MANILA, October 26, 2005 (STAR) By Ching M. Alano - Forget about swimming with the pink dolphins at Sentosa or feeding your childhood fantasies of being a dolphin trainer even if only for a day.

Forget about getting up close and personal with the orangutans at Singapore Zoo’s special jungle breakfast (think of how wild that’ll be).

Forget about grabbing a hearty breakfast right beside a flock of pink flamingoes at Jurong BirdPark. Now, this one’s definitely not for the birds!

Forget about diving with the sharks at the Underwater World and exploring a whole new world of sea creatures. Finding Nemo may be far-out for you.

Forget about the colossal, feng-shui-designed Suntec City and probably the world’s largest fountain.

That is, of course, if you can afford to miss out on these unique pleasures as only Singapore can offer. But for those who can afford to live it up, there are a thousand and one dazzling reasons to visit Singapore. Let’s count ’em:

1) Dream gems. ’Twas a season of brilliance and indulgence as JewelFest Ltd., in cooperation with the Singapore Tourism Board, strung together the brightest stars in the constellation of fine jewelry from Singapore and around the world to bring the Singapore JewelFest 2005. Rhapsody at Jewel Pavilion in Ngee Ann City Civic Plaza assembled in just one venue more than 20,000 jewellery pieces worth up to 40 million Singapore dollars and coming from 100 jewellery brands from Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Italy, Germany, and Switzerland.

Indeed, Singapore rocks – of course, we mean those precious stones like diamonds that come in all shapes and sizes to cater to the size of your bankbook. Some are so humongous and brilliant they could blind you.

Well, I found some of my finest, best friends in Singapore. For instance, I found the first and currently the only apple-shaped diamond in the world – and it’s unlikely there’ll be a second. This collector’s item was crafted by Belgium-based master cutter Gabi Tolkowsky for Charlotte Atelier.

"It’s still looking for an owner who appreciates diamonds," Allan of Charlotte Atelier tells us. And, if we may add, an owner who can shell out S$73,800 for this 1.96-carat, near-colorless and flawless beauty set in gold.

Charlotte Atelier’s gem of a team Allan and Kent also tells us we can create our own jewelry. "It’s a kind of revolution – we’re moving away from traditional kind of jewelry. Our concept is you can play around with jewelry and have a new piece every day."

There’s also Fulvio Maria Scavia whose one-of-a-kind signature creations can be found draping the necks of the rich and famous, wrapped around their fingers or dangling from their ears. Scavia’s celebrity clients include Sharon Stone, Naomi Campbell, Iman, and Elizabeth Taylor for whom diamonds are forever and husbands are but a passing fancy.

Scavia traces his illustrious history: "I inherited my mother’s refined taste in design, her feeling for color. I learned to first view clearly in my mind and only then take a pencil and draw ... She started with the old shop, enlarging it and making it known throughout Milan and beyond, eventually moving it to the city center, in Via della Spiga ... She taught me how to love this work, making it an ongoing commitment, like a destiny that then becomes a vocation. Together, we broke away from the traditional schemes of jewellery and began experimenting enthusiastically with both form and technique ..."

According to Fulvio, Scavia is a cut above the rest because of three things: Innovation, technical perfection, and pleasure – "Jewelry should be enjoyed. It should not be just something with a high price tag that you put around your neck to show off."

And then we made a dash for the art of Dashi in sculpture and jewellery at the Scarlet Bold bar. The 38-year-old Dashi Namdakov, a Russian sculptor from Siberia, combines sculpture and jewelry art in his jewelry pieces, be it a bird, an animal or an anthropomorphic creature. A rave review of his work says, "His unique sculptures are filled with tenderness, warmth, and soft humor. They reflect ancient Siberian and Central Asian cultures with hints of Indian, Iranian, African, and American influences. Mysticism and fairy tale are cast within them and viewers are invited into a world of ancient legends ..."

Dashi’s jewelry, which fetches from US$3,500 and up, adorns society ladies and is also popular with men like designers, lawyers, and architects. His works are found in private collections in Russia – like that of Russian President V. Putin. Actress Uma Thurman collects Dashi, too.

2) It’s about time. It was something worth watching and waiting for: the reopening of Cartier’s brand-new concept boutique at The Shopping Gallery of The Hilton. Of course, the watchwords here, as in all Cartier boutiques, are comfort and glamour. The facade is in black veined marble, bronze gilt, and etched grillwork. The new concept boutique, created by Bruno Moinard, also has a mini-library and sweeping windows to serve as mini-theaters with the drapes open during the day and closed at night.

3) Extreme auction. It was an auction-packed week when a group of Asian journalists, this writer included, visited Singapore. Going, going, gone, but certainly not the precious memory of the extreme auction for Southeast Asian paintings conducted by Sotheby’s Singapore at The Fullerton Hotel. Now 20 years in Singapore, Sotheby’s also celebrates its philanthropic and heritage work. Recently, it auctioned Lee Kuan Yew’s collection of art and memorabilia, proceeds of which were donated to a charitable organization called The Tent.

"It has been inspiring to help steer and develop an important aspect of art in Singapore and the region, together with clients who understand and pursue the best," says Esther Seet, Sotheby’s Singapore managing director.

It was a record-breaking sale for Sotheby’s Singapore’s 20th anniversary auction, ringing down the curtain with an unprecedented S$11,204,600, the highest total sale over the last 10 years. Bidding was international, with participants coming from America, Europe, and the Southeast Asian region.

And the star of the auction was Lee Man Fong’s "Balinese Life," which opened at S$300,000 and was sold to a telephone bidder at a staggering S$1,148,000 (multiply that by P35).

But how did our Filipino artists fare at the auction?

Just fine, thank you. Fernando Amorsolo’s "Afternoon Meal" (1959, oil on canvas) did attract those with a voracious appetite for art who bidded till auctioneer Henry Howard-Sneyd banged the gavel at S$72,000. Ang Kiukok’s "Fish" (1979, oil on canvas) was a prize catch at S$40,800 while Romeo Tabuena’s "Philippine Morning" (1967, acrylic on masonite) and Juvenal Sanso’s "Still Life" (acrylic on canvas) were snapped up at a hefty S$15,600 each.

According to Sotheby’s Singapore, Filipino paintings have significantly contributed to the sales due to the richness and versatility of styles inspired y Western art movements and theories. Sales figures have steadily grown, surpassing S$1 million in the last two years.

4) Eat’s incredible! The World Gourmet Summit 2006, jointly organized by the Singapore Tourism Board and Peter Knipp Holdings, promises to cook up yet another storm in April 2006. Since 1997, the world’s celebrity chefs, assorted foodies, and wine enthusiasts have come together for this epicurean feast like no other. Culinary greats who have made it to the World Gourmet Summit include Anthony Bourdain, Charlie Trotter, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten of the US; Alain Passard of France, Santi Santamaria of Spain, and Tetsuya Wakuda of Australia. A total of 10,752 gourmets are expected to participate at next year’s summit and plunk down up to S$1,000 per plate. Caviar, oysters, champagne, anyone? Now you can make your champagne wishes and caviar dreams come true.

Lined up is a whole month of gourmet activities to thrill the senses. For the first time, a Gourmet Golf Challenge will be held. There will also be a spa/wellness weekend designed for couples. This food summit certainly caters to both body and soul.

5) By spa-tial request. Along Orchard Road’s famed shopping paradise is another haven – for the sole and the spirit. The only spa dedicated to spa space, the 22,000-square-feet Andana, on the newly built sixth floor of Paragon on Orchard Road, has been attracting a steady horde of executives, corporate people, tourists, and people who come for medical treatment.

"You can spend the whole day here; guests normally stay for four hours," says Han Wee Lin, Andana marketing manager.

Andana (from the Sanskrit mandana, meaning a place for relaxation) has quite a menu of offerings. Or you can go for the deluxe spa package at S$148, which includes a 45-minute massage (choice of shiatsu or aromatherapy); unlimited food and beverage; use of spa facilities like hot and cold therapy pools, sauna and steam baths; access to six private rooms on a first-come, first-served basis; use of Wifi and Internet access; and use of reading and movie lounges.

I opted for a foot reflexology (S$45, 30 minutes), done by orthopedic doctor Phang Pek Phin, who specializes in injury massage and counts sportsmen and golfers among his regular clients. Well, I’m no athlete/fitness buff and probably the only exercise I know is stretching my imagination, but Phang treated me like one of his valued clients.

"Golfers should have a warm-up to loosen the muscels before playing golf," he points out one cardinal rule. "And Thai massage is bad if your bones are not cracked nicely. Aromatherapy is better because it’s gentle. I can teach you how to do reflexology in one week."

Says Jimmy Chia, Andana managing director, "We wanted to give those who travel overseas a proper place called spa, where they can relax, go for a drink, etc. Before, we were always looking for a place where we could entertain our guests. So instead of looking, we decided to put up one."

What started as a spa for men in Malaysia (soon, the women wanted to know where their men were going so Andana opened to women, too) is now making a splash in Singapore and Shanghai, too, and drawing both male and female clients. "We have offers from Indonesia, Dubai, India, Bangladesh, Thailand, and the Philippines," notes Jimmy. "One thing I can say is Filipinos are some of the best therapists if you train them well."

6) Home sweet hotel. Pan Pacific was our home sweet hotel in Singapore. Like VIPs, we were ushered to the Pacific Floor where, for the next three days, we enjoyed the following freebies: 24-hour lounge access on the 33rd floor with coffee, tea, and soft drinks available throughout the day; four food and beverage presentations daily; local calls; Internet access; two bottles of Evian mineral water daily, among others.

As if that isn’t pampering enough, Pan Pacific introduced its luxurious pillow menu on the Pacific Floors on Level 33 and 34 to provide guests with the pillow of their choice. Sweet dreams, everyone!

7) Have your fill at Fullerton. Built in 1928 and once home to the General Post Office, The Fullerton is certainly full of history. Having undergone a S$400-million makeover, The Fullerton Singapore was named one of Conde Nast Traveller’s Top Ten Overseas Leisure Hotels. For those with a fine taste for food and for life, The Fullerton – with its varied gastronomic offerings – simply shouldn’t be missed.

8) Eat’s a date. Singaporeans will be the first to admit that there are only two things they love to do: Shop and eat (not necessarily in that order). There are just too many fine dining establishments and too little time. During our brief Singapore stay, we got to try Coriander Leaf (think exotic Lebanese, Pakistani, Persian, etc.) on River Valley Road in Clarke Quay, Desire at the Scarlet hotel, and the Tung Lok Group’s Club Chinois (think oven-baked half lobster with cheese au gratin) at the Orchard Parade Hotel on Tanglin Road and My Humble House (care for crisp fried scallops on potato basket with fruity sauce?) at The Esplanade.

And yes, there are more jewels in Singapore’s crown waiting to be discovered.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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