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Image: Darren Chang

Cara Nicole Neo, 22

What she does by day:  An English Literature undergraduate at the National University of Singapore
Her hobby: Mermaiding – swimming while wearing a mermaid tail to indulge fantasies of being the finned mythical creature – which is a niche activity similar to cosplay. It is particularly big in the US and is picking up around the world.
It became a side business when… She bought a spandex mermaid tail last June. She’s now Singapore’s first professional mermaid and entertains at children’s parties, where she sings, tells stories and performs tricks in the water.
Stats: She earns $200 for 45 minutes of work and does two jobs a month.
Find her at: www.facebook.com/syrenaswims and http://www.themermaidsyrena.com/

I bought my first tail online last June for a few hundred dollars. It was very basic – the scales on the tail were 2-D and it weighed 1.5kg. Then, last December, knowing I wanted to start entertaining at parties, I invested in a made-to-order silicone tail that costs over $3,000. My new tail is really a thing of beauty, with 3-D textured scales in shades of gold, pink and purple.

The first time I tried on my new tail was a disaster! It weighs 15kg and is so tight I spent nearly an hour squeezing my legs into it. It took days of trial and error, but now, I can get it on in under five minutes.

Mermaid Syrena is my performance name. Getting the swimming technique right took months of practice, and I even trained with a Canadian free-diving instructor so that I could hold my breath underwater for longer. My current record is two minutes and 20 seconds.

My boyfriend Josh carries me into and out of the pool during events. I can’t do it myself because the tail is so heavy. Josh even wears a shirt that says “Mer-tender”!

Art Direction: Alice Chua, Hair & Makeup: Benedict Choo

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Image: Zaphs Zhang

Freelance numerologist
Joanna Ong-Ash, 44

Her full-time job: Head of corporate and marketing communications at AIA
Her hobby: Numerology, astrology and tarot-card reading.
It became a side business when… She founded Sun Goddess Tarot in 2010, providing all three services to clients in person, over e-mail and on the phone.
Stats: She has up to 60 clients a month, earning $2,000 to $3,000. She does e-mail readings every day after work and meets clients face-to-face over the weekend.
Find her at: www.facebook.com/sungoddesstarot and www.sungoddesstarot.blogspot.com 

I was going through a difficult time in my life 15 years ago – a divorce, single parenthood and a career at crossroads. That’s when I first went to a tarot-card reader, and I was surprised at how useful the session was. I gained insight about my personality type and advice about how I should respond to my challenges.

I took it a step further in 2009 when I attended a two-week workshop in Singapore to learn more about doing readings for other people. I fell in love with the art. I followed up by taking courses online to get certified by the Tarot Certification Board of America as a tarot reader, numerologist and astrologist. I had to take nearly a whole year’s worth of examinations.

My hobby definitely gets stifled laughs and weird looks. My second husband sometimes jokingly asks where I’ve parked my broom! He’s really supportive though, and often asks for my opinion before making big business decisions.

And no, I don’t have a crystal ball. There’s nothing mystical or creepy about what I do! Most of my sessions just involve conversations with my clients about the challenges they’re facing.

My colleagues often ask my opinion when they have personal questions or are confused about their career. I never charge them. In fact, I did free readings during my company’s annual dinner and dance and charity fundraising month. Even my boss gamely asked for a reading!

Art direction: Alice Chua, Styling: Alison Lim; Dress and Necklace: H&M, Hair: Oscar Lee/ Salon B, using Wella, Makeup: Zhou Aiyi, using shiseido

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Image: Winston Chuang

Part-time DJ
Amanda Ang, 29

Her full-time job: Digital marketer and part-time design lecturer
Her hobby: House music. In 2012, she signed up for a DJ boot camp and learnt how to mix music. After that, friends invited her to spin music at house parties.
It became a side business when… Thanks to a recommendation from her DJ mentor, she landed her first paid gig at Zouk’s Wine Bar last year. Today, she’s one of the regular DJs at Club Street bar Mariko’s.
Stats: She makes up to $400 per gig and spins once a month on average.
Find her at: www.attagirlparty.com 

My love for house music started when I was 16. I was part-timing at a (street-wear brand) Stussy store and it was the only kind of music that played in the store. Back then, I called it “alternative”, which was my code word for weird. But it grew on me and, soon enough, I was trawling music stores for recommendations, listening to more house music artistes and slowly building up my CD collection.

One of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve had was playing the opening set at the local tent at Zoukout last year. It was a privilege being there with local veteran DJs. Outdoor parties are so different from playing at a bar, where you’re just setting the mood for the space. At Zoukout, I had to warm up the crowd for the night and spent nearly two months prepping for my set.

I still get nervous before every set, even though I’ve been spinning for a while now. I’ve made on-set mistakes – once, I pressed the wrong button and the whole club went quiet for a few seconds! You’ve just got to brush it off and keep going. Part of being a good DJ is making the best of tricky technical difficulties.

Right now, I’m really loving bass-heavy house music by artistes such as Chocolate Puma and Stanton Warriors, but my guilty pleasure is remixed top 40s music. I’ve heard mixes of songs by Katy Perry, Britney Spears and Kesha that I love.

I started Attagirl with two other DJ friends in June last year. It’s a community initiative to feature and promote local female DJs. Lots of women don’t know where to start if they want to take their hobby to the next level.

Art direction: Alice Chua, Styling: Alison Lim; Jacket: Club Monaco; Top: Alice+Olivia; Necklace: H&M, Hair & Makeup: Benedict Choo, Location: Butter factory

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Image: Darren Chang

Owner of Letterpress company: The Gentlemen’s Press
Michelle Yu, 25 

Her hobby: Letterpress, an old form of printing that uses a hand-operated machine to transfer designs from wood engravings and metal plates onto paper. She picked it up in 2011 after attending a workshop in New York during a graduation trip.
It became a full-time job when… She returned to Singapore and spent over $1,000 buying a letterpress machine online. She then founded The Gentlemen’s Press, which prints everything from namecards to posters and vinyl covers.
Stats: She gets around 10 clients a month, and charges $140 for namecards and up to $800 for wedding invitations.
Find her at: www.facebook.com/thegentlemenspress

I’m an old soul. I’ve always liked things from the past, like second-hand vinyl records. If I could go back in time, I’d be a hippy – there was so much colour, creativity and freedom in that era.

I was drawn to how letterpress combines my passions for design and traditional machines. I started my business because letterpress was hard to find here. I love how the machines are operated by hand, so the end product always has a slightly imperfect and rustic look.

The first machine I bought was over a hundred years old. It’s cool owning something with so much history. In fact, some of the letter forms I use for printing have even survived wars – they’ve been around for so long. Since my first machine, I’ve bought three more online for a few thousand dollars. They’re expensive to ship because they’re huge and heavy.

Running the machines requires a lot of manual labour. A simple project like namecards takes me a few days and complicated prints can take me up to a week. Cuts and grazes are normal, but on two occasions, I almost got my hands caught in between the machines. That would’ve been nasty, given how a tape dispenser that once got stuck between the presses was completely squashed!

Art direction: Alice Chua, Styling: Alison Lim; Cardigan: Banana Republic, Hair & Makeup: Benedict Choo

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Image: Zaphs Zhang

Owners of Mofo Chili
Monica Josephine 27, and Steffi Elivira, 25

Their hobby: The sisters love chilli and have experimented with making their own chilli sauce since they were teenagers.
It became a full-time job when… After getting overwhelming requests from friends and family for their creations, Steffi (far left) and Monica left their jobs in hotel management and public relations respectively to start Mofo Chili last December. They sell chilli sauce that comes in two levels of spiciness.
Stats: They sell up to 70 bottles a day at farmers’ markets such as Pasarbella where they have an ad-hoc stall, and are stocked in eateries like Pondok Jawa Timur and Keith Crackling Roast (in Pasarbella).
Find them at: http://www.mofochili.com

We eat everything with chilli sauce. While we were in university (Monica studied in the UK and Steffi , in Switzerland), we each carried a bottle of chilli sauce in our bags wherever we went. Our friends thought it was weird! We need chilli on everything, whether it’s fried rice or fish and chips.

We’re spice snobs. We didn’t like how the preservatives in mass-produced chilli sauce change the taste of the dish it’s eaten with. That’s why we decided to make a preservative-free vegetarian chilli sauce that could be eaten with any dish, from instant noodles to Mexican tacos.

Before we launched the business, we had three tasting sessions with friends and family to settle on the perfect recipe. We came up with six options and asked everyone to bring along their favourite foods – so our chilli sauce got sampled with everything from fried rice to chicken wings and pizza. Yum!

It’s a big leap going from cooking for ourselves to making batches to sell. When we started out, we cut the chilli with our bare hands, and our skin burned for hours! Now, we use gloves. It’s still a tiring process though – one batch of 60 bottles takes us nearly seven hours to make.

The secret to our recipe is the type of chilli we use. We import ours from Manado, Indonesia. It’s a volcanic area, so the chilli that grows there is fragrant and has a real kick.

Art direction: Alice Chua, Styling: Alison Lim, On steffi; Dress & Cuff: BCBG Max Azria, On Monica; Blouse & skirt: Miss Selfridge; Necklace: Topshop, Hair: Oscar Lee/Salon B, using Wella, Makeup: Zhou Aiyi, using Shiseido

This story was first published in HerWorld Magazine September 2014.

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