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updated 24 Jul 2014, 20:59
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Urban, The Straits Times
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Carry on courting
by Imran Jalal

If United States President Barack Obama can find the time to woo his wife, then Singaporean men are saying: Yes we can, too.

Many a wife have cooed over a recent New York Times report about how the world's most powerful man still manages to set aside 'Michelle time'.

What made women really envious, though, was the couple's date night - the President flew First Lady Michelle Obama to a Broadway show.

Urban has found that when it comes to date nights, Singapore has its share of doting hubbies too. A quick poll of 35 men aged 29 to 60 who have been married for at least five years found that many, like Commander-in-chief Obama, manage to command a night out with the missus.

A total of 20 said that they spend time away from the children with their other half at least once a week, with a meal out being the most popular activity. A movie date came in second.

Channel NewsAsia morning show anchor Steven Chia, 37, for instance, goes on relaxing massage retreats with his wife (see story below) once a fortnight.

He says: 'You don't need to go on a date with all the bells and whistles. It's more important that you keep dates going on a long-term, regular basis.'

For Bentley Williams, 40, and his wife of 12 years, Stephanie, 38, Tuesdays are their special date nights.

Their nine-year-old son stays home while they go for dinner.

Williams, the principal consultant of a training consultancy, says: 'When the child is around, your attention is diluted. With just the two of you, you can communicate and build on the relationship.'

Sometimes, however, it is just not practical to take off on a date with your other half.

Some husbands Urban spoke to pointed out that it can be hard to set aside the time when there are children clamouring for precious moments with you.

Benson Tham, 41, who has two young children, says: 'We want to spend more time with them before they start to drift away from us.'

Tham, the co-owner of bespoke tailors Kingsmen Shop at Far East Plaza, reserves date nights for special occasions.

His most recent outing with his wife Sharon, an administrative assistant, was a trip to Banyan Tree Hotel in Bangkok last month to celebrate their 15th wedding anniversary.

As Leong Ching, a former journalist and author of Married Life: Getting Along With Your Significant Other - a collection of relationship columns she wrote for Life! - points out, kids can make it awkward to get lovey-dovey.

She and her stockbroker husband Soon Teck Onn, both 40, have three children - an eight-year old girl and two boys aged six and four.

'When we say we want to watch 'big person's movies' away from the kids, they will say, 'Why don't you buy the DVDs and watch them at home?'

'You need a lot of energy to answer questions like these.'

Instead, the couple, who have been married for 14 years, manage to squeeze in low-key 'date walks' - they take fortnightly strolls along a treetop trail near their house in the Telok Blangah Hill Park area.

Member of Parliament and lawyer Michael Palmer, 40, who has been married to his homemaker wife Diane, 38, for 12 years, knows how hard it can be for a politician to make time for romance.

The couple, who have a seven-year-old son, used to have weekly dates before he entered politics in 2006 but now go on monthly dinner dates and the occasional movie.

As Anita Fam, 46, who chairs the Marriage Central Advisory Board at the National Family Council, says: 'Dates don't just happen. Couples need to be committed to spending some time alone together on a regular basis.'

It is not just the Obamas' fairy-tale life that is fascinating, says Ilya Farber, 40, assistant professor of social science at Singapore Management University.

'The Obamas are also trying to solve a problem that many modern couples are facing: how to navigate a life in which both partners are successful and career-oriented,' says the American.

Urban checks in with three celebs to find out how they keep the romance alive in their marriage. They may not whisk wifey off to Broadway on a jet but then again, they don't have to smooch in full view of the bodyguards either.

 


RUBBED THE RIGHT WAY

The couple: Steven Chia, 37, anchor of Channel NewsAsia's Primetime Morning show, has been married to Tania Gin, a senior clinical research manager in her mid-30s, for five years. They have a three-year-old daughter, Lucy.

The date: Fortnightly retreats at spas such as Damai Spa at Grand Hyatt Singapore (main picture) for couple massages. Chia jokes that Gin has raised his expectations of massage spas after they got hitched.

They also try to snatch some 'us' time during the work day by meeting for lunch in Holland Village.

What is your idea of a perfect date?

Chia: One which has great conversation. When you have someone great to talk to, good food and a nice ambience just add to the already fantastic experience. Conversation is still the driving force in our relationship because you can get to know someone only if you talk and listen to her.

Gin: I agree with Steven. Communication is always important for a couple to reconnect regularly. His good sense of humour helps liven up the conversation. Steven is a witty guy who always has a whole bag of jokes with him.

What was the best date for both of you?

Chia: In 2002, I chanced upon a beach in Sentosa Cove while driving my grandmother to a wedding there. I planned a small surprise for Tania by packing a picnic basket. Unfortunately, we were chased away by a security guard as the area was still under development.

Gin: I was pleasantly surprised because he didn't tell me where we were heading. I had to keep guessing along the way. We managed to watch the sunset on the sand. He was very thoughtful and had taken insect repellent along.

What was the worst?

Chia: We left Lucy with my parents and went for a holiday in Penang recently, where we stayed in a nice hotel with great interiors and all. However, the spa was far from satisfactory. The room was small, had a musty smell, no ventilation and the floor was oily. It really ruined the experience.

Gin: We both sensed that something was not right because we looked at each other and went 'hmm'.

 


CINEMA IN THE CAR

The couple: Suhaimi Yusof, comedian and creative director of a production company, and his manager and wife Yana Sulaiman, both 40, have been married for 15 years. They have three children - sons Amirul, 14, and Sufi, 10, and daughter Nurjannah, 13.

The date: Weekly date nights are spent in their Hyundai Tucson at car parks in East Coast Park and Changi Beach Park, watching action flicks or rom-coms on their portable DVD player.

This way, they can avoid crowded cineplexes and eager fans - and save money.

They also head to nearby Changi Airport sometimes for a cuppa at Starbucks.

What is your idea of a perfect date?

Suhaimi: I'm a sentimental person. That is why we always go to the places which we used to frequent, such as East Coast Park. We even have a couple anthem - You're Still The One by Shania Twain - which we will listen or sing to now and then.

Yani: I do not need him to profess his love for me in front of a huge crowd. A simple ride on the Singapore Flyer would be great for some private time.

What was the best date for both of you?

Yana: We once had a picnic at East Coast Park and spent the whole day snapping away on our cameras. I still recall him in his gym singlet doing silly poses to show off his biceps. That was a very carefree experience for us.

Suhaimi: It was at East Coast Park when we were 22. I gathered my nerves and told her that we should be serious about our relationship. I proposed and we got married three years later.

What was the worst?

Yana: Once, when we were 21, we went cycling at East Coast Park. I took a tumble and fell flat on my face. The impact caused my front tooth to chip. I remember telling him that he would not love me anymore because of my broken tooth. He just stood there laughing instead of helping me.

Suhaimi: It would be the same incident. I was laughing because I was tickled by what she said and by how funny she looked with the broken tooth.

 


SIMPLE IS BEST

The couple: Actor and senior vice-president of a media firm, Edmund Chen, 46, has been married to actress Xiang Yun, 48, for 20 years. They have two children, Chen Xi, 18, and Yi Xin, nine.

The date: Forget fancy restaurants. All this star couple needs is a bottle of wine and their five-room flat in Marine Parade - after their children go to bed. They squeeze such intimate moments into their hectic work schedules: No mean feat considering her shoots can stretch till 3am and last for 2-1/2 months.

What is your idea of a perfect date?

Chen: Spending time with her in a seaside suite. We've been so caught up with the children that we barely have any time for ourselves. We're going to Tioman Island in Malaysia this week with the children. They will be in an adjoining room because I still worry about them, especially the younger one.

Xiang Yun: Just a very simple candlelight dinner would do for me.

What was the best date for both of you?

Xiang Yun: We started dating in 1989 on the set of a drama series called Patrol. We would go to Trader Vic's cafe (now defunct) in Liang Court for our dates and order our favourite spinach and oyster soup called Bongo Bongo. We really love the atmosphere there and after we had kids, we used to take them along too.

What was the worst?

Xiang Yun: He is always worrying about the kids when we are out. I remember catching a movie one night after leaving our son, who was then just a month old, in my sister's care. We could not concentrate on the movie because he kept worrying about the baby. In the end, we left the movie halfway and went home to check on him.

Chen: I can't remember any bad date.

This article was first published in Urban, The Straits Times.

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