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December 30, 2013

My awesome vacation

Newsmakers recall their best moments overseas this year

Dancing in Vegas

JANNIE CHAN, 68, Founder of watch chain HourGlass

Tropicana Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas, United States, holds many happy memories for Madam Jannie Chan and her daughter Sabrina Tay, 33.

Earlier this month, they returned from the 2013 Holiday Dance Classic Championships held there. “It was a fantastic experience and a great time of bonding with my daughter,” says Madam Chan.

This is their second year taking part in competitions. Both of them have professional dancing partners, and they practise 10 days a month.

In fact, it was Madam Chan’s teacher and dancing partner Richard Perry, an eight-time New Zealand Professional Ballroom Champion, who encouraged her to start competing.

Ms Tay’s teacher and dancing partner is Julian Tocker from the American TV show Dancing With The Stars.

In this year’s competition, Madam Chan says she was ranked third in three of the five dances she performed in her category, while Ms Tay was ranked first for the Viennese waltz, second for the categories of waltz, foxtrot, tango and quickstep, and third in three Latin dances for her category.

Madam Chan is very proud of Ms Tay’s achievements because her daughter was born with a hole in the heart, rudimentary ears, a severe squint in both eyes and a cleft palate.

“If Sabrina can do it, others can too. She has shown herself to be disciplined and confident, and has shown me that even though she has a hole in her heart and is hearing-impaired, she can dance.

“I hope she can be a role model to others who have disabilities,” she says.

After the competition, mother and daughter spent time shopping together in an outlet mall in Las Vegas, and then flew to Los Angeles for a day, where Ms Tay did more shopping.

“Sabrina bought some American-brand apparel, and also surprised me with a present – a small Louis Vuitton cosmetics bag,” says Madam Chan.

Bangkok shopping spree

KUMAR, 45, Local Comedian

His best holiday this year saw him going to Bangkok, Thailand, in April with three friends whom he has known for almost 20 years.

The 45-year-old, whose full name is Kumar Chinnadurai, says the trip was extra special because it was his first in five years and his only holiday this year.

During the four-day, three-night trip, the quartet of friends did hardcore shopping, eating and clubbing, he says.

They ate mostly at food courts, and shopped at H&M in Central World Plaza and Thai fashion brand Theatre, located in Siam Center shopping mall.

“I went with just a small bag, and came back with two pieces of luggage,” he says, chuckling.

His travelling companions are his co-performers every Monday night at Hard Rock Cafe, so they took the opportunity during the trip to stock up on new outfits and accessories for their shows.

He says he bought a lot of clothes for himself too from places such as Platinum Fashion Mall, the Pratunam area and MBK Center (also known as Mahboonkrong shopping mall).

Laughing, he says: “It was so intensely fun that I think I need another holiday to get over that one.”

Durian feast in Malaysia

LIM SOON HOCK, 62, Managing Director of Corporate Advisory Firm Plan-B ICAG

One does not have to go far for a memorable vacation. This businessman’s best holiday this year happened just across the Causeway.

The 62-year-old, who is also chairman of the National Family Council, says he has made several trips to Malaysia every year over the past three years and always finds them “rejuvenating and relaxing”.

This year, he headed to the Berjaya Hills Resort with the Porsche Club of Singapore as part of the club’s Singapore F1 Grand Prix celebrations.

“More than 80 cars drove from Singapore on a beautiful Sunday morning to rendezvous with many others from Malaysia in Putra Jaya, before we made our way to the resort,” he says.

The resort was one he had not known of until this visit, adds Mr Lim. “The setting was tranquil, refreshing and invigorating. Had I been blindfolded and parachuted in, I would have thought that I was in Europe.”

He adds that the trip also offered him the chance to try a new variety of durian.

“I had the opportunity to savour ‘hutan’ durians when we visited Bentong in Pahang for lunch. As I love durians, I would normally not miss an opportunity to try a different variety,” says the man who would choose to eat durians for his last meal on earth.

“These are the rare occasions where my diet can wait until my escapade is over.”

American cowboy

HIRZI ZULKIFLIE, 24, one-half of popular comedy duo Munah and Hirzi

Hirzi spent about three weeks in Los Angeles, California, in June.

The first thing he did was to attend the Palm Springs International ShortFest with college mates, with whom he had made a film that was selected for the film festival.

“After that, we decided to do hiking around a canyon,” says Hirzi, who is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Creative Producing at Chapman University Singapore.

They headed for the Palm Springs Indian Canyons, and rode horses at another location near the canyons. “Horseriding in the desert really made me feel like Indiana Jones.

“It helped that I had the biggest horse, called King. He was really attention-seeking but it suited me,” he says, laughing.

Wanting to celebrate his 24th birthday there before coming home, he spent US$1,200 (S$1,522) to buy a VIP ticket to watch US diva Beyonce in concert at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on June 28, which was close to his birthday.

“That was the best experience ever. Beyonce was phenomenal. She had so much stamina, dancing and singing non-stop,” says Hirzi, who managed to take photos with Beyonce’s mother and rapper Snoop Dogg, who were also seated in the VIP area.

He muses: “If I were to move to anywhere in the world, it would be California. They get my humour, and I feel that the place allows me to be celebrated as a person.”

Singing for Bali wedding

SHILI YAP, 27, who is part of pop-jazz singing duo ShiLi & Adi

A part-work, partleisure trip to Bali in June turned out to be the singer’s best holiday this year.

She says the work segment of the trip – performing at a private wedding – was so memorable that she got teary-eyed even though she knew neither the bride nor groom.

Yap, her singing partner Adi Rakhmadian, 27, and two session musicians were flown by a Singaporean couple to Semara Luxury Villas, where they sang and played music for the couple and their 50 guests.

The couple paid for the band’s flights and accommodation, in addition to their performance fees.

Recalling the event, Yap gushed: “The resort is beautiful because it’s on a cliff, with the sea as its backdrop. “The wedding setting was intimate, and the groom also sang for his wife. It was really touching.”

She extended her trip to stay another four days with her boyfriend John Lye, 28, and dived at Manta Point, south-west of island Nusa Penida.

“This was my first time seeing manta rays live. I counted 20 of them – it was such an awesome sight. “It’s a dream come true, as I’ve been wanting to see manta rays ever since I picked up diving last July,” she says.

Apart from diving, she also lounged at Kuta Beach, enjoying the breeze, and took a short tour to Ubud to visit cafes and art exhibition centres. The trip was unforgettable, right down to her last hour in Bali.

“I realised I lost my mobile phone 35 minutes before my flight home. I had dropped it while getting out of the car at the airport.

“After five attempts to call my number, someone actually answered. Thank God the person was an airport staff, who was able to enter the airport transit area.

“Without him, I wouldn’t have had the chance to share my photos of those precious moments, which I captured only on my mobile phone. I feel like God was with us the whole trip,” she says.

Japanese food tour

JANICE WONG, 30, Chef at 2am: dessertbar and 2am: lab

She declares her trip to Hiroshima and Setouchi region in Japan in late October her best holiday this year, not just for the good food but also the scenery.

The trip was sponsored by the Setouchi prefecture government. Ms Wong was there with 2am: lab’s consultant chef Jonathan Sparber to familiarise themselves with the place, cuisine and to meet farmers there.

At Shinjo Village in Okayama, she drank fresh spring water and saw cherry trees in blossom. At Miyajima Island, she posed for a picture in front of the great Torii gate, and marvelled at the different forms and ways in which oysters were served in Hiroshima.

She also tried her hand at fishing, and watched farmers harvest hamachi (yellow-tail fish).

Bigger trip highlights, however, came in the form of a visit to a caviar farm and an udon house.

At Niimi Fisheries Cooperative in Okayama prefecture, a sturgeon cultivation place which is not open to the public or to tourists, the innovativeness of the cultivators there awed her.

“They are very experimental. For example, they soak the caviar with Mongolian salt, or with shoyu (Japanese soy sauce), to alter the taste,” she says.

Similarly, she was impressed by her bowl of noodles at Gamou Udon, in Kagawa prefecture, home to “about 800 udon shops”.

“The noodles were chewy, bouncy, and the broth was very delicious. There are various toppings to choose from and they make their own fishcakes, not like the ones we get in Singapore,” she recalls.

Her customised bowl of noodles cost about S$7, and because the shop was so crowded, she did what the locals do – stand by the roadside and slurp up the noodles.

“The atmosphere was great, and in general, I just love all the hidden gems in this place, which gets less attention than other places such as Hokkaido.

“I enjoyed the trip so much that I’m going to head over again in January,” she says.

Idyllic island life

ASHLEY ISHAM, 38, London-based Fashion Designer

Ashley says his 21/2-week virgin trip to the French Polynesian islands in April was his best holiday this year.

A French female client and her husband, who were going to sail around the islands together with a Spanish artist, invited him along.

“This was just after London Fashion Week, which saw me working very hard and I had many sleepless nights.

“When the invitation came from a good friend who has supported me for more than a decade, my answer was yes,” he says.

From Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia, the group of four set off for the island of Huahine, where Ashley says he felt like Robinson Crusoe.

“It was a very private, enchanting place, with lush green trees,” he says, adding that he spent four days there just soaking in the sun.

They next sailed to Mo’orea and spent close to a week there. Ashley says this was where he got to see Tahitian black pearls in their raw form.

“I love learning, so it was exciting seeing the pearls with their imperfections, and having people explain to us about the different sizes and prices of the pearls,” he says.

The final island-stop was the renowned Bora Bora, where Ashley spent a few days swimming with sharks and dolphins, and luxuriating on the white, soft sand.

“The water was turquoise-blue, so clear, and everything was just beautiful,” he says, adding that the trip was not only invigorating but also inspirational, because he felt he got to see the place through the eyes of Paul Gauguin, the 19th-century French artist who did vivid paintings of life in Tahiti.

“Seeing the warmth and kindness of the Tahitian people and their lives on the island, I could understand how they formed the subject matter of Gauguin’s paintings.

“The light at sunset is especially amazing, no matter where you take a picture from. It’s idyllic.”

Lost in London

NATHAN HARTONO, 22, Singer and Actor

A November getaway to London during a school break turned out to be Hartono’s best holiday this year.

The actor and singer, who who is currently studying at Berklee College of Music in Boston in the United States, says he decided to go on his own to England’s capital over the Thanksgiving break to visit some friends.

“I have a whole bunch of friends who study there, so I spend a lot of time with them and it was a pretty amazing time,” he says. “I was there for only four full days but I did my best to make the most of every minute.”

The performer, who will be in town next month to give a concert at the Esplanade on Jan 17, says he had never really seen London before this trip.

“Europe in general is such a mysterious place to me. I just enjoyed taking on a new environment, a new culture, a different way of life.”

He adds that he tried his best to get to know the city by renting bicycles and cycling around until he got lost, and going for morning jogs to “random spots about the city”.

“I kind of fell in love with the place.”

Buddy time in Boston

JUDEE TAN, 31, Actress

The 10 days in June that Tan spent in Boston and New York, catching up with family and friends, represented her best holiday this year.

Her first stop was Boston, where her best friend, Julian Wong, is studying music at the Berklee College of Music.

It was her first time in Boston and she says she enjoyed the environment there.

“It felt really peaceful, and it was nice walking around the campus and catching up with Julian, whom I had not met in a year,” she says.

She also managed to watch an orchestra performance by The Boston Pops.

After that, she zipped off to New York, where her mother, elder sister and two nieces were holidaying.

They were there to visit Tan’s younger sister, who was working there then.

In  the three weeks that they were there, they took in the sights, visiting places such as the 9/11 memorial site and The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Tan also managed to watch awardwinning act or Tom Hanks in a play called Lucky Guy at the Broadhurst Theatre. “Watching that play was one of the trip’s highlights.

“But beyond the sights, it made me very happy that we could spend time together on holiday as a family.

“With our busy lives, it’s hard to get everyone’s schedules to coincide. So I’m glad this trip happened,” she says.

Skydiving in Pattaya

HASNOR SIDIK, 33,W Hotel Singapore’s Artistic Director

To celebrate his 33rd birthday, Mr Hasnor went for a quick getaway to Pattaya, Thailand, with his close friend Stephanie Er, 28, who works in the shipping business.

They arrived in Bangkok on a Sunday night in May, and Mr Hasnor managed to catch up with some of his friends there over dinner and drinks.

The next morning, the duo drove to Pattaya, where they each skydived in tandem with an instructor for the first time.

“I was initially nervous, but it turned out to be an amazing experience. I think the fact that it was done on impulse contributed to the excitement. We booked the session just a few days before my birthday.

“Wind was gushing across my face and I got to see the whole of Pattaya from up in the air,” he says.

“I would do this again any time, any day.”

After the skydive, they drove to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport and hopped on a plane home

This story first appeared in The Sunday Times &

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