At Her World, we’re hard to impress. Not only does a guy need to score in the looks department, he has to have talent. These four definitely have what it takes.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

At Her World, we’re hard to impress. Not only does a guy need to score in the looks department, he has to have talent. These four definitely have what it takes.

Alex Tran, 27, international DJ and music producer


At 1.8m tall with a buff bod, a great tan and a charming smile, he could easily pass off as a model. Looks aside, Alex Tran, who also goes by the moniker DJ Atran, makes us want to get up and dance! Just listen to his catchy electronic dance music (EDM) tunes on, and it’s obvious why he was the Singapore champion for the Pioneer DJ Battle (a platform for DJs to showcase their mixing skills) in 2014.

The German-born Vietnamese, who moved to California at the age of six, got his start as a DJ while watching a senior student spin at his high school dance. “He noticed me and let me man the booth while he went to the restroom,” says Alex, who was offered a part-time gig on the spot.

He became a club DJ in Los Angeles at 17. In 2009, he visited Singapore on a tour and was “so blown away by the local talent” that he moved here three years later, after completing his college studies.

Alex has since made his mark on the region’s music scene, not just as a DJ (he recently performed to a crowd of 8,000 at the Prisma festival in Ho Chi Minh City and will be at Zouk this month) but as a music producer, collaborating on projects with Singaporean EDM producer Manfred Lim and singer Daphne Khoo.

He has a day job too, helming special projects for taxi booking app Grab Taxi. “Music’s my passion and I don’t want it to become work,” says Alex, who performs only at gigs that he feels will push his musical boundaries.

In his free time, he snowboards, skydives and takes acting classes. And he’s single! “I don’t like meeting people in nightspots. It sends the wrong signal and they get the wrong perception of me,” he confides. He hopes to meet someone “who is kind, and helps me grow as a person”.

“I’m really not a womaniser, party animal or bum, like some people think,” he insists.

Adan Jimenez, 32, assistant director at the National Book Development Council of Singapore and co-author of local children’s book series, Sherlock Sam

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“It’s heart-warming when children write to us personally describing which book, or part of a book, they liked best. We also feel great when parents write in saying that their kids used to be reluctant readers until they picked up a copy of Sherlock Sam,” says Adan Jimenez.

Describing himself as a huge fan of comic books, sci-fi , fantasy and video games, the California-born Singaporean author’s eyes gleam behind his charmingly nerdish specs and tousled fringe. His latest offering, Sherlock Sam and the Obento Bonanza in Tokyo, is one of nine in the Sherlock Sam series that he co-wrote with his wife Felicia, 37. A tenth is on its way.

The series features 10-year-old Samuel Tan Cher Lock (a play on “Sherlock”) solving mysteries on our sunny island and beyond, with his trusty robot, Watson, in tow. Sales figures for the nine titles are at 24,000 copies and counting.

Adan and Felicia, both self-professed geeks, pitched their idea of a Singaporean boy-detective when they heard that Epigram Books – the publishing house Felicia used to work for – was considering launching a child-detective series in 2012. “We wanted the kids here to see themselves in the characters they read about. I also like to think we’re giving them more options when it comes to local children’s literature,” says Adan.

While writing isn’t exactly a leisurely pursuit thanks to deadlines and multiple rounds of editing, he describes it as “fun part-time work Felicia and I constantly muse over”. The San Joaquin Valley native, who moved here in 2008, trawls various neighbourhoods with his wife, tasting different dishes as part of their research. “That’s how we discovered Loy Kee Chicken Rice in Balestier. We loved it, so we worked it into one of our books,” he recalls.

Although the Sherlock Sam series has yet to reach the literary status of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter novels, it is receiving international attention. Last November, United States publisher Andrews McMeel Publishing selected two books, Sherlock Sam and the Missing Heirloom in Katong and Sherlock Sam and the Ghostly Moans in Fort Canning, to be published in the US this June. The big publishing house focuses on comics and books for middle-grade readers, like Peanuts and Calvin and Hobbes.

“It was surprising news, considering it can be hard even for US-based writers to break into their own market. We’re not sure why they picked our books; maybe it’s because the series is so diverse. The series features a multiracial cast that reflects Singaporean society, and the authors are a multiracial couple,” Adan surmises. “And hopefully because they think the stories are good.”

Closer to home, the Sherlock Sam series enthrals young readers in Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Dubai and Indonesia. The first five books are now available in Turkish, while the first three have been translated into Bahasa Indonesia.

Lai Chang Wen, 28, co-founder of Ninja Van

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If you see a dude driving a cute red van, don’t dismiss him as your average van driver. You could be looking at Lai Chang Wen, co-founder of nextday- delivery start-up Ninja Van. The company provides real-time parcel tracking when you order from its more than 800 clients, including Zalora, Love Bonito and Lazada. It also lets you choose whether to collect your parcels at convenient locations like an automated locker or partner retail shop.

Online shopping’s now a lot more hassle-free, thanks to the serial entrepreneur and former co-founder of made-to-measure menswear label Marcella. He parted ways with Marcella after realising that his strengths and interests didn’t lie in fashion. But that experience sparked off the idea for Ninja Van, which he started in 2014. “I was frustrated that clients’ packages were getting lost, or not delivered on time. There was a need for a dependable e-commerce delivery provider,” he shares.

Despite the industry having a reputation of being “old-school, unsexy and behind-thescenes”, Chang Wen spotted an opportunity and convinced an angel investor to inject $200,000 in seed money. He set out to learn all he could by making his own deliveries, and consulting senior logistics professionals. “I absorbed all I could while avoiding looking stupid, so they wouldn’t brush me off as young and ignorant,” says the 28-year-old.

His hands-on experience made Chang Wen realise that there was a demand for a delivery service provider catering to e-commerce merchants and their customers. To “give the company a friendlier face”, he and his partners coined the name Ninja Van, inspired by their national service days when pop-up food trucks would appear in the field. To address their logistics needs, businesses can integrate Ninja Van’s technology to optimise vehicle routes in real time.

The intrepid entrepreneur also works with several major grocery and food delivery partners to offload packages to their otherwise idle vehicles during non-peak hours between mealtimes.

Ninja Van now delivers more than 10,000 packages daily, employs 400 people – mostly ex-bankers – and has expanded to Malaysia, Indonesia and soon, Vietnam and Thailand.

Chang Wen works round the clock six days a week, sometimes even sleeping in his office-cum-warehouse in Bukit Timah. “I hardly have time to meet people or date; my parents say they don’t see me enough,” admits the bachelor, who plays golf or tennis on his rare days off.

The young CEO thinks it’s a small sacrifice to make for now, saying he’s still got time on his side.

Louis Kwok, 35, commercial photographer and fine woodworker

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According to a recent article in men’s mag GQ , among the sexiest professions a modern guy could have in our high-tech, low-touch times are those in which he creates things of beauty with nothing more than his bare hands and a few manly dude tools.

Women seem to agree – our ovaries went wild when writer/standup comedian Amy Schumer revealed that her hot beau Ben Hanisch was a furniture designer and maker.

Well, Louis Kwok is Singapore’s New Age macho craftsman. It’s hard not to be impressed when he grabs a hand plane off his wall of tools and gets to work in his wood-shaving-scented home workshop.

His journey to becoming one of Singapore’s few fine woodworkers started four years ago.

His bookbinder girlfriend, Adelene Koh, needed a wooden sewing frame that couldn’t be bought locally. Louis tried to assemble it trial-and-error style, but “failed to make it accurately and beautifully”. Frustrated, he approached his secondary school discipline master, who also teaches design and technology, and asked for help. The then-31-year-old spent a year receiving the best advice and guidance on picking up the basics of the craft.

What started as a small project became a passionate pursuit. Louis flew to Japan in 2013 to learn from a master craftsman, spending two whole days just learning to use and sharpen a Japanese chisel and plane blade, “because you’re not worthy to touch anything else until you master these basic tools”.

He then enrolled in the Peter Sefton Furniture School, a private school in Worcestershire, England, cramming a nine-month course into six. The breadth of the topics covered (theory, techniques, the science of wood and more) left him physically and mentally exhausted, but Louis fell in love with his growing ability to “make stuff from scratch”. Even after spending 10 hours in school on weekdays, he returned on weekends to do odd jobs for his teacher to gain even more experience.

What’s the key difference between a carpenter (or joiner) and a fine woodworker like Louis? “The former do larger-scale stuff like kitchen fittings and use heavy machinery, while the latter pay attention to the finer details. Our hands are our most valuable tools.”

He pulls out a custom-made wooden box he made. It looks ordinary at first glance, but upon closer inspection, intricate details like the careful choice of the wood grain, and the rich tone of the smoked oak that complements the orange Hermes album it’s meant to contain, speak otherwise.

Each of Louis’ creations takes roughly two months of refining the design, sourcing materials and maquette-making to ensure that the product – be it a box, cabinet or stool – is the best version he’s presenting.

“Many don’t know how tedious this can be, so they’re sometimes shocked at my prices,” says Louis, whose boxes cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. A credenza might command a five- figure sum. “Only customers who step into my studio and meet me understand the beauty of what I do – designing and handmaking something unique for them,” he adds.