Sunday, September 28, 2008

Downtown East - A Destination for Heartlanders

Nestled amidst the balmy seaside town of Pasir Ris, Downtown East has positioned itself as a playground for the average Joe, providing entertainment in all its forms to unionists, members of the public, and their families. The transformation of what used to be NTUC Pasir Ris Resort into this one-stop mecca of mass entertainment was pretty extraordinary, considering how sleepy and rustic it used to be. Many people now know that you can get a lot more than just chalets at this Eastern destination.

My family and I decided to check out Downtown East yesterday, after being away from it for a few years. Here's our visual journey.

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With a huge building looming large, the external facade of Downtown East has transformed dramatically from holiday resort to shopping mall.

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This huge multi-storey carpark is a godsend to drivers, but I found the parking charges somewhat steep for a heartland venue.

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This map looked uncannily similar to the ones I used to see here in terms of the use of colours. The difference though is that the E! Hub, multi-storey carpark and Wild Wild Wet are new.

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A merry go round and train ride for tots gives much cheer to children.

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What's new in Downtown East is the higher number of retail outlets. We took advantage of the 20% discount to buy Ethan a basketball!

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Next was to check out the Popular Roadshow at Downtown East located in the huge marquee in the middle.

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Loads of bargain basement books were on offer, together with stationery items, CDs and others.

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Was my eyes playing tricks on me? Yes, there was another "sister" marquee - this time cladded in green - which offered more irresistible offers. Unfortunately, we weren't too keen in its merchandise range.

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Some of the old favourites, like this bowling alley operated by Orchid Bowl, were still around albeit in a different location.

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We next took a walk to the new E!hub which occupies a total 5 levels, and was greeted by this gaily coloured indoor ferris wheel.

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Naturally, an NTUC Club operated establishment should have an NTUC Fairprice supermarket in it!

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This eXplorerkid indoor playground looked fun but was pretty expensive at about $20 an hour ($11 for members).

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The amusement arcade operated by Zone X was still there.

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And so was the billiard saloon with the funky name.

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What is this? Sounds like an aquatic animated hero?

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Well, nebo is a club for youths and teens which teaches them to be entrepreneurs. These pushcarts were operated by them apparently.

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There was even a cinema and a karaoke outlet (operated by KBox) in the same building! Here are the popcorn retail outlets just outside the theatre.

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We finally decided to venture outdoors - for once - and checked out Escape Theme Park, one of the mainstays at Downtown East.

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What's that coming around the corner?

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Its a little choo-choo train with Ethan and Tina inside.

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Next were rides in the brightly coloured ferris wheel...

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... followed by a roller-coaster ride on a mini family coaster.

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Naturally, there were other high thrill rides in the theme park, but they weren't quite suitable for our almost 5-year old.

Have you been to Downtown East lately? What do you think of this leisure complex?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Turning Crises into Opportunities


Courtesy of youngadultcrisishotline

Many would know that these are challenging times. The financial markets have collapsed, retirees are losing their life savings in complex derivative financial products, inflation has reared its ugly head, and the China melamine milk scare has seized many with fear. According to many economists, the prognosis is bleak for the next two years or so. Friends in the financial sector have also told me that the prospect of losing their jobs are very real.

Against such a gloom and doom scenario, what can one do? Is there any light at the end of the tunnel? My answer is yes. Depending on your experience and training, there are opportunities out there if you know how to seize them.

Debonair investor Oei Hong Leong is one of them. His investment and gift of $1 million worth of shares in AIG (considered highly risky by most) shot up to $5 million practically over night. The LKY School of Public Policy is now the proud beneficiary of that shot of savviness. Philanthropy at its most creative!

Beyond the equities market, there are little rays of sunshine that one can capitalise on. Here are some ideas to get you started:

1) Provide a health advisory service for the illiterate and uneducated, advising them on the truth behind melamine and other related threats to physical well-being. Help them to take practical steps to protect their loved ones and they will love you for it.

2) Be seen as the champion in "value for money" living. Help people to reduce their costs of living by helping them to dissect what their typical monthly bills are like and to discard items of largesse while opting for cheaper alternatives.

3) If you are financially savvy, now is a good time to be in the financial advisory service. Seek to provide independent counsel which looks after the best interest of your clients - not your backers. Help people to look at re-evaluating their investments, and to reprioritise their financial goals.

4) Go into the business of recycling. Second hand may sometimes be just as good as brand new, if one doesn't mind a little scratch here or dent there. Cash-strapped folks wouldn't mind buying an older model of a product from other equally cash-strapped folks whose investments have gone south. Be the value added intermediary.

5) Embrace a holistic health business for mind, body and soul. People are now more stressed than ever and will need both physical and mental relief. Don't just open yet another yoga centre or spa. Instead, see if you can offer "mobile meditation" or other services that go deep into the HDB heartlands where the pain is most acute.

6) Restrategise and rejuvenate. If business is slow, consider taking a few days off to rethink what works and what doesn't. Do an offsite brainstorming session and see what would work better than others.

7) Finally, and most importantly, invest in relationships. When times are shaky, people tend to stick to what or who they know best. For so many years, marketing and advertising has been cold, heartless and calculating. It is time to really get to know your customers, understand their fears and concerns and find ways to solve their problems.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Parable of the Spider

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I spotted the above spider making his home at the lift lobby just outside my home. The little guy has been there for weeks, and interestingly, no efforts have been made to clean up his silky home. I don't really mind though as I have a thing for spiders.

In fact, there are some lessons that you can learn from them, which relates pretty well to the world of marketing.

1) Location, Location, LOCATION! The spider which chooses a heavily fly and mosquito infested spot gets to feast like a king! Similarly, businesses need to select the right place for their business bearing in mind that their "bait" (or customers) should be there too.

2) Being part of a web always helps. In this day of networks, the wider and more extensive your web of contacts are, the better the chances of winning some customers out there. Likewise for our arachnid buddy.

3) Aim to be sticky and not just pervasive. A spider's web works incredibly well as an insect trapping tool because it isn't only widespread (well, relatively speaking), but it also sticks like glue. In the same way, businesses should try to aim for marketing campaign ideas that are able to achieve not only good awareness, but good recall and stick-to-itiveness. Something like a positive meme.

4) Once you secure (err...trap) your customers, make them fall hopelessly into you. In the case of the spider, that would mean that its bait gets totally sucked dry (oops wrong analogy). What I truly mean is that you should pamper your customer, cocoon them and make them paralysed with pleasure as they indulge in your products and services.

5) Don't be afraid to build, rebuild and rebuild again. A spider doesn't hang around forever on the same web. Sooner or later, some smart-assed bird, cat, or human is going to destroy its tapestry of terror. When that happens, it will build its web again. Similarly, you shouldn't be afraid to rubbish an old advertising idea when it gets too mouldy, and to embark on a fresh slate.

6) Do something good for society. In case you do not know, spiders are great to have around the house because they help to feed on mosquitoes, houseflies and other pests of the buzz-oriented kind. This helps to cut them some slack relative to other invertebrates - notice how much more quickly one would kill a mosquito compared to a web slinger (many people keep tarantulas as pets). Companies should also learn from the spider and exert a positive impact on its surrounding communities and environment. Donate to a neighbourhood charity, or encourage your staff to put in that bit of effort. Socially responsible behaviour helps you to endear yourself to more fans.

Next time you look at a spider, don't just tick it off as a worthless vermin!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Mid-Autumn Moonlit Magic

The Mid-Autumn, Mooncake or Lantern Festival always carries special meaning for me. It is one of those occasions where you just simply have to be out at night to soak in the sights, sounds, scents and sweetness (mooncakes!) of that savoury festival where we commemorate the harvest of autumn. In Singapore, the celebrations inevitably revolve around the Singapore River, and that was where our extended family decided to venture after an awesome dinner (and fine wine to boot).

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The moon was bright and round that night. Apparently, it was even rounder and bigger the next day (ba yue shi liu).

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Here's Felicia, Ethan, Alicia and Chloe on board the MRT train from Chinatown to Clarke Quay. No prizes for guessing who couldn't sit still!

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The Mid-Autumn festival celebrations were just outside Central shopping mall.

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Inside, kids on Ikea stools and tables were busy creating their own lanterns.

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Outside the mall along the river, the place was overflowing with people from all walks of life and all ages.

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We decided to have some fun with sparklers and lit quite a few to the delight of our kids.

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Here's a shot of Ethan beaming away at the luminous pleasures.

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These nice electric blue chilli lights lit up the trees adjacent to Central.

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The highlight of the evening were the bright coloured lanterns floating on the river. Here's a giant turtle carrying the heroes of Journey to the West (Xi You Ji).

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Two of the Chinese Zodiac beasts - the snake and the dragon.

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Other animals in the Chinese Zodiac calendar like the horse, goat and others.

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We found this lantern especially fascinating after my brother-in-law William told us about the saying - Cao Chuan Jie Jian (straw boats to borrow arrow).

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Three legendary Chinese characters. I know the guy in the centre is Justice Bao but unfortunately I can't recall the other two. Anybody knows who they are?

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Another colourful floating lantern in the river with cranes and other avian representatives.

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Some of the street stalls were selling lucky lanterns which you can purchase and hang up for good fortune.

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This ice cream man had the foresight of offering his icy cool treats there that night.

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Naturally, we couldn't resist striking a few poses. Here's Susan, William and Chloe in a Kodak moment.

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Tina and Ethan doing their thang beside a pig lantern (Tina's born in the year of the pig).

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Finally, a shot of me and Ethan beside the goat (Ethan is born in the year of the goat).

How were your mid-autumn celebrations like? Did you gorge too much on mooncakes?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

How To Write a Great Speech


Reverend Martin Luther King Jr - One of the greatest orators of all time (courtesy of Buddy Stone)

One of the toughest skill to master in the world of public relations is the art and science of crafting fabulous speeches. The devil is in the details. Penning persuasive prose takes lots of blood, sweat and tears. But it is all worth it at the end.

Are there some tips in writing good speeches? Definitely. Let me highlight some of the more prominent ones.

First, you need to understand your subject matter. Take some time to do research on your topic and ask as many questions as you need to. Often, the folks in PR doing the speech writing are not involved in the operational details of the topic. Spend time putting together the facts, figures, and interesting bits of information.

Next, you need to know your audiences. Who will the speaker be addressing? What are the concerns and cares of the people listening? Is there an "elephant in the room" which you need to consider?

You also need to appreciate who your speaker is. For communication professionals in public service, we often have to write speeches for politicians. Some have a certain preferred approach. Others are more open to varying styles. Read through their previous speeches and see if there is a certain "house style" or trademark which forms part of the speaker's personal brand.

Pay attention to the flow and rhythm of your sentences and paragraphs. A speech with long and languorous sentences are going to make people fall asleep. Similarly, one that is peppered full of short sentences will sound like a machine gun rattling away. Opt for a nice blend of short and long sentences.

Stay away from obtuse and bombastic words. This doesn't mean that your speech must sound like its written by a 6-year old. Choose words that are impactful yet easily understood by the majority.

Write what you speak and speak what you write. Go through each line mentally or better yet, say what you write out loud. Words and phrases which sound good on paper sometimes fall flat when delivered on a podium.

You also need to be aware of tongue twisters. Those convoluted combination of words that trip your tongue have no place in a public presentation.

Start strongly and aim the impress from the word "go". Speeches which begin with a whole laundry list of grammy award style "thank yous" make me snore. Aim to start with significant drama and suspense and shun conventional approaches.

Good speeches are also full of personality, colour and life. How you angle them depend on the occasion and the audience. A celebratory function call for something light-hearted and laced with humour. On the other hand, a rallying event needs to be fortified with strong and compelling phrases that motivate, inspire and encourage.

Finally, don't be afraid to revisit your speech and rewrite parts of it where necessary. Attempting to come up with a Gettysberg address in one sleepy afternoon is going to be impossible. Rome isn't built in a day. Take a walk in the part, have a coffee (or glass of wine if it works better), and come back to your script when you are sufficiently refreshed.

Some of the greatest speeches I have come across include the following. See if you can pick up anything from them:
1) Martin Luther King Jr's I Have A Dream
2) Steve Job's Commencement Address at Stanford University
3) Randy Pausch's Last Lecture at Carnegie Mellon
4) Abraham Lincolin's Gettysburg Address (a little old school, but still charming)
5) Barack Obama (of course). I like this one at the Ebeneezer Baptist Church.

What are your experiences like with speech writing?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Picturesque, Placid and Peaceful Peirce

Every once in a while, you need to take a break from the frenzied pace of urban life and to slow down a little. A great place for this is the Lower Peirce Reservoir.

One of the oldest reservoirs in Singapore, the Lower Peirce Reservoir is about six hectares in size, and is the home to many primary and secondary rainforest species. Originally known as the Kallang River Reservoir, the water catchment area was first started in 1901, which makes it more than a century old. The scenic body of water was named in honour of Robert Peirce, who was one of Singapore's municipal engineers.

Here's a short photographic tour of a recent visit by Ethan and I.

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These long-tailed macques greeted us on the route to the reservoir. While some of these monkeys are cute and cheeky...

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...you are reminded not to feed them, lest you encourage undesired behaviours from these forest denizens.

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Managed by the Public Utilities Board, Lower Peirce Reservoir is a scenic getaway located along Upper Thomson Road.

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Here's Water Wally, PUB's hydrophilic brand ambassador, reminding you not to waste our planet's most precious resource.

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A site map shows you where the major picnic and lookout spots are.

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One of the many well paved paths leading to different parts of the park, with educational messages on markers.

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Ethan admiring tiny beautiful blue blossoms on a bush.

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Another path, this time winding up on the grassy picnic grounds surrounding the water.

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These boulders and rocks were a favourite with reservoir visitors, who fished for prawns, fishes and even lobsters hiding amongst the craggy crevices.

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Of course, our little boy preferred to do a little rock hopping of his own.

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A shot of the little pavilion which extends out into the reservoir area.

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A historic marker which gives a little background information on the reservoir.

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Finally, here's Ethan looking pensive and philosophical amidst the serene surroundings. If only life was this blissful every day of the week!