If you like the outdoors, hiking must be one of the activities you enjoy. I didn’t realise how much walking poles can help during hiking until I tried them. I brought along walking poles for my recent trip to USA and Canada as I planned to do some hiking. I had no prior experience of using them, but I had the impression that they will help to distribute weight to the arm, and so provide relief to the legs. Besides, i thought they will make me look like a professional (OK I admit this was the main reason). Anyhow, they proved to be indispensable when hiking uphill, especially when carrying a kid.
I know i will not be using the walking poles much once my holiday is over, so i didn’t want to get expensive ones, so obviously i turn to Taobao. They’re called 登山杖 in Chinese. In fact i just went for 2 sets of the entry level ones, at 46 Yuan (S$10.50) per set. The design is like that of pull-up bars that you fix across a door frame, where you extend and then twist to tighten. Unfortunately, one of the two sets i received turned out to be faulty – one of the segments could not be pulled out from the enclosing segment. The design is inherently prone to this problem. Just to give you an idea of what it looks like, see the sample picture below. If you intend to buy walking poles, DO NOT buy this type!
I learned my lesson (thankfully not an expensive one) and bought another set with a different tightening mechanism (external). This was more expensive of course, but not by very much, at 78 Yuan (S$17.50) per pair. It had the added advantage of being slightly slimmer and lighter. I was very satisfied with this second purchase from 大漠户外 and highly recommend it.
The external locking mechanism – locking is done in one step rather than having to continuously twist the bar without really knowing when to stop.
Many people use a spin mop, but over time, either the mop or the bucket breaks down, but seldom both at the same time. Unfortunately, these are usually sold as a set. Moreover, they are quite expensive even when sold individually.
Well, as the title suggests, Taobao is your solution. I bought a replacement spin mop for 35 Yuan ($7.80). Inclusive of shipping cost, this spin mop would cost you about half the price of one bought locally in Singapore, so it’s a no brainer. The search term to look for a spin mop on Taobao is 旋转拖把.
Does the term PAM ring a bell to you? Not many people in the eastern hemisphere will know that it is a popular brand of a cooking spray. A cooking spray would appeal to someone who is health conscious, since it reduces the amount of oil needed for cooking. I guess one reason it didn’t catch on here (in Singapore and South East Asia in general) is that we mostly prefer our food to be on the oily side. Nevertheless, the idea was intriguing enough to me that i wanted to give it a try.
The commercial type of cooking spray (like PAM) is almost exclusively produced and sold in the US. The only way to get them in Singapore is probably to have friends or visitors to the US bring them back. It may be possible mail order and ship them over, but i imagine it may not be cost effective since there’s probably a premium to pay for shipping such a sensitive product – it is an aerosol can, which can be dangerous. Anyway, despite the supposed lower calories benefit it brings, there are downsides to using the commercial cooking spray, since it contains potentially harmful chemicals. For these reasons, i decided that i will not use it. I would go for an alternative method – an oil spray.
An oil spray is like the perfume bottle that releases a mist when you press the spray nozzle. When spraying oil however, you will not get a mist but more of small jet streams. Though not ideal, it does the job of spreading the oil somewhat more evenly to a larger surface area than pouring, which gives the food you are cooking a more even exposure to oil. I can’t say for sure that this results in a noticeable difference to the end product of what you cook, nor am i bothered to scientifically prove that this uses much less oil, but i still like the idea of using an oil spray. The one downside is that the oil tends to leak down the sides of the bottle.
Surprisingly, an oil spray is quite easily found in local (Singapore) online shopping sites at competitive prices, so there’s no real need to buy from Taobao. Anyway, in case you’re interested, this was the one I bought (update: they have replaced the model with a glass bottle one). I got it at 58 Yuan (about S$13), but the glass bottle version is only 28 Yuan (about S$6.20). I like that it is made of high grade stainless steel with minimal plastic parts. You could even make your own oil spray if you wanted to, but for safety reasons, I would rather buy one (with the hope that the manufacturer used food grade material).
Splatter produced by the oil spray. It is still mostly concentrated in the middle.
Update: i hardly use the oil spray these days, because the oil tends to turn rancid very quickly, and to be honest, food taste better with more oil. Yes, you’ll need to pour to get enough oil in the food.
There’s something about the striped grill marks on a panini that makes it so luring to me that i wanted to own a panini toaster. Having the grilled stripes does add extra crunchiness, balanced by the rest of the softer parts of the bread. This is not achievable by a toaster or an oven, which grills the entire surface.
Anyway, a panini grill isn’t common in Singapore. What’s typically sold in Singapore are sandwich makers, which clamp the edges of sliced bread together and does not allow you to make tall sandwiches. While a panini grill isn’t expensive on Amazon, they run on 110V, so they can’t be used in Singapore, at least not without a high-wattage transformer (which doesn’t make sense). Well, as usual, i went the way of Taobao as i wasn’t going to spend a lot of money to buy one.
LED lights is the first thing i will recommend anyone to get from Taobao. In case you don’t know the merits of LED lights – it saves you more than 50% of electricity (as compared to fluorescent lighting aka CFL) and potentially lasts much longer. I did a rough calculation and my estimation is that i can break even on the change of CFL to LED lighting in less than 2 years. It may sound drastic, but i have changed almost all the lightings in my home to LED even though the CFL tubes have not yet broken down.
When i did my home renovation for my current home, more than 4 years ago, i installed LED downlights for the living room and also the doorway area. Each LED downlight cost me a blood sucking price of S$28! Barely 2 years later, 2 of those LED lights broke down. I was reluctant to pay the cost of getting an electrician to replace them. Finally, I decided to do it myself. I bought the LED lights from Taobao, at an unbelievable price of 9.8 Yuan each for the premium ones. This equates to S$2.3, which is less than 10 times my original buy price! The replacement work was actually very easy, although i accidentally chipped away a small bit of the false ceiling.
Buoyed by the success, I was determined to change the rest of the frequently used lighting in the home to LED ones – those in the living and dining room, kitchen as well as all the bedrooms. These consisted of two types of CFL light tubes – the PL-L 4P 36W and PL-C 13W. Here’s what they look like if you’re wondering:
It took a while to search on Taobao, because if you searched by those very search terms (PL-L and PL-C), it will be the CFL light tubes or other unrelated products showing up in the search result. The search terms to use are 2g11 led and g24 led. 2g11 and g24 refer to the base pin configuration of PL-L and PL-C respectively. To get comparable brightness, the wattage is the one that is slightly less than half that of CFL. For the 36W PL-L, the corresponding LED is 15W, and the LED is housed in a casing with the exact same length as the 36W CFL light, so you can’t get it wrong. If you do the sums, you save 58% electricity when you switch from CFL to LED. I found the brightness to be about equal or slightly dimmer, and it works fine for me. For a bedroom, you typically need 2 of these light tubes, so instead of 72W, you’re down to using just 30W.
For the PL-C light, you have many choices in terms of the wattage (and correspondingly the length), so you have to be careful to choose one that will fit into your downlight enclosure. For my 13W PL-C, i chose the 7W LED, for worry that if i chose the 5W one, it will turn out to be too dim. 7W is about 54% of the original 13W wattage, so the result was a very significant increase in brightness, and i can tell you it is “shiok” (exhilarating) as it makes your home feel like one of those brightly lit shopping malls! For L-Box downlight, as compared to a centrally fitted light, you need to have extra brightness to achieve sufficient lighting. To get that extra brightness at about half the electricity usage is extremely satisfying.
There are many sellers of LED light on Taobao, and as usual i chose the sellers with the highest sales volume, as the sales volume is a testament to these sellers being reliable. The 15W 2g11 LED cost me 48 Yuan (S$11) each while the 7W g24 LED cost me 23 Yuan (S$5). The pricing is not much more than their CFL counterpart actually, so i don’t see why anyone should be buying CFL anymore.
A note on the colour temperature of the light: you probably already know there are 3 types you can choose from – white, cool white, and warm white (basically yellow). In terms of Kelvin, these are 6000-6500K, 4000-4500K and 2700-3200K respectively. White is simply 白, cool white could be 暖白 or 自然白 or 中性光 while warm white is 暖黄 or 暖白. You have to read the specification of the seller very carefully to choose the colour that you want. If cool white is what you want and it is not among the options available, check with the seller if they offer it. If they do, you can ask for it by leaving a remark when placing your order.
Now, for the installation of the lights, the PL-C or G24 type of light requires just plugging the CFL out and the LED in. That’s because, by design, the ballast and stater of the CFL is built into the PL-C lighting, and correspondingly, the driver circuitry of the LED is also built-in.
Swapping the PL-L for the LED is a little more involved, because you need to do some re-wiring to bypass the ballast and starter, which MUST NOT be used in conjunction with the LED. Fortunately, the design of modern lighting is such that you can do wiring quite easily, much like how you do it on a breadboard. I tripped the circuit breaker a few times while doing this, but nevertheless, i got the job done myself. Disclaimer: do this at your own risk, and if you are not confident, engage an electrician. See picture below to see the finished job.
Update 14 Jun 2016
One year on after switching to LED lights, they became noticeably dimmer, especially for the pair of cool white PL-L (probably because it was used more frequently). I will have to do a replacement purchase, but i don’t really mind that. Something for you to keep in mind.
Update 18 Feb 2017
Besides the LED downlight and the 2 types of LED light tubes i have mentioned above, there is also the integrated type that is becoming very popular now. The integrated type means that the LED light strips are built-in and inseparable from the housing. There are pros and cons to this of course – it comes ready for installation, and you need not worry about purchasing nor installing separate light tubes, but if it breaks down, or becomes too dim over time, you’ll have to replace the entire fixture.
Some of these look very nice, and my preference is for the minimalistic ones, but some of those made for and according to Chinese taste look “obiang”, or Singlish for out-of-place ugly. The search term to use if you want to look for the minimalistic LED are “LED办公室吸顶灯” and “LED办公室吊灯”, which really means lighting for office space.
Check these out:
And the “obiang” ones:
These light fixtures are huge in size when packed for shipping. They are just a tad smaller than typical furniture items. There is only one way to ship them – by sea freight. Here’s how you can ship them to Singapore – 86OF.
What to do with your disused fluorescent light
Don’t bin them! They can be recycled. Please walk the extra mile and bring them to one of the collection points for recycling! A little goes a long way.
These days, with everything going digital, everyone needs some kind of digital backup storage (to store photos, videos, documents etc.). It can be in the form of an external harddisk, thumbdrives, cloud storage (Dropbox, Google drive etc.) or the now-probably-obsolete optical disks (DVD, Bluray). In terms of safety, probably nothing can beat cloud storage, since it is managed (someone guarantees the safety) and it is offsite (you’re fine even if your house is burnt down). To store a large amount of data (in the Gigabyte range), though, it is probably not practical to use cloud storage, since it will be expensive and considerably slow even with the high-speed internet we have today. I’m a cheapo when it comes to.. well, everything, and my choice of a digital backup storage is a hard drive dock.
Prior to this, i used DVD-Rs to backup photos. Although cheap, it is quite a chore to burn the DVDs, plus, if you missed out some files, you may not be able to add to the already burned DVD. The size of DVDs at 3.7GB is usually not enough to contain all your photos, so your photo back up will span a few DVDs, and it is again a chore to load and eject DVDs if you wished to view the photos. The next lowest cost storage available is the hard disk. A hard disk overcomes all the shortcomings of a DVD, except it may not outlast a DVD. Hard disks have a typical life span of 2 to 8 years, with the added risk that they may fail abruptly at any time. The way to tackle this problem is to have redundancy – do the back up onto two or more hard disks. The likelihood of both hard disks failing at the same time is small enough to make this solution workable. In fact, the practice of having redundancy of hard disks has become standard to the point that a standard is actually devised, called RAID 1. For the average consumer, to be able to take advantage of RAID 1 simply means buying a hard disk enclosure or a Network Attached Storage (NAS) that supports RAID 1. The price point of such an enclosure is around US$70 at present (this excludes the price of the hard disks). The advantage of using RAID 1 is that you need only to do the back up once and it will be automatically duplicated onto the hard disks. If, at any point in time, one of the hard disks fails, you can simply replace the failed hard disk and all the back up data will be duplicated onto the new hard disk automatically. The disadvantage of RAID 1 is, well, the price. You do have to pay a premium for having this facility.
The alternative to RAID 1 is to duplicate the back up data onto each of the hard disks manually. This simply means you need to back up the data more than once (usually twice, since two hard disks is normally sufficient redundancy). I have chosen this as my back up solution, because the hard disk enclosure/dock without RAID 1 is far cheaper. I managed to get one from Taobao at 126 Yuan (S$28) – Orico dual bay hard drive dock (USB 3). Orico is a well known Chinese brand that’s sold on Amazon as well. At this price point you can forgive the slogan ‘Easy your PC’ (a literal translation from Chinese that’s supposed to mean making PC usage convenient) and the past tense of back up being spelt ‘backuped’.
You can plug either 2.5 or 3.5 inch hard disks into the dock. Obviously, a 3.5 inch hard disk is cheaper, so you’ll go for that. I got Toshiba 1TB drives since they are the cheapest available (S$61) and they cost only marginally more than the 500GB one. With only 2 years warranty, these probably will not last much longer than 2 years, if it will last 2 years at all, but redundancy takes care of that anyway. At any point in time, if one of the hard disks fail, you’ll get a replacement and copy all the data into the replacement hard disk, and you’re safe again. And the beauty is, neither brand/model nor the capacity matters. You can just get any harddisk that has at least the same capacity, or more.
First test run of 10GB back up took 4 minutes to be copied into both hard disks, not bad. To make it easier to copy files to both hard disks simultaneously, i used the utility n2ncopy. My 4 years old laptop didn’t have USB 3, but thankfully it came with an ExpressCard expansion slot. I got hold of a USB 3 ExpressCard from Taobao for 38 Yuan (S$8.50), which is dirt cheap. So, for a grand total of S$166 (inclusive of shipping cost), i managed to put together a 1TB redundancy back up solution with decent data transfer speed.
My coffee adventure started with the purchase of a Krups espresso machine, which became the subject of some of my first few blog entries. The purchase of the espresso machine was triggered by the gift of a pack of coffee powder from Ipoh. You must be wondering how a pack of coffee powder from Ipoh (the traditional Kopi type coffee powder) can be used in an espresso machine. You’re right, it couldn’t. I actually did try, and, well, you can imagine the result you get with very coarse ground coffee in an espresso machine. Sadly, not too long after i had the machine, it went back into the box and got stashed away for more than 5 years. I guess my taste buds were not yet ready to appreciate coffee for what it is.
I don’t remember what was the motivation, but out it came from the box and it sat on my kitchen table top again, a year and a half ago. I decided to do it right this time. Now that i have proper filtered water (the absence of which was noticeably affecting the taste of the coffee previously), i was sure i will arrive at a better result. I got serious – i decided to upgrade the tools. Back then (yes just a year and a half ago), the only logical place I thought I could source for the tools was Amazon. Now, well, you know, anything can be found on taobao, for a fraction of Amazon’s price. My recent one day transit in Beijing has revealed to me that China is now a serious coffee consuming nation, so it’s no surprise that taobao has a proliferation of coffee related products.
The tamper definitely had to be upgraded. I’ve read more than once people referring to the plastic tamper that normally comes with an espresso machine as “silly”. Now that i’ve had some experience with tamping the coffee powder, i concur. I got myself a stainless steel tamper, because the ones with a wooden handle cost more than I was willing to cough up. Now that you can buy from taobao, well, nothing is really out of reach. So, contrary to the title of this article, when it comes to buying a tamper, i would suggest looking it up on taobao. The search term is 咖啡压粉器. Quick check on price – CNY 35 to 200.
The next item I thought I should get was a coffee bean grinder. I initially thought i should get an electric grinder. After reading some reviews however, i learned that a blade grinder may not be a good idea, since the stainless steel blades may impart a metallic taste to the ground coffee, and it may be difficult to get the exact grind size you want. Someone recommended that a manual ceramic burr grinder is the best option. I took the advice and got the Hario Mini, from Amazon. This product is sold at departmental stores in Singapore, but Amazon’s was slightly cheaper, even after factoring in the shipping cost. Now, however, contrary to the title of this article again, i doubt Amazon is the best place to get a grinder. You can find the Hario Mini at a lower price on taobao. Search for Hario or the general term 咖啡磨豆机. Price check – CNY 115 to 170 for the Hario. By the way, at this point of time, i am actually waiting for a new grinder to arrive. I must say that manual grinding can be a little tiring, but that’s a compromise i’m willing to make to get fresher coffee. There are electric burr grinders in the market, but the reviews are not so positive, UNLESS you’re willing to spend an equal or higher amount of money on a grinder than you do on an espresso machine, in which case you might get something decent.
The final tool I got was a pitcher for frothing milk. Ok, I must have got the name of my article wrong, because taobao is again the place to get the pitcher now. The term to search for in taobao is 咖啡拉花杯. Quick check on price – CNY 13 to 150.
A group photo for my tools. The weight of the tamper helps. I would imagine that a wooden handle will give a more comfortable grip.
With the tools in place, there is one final item needed to make coffee – the beans! This is one item that doesn’t make sense to get from taobao, because China has to import the beans as well. Amazon is a good place to buy the beans, but there are some things to note. Firstly, coffee is not eligible for the free AmazonGlobal Saver shipping. You will have to ship via a forwarding service. Also, the coffee sold on Amazon may be more expensive than if you bought directly from the seller’s own website, so you will have to do proper homework before you buy. I must have sampled no less than ten different varieties of coffee from Amazon. I think I could recommend this one – Dark Guatemalan, good taste and good value. Coffee beans sold in Singapore are generally quite expensive (and they tend to be already ground), so I think it’s worthwhile getting them from the US, from Amazon or other websites.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Check out my review on the new sonic toothbrush i am using now.