Archive for December, 2008

Good riddance

I have very little to say about 2008, so instead I shall do the emo thing of posting song lyrics.

From Camera Obscura’s “Happy New Year”:

Happy new year
Did the ironing in a cowboy hat
Felt as fresh as the paint in this new flat
I will never tell you what to do
Have ambition simply to see things through

Did you know I could be a lot of fun
I’m aware that friendship can die young
As the glow from the street light bled
Down the Langlands Road we set off the best of friends

I know where I stand
I don’t need you to hold my hand

Well, I’ve tried to get along with you
I have asked myself What are we gonna do?
I’m coming round to take a stand
Going to put us together with glue or an elastic band

I know where I stand
I don’t need you to hold my hand

I am softer than my face would suggest
At times like these I’m at my lowest ebb
Now I can confide in you
If I cry to set the mood oh please could you cry too

Happy New Year
You are my only vice
Happy New Year
What if we compromised?
Happy New Year
I am open

Do you have to wear a frown like that?
You could have hit me with a baseball bat

Do you want to? (Yes I do)
Do you have to? (So do you)
Do you want to? (So do you)

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How quickly another Christmas has come up on us.  I was hoping to get into the Christmas spirit but the recent travel distracted me with its own adventures, and now it’s too late to jump-start any holiday feeling.  Whoops.  That is unfortunate as the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is my favorite time of year.  Note to self: don’t leave home base during the same period next year.

I woke up this morning to a desktop PC with a busted power supply and a ton of rain in Singapore.  The rain I didn’t mind as it makes for a nice and cozy indoor day but I am distressed at the broken PC.  Aside from a broken motherboard, swapping out the power supply is incredibly tedious.

On to brighter times – tonight I am going to a Swedish family’s Christmas dinner.  This is the 3rd or 4th year in a row I have attended their dinner and it is always a grand time.  Plenty of schnapps-drinking, turkey-eating, and guitar-playing to be had by all.  The addition of Swedish meatballs and pickled herring being served is a bonus.

So for a short while let’s forget about bailouts and bankruptcy, high inflation, property collapses and the end of the global financial system as we know it and instead think about Christmas sweaters, juicy banquets, and trying to snatch a kiss under the mistletoe.

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So while most of us at age 27 were spinning our wheels and figuring out our careers, Jon Favreau was the main speechwriter for Barack Obama, and now he is in charge of putting together the inaugural address.

What an awesome and stressful job.

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Time’s 2008 Person of the Year

No surprise – Barack Obama has been named as Time’s 2008 Person of the Year

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I am at the airport and my foot is asleep

I’m sitting at another airport. Newark airport.  Not a pretty place. Unsurprising, since this is north New Jersey after all.  This part of the state is probably more apt to be described as a New York City suburb rather than part of the Garden State (south New Jersey).  Kind of like how the parts of Malaysia just over the border are commuter cities for people who work in Singapore.

American public bathrooms are a disgrace.  They need something like Singapore’s toilet organization to come in here and clean things up (literally and figuratively).

I think one of the worst feelings one can have on a trip is when they find out their flight is full and that they have a middle seat.  This is what has happened to me.  I have 2 hours to sit here and think about how I am going to be crammed in between people (neither of which will be attractive) for the 12 hour flight to Tokyo.

I didn’t sleep last night.  At all.

I looked for a Starbucks at the airport, I thought I could get into the holiday spirit by getting one of their seasonal lattes.  Plus it would keep me awake before getting on the plane.  Unfortunately there was no Starbucks.  But there was a Seattle’s Best Coffee.  I ordered a gingerbread latte.  They asked if I wanted whipped cream.  “Just like the picture?”  “Yes please!”  Then they ran out of whipped cream.  Sadness all around.

Did you know the average age of flight attendants on Singapore Airlines and Emirates Air is around 26 while the average age of flight attendants on American airlines is around 40?  When I was in Orlando there was an article about how Emirates Air is still aggressively recruiting and that a lot of their staff are young and attractive.  The article talked about how some Emirates (and probably SQ’s) criteria are sexist or discriminatory.

I like Singapore Airlines.  I turn a blind eye to their recruiting and interviewing process.

I’ve had a bookmark in my Internet Explorer favorites for an article about “The 5 Most Retarded Causes People are Actually Fighting For.”  I found that article funny.  I’ve been meaning to write about it and relate it to the group of students who are trying to ban the practice of saving seats in food courts by using packets of tissues.  That is a stupid cause.  I think goofing off and playing video games is more productive than this tissue seat endeavor.

12 hours to Tokyo.  3 hours or so to Korea after that. 1.5 hours from the airport to the hotel. Then I can get internet access and post this blog entry.  And take a long hot shower and sleep.  That will be nice.

Do you ever feel the word “nice” gets a bad rap?  I like using the word.  I had a girlfriend who hated it when I said that things were “nice.”  In general I think most people think the word “nice” does not connote anything.  That it’s innocuous.  A non-committal answer.  When I say nice I mean exactly that – something is nice.

I’ve observed during this trip is that Americans disembark planes much slower than Asians.  Wait, re-phrase – people tend to get off flights that land intra-Asia faster than flights that are domestic US.  It annoys me.  It’s not nice to sit on an airplane longer than necessary.

When I get back to Singapore in a few days I am looking forward to the humidity.  It will let my dry skin heal.  I am tired of applying lotion and being itchy.

I ate at Citrus restaurant in the Upper West Side last night.  Supposed to be a good place.  I got served a pork chop which was a thick slab of dry cardboard.  Very disappointing.  The scallops, however, were tasty.

I wonder why the Concorde never got more popular.  Aside from its high ticket prices, the ability to travel at supersonic speed seems very attractive.

I wonder if the people who look happy in the airport are flying to see their family or flying away from them.

American Express – A Comedy of Errors

A little over 24 hours ago I was ready to be a brand evangelist for American Express credit cards.

On Monday I called American Express and reported that my credit card needed to be replaced as I lost (got stolen?) my wallet in New York City.  I needed the card sent to me in Florida by Thursday night as I leave Friday on a trip to NY and Korea. They took my information and said they would send me a replacement card.  Sounded great.

Tuesday noon time I got a knock on the door and to my happiness, there was an envelope from American Express left on my doorstep.  In 24 hours AmEx had managed to send me a replacement card.  Great!  Thoughts of being able to do basic things like purchasing food or other items ran rampant in my head.  More importantly, I felt comfortable with my upcoming trips through New York City and Seoul now that I had a credit card.

12:00 pm – 2:00 pm: Attempt to call 1-800-362-6033 to activate my card.  Their system is experiencing technical difficulties so the activation system is down.

2:00 pm – 3:15 pm: Call to activate the card.  After entering the card number an operator comes on the line and says that because this is a Singapore card, I need to call a different phone number to activate it. +1 (336) 393-1111. 

I dial that phone # (thank goodness for internet calling else the long-distance charges would start racking up).  Enter my credit card #.  Get the message, “This phone number is no longer in service.  Please call the number on the back of your card.”

Phone # on back of the card: 1-800-528-2122.  I dial it… enter in the credit card # to activate and receive the same message: “This phone number is no longer in service.  Please call the number on the back of your card.” AARGH.

I proceed to call the following numbers (I don’t remember which one eventually resulted in the card getting activated):

  • 800 110 1551
  • +65 6737 8188
  • 800 528 4800
  • +65 6880 1900

The explanation for the difficulty is that this is a Singapore American Express Corporate card and that it must be activated via Singapore.  Note the above numbers are a mix of Singapore phone numbers and US phone numbers – the AmEx support I spoke to at these numbers either provided me with a different number or transferred me to another department.  There was one Singapore number which was particularly frustrating – I would enter my credit card #, the automated system would put me on hold after telling me it would connect me to the right system, and after a few minutes it would bring me right back to the beginning of the menu choices.  So it was essentially transferring me to itself.

3:30 pm: My card is activated!  It is time to celebrate what the holiday season in America is all about… shopping, of course!  What better place than the neighborhood Target where I can buy a new wallet, some gloves for Korea’s cold weather, and miscellaneous other things.  I love Target.  (But this is a rant about AmEx, so I shall save my Target praise for another day).

3:40 pm – 4:10 pm: Shop at Target.  I browse around, happily putting items into the cart.  I will be able to pay for them!  I have an American Express card!  I roll my cart to the check out register.  (You already know what happens next…)

Cashier: “Sorry sir, your card is rejected.”
Me: “Oh, let’s try it again – it’s a new card.”
Cashier: “Okay.  Sorry, it’s still rejected.  You’ll have to call the company.”

4:10 pm – 4:40 pm: I stand at the service desk at Target holding my items and a receipt that says, “Suspended – these items have not been paid for” and call 800 528 2122 from the phone at the service desk.  (Incidentally, while I was on hold on the phone, the Target clerk raved to me about how great he thought Singapore was).  The US AmEx support members says that because it’s a Singapore card, I have to call a Singapore number.  +65 6737 8188 – and the US support can’t transfer me to this number.  Certainly Target isn’t going to let me make a Florida to Singapore long-distance call so I end up calling from my mobile phone ($$$!).  A staff member answers, I explain that my card isn’t working and that I’m calling from a mobile phone in the US, and they proceed to put me on hold… for at least 12 minutes.  Which at that point I hung up since it was going to be an astronomically-priced phone call.  I figured I would go home and use internet calling to keep the cost down.  Of course I had to leave my items at Target.

4:50 pm – 5:20 pm: Back home, I call the Singapore phone number.  I speak to a very nice AmEx representative from the Authorizations Department named Sarah who takes down my information and realizes that the replacement card they sent me had the same numbers as the card that I had just cancelled.  So AmEx had sent me basically a new version of the cancelled card.  Sarah then places me on hold to speak with the US card replacement group, and she updates me every few minutes as to what they are talking about.

Sarah tells me they are going to rush me a new card and that I would receive it WITHIN 1 HOUR!  Unbelievable, I exclaim to her.  They will print a new card out and deliver it to me in an hour?  She says yes but just-in-case wait 2 hours and if I haven’t received it yet to call her back.  Okay, I say!

7:20 pm: No credit card arrives at my house.

7:25 pm: Call Sarah at the Singapore number. She takes down my phone numbers and says that she is very sorry and that she will find out what has happened and call me back.

8:30 pm: Sarah calls and has a US support member on the phone too.  They re-confirm my information and Florida mailing address and stress that they will mark this as urgent and send the card to me right away – and that I should receive it today (Wednesday).

Wednesday – 3:30 pm: I have waited at home all day.  No credit card arrives.  Time to call American Express again.  The Singapore number.  I get an Authorizations Department representative named Jiva.

3:30 pm – 4:00 pm: Jiva takes down my information and doesn’t seem to see anything about them promising to send the new card to me after my call with Sarah and US last night.  He talks to US customer service and comes back to me.

Jiva: “According to them, your card was delivered yesterday.  They left it on your doorstep.”

Me: “They delivered the wrong card yesterday.  That’s why I called back so many times!!  They said they were sending me ANOTHER card!”

Jiva: “Can you verify the last 4 numbers of your card again?  It should be <yyyy – the new card’s digits>”

Me: “The last 4 numbers on the card AmEx sent me is <xxxx – the CANCELLED card’s digits>”

Jiva: “Hold please”

He speaks to the US folks some more, comes back to me, and gives me a tracking number so that I can monitor the new shipment of the credit card.  He says it will arrive tomorrow.  I ask him what happened to the promised delivery from Sarah and the US person I talked to last night… he just says that something got messed up.

So now I continue to wait… will my new credit card show up tomorrow?  I certainly hope so!  Because if it doesn’t I think I will cancel my trip to Korea and head straight back to Singapore… since I have no way to pay for anything!

I just tried the tracking number.  Why am I not surprised that status says: “Not available…”

From American Express’s website on their “Lost or Stolen Card” section:
”You’ve lost your card, but there’s no need to lose hope too.”


This is how I feel.

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Top 10 Viral Videos of 2008

Time has listed the Top 10 Viral Videos of 2008.

My favorite is still the “Where the Hell is Matt? (2008)” though I enjoy the “Western Spaghetti” and “Hamster on a Piano (Eating Popcorn) ones too.

Home again

Well, a week later and I’ve left Seoul, traipsed through New York City, and arrived in Florida.  It’s always good to be home.  The quiet American suburb.

I went 48 hours without a shower upon leaving Korea.  Early morning flight, 5 hours in Tokyo (where I had a run-in with one of the airport shopping staff… trying to return a shirt I bought back in April that they had given me the wrong size for), and then the long flight to New York.  Upon landing I dropped my bags off at my friend’s apartment, changed, and rushed to get to my friend’s wedding reception in Brooklyn.

A good time ensued.

Perhaps too good of a time… stayed up too late and got so tired that I slept in my clothes on the sofa… waking up just a few minutes before the shuttle to the airport arrived.

Sadly this is when I noticed my wallet was gone.

But I had to rush, so off I went to the airport and flew home to Florida.  In the same clothes from the night before and still unshowered from Korea.

When I got home, priority #1 was to take a hot shower… and standing under that stream of water was like standing in heaven itself.

Now I am overseas with no cash, no credit cards, no access to money… a right pickle of a situation to be in.  With a return through New York City and Seoul for a few days before Singapore.  Boy I hope American Express lives up to their word about rushing me a new credit card.

Some snapshots (mainly of food) from Korea:

Korean BBQ!  Intestines are on the grill… and they tasted delicious.  Perfect texture and covered with a sweet sauce.

Ice skating outside the Hyatt

Lobby of POSCO Center – the building where the Microsoft office is

Seoul, Korea

I’m in Seoul, Korea.  Haven’t seen much… as is typical of a business trip I had an early-morning flight, leaving me with little sleep the night before.  Staggered through Changi airport in a daze… confused by the vodka promotion involving men in top hats and women in skimpy dresses dancing… next to the Christmas pagoda featuring Mickey and Minnie Mouse.  At 7:30 in the morning, it’s a little too much.

After years of frequent flying, I have had a fair number of terrible seatmates on airplanes.  Today’s was the worst I’ve experienced.  This lady coughed every 10 to 15 seconds… for the whole flight.  Five and a half hours of coughing, sneezing, wheezing, and peppering our row with used tissues.  I wouldn’t be surprised if she got put into quarantine at the airport for showing symptoms of SARS.

Seoul is big.  The bus took 90 minutes to get to the hotel… driving through a massive urban sprawl.  A mix of Beijing, Los Angeles, and high-tech wizardry of Tokyo.  With no English.  I’m coming back through in a couple weeks on vacation so will get to look around more then.

Anyang Seoul!