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DHAULAGIRI is the seventh highest mountain in the world. But in terms of technical challenge, it is possibly more dangerous than its famous Himalayan cousin Mount Everest, with casualty rates double that of the latter.
But in May this year, Dhiren Doshi became the first Singaporean to scale its treacherous peak. With the blessing of his company, the 42-year-old Vice-President (Industries & Digital Leadership) of SAP Southeast Asia was able to take two months off work to climb the mountain with a 13-member international expedition team that included two other Singaporeans.
While the latter two dropped out for personal reasons, Mr Doshi stayed the course. He braved perilous terrain, sub-zero temperatures, high-altitude sickness, possible storms and avalanches, and several white-knuckle moments to reach the summit. There he unfurled the flags of Singapore and his company SAP, where he has worked for over a decade.
Mr Doshi, an adrenaline junkie from Raffles Institution and Raffles Junior College, has been climbing mountains for several years. He says: "Most people climb the Everest before attempting the more challenging Dhaulagiri. And, for a long time, I too had my heart set on Everest."
But his plans to conquer Everest some years ago were dashed again and again when Himalayan authorities halted climbing activities due to extreme weather conditions. Consequently he turned his attention to Dhaulagiri instead and has never looked back.
Mr Doshi spent about S$75,000 altogether for the flights, gear, additional training and necessary permits to make the climb. The people in his expedition team included "celebrity climbers" such as Guy Cotter, the expedition leader who had climbed Everest four times and was a key adviser to the production team of the 2015 Hollywood film Everest. Also on the team was Charlotte Fox, the first American woman to climb three peaks above 8,000 metres (Everest, Cho Oyu and Gasherbrum II). Surprisingly, neither of them has ever summited Dhaulagiri.
Between April 30 and May 23, the team carried out the risky ascent. As is normal in these expeditions, climbers have to ascend and descend a few times to acclimatize their bodies to the ice-cold conditions. While the mountains offer magnificent unparalleled vistas, the numbing temperatures and scarcity of oxygen constantly remind the climbers they're in a death zone. A single misstep could be their last.
Mr Doshi says there were harrowing moments when his team members were temporarily separated and unable to contact one another. During those weeks, other teams encountered tragedies including one fatality and helicopter evacuations for about a dozen climbers. But Mr Doshi's expedition remained relatively incident-free and the team eventually reached the 8,167m peak on May 22.
Mr Doshi says: "We were lucky. We reached the top during that small window of time when the weather was right for us to ascend. In most other weeks, it would have been impossible."
Mr Doshi says reaching the top was, more than anything else, a humbling experience: "I climb mountains because I want to see how far I can go and how much I can take to get to the hardest places on earth. The sheer enormity and power of nature make you feel truly exposed to the elements. It ultimately makes you feel small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things. It humbles you."
The experience also led him to pledge the expedition to Children & Youth First, a voluntary Nepalese organisation dedicated to helping underprivileged children. Through giving talks about his expedition and other activities, he hopes to raise funds that can pay for the education of 42 kids - 42 being his age this year.
If you'd like to donate to the cause, go to https://give.asia/story/beyond_boundaries_-_dhaulagiri_2017
ARCHITECT EDMUND NG loves cooking, and is only too happy to do so, whenever the opportunity arises.
The 44-year-old, who runs his eponymous architecture firm, can whip up a meal of four dishes for 20 people in around an hour.
"I'm a fast cook," he says. His secret? His S$400 industry-grade kitchen gas stove, where he can create the wok hei fragrance with the intense heat. "If the chef at the zi char stall can cook a chilli crab dish in under 20 minutes, I don't see why I can't do the same," he says.
Most of the heavy cooking is done in the outdoor kitchen. The indoor kitchen is compact but a good enough size, says Mr Ng. Naturally, it is fitted out with top-notch kitchen equipment, as well as smaller accessories, such as a sous vide machine.
Mr Ng enjoys cooking Chinese dishes because he finds them more challenging than other cuisines. His repertoire includes chilli crab, crab bee hoon in both the dry and soup versions, Teochew-style steamed pomfret, Hokkien mee, and orh nee.
He enjoys baking too, especially bread.
And when he cooks, it is usually for a big group of family and friends. He once cooked for 150 people. "It is too difficult to cook for just two people," he explains.
He cooks about four times a month, and the menu is always different. "Maybe there will be a new dish that I want to try out, but there will always be safe dishes," he says.
It comes as a surprise to hear that Mr Ng only started cooking seriously nearly three years ago, when he and his art gallery owner wife moved into their Siglap home, which allowed him to have an outdoor kitchen.
He didn't have the chance to cook during his childhood days, as the kitchen was his mother's domain. "But since young, I have been a critic of my mum's cooking," he says. He would point out to her how she could improve the dish, after comparing it with what he had eaten outside. "Sometimes she listens, sometimes she doesn't. I was more of a theoretical cook before," he says.
Despite his love for cooking, Mr Ng eats out on most nights, and he is comfortable dining at both hawker stalls and Michelin-starred restaurants.
Dining out, he says, is to stimulate his taste buds. "The only way to improve is to learn from others," he says.
The self-taught cook learns from cookbooks and also from observing the professionals. "Some restaurant kitchens are open, and I watch how the cooking is done. I even take note of what soy sauce brand is used," he says.
He does his own marketing, and likes going to Tekka and Geylang Serai. "I prefer to pick my own ingredients, and along the way, pick up some seasonal ingredients too." Of course, he makes his own rempah and pastes too.
Even though he plans his menus, Mr Ng is able to cook a new dish on short notice, such as when more guests turn up unexpectedly. "I rummage through the fridge, see what I have and what I can put together," he says.
Cooking is a chance for him to unwind and be creative. He enjoys modifying recipes, sometimes doing away with extra steps or ingredients which he finds unnecessary.
"With food, you can instantly tell whether or not a person likes the dish," he says. So far, he says he has not cooked a bad dish.
He must be doing a good job, as he often gets requests from friends to cook for them. Neighbours are only too happy to come by when Mr Ng cooks. His favourite chef is Heston Blumenthal, "as he breaks cooking down to a science," says Mr Ng. "I like to know the reason behind a certain step."
He finds it annoying when recipe measurements are not accurate. "When someone asks for my recipe, I can give it to them down to precise measurements," he says.
Friends have suggested that he take part in cooking competitions, but Mr Ng dismisses the idea. "I'm not good enough, I just enjoy cooking for friends," he says.
And he won't be leaving his day job either, despite suggestions that he open his own restaurant. "A chef's life is too hard."
AS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR of retail and lifestyle at global real estate services provider Savills, Sulian Tan-Wijaya deals mostly with commercial landlords such as shopping malls and office buildings to bring in new brands and concepts in retail, F&B, and lifestyle.
A typical day for her involves informal sessions with her team members, advising mall owners on repositioning and revamps, meeting overseas retailers and negotiating leases with landlords and tenants.
It's all very serious especially in a challenging retail market, but occasionally, Ms Tan-Wijaya sheds that corporate image for something a little more fun.
The 52-year-old gets behind a deck and becomes DJ Sulian. She is selective about where she spins, and has done gigs for Red Cross charity galas, intimate parties at Fendi stores in Ngee Ann City and DFS. She also used to spin at the supper club, The Mansion, but sold that three years ago.
"Some of my clients know that I DJ. They are sometimes amused by it, because it is so uncorporate-like," she says.
Her DJ hobby started as a student at the National University of Singapore Law School.
She was then modelling part-time with Carrie Models when the dance club, Rumours, approached them for a female DJ. "It was sort of a novelty then to have female DJs," she says. "I landed the job and next thing I knew I was hitting the decks in front of thousands of clubbers every Saturday night."
Ms Tan-Wijaya says she enjoys being a DJ because she always had an affinity for music. "From classical piano to playing the keyboards in a rock band, to singing in a jazz club to hosting a musical variety show on TV to DJing, they all gave me the opportunity to express myself musically in different ways," she explains.
DJ Sulian also makes appearances at socialite birthday parties, at clubs, New Year's Eve and Formula 1 parties.
"It also depends on whether my playlist at that point in time is a good fit for the occasion and the audience," says the mother of two.
Referring to her playlist, she went through various phases of dance music from the very first House track by House Sound of Chicago to the more recent Nu Disco and Deep House. In between she had various playlists for 80's soul music, 90's hip hop and Indie.
"I try to avoid commercial dance tracks which I find boring," she says. "Most of the more recent tunes in my list are so obscure I don't even remember the song titles."
Each set varies from 45 minutes to two hours long. Ms Tan-Wijaya usually goes through the songs in her mind to form a playlist a few days before a gig.
She doesn't own a DJ deck, nor does she practise at home, or even at the club. Whether it was vinyls, using the CDJ, a specialised digital music player for DJing, or Serato, a DJ software, Ms Tan-Wijaya recalls only getting 15-minute crash courses and hitting the decks.
"If you can mix vinyls, you can mix anything," she declares. "I'm not interested in DJing that way as that's too technical. It's the thrill of using a deck for the first time and playing to a live audience that makes it challenging."
Away from the decks, her taste in music has changed over the years. In the 1980s, she played music from Journey and Van Halen with her band, but listened to British bands such as Tears for Fears, The Style Council and Soul to Soul.
In the 1990s, she liked hip hop and alternative music, and in the 2000s, it was Eminem and Linkin Park. "Today, it is mostly songs that you hear on Lush 99.5FM," she says.
For Ms Tan-Wijaya, DJ-ing will always remain a hobby, and it is unlikely she will ever think of a career switch. "I can never imagine DJ-ing for a living, that is when the fun will end," she says.
One of her memorable moments behind the DJ deck was watching several socialite friends come down to Il Lido after a gala dinner, and dancing to her music in their gowns.
She is hard-pressed to say if she has a dream club to DJ at. "I've had the privilege of spinning in so many cool venues already, that itself has been a dream come true."
Don't ask her too when her next gig is. "Maybe when I get my next inspiration and play list. There is no timeline on this. I stopped DJing when I graduated and unexpectedly returned to the decks 18 years later," she says.