Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bali, here I come

First time booking and taking a low-cost carrier Air Asia go overseas, it was fun in doing the booking, pre-selecting the meals we want at a discount and also deciding whether to do the same for return trip, every step is new but easy. Went to Bali with Lynn from 11-14 Dec 09 for a 4D3N short break to unwind and experience the sunshine, beach and see the adorable dolphins which Neo Chian has written in his blog.

2 Upon arrival at Denpasar Airport at 8pm, driver Ermai picked us up and recommended us to go for a seafood dinner at Kedonganan Beach, nice restaurant in a carefree setting on the beach. It was packed with locals and tourists, have never dine so close to the sea in a romantic environment, and we can hardly see our food as it was very dim, but still enjoyable. I was attracted by the nearby BBQ corn stall and bought one to try, wow, so delicious.

3 After dinner, we checked into hotel for quick wash-up and retired. The next day, after surfing the net to check out Neo Chian’s blog on North Bali to see dolphins at Lovina Beach and Ermai told us it would be about Rp 800K getting there with 3-star lodging and Rp 700k without lodging, we decided to do our homework further by going down town to speak with the travel agents. So we quickly checked out hotel and put our luggage into the car and proceed to Ubud to do some enquiry with travel agent on the cost and details. You can see these beautiful picues taken at Ubi, The villas and lotus pond where we had our breakfast are at Siti Bungalow where we stayed on 13 Dec at Rp 250K (S$38) per nite.

We settled for the 1-way transport cost of Rp 130K (S$20) per pax and departed for Lovina at 11 am. It turned out to be a charter van with only 2 of us and the driver escorted us all the way to Lovina. It took us some 3 hours to get there and it was a scenic drive up and down the mountains where temperature differs by about 6 degree (as cool as 19 degree up the hill). In between, the kind driver helped us to select durians but at the end we didn’t buy as it was not ripe and more costly than in Spore. Lunch was at the small restaurant near Gitgit twin waterfall, the fried rice was not appetizing and with too much of MSG, it nearly made me sick and vomit. At 2 pm, we arrived at Lovina and started looking for accommodation, the rooms at Niwana Hotel was not bad at Rp 150k (S$23) per night, but the timely sms from Neo Chian has led us to a better hotel Aditya at Rp 300K (S$46), it was not only value for moeny but excellent ambience and comfortable accommodation. Thanks very much Neo Chian.

4 After having a walk in the town centre under the big hot sun for nearly 2 hours, we told ourselves that what we we need was to dip into water urgently. After a good swim, we booked with the front desk for the evening outdoor massage near the beach within the hotel compound. The hotel service and security are very good. They got the security guard to escort us to the beach area and handed us over to the masseurs at 8 pm. It was really a fantastic massage experience i had never had and experienced before at only Rp 66K (S$10) per hour not to be missed, excellent massage skill with lovely rhythm of the sea wave in a quiet ambience. The dinner at the hotel café was also delicious with tomato soup, club sandwich and Bali pancake plus attentive and courteous service.

5 We slept early that nite in order to get up at 5.15 am for the morning dolphin journey at 6 am. The boat men were already up at the beach waiting for us to get ready to board their boats for dolphin mission. The sun about to rise and we took some good shots of it, suddenly we were surrounded with so many boats in the open sea and all with one single purpose: chasing after the dolphins. We were very lucky to see more than 200 dolphins on that morning. Whenever there was sign that dolphins appeared, all boats “chiong” and rush forward, it can be quite harmful to the habitat if without control, maybe the authority should restrict the maximum of boats each day to protect the dolphin habitat.

We went back to the shore about 7.40 am and headed straight for breakfast as we were hungry and supposed to check out and board our transport to Ubud at 930 am. We were lucky to get a good bargain with a good SUV to just ferry us @Rp 220 (S$33). The driver was more skillful than yesterday with a newer SUV so we arrived in Ubud in 2.5 hour.

Looking for accommodation required some luck, at first Lynn thought of settling down in the first hotel along Jalan Kejeng, but I advised her to move on as it was too costly and the landlord refused to give discount at all. It was a blessing in disguise as we subsequently found the Siti bungalows which has 8 units of garden-setting villa and swimming pool and nice caretaker. We like the ambience and the room setting very much @ Rp 250K (S$43).

6 We were lucky to get a good transport (please see our car) with understanding driver Wayan bringing us to Kuta beach for lunch and shopping, view Hard Rock Hotel etc, then to Semiyak to check out other fashion offerings and new hotel development The Haven. The total journey of 8 hours only cost us Rp 350 (S$58). At night we went for another round of massage at Touch as recommended by an European lady @ Rp 60K (S$9) per hour, very skillful massage with good ginger tea (they were suppoed to closed at 9 pm when we arrived at 820 am, but decided to service us after our sweet persuasion), then had a wonderful pizza meal @ nearby Lotus Garden. Very delicious crisspy pizza and found out that they have an outlet in Clake Quay, Singapore.

7 The next morning we did a quick last minute shopping at Ubud and then board Wayan’s car at 1030 am headed for airport. The signage at airport was confusing as travellers were not sure where they should line up for check-in and where to buy airport tax. Hope Bali Airport Management can look into this so as to provide convenient to tourists and visitors. In addition, they can also consider collecting the airport tax when ticket is purchased instead of asking passenger to buy it at airport (as tourists tend to run out of cash on departure day.

8 Overall we found Bali people are nice and friendly. It was a relaxed and wonderful holiday for us, and we shall come back to visit this lovely place again in a less rush manner to really enjoy the offerings and culture.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Singapore zoo discovering

Have not been visiting zoo for the last decade and never realize spore zoo can be so charming and interesting till 30 Nov 09 morning when I went there early in the morning together with some 30 travel trade from China (Beijing, Shanghai, Zhejiang, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhongsan, Sichuan etc) and Singapore. My main purpose was to experience the famous programme of breakfast with Ah Meng (even though he died last year, but the name of the programme remains unchanged).

2 First, we visited the designated courtyard to view our dear elephants having breakfast. This is really my first time having such a close encounter with elephants, close look at their huge and longish mount, lip and how they used their long trunk to grab the food gently and sending into their mouth, break open the big watermelon and pineapple, they eat just fruits - mango, apple, and pineapple, very healthy right, our animals are all vegetarian, or to be exact, they are fruitarian!! Very interesting elephants breakfast programme, a lot of laughter and interaction among us. This surely is a good programme for kids and adults, connection developed when u are helping each other to feed the elephants and picture-takings.

3 Then we moved to the pool to witness elephants spa, yes animal also like us love to have spa. Look at the pictures u will see how enjoyable they are in the cool pool happily, just like us having our spa, wonderful. Maybe we should name this Animal Spa. Water splashing and laughter everywhere, all worries gone. No gap of age and race difference at all.

4 Never tasted the Zoo’s well-know breakfast with Ah Meng (Orangutan) until today also even though I have heard so much about it. It is really an experience shouldn’t be missed, the ambience of the restaurant in the zoo is so cozy and relax with nature around us, the buffet line up was good, and around us was a big group of 40-member European education group of teachers and students enjoying their breakfast. Food ran out pretty fast, but the replenishment came fast too. All were enjoying their meals till sweet announcement of Ah Meng made their appearance in the compound of the outdoor restaurant, many hi-tech cameras were clipping, people posing with them for pictures, queue quickly formed.

5 Can imagine Zoo promoters have put in efforts to design the programme however, maybe they should do away with the briefing since seeing/experiencing is believing plus the presentation was quite dry especially when the zoo representative from the education unit cannot communicate and market its products in Mandarin then it shows that we are not really in engaging the China education travel specialists seriously. In addition, we noticed a common language challenge facing our promoters when it comes to using Mandarin as a communication medium. Also found it quite strange that they make it a point as though it is a proud thing to make it known that their Mandarin is poor. Why? Should not they just go straight to the point of presenting it instead of announcing proudly to the audience that they are weak in Mandarin, what happen to our bilingualism? Would we do so when we do our presentation in English and tell the European/USA delegations that our English is sub-standard to them

6 Met a young zoo executive Michelle Tan, 18, just completed GCE”A” level and joined the zoo for 3 months, she did a wonderful insects tour (behind the scene nreeding area od butterfly, hundred-leg insect, red-knee spider etc) and tropical forest tour to see fruit bat, 2-toed sloth, butterflies drinking water etc for us with her cheerful and passionate spirit. At first, she did mention that she is not sure whether she could deliver in Mandarin but will try her best and I encouraged her just do it without hesitation as none of us know more than her and she is the expert in this field and we are students. She gladly tool up the challenge and did so thereafter. I hope all our fellow English-speaking Singaporeans would have the same attitude and spirit like Michelle (regret not taking a photo with her) when they are asked to do Mandarin presentation in future. No need to say sorry about it, just do it and believe u can make it. I have learnt a lot from this insect and tropical forest journey, please see the pictures taken during the tour.

7 I would highly recommended u to visit or re-visit the zoo if u have not done so or have done so more than 5 or 10 years ago. It is an absolutely wonderful gem we have in our tourism kingdom. Thanks to the zoo organization and their staff for keep the place so well and charming.

8 I briefly visited 2 hospitals – Raffles Medical and Gleneagle in the next 2 days. Raffles has good hardware and cozy environment, Gleneagle is equally good in hardware but need urgent upgrading as it looks dated and messy. In terms of software and understanding the needs of Chinese travel trade, there is still room for improvement and strengthening so as to capture a bigger share of the medical pie.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Tomorow (2010 and beyond)

Next year is 2010, a new beginning for the next decade, and there will be a brand new Singapore which we have helped to create and contributed efforts in making it happens - 2 intergrated resorts, more P2P exchange, YOG, first Universal Studios in south east asia, Marina Bay shaping up nicely which we can be proud of, all of us will be smarter after been through and survived the financial meltdown......

So i reserve this page to focus on the next chapter of my lifestyle in the new Singapore 2010 and beyond and embracing the next 10 years of fun and meaningful things i want to do for myself, family, comdres and Singapore. cheers

Today - tourism and me (2001-2009)

The last blog of Yesterday chapter was the life circled around Industry and Me. Today from 2001 to 2009 is the life about Tourism and me. Key feature is rhe well-knitted element of friendship.

2 Must admit that I was real sad and even tears to leave SIP on the last day of 30 Dec 2000 after the stint of 33-month national service mission which brought me happiness, job satisfaction and life fulfillment. I could not control my tears running while sending Neo Chian and his wife to Shanghai Hong Qiao airport for flight to Singapore and bid them farewell. But i told myself that i need to be brave to embrace the world and life after Suzhou and my mentor-friend. I will answer their calsl and go for it without hesitation when they happen.

3 I can still remember vividly in the MPV car dr3ven by a young CSSD driver Xiao Gu (who was the one fetched me to Suzhou when I first reported to work in 1998) NC passed me a farewell gift “LKY memoir” with his personal note of appreciation to my job done for supporting him. I cherish the book and words dearly. From that moment, it meant that the SIP chapter of Singapore management had officially ended. I didn’t follow them on the same flight as he has arranged for me to start work in JTC subsidiary Ascendas China in Shanghai from 2 Jan 2001. I then started my new career in Shanghai and making many China, Singapore, Taiwan and Malaysia friends.

4 More than half a year before handing over our management to the Chinese, Neo Chian, concurrently the JTC Chairman, started arranging new job at JTC, JTC subsidiary or GLC for all of us (the Singapore employees) to ensure continuity in our employment. The systematic arrangement has really helped to ease our anxiety greatly.

5 After spending some 7 months in Shanghai responsible for corporate services matters and establishing contacts in Shanghai for Ascendas China and concurrently holding a position in Singapore, my colleague and I missed Singapore and decided to return home to join the Ascendas HQ just focusing on China communications and public affairs.

6 After experiencing China, all our friends realized that thee is vast difference between working overseas and locally. Firstly, your scope of work suddenly became much smaller with little empowerment and tensions to be managed, so we all need to learn to adapt and operate within the work culture of “new” Singapore. Not easy, but afterall it is eventually adaptable and endurable. In between time, I joined the former JTC Chairman Wong to visit Suzhou for SIP International Advisory Meeting and also led a team of 6 Singapore media to SIP to report on SIP with the new Chinese management team and interviewed the well-known Vice Mayor Wang.

7 A year later, I was so glad to receive call from Neo Chian that he will be joining STB and invited me to join him there as they need my China expertise and experience. This is a brand new frontier to me as I know very little about tourism at that time besides the love for traveling and eyes for China. But, really, my Suzhou training and experience came in very handy and great help to me when I jumped into the unknown water.

8 The first major and most memorable task for me was to fly to Beijing together with a senior colleague during Sars in April 2003 to meet up with the then China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) Chairman He and Director-General Shen and to better understand China’s imposition of travel ban to South East Asia countries and explain our position as well as establishing rapports. It was not easy to secure a meeting with the Chairman, but through our network in Beijing, we managed to pull through and had a fruitful meeting with him. And in 2006 Spring, after various discussions and at the twist of moment, I helped to secure our new office to be set up in Beijing, thanks to the full support of the then CNTA DG.

9 A new encounter and a lot of things for me to learn to develop the China market to attract more Chinese and HNWIs to visit Singapore as tourism is a new growth engine for Singapore economic development. Through our contacts and networks built in Suzhou, we further chartered our education tourism drive from 2004 till now to cover Eastern, Western and Northern and Southern China with the support of Jiangsu, Suzhou, Wuxi, Shaanxi, Jilin and Fujian networks and related Singapore agencies. It is a very challenging and satisfying mission. I enjoy the journey and the process plus the friendship built along the way throughout China becomes the great asset to me and people around me.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Yesterday : A blink of eyes, some 10 years ago

I was in Suzhou working for SIP Project. Before this, I had never thought of working overseas especially in China, but a surprise phone called from Neo Chian (JTC CEO) in Dec 07 was a game changing call of my career. He requested me to join his team for SIP Project and advised that I could do a recee trip to Suzhou to have a feel of the project before making up my mind. I knew there is no way I could turn it down since it is our flagship G2G project. After recee and consulting my sister/brothers and friends/colleague, I took up the challenge and plunged myself into the ocean of turbulence.

2 I was glad that it turned out to be a blessing in disguise – the posting had developed me into a China-ready specialist with special love for Chinese culture/heritage, strengthening my understanding of the Chinese process/practices, and established a good network of friendship.

3 I was honoured and privileged to have the rare opportunity to work on this important and delicate project collaborated by the two countries (Singapore and China) led by many heavy weight and brilliant Chinese and Singapore leaders. I had learnt a lot of invaluable lessons and experiences from them. Money cannot buy all these, it required 天时地利人和. It was the golden time of my career which has impacted the outlook of my life, and has left me with a very fond/unforgettable memory, impression and unique experiences that I will always cherish, and can proudly share with my grand siblings and friends. A big thank you and deep appreciation to my best boss-mentor--friend, Neo Chian.

4 The first 18 months of my Suzhou posting was extremely taxing (very different from the usual desk-bound admin/civil service work) with little play and break, very tense working environment, a lot of coordination and adaptation (both with Chinese and Singapore relevant authorities), meetings over meetings (never expect there were so much of meetings for just an industrial development project), a lot of surprises and unexpectated incidents, drafts over drafts, reviews over reviews, rounds and rounds of negotiations, big and small, over weekdays and weekends, seems like never ending, standby at all time, always on alert mode even when it was a off day. Joyful moments were the ones when we achieved small and big breakthroughs over negotiations and discussions. When our bosses were happy, we the staffers jumped to real joy as all the sleepless nights paid off.

5 The famous 50-50 (half-half) settlement formula deal was coined by Neo Chian and the former SIPAC Chairman Xie Jiabin over the numerous project-focused meetings at SIPAC/CSSD meeting rooms. Otherwise, things just got stuck there and could not move. With these, both win. So I learn how to achieve win-win from Suzhou project. It is easy say than done, but we delivered.

6 Jumping at and turning on notebook, taking down notes, trying to remember who said what, tones of translations, interpretations, contacting colleagues for late night meetings and gathered at his apartment in Singa Plaza or Lakeview Apartment was normal and common. The only peaceful and break time we had was when Neo Chian flew back to Singapore for JTC matters, but we can’t be too happy for long, the next moment, he touched down in Shnaghai Hongqiao Airport and zipped to office and appeared in Suzhou and we were back to square one. Long hour of office work, skip lunch, chewing biscuits, late supper were a norm until negotiations concluded in end June 1999.

7 To me and comrade Waiyee (must thank her for taking good care of me settling down for the job in the early part of the tenure), the most unforgettable and memorable incident was the Mar 08 site inspection of the 70 sq km SIP by the entire SIP Singapore working team on a first Saturday morning when Neo Chian just assumed his office as CSSD CEO, and coincidentally, that was also the first time Suzhou snowed in March. We (including the current MOS (T&I) Yishyan) braved the snow and cold wind, shivering and setting our foot on the vast land and ponds earmarked for this Sino-Singapore cooperation project, the unique experience that we would never have it and been through in Singapore – the tropical city. After the whole morning of cold wind and snow, the best thing we had for lunch at 2 pm was rice with the big plate chicken with chilli served at the Xinjiang Restaurant near North Gate railway station.

8 Another unforgettable incident was the so-then-long meeting of the 3-member team (KBW, LCO, LNC) negotiation between Singapore and Jiangsu/Suzhou (LBH, CDM, XJB) lasted through midnightand concluded at 5 am. During negotiations, I, a member of the key support team, was required to stay awake throughout the night as we need to be ever ready with facts and figures and materials at any one time to support the negotiation team and prepared the concluded document for immediate signatures.

9 The then Suzhou Party Secretary Liang Baohua (current Jiangsu Party Secretary) happened to walked pass our operation room and was surprised to see only 2 staffers in the Singapore room doing the work and commented that they had far too many over their camp. When concluded at 5am, we jumped to joy and quickly washed up and went for early breakfast, then rushed back to apartment, pick up documents, heading for office to work on details on a Saturday afternoon. You can imagine how hard Neo Chian drives us, and he is really a tough master!

10 Neo Chian is a man of principle, very understanding boss and always willing to listen and have staff welfare at heart, a socialist when distributing welfare. He made it a point to dine with us at lunch or dinner whenever he was in Suzhou, and we like the community-living, upstairs-downstairs neighbours. I enjoyed most was when his wife and family/friends were in Suzhou, then I could sample the home-cooked food, otherwise, everyday was an eat-out dinning. Toh Sim and wife Woi Lee is a very lovely couple who always provided me with needed comfort and soup, cheese cake, teh talek and blue mountain coffee. Yummy Yummy.

Neo Chian is very hands on, extremely hardworking with elephant memory (we admired his super brainpower). SIPAC people regarded him as an iron man who is very fit, doesn’t take lunch and hardly rest. Frequent inspections of factory, road construction, central park development, walked the ground, CPE, midnight emails, early morning and late night meetings… we dare not tell him that we cannot cope and hope that he can slow down……we, the proudly team, thriving on for the G2G project…….
11 Life after the negotiations is hectic but not as colourful and dramatic as before, both sides worked together closely to deliver the agreed agenda including the selection and training of new Chinese management team to take over the Singapore management on 1 Jan 2001. Some 20 Suzhou officials including the current SIPAC Party Secretary/Chairman, and CSSD Chairman/CEO went through the 3-month training programme in Singapore and then posted to CSSD for on-the-job attachment for 9-month. Both Singapore and Chinese team worked well together during the transition and friendship blossom. To commemorate our work done in SIP and the Sino-Singapore cooperation, Neo Chian commissioned NUS to do a commemorative coffee table book In Unison (I created the Chinese name 圆融)and engaged Singapore artiste Sun Yu Li to design a scultpure entitled Unison @ Jinji Lake, uneviled by SM Lee in June 2001.
We were all presented a copy of the book and a thank-you message by the then DPM lee Hsien Loong and Neo Chian in 2001. On the 10th SIP anniversay in 2004, Neo Chian presented us with a SIP commemorative coin to thank us for the contribution.These are all priceless and invaluable gifts to us that touched our hearts and minds.

12 In addition to this very unique scope of work, I was glad to have opportunities to visits various cities whenever leaders visiting us or during our free time in four different seasons eg Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Yangzhou, Wuxi, Jiangyin etc and sampled a lot of hairy crabs, red wine, 鸡头米,奥灶面, 三头, 东坡肉 etc. The most memorable trip one was the bainian mission in Nanjing in Jan 2000 when it was snowing heavily and we needed to rush back to Suzhou for the next session of bainian with Suzhou Party Secretary and we had to leave the car behind and just took train back to Suzhou. You guess how many hours did it take for the car to travel back to Suzhou from Nanjing? A long 8 hours!!

My greatest takeaways from the Suzhou posting is the friendship and rapport established with both Chinese and Singapore comrades Neo Chian, Toh Sim, Wai Yee, Yean Chau, Yishyan, Siong Leng, Paul Zhong, Kim Guan, Mak, Raymond, Bernard, Clarissa etc. Chinese leaders and friends like Liang, Chen Deming, Xie Jiabin, Shen Mingde, Pan Yuanguan, Zhao Dasheng, Lily Xie, Li Feng, Zhang Yi Hong, Zhao Ping, Shen Sufeng,
Feng Zhenggong, Zhou Yuan, Jiang Yushou, Chen Qining, Ma Minglong, Barry, Du Jianhua, Zhao Zhisong, Zhao Yiqun etc

13 The proudest moment was the day we got invited by SM Lee for the appreciation dinner held in Istana in July 1999. What an honour right!! DPM Lee, Ministers, Permanent Secretaries, Dy Secretaries, statutory board Chairmen etc were all there to attend the private closed-door reception. I can never imagine I would have the chance to sit so close to MM and meet him face2face and chatted with him (he interviewed us to be exact). That was the most unforgettable and memorable tempura dinner I had for my life and will never forget! The only regret I had was we forgot to take photograph with him. But I made it up in 2004 when SIP celebrated 10th year anniversary where SM Lee was the GOH, and Neo Chian reminded me to have a picture with SM, and I did. The picture, taken with SM Lee and Mrs Lee on 9 Jun 2004, was the only photo I displayed in my work station. My new colleague Indrani yesterday saw the picture and was so envious about it as MM Lee is his hero.

14 Delighted to have the chance to work and build up close rapport with the current key SIPAC and CSSD Chinese officials as they were all our colleagues from end 1999 to 2000. Both sides established strong friendship with mutual understanding and aligned interests. I am gladly delighted that SIPAC Chairman Ma personally chaired the 1-hour dialogue with me recently and CSSD Chairman Du hosted me to dinner last year after his promotion. How nice to note that our distance is just a phone call/sms away!

Good morning Botanica Garden

never realised botanic garden can be so happening on a weekday.

many people are there having their morning walk and exercise, groups of different activities happen at the same time.........gardeners watering the plant.......everything is so peaceful and green.....good day!!

went there this morning at 745 am sharp with an intention to learn qi kong, ended up i learnt qi kong and a little folk dance. After 30 min of these 2 exercise, i noticed that my stick neck gone:-)

quick walked back to office and took a shower, wow, our office shower room is so cosy and user friendly, first time using it, should have used it since it was up in early 08.

Start work at 9am:-) Cool!

will do it more regualrly from now onwards, hopefully every tues and fridays as the folk dance instructors says she will be there.