Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Maiden Flight on the Singapore Flyer

After blogging about what the Singapore Flyer could do to shore up its marketing efforts about 15 months ago, I finally had the chance to embark on a maiden voyage on the world's largest ferris wheel. This was possible thanks to the good folks at the Civil Service College who organised this special thank you function for contributors and supporters of their various programmes. Joining me were Rambling Librarian Ivan Chew as well as David Lee of PRSpeak.

Here's a pictorial account of my voyage tonight, fresh from the lenses of my digital camera.

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A view of the complex with the Singapore Flyer which had various F&B outlets, a teddy bear workshop, and various other specialty retailers.

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Here's a view of the Singapore Flyer shot in the evening at about 6.30 pm.

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Part of the experience includes a waterfall garden called the Yakult Rainforest Discovery, which provided a nice green oasis in the middle of the complex.

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No prizes for guessing who the sponsor of that landscaped space is!

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Before our maiden flight, we had dinner and drinks at O'Leary's Sports Bar and Grill, which was a very Boston-inspired F&B outlet which served typical American fare like Buffalo wings, chips, steaks and the like.

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A close-up view of the capsule at base-level, with eager beaver riders hopping on for the experience.

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This funky electric blue light bathed all of us in a surrealistic glow which helped add to the experience. I guess it was good that I happen to know some of the fellow "flyers" who were ex-colleagues from more than a decade ago, and could engage in an animated discussion.

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Here's a nice shot of the upcoming Marina Bay Integrated Resort construction site, framed by the pillars and struts of the Flyer.

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A clearer view of what could possibly be Singapore's most happening leisure destination - in a year or two that is.

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Another shot taken from the air, this time of Ritz Carlton, Centennial Tower and the Suntec area.

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After our flight, we were ushered through the obligatory souvenir photograph cum shop area. While the superimposed photographs of the riders against the landscape looked pretty, none of us succumbed to the temptation of bringing a photo home.

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Merchandising is naturally the life blood of any attraction, and the same applied to the Singapore Flyer with these fancy engraved drinking glasses available for sale.

Overall, I would say that the experience was quite OK. It isn't exactly seat of your pants thrilling, but neither does it bore the tears out of you. Perhaps going on a ride at night makes it special as our city really looks beautiful with the twinkling lights emanating from the various skyscrapers.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Sky Has Fallen!!

Took this photo sometime in December last year from my regular bus stop. Very atypical of a hot tropical island like Singapore and I remembered how chilly the weather was then. Effects of climate change perhaps?

Of course those days are long gone, and the weather has turned blazingly hot nowadays and suffocating even. Time to give up my car?

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Service Recovery at an Aunty Restaurant

To celebrate my dad's 68th and my niece's 10th birthday, my mum decided to book a restaurant for dinner last night at Tiong Bahru's Seng Poh Lane. Going by the unassuming name of Por Kee Eating House (porky?), the outlet was your typical old-fashioned Chinese restaurant with red plastic chairs and an outdoor al fresco eating area. It was as unpretentious as you can get, with a clear focus on its food rather than ambience.

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When we arrived, we were ushered to a space next to the public carpark outside, under the starry moonlit sky. As the evening was cool, most of us didn't quite mind sitting outside. Especially with a beer or two!

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Well, maybe except my mum who wasn't too pleased as she had earlier reserved a table inside the air conditioned section of the restaurant. She complained to the waiter (a part-timer called Francis) that our seats in cool comfort were not given to us, and that her two grandsons Isaac (five plus years) and Ethan (four plus years) were sweltering away in the humid tropical heat.

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This happened despite the earlier phone call she made for reservation which came with explicit instructions.

What could have been a disastrous evening turned out to be a rather fortuitous experience, with the following turn of events:

1) Waiters and waitresses at the restaurant apologising to us thereafter, and attending quite quickly to our needs. In particular, Francis the part-timer, who made sure that we had a good experience. Here's Francis in black T-shirt showing us how no-frills service recovery is done.

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2) A quick turnaround of table seating arrangements, whereby an internal table in air-conditioned comfort was secured for us. All we had to do was to bring our drinks along, and they did the rest of the job of bringing the food items along. Chrysanthemum tea was also refilled.

3) The staff offered to take a family photo for us, and also came quickly with plates for the obligatory birthday cake cutting and song singing ceremony. I guess that helped to put smiles on our faces.

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4) The food was fresh and tasty, and served rather expeditiously without hurrying us along. Special mention must be made of the steamed Sri Lankan crabs and steamed fish, which were a cut above most of the seafood restaurants at East Coast.

As an old-styled, "aunty and uncle" restaurant, one could see that the staff were severely limited by lack of training. They were after all not really a Lei Garden or Hai Tien Lo. However, they did understand the concept of service recovery and tried to make a difference. Well, at least the night ended quite all right for us.

Anyway, happy birthday Pop and Mandy!! Sorry for making your celebration a lesson in service recovery!

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Stunning Sukhothai - Thailand's Ancient Kingdom

As part of an official trip for the Networking of ASEAN Cultural Heritage (NACH), I had the pleasure of visiting Sukhothai, the old historic kingdom of Thailand, sometime in end January this year. Existing from 1238 to 1438, Sukhothai is the first kingdom of Siam, and its old capital is now a historic park which has been gazetted by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. It has a number of fine monuments which showcase the beginnings of Thai architecture and can be considered one of the cradles of Thai civilisation.

Ruled by King Ramkhamhaeng the Great, who created the Thai alphabet, Sukhothai once stretched all the way from Martaban in Myanmar to Luang Prabang (Laos) and down south to the Malay Peninsula. Its influence was larger than that of modern Thailand, and the kingdom appeared to have absorbed the styles of Khmer, Thai and Sri Lankan cultures as seen in its temples and pagodas.

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A blissful retreat nestled amidst charming organic farms, the Sukothai Heritage Resort is a great respite from the urban jungle.

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We received this Anya Hindmarch creation as a memento of its Sukothai's positioning as a "green" destination.

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At the Ramkhamhaeng National Museum, I shot this mirror-imaged exhibit of two Buddha statues in the cross-legged "earth touching" position.

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More artefacts on display, excavated from the ancient kingdom's temples and stupas.

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We next went to the Historic Park at Sukothai, greeted by lush greenery and awe inspiring Buddhist temples, stupas and other ruins.

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Wat Si Sawai at Sukhothai Historic Park, with the regional delegation from NACH's various ASEAN countries striking a pose.

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Phra Achana at Wat Si Chum of Sukhothai Historic Park in the traditional "Earth touching" posture. Note the slender and feminine demeanour of the Thai-style Buddhist statue.

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A standing statue of Buddha, showing the differences in size with a puny tourist.

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A stone effigy of the Thai's beloved King Ramkamhaeng who was respected and worshipped like a deity. Folks were running to pray to him despite the rain.

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The Park had other non-human visitors, like this charming Siam elephant here.

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Certain heritage traditions were still alive in Thailand, like the painting of ceramics...

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...traditional Siam dances...

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...and Thai styled music from an ensemble.

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Our visit also took us to architectural sites, like this one here, which has authentically recreated replicas of human skeletons.

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Pottery pieces on display at a pottery museum near the historic park.

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Finally, a lucky shot of the rainbow, which appears to be a trait of some of my recent trips.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Dodgiest Ad I Ever Saw

As I was going home last night, I spotted this slip of paper under my door. I think it can easily qualify as the most dodgy looking piece of marketing material ever conceived by mankind.

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PS - The wet spot on the right isn't purposefully created to add to the filth. Rather it was created by me resting my wine glass on this direct mailer.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

5Cs of Social Media Success

In the world of social media, I believe that there are five Cs which can help to mandate success beyond the initial buzz of just being a part of the blogosphere. They are:
1) Contacts
2) Content
3) Continuity
4) Controversy (this is more debatable)
5) Currency

Note that not every social media platform need to embrace each point to succeed. There may be exceptions to each case. However, they do generally help to improve one's hit rate and following over a period of time.

Let me explain these points in detail:

Contacts

The most important point about social media technologies and networks is the socialising aspect. People do need people, and it is important to be a part of a community - or many communities - if one wants to succeed in social media. One of the most active communities in Singapore's social media space belongs to that of Ping.sg, where members meet regularly to fraternise and fellowship both offline and online. The friendships and relationships forged present immense value for social media purveyors in whatever platform that they use - blogs, podcasts, facebook, twitter, myspace, and so on.

Content

Other than having a truckload of friends, one also needs to have interesting and engaging content on one's blog or social media "real estate". This can either be entertaining, thought provoking, intellectually stimulating or just plain helpful. Content can be in various forms - text, photos, videos, audio files, flash games. What's important though is that the content should be rich and full of the creator's personality embodied in them, as opposed to being a dispassionate corporate spiel.

Continuity

You can't succeed in social media without having the stamina to stay the course, come hell or high water. Personally, I found this a difficult challenge as there are many things in life which can rob you of your blogging rhythm. In fact, I found that after going on a blogging hiatus for about a month or so, I lost many of my readers and linkers and have to painstakingly build them up again. The moral of the story is that you have to be consistent in putting up posts so that your readers can follow you regularly.

Controversy

This is probably the most debatable point and one which needs to be managed with care. It is easier for personal bloggers to embrace the hottest topic of the day and provide their own sensational spin on it compared to corporate bloggers. However, in order to stand out from the crowd, one needs to be somewhat daring and different. Otherwise, it is very easy to get lost in the huge ocean of close to 100 million blogs and a gazillion facebook, myspace and friendster accounts.

Currency

Finally, one has to keep up with the times and tune in to what's hot, hip and happening. What are the digital denizens discussing about lately? What is the news of the day? Nobody likes to read a blog when the topic covered is stale, and this is why it is important to always maintain currency and expediency. Of course, there are exceptions - like Yesterday.sg - which is focused entirely on memories and ramblings from the past. However, even old news can be made new if given a twist that is relevant in this day and age.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Neighbourhood Branding

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Can we give our HDB estates more heart and soul?

Read this excellent post on Branding Insider about Place Branding and how it is moving into smaller municipalities and towns in the United States. It triggered off this idea about the branding of residential communities in Singapore.

What if we brand each and every one of our estates in Singapore? In other words, give them a greater individual identity, uniqueness, colour and point of differentiation. After all, Singapore, though tiny, isn't just a homogeneous and uniform mass. It would be awesome, wouldn't it?

This isn't just about slapping on a fancy logo, or creating a visible campaign about cleanliness, civic consciousness or civil defence. It isn't about a fancy schmancy advertisement on TV, newspaper or radio. It also isn't about getting more people to do more of this or more of that.

Rather, it is about identifying the core essence of each town council, each estate, each road and even each block of flats on our island. It is about knowing what makes each and every estate special and different in the eyes of its residents, visitors and other stakeholders. It is also about seeing how these points of distinction can be better articulated using the touchpoints of branding - key messages, taglines, advertising, elevator pitches, websites, blogs, lovemarks and events.

Neighourbood branding is also about putting down on paper what some of us already know as common wisdom, but which few others would appreciate unless they also stay where we call home. It is also about coordinating and putting it all together in a holistic package without losing the spontaneity and natural affinity of a thousand different expressions of affection for one's "kampong". It also involves getting buy-in from all stakeholders, especially those who live there, and embarking on a consolidated action to win hearts and minds.

In a nutshell, neighbourhood branding is about giving a greater sense of body and shape to the many different estates in Singapore. What makes Ang Mo Kio so special, Serangoon Gardens so memorable, or Bukit Merah so intimate to our hearts. Why do we choose to stay for more than 30 years in the same old estate instead of upgrading to a fancier address? It is about giving greater heart and soul to our communal dwelling and commercial spaces around that special place called home.

Do you think that such an idea can work in Singapore? Is there a need for it in the first place?
Also, who should be the one doing it?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Jolly Good Bollywood

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Bollywood Veggies along Neo Tiew Road

Recently, after our regular visit to Ethan's favourite goat farm, my family decided to drop by Bollywood Veggies for lunch and a quick look around. Located at the long and winding Neo Tiew Road at the Kranji/Lim Chu Kang area, this organic farm is opened by Mrs Ivy Singh-Lim and her hubby Lim Ho Seng. Ivy is a very well known and outspoken figure in our local social scene, and was previously the President of the Netball Association of Singapore, while Ho Seng used to be the CEO of NTUC Fairprice.

In a way, the farm cum restaurant (Poison Ivy Bistro) is a labour of love for both - a retirement gig which offers the promise of a more rustic laid-back lifestyle after slogging it out for the better part of one's life in the corporate world. According to my wife Tina, rental for the entire plot of land is only about $5,000 per month, and much of the income derived by the couple comes from the F&B business plus farm tours (which goes for about $2 per head and includes a little snack).

Selling farm produce isn't really sustainable as the size of the farm is only 10 acres, but they do have quite an interesting variety of fruits and vegetables like bananas, ladies fingers, papayas, brinjals, kang kong, sweet potatoes and so on.

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Ample and free parking spaces makes Bollywood Veggies an attractive destination. If you don't drive, you can hop on to the Kranji Express which offers cheap rides ($2 for adults and $1 for kids - round trip) from Kranji MRT station.

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Herbs and spices like ginger, mint, basil, chilli and coriander can be found growing in the soil or on pots.

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A proud pineapple sitting atop its throne of thorny leaves.

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Tina and Ethan taking a break while posing beside a signboard stating the Earth-friendly cred of the place.

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Water to irrigate the crops are drawn from this pond located in the middle of the farm. We saw some small fishes swimming in there too.

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Another rest area, this time shaded by the lush foliage of trees in the farm.

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A lucky shot of a butterfly taking a sip of sweet nectar. Does anybody know what Lepidopteran species this is?

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After a hot noon walk in the farm, the cool air-conditioned restaurant Poison Ivy provides a temporary respite.

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Naturally, we need to fuel up too. We had a delicious meal of mainly organic vegetables like a salad of rojak flowers, banana curry, and stewed vegetables washed down with fig and lemongrass tea.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Parable of the Web

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Taken at Singapore Zoological Gardens

King Robert the Bruce I was born at Lochmaben Castle in 1274. He was Knight and Overlord of Annandale. In 1306 he was crowned King of Scotland and henceforth tried to free Scotland from the English enemy.

After being defeated at a battle, Bruce escaped and found a hideout in a cave. Hiding in a cave for three months, Bruce was at the lowest point of his life. He thought about leaving the country and never coming back.

While waiting, he watched a spider building a web in the cave's entrance. The spider fell down time after time, but finally he succeeded with his web. So Bruce decided also to retry his fight and told his men:

"If at first you don't succeed, try, try and try again".

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Mysterious Myanmar - Land of Living Heritage

Also known as the Golden Land, Myanmar is one of Southeast Asia's largest and probably least well explored country. Culturally rich and vibrant, it is the only country in our region where the traditional sarong is still worn daily as a modern attire. Due to its relative isolation and insulation from the modern world, Myanmar retains much of its heritage, traditional practices and charming way of life. It is definitely a charming cultural destination worthy of a visit by those who yearn for a unique and enriching experience.

Here's a photo essay of my observations during a trip there in end January this year. Apologies that this took two months to conceive!

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Aung San Bogyoke Market, a famous shopping area at Yangon full of crafts, jewellery, textiles and other traditional wares.

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Myanmar cuisine is less strongly flavoured than those of its neighbours, and tend to be less spicy.

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Textile weaving - a trade long gone in Singapore - is a living tradition that is still alive and well in the land of thousand pagodas.

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Just like the art of adorning various tapestries with ornate gold, silver and colourful sequins.

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Wooden crafts and lacquerware are abundant here, like this container by monks to contain food offerings during their morning walks.

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Artworks like oil paintings are abundant in the many art galleries across town. Many are inspired by religious or pastoral themes like monks, temples, markets and idyllic rural scenes.

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One of the iconic temples at Bagan, an almost surrealistic landscape dotted with a thousand pagodas and temples in a grasslike Savanna setting. Believe this could be the largest temple there?

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Two of the most iconic pagodas in Myanmar. First, the Shwezigon Pagoda located in Bagan, covered by gold leaves and glimmering in the day...

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...followed by the world famous Shwedagon in Yangon, a 98 metre tall structure considered the holiest place in Myanmar purportedly containing four relics from Buddha. Claimed to be 2,500 years old according to legend, historians believe that it is more likely to be built from the 6th to 10th centuries.

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We enjoyed this marionette performance at Mandalay, orchestrated by one of Myanmar's living masters of puppetry. Deft and skillful, the puppeteers showed what it takes to make the wooden dolls come alive.

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Myanmar dance is similar yet different to that of other Southeast Asian cultural dances. Its grace is epitomised by the sinewy movements of these undergraduates here from the Yangon University of Culture.

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Who couldn't resist snapping a shot of these kids in Myanmar, peddling their wares at a tender young age. Notice their yellow painted thanaka lined faces.

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Another shot capturing the innocence, charm and poverty of Myanmar children.

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Finally, a beautiful sunset captured from my hotel at Sedona Yangon.