend not to at all.
Americans would never attempt to change their accents, whereas I have noted countless Singaporeans and others from Asia try to sound more “American” or “British” when speaking with their white friends as if they wouldn’t be able to understand them otherwise.
And while it may be true the Singaporean accent can be impenetrable at times, does codeswitching to sound more American or British actually take away from the Singaporean identity?
Surely there aren’t a lot of Americans trying to sound like Singaporean people speaking English (although there are far more American children trying to sound Australian thanks to the hit animated series Bluey).
Recently there was a small furore when American mothers, concerned their children were starting to sound like the Australian-accented Bluey from the animated series, suggested an Americanised version of the cartoon be created, as if there was something objectionable about the Australian accent.
The concern as it turns out, wasn’t so much that kids would behave like Australians, Bluey is a very wholesome cartoon, but rather they would sound more like Steve Irwin the Crocodile Hunter.
This is why it may not be a bad idea to introduce the concept of code-switching.
To be fair, actors do it all the time—whether to play a character from a different country or even from a different era, code-switching is to acting what butter is to bread.
With the progress of time, I’ve come to accept the necessity of code-switching.
When I return to America, I return to sounding like an American, and while I remain in Singapore, I try my darnedest to sound Singaporean, neither of which I feel diminishes either my Americanness or my Singaporean-ness.
We live in a globalised world where accents are a feature, not a bug.
An accent, whether organic or adopted, can help assimilation for the speaker and also the listener.
And while an adopted accent can be jarring on the ears of a native speaker at times, the recipient should appreciate the effort being made at code-switching.
In a world where we increasingly choose the people, places, culture and histories we most identify with, surely it is within our grasp to also select the accents we most associate with as well?
So, here’s to code-switching for those who can do it. And for those who haven’t tried it, I highly recommend it.
Just don’t forget to switch back from time to time y’all.
Why is there the phrase “knickers in a knot” but not “boxers in a bunch”? This April in Singapore, the hottest day of the year was recorded at 35.9°C. The worst to me? It was only April. Coupled with the average humidity level of 84 per cent, and sparingly light winds if Mother Nature had mercy, you wouldn’t be able to imagine what our crotches feel like most of the time.
One Tuesday a couple weeks back in May, after an early morning game of basketball with the boys, we sat by the sidelines. While beads of perspiration gathered up and trickled past furrowed brows, we broached the unlikely topic of underwear. Now, as straight men, our conversations are unintentionally skin deep: that “work is relentless”, that someone “tried this omakase place”, that something is “ridiculous in this bear economy...” That morning, though, we debated singularly on the relevance of underwear amid climate change and the perpetual Singaporean summer. Considerations around protection, support, a sense of security and propriety were pit against concerns such as comfort, ventilation, odour, and even confidence.
What felt like nine sweltering minutes went by before the group dispersed into the shower cubicles. Our crotches had been exactly like sweat-drenched, heat-radiating boxers in a bunch.
Though I am not overzealous about free balling, I contemplate it from time to time to cope with the dreaded double whammy of heat and humidity here. For some, freeballing in summer has the same energy as attending a fancy party with minimal make-up—it is about comfort, confidence and a touch of fabulous. Yet, for others like me, it may not be so much a flex as it is pragmatic. Combining the opinions of those around me and on Reddit, it seems reduced perspiration, a lower chance of bacteria growth and odour, and better ventilation are compelling reasons cited by men when asked why they might free ball.
Regardless of motivation, going commando in public, akin to rocking up bare-faced to a soirée, is a ballsy move. My advice as an aesthetics doctor is to invest in some self-care.
At the core of comfort and confidence is self-care. Thankfully, skincare and grooming have burst through the seams of the feminine realm, slowly seeping into the daily lives of men, queer or not. Those who are not yet on board may see skincare regimes as means to achieving the pretty Korean star look, but as a mostly reticent member of the male species myself, I implore even the quintessential macho guys to take skin and body care more seriously. In my field of work, treatments sought by male patients are very commonly for acne scarring, the regrettable result of sheer negligence that does not plague women as much.
Especially for severe acne scarring, treatments are typically customised, taking advantage of different cool equipment and technologies for optimal effect. Bear with me as I geek out: one of those that amaze me is Ultherapy, a non-invasive treatment that lifts, smoothens and tightens skin. Bypassing skin’s surface, Ultherapy is able to deliver the right amount of ultrasound energy at the right depths and temperature, in order to trigger a natural response under the skin, jumpstarting the regenerative process that produces fresh, new collagen. Ultherapy is commonly used to lift skin on the neck, chin and brow, and to reduce lines and wrinkles. With an appointment, patients are usually in and out the clinic in an hour tops; some even get it done over lunch break.
For the bolder (or more macho, if you please) among us, one of the injectables that stand out as an especially efficient treatment is Profhilo. It super-charges skin with a high concentration of the formidable hyaluronic acid (HA), stimulating the production of new collagen and elastin, both of which give skin great texture and brightness. Profhilo delivers deep hydration and treats skin laxity, helping to lift and tighten it too.
Coming out of my awe of potion-like chemicals and marvellous technology, I lament the predicament of men who suffer from pubescent acne and its emotional and mental implications. If only men felt empowered too, to begin caring for their skin from adolescence as women usually do. I mean, if we collectively have such poor facial and dermal hygiene, what could it be like where the sun doesn’t shine?
In my advocacy for self-care and living well, comfort down south is just as big a deal as the rest of the body. The ultimate nemesis of modern-day grooming needs no introduction: we have a troubling love-hate affair with hair—too much, too little, too patchy, too thick. Down south though, more want their lawns mown, be they flat or hilly terrains, to prevent ingrown hair and pimples that come with an inevitably sticky, itchy crotch in tropical weather.
IPL, short for intense pulsed light, is an effective way to get rid of hair permanently. It involves long-term treatment every four to six weeks, where high-energy light is used to permanently destroy hair and hair follicles where you don't want them. You'll have less scratching and pinching, just good ol’ hanging.
Where a partner is involved, smell must be the chef’s kiss. There is now a gamut of hygiene products dedicated to the cause. Check out a ball wash, rub or deodorant the next time you are in a drug store—they help to fight odour, leaving us fresh, clean, and hopefully, yummy. It would also be wise to invest in a set for when shorty gets low, low, low.
Next time the mercury level hits over 33°C and the potentially bashful idea of free balling comes to mind, don’t get your boxers in a bunch. Do what is necessary so you can shake, shake, shake it, bruh.
As a financial planner of eight years, I have had thousands of conversations with my clients about their money. Today, as one who specialises in working with two main segments; professionals and business owners, I meet people from a wide range of industries—from tech, to law, to finance (both traditional and de-fi), to family business owners at various stages of their empire-building. This rich myriad of individuals has provided me with a profound insight into the various ways people think and manage their money.
While giving professional advice on a range of topics from insurance to wealth and investment planning, I also get to observe the fascinating interplay firsthand on how different people have different proclivities in their habits and approach on money management.
I’ve absorbed the learnings into one large mental tapestry, and have of late turned some of these thoughts inward to reflect on ideas associated with what money means to me, what it means to be wealthy, and what the Holy Grail of one’s financial and life journey should be. After all, money, in its essence, is a powerful force that intertwines with our lives, shaping our choices, dreams, and ultimately, our future. But it's the way we perceive and interact with money that truly determines its impact on our lives.
Growing up, I thought a lot about money. My family wasn’t poor, so I never had some rag-to-riches inspirational story. But we were far from wealthy as well, and we had times where I could sense that times weren’t so good. My parents are traditional so we didn’t talk too much about these things back then, but the awareness that things weren’t rosy came to light at various moments.
There was the time that for my 21st birthday, my mum showed me a set of papers over lunch. It was for an investment plan she’d made on my behalf, as a gift for my future.
Seemed like such an adulting thing to do. I signed for the papers and she helped me put them away in a cabinet at home. I didn’t think too much about it and put it away in my head as well. About a year later, though, my mum came back to me and sheepishly told me she needed to liquidate. I didn’t ask much further and said I understood.
Then there was the time that I got a spot for an exchange programme to Norway, but my family’s financial circumstances led to me pulling out. I said I understood. When I found out later on that finances were thin because my mum was the sole breadwinner supporting the family, I really did understand.
Money is the underlying currency of everything. It wasn't just the material possessions it could buy; rather, it was the potential it held to provide security and open doors to opportunities.
As I embarked on my journey as a financial planner, I realised that my personality traits, circumstances and background played a significant role in shaping my relationship with money—an awareness I bring to understanding my clients better today as well.
In hindsight, those formative years also created a sense of wanting more. It wasn’t a desperate hunger, nor greed, but I would describe it as an innate curiosity to see how people lived, behaved when there was an abundance of money, or when there was a lack. It then gave rise to a calling for me to make a difference as a financial planner. The ideas around personal finance, financial planning and money intrigued me. And I found myself resolved to work hard to never be of lack of it. Still, I always knew that money is means to an end.
So what is the end? What is the Holy Grail of financial planning and self actualisation?
If I were to define it from a financial planner’s lens—be it wealthy or not, it's the delicate equilibrium between living a fulfilling present and securing a prosperous future. It's the art of juggling dreams, goals and practicality with finesse, like a seasoned tightrope walker crossing the chasm of financial uncertainty.
To achieve this balance, we must first understand that the holy grail is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It's a bespoke quest, tailored to the unique circumstances, aspirations and challenges of each individual. It requires deep introspection, an honest assessment of priorities, and a willingness to make informed decisions. That is why I love what I do—embarking on journeys with my clients to guide and grow with them.
The Holy Grail demands a solid foundation built on financial literacy. It's about understanding the language of money, deciphering the intricacies of fisical responsibility, and demystifying the enigma of compound interest. Or at least, proceeding with action to take advantage of said enigma. Without action, the path to financial success remains just that—a path. Traveling the path to the Grail sometimes warrants a good companion—like a trusted financial planner!
The Holy Grail is also not just about numbers and spreadsheets. It's about aligning our financial choices with our values and passions. It's about pursuing a career or starting a business that brings fulfillment, investing in experiences that create cherished memories, and giving back to causes that resonate with our souls. It's the recognition that true wealth extends beyond material possessions and embraces the richness of a purposeful life.
The quest for the Holy Grail necessitates perseverance and self-control. It demands that we resist the pull of rapid gratification, exercise patience in the face of market turbulence, and maintain our long-term goals. It's a marathon, not a sprint, and the only ones who can endure the difficulties and stick to their financial strategy will find the magnificent prize at the conclusion of the journey.
Throughout the journey, one can expect to encounter various trials and tribulations, testing our character and resolve. Only those of unwavering faith and concerted action will be deemed worthy to behold the Holy Grail. There is much to be learned then, in the quest itself for a fulfilling present and the security of a prosperous future.
The financial landscape is ever-changing, with new technologies, economic shifts, and unforeseen circumstances. Getting to the Holy Grail requires us to remain agile, to adapt our strategies as needed, and to seize opportunities that arise along the way. Flexibility is the key that unlocks the door to continued financial growth and resilience.
So, my fellow treasure seekers, as we’re all on our paths to hunt for this Holy Grail, the road beckons us with promises of a life well-lived, of dreams realised and of a secure future. The true value lies in the quest not just in the destination but in the journey itself. It's in the knowledge gained, the lessons learned, and the growth that accompanies our pursuit of financial mastery.
May we have the courage to stay the course, arming ourselves with knowledge, discipline, adaptability and a steadfast determination to strike that perfect balance. But don’t forget to pause and appreciate the moments along the way!
Sitting at H Bar, in the Post Oak Marriott Hotel in Houston, Texas, my face gradually becoming beet red from the hops in the beer that was slowly, but surely, revealing my Asian body’s inability to effectively process the alcohol, I started to ponder.
Why was I having a beer anyway, knowing full well that I lack the enzyme in my body to properly breakdown the alcohol in this specific class of intoxicant?
It’s not like I very much like the taste of beer, but perhaps I’ve been conditioned to believe the golden elixir is the "proper" inebriant for a "real man." Where a "real man", especially one who drinks, but may not necessarily enjoy beer, fits in the modern context is perhaps an increasingly unclear proposition.
There was a time when a "real man" worked with his hands, his sweaty body requiring the refreshment of a nice-cold beer after a hard day’s work, typically outdoors and exposed to the elements. Today, most men work with their hands still, in anonymous open-plan offices or shared workspaces, hammering away not at nails, but keyboards.
In centuries past, the liberalisation of women could arguably have been the focus, but the past several decades could possibly be seen as the "liberalisation of men". Whereas women were deservedly breaking out of their gender-specific roles, that sea change also afforded men the opportunity to redefine what it means to be a modern man.
For men, giving up their careers to dedicate themselves to domestic roles as the key caretaker of home and offspring is no longer seen as something to be concealed but celebrated. And many of the stereotypical qualities associated with so-called “toxic” masculinity have started to be chipped away at, replaced with more fluid concepts that appear increasingly tolerant of various interpretations of what being a man is.
Yet despite the progress made in redefining the modern man in virtually every area of life, one area which appears to remain “Old Fashioned” is at the bar—there’s even a drink named after it!
Disagree? Attempt a first date by ordering a lychee martini for yourself from the mixologist and look out for the noticeable flinch from your date. That tropical cocktail with the little umbrella? You might not be looking at a second date.
As much as it ought not be the case, we can’t help but at least form an impression of each other by what we wear, do for a living, and of course, order at the bar.
Scotch and soda? Safe, staid, if not a little bit boring.
Blue Curacao? A Pandora’s box.
The same way a man in the eighties and nineties could have been judged for ordering a salad on a first date, similarly, would a date not judge a man based on what he orders from the bartender today?
To be sure, change is afoot, as evidenced in the advertising of the liquor companies, with a subtle shift towards more “friendly” beverages, many of them mixed. But one can’t help recognising the predominant message is of a certain brand of masculinity when it comes to most male-targeted spirits. Backdrops of hunting and the Scottish countryside certainly seem to suggest the beverage was intended to be imbibed by men, sans mixers of any sort.
Yet there seems one representation of a man who is partial to a cocktail—Ian Fleming’s creation of James Bond. While Bond may have preferred white spirits, his cocktail of choice, a vodka martini, shaken, not stirred wasn’t always served in the most “manly looking” stemware. Which brings us down to the question of glassware—does the vessel imbue its beverage with so-called “manliness” or lack thereof? In a lineup of various glasses to serve drinks, would one argue that a whiskey glass is decidedly more manly than say, a martini glass?
A wine glass possesses more machismo than say a champagne flute? But if so, who became the judge of what manly glassware is?
Yet somehow, and at least this is something I know I am certainly guilty of, in the back of our minds, there is an unwritten hierarchy to glassware for drinks and a beer mug must certainly rank quite high on the testosterone scale. And if it’s not the glassware that matters, surely the colour of the cocktail makes a difference too?
Is a blue curacao necessarily less manly than a whiskey sour? I would think there are more than a few who would believe so.
A Midori cocktail, more effeminate than a vodka tonic?
Unwittingly, there are so many of us, myself included, who pull up to a bar and especially if we’re getting a drink alone, would scarcely dare to order some cocktail in a neon green or blue hue.
If we as a society are to break gender stereotypes wherever they exist, then this must surely extend to the cocktail bar as well.
So as my mind drifted to these thoughts at the H Bar that summer afternoon, I gulped down what remained of my beer and motioned for the barkeep, not for the bill, but to whisper, somewhat conspiratorially, “I’ll have a mai tai please, and oh, if it’s not too much trouble, could you put an umbrella in it?”