Since winning talent program “Stars in Their Eyes” in 2000, Gary Mullen has been belting out legendary rock band Queen’s greatest hits at live tribute concert, One Night of Queen. He talks to Chin Hui Wen about talent competitions, living under the shadow of Freddie Mercury and why the rock and roll lifestyle is a myth.

Talent shows: yes or no?
The old way of being spotted by talent scouts is gone. Competitions like the “Idol” series bring a host of great singers and performers into the public eye. They might not have gotten a break anywhere else.

Your concert draws huge crowds. Does it ever get overwhelming?
I tend to feed off the energy of a crowd. If they are rocking, it gives me a huge adrenaline rush. If they are more reserved, I work harder to get them rocking.

Is it challenging to perform songs by Freddie Mercury?
I don’t feel the difference. Whether I record one of my own songs or sing onstage, I still sound like me even though the audience sees me as Freddie Mercury.

Should we envy your rock and roll lifestyle?
These days, it’s a bit of a myth. Because touring is so grueling, I look after myself on the road and off. I have to be 100 percent [for the show] every night. If I partied like a rock star, I wouldn’t be able to keep my performance up. The most “rock and roll” thing I do after a show is to look for somewhere to eat.

Gary Mullen performs One Night of Queen on June 21-23, 7:30pm; June 24, 5pm at the Marina Bay Sands.


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The senior vice-president of luxury resort and spa brand Banyan Tree talks to Chin Hui Wen about social activism, her love for the Chinese language and rediscovering Singapore.

I am a feminist because I believe women should live and work on their own terms.

A cruel act of unpardonable violence is ivory poachers chopping the heads off elephants.

I grew up in Little India in a two room shophouse with 10 family members. It exposed me to diverse cultures, shaping my sensitivity to differences and openess in life.

My emotional pillars were my parents. My mother taught me the importance of rules. My father’s never-give-up attitude inspired me to work harder.

In a word, I am earnest. Whatever the job, big or small, I’ll do my very best.

The beautiful Phuket sunset kick-started my interest in hospitality.

I worry most about my youngest son, Ren Chun, 18. He has exams, military service, university education, courtship and marriage to think about.

“Discover Singapore” weekends were started by my daughter, Ren Yung, and her boyfriend to introduce the family to new places in town.

I’ve recently learned how much fun Tiong Bahru is, where to get the best porridge and how good the pepper crabs are on Pulau Ubin.

My perfect day would be waking up late, have toast and coffee, play tennis, have lunch with the children, go for foot reflexology, watch a good movie, eat dinner somewhere new, and wind down with the hubby, chatting about everything under the sun.

I wrote a Chinese-language autobiography, My Journey and After, because I want to leave a family legacy for my children. I can always do a second memoir when I’m 80.

Bilingualism is a privilege. Knowing the Chinese language, its culture and history has helped me tremendously in my business negotiations.

The most life-changing decision I ever made was becoming a mother. Children take time and attention from other endeavors.

Words like “success” and “achievement” don’t excite me. I am motivated by the process of engagement, not the outcome. Doing things in teams, and engaging with pockets in the community is most satisfying.

I couldn’t have predicted the many changes in my life. From academia to hospitality, from being a single footloose traveler to a mother of three debating in parliament, and now the chairman of Wildlife Reserves Singapore.

I will work past age 100, for sure.


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Why your next holiday really ought to be a rental.

Call it social travel, short-term letting, peer-to-peer holidaying or just the new, new thing, sites like Airbnb and Roomorama appear to have reached something of a tipping point; worldwide bookings through the former alone are set to exceed those at Hilton Hotels (some 600,000) this year. Renting a property instead of a hotel room when you travel abroad is nothing new; but these sites, which connect hosts with spare rooms, empty apartments, tents and even castles to guests looking for something a little different on their next trip, have revolutionized the market. Gone are the cumbersome classified ads, the exorbitant agency fees and the need to book a year in advance. Gone, too, is the hype surrounding their scuzzy progenitors, Craigslist and Couchsurfing**—both we and the Web have grown up in the last few years. Now you really can do this kind of thing not only on a whim and on a budget but in real style.

**Top of Google’s ‘related searches’ for “couchsurfing”: “couchsurfing bad experience.” Then “couchsurfing horror stories.” That’s one reason why the next gen sites have placed such a premium on identity verification.

From Door to Door

These sites, though, have themselves already been around a couple of years; so what’s new, and what difference does that make here in Singapore? Well, for one thing, there’s now a vast inventory in Asia, especially on the two sites already namechecked, meaning you can find awesome options almost anywhere you want to go. For another, many of them have big plans for the local market and, in several cases, know it pretty well already. Both industry poster boy Airbnb and the previously Euro-focused 9flats (whose VP, Wei Leen Ng, is an NUS alumni) say they’re opening offices in Singapore before year-end, to better service those of us on this side of the world. Roomorama founders Federico Folcia and Jia En Teo (also a Singaporean) are one step ahead of them, having relocated their headquarters from NYC last year to focus on operations here. Despite widely voiced concerns that Asians might not be quite so comfortable in throwing open their doors to strangers, they’re all confident this is only the beginning.

The space is evolving, too. Indeed, the notion that this is all about sketchy spare rooms has gone out the (grubby-paned) window. Roomorama, in particular, focuses on premium properties, including villas and even serviced apartments; 90% of their inventory is private and not all of it comes cheap (Teo tells us they recently had a single booking to the value of US$17,000). Airbnb, meanwhile, curate their vast collection so that instead of looking at a bunk bed, you can look at villas near vineyards, or only apartments featuring original design works by the Eames brothers (seriously—they have 53 of those). Sure, you can still find some less-than-stellar studios, but this is all a far cry from what sites like this were first known for. Indeed, those that haven’t seen fit to filter or finesse, including unabashed Airbnb clone Wimdu, look horribly out of step.

The Paradox of Choice

Where to start, though, when there are so many of these sites out there? The overwhelming number of sites can undoubtedly be a turn-off, especially when the concept of renting peer-to-peer is still new to so many. But it’s a problem that is, for the most part, disappearing; another reason why now’s such a good time to start thinking seriously about this kind of holiday, if you haven’t already.

The biggest players in the market are buying or tying up with the (reputable) competition—earlier this year Roomorama merged with European site Lofty, while Airbnb acquired the UK’s Crashpadder (the names of the two being pretty indicative of the different markets they’re going after)—meaning it’s less and less intimating when you start doing your research. There are other big players, such as the somewhat more traditional and whole lot less sexy HomeAway, which lists more than 300,000 properties, but there’s a reason we keep mentioning the other two; if you’ve an eye for design, money to spare but not to burn and an interest in offbeat and plain awesome places, then you don’t really need to look beyond them; particularly if you’re holidaying around Asia. (See Battle of the Bedrooms for a comparison of the key differences between the biggest players.)

In any case, this being the Web, there are various aggregator tools that make browsing inventory from several sites simultaneously a breeze, and curators (so 2012, darling) choosing their favorites. Late last year, Tripping launched a Kayak-style discovery engine for some 500,000+ listings on sites like Roomorama, 9flats and HomeAway; though not Airbnb. Rentmix, is a map mashup created by an ex-Google engineer that plots all the different properties for super-intuitive viewing. And the likes of WelcomeBeyond, which acts like a Mr and Mrs Smith for the rental market by handpicking properties, are a great alternative if you prefer someone else doing your gem hunting for you; though, frankly, where’s the fun in that? (They currently have only one property listed in all of SE Asia, anyway.)

Booking is getting easier, too. In April, Airbnb launched Match, a slick booking process that automates the process of messaging hosts so that guests can find the kind of property they’re looking for quicker and at the last minute; and they already have their own app. Roomorama’s ShoutOuts post messages to the whole community for faster response times, their merger with Lofty was driven in part by a desire to use their back-end to implement truly instant booking (one area the industry’s still playing catch-up with hotels) and they have an app of their own launching in the next couple of months (along with Thai and Bahasa versions of the site). User feedback—a key driver of this space from the beginning—is getting more sophisticated as the mere novelty of staying in someone else’s apartment wears off, meaning more confidence when booking. Security, specifically lack of comeback for both hosts and guests, dominated the headlines for sites like these last year, when an unlucky host had her house trashed in what became known as “the Airbnb incident”; but that triggered a wave of improvements and assurances and now 9flats, for example, trumpet their host protection plan, which runs to €900,000, as their biggest selling point and assures guests that they meet all hosts face-to-face.

Ultimately, of course, you get what you pay for—you can’t run to Reception like you can at the Ritz-Carlton, but if that’s what you expect then you’re on the wrong webpage.

5 Ways to a Pain-free Vacation Rental Experience

Long-term Lease on Life

What with all this hype and all these clones, you’d be forgiven for thinking this carries more than a whiff of Groupon about it (remember them? Check your junk folder if not). But the speed with which the market leaders have evolved (even hotels are now looking to get their suites listed) and the fact that the model is so eminently scalable (you have a room? You can make money!) suggests the travel industry’s old way of doing things really has been overturned for good.

It’s a safe bet that the space is set to grow a whole lot more, especially here, where we’re still at the surface-scratching stage. And if there are bumps ahead, they’re more likely to be regulatory than because people are bored of the concept; city councils around the world have queried the legality of tenants subletting their apartments for short-term stays, and in some cases, changed the law to prohibit it, but none of the sites has found (or necessarily tried to find) a way to police all their listings. In Singapore, the rule seems to be that you can only sublet for six months or more, though there’s some confusion about which properties that applies to.

So, while Airbnb’s revelation that hosts in NYC are now making US$21,000 a year on average might be rather envy-inducing, it’s where you can go, not how much can make, that’s truly exciting about all this. Don’t believe it? Maybe it’s time you took a look for yourself.

Battle of the Bedrooms

Not all peer-to-peer rental sites are exactly alike. While aggregators can help you navigate by location, going direct to the sites offers a greater degree of functionality. Here’s how the big players measure up, so you don’t waste your time looking in the wrong place.


 See also:

Luxurious Home Rentals around Asia
Asia's Best Villa Rental Agencies
Quirky Ideas for Budget Travel
What Readers Think About Vacation Rental Sites






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Travel in style with these sleek new luggage designs.

American Tourister—Maximum Volume Plus
With its extra thick design, this bag has 30 percent more space than other luggage of the same length. There’s also a vertical opening on the side, allowing you to grab stuff within even when the bag’s stowed. Construction’s solid, too: it’s sealed with an inbuilt TSA combination lock, which has been tested 15,000 times in quick succession. Find it in three sizes, with an upright height of 50cm, 68cm or 78cm. From $140.

Samsonite—Black Label Cubelite
Strong and light, the Cubelite is made with Samsonite’s patented CURV material—thin sheets of polypropylene which are stretched, layered then hot compressed to make a shiny shell. It also boasts a four wheel hub for extra stability, an integrated TSA combination lock and palladium zippers. From $790.

The stylish Tegra-Lite collection comes highly recommended for its durability and impact resistance features. Each piece is created using Tegris, a thermoplastic composite material that’s usually used in lifesaving armor and NASCAR race cars, and is intricately lined throughout. The full collection comprises two-wheeled and four-wheeled carry-ons, as well as four-wheeled packing cases. $1,060 upwards.


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If you’re not used to peer-to-peer rental, it can seem a little daunting. After all, you can’t go running to Reception if there’s a problem. But by following some simple, sensible steps you can take the sting out of the whole thing. Here are our top five tips for a pain free vacation rental experience.

Read listings carefully
Look for specifics about price, the number of tenants and distance from attractions and public transport. Favor to-the-point listings with lots of pictures from multiple angles; be suspicious of flowery language. Write to the host and ask specific questions (don’t forget that many hosts are first-timers too).

Go “walkabout”
Check the area out online. Google Street View allows you to explore easily. You’ll know for sure if the place really has unobstructed views or is, in fact, opposite a busy bus station.

Document everything
Payment should be made by a traceable method. Using a credit card is best so you have a record if something goes awry. Once there, make sure the spot is in the agreed condition. Take photos to provide evidence of problems and report them immediately.

Connect socially
Sites like Tripping allow you to connect with home leasers through Facebook and even find out where your friends have stayed. The personal connection could make all the difference.

Have all the contacts
It may sound basic. But if something is off, you need to know who to tell. Take down all the helpline numbers—Airbnb and Roomorama have 24-hour ones—and make sure you have the landlord’s details handy.


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Luxurious accommodation options in Asia that make you go, "Seriously? Can I stay here?"

China: Castle on the Bund, US$190 ($245)/night
A two-bedroom penthouse in Shanghai’s famed waterfront district, the Bund, this place has a private balcony with 360 degree views and castle-like furnishings such as latticed window grilles, wrought iron chandeliers and arched wooden doors.

Indonesia: Villa Sunset with Private Boat, €515 ($820)/night
Just 20 minutes from Ngurah Rai International Airport, this three-bedroom villa in southern Bali is right by an ocean lagoon, and boasts a 20-meter swimming pool and pier with private boat ($170 for four hours). Kayaks and three bikes are free to use.

Malaysia: Guesthouse, $428/night
A 1941 pre-war art deco building, sleeping up to four and furnished with both antique and contemporary pieces (right down to the Lavazza espresso maker). Other highlights include a lap pool and a bougainvillea-covered rooftop patio boasting panaromic views of Old Malacca.

The Philippines: Coco’s Garden, $70/night
Housing up to six people, this vintage home in the historic Paco District of Old Manila has a traditional Filipino dipping bath, airy patio and lush green garden. Foodies take note: Local grub, including vegetarian and organic options, can be arranged (from $5 per meal).

Sri Lanka: Bird Sanctuary Villa by the Lake, US$50 ($64)/night
Less than half an hour from Colombo city, this villa is next to a bird sanctuary and boasts clear lakeside views. A swimming pool with jacuzzi, and rooftop terrace are also part of the four-bedroom space.

Thailand: Cave House, $141/night
Held up by two imposing sandalwood poles salvaged from a sailboat is this rugged chic abode on Southeastern Thai island Koh Phangan. It sleeps four (one double, two singles), boasts an impressive kitchen with a wood-fired brick pizza oven and is entirely solar-powered.


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Traveling on a budget? These offbeat services help you get your basics straight on the cheap.

Camp In My Garden
This outdoor housing specialist provides a range of private garden options, from the bare basics to glamping. Most locations are in the UK (snag a bargain for the Olympics!), with some regional spots in Thailand and Indonesia. Places are sorted by area events (from music fests to sports competitions).

Homestay Malaysia
The Malaysian Ministry of Tourism partners with kampong (village) dwellers to offer stays at communal longhouses all over the country. Harvest and cook local produce and learn about traditional handicrafts like batik and woodcarving firsthand.

Warm Showers
Long distance bikers know the plight well: You’ve been on the road for hours and are in dire need of a good scrub. Enter Warm Showers. The online community allows you to use hosts’ home bathrooms and potentially negotiate overnight stays.



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Born in Malaysia, raised in the United States and Singapore, and now based in Australia, funnyman Ronny Chieng is back in town to perform at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival Roadshow 2012. He tells Chin Hui Wen how his diverse background has influenced his act, his backstage routines and his advice to budding standup comics.

How has your multicultural upbringing influenced your comedy?
It has given me an outside perspective on customs and social norms from the countries where I’ve lived. I see strangeness in what is generally accepted as “normal” in individual societies.

How did you get your start?
I took part in this comedy competition at college, which I won. Afterward, I kept on asking for spots at other comedy rooms around the city. I was lucky enough to keep getting gigs here and there, and used that stage time to get better.

Was it a daunting task writing a whole show?
Yes, incredibly. At some points, I didn’t think it’d be possible. A lot of trial and error went into my first show before it started to click. I felt like it happened almost by accident.

Do you have any pre-show routines?
I pace around backstage, drink water and yell at myself.

Who are your biggest comedic inspirations?
Louis CK and Bill Burr: legendary comics who are extremely funny and come up with great new material every year.

What advice would you give to young comedians?
Be aware of whether your material is working and do not be afraid to acknowledge when something isn’t so you can improve on it. Also, don’t believe your own PR.

Ronny Chieng will perform at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival Roadshow 2012 on July 10-13, 8pm; 14, 6pm; 14, 9pm at DBS Arts Centre home of the Singapore Repertory Theatre.


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