Archive for January, 2009

What Chinese New Year means to me

Chinese New Year – typically an occasion for families to come together for reunion dinners, house-visiting, and awkwardness for anyone single above the age of 25.  The family dinner on New Year’s Eve is probably the most significant meal a family will have for the whole year.

For me, being a foreigner with no family here, Chinese New Year has taken on a different kind of celebration.  During the early new year period (New Year’s Eve and the first two days), food courts, hawker centers, and most other businesses are closed.  As these are the places where I get my meals from, it becomes difficult to eat.  A little planning is necessary.

So I have dubbed Chinese New Year the FESTIVAL OF FAST FOOD.  It lasts for 3 days and also involves visiting… visiting the temples of Mcdonalds, Subway, Burger King, and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

It is a celebration of the vitality of life… being able to eat quickly, cheaply, and getting your full range of nutrients, additives, and processed chemicals.  When I order my food take-away, there is sheer joy in walking home, the french fries in the brown paper bag tempting me to dive in immediately.

Of course there are customs during this Festival of Fast Food:

– Similar to how one is not supposed to wash their hair on the first day of the new year (it washes away wealth), one is not allowed to wash their fingers after eating KFC until first licking them. 

– Before eating the Lo Hei salad for CNY, the sweet dressing and wonton skins need to be put in… which is the same rule that you never eat a Subway sandwich without adding at least mustard, mayonnaise, or vinaigrette.

– Wearing red during CNY is important to scare away evil spirits and bad fortune.  In the Festival of Fast Food, the corresponding rule is to drizzle ketchup all over any french fries. It wards off the perils of overcooked fries and too little salt. On a related note, I enjoy soggy Mcdonalds fries.

– For CNY, they say what you do the first day of the year will reflect the rest of the year.  That is why on the first day one must eat at Burger King.  Cause after all, it’s good to be king.

Follow these traditions and you will enjoy a bountiful Festival of Fast Food.

可能从天空熔化,奶酪,并在薯条斯普劳特从地球。 大腹部及所有的流动血管!

艺术节的快餐

(You can translate the above from Simplified Chinese to English)

May the cheese melt from the skies and the fries sprout from the earth. A big belly and flowing arteries for all!
Happy Festival of Fast Food!

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445.

This post is simply to change the number of entries on this blog to a total of 445 rather than four-hundred forty-four.  That would have been an inauspicious start to the year.

Says the small superstitious part of me.

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

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Blogtv.sg gets a silver

Last year I co-hosted a show called Blogtv.sg on Channel News Asia.  It was a lot of fun.  My co-host was Phin Wong, an editor for MediaCorp’s daily Today paper, and every week we would have a different topic to talk about that related to young adults.  What I personally enjoyed was being pushed to think about issues that would never come up in my daily job (where most of my thoughts are focused) and also getting to meet the various guests on each episode.

Congratulations to the Blogtv.sg production team for winning a silver at the New York Festivals.  The producers do all the legwork for the show… researching the topics, finding guests, and preparing “homework” for the presenters to learn and utilize during the discussion.  The episode that won the silver was about Sex Education and was filmed at Jurong Junior College.  I remember a spirited discussion, some very forward students, and a pretty teacher.

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Phin and I dressed up before the episode about whether Singapore was ready to accept a female prime minister.  The ever helpful Soon Ling was probably yelling at us or criticizing my tie.

Go to www.blogtv.sg for the most recent season hosted by Phin and The Flying Dutchman.  (And while we won an award for the “Sex Education” episode, I hear they might be in a bit of trouble for their “Am I gay” ep!)

Written on the HP Mini 1000 after a Microsoft all-hands meeting to talk about the recent layoffs.  Conveniently scheduled for 1 in the morning here in Singapore.

Microsoft layoffs

Layoff.  What an ugly word.  I’m not sure which sounds worse to the ears… retrenchment or layoff.  I guess retrenchment is worse.  Good thing that Microsoft is an American company and we use the word layoff instead of retrenchment.

It was just announced that Microsoft is laying off 5,000 employees over the next 18 months. 1,400 of those positions will be eliminated today.

They will be offering the affected employees severance pay.  (Follow the link for a good resource regarding severance).

These sad, sad economic times…

It’s your show now

Barack Obama has been sworn in as the new President of the United States of America.  It’s time for the high expectations placed on him to begin turning into reality.

To me, he’s an icon of hope, inspiration, and unity.  I find it odd I feel so strongly towards him – he hasn’t been “proven”… sure, he battled his way through a bitter campaign, but that could be a sign of personal ambition more than anything else.

And yet, I tune in to his inauguration late at night here in Singapore to see if I can experience any of the atmosphere surrounding Washington DC, to watch the joy of folks across America that have gathered together, and listen to his words once again.

“Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.” – Barack Obama

The American dream is still alive.

Read the transcript of Obama’s inauguration address
Photos from the inauguration

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I want to be friends with Hello Kitty

When I signed up for Xbox Live years ago, I chose “Hello Kitty” as my gamertag.  I thought it would be fun to slaughter people at games like Halo or Gears of War and hear them scream out, “#!$@ I got killed by Hello Kitty again!”

What I did not expect were the types of people that would try to add me as a friend on Xbox Live based on my gamertag.

Here was a recent one.

Gamertag: 0oH3LLO KiTTYo0
Name: Sonia
Bio: “THERE I WAS IN A CAVE IN HELLO KITTY ISLAND WERE ALL OF SUDDEN THE GREAT BEAR ATTACKED ME I RAN UNTIL I WAS IN THE END OF A CLIFF THERE I SAW A MAGIC WAND AND HELLO KITTY HOLDING IT IT WAS AN EPIC BATTLE AND SHE CAME OUT VICTORIUS SO I GAVE HER SOME MEOW MIX SHE PURRED LIKE A WALRUS SEXY”

Voice message 1: “Hey I just want to be friends, I love Hello Kitty too. You can add me please so we could play games together. ‘K? Byyeeeeeee!”

Voice message 2 (sent 1 minute after message 1): “I JUST WANT TO BE YOUR FRIEND… PLLLLLEEEEEEEAAAAAASEEEEEEEEE!  ‘K BYE!”

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Written on the HP Mini 1000 while in front of the tv thinking about which game to play before the weekend ends and Monday begins.

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5 thoughts for the Singapore Tourism Board

Tonight I’ve been asked to participate in a focus group that will be discussing Singapore’s tourist attractions.  I’m not entirely sure if that is the topic as they don’t tell you what the focus group is about, but in the “qualifying” statements they listed:

  • I am a foreigner who has lived in S’pore for at least 2 years
  • I have hosted visitors from abroad
  • There are aspects of Singapore’s culture that intrigue me
  • I am NOT in the marketing / advertising and travel / tourism / hospitality industry
  • I have been to most of these cities: Bangkok, KL, Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai

So in preparation for this focus group, I’ve thought about what I like – as a foreigner – when it comes to tourist sites in Singapore and some areas in which I think the Singapore Tourism Board should think more about.

1) Promote Little India
I know most locals seem to hate the place.  Mention Little India’s appeal and their first response is, “Have you seen it on a Sunday??”  Yes, I have.  It’s like one massive street party with a smattering of Bengali, Sri Lankan, South Indian, and Nepalese culture.  What’s that?  A Buddhist temple near a Hindu temple?  Awesome.  Bright colors scream out from the stalls, the smells of spices and fragrances are everywhere, and when I walk along Dunlop Street or Desker Road I can marvel at a part of Singapore that is still a bit raw.  When I have visitors, a nice walking tour is:

  • Start on Waterloo Street & Middle Road – walk down Waterloo past the Hari Krishna temple and the Buddhist temple.
  • Head into Little India.  Cut through Rochor Centre before Little India and it’s a nice contrast from a Chinese enclave to the Indian one.
  • Drop by Post Museum – see an exhibit, drink some organic wine (actually don’t – that stuff is nasty – but their other drinks are good)
  • End up at Mustafa.  Eat.

2) Sell on Unique
Build or develop interest in things that make Singapore unique.  Example – Attraction-wise: Night Safari.  That is unique.  (or at least it was – and it’s still the best night-time zoo experience).  Concept-wise: Singapore is a mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and British culture.  Leverage it.  Small country, big city… it might not be unique for shopping, the beach or nightlife, but show me how I can get the best of all 3 in a very short time.  S’pore is easy to get around, I won’t get stuck in (much) traffic, so I can overwhelm myself with activities.

Wait, I just realized that Singapore’s tagline is Uniquely Singapore.  Then we go and do things like build the Singapore Flyer.  What was the point of it?  Taiwan, UK, China, elsewhere… all have “observation wheels.”  I wonder if there has been a single tourist that said,”I want to visit Singapore to ride the Flyer.”  It’s not a draw.

Fun things to do:

  • Get some kaya toast, runny eggs, and kopi for breakfast
  • Head to Sentosa – lay on the beach.  Or if you’re so inclined, check out a museum / attraction
  • After enough sun, relax at Cafe del Mar or come back for a drink at Raffles Hotel (and a stroll around City Hall).  Take a nap.
  • Go to the Night Safari.  Eat dinner there (even though they price gouge you – seriously 5 dollars for lime juice??)
  • Still have energy?  Go to Clarke Quay.

3) Nightlife as a tourist attraction
I’m ambivalent about this.  I think the redevelopment of Clarke Quay was a positive and the combination of nightlife spots such as Clarke Quay, Dempsey Hill, Robertson Quay, etc. make Singapore a top place for night time fun.  I can see that people come to Singapore and know they will have fun.

However I disagree with ideas such as the Crazy Horse debacle (I wrote a column once on how quickly that would fail) or Supper Club (what I consider the Singapore Flyer of nightlife).  Generally, dinner is dinner and a show is a show.  Dinner + show w/ trapeze artists or topless girls = gimmick.  And gimmicks don’t last.

For a big night out:

  • Start at Robertson Quay or Dempsey.  Both have places to “ease” into the night with drinks and dinner.  Loof would be another good choice.
  • Move over to Clarke Quay for the variety and larger rowdier crowd.  Drink profusely.  On a sidenote don’t go to Le Noir because their customer service is atrocious.  (I can never resist voicing my disdain for Le Noir and Supper Club).  I suppose if you’re more Chinese-nightlife oriented you could head to St. James Powerstation instead of Clarke Quay.
  • Zouk is always good late night.
  • And the best part – a greasy supper at Spize.  Get a chicken murtabak and you just might have enough left over for breakfast the next day.

For a sleazy night out:

  • Substitute the Zouk portion above with any KTV with hostesses – if you have some money to burn, go to Tiananmen.  As a westerner this will be guaranteed humorous as you will have no idea what is going on.

For a super-sleazy night out:

  • Add in a stop to Orchard Towers.  “Four Floors of Whores”  And remember to check if that’s really a girl who is grabbing your merry-maker.

But remember, always eat supper and drink some water!

4) Singapore as a shopping destination

I understand why STB wants to promote Singapore as a shopping destination.  It makes money, it’s good for the economy… get the rich tai-tais from Indonesia to come here and spend their money.  My issue with it as a focal point is that promoting Singapore as a shopping destination does not increase the country’s cultural reputation.  Some other place puts on a sale or builds a bigger mall and boom – there goes Singapore’s tourism campaign.

I don’t know why there is such promotion of Orchard Road as the place to see.  A string of shopping malls.  How exciting.  You know what other cities promote themselves by using shopping malls as attractions?  Manila and Dubai.  These are not cities that Singapore should mimic when it comes to tourist satisfaction.

At the focus group tonight (I started writing this before the focus group), they played a video that was supposed to highlight Singapore attractions.  You know what one of the scenes was?  The front of the Bvlgari store.  Videos promoting a country’s tourist industry should not include nonsense like the Bvlgari logo.  Last I checked the brand did not originate in Singapore and I can buy their stuff anywhere in the world.  I did have a chuckle that it was right after the testimonial by Koreans about how they enjoyed Singapore when they showed the logo.

But fine, if shopping beckons:

  • Orchard Road for the standard shopping mall experience.  At least eat some ice cream bread sandwiches on the street
  • See if there’s anything quirky you can find at Bugis Village
  • Stroll down Haji Lane and feel uncool cause everyone else there is young and hip.  Have a coffee at Pluck.
  • End up at Sim Lim Square and buy electronics. :)

5) Chase the pink dollar

That’s right – convince the gay community to come vacation in Singapore.  Apparently from 2001 – 2005 Singapore flirted with the gay community… allowing large-scale parties such as Nation to be held – one party drawing 8,000 people, 40% of which were foreigners.  However in 2005 the government rejected the application for Nation ‘05.  The party then moved to Phuket and whimpered out.

Bring the reputation of acceptance and the pink money back.  If the happiest place on earth allows it, Singapore should too.

(Written on the HP Mini 1000 while eating at Don Pie Club @ China Square. Now my new keyboard has chicken pie grease on it.  I guess this is like a road test).

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