Amazon product recommendation – breast pump

pumpinstyle

If you care about your child’s immune system, you will breastfeed your child for at least a year. From experience (contrasting my first and second child who received 7 months and 14 months of breast milk respectively), i can testify that breast milk does wonders to the child’s immunity to flu and viral infection. A breast pump makes breastfeeding much easier, and that certainly helps you persist longer with the chore of breastfeeding.

We went with the popular choice – Medela Pump In Style Advanced Breast Pump Backpack (also available in Tote Bag). Back then, this was sold in Singapore for S$639, which is quite a bit more than what it costs on Amazon (around S$270). Unfortunately Amazon isn’t a seller of this product, so you will have to pay for the shipment to Singapore, but you will still save heaps versus buying from the local distributors. You might be worried about the difference in voltage for appliances in the US (110V vs 230V here). Not to worry, you can get a compatible adapter from a shop in the basement of Sim Lim Tower for just S$15. If you worry about not having local warranty on this product, well, from experience i can say that the Medela Pump In Style is very reliable and i cannot imagine it will break down under normal circumstances.

pumpinstylestarter

Medela now has a Starter Set-Model for the Pump In Style Advanced, which i think is a very good deal, at US$135 (S$180). As pictured above, it is the bare minimum equipment for pumping breast milk. Since i travel every now and then, the standard package (backpack version, which includes a battery pack and a cooler bag) was actually more suited for me.

If you do get hold of a breast pump, you must also get a hands free breast pump bra. With this bra my wife would be able to fiddle with her phone while the pumping was in progress. I can’t imagine anyone having the patience to hold the pumps by hand!

ANZ Optimum World credit card test drive results

optimumdollarStandard disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with ANZ bank and what follows is purely my personal opinion.

Finally received the bill from ANZ. This is the very first time the 5% rebate of the Optimum World credit card came into effect, since this is the start of the April – June quarter and they only announced the arrival of this new card in January. I was eager to find out if the 5% rebate really worked, especially for overseas spend. It did.

A quick summary of how this card works: you have to choose a category of spending for which you’ll get 5% rebate, out of the 4 categories comprising of dining & leisure, travel, shopping and groceries. I chose the dining category, because few other cards offer a rebate for dining expenses (furthermore you earn 5% regardless of whether it’s weekdays or weekends).

From the start of April, i spent a total of S$171.49 on food related expenses, including a meal in a restaurant in Malaysia and snacks from a shop selling traditional foodstuff in Malacca. I’m surprised that even the expenditure on the snacks was included for the rebate. These earned me, with rounding factored in, 8 Optimum$ (equivalent to S$8).

The rest of the spending (including that from a supplementary card) came up to a total of S$3078.39. These earned, with rounding factored in, 30 Optimum$ (equivalent to $30). So i got a total of S$38 in rebates, not bad. Though, on hindsight, it would have been better to spend using the Manhattan credit card, which gives 3% of rebates for spending above S$3000, which means i would have gotten S$97.50 of rebates. Alas, it’s difficult to coordinate and anticipate the spending from 2 cards (main and supplementary).

All in all, i’m very satisfied with the cash rebates for this card. I’m going to use it for all my dining expenses on my upcoming trip. At 5%, the rebates will significantly offset the extra fees and unfavourable exchange rates when swiping a credit card overseas.

Amazon product recommendation – Mason jar food sealer

masonjar

Ball Mason Jars are canning jars, intended for home canning of food. To do that, the traditional method was to heat the jar and allowing it to cool. Due to steam escaping from the jar, a vacuum is created when it cools down and this keeps the lid tightly sealed over the jar. The removal of air and thus oxygen in the jar prevents mold and some bacteria (which causes food to spoil) to live, allowing the food to last longer.

jarsealerziplockstarterkit

There is now an easier way to remove air from the jar. The FoodSaver Wide-Mouth Jar Sealer is an attachment that fits on top of the Mason Jars. It is a simple device that allows you to suck air out of the jar, and you don’t actually have to use the FoodSaver System (quite costly) to do that. I learned this from Salad in a Jar. You just need to get the Ziploc Vacuum Starter Kit.

foodmasonjar

I use the jars to store salad (keeps it fresh for a week instead of lasting just 2 days), honey lemon preserve (vacuum optional), sliced ham, evaporated filled milk, sauces, coffee beans and so on. They are almost infinitely reusable and will save you a lot of money in the long run.

I cannot understand why retailers don’t bring in Mason Jars to sell at mass market prices. A quick check on the internet shows that online sellers generally sell each Mason Jar at S$8! That is A LOT more expensive than the price on Amazon (US$17.90 for 12 jars which is only about S$2 per jar). Unfortunately Amazon no longer offers the free shipping to Singapore on this item. Thank goodness i managed to get the free shipping, but the 12 jars i have are barely enough to go around now. You still do get free shipping with the Jar Sealer and Ziplock Vacuum Starter Kit. By the way, the Mason Jars come in regular and wide-mouth versions. Get the wide-mouth version, which obviously has a wider mouth that makes filling or removing food from the jar easier.

Update 25/3/2016: i recommend getting this suction pump from Taobao instead of the Ziploc Vacuum Starter Kit.

Here are the links for your convenience:
Wide-Mouth Mason Jars

Wide Mouth Jar Sealer

Ziplock Vacuum Starter Kit

Amazon product recommendation – sonic toothbrush

I first came across a “sonic” toothbrush when browsing for a replacement powered toothbrush in a Watsons store. They had the usual rotary type of powered toothbrush, which i had been using before. Out of the blue, they also carried an Arm and Hammer Sonic toothbrush. I had no idea what a “sonic” toothbrush does, but took a chance and bought it.

The first time i tried it, i found it preferable. The brushing feels more thorough than the rotary type toothbrush. The Wikipedia entry on electric toothbrush explains how a sonic toothbrush works. Unfortunately, i think this type of toothbrush is still not very common in Singapore. Watsons no longer stocks (they had it for less than a year) the Arm and Hammer Sonic toothbrush. It could be that it was not generating enough sales, or possibly because Oral B dominates the market and had more say on who gets to stay on the shelves. Oral B also makes sonic toothbrushes now (probably forced to respond to the competition).

spinbrush

Anyway, after using the battery powered Arm & Hammer Spinbrush Pro Clean Powered Toothbrush for a while, i decided to upgrade to the Arm & Hammer Spinbrush PRO Clean Sonic Rechargeable Toothbrush (requires the use of a step-down transformer though). At that time, this was one of the cheaper sonic toothbrushes available.

rechargeablespinbrush

The other popular option was the Philips Sonicare range. Prices seem comparable now (but the replacement heads are still expensive). Having read the Wikipedia entry though, i think i will upgrade to ultrasonic toothbrushes in the near future. If you have not tried a sonic toothbrush, i recommend that you give it a go.

The other oral care product you might want to consider using is the Waterpik Waterflosser. As the name suggests, it flosses your teeth using water. It won’t replace a real floss, but certainly aids in flushing out food trapped between teeth, especially for the molars which are harder to reach with a floss.

Update

Check out my review on the new sonic toothbrush i am using now.

Amazon product recommendation – automotive parts

fram

I suspect not many people know this – you can actually buy automotive parts on Amazon. Many of these parts are eligible for the free AmazonGlobal Saver Shipping. The prices are ridiculously lower. It’s a no-brainer, buy from Amazon!

At the very least, you can buy air filters which you can easily change yourself (just search Youtube to find out how). A generic cabin air filter costs me close to $30 from the workshop. The FRAM branded one pictured above (has added baking soda and carbon to freshen the air) cost US$15.99 (~S$21.60).

filterbyvehicle

Amazon helps you to refine your search results to show only those that fit your car, which is very handy, though it will sometimes filter out results that actually do fit your car, since the car model for the US market may be slightly different from those sold in Singapore (or it may not be available in the US market at all). Therefore, you should do your due diligence to find out the exact part number you want to buy.

For the Bosch Platinum IR Fusion Spark Plug pictured above, i was quoted S$85 for a set of 4 from a local shop. It costs US$7.72 each on Amazon, which comes up to US$30.88 (~S$42) for 4, so it’s literally half priced! By the way, i could feel a difference to the engine performance with these spark plugs.

To be honest, i don’t know much about car parts. If it didn’t occur to you before, i trust that now, you, car expert, will be most delighted to source your parts from Amazon. For me, brake pads is next..

How to get Free AmazonGlobal Saver Shipping

amazonglobal

The “Free AmazonGlobal Saver Shipping” deal allows you to ship your Amazon order to Singapore for free if you buy US$125 worth of products sold by Amazon.com that are eligible for the AmazonGlobal Program. How exactly do you know upfront (without going to the check-out page to see the shipping cost) if you will get free shipping on the product(s) you want to purchase?

refineby

Amazon recently made it extremely easy to check for the eligibility of getting the free shipping by allowing you to filter your search results to display only those items that are eligible for free international shipping to Singapore. You do have to limit your search results to a single department to access this filter option.

amazonshipto

If you are in the product page, you can check the eligibility for free international shipping by first selecting your shipping address in the add to cart box. Then when you choose the specific option of the product (e.g. size, colour) that you want, eligibility for free international shipping will be indicated right next to the product price.

amazonfreeshipping

If you care to know, the most basic criteria for the eligibility to get this free shipping is that the product item must be “Ships from and sold by Amazon.com“. Many products are fulfilled by Amazon (i.e. ships from Amazon) but are sold by other merchants. You don’t get free shipping to Singapore on these products. Unfortunately, i found out that many items that i have attempted to buy, that are shipped and sold by Amazon, also turned out to be ineligible for the free shipping, for unknown reasons. It could be due to the product brand owner not wanting to allow parallel import, or complications involving some product categories, such as food.

amazonshipsg

On the “About FREE AmazonGlobal Saver Shipping” page, a guideline is given that states that “Offer does not apply to items larger than 18” x 14” x 8” or over 20 lbs.”. This is actually a very generous allowance. Imagine shipping an item that’s 9kg from the US via a courier service – it will cost you a bomb!

A point to note: the Amazon product page automatically selects the seller that offers the lowest price (inclusive of shipping fee), and this may supersede Amazon themselves. If you want to get free shipping to Singapore, you will have to buy from Amazon. Usually, the slightly higher price you pay to buy from Amazon is well worth it since you get free shipping to Singapore. See example below:

amazonexample
The item sold by Amazon ranks fourth place in terms of lowest price, but you should definitely click the “Add to Cart” button on the Amazon seller.

The shipments to Singapore are mostly handled by two courier services – UPS and i-parcel (apparently bought over by UPS as well). From experience, i-parcel delivery is faster. Unfortunately you don’t get to choose the courier service for your shipment. UPS now leaves your package at the Shell station nearest to your home in case the delivery attempt failed, which is a good idea. Anyway, there’s no reason to complain when you’re getting FREE shipping. Thank you Amazon.

iHerb product recommendation – toiletries

This may sound crazy but i often ship toiletries from the US through iHerb. I mean, why not, since, for a flat fee of US$4, you can ship up to 6.3kg worth of stuff each time? Some of these products are simply cheaper on iHerb, and some are just not available in Singapore. Take for example, Method All Purpose Natural Surface Cleaner (US$3.82 ~S$5.23) which i like to use on the dining table and kitchen countertop. The price in Singapore is $7.90.

RedmartMethod

ecover

Ecover Natural Stain Remover (US$3.80 ~S$5.20) which is very effective on my kids’ soiled clothing. Price in Singapore? $10.90.

ecoverredmart

There are plenty of choices (especially environmental friendly ones) on cleaning liquid for dish washing, kitchen and bathroom.

tomsofmaine

I also buy toothpaste from the US. I especially like Tom’s of Maine Antiplaque & Whitening Fluoride-Free Toothpaste. It leaves a very clean and refreshing feeling. The price on iHerb for this product is a little steep though, and i usually buy 4 pieces at a time to get a volume discount of 12%.

Check out iHerb.com now for products you will be using day to day.

DIY Aircond Servicing

DSC_0001
The dusty blower of my aircond fancoil

I used to pay $20 to service an aircond fancoil (the aircond unit that is installed in your room), which seems pretty cheap, but did you observe what they actually do for you for $20? Not very much really, nothing that you cannot do yourself. Not sure if this sounds familiar, but i was one of those who thought i could get away with not doing regular aircond maintenance on a newly installed aircond, until the drainage pipe became blocked with jelly-like algae and water started dripping out of one of the aircond fancoil unit. To solve this problem, you need a wet and dry vacuum cleaner (i.e. a vacuum cleaner capable of handling liquid). So finally i arranged to have aircond servicing done, got the drainage pipe cleared, and repented from not doing regular aircond maintenance. At some point in time, i started wondering if i could do aircond servicing myself. Really the only thing that stood between me and DIY aircond servicing was a wet and dry vacuum.

Until recently, you didn’t have much choice when it comes to buying a wet and dry vacuum, it would most likely be a Karcher, whose products are usually not cheap (though prices have come down). I struggled with the thought of possibly up to two years before breaking even on such an investment as compared to getting someone else to do the aircond servicing. Then comes taobao into the picture. Well, you know how good the Chinese are at reverse engineering, so it comes as no surprise that you can indeed buy a wet and dry vacuum cleaner on taobao. I finally settled on this one which costs about S$80 (the main selling point was that it was made of 304 stainless steel which will not rust). It pays for itself in just 2 rounds of servicing. A very short review on the Deerma DX135F – basically it rocks. The English tagline for this product is “It’s more powerful than you think”, which is surprisingly fitting. It also comes with various attachments that amplifies the already-powerful suction and to get to hard-to-reach corners.

DSC_0003
Vacuum cleaner attachments

There are basically 4 parts of the aircond that you need to clean regularly – the filter, the fins, the blower and the drainage pipe, as illustrated below:

1. Filter

Vacuum cleaning the filter is usually good enough. You can also wash it with water. A dirty filter blocks air flow through the heat exchanger and diminishes the cooling effect.

DSC_0004

2. Fins

DSC_0005

There are 4 methods to clean the fins – vacuum, steam, foam and chemical wash. You should vacuum the fins every time you vacuum the filter. However, vacuum cleaning may not be able to pick up the dust trapped deep within. Steam cleaning should be able to do the trick. Here’s a Youtube video that demonstrates steam cleaning. If you don’t have a steam cleaner, you can use this foam air-conditioner cleaner. I tried it and found that it did improve the cooling efficiency of my aircond. Finally, a chemical wash is basically an overhaul of your aircond fancoil where the servicing personnel dismantles the entire fancoil unit and washes it with some “chemical” liquid. The labour involved is very costly, and can be avoided if you do regular maintenance using the first 3 methods mentioned above. I would suggest doing vacuum cleaning once a month at the very least, steam cleaning (if you have a steam cleaner) every 2 or 3 months and foam cleaning every 6 to 9 months.

Foam sprayed across the fins
Foam sprayed across the fins
After a while the foam will thin out and it will seep into the fins
After a while the foam will thin out and it will seep into the fins

3. Blower

DSC_0006

Cleaning the blower is the most difficult of all since it is usually located deep within the fancoil unit, plus the fact that the blower consists of many blades that has to be cleaned individually. Don’t expect the aircond servicing personnel to do this for you, they won’t. I get very annoyed about having to deal with a moldy blower. Just like blades on a fan, the blower traps dust as it spins. Since the blower blows cold air, condensation takes place and the dust that’s gathered on the blower becomes wet, attracts even more dust and becomes fungus-infested over time. Not only does it smell, it is harmful to your health (especially to little ones). The moldy smell is most obvious when you’ve just switched on the aircond; you just need to stand near the fancoil unit to smell it. It bothered me so much that i finally took the plunge and bought a steam cleaner (S$89 after discount, comes with 2 years warranty) to deal with it. As with the wet and dry vacuum cleaner, you’ll find Karcher to be an expensive option. Note that the teapot shaped steam cleaners have a very small capacity and are less powerful and are therefore not recommended.

The only way to completely remove moldy dust on the blower is by chemical washing. I wished they made the blower easy to dismantle to allow me to do this myself. Chemical washing is prohibitively costly to do regularly, and besides, the blower doesn’t stay clean for long after the chemical wash, so it’s not practical at all. Regular DIY cleaning is the real way to tackle it – using a combination of different methods, including brushing, vacuum, brute force wiping and steam cleaning.

The pressurized hot steam from a steam cleaner is strong enough to dislodge the moldy dust, and i suppose the heat also helps to kill the fungus at the same time. Since there are so many blades on the blower, it takes a lot of care to ensure that you have blasted steam at each of them. It is not possible to completely remove the dust even with a steam cleaner (since the dust that is blown away by the steam may settle somewhere else within the blower again), but it is faster than just wiping the blades by brute force, although i actually like the brute force method because you get a sense of how much dust you managed to remove. This is what i do to clean the blower:

  • Start by vacuum cleaning the blower (use a brush to try to dislodge dust). This method is not very effective, but since you have the vacuum cleaner on hand, no harm having a go.
  • Next, do brute force wiping. This method actually removes the most dust. I wrap a wet wipe around the handle end of a spoon (or anything similar) and scrape the blades. Trust me, you will go through a few wet wipes and each of them will be dark like charcoal. It is impossible to go through each and every blade, so i only scrape those blades with visible dust.
The wet wipe will look like this any time you wipe the blower. It is impossible to wipe it clean, but every bit helps.
The wet wipe will look like this any time you wipe the blower. It is impossible to wipe it clean, but every little bit helps.
  • Next, do steam cleaning. You should be able to go through most of the blades.
  • Finally, use a hair dryer to completely dry the blades, also wiping the area around the blower as droplets of dirty water will be squirted all around. If you don’t fully dry the blades, dust might start sticking to the blower. In my case, the use of ointment in the room encouraged growth of mold, so that’s something to avoid doing if you can help it.
  • You will not be able to see the dirt once the blades get wet, so you may have to do a few rounds of this steam cleaning.
Moldy dirt blasted off blower by the steam cleaner
Moldy dirt blasted off the blower by the steam cleaner

Don’t expect dust and mold to be eliminated with just one round of cleaning. You should check the blower after a few days to see if there are spots where dust has accumulated again. If so, do brute force wiping and blow dry with hair dryer. If you take up this routine say once every 3 weeks, the blower shouldn’t get too moldy. Do this for the sake of health.

4. Clear the drainage pipe

DSC_0007
Cleaning the drainage pipe is easy, just suck using a wet and dry vacuum cleaner. If you’ve applied the foam air-conditioner cleaner, as a side effect, the foam will flow through the pipe and help to clear it as well.

I hope you can see by now that DIY aircond servicing is as much about having peace of mind as it is about saving money.

iHerb product recommendation – flour and baking needs

Believe it or not, i often ship flour from iHerb.com. They carry flour mostly from 3 brands – King Arthur Flour, Bob’s Red Mill and Arrowhead Mills. If you’re into baking, you would have come across the acronym KAF when you browse forums on baking. After a while you’d realize that KAF stands for King Arthur Flour, a highly regarded brand for flour. Naturally, you pay a premium for this branded flour, and unfortunately iHerb only offers the much-more-expensive organic variant (US$9.20 per 5 pound/2.27kg bag). The Market Place supermarket, and sometimes Cold Storage sells the non-organic 5 pound bag of Unbleached flour at S$10.30, so if you swear by KAF, the Market Place supermarket is your best bet (just for comparison sake, it’s only US$3.98 ~S$5.45 on Walmart).

BobsAP

Any self-respecting baker will recommend the use of unbleached flour. While i can’t confirm this, i presume that most, if not all the local branded non-organic flour are chemically bleached (since they do not state otherwise) Update: they now label their flour as unbleached. If you care about eating non-chemically treated flour, you could, again, buy from the Market Place/Cold Storage supermarket, or iHerb. The Market Place/Cold Storage sells Pillsbury Best (from USA) Unbleached All-Purpose (S$7.40 S$8.05 for 5 pounds) and Waitrose branded (from UK) range of flour. Update 4/3/2016: Fairprice Xtra or Finest also sell Pillsbury Best Unbleached, for only S$7.20. On the other hand, the cheapest unbleached All-Purpose flour on iHerb is this one – Bob’s Red Mill Unbleached All-Purpose White Flour (US$5.64 ~S$7.75 for 5 pounds). These unbleached flour are just slightly more expensive than the local branded flour, definitely recommended.

iHerb offers a very extensive range of Bob’s Red Mill products. While they are also sold at Cold Storage, iHerb’s is probably more comprehensive. You can have fun trying them out – whole wheat pastry flour, kamut, spelt, flax seed meal etc.

buttermilk walnutoil shortening

Other items you might be interested to get from iHerb for baking are buttermilk powder (saves you a lot of hassle from having to buy the fresh ones from the supermarket which you may not be able to use up each time), oilshortening (don’t use Crisco!), vital wheat gluten and baking powder (i find that the local brand Bake King Baking Powder has a tart taste, and more importantly, it does not state that it contains no aluminium, which poses a health risk).

Update: it appears iHerb may not ship Bob’s Red Mill’s unbleached all purpose flour anymore. It is forever out of stock, but when you check the stock availability with your location set to the US, you will discover that it is available. I suspect it is due to exclusive distributorship agreements, whereby iHerb is no longer allowed to ship to Singapore. Anyway, since unbleached all purpose flour is now readily available from local supermarkets, and the price is reasonable, there is no need to buy from iHerb.

Update 24/3/2016: I managed to ship Bob’s Red Mill’s unbleached all purpose flour from iHerb again. I find that it smells and taste better than the Pillsbury flour sold in local supermarkets, which is also imported from the US.

Update 16/8/2016: I think my shipment of Bob’s Red Mill’s unbleached all purpose flour in July was the very last one. iHerb has discontinued the product, as well as most other flour products for Singapore customers.

Update 2 Mar 2017: My current favourite flour is CJ Beksul, which is sold for S$2.10 per 1kg at NTUC Fairprice. I have no idea whether it is unbleached, but it tastes pretty good to me and is actually cheaper than those local branded flour. Anyway, here’s an interesting experiment on comparing KAF and Beksul.

CJ Beksul

Check out iHerb.com now for more products you will be using from day to day.

iHerb product recommendation – spices and foodstuff

If you’re ordering stuff on iHerb.com and have spare capacity for the shipment (up to 6.3kg), you might want to consider getting herbs and seasoning. There are plenty for you to choose from. Even if you don’t have anything in mind to get, you could try searching for the best rated or best selling herbs to see if anything piques your interest. That was how i ended up getting the Drogheria & Alimentari Organic Provence Herbs Mill which is made up of some of the commonly used herbs in French and Italian cooking. It works great in pasta. The pricing on iHerb is competitive (or cheaper in some cases) with what is found in local supermarkets, so if you want to try products from a different brand than those commonly found here, you can do so through iHerb.

A sample of other herbs i have gotten from iHerb:

chives
Frontier Natural Chopped Chives US$3.87 (4g), tastes close to fresh chives, handy and probably a lot cheaper to have it in dried form.

nutmeg

Drogheria & Alimentari Nutmeg Mill US$3.29 (40g), cheaper than what is found in the supermarket. Going to try making steak marinade with this.

taco

Frontier Natural Taco Seasoning, Salt-Free Blend US$2.93 (66g), for a Mexican/Spanish taste occasionally.

If you’re a health freak (i’m somewhat one), try Himalayan Pink Salt. The pricing on iHerb doesn’t compare favourably with what you find on Amazon (still within reasonable range though), but Amazon doesn’t ship Himalayan Pink Salt to Singapore, so iHerb is still your best bet (definitely cheaper than what’s available in Singapore). The best value Himalayan Pink Salt are Aloha Bay Himalayan Crystal Salt, Coarse US$5.90 (510g), which requires the use of a salt mill, and Fun Fresh Foods Himalayan Pink Sea Salt US$10.70 (909g) which comes in fine crystal form.

alohabayhimalayan funfreshhimalayan

Or try Celtic Sea Salt, which is “Doctor Recommended Since 1976”. I buy the ‘Light Grey Celtic’ version which is coarse and i grind it directly onto food for seasoning. You do have to bake the crystals to dry it before use because it comes in a slightly moist form.

celticseasalt

The other food product i recommend getting is Y.S. Eco Bee Farms Raw Honey US$17.86 (1.36kg). This is an organic, true raw honey. It isn’t the best honey available out there, but it is probably the best value. It is super thick and creamy, doesn’t smell nor taste so good on its own actually, but great when made into a drink, with lemon for example. Once you’ve gotten used to this you may not want to go back to those processed and watery honey.

rawhoney

These are just a small sample of herbs and foodstuff on iHerb. Check out iHerb.com now for more products you will be using from day to day.