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Sun Worshippers

Muslim women in Malaysia have taken to the new burqa- bikini combination like fish to water, says Lucy E Cousins

As waves lap gently against the shore at Malaysia’s Sunway Lagoon – South-East Asia’s largest artificial beach – a boy and his father splash around playfully while nearby, the boy’s grandmother stands in ankle-deep water, holding up the hem of her heavy burqa so it doesn’t become wet.

It’s here that Muslim women are embracing a solution to a universal concern: how to dress appropriately for swimming? The answer arrived a few years ago in the form of a trademarked design that has quickly become part of the vernacular: the Burqini.

Created in 2004 by Lebanese-Australian designer Aheda Zanetti, the Burqini is a lightweight, body- covering, two-piece swimsuit with attached “hijood” (combination hijab and hood). Essentially, it allows Muslim women to swim in public, while still respecting their religious traditions.

The swimsuit has been welcomed by Muslim women thanks to the freedom it offers. Yet, this new fashion entry hasn’t escaped controversy. Some Muslims believe that the material, when wet, still reveals too much of the female form.

However, in Malaysia, whose population of more than 25 million is 60% Muslim, there is no restriction, or for that matter, enforcement of “modest swimwear” rules.

So at Sunway Lagoon, girls in bikinis frolic alongside others in burqa-bikinis. Located 30 minutes by car from Kuala Lumpur, Sunway Lagoon is a microcosm of modern Malaysia’s cultural melting pot. There are five amusement parks, a surf beach, an “erupting” volcano and luxury accommodation facilities.

“I love to spend the whole day on the rides,” says Heba, 24, a student from Kuala Lumpur clad in the new-style swimwear. “I could never do this in my burqa.” As if to illustrate the extent to which Malaysia has accepted the burqa-bikini, the shops at Sunway Lagoon are full of colourful examples, including creations by Malaysian designers, who tend to favour patterns, bright colours and the traditional A-line silhouette.

It’s their flair and attention to detail that has earned Malaysian women their reputation for stylishness. At shopping malls in the capital, women can be seen decked out in brightly coloured and sleekly designed tudung (headscarves). But it is at Sunway Lagoon where the clearest evidence of the ongoing fashion revolution in Malaysia can be found. Some Malaysian women even wear modesty swimwear without the hood, blending in with tourists clad in outfits designed to protect them from the sun’s harmful rays. The results are harmonious in more ways than one.

SOAK UP THE SUN

From haunted houses to tube rides and slides, Sunway Lagoon and its theme parks offer plenty of fun in the sand and sun for families who can’t make it to the coast. It’s open daily except Tuesdays and visitors can choose from the All Parks Best Value ticket (Adults: S$41) and the 3 Parks ticket (Adults: S$33). Sunway Lagoon, 3, Jln PJS 11/11, Bandar Sunway, tel: +60   (0)3 5639 0000, www.sunway.com.my/lagoon

SOUTHEAST ASIA'S BEST ARTIFICIAL BEACHES

SUNWAY LAGOON, MALAYSIA Five theme parks and South- East Asia’s largest man-made beach. www.sunway.com.my/lagoon

SENTOSA ISLAND, SINGAPORE Accessible by cable car, this resort destination is home to a 2km-long beach. www.sentosa.com.sg

SIAM PARK CITY, BANGKOK A 13,600m2 wave pool and inviting stretch of sand right in the city centre. www.siamparkcity.com

GALAXY WORLD, MACAU A white-sand beach and a 4,000m2 wave pool. www.olamacauguide.com/galaxy-mega-resort.html

Macau to the Max

This former colony's name alone conjures images of high rollers, hedonism and glamour. But this rare gem of a destination also serves up a heady mix of cultural wonders from Asia and Europe, says Pamela Wade

High Times

I wish there were no openings in the floor of this metal platform outside the Macau Tower's 61st floor. Through them, I can see the 233m of emptiness beneath. Anthony, who's about to send someone plummeting towards the concrete below, doesn't look at all worried as he jokes with his white-faced victim. I wonder how that guy's feeling. It's nerve-wracking enough watching a bungee jump, never mind being the person poised for a high dive.

The countdown is called and suddenly the platform's empty apart from Anthony, who's leaning over the edge while tracking the jumper as he hurtles earthwards. "Screaming like a stuck pig all the way down!" he tells us gleefully. This is the highest tower jump in the world and it delivers a rush, but taking a flying leap isn't even the scariest thing you can do here.

Elsewhere, people in orange jumpsuits warily stroll the open platform ringing the tower while, farther up, others ascend ladders for the most dizzying experience in Macau. I'm content just to drink in the views of the harbour - with its trio of long, graceful bridges - and of the city itself, which is home to an architecture enthusiast's dream collection of stone and mirrored-glass structures. Now, if only I could lever my fingers off this railing...

Science of Wow

I'm pinned flat on my back in the dark and a huge orange ball of fire is roaring towards me. It seems there's no escape from this deadly asteroid, which looks to herald the end of the world. Except it's the opposite: I'm actually seeing images of the universe's birth. There's a blinding flash as stars and planets scatter in all directions, seemingly passing so close to my face that I recoil. It's all part of the stunning, ultra high-definition 3D spectacular at the Macau Science Centre's Space Theatre.

Downstairs, I try the many hands-on machines and displays, in the process learning about space exploration, ecology, meteorology, even food science and sport. Best of all are the three knee-high, yellow-and-black droids in the Robotics Gallery, which perform tai chi, back flips and press-ups before sweetly finishing their demonstration with polite bows.

Grin and Bear It

There isn't much that can put a grin on your face faster than the sight of a panda. In a fan-shaped building on the island of Coloane is a roomy enclosure whose design - which features rocks, running water and grassy expanses - is based on feng shui principles. The fortunate beneficiaries of this elaborate landscaping are Hoi Hoi and Sam Sam, who are ridiculously fat and fluffy, with the comical, black eyepatches typical of this rare bear species. Together, their names form the Chinese word for "happiness", which is what they provide for onlookers like me. As Sam Sam rolls onto her side for a leisurely scratch, Hoi Hoi shambles up a slope, leans on a rock and begins gnawing on a leafy bamboo stem. It's cuteness times two at the Giant Panda Pavilion.

Wheels of Fortune & Fame

Jammed behind the tiny steering wheel of a bright yellow Reynard 923, I feel as though I'm in a coffin on wheels - albeit one capable of reaching a top speed of 255km/h. Here in the Grand Prix Museum, there's a gridful of lean speed machines from the 60-year history of the city's challenging street circuit. The earlier cars look naked without spoilers, but I fall instantly in love with the shiny red Triumph TR2 roadster that won the inaugural Grand Prix in 1954 - it's a cartoon car on steroids. Among the low-slung racers, there's Michael Schumacher's 1990 winner in dainty lavender blue, Ayrton Senna's red-and-white Ralt RT3 from 1983, plus motorbikes, a Ford Model T and a ruinously expensive Porsche 906. On the simulator, I screech around the tight turns of the Guia Circuit at 200km/h - it's a sweaty business and my smash-ups are epic.

My Left Foot

The young man removes his trousers and hangs them up alongside those of other customers, who are sitting around in nothing but shirts and underwear. It's disconcerting, but they're chatting with the girls crouched at their feet as if it's all perfectly normal. And it is - in this backstreet massage parlour, anyway. Needless to say, it's markedly different from the hushed salons at the big hotels. Here, there's a Brazil-Argentina football match on the big-screen TV and real-life scenes that are nearly as riveting. Case in point: when my young blonde friend is whisked off for a back-and-shoulder treatment her masseur bellows, "You're beautiful! Marry me!" Sadly, my masseuse is a grim-faced, leathery lady who attends to my feet and calves with something less than tender, loving care. Relaxing it isn't, and I think wistfully of the soothing sea "music" that wafts through the air at the hotel spa. Much to my surprise, however, when I stand up my feet feel like new. I give the old lady a tip that leaves her smiling. Still, it's no marriage proposal...

In the Eat of the Moment

I'm glad I came hungry to Macau's heritage district. I'm soon grazing the entire length of the famous food street at Taipa Village, sampling Chinese, Portuguese, Korean, Cantonese, French and Italian fare. Shiny brown jerky of all types, including wild boar, is brandished before me by ladies with scissors, happy to snip off samples of this tangy, salty snack. Fish balls, wrapped in pale pastry stuffed with different fillings and dipped in sauce, are surprisingly tasty. And then there's the local speciality: warm and delicious egg-custard tarts in flaky pastry, along with brightly coloured jellies in pots and durian ice-cream and drinks. The shops here are stacked with dainty nibbles so prettily packaged it looks like Christmas.

Light Sleepers

Before I came to Macau I thought hotels were just buildings with beds. Big mistake. The grand hotels here aren't just in friendly competition with one another, it's all-out war. And the weapons of choice are glitz, glamour and spectacle. Each property is deadly serious about offering something even more mind-bogglingly over the top than whatever it is their competitors have on offer. Taking it all in makes for some of the city's best free entertainment

In the lobby at Wynn Macau, I watch a thousand illuminated moon jellyfish, each the size of a dinner plate, waft around in a tank behind the reception desk. Sparkling from the ceiling are 7,000 Swarovski crystals, some as large as my fist. On the rotunda, the Tree of Prosperity with its 98,000 gold-plated leaves and a smoke-breathing dragon rises majestically from the floor. Outside, the waters of 200 spot-lit fountains dance to a soundtrack of soaring tunes, the eye-catching choreographic display punctuated by startling bursts of fire. www.wynnmacau.com

All That Glitters

When the music starts playing in the lobby at the Galaxy Macau, those in the know immediately turn to look at the fountain. Along with many others, I watch what must be the biggest diamond on the planet seize the spotlight in the middle of an elaborate water show. There's plenty more H2O up on the hotel's second floor, much of it in the form of the 1.5m waves in the pool. From the vantage point of the pool, you can take in the stunning views of the hotel's gleaming cupolas, covered in 24-carat gold leaf. www.galaxymacau.com

Finding Neverland

In Sofitel Ponte 16's darkened MJ Gallery is a collection of spot-lit cases displaying Michael Jackson memorabilia. Here you'll find the sparkly rhinestone glove that the King of Pop wore while doing his trademark "Billie Jean" moonwalk. The matching socks, too. There are gold discs on the wall, videos to enjoy and elaborate costumes to gaze at. No prizes for guessing the background music. www.ponte16.com.mo

Raise a Glass

MGM Macau's distinctive wavy glass façade fronts a palace where the floor is "paved" with lapis lazuli, lilies and orchids festoon glittering corridors and the staff roster features an employee whose only job is to polish the leaves of potted plants. The hotel's display of creations by American glass sculptor Dale Chihuly is truly a sight to behold. Nearly as exquisite are the cupcakes and chocolates at the MGM Patisserie, located in the hallway between the hotel and One Central Mall. There's even a light-and-sound show in a full-size replica Portuguese square indoors. www.mgmmacau.com

Little Mermaids & Shark Tails

By the numbers? The House of Dancing Water show at City of Dreams is anything but. Still, the vital stats speak volumes: 14 million litres of water, 80 dancers and acrobats, 400 costumes, 239 fountains, seven motorcycles, five sharks and, so far, 700,000 satisfied showgoers. It's so popular that I can't get a ticket. Never mind, the free bubble show is an amazing 360º, 3D extravaganza featuring dragons along with mermaids who swim in a virtual aquarium. www.cityofdreamsmacau.com

The Merchant of Venice

The Venetian is mind-blowing. Inside this mammoth structure are Italianate canals, piazzas and bridges - not to mention 330 shops - all under a sky-like ceiling of painted clouds. Gondolas glide across the water, propelled by gondoliers in striped jumpers who - you guessed it - sing. I'm rowed by Luciano, a genuine Italian opera singer who serenades me with' O Sole Mio. Minstrels wander the shiny cobblestone streets along with fellow entertainers decked out in medieval garb. The Venetian is also home to Cirque du Soleil's Zaia, an eye-popping display of skill, strength and grace, plus enough techno-wizardry to float a hot-air balloon directly overhead. In a word: magical. www.venetianmacao.com

WHERE TO EAT

● O PORTO Typically packed with families (always a good sign), this classy but comfy restaurant serves a mix of Portuguese and Macanese cuisine. Don't miss the garlic-stuffed giant prawns and coconut-fried African chicken, and leave room for dessert. 259 Amilante Sergio, Santo Antonio, tel: +853 2896 7770

● O MANUEL Tiny, crowded and authentic, this restaurant exemplifies the passion of its eponymous chef/owner. Try the lobster soup, char-grilled sea bass and suckling pig. 90 Rua Fernão Mendes Pinto, tel: +853 2882 7571

● ESPACO LISBOA 
Portuguese specialities include melted goat's cheese with honey and oil - so much nicer than it sounds - codfish cake and classic warm and buttery sweet egg tarts from Lord Stow's Bakery next door. 8 Rua dos Gaivotas, Coloane, tel: +853 2888 2226

● ANTÓNIO Award-winning Portuguese cuisine served with panache in a small, cosy restaurant in Old Taipa Village. Ask António to demonstrate how to open a Champagne bottle with a sabre. 3 Rua dos Negociantes, Taipa, tel: +853 2899 9998, www.antoniomacau.com

WHAT TO DO

● MACAU TOWER
Admission: S$12/A$9 for adults, S$6/A$4.50 for children. Open 10am-9pm on weekdays, 9am-9pm on weekends. Largo de Torre de Macau, tel: +853 2893 3339, www.macautower.com.mo 

● MACAU SCIENCE CENTRE 
Admission: S$4/A$3 to S$7/ A$5. Open 10am-6pm daily except Thursdays. Avenida Dr Sun Yat-Sen, tel: +853 2888 0822, www.msc.org.mo

● GIANT PANDA PAVILION
Admission: S$1.50/A$1 for adults, free for children. Open 10am-1pm, 2pm-5pm daily except Mondays. Seac Pai Van Park, Coloane, tel: +853 2888 0087, www.macaupanda.org.mo

● GRAND PRIX MUSEUM 
Admission: S$1.50/A$1 for adults, free for children. Open 10am-6pm daily except Tuesdays. Rua Luís Gonzaga Gomes, tel: +853 7984 108, www.macau.grandprix.gov.mo

● TAIPA FOOD STREET
Rua do Cunha, Taipa

WHERE TO STAY

● LANDMARK HOTEL is a classy, luxurious and centrally located five-star property. 555 Avenida da Amizade, tel: +853 2728 1781, www.landmarkhotel.com.mo

● HARD ROCK HOTEL Cool, fun and edgy, this four-star hotel is the place to get in touch with your inner rock star. Estrado do Istmo, Cotai, tel: +853 8868 3338, www.cityofdreamsmacau.com

● HOTEL SINTRA is close to the airport, ferry, shops and casinos. Avenida De G João IV, tel: +853 2871 0111, www.hotelsintra.com

COVER STORY Beauty and the Feast

Once a national pageant queen, a magazine cover girl and a TV actress, now Andrea Fonseka is embarking on a movie career. Felix Cheong meets the Malysian-born beauty, who heads our annual list of trail-blazers across Asia and Australia

Her rise from pageant queen to TV star has been a thrilling ride for Andrea Fonseka, but with her first movie set to debut, she tells Felix Cheong the real payoff is the chance to test her limits

Acurious mix of girl-next-door slow-burn and the hot glow of a star about to ascend: that, in a nutshell, sums up the multi-talented Andrea Fonseka. The statuesque 24-year-old glamour girl may be best known as Suitcase Girl Number 10 on Singapore’s MediaCorp TV game show, Deal or No Deal, as the co-host of the singing contest, Live the Dream, and for supporting roles in homegrown sitcoms such as Parental Guidance and dramas such as En Bloc. Come

October, movie-goers can expect to see Fonseka in an entirely new light with the arrival of her first feature-length film, The Carrot Cake Conversations.

The debut feature of Singapore film-maker Michael Wang, the movie was screened at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and is expected to be shown elsewhere in Asia after its local release.

In it, Fonseka appears alongside three other main actors, including TV, stage and film veteran Adrian Pang, as one of a quartet of strangers who take solace in each other’s company while on holiday stopovers in Singapore.

While The Carrot Cake Conversations is no Hollywood blockbuster-in-the-making, the actress is confident that audiences will be drawn to its life-affirming themes – even those unaware that the fried dish known as carrot cake or “chai tow kwai” in Singapore has nothing to do with carrots. In fact, it’s a mix of flour, radish, eggs, garlic, spring onion and a range of other ingredients.

“It’s called The Carrot Cake Conversations for so many reasons,” Fonseka says, “because carrot cake is everything in a jumble. You wouldn’t think it would go together but it does. And that’s kind of like life.”

Maybe it’s “that kind of life” for non-budding superstars, but not for this small-town girl from Petaling Jaya, who was crowned Miss Malaysia in 2004 when she was just 19. For her, it’s been nothing short of a rocket ride.

“It’s happened a lot faster than I expected,” says the recent law graduate from the National University of Singapore. “And for that, I’m very, very blessed and thankful. Here I am, from Malaysia, humble beginnings, but the Singapore public and media have been so warm.

“If tomorrow, all this goes away,” adds the beauty who now calls Singapore home, “I’ll still be happy because a lot of people don’t get these chances in life.”

Chances, of course, tend to gravitate towards beautiful creatures. So, it wasn’t long after she crossed the Causeway to undertake her undergraduate studies that Fonseka landed a deal as the new ambassador for Marie France Bodyline. This was followed by a high-profile hosting gig on ESPN’s Score Today.

But the clincher – the one that set the engines of hot-blooded men racing – must surely be her cover for Singapore FHM magazine in 2007.

“I never knew bikinis could be so small!” says Fonseka, whose Chinese mother is a former Miss Malaysia and whose father is of Filipino, Spanish, Portuguese and Sinhalese descent. “It was my first bikini shoot. We did a double cover, one for Singapore and a more conservative one for Malaysia. I was nervous about it, but it turned out really great.”

That would certainly be something of an understatement. The dishy spread of Fonseka’s sultry eyes and generous curves earned her bragging rights as the sexiest woman of 2007 – or so say FHM readers.

“When I found out, I screamed: No way! Everyone around just stared at me!” she says self-deprecatingly, her eyes widening in mock horror. “It was very flattering, considering that a year before, no one knew who I was. It made me want to work harder. The worst thing is to get comfortable and when you get bored, your fans get bored too. That’s the only way to repay them.”

Which helps tot explain Fonseka’s drive to carve out fresh paths in her career, clear in the notion that – as thrilling as the past four years have been – pin-up cover babes tend to have brief shelf-lives.

“So far, all of the roles that I’ve played have been, you know, this sexy girl. It would be nice to play something really unconventional,” she says, with a mischievous gleam in her eyes. “Actually, I would love to play a man. I think that would be pretty interesting.”

Interesting, though it might drive her legions of male fans back to cherished clippings of the actress in her bikini-girl phase for consolation.

KUALA LUMPUR
Kid Chan – Wedding
Photographer to the Stars

By Sean Siow

To call Kid Chan one of Malaysia’s most in-demand wedding photographers would be something of an understatement.

The accolades fly in any discussion of the 30-year-old Kuala Lumpur native: Asia Regional Tatler hailed him as one of the “100 People in Asia You Must Know” while Le Prestige christened him one of the country’s “Top 40 under 40”.

In fact, Chan is that rare breed of professional shutterbug who seems equally at home taking wedding photos of celebrities like pop star Siti Nurhaliza or framing action shots of Jackie Chan.

Still, the photographer – who owns PortraitOne and Kid Chan studios – sees it as a “major misconception” that he only does high-profile weddings. “I do a lot of commercial work for regional clients, but of course the press is not interested in that,” says the father of two girls. “There is hardly any news there.”

After “accidentally” entering the photo field, Chan realised that the requests he received to shoot the nuptials of Malaysian high society gave him an opportunity to redefine wedding photography.

“I try to avoid the stiffness of wedding shots and I don’t try to mould my subjects,” he says. “For me, the photographer should be the couple’s best friend on their big day – make them comfortable and the photos will turn out well."

But as the buzz continues to grow, Chan says he’d rather spend time perfecting his craft than revel in the rave reviews. “To think that I’m a success now would be my downfall as I have a long way to go,” he says. “I’d like to think that what I’ve done is preparation for bigger things to come.”

HO CHI MINH CITY

Mai Lam – Fashion Designer

By John S Hayes

She is without a doubt one of the top fashion designers in Vietnam, and Mai Lam’s past makes the story of her rise to industry prominence even more compelling. Having left war-era Vietnam in 1976 – choosing to “risk life for freedom” – Lam spent time in a Malaysian refugee camp before emigrating to Australia. What followed was a dizzying array of careers – from hotel chef to florist to fashion and accessory designer, to name a few.

With no formal training, Lam got into fashion under unlikely circumstances. “The Red Cross would supply me with clothes,” she says. “I’d have to adjust them. I’d embroider them and make them trendy for my children.”

In 1992, an opportunity with a Malay steel mill tycoon prompted Lam’s return to Vietnam. Inspired by the Lam family’s determination and drive, the tycoon took Lam’s husband on a trade mission to Vietnam to source for investment opportunities.

By 1996 they had sold everything they owned to invest as partners in a steel mill in her homeland. Her shop, Mai’s, adjacent to the famous Continental Hotel, is a spacious labyrinthine treasure trove of eclectic clothing and accessories. It’s a holistic shopping experience with Mai’s effortless style gracing every element.

Her clothing is an eclectic mix of contemporary-takes-on-traditional Vietnamese styles, along with ex-military clothing re-invented with French and Vietnamese embroidery. Having lost her brother in the war, military clothing held both a fascination and a fear.

“I thought, why don’t I do something about it?” she says. “So I used my passions to turn sorrow into happiness.” Having returned home with a view to retiring while her husband ran the steel mill, Lam has become a major name in the Vietnamese fashion industry. Add the upcoming lifestyle reality TV show to her already long list of successes and one has to ask if there’s anything that this woman cannot put her hand to.

SHENZHEN
Martin Yan – Celebrity chef

By May Guan

Martin Yan, the man whose worldwide reputation was built on TV shows like Yan Can Cook, can only be described as the elder statesman of celebrity chefs. With more than 3,100 episodes to his credit and 30 books to his name, he is also arguably the most prolific. But don’t assume that Yan set out to become a household name. All he ever wanted to do was indulge his love for food.

“I don’t work for fame, I work for passion,” he says. “When you put in the effort, people will see that and respect you, and then fame will come. But if you intentionally chase after fame, the glory won’t last.”

Look no further than Yan’s own 30-year career for ample proof of that bit of wisdom. With a natural flair for food inherited from his restaurateur family, the 60-year-old Guangzhou native hatched his lifelong dream of becoming a chef while working at an uncle’s restaurant starting at age 12.

Yan polished his skills at Hong Kong’s prestigious Overseas Institute of Cookery, chased his destiny by pursuing a culinary master’s degree in California, then followed the dream all the way to North America’s TV studios.

In the decades since, Yan’s humour and charisma, his mastery of all aspects of food preparation and his memorable catchphrase – “If Yan can cook, so can you” – have earned him countless fans around the world. Two years ago, Yan’s career came full circle when he returned to his homeland to film Chef Yan’s Happy Kitchen. “Doing a show in China for a Chinese audience has been my dream for many years,” he says. A year later, Yan fulfilled another long-time fantasy with the opening of Chef Martin Yan’s Culinary Arts Centre in Shenzhen.

“We’re committed to promoting Chinese cuisine worldwide and developing to the point that we become part of the world’s kitchen,” he says. “The centre is a meeting point of Chinese and international culinary arts.”

It’s also a respected training centre for chefs, many of whom may hope to enjoy the same meteoric rise to fame as their mentor. While there’s no denying that Yan has taken full advantage of his worldwide renown – he and his wife and twin sons live on a Californian estate with a 1,000sqm garden – he still gives the impression that none of the trappings of celebrity can give him as much joy as a well-cooked meal.

Ask him to name his favourite dish and Yan doesn’t hesitate: “Steamed salty fish with pork and salty fish fried rice,” he says. “It’s a dish from my childhood that mum used to make.”

PERTH
Emily Cattermole – Fashion Model

By Ross Wallace

Among the biggest dilemmas facing most 16-year-old girls is “Do I go out for swimming or volleyball?” and “What should I wear to the party on Friday night?”

For Emily Cattermole, life is a bit more complicated. As one of Australia’s leading fashion models, this particular 16-year-old often has to decide – with a little help from her handlers – which of the world’s leading clothing designers will have to be let down this week, simply because her already packed modelling schedule won’t allow another booking.

But even that is the least of her worries. “My feet always seem a lot bigger at the end of Australian Fashion Week,” she says. “They swell up.” From her home country’s twice yearly fashion showcase to the runways of New York, Paris and Milan, Emily C – as she is known in the industry – has risen to the top in the time it takes many teens to decide where to spend their “gap year”.

Her glamorous good looks, winning smile and deep blue-green eyes have been seized upon by editors searching for the next unforgettable face to grace their magazine spreads. And her slim,  
1.79m frame has been chosen by some of the biggest names in fashion to display their designs to best effect.

Not bad for an unassuming young lady from Perth who’d be playing football with friends or devoting more time to the Australian aboriginal community – she’s of Aboriginal and English descent – if she weren’t so busy becoming a fashion icon.

“I grew up on the coast so I spent most of my life wearing surf clothes,” she says. “I am a jeans and T-shirt girl, though I appreciate fashion as an art.”

And just how hard is it for a girl who hasn’t even reached the legal drinking age to endure the pressures and resist the temptations of this uber-competitive field?

“I don’t do the after-parties,” she says simply. "It helps to get enough sleep and eat well. And having a supportive family has helped me through difficult times.”

That said, maybe Cattermole’s life isn’t all that different from those of her peers.

BANGKOK
Sakul Intakul – Floral Designer

By Panpimol Krishnamra

If life is not exactly a bed of roses for most people, Sakul Intakul is a notable exception. This Thailand-born engineer-turned-floral artist creates sculpture-like plant installations for resorts, red-carpet events and parties.

He has also penned a number of international bestsellers and now, for his latest venture, has created his own spa product line known as

“Sakul Intakul Spa” based on the scent of tropical Asian flowers and spices.

A man of many talents, Intakul’s tireless energy has served him well, helping him earn the distinction of seeing his works exhibited everywhere from China, Japan and Indonesia to Italy, Germany and the United Arab Emirates.

His creations include floral decorations for royalty and, most recently, for the July wedding in Bhutan of Hong Kong stars Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Carina Lau.

As rewarding as these projects are, there’s nothing Intakul likes better than to preserve his works for posterity in the form of his bestselling coffee table books. “Flowers are ephemeral,” he says. “Books are the best way to record them visually, and they are also another way of sharing my work.”

Engineering, not flowers, was Intakul’s first love. After taking a degree, he became an engineer, casually enrolling in a Japanese flower arranging school near his office.

“One thing led to another,” he says. “With friends asking me to assist with party and conference decorations, this was then followed by design projects for hotels.”

But even after years of producing art, Intakul still feels he has a lot to learn. “I like to travel around Asia and study arts and culture,” he says. “For instance, when I go to Bali, I visit the market and take courses on Balinese flower offerings. It’s a constant learning experience for me.”

Still, Intakul admits that his art, like the flowers that are his main medium of expression, is in danger of wilting and disappearing. That’s why he is rushing to produce even more books on a subject few people even know exists.

“The tradition of Thai floral design must be recorded and made known,” says Intakul passionately. “It’s a dying art.”

MACAU
Soler – Music Superstars

By May Guan

Twin siblings tend to turn heads wherever they go. The Acconci brothers – who perform as musicians under the name Soler – often leave onlookers scratching their heads for other reasons, while asking questions like “Where did those two came from?” and “Where on earth did they learn to sing in Cantonese? And Mandarin? And English? And also Portuguese?! You’ve got to be kidding! French, Spanish and Italian too?!”

Of course, when the 20-something-year-old duo – lead vocalist/principal songwriter Dino and guitarist/vocalist Julio, both of whom are coy about their age – start playing their music, the urge to get answers tends to take a backseat to the desire to just sit back and enjoy. After all, much of the brothers’ homeland, Macau, as well as parts of Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China have been doing just that since 2005.

Born to an Italian father and a Burmese mother, the Acconci brothers hit it big with their 2005 debut album Double Surround Sound, which features a mixture of English, Mandarin and Cantonese tunes.

It was the culmination of years of effort for the pair, who first began singing and writing songs in their father’s homeland, inspired by the culturally rich Italian folk tunes.

“We wrote songs for church to inspire and encourage, and that became a part of our style,” Julio says. In the years since, their musical style has become more rock-oriented and the listening public has become ever more welcoming of their output, which includes the albums Dragon Tiger Gate from 2006, last year’s X2 and a forthcoming album that is as yet untitled.

“We are quite busy with live shows and performances now,” Dino says. “We want to be engaged in life. Meanwhile, we will gradually introduce some new songs and see how the public reacts to them.”

If the past is anything to go by – the Acconcis already have more than 20 music awards to their name in just three years – their next album will be as warmly welcomed as their previous ones.

One thing is certain, though – it won’t be like anything fans have heard before. “We’re working on it but we’re not even sure of the musical genre,” says Dino. “We’re as curious as everyone else.”

Songs in an eighth language, maybe?

MANILA
Von Hernandez – Environmentalist

By Maida Pineda

Superheroes often disguise themselves as mild-mannered everymen.

While it might be something of a stretch to call Von Hernandez’s unassuming exterior a disguise, there’s no denying that the 41-year-old environmental activist qualifies for the “superhero” tag.

For most of the past two decades, this former literature professor at the University of the Philippines has campaigned for a cleaner, greener Asia. His hard work and dedication earned him a spot on Time magazine’s 2007 list of the “Heroes of the Environment”.

Hernandez’s path was fixed in 1991 when a flash flood and landslide in Leyte claimed thousands of lives. He promptly volunteered to deliver aid but was hit with a bigger shock than he expected upon reaching the disaster site.

“It opened my eyes to the fact the environment is really a survival issue,” Hernandez says. “The environment goes beyond a matter of luxury or nice scenery. It’s linked to quality of life. For the poor, environmental problems lead to a downward spiral.”

In the wake of this life-changing experience, Hernandez shifted his passion from academia to active involvement with a group called the Green Coalition. In 1995, Greenpeace hired him as its Toxic Campaigner for Asia.

“Greenpeace had no office in Asia at that time, so I was basically operating alone in the region, travelling, exposing environmental problems and lobbying with no infrastructure support,” he says.

Of course, these days there’s much more attention given to the state of the planet and to Asia’s biggest environmental problem: climate change. The Philippines has been identified as one of the countries that is most vulnerable to its effects and Hernandez is leading efforts on behalf of Greenpeace aimed at encouraging South-East Asian nations to reduce their carbon footprint and find better “greener” solutions to climate change.

While there is a clear need for more visionary leaders like Hernandez, this champion of the environment bristles at the mere suggestion that he is a hero. On the other hand, “if you segregate and recycle your trash and compost your organic wastes,” he says, “then you are my hero.”

ADELAIDE
Katrina Webb – Motivational Speaker / Paralympian Katrina Webb – Motivational Speaker / Paralympian

By Ross Wallace

Four years after her last Olympiad, Katrina Webb is still keeping the Olympic spirit alive. The winner of a combined seven medals at the 1996 Atlanta, 2000 Sydney and 2004 Athens Paralympic Games, the 31-year-old recently suspended her Olympic endeavours but remains dedicated to helping others live according to Olympic ideals. Through her company, Kwik Kat Enterprises, Webb leads speaking and team-building events whose guiding principles read like a manual to achieving Olympic glory.

For Webb, winning is all about loving your uniqueness. “The people who can accept who they are, and make the most of what they’ve got, have success in their lives,” she says.

Look no further than Webb herself for evidence of that. After discovering at age 18 that she had cerebral palsy – an incurable condition that affects bodily movement and muscle coordination – the Adelaide native simply resolved that it wasn’t going to stand in the way of her dreams.

With only a year to go before the 1996 Games, Webb began training, a decision that culminated in her setting a new Paralympic record in the 400m sprint in Athens. She considers it her most memorable athletic feat.

“Off the track, my career highlight was speaking on behalf of the International Paralympic Committee at the United Nations in 2006,” she says.

Indeed, Webb is as fiercely dedicated to non-sports pursuits as she is to contests of physical skill. “Many athletes don’t think about their career outside of sport,” she says. “Then they retire and they struggle with what to do next.” That’s certainly never been the case with the multi-talented Webb.

Though Webb’s Paralympic feats entitle her to a place among the world’s best, she has a hard time gauging her place in history.

“I still find it hard to rank myself as an athlete,” she says. “I know I have sporting talent but I think my biggest asset is my ability to work hard and commit to achieving goals.” It’s a talent she has used to help others achieve.

SINGAPORE
“Magic Babe” Ning Cai – Illusionist

By Ross Wallace

The old adage that says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks is in for a rethink.

While it isn’t fair to equate the perennially male-dominated illusion industry – long the domain of magic men like Houdini, Harry Blackstone, David Copperfield and Criss Angel – to a stubborn canine, there has been resistance to the idea of a female joining the ranks.

Just ask “Magic Babe” Ning Cai.

As Singapore’s only professional female magician and one of just a handful worldwide, the 26-year-old illusionist hasn’t exactly been welcomed with open arms by her peers since arriving on the scene in 2006.

“Oh, there’s been some bitching and complaining,” says Ning with a laugh. “I’m starting to break the stereotype but there are still a lot of old-school magicians out there who don’t want to see a woman on stage.”

One exception has been fellow Singaporean JC Sum, one of Asia’s leading illusionists, who saw enough potential in Ning to make her his partner in creating some of magic’s most eye-popping stunts.

In a public performance in July, Ning successfully escaped locked shackles around her arms, legs and neck in under 90 seconds, fleeing a device called “The Impalement Cage” a moment before 13 steel spikes came crashing down.

“I was honestly on the verge of freaking out,” she recalls of the stunt. “At the speed those spikes came crashing down, if I’d have been a mere second longer. it wouldn’t have been good at all!”

Near-death experiences aside, Ning couldn’t be happier to be pursuing the dream she’s had since age five – to carve out a place for herself among magic’s greats. The next step in her journey is her involvement with Sum in Singapore’s first permanent illusion show, Ultimate Magic, which starts on 1 September at The Arena in Clarke Quay.

And even if her sideline in swimsuit modelling for local lad mags and labelling by a European magazine as “the sexiest woman in magic” only supplies the naysayers with fresh ammunition, Ning isn’t about to back down.

“They can say what they want,” she says. “Sure, there’s an element of sex appeal in what I do, but in the end, it’s about talent. I’m confident I’ve got what it takes to be as good anyone out there.” Take that, Houdini.

CHENNAI
Ramesh “Rose” Venkatesan – TV Chat Show Host

By Vaishna Roy

She is sexy, svelte and sensationally dressed. She anchors a chat show on Tamil TV. Her name is Rose Venkatasen. So what’s all the fuss about? Well, Rose started life as Ramesh.

Although born male, Venkatesan always knew he was just not one of the guys. But it wasn’t until he was 20 that he realised he wasn’t a guy at all. So he decided to become the person he believed he was – a woman.

It sounds simple, but reality was anything but. From finding out the truth about her identity, to accepting it, to facing the inevitable social taunts, to the ultimate rejection by her family who threw her out of the house, this 29-year-old has been through an ordeal that is typical of transsexuals around the world.

“I was stressed, confused and miserable,” reveals Venkatesan. “I realised that words like maternal love meant nothing.”

On her own and without a job, despite having earned a Master’s degree in biomedical engineering from an American college and training as a website producer, Rose made the courageous decision to stay Rose. But she wanted more.

“I decided I wanted media success as a transgender,” she says. She approached Vijay TV, a popular Tamil channel, which, in an epochal decision, signed her on as chat show host. A star, and a show – Ippadikku Rose (Yours, Rose) – was born.

Meeting Venkatesan, it’s easy to see what the channel saw in her. She has presence and charm, and is totally at ease with herself. Her show deals with social issues, and as host, she shows an empathy that makes it easy for people to unburden themselves. “I am a good listener,” Venkatesan says.

She’s not the only one. The show’s high ratings suggest Indians are both listening to – and tuning in to watch – Venkatesan and that they don’t have any issues with the fact that the attractive and intelligent woman onscreen was originally a man.

As for Venkatesan, she hopes to use her growing star power to help other transgenders feel more at home with who they are – and consider the heights they can attain in life.

MELBOURNE
Nam Le – Author

By Ross Wallace

Nam Le has spent a lifetime straddling cultures, which may explain why his fiction-writing debut – a short story collection titled The Boat – has earned so much acclaim in such a short time.

Born in Vietnam, raised in Melbourne and now living in the United States, Le writes stories whose settings also span the globe, bouncing from the barrios of Colombia and the mean streets of Tehran, to a Vietnam War-era refugee camp in Malaysia, to Hiroshima in the last days before the hydrogen bomb.

While reviewers have almost universally applauded the stories’ geographic diversity, Le has drawn even higher praise for his ability to breathe life into characters from dramatically different backgrounds. It’s a gift even the 30-year-old author has trouble explaining.

“I’m not sure that any of us can know ourselves, never mind people on the other side of the world,” says Le, whose richly detailed stories owe as much to his restless traveling as to his meticulous research. “I guess the end goal with any set of stories is to find the familiar in what seems strange.”

Something similar could be said of the unlikely author himself, who walked away from a nascent law career in Melbourne in 2003, despite not knowing what else he wanted to do. On a whim, Le submitted parts of an unfinished novel to a prestigious writing programme in the US and, much to his amazement, was accepted.

After reluctantly abandoning the novel, he began work on the stories that now make up The Boat. “It was an enormous leap of faith,” he admits, one that left his parents wondering if the son they had sacrificed so much for in fleeing Communist-era Vietnam for Australia would land on his feet.

They’re highly supportive now – so much so that his father offered to translate The Boat into Vietnamese – but that doesn’t mean Le is prepared to ignore how far he’s come, both geographically and otherwise. “Compared to my ancestors, I’ve travelled to parts of the world that they could never imagine,” he says. “In that sense, part of my duty to them is to write about the world.”

MELBOURNE
Jesse Martin – Adventurer

By Ross Wallace

While countless young people follow the time-honoured custom of leaving hearth and home for the chance to travel the world, only a precious few take the tradition as literally as Jesse Martin.

In 1999, when he was just 18 years old, Martin became the youngest sailor in history to circumnavigate the globe, alone and unassisted, completing the trip in eleven months on his 10m sloop, “Lionheart”.

Though 25,000 Australians cheered his arrival, the now 27-year-old adventurer remains low-key about his record-breaking feat.

“My intention wasn’t to do something amazing,” he says. “At the time, it just seemed like something that would be fun to do.”

During the seemingly endless days and nights of his journey, Martin never once set foot on land. And, despite penning a bestseller about his odyssey and participating in the making of a fact-based TV movie, Martin hasn’t spent much time on terra firma in the decade since.

Now the head of a Melbourne-based media company and the operator of charter boat trips to Papua New Guinea, Martin is currently planning yet another epic adventure. His next goal is to spend up to nine months completing a trans-continental solo journey from Canada’s east coast to the west coast of Alaska using only a dog-sled in the winter and a canoe in the warmer months.

“I haven’t set a firm departure date yet,” he says. “But I’d be leaving around the winter thaw so it could be as early as March of 2009.”

Among the motivations for Martin’s latest undertaking is the painful memory of his failed 2002 expedition with four friends aboard the 16.5m ketch “Kijana”.

Their planned three-year voyage was intended to take them around the world, with stops at exotic ports along the way, and to be filmed for a 13-part TV documentary. Unfortunately, tension among the crew resulted in the trip’s scuttling in Thailand after just eight months, an experience Martin chronicled in his 2005 book Kijana: The Real Story.

Though he now seems as philosophical about “Kijana’s” failure as he is about “Lionheart’s” remarkable success, it’s clear that Martin believes he still has something to prove – to himself and others.

“Sure, there’s a sense of making up for what went wrong with ‘Kijana’,” he says. “But it’s more just my love of adventures – the independence. And adventures are getting pretty hard to come by these days.”

Friday, Saturday, Sunday in Shenzhen

From its nature and theme parks to its countless shops, irresistible gourmet foods and vibrant nightlife, ‘China’s Gate’ is endlessly enticing as a summer holiday spot. Make the most of your time here with May Guan’s colourful three-day itinerary

FRIDAY

6PM Chill out with a bottle of Duvel or a pint of draft Hoegaarden at the 3D Bar, where true aficionados can start working their way through the eye-popping menu of more than 100 beers. This pub is a hot spot for expats so it’s not unusual to find travellers mixing with permanent and semi-permanent city residents. Beer not your tipple of choice? Demon Bar just steps away serves up memorably named cocktails such as the Screaming Orgasm in litre jars. A bar favourite is the Panda Cooler – a light and refreshing early-evening drink.

7.30PM Take Metro Line 1 to Windows of the World Station, transfer to Line 2 and alight at Haishang Shijie (Sea World Station). The journey takes about an hour – don’t worry, it’s worth it! – so pass the time by surfing the internet on your mobile phone using the local GPRS service. Upon arrival, take the Taizi Road exit and you’ll be at the city’s lively northern edge. Bookended by Prince Square and Sea World, Shekou (Snake Pit) is home to more than 100 restaurants.

Owned by the eponymous Italian, Trattoria Italiana Da Angelo specialises in Tuscan flavours. Have a salad, a brick- fired pizza and a glass of Italian house wine for only about S$40. The salads here are prepared using ingredients grown in the restaurant’s herb garden. When owner Angelo is around, you’re likely to be treated to his homemade Limoncello for free. Top off your meal with a sweet dollop of gelato (an Italian frozen dessert) or head over to Homey Dessert for a sweet treat.

If you’re feeling positively ravenous. you’ll get your money’s worth at Gaucho Garden Grill, home of the all-you-can-eat Brazilian barbecue at just S$20 per person. Alternatively, Hong Xiu Hang Bang’s Hongzhou dishes come in very small portions but are delicious.

10PM Get into party mode at the Terrace Restaurant & Bar. The house band’s enthusiasm is infectious so be prepared to switch into high gear the moment they hit the stage. Cool down on the breezy terrace and take in the eye-catching views.

MIDNIGHT End the evening with a Chinese barbecue or stir-fried noodle dish at the Seagull Restaurant downstairs, or keep the party going at nearby Coco Park.

MY PERFECT FRIDAY NIGHTHI HI

If I finish work on time, I like to dine out with my family at Mian Dian Wang, a no-frills restaurant with very good congee and fresh vegetables. I normally order the oak and kumara (sweet potato) congee. It may sound like an odd combination, but it’s delicious. In the summer, Dameisha Beach is the place for us. Or we go for a splash in the thermal swimming pool at Futian Sports Park. At night, we usually stop in at a small restaurant for bowls of noodle soup. The flavours are amazing.
Jenny Jian, business development manager

SATURDAY

8AM Start the day with a healthy breakfast combo of congee and la chang at Xingji Noodles. La chang is a traditional Cantonese hand-made noodle dish. The ingredients are laid atop flour batter, which is steamed, rolled and served with various sauces. La chang noodles are tender and tasty and the dish, which tends to be cheap, is a popular accompaniment to hot congee.

9AM Pack water, snacks, sunscreen and swimsuits and make your way to OCT East, an eco-tourism spot featuring two theme parks, four resort hotels and two 18-hole golf courses. An old-fashioned train connects Tea Stream Resort Valley, Ecoventure Valley and Huaxing Temple.

10AM Ecoventure Valley offers a full day of fun for the type of amusement park enthusiast who is game for just about anything. Do the grand tour of the park’s five zones: Breakers Lagoon, Rapids Forest, Seafield Village, Adventure Canyon and Peak Highland. There’s even a Buddhist theme park at OCT East, complete with gilded statues and a Buddhist-themed hotel. Eateries throughout the complex serve a mix of fast food and sit-down meals.

3PM Take the forest train to Tea Stream Resort Valley. Have your camera ready to capture the views while strolling, cycling, pedal-boating, travelling by electric cart or even by hot-air balloon. Be back at the theatre by 4pm to catch a multimedia show that traces the history of tea. For a first-hand experience of China’s most time-honoured export, visit Ancient Tea Town. Sit in on the 80-minute tea-collecting and -panning workshop and take home your DIY Chinese tea. Or sign up for the less-challenging, 30-minute pottery-making class if you’re keen to make your own chinaware. Before leaving, quench your thirst with a glass of tasty soybean milk for just S$0.60.

6PM If you’re ready for an early dinner, head to the open kitchen-style Garden Café at the Oasis O City Hotel. Offerings include fusion dishes and selections from a wide range of international cuisines.

8PM It can get chilly at OCT East at night so why not take the opportunity to go for a dip in the Interlaken Spa’s hot pools? The spa is home to a staggering 22 outdoor pools, many of which are said to offer medicinal benefits. Naturists can even romp naked in the hilltop pools. And don’t miss the indoor facilities, where spa treatments are available until 2am.

From a dormitory-style room at the Cargo Hostel (built from retired containers), to a private room at the mid-range Otiqu Aqua OCT Hotel to a suite at the posh Interlaken OCT Hotel, there’s sure to be an accommodation at the OCT East Theme Hotel Cluster to suit your budget.

MY PERFECT SATURDAY

My perfect Saturday starts at around 9am. I slowly get ready with a brewed coffee and a pastry bought the night before at Simply Life. I’ll meet friends for a Cantonese dim sum lunch at Laurel, after which I’m ready for a good workout followed by a blissful full-body massage at the Ritz-Carlton Shenzhen spa and fitness centre. I might stop by the coffee shop there after my rejuvenation and read The New York Times on my iPad. Then it’ll be time for dinner with friends – a delicious vegetarian meal at the Summer Tea House. The food is great and cheap. An evening drink at the Grand Hyatt Penthouse is always great. I especially like the house Pinot Grigio along with the great views. If I still have enough energy, it might be off to clubbing at RichyBaby, followed by a late- night snack in Luohu.
Brent Deverman, founder of Shenzhenparty.com

SUNDAY

10AM Enjoy brunch at the Interlaken Café next to Lake Interlaken. Feed the ducks and swans with your bread crusts while enjoying coffee and an omelette.

11AM Walk up to the hilltop and visit Huaxing Temple, where you can admire the famed four-facet Guanyin statue and relax to the sounds of chants and the temple bell. Pray for luck, read about Buddhism or simply enjoy the tranquil setting.

1PM While on the temple grounds, enjoy lunch at vegetarian restaurant Xiang Ji Zai. Meat-free diets have a long history in China and you might be surprised at how easily tofu can be used in place of fish, chicken and other meats. If seafood by the beach sounds more tempting, stop by Yantian Seafood Street. Si Gong Hui Seafood Restaurant is a popular spot, serving reasonably priced dishes made with freshly caught seafood.

3PM Head back to the shopping and entertainment hub of Coco Park for afternoon tea. Honeymoon Dessert is well- known for its creative, fruit-based goodies as well as for traditional delicacies made with sesame paste and peanut paste.

4PM Beyond its many bars, Coco Park is a trendy shopping area with stores selling a wide variety of products, particularly domestic and international fashion brands. There are fashion shows and performances on the central stage on weekends, so take a break from retail therapy to be entertained.

6PM Cool down with a refreshing drink at Club Viva, a bar with Latin flair. To the locals, it’s one of many popular “meeting places” where it’s possible to mingle with visitors or just keep your own company by curling up in a jumbo willow chair.

8PM Take the Metro to Lao Jie Station for a visit to Dongmen Street, a paradise of roadside snack outlets selling spicy and sour noodles, barbecued squid, fish balls and pearl tea. Visitors are bombarded with choices here, so get in the longest queues to sample the best that the area has to offer. If you prefer a sit-down meal, Ba Shu Feng’s Sichuan dishes are cheap and delicious.

10PM If the frenetic pace hasn’t worn you out, keep things rolling at V Bar, a sophisticated spot whose live band hails from the UK. Order a Rainbow – a cocktail featuring five liqueurs – and toss it back as soon as the bartender fires it up! It’s sure to add that final flourish to your weekend.

MY PERFECT SUNDAY

A perfect, relaxing Sunday should start late – about 9 or 10am. I always begin with morning Buddhist activities, which include mantra/sutra chanting at Huaxing Temple or Hongfa Temple, and then go into a brief meditation. Sunday means a late lunch for me (at around   1.30pm). The Xinfa Hong Kong Style Tea House’s delicious and authentic Hong Kong-style wonton noodles are perfect for me. The ideal afternoon would be hanging out with friends for a good chat or occasionally alone with a cup of mocca at Illy Coffee by the lake in Portofino. I love the Singaporean and Malaysian cuisine at Pokok Kelapa Melayu and especially the stir-fried beef noodles in gravy. For a fun night out, I head for the lively V Bar.
Henry Tay, Singaporean hotelier