Sep 18, 2017

No more scorching sun... Diggersite @ Yishun Reopens at a Cooler Spot!

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Media Invite

Earlier this year, Diggersite shifted from its East Coast Park premise to ORTO in Yishun. And for the past 2 months, the site has been closed. Well, it has since re-opened earlier this month, NOT at its same spot but just right beside its previous location.


I'll spare you the technicalities but just know that Diggersite is now not part of ORTO but part of Ground-up Initiative instead. It is directly opposite the open-air carpark at ORTO, so you cannot possibly miss the bright yellow container and forklift!


For those who haven't been to Diggersite, it offers both adults and kids a realistic experience in operating smaller scale construction machinery like excavators. Yes, they are no toys but REAL machinery!


Compared to the previous location, the construction vehicles cannot be seen from its main entrance. Just walk on in and you will see a huge container - future plans for it include converting it into a cafe and/or party room for birthday parties.

As you walk further down the path, a payment counter comes into view and this is the place where kids can also put on the complimentary safety helmets and vests before venturing to the vehicles.


Once that is done, the real excitement begins!


One HUGE advantage of this new location is the ample amount of shade for all the stations! A common grouse among both parents and kids of the old location was the lack of shelter and it can get extremely hot in the afternoon.

We were there during mid-afternoon and I can happy to report that the many trees did a fantastic job in keeping the entire area so much cooler. Oh, and those are rambutan trees by the way. Maybe got free fruits when it is rambutan season? LOL.

As for the stations, all but one of the previous stations remain the same. In total, there are 6 stations.

1. SCOOP STATION


The name sounds straightforward enough; kids are tasked to scoop sand using the excavators into a bucket.

2. WRECKING BALL STATION


This station involves knocking over plastic bottles using a ball attached to the arm of the excavator.

3. BALL PIT STATION


This station features 2 diggers with 2 different tasks. The above digger lets kids transfer the balls onto a slide while the below one allows kids to grab colourful balls using a giant claw and place them into the tires.


4. LOG STATION


If you have older kids aged 7 and above, they will enjoy the 2 excavators here... simply because they require more skill.

Rather than scooping up sand, they are tasked to operate the excavators to complete certain goals. Like the Log Loading station where they have to pick up logs using the machine and place them into the wheelbarrow.

Or the Log Bowling station where they will get to release a log down a ramp and attempt to knock over three 'bowling pins'.


5. TOWER CRANE STATION


 Now this is something extremely novel for the kids! Kids (or parents) will be able to attract metal boxes using an electromagnet in a mini tower crane.

All they have to do is to transfer the metal boxes from a wooden pallet and place them in the individual rubber tyres. It's not as easy as it looks!

6. COAL MINE CART RIDE


Visitors will be able to hop onto the mine cart and go on a ride around the compound. The cart ride takes approximately 10 minutes.


There used to be a Forklift station too, where kids will be able to drive around in a forklift. But at the time of writing, the forklift is under maintenance and the staff have no idea when it will be available.

But at least there is still the Sand Pit for kids who love sand play!


I cannot tell you how grateful I am for the shade. The previous location was so minimally sheltered that hats and sunblock are a must. But as you can see from the photos, the new area is so much cooler - and it helps that there are plenty of large fans too, with more than enough chairs for parents to sit and wait.


Definitely a much more picturesque - and hence, Instagram-worthy - location too!


If you are planning to head down, here are a few things to take note of:

- Although the area is well-sheltered, there may be mosquitoes. Ale got 2 bites while we were there. Diggersite is not allowed to do fogging at the site because Ground-up Initiative grows crops organically just beside it. So do bring along insect repellent.

- Usage of safety helmet and vest is complimentary.

- The recommended age is from 2 years and above. Children under 6 years old must be accompanied by an adult at all times.

- No upper age limit as even adults are welcome.

- Opening hours are from 11am to 9pm on weekdays and 9am to 9pm on weekends.

- Due to the machinery involved, avoid wearing flip-flops or sandals as they do not protect the feet.

- If you prefer an air-conditioned environment, Diggersite also had two other locations are JCube (#03-17) and Suntec City (#02-734; Next to Mcdonald's).



AND in case you have not taken part, I am currently giving away SIX Diggersite membership cards! Each card is good for 10 rides and can be used at its Yishun, JCube & Suntec outlets. Giveaway ends on 19 Sep 2017 so participate HERE.


Useful Information

Diggersite @ Yishun
Address: 91 Lor Chencharu, Singapore 769201
Opening hours: Weekdays 11am - 9pm | Weekends 9am - 9pm
Cost: $18 for 3 rides | $30 for 5 rides | $50 for 10 rides
Nearest MRT Station: Khatib
Website: www.facebook.com/diggersite


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Sep 9, 2017

Ash Levels Up his English Composition Skills with The Learning Lab

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Advertorial

THIS IS IT.

Less than 4 weeks to the start of the Primary School Leaving Examinations (or more fearfully known as PSLE) Papers.

That's right, exam fever is in the air and for Ash, the September School Holidays take on a slightly more different meaning than previous school holidays. It's revision time and whether I like it or not, the pressure is on for both parent and child.

But if you had read my previous post on Ash's PSLE journey, you will know the wifey and I have decided to change our mindset when it comes to approaching the big exam. Instead of just imploring Ash to try his best all the time, we have focused on something more tangible — putting in a reasonable amount of effort in his school work. So all this while, the wifey and I have been taking turns to sit down with Ash for 20 to 30 minutes every weeknight for revision.

And it is working pretty well so far.

Except for one problem.

How does one teach English Composition writing???

I am sure there is a method somewhere out there but for the wifey and I, we are both clueless when it comes to coaching him on essay writing. And it is an area of concern because for Ash, his main weakness in English has always been in Composition... which typically translates to a puking blood session for me whenever I try to coach him. Sigh.


Fortunately, for my health's (and sanity's) sake, The Learning Lab's P6 English Composition Excellence workshop came to the rescue!


The 10-week workshop covers Paper 1 of the English Paper — continuous writing and situational writing.

The former will impart techniques for different elements of writing, such as plot planning, scene setting, characterisation, development of gripping climaxes and compelling conclusions for the narrative; and brainstorming and organisation for the expository. Students will also learn about advanced sentence structures and punctuation to enrich their writing. As for situational writing, students will be exposed to different genres and focus on tone and register.


In one of the classes that I sat in briefly, the teacher used the 5 different emotion characters from the movie 'Inside Out' to let the students understand the importance of including emotions into one's essay. Very novel indeed!


I could tell that Ash was enjoying the classes, which is a huge surprise considering the fact he let out a loud groan when I first told him he was going to attend the workshop. I suppose the interesting nature of the classes played a part, and he remarked that he had picked up plenty of useful tips and phrases to use for his English Composition.

And I think the impressive library collection at The Learning Lab helps too. Students are free to borrow books on a weekly basis!


Mid-way through the workshop, Ash sat for his Prelim English Paper and his English Composition marks saw an improvement as compared to his earlier composition tests. I read through his essay and saw that he had made a genuine effort to incorporate some of the writing techniques and phrases he learnt at the workshop. Fingers crossed, but I think it can only get better!


And so, we have now come to the final lap... the final uphill trudge. Truth be told, the wifey and I often feel we are the ones dragging Ash up the hill. But we are also conscious not to overly subject him to extreme pressure. So if you have a child who is sitting for the PSLE this year, take heart that you are not alone.

Here are some tips to get your child into the right frame of mind:

1. More understanding and Less memorising

Our brains have a limited capacity to cram information in a short time. Rather than trying to spot questions, memorise and regurgitate, take the time to understand the concept of the study subject. In this way, the brain begins to form an internal mind map and revision becomes more effective.

2. Setting a revision rhythm

Take some time every day to do revision work in batches. For example, get your child to recall new topics he or she learnt the next day, then again a week after the first lesson. This ensures the information learnt is stored in his or her long-term memory.

3. Set realistic milestones

If your child has not been scoring A*, it may be a little far-fetched to expect him to do so for PSLE. For Ash, he has been consistently getting a 'B' for his English so for his Prelims and PSLE, I have set him the target of achieving a low 'A'. He came pretty close to achieving that for his English Prelim, missing the 'A' grade by an agonising 0.25 mark. Well, the good news is he now knows it is attainable.


Well, at least the end is in sight so all the best to Ash and every P6 student! Fight the good fight and be a good finisher!


P.S. I am sooooooo looking forward to the end... until it happens all over again next year with Ayd. but let's take things one step at a time ,shall we? :)



Find out more about The Learning Lab programmes at www.thelearninglab.com.sg.


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Sep 7, 2017

Parenting Lessons I Learnt from Cars 3 + GIVEAWAY!

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STORY IS KING.

That is the mantra at Pixar Animation Studios, where they tell stories in ways nobody else can. From Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Inside Out, to the impending release of Coco this November, Pixar has the knack of coming out with heartfelt stories that resonate with both adults and kids.

But what really goes into a Pixar film? That was what I got to find out when I visited Pixar Animation Studios back in May, where I sat down with some pretty important people responsible for Cars 3.



No, not Bing Bong.

We are all familiar with Lightning McQueen. But in Cars 3, he is not a rookie anymore. Blindsided by a new generation of blazing-fast cars, the legendary Lightning McQueen finds himself pushed out of the sport he loves. "He's struggling with the kind of issues athletes face later in their careers," said producer Kevin Reher. "Do you go out on top or fight till the end?"

According to director Brian Fee, while Lightning is still the same confident, determined and fun-loving race car, his confidence is being tested by new rookies on the track. "When we first met Lightning, he was a young rookie - a superhero," said Fee. "He had his whole life ahead of him. And while he has done well since we last saw him - winning five Piston Cups, he is not a young hotshot racer anymore."

Director Brian Fee (left) & Producer Kevin Reher (right), Cars 3

For Cars 3, the filmmakers consulted National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) veterans. "We did a lot of research," said Fee. "We looked at athletes in other sports but really focused on NASCAR drivers. They start at such an early age and their lives are centered around driving. We even talked to a sports psychologist who explained that many of these drivers don't know anything else."

Neither can Lightning McQueen. To get back in the game, he will need the help of an eager young race technician, Cruz Ramirez, with her own plan to win. Cruz is a talented trainer and is all about technology who knows how to create winners on simulated racetracks. But Lightning is old-school, and realises he might have to travel with Cruz on a different road to success.

Lightning decides to return to his roots - recalling the wisdom imparted on him by his beloved mentor, the late Fabulous Hudson Hornet. Ultimately, he turns to his coach's coach - Smokey, who was there during Doc's heyday - for guidance and inspiration, and eventually realises the power of mentorship. The filmmakers looked to their own lives to tell a story too. "If you are really trying to share an idea with an audience as a filmmaker, you have to feel it," said Fee. "So being a parent became my main resource to find and understand the emotion in the film."

"Like a lot of us, I struggled to find enough time to explore my passion projects - we all have responsibilities at work and at home that don't leave enough spare time," continued Fee. "then one day, I spent a couple of hours painting a simple picture to teach my daughters about art. Something changed after that. I found the experience so much more rewarding than I ever imagined. That's what we are trying to communicate in this movie with the relationship between Lightning and Doc."

The nod to Doc and his impact on Lightning's career is part of what brings audiences back to the feeling of the original 'Cars'. "Audiences connected with the first 'Cars' film in a very special way," said Jay Ward, creative director for the 'Cars' franchise. "They saw the heart in Radiator Springs; they felt the emotion in the relationship between the characters."

CARS 3 REVIEW

I caught a 40-minute preview of Cars 3 when I was at Pixar Animation Studios and I loved what I saw. And I think my excitement spilled over to the monkies too, because they were all hyped up when we finally attended the Singapore Premiere of Cars 3.

And the TL;DR review? All of us loved it! In fact, I found Cars 3 to be so so so much better than its previous 2 instalments.


At its core, Cars 3 is about finding fulfilment in what one does, day in and day out. But more than that, the characters learn key life lessons with plenty of positive messages that parents can turn into learning moments with the kids: the importance of mentorship; the idea that that no matter how old you are, you always have more to learn; and nothing should stop you from reaching for your dreams regardless of gender or appearance.

I particularly loved Cruz's - who is Ale's fave character by the way - story. Training others isn’t the career she dreamed of as she too had wanted to be a racer. But along the way, she gave up the opportunity to fulfil her big dream because “The other racers looked nothing like me. It made me feel like it was a world in which I didn’t belong.” Cruz’s story emphasizes the way that women, particularly young women, internalise external messages about not only what they can and can’t do, but who they can or can’t be.

So yes, Cars 3 sure has plenty of positivity and motivation for not just little boys but for little girls as well!

But more than that, the greatest lesson I learnt from Cars 3 was something related to parenting. Cruz was told by her parents from a young age that she was not suited for racing and being a trainer was probably best suited for her. I have to admit, I sometimes do helicopter my monkies... perhaps too much! I worry about them and am afraid that one day they will choose a career or hobby that will not be 'ideal'. Hence, I feel the need to protect them and persuade their decision to change. But as Cruz showed in the movie, your achievements are only hampered by the size of your dreams.

If you are looking for a fun and moving movie with life lessons to discuss with your kids post-movie, I cannot recommend Cars 3 enough.

Oh and whatever you do, DO NOT be late for the movie because there is a Pixar short film before Cars 3. Titled LOU, it is about a character composed of numerous lost and found items and deals with childhood bullying. I don't want to give anything away but let's just say the short will take you through every roller coaster emotion you have in less than ten minutes, as only Pixar can.
GIVEAWAY

Thanks to Walt Disney Singapore, I have THREE Cars 3 hampers filled with Cars 3 merchandise to give away!



Each hamper contains the following: 

- 1 Disney/Pixar's Cars 3 Kid T Shirt worth S$60
- 1 Disney/Pixar's Cars 3 Polo Shirt worth S$80
- 1 Disney/Pixar's Cars 3 Jacket worth S$100
- 1 Disney/Pixar's Cars 3 Sticker Sheet worth S$20
- 1 Disney/Pixar's Cars 3 Lenticular Notebook worth S$25

To participate, all you have to do is the following:

1. LIKE Walt Disney Singapore's Facebook page HERE.

2. Michael Daley, a story artist at Pixar Animation Studios, has transformed the monkies into Cars! See the picture below and guess which cars are Ash, Ayd and Ale.

Leave your answer either in the corresponding Facebook post HERE or in this blog post after you have done so.
(Don't worry, wrong answers will still be eligible for the giveaway)

WANT TO INCREASE YOUR CHANCES OF WINNING?
SHARE this blog post of the giveaway on Facebook for a BONUS chance! Remember to set your profile to public so that I can see the shared post.

Giveaway ends on 17 Sep 2017, 2359 hours.

GOOD LUCK! :)


*Cars 3 opens in theatres on 31 August 2017


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Sep 5, 2017

Tampines Eco Green: Possibly the Most Underrated Park in Singapore

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Tampines Eco Green is unlike any other nature park we had visited in Singapore. For starters, it is a sprawling 36.5-hectare ecological park resembling a savannah with marshlands, secondary forests and freshwater ponds.

Not only that, the park was designed with minimal intrusion, leaving most of the land untouched and in its original state. In fact, the park is NOT lit at night - so go before 7pm! - so as to minimize disturbance to its wildlife inhabitants.


But if you are looking for playground structures to keep the kiddos occupied, there are NONE here. What is present in the park is plenty of flora and fauna to keep the little ones fascinated. And the main difference here compared to other nature parks is the footpath is carpeted with Manila Grass rather than concrete or gravel, making it a unique walking experience.


Besides making for a great sensory experience outing, most of the park's original landscape has been retained, with even dead trees transformed into park benches and shelter stops. No wonder the monkies remarked that there was something different about Tampines Eco Green.

So off we went to explore!


The park offers three trails weaving through the forest: Diversity Trail, Forest Trail and Marsh Trail. In total, one loop of the park covers 3km, with a walking time of between 1.5 to 2 hours. The terrain is flat throughout, making it extremely easy for kids.

Courtesy of NParks (Click to enlarge)

Our journey began at the shelter near the main entrance of the park. Stretching 1.2km, the Diversity Trail offers an easy walk with views of numerous flora and fauna.


Here, the dense woods flanked both sides of the trail with tall trees towering as we trekked along the green path.


We stopped by the freshwater pond and I have to say the view was amazing. I never knew we had such a picturesque spot right here in Singapore!


At first sight, the pond did seem to be devoid of life, but as we took a closer look, we were all taken aback by the sheer number of life forms living in and around the pond. Butterflies, dragonflies, tiny fishes, tortoises, pond skaters... the monkies spotted them all.

Oh, and do look out for the many bird hides made of twigs and branches too. A bird hide allows you to camouflage so that you can observe wildlife, especially birds, at close proximity without alarming the creatures with your presence. Considering the large variety of birds in this park – 75 different recorded species (!) – I think this will be extremely useful if you are into bird watching.


We did spot a fair of amount of birds too, with some brightly-coloured ones that I have never even seen before. Luckily, there are ample signs scattered throughout the trail which offered nuggets of information of the different type of species one could see in the park.


The boys needed no signs to identify the Flame of the Forest tree though. They were taught in school that the tree relies on explosive action as a means of seed dispersal and there is simply nothing like seeing Science and Nature up close. In fact, the brothers conducted an impromptu Science lesson for their sister too!


We then headed to Marsh Trail which is the shortest trail at 0.8km.


Here, broad, shallow canals called vegetated swales can be found here. These natural drains help to channel excess surface runoff away from the ground. The sides of the swale are gently sloped and filled with plants and small stones. The gentle slope and plants slow down the speed of the flowing water. This helps reduce soil erosion. They also serve as a natural form of filter before the rainwater reaches the water catchment ponds.


Rounding up our trail adventure is the 1km Forest Trail where we felt a drop in surrounding temperatures as the trail became shadier.


Trees border the trail with lush canopies stretching ahead, making it the perfect end to our park exploration.


We had no issues with mosquitoes but it doesn't hurt to slap on some insect repellent too.


Should nature calls, rest assured there is a toilet near the entrance of the park (off Diversity Trail). But even if you do not have any urgent need to do so, I strongly advise you to pay it a visit.


Why? That is because the toilet is an eco-toilet, the first of its kind in Singapore’s public parks! It is a waterless, chemical-free system that converts human waste using bacteria and wood shavings into compost. How cool is that???


But don't worry about any foul smells as the eco-toilet is odour-free, thanks to its good ventilation system. Biodegradable cleaning agents are used to keep the toilet clean and hygienic too. The monkies were definitely intrigued!


All of us thoroughly enjoyed the visit to Tampines Eco Green. Initially, I was expecting the usual nature experience found in other parks like the Botanical Gardens. But the park is more than that, with its tall trees, bird hides, and ponds.... all against a rustic greenery backdrop. It is true when they say that beauty grows when nature is left alone without man's interference.

We saw monitor lizards, birds, insects, touched plants, examined flowers and fruits, followed butterflies on their search for nectar, picked up bird feathers from the grass, enjoyed the shade as we trotted along and of course, enjoyed each other's company. One of the most educational outings we had in recent memory, if you ask me!

Personally, I feel Tampines Eco Green is severely underrated. It is perfect place to head to with the kids as it allows them a chance to appreciate the animal and plant biodiversity in their natural setting. Compared to other parks, it is so much less crowded with its terrain being extremely easy for kids to trek.

And should the kids still have energy to expend after that, there is a playground located just directed opposite Tampines Eco Green (across Tampines Ave 9) at Sun Plaza Park.




Useful Information

Tampines Eco Green
Address: Tampines Avenue 9 and Tampines Avenue 12
How to get there:
Alight at Tampines MRT station and walk 20 mins to the park via Sun Plaza Park.
If you drive, the nearest parking is at Block 408, Tampines Ave 9
NOTE: No lights after dark


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Aug 30, 2017

The Magic behind Cars 3: Touring Pixar Animation Studios + Giveaway

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Back in May this year, I did something I had never done ever since Ash was born 12 years ago - travelling solo. Because I firmly believe that memories are better forged when travelling together as a family. Well, that was until Disney Singapore came knocking and offered me the chance of a lifetime.


Yes, I was flown to San Francisco, USA to attend a media junket for the new Pixar animated movie, Cars 3! To top everything off, I was the only representative from Singapore and got the chance to step inside the famed Pixar Studios for a guided tour. For sure it was a packed 2 days - excluding a 24-hour flight EACH WAY - but it was well worth the experience.

Okay... so in case you did not know, I am a HUGE Pixar fan. Toy Story in 1996 made me a fan, and I have not missed a single Pixar animated movie since. Which explains my caption below when our bus first wheeled into the 22-acre Emeryville compound.

A post shared by Kelvin Ang (@cheekiemonkies) on



Figuratively, not literally of course.

As I walked through the lined trees entrance, I can't help but feel a sense of creativity, fun and excitement. The first thing that came into view was the famed Luxo Jr. lamp and Luxo ball.


I was then ushered into the main Pixar Animation Studios building, which is named The Steve Jobs Building.


This is the core of the campus. If you didn’t know, Steve Jobs was the primary investor and CEO of Pixar many many years ago.

And so, this was it. With trembling hands, I pushed the doors open and stepped into Pixar Animation Studios for the first time. the short video below will give you a good idea of its main interior. And yes, I muted the sound because I squealed. LOL.

A post shared by Kelvin Ang (@cheekiemonkies) on

The atrium lobby is filled with life-size versions of some of Pixar’s most popular characters. So as you could probably guess, I wasted no time in grabbing photos with all of them.




How many can you recognise?



The Pixar campus is truly a place of wonder. And here is an interesting fact that I learnt: the campus is laid out like a human brain. And because each side of the brain is responsible for various functions of the whole, the left side of the building represents the technical side while the right side is home to the creative offices.


And both sides are joined by a main area that was designed for people to intentionally mingle and collaborate. This includes ALL of the restrooms, the Pixar cafe and kitchen, and the mailroom.



An Awards Cabinet filled with the many awards and accolades that Pixar had garnered over the years was also on full display in the main atrium - a reminder of the greatness that everyone helps create in the studios.


It was my first time getting so close to an Oscar statuette! Too bad I could not touch it. A case of so near and yet so far.



Oh, and there was the Pixar Store too. A place where I had unintentionally spent a substantial amount of money at.


How not to, especially when there are tons of Pixar merchandise that are sold exclusively in the store???


I then got a tour of the restricted areas, where photography was understandably not allowed. One of the areas included a huge gallery which consisted the Cars 3 storyboard. And with it came a bunch of spoilers, which is why no photos were allowed.


But trust me when I say a magical world of imagination exists.

But what I can show you is the numerous Easter Eggs that are present in the Studios because walking through Pixar Animation Studios is like watching a Pixar cartoon: There are Easter Eggs everywhere!

A post shared by Kelvin Ang (@cheekiemonkies) on

The silhouettes of Woody and Bo Beep are obvious enough - they're found at the entrances of washrooms. Buzz can be found embedded in the flooring around the studios while even the design of the wall incorporates a Pixar influence. In the top right hand corner photo, can you tell that the pattern is made up of repeating images of Luxo Jr, the iconic lamp mascot of Pixar???

And speaking of ingenuity, Pixar also likes to refresh the main space with art from its current promotional push. Cars 3 is obviously the big movie that will be hitting theatres so the entire place was adorned with Cars 3 artwork.


But it wasn't all play and no work for me at Pixar Animation Studios, you know. I had the chance to sit through half a day's worth of presentations by the Cars 3 animators and supervisors, and got a glimpse of the hard work that went into the creation of the movie. After that, I had FIVE interview sessions with the various creative team members, including Cars 3's director and producer. And I even got them to answer a few of the monkies' questions!

No doubt it was tiring, but it was fascinating to hear how the entire movie progressed from the storyboard to the big screen. And I would not trade the experience for anything else.
But more on all of that to come in a subsequent post. For now, what say you to a CARS 3 GIVEAWAY?

Thanks to Walt Disney Singapore, I have EIGHT Cars 3 vehicles to give away! Each lucky child will receive 2 cars each.


To participate, all you have to do is the following:

1. LIKE Walt Disney Singapore's Facebook page HERE.
2. Leave your comment either in the corresponding Facebook post HERE or in this blog post after you have done so.


WANT TO INCREASE YOUR CHANCES OF WINNING?
SHARE this blog post of the giveaway on Facebook for a BONUS chance! Remember to set your profile to public so that I can see the shared post.

Giveaway ends on 13 Sep 2017, 2359 hours.

GOOD LUCK! :)


*Cars 3 opens in theatres on 31 August 2017






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