Treasure or trash?

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Sept 29, 2013

TREASURE: Umbrella helmet TRASH: Hot sauce


Actor, single

Best souvenir: An umbrella helmet that I bought at Taipei's Shilin Night Market last year for around S$10.

It makes me look like a "Super Deformed" (a style of Japanese caricature) anime character, and while it draws attention from people in the street, no one can see who's underneath.

Plus, it looks silly. It's the perfect cocoon to feel cosy within when it's rainy.

Worst souvenir: Ghost Pepper sauce from a farmers' market in Los Angeles.

I recently ventured into this farmers' market in The Grove in LA, where I stumbled upon an Asian man selling a weird and wonderful variety of hot sauce. Each hot sauce was graded from 1 to 10, to 10++, and finally to "Ungradeable".

I, of course, bought the "Ungradeable" bottle for about S$18.

The sauce is made from Ghost Peppers, which in 2007 was ranked as the hottest chilli pepper in the world by Guinness World Records. It's said to be around 400 times hotter than Tabasco sauce but, believe me, it feels hotter than that.

I tried two drops of this sauce in a large baguette sandwich the other day and felt the burn. This picture was taken just before I put a drop of it directly on my tongue. I'd show you a picture of me a few seconds after, but I couldn't focus on the shutter button through the tears.

TREASURE: Tiny shoes TRASH: Cow bell


Breast Cancer Foundation president and managing director of a business consultancy firm. Married with three children, aged 36, 34 and 31

Best souvenir: My miniature shoe collection. I started it in 1982 on a business trip to Luxembourg. I had just finished nursing my nine-month-old son and was missing him. When I saw this tiny bronze shoe in the window of a jewellery store, it reminded me of my son's foot and I pestered the owner of the store the whole day to sell it to me, even though it was not for sale.

I paid £45 for it then. Now, everywhere I go, I collect tiny shoes, generally no more than 2to 3 inches in length, of various materials.

Shoes tell a story about the place they are from. I have around 400 tiny shoes now, from countries such as China, Myanmar and France. I often look at them to remind myself of places I've been to and friends I've visited.

Worst souvenir: A cow bell from Bavaria, bought in 1976 on a second honeymoon my husband and I took in our second year of marriage.

There were a lot of cows there and everybody was buying cow bells as souvenirs. I paid the equivalent of around S$60 for it. But it was totally useless.

I tried using it for lunch and dinner in my house - ringing it before meals - but it didn't catch on.

I was sad to get rid of it five years ago, as it reminded me of that trip, but you can't have clutter in the house.

TREASURE: Sparkling Shiraz TRASH: Tiny sewing machine


Actress and director, single

Best souvenir: A bottle of sparkling Shiraz from the Grampians region of Victoria, Australia. It's a wine that's very hard to find in Singapore. We were filming in this vineyard, Seppelt, that had an underground labyrinth of tunnels, where it kept its wines. I tried their signature sparkling Shiraz and it was really very good, so I bought a crate of six bottles. Each bottle cost around S$30. Everyone loved it. I have given some bottles as gifts, so I have only one left and I'm saving it.

Worst souvenir: A very tiny sewing machine, about the size of a hole puncher, from a night market in Taiwan eight years ago.

The sellers always demonstrate their wares in front of you and, at that time, it just looked so cool and handy.

It was meant to be used on the go. If your hem is frayed or something, you could theoretically fix it immediately. I paid less than S$5 for it. But when I got back home, I didn't know how to use it and found it didn't really work. I never used it.

Eventually, it got lost in the abyss of my home.

TREASURE: Limited-edition Marmite TRASH: Miniature camel


Chef-owner of the Wild Rocket Group, single

Best souvenir: Marmite Gold, Marmite XO and Beef Bovril, bought from Selfridges in London last November for £3 or £4 each (S$6 to S$8).

I grew up with Bovril and my favourite meal used to be porridge with Bovril. I was a fussy eater, but if there was anything I wouldn't eat, my mother would add Bovril to it and I would eat it.

When Mad Cow Disease struck in 2004, the beef was removed from Bovril and I always felt it had lost something. So when I saw it in London with the beef back in it, I just had to get it.

I am also one of the rare people who loves both Marmite and Bovril - most people are either in one camp or the other.

I saw these two limited-edition versions of Marmite too and got them immediately.

Now I can't bear to eat any of them. I have them all displayed on a shelf in my bedroom, and it gives me so much pleasure to look at them.

Worst souvenir: A miniature camel with flashing lights and music from the Bahrain airport, bought 10 years ago.

I can't remember how much it cost. I got it because I thought, when am I ever going to see something like this again?

But it was really quite scary-looking. Every year, it would collect dust - it had fur - and, at some point, I just threw it away.

Now, I buy only things I would actually use.

TREASURE: Tea set TRASH: Wood carving


Model and television host. She is married and has no children

Best souvenir: A tea set (teapot) from Istanbul, Turkey, that I got in 2009 from a spice market, for around S$250. I collect tea sets and this one is very unique.

Turkey is a huge tea-drinking society. It was so nice to see people sitting outside little cafes in small alleys drinking tea.

So I had to get a tea set for myself from there and it brings back great memories.

Worst souvenir: A wooden carving of a woman that I got from Bali a few years ago.

I can't quite remember when or where I got it and I think I paid around S$50 for it.

All I remember is that I asked if it was treated for termites before I bought it and the store said it was. As soon as I brought it home and was wiping it down, I found termites in it. I threw it away immediately.

I don't think the bugs got into my furniture, thankfully.

TREASURE: Coasters TRASH: 3 little pigs


Fashion show producer, single

Best souvenir: Vintage British coasters, purchased at the old Spitalfields Market in London in the 1990s for around £20. Back in Singapore, I realised my parents have the exact same set. Great minds think alike.

Worst souvenir: Three little (ugly) pigs from a tiny village in Italy bought in the early 1990s. I can't remember what they cost, but they must have been very cheap because I was backpacking.

They looked very cute, but when I brought them back, my first thought was: "Why?" And the icing on the cake: They were "Made in China". What a waste of my hard-earned lira!

TREASURE: Hand-painted plate TRASH: Snow globes


Hotelier and restaurateur, married to violinist Min Lee, 30, and has a two-year-old son

Best souvenir: A really nice hand-painted plate my wife and I got from a craft shop in Turkey four years ago. It has a painting of a ship on it and was quite expensive - around US$500 (S$628). We display it in our house now and it's a centrepiece in one of our cupboards. It's a great piece of decoration.

Worst souvenir: Snow globes from all over the world. I like buying snow globes as joke gifts for staff at my hotels.

I've been able to find them everywhere, from the United States to Israel. I never keep them for myself, but give them away. They're a really good laugh. The last one I bought was from Copenhagan last year. I can't remember how much it cost or whom I gave it to.

TREASURE: Antique amber TRASH: Shanghai suit


Founder and director of the Julia Gabriel education centres, divorced with two children aged 38 and 32

Best souvenir: An antique piece of deep golden amber in the shape of a peach that I bought at the Lu Garden jewellery market the first time I went to Shanghai in 2001. My colleague from Shanghai introduced me to this special little treasure trove that I would never have found on my own.

It cost me less than S$50. My amber peach is special because I've never seen another like it and also because the price of amber in Lu Garden has risen dramatically since.

Worst souvenir: A Shanghai suit from the Lu Jia Bang Lu fabric market in 2008 in Shanghai. It looked little like the image in the photograph I had shown the tailor. Despite two alterations, I was never able to wear it.

That lesson set me back over S$100. Ouch!

TREASURE: Dry leaf painting TRASH: Fridge magnet


Actor, single

Best souvenir: A painted dry leaf from the arts district - I think it's called Kala Ghoda - in Mumbai, India, in 2009.

It cost less than S$4. I bought it only to get rid of the peddler, thinking that the dried leaf would shrivel up and disintegrate. But it is rather pretty and has not deteriorated one bit.

Looking at it reminds me of the leafy avenues and beautiful Edwardian buildings in the area amid the chaos of the city.

Worst souvenir: A fridge magnet bought from Shanghai in 2010 for around S$4.

It is the worst souvenir ever. As you can see, it has shrivelled up.

It couldn't handle the humidity in Singapore and the dot over the little "i" has fallen off.

Not all fridge magnets are created equal, though they are all probably made in China.

TREASURE: Snakeskin belt TRASH: Sandals


Television host and fashion blogger, married to Benjamin King, 29, who works with Google Singapore. They have no children.

Best souvenir: A Fendi snakeskin belt that I got in Hong Kong's Soho district last October.

When I travel, I go to vintage stores in the city I'm in. This belt cost only S$80 - I snagged a bit of a bargain there.

I also love a painting of model Kate Moss I discovered in Bali in May 2011. She is my absolute style hero. It was a painting of an iconic picture of her by photographer Mario Testino. I bought it straight away for about S$70.

It took me about a year to get it framed. Now I have it up on my bedroom wall.

Worst souvenir: I found some really nice gladiator sandals at a night market in Ho Chi Minh City in April last year.

They probably cost less than S$15. They literally fell apart off my feet while I was walking around, just an hour after I bought them. It was really disappointing.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Sept 29, 2013

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