Not a Naiise move

Not a Naiise move

Singapore’s home-grown retailer Naiise shuttered its remaining outlet in Jewel Changi Airport last weekend, making a sad ending to a business that was a champion for locally-designed stuff.

According to reports, its founder Dennis Tay had run out of money to keep the business afloat. He is also said to have exhausted his saving, borrowed from banks and is in the process of filing for personal bankruptcy.

While his side of the story is indeed sad, one can’t help but feel for the many suppliers who are left unpaid for sales of products — sold on a consignment basis.

The sums owed are not large and are unlikely to cause any of them to fold but it is still bad business practice from Naiise.

Suppliers have been unpaid from as far back as 2016 — that’s way before the opening of the spanking new outlet, with an in-shop cafe to boot, in Jewel Changi Airport. If the company was already in some form of financial distress, why did it still choose such a fanciful location? It seems that it would rather spend on a new outlet that pay its suppliers, many of which are small businesses.

Such a move could also give vendors the impression that the company is doing well, perhaps gaining a little more goodwill and tolerance when it comes to payment terms.

However, Naiise’ untimely closure plus the personal bankruptcy filed by its founder, may result in many of them remaining unpaid.

It is a fact that COVID-19 has hit retailers such as Naiise badly. But that doesn’t negate the fact that the retailer has been delinquent in paying vendors even before the pandemic.

The whole experience is part and parcel of the risk of doing business for the affected vendors. It is a painful lesson. But hopefully, it’s one that they will learn well from and that emerge stronger and succeed.

As consumers, we can support local companies by buying their products. They may not be as cheap as those bought online but treat it as our contribution to build a sustainable local market.

On the radar: Mirrorless AI camera for smartphones

On the radar: Mirrorless AI camera for smartphones

Ever wished for a better camera for the smartphone to take nicer photos? While camera capabilities are limited by the phone’s size, startup Photogram is developing an alternative that brings the benefits of the mirrorless camera to the smartphone.

Its Alice compact, mirrorless camera is sleek and sports just a shutter button, control wheel and cold-shoe adapter. After mounting the smartphone, it connects via 5Ghz wi-fi, letting users share images and stream videos easily.

Alice is built around a Sony IMX294 10.7 megapixel 4/3 sensor optimised for high-quality and full-width 4K video. The sensor is eight times bigger than that of a typical smartphone.

In front of that big sensor is a Micro Four Third lens mount. The compact interchangeable lens system gives users access to more than 100 lens options from Olympus, Panasonic, and specialty lens makers such as Sigma, Tamron and Tokina.

Users will be able to choose from 16mm-equivalent fish-eye lenses for a super-wide angle of view or 800mm-equivalent telephone zoom lenses able to get clear, undistorted pictures of objects far away, with plenty of options in between.

THE SECRET SAUCE

“I was thinking a lot about how data science and machine learning and AI could be applied to create video and imagery. I was using a camera all the time to create video content and becoming increasingly frustrated with operating them,” said Vishal Kumar of Photogram.

The secret sauce is an AI built using NVIDIA GPU-accelerated deep learning to help photographers wring the most out of Alice’s hardware. The AI controls and improves focusing, changes exposure, automatically adjusts white balance, and performs automatic image stabilisation.

Users will eventually make Alice better at whatever photography they do. “Let’s say you’re a wedding photographer, or you like to shoot cats or clothes. We want people to be able to optimise our models and retrain them so their Alice camera can be more optimised for the photography they do,” said Kumar.

Since its listing on Indigogo last September, Alice has raised US$200,000 from more than 250 backers by February. It is due for release in October for around US$760 to early backers.

Photo: Photogram

126 big pao price up, ingredients down

126 big pao price up, ingredients down

When it comes to baos (dumplings), Singapore is so blessed to have many brand names offering these treats — Ho Kee Pau, Tanjong Rhu Pau and Confectionary, Teck Kee Tanglin Pau, and Tiong Bahru to name a few.

Baos are great for all occasions — from proper meals to coffee break treat. They can be eaten to fill the stomach or just please the palette.

With increasing prices of raw materials, bao prices have been escalating. This is understandably so as the outlets need to remain profitable.

However, one price hike got us a little concerned. 126 Dim Sum 揾到食 has raised the price of its popular big pao to S$2, a price point unheard of at non-restaurant level. Plus, the outlet charges GST so the real price is S$2.14.

What we noticed also was that on top of the increase and GST, the slice of Chinese sausage and mushroom were missing. For some, it’s the lup cheong that makes the difference, letting this iteration stand out for the competition. It’s what makes one drive all the way to Geylang and risk getting a traffic ticket to buy the bao.

We couldn’t let this go without asking why. When queried over the phone, a staff said, “$2 is cheap already. Others are charging $2.20.”

About the missing ingredients, she said, “Some customers told us that the lup cheong is smelly so we decided to remove it,”

Dah? That slice of lup cheong has been an essential part of the setup for many years. So why now?

Truth be told, I was so disappointed by the price hike and the missing ingredient that I refused to take a photo of the bao.

Like I said at the start, Singapore has lots of great bao outlets. Time to pick another one.

Photo: Gabby K from Pexels

Popiah skin 24/7

Popiah skin 24/7

New York is known as the city that never sleeps, Neither does Citibank, according to its tagline. If you’re a popiah lover, you’d be glad to know that Fortune Food also operates 24/7.

My family loves to make our own popiah, especially for Chinese New Year. This year, I left it a little late — the day before CNY Eve to get the ingredients.

As usual, I headed to Ng Kian Seng Confectionery, my favourtite popiah skin store at Bedok South Block 17. To my horror, all the skin were sold out (guess others had the same idea).

I put on my best smile. OK, my mask was on but my eyes were sparkling. All in the hope of convincing the lady boss to somehow sell one of her reserved stash to me.

Alas, it wasn’t to be. Instead she asked if I drove. It sounded like such a strange question but I said “yes”.

She went to rip a piece of receipt off her book and told me to head to that address to buy directly from her factory.

“What time does your factory open till today,” I asked.

She told me nonchalantly that it is open 24 hours a day.

Less than 10 minutes later, I arrived at Fortune Food at Gourmet East Kitchen in Bedok North.

As I walked towards the unit, a man asked me through the metal gate what I wanted. Just as I was preparing to take out my phone to snap a couple of shots of the place, he came out and handed me my order.

That was really fast — I was in and out within five minutes.

The 1kg of popiah skin was warm — a testament that it was freshly baked.

Next comes the taste test. While shaped and priced the same as the Bedok South shop, the skin was a little too refined and much chewier compared to what we were used to.

Overall, it’s good and most wouldn’t have noticed the difference. But, I was more used to having my popiah skin pockmarked with tiny air bubbles and a little thinner.

The plus point for this popiah skin is its constant availability. I paid S$20 per kg (think it’s the festive season surcharge) because its website pricing was S$18 per kg.

So, if you need popiah skin anytime, check out Fortune Food is at 3017 Bedok North Street 5 #01-13, Gourmet East Kitchen, Singapore 486121.

Verdict

Taste: 👍👍👍👍

Texture: 👍👍👍

Price: 👍👍👍👍

Bak kwa: Buy or bake?

Bak kwa: Buy or bake?
Marinated meat ready to hit the oven

Bak kwa or pork jerky is a staple for Chinese New Year. And without fail, the price of this yummy honey-glazed grilled meat will increase as the festive season approaches.

The reason given by the sellers is that ingredients and manpower costs escalate during this period. Point taken but the increase can make the product prohibitively expensive at S$68 per kg from my favourite store. This high price is especially more of a concern in such turbulent times.

With that in mind and inspired by some posts on home-made bak kwa, I decided to check out some recipes on YouTube to explore the possibility of making my own.

After watching a few videos, the process looks surprisingly easy. My mind was made up as the risk seems low. After all, if the end product is not nice, it won’t cost me much either.

Virgin attempt

My attempt is based on this clip, which is really easy to follow. Plus, I’ve got all the ingredients listed in that clip at home, except for the minced pork.

All that’s needed to bake your own bak kwa

Having read in another recipe that they added five spice powder, I opted to include that too. Another online recipe suggested adding fermented tofu, which I didn’t because there’s none in my kitchen.

Once all of the above has been mixed together, it’s a matter of letting the marinated meat set for four hours. I left it overnight as I didn’t want to cook past midnight.

The baking process was relatively straightforward. Pop the meat into the oven, take it out to slather a layer of honey water, then baste both sides. You can find the process in the YouTube link mentioned above or any other clip online.

Looks like the real thing

Then comes the most important part — taste test. The entire family loves it! OK, there’s definitely room for improvement in terms of thickness and texture but the taste is just right. I had cut down on the sugar after sizing up the recommended sugar amount and the honey water coating.

Our conclusion is that we will skip buying and bake our own this year. With all the ingredients already available at home, I only had to buy the minced pork, which cost S$12 per kg. The total cost, minus labour, was about S$15.

Weighing this cost against the hefy price from the traditional shops, we will experiment with other ingredients and cooking processes further so that our family and friends can taste something different this Chinese New Year.

Verdict

Taste: 👍👍👍👍

Texture: 👍👍👍

Changi Airport: A tourist attraction

Changi Airport: A tourist attraction

Singaporeans normally view Changi Airport as a place to board a plane for exotic tourist destinations. But, with travel curbs in place, the airport has itself become a tourist attraction.

Kudos to the folks running the airport for the immense efforts to draw people to the airport for reasons other than travelling. Well, if you stay at the other end of the island, it may feel like you’re heading to another town, another place.

Opened slightly more than a year ago, Jewel is a delightful mall to spend time a day in. It’s got everything — from food to shops, and hairstyling saloons to hotel. For this season, the gardens around the centrepiece Rain Vortex has been decked in Christmas glory, making for great sight seeing and photo opportunities.

Families who want something a little different can consider spending a night glamping at Cloud9 Piazza at Level 5.

While Terminal 3 may not be as crowded as before, it has also been given a Christmas makeover with dinosaurs, in line with the theme of Jurassic Mile. The fact that there’s less of a crowd is great because you can take your time to delight in the exhibits and take photos without having loads of photo bombers.

For the F1 wannabes, a go kart circuit — with separate tracks for children and adults — has been set up at the taxi rank outside Terminal 4.

A little round the corner is Jurassic Mile, which has also been decorated with lights to make it a sight to behold at night. Whether you’re a cyclist, walker or jogger, this stretch is worth exploring. But do note that you need to book a slot if you’re planning to be there on Fridays to Sundays.

So, if you’re looking for a place to go to during the holiday, consider Changi Airport — and you don’t have to worry about forgetting to bring your passport.

Google Nest: Good sound, great price

Google Nest: Good sound, great price

When Google announced the Google Home speaker in 2016, I was excited and wanted to get one. Unfortunately, the product wasn’t available in Singapore then.

During my next trip to the US in 2017, I stayed in San Jose and scouted for the nearest outlet selling the device. I was so delighted to find it at a nearby Walmart and bought two — one to give as a gift.

From then on, it’s a love affair that has expanded to the Google Home Mini, which I installed in another room. The smart speakers produce acceptable sound quality (for my ears) and are so easy to set up.

The introduction of Google Nest Audio this year got me all worked up again. But, this time, I need not (and could not anyway) fly to the US to get my fix. My discerning daughter gifted me one as soon as it was available.

It doesn’t look like the first two iterations but everything else was so intuitive.

After more than a month with the Google Nest, here are my thoughts:

  1. Easy setup. One of the biggest frustrations of getting a new device is the setting up. But, Google has made it so easy that my Nest was up and running in a minute.
  2. Good sound. Under its larger form factor are a pair of speakers that produce good sounds. The Google Nest Audio sports a 75mm woofer and a 19mm tweeter, which delivers more oomph compared to the sole 50mm speaker on the first Home.
  3. Inconspicuous look. Some may say that the design looks too simple but I feel that it is just what a speaker should look like. Speakers are meant to be heard, not seen, so the simple look can fit in anywhere without drawing attention.
  4. Privacy mode. With so much concern over whether wireless speakers are recording conversations, Google has added a microphone switch to turn it off when greater privacy is desired.
  5. Great price. At S$139, the price in Singapore is similar to the US pricing. Plus, local shipping is free so there’s no need to pay for overseas shipping and that long wait.

The Google Nest Audio can be paired with another to provide a stereo effect. I only have one so cannot comment on how good that would be. But my imagination tells me that if one is already good, two would make the audio experience much better. If you like, you can get the Google Nest Audio from Google Singapore.

Verdict

Price: 👍👍👍👍👍

Performance: 👍👍👍👍

O’ Coffee Club souffle pancake: More please

O’ Coffee Club souffle pancake: More please

It took just one bad experience in Osaka to ruin our image of the souffle pancake. My family had just landed in the city and headed to a strategically located mall where the joint was at. We were awed by the photo of that pancake and ordered — expecting it to taste just as great as it looked.

Unfortunately, it was not to be. Neither the look nor the taste was as expected. In fact, it was awful.

Fast forward three years and my daughter and I were in our favourate haunt Jewel Changi Airport. We were looking to pack lunch home when she spotted a sign showing souffle pancake.

We have walked past that spot in the B2 food area countless times but somehow, haven’t seen this before. It’s an O’ Coffee Club kiosk serving just souffle pancakes.

Since she was game enough to give souffle pancakes a second chance (yes, she reminded me of the bad Osaka experience), I decided to join her.

“You have to wait 20 minutes” I was told while ordering. This was one day when I had the luxury of time so yes, we were prepared to wait.

The young lady behind the counter whisked the mix — first by machine, then by hand. She sliced the fruits and plated the pancake nicely for us.

OK, looks test passed. Now for the taste test.

We didn’t need the knife to cut through the pancake as it was so soft. One bite and yes, the souffle pancake has won redemption!

It is so good and here are our impressions:

  1. Nice and soft. All the shocking memories were erased when we dug in. This version is so soft and oh, so nice.
  2. Variety of fruits and sauces. Complementing the buttery but slightly bland pancake were the tanginess, sweetness and saltiness of the fruits and sauces. It’s like activating all the flavour senses in the tongue.
  3. More than enough for one. I’m not sure if the plate is intended for one person but with three pieces of pancakes and all the condiments, there’s more than enough for one person.
  4. Great effort and presentation. Seeing the young lady’s diligence and effort in preparing the dessert makes our hearts warm. And the presentation certainly makes it look more than its worth.
  5. Super value. At S$9.90 and big enough for you, it offers very good value for money.

Just as an indicator of how highly we rate the souffle pancake, we went there three times over a period of eight days. And the people we brought on subsequent visits all gave it the thumbs up.

The sad part is that come November 30, it will not longer be around in B2. The dessert may be added onto the O’ Coffee Club menu at its other Jewel outlet.

Verdict

Taste: 👍👍👍👍👍

Value: 👍👍👍👍👍

Hokkien mee fried till dry

Hokkien mee fried till dry
For those who love their Hokkien mee fried till dry

Fried Hokkien mee can be found all over Singapore. And they are fried in a variety of ways — wet, not so wet, sticky, and even dry.

I’ve tried a number of stalls and one that really got me going back again and again is the one at Golden Mile Food Centre. Hainan Hokkien Mee run by an elderly couple fries theirs the dry style.

A few visits turned up zilch as the food centre was either closed for washing or renovation. OK, OK, it’s my fault for not checking first but it’s usually because I happened to be in that area around those times.

When I read from a Facebook post about anpother similar style of Hokkien mee in Geylang, I simply had to check it out. It helps to have an alternative should I have a Hokkien mee fix.

Before sending my daughter to work, we popped by 134 Sims Avenue, which is just a few doors away from 126 Dim Sum Wen Dao Shi 揾到食, one of my family’s favourie dim sum joint.

Liang Ji Fried Hokkien Prawn Mee is owned by the son of the Hainan Hokkien Mee couple. The cooking style is similar but there are more offerings here with lobsters and lala versions.

Double thumbs up even without digging in yet!

We ordered the $5 entry level version (mine with pork belly only) and here’s my first impression.

  1. Great value at $5. For the price, the plate is large and more than enough for an average person.
  2. Tasty noodles. The dish is tasty and comes with more than enough ingredients to accompany every bit.
  3. The lard is to-die-for. If you want to eat here, forget about eating healthily because the lard is well worth the fats. It’s slightly saltish, oh so crunchy and left me longing for more. The good news is that if the generous portion is not enough, you can get another dollop at just 50 cents.
  4. Chilli has kick. The chilli is unlike some that are slightly sweet. This one is hot — the way I like my chilli.
  5. Not garlicky. I don’t like garlic but the way this is fried, it’s just like the Golden Mile version where you cannot really taste the garlic.
  6. Covnenient location with ample parking. There are lots of streetside parking along Sims Avenue and Lorongs 17 and 19, as well as the carpark at Lorong 19, which is just a short walk away.

If there’s one area of improvement, it’s perhaps that the noodles could be fried till it’s drier. Though it’s dry compared to others, it looks like the broth has not been totally absorbed — the noodles felt slightly sticky.

Having said that, it’s another place I’d visit again. If you’d like to check it out, the address and opening hours are below:

Liang Ji Fried Hokkien Prawn Mee
134 Sim Avenue, Geylang Lorong 17, Singapore 387456
Opens Tuesday to Sunday from 11.30am to 10.00pm.

Verdict

Taste: 👍👍👍👍

Value: 👍👍👍👍👍

Google Photos: Free storage going soon

Google Photos: Free storage going soon

Looks like it’s a case of hook them, then cook them. After offering free storage to attract to use Google Pbotos for the past five years, the service will no longer be free from June 1, 2021.

From that fateful date, new photos and videos will be counted as part of the free 15GB of storage that comes with every Google Account.

Users who need more space will have to become a Google One member and pay US$1.99 per month for 100GB of storage.

Well, I can’t say that I didn’t see this coming. When Google launched the Pixel 4 last October, the writing was already on the wall. Along with the introduction was an announcement that the smartphone comes with free three-month 100GB subscription of Google One.

Original quality images taken on the Google Pixel 4 are uploaded to Google One where the subscription see if payable after three months.

Admittedly, the good deal cannot go on forever. Google needs to monetise this fast-growing service with 28 billion new photos and videos uploaded every week.

But, to slam the door on all users doesn’t speak well of its customer service or desire to retain customers.

Source: Google

Perhaps, Google could have just stuck the new cap on new Google Photo users. This is wishful thinking but why rock the boat with the faithful?

The company did say that Pixel 1 to 5 users are exempted from the change and can continue to upload high quality photos and videos after June 1, 2021.

As a current Google Pixel 3 user, I still enjoy free storage for original quality photos and videos until January 31, 2022. After that, it’s either about forking out for a subscription to maintain media quality or just being contented with lower quality. Guess I’ll defer the decision till then.