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.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


1. My good old friend of over 15 years Susan from KL came to Singapore last weekend and we had a really fun and unforgetable time at Takashimaya food court together with friend Li Choo.

2. We started chatting from the topics of her brother’s wedding, parents’ health status to Temasek saga at Wisma Atria Starbucks, a cozy corner with plug-n-play gadget, but seriously, if I were the owner, I may want to change the business model as there are just far too many "customers" hanging there for too long with little financial contribution to the management. And the whole place is like a market that not worth to pay for a coffee at $5, so we adjourned to Takashimaya food court for a traditional Ya Kun coffee.

3. As we were too engrossed and excited with the topic of blogging, suddenly, my cup of coffee flew and splashed onto my hair, face, half of the t-shirt and jeans. Li Choo was very cool about it and escorted me up to my regular beauty saloon for a clean-up, but unfortunately, it was closed for Deepavali holiday. We ended up in the restroom next door (after we got in, the door was automaticallly locked without our knowledge), and she kindly helped to soap and wash the entire t-shirt for me…..and for Susan, she went ahead to buy a new t-shirt for me, otherwise, I cant step out of the restroom for the rest of the day. What a kind and thoughtful friends I have, really the friends indeed are the friends in need. Thanks a lot for the assistance and kindness, appreciate it.

4. Morale of the incident: have good and thoughtful friends around you, and always have a spare shirt in your bag just in case!!

We all will never forget the coffee saga of 17 Oct 09, the Deepavali.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Beijing Rediscover 2

1. I am sure most bloggers know the name of these 2 beautiful architectural structures:-) they are the Olympics Stadium (Bird's Nest) and the Grand Theatre of the Performing Arts (nickname: Bird's Egg).

2. It was really a rewarding shopping spree holiday. On 3rd day, we cant resist anymore and went to the well-known Xiu Shui Street 秀水街 shopping mall, Hong was overwhelmed, many things to browse from the latest design of shoe, bag (all brands) to sports attires and accessories, at the end we bought a LeSportsac backpack to stuff in all our collections of the day. After a simple lunch opposite at Yong He Soya Bean永和豆浆 fast food, we proceeded to China World 国贸shopping mall, very few shoppers compared to Xiu Shui street but it offered all the genuine brands Gucci, Loewe, LV, Feragamo, Long Champ etc and some with good discounts, however, after conversion, the price is still at least 20% higher than Singapore, so we prefer to come home to do the purchase and let Singapore earn the spending. Our dinner was at a well-patronized Golden Lake 金湖Hong Kong Restaurant in 国贸which offered tasty Cantonese cuisine at affordable price. A very satisfying and delicious meal.

3. On 4th day, we decided to go slow and got up late but still have a packed programme for the whole day. We proceeded to take a look of the nearby Chang Fu He public park菖蒲河公园, it was very serene, and we envied beijingers to be so lucky of having such a green lung right in the heart of Changan street and Tiananmen Square, then visited the must-see National Grand Theatre for Performing Arts国家大剧院, it is architecturally wonderful (but the theatre management and flow of human traffic control require immediate and serious improvement, maybe our esplanade can share our expertise with them). We bought tickets to see orchestra performance at night, ticket price RMB 200 (reasonable good seat). It was a very high standard performance by the over 100-strong亚洲青年交响乐团. We enjoyed it thoroughly. On the same day, we had lunch with friends at the famous ducking restaurant大董烤鸭, yummy and Hong kept asking me to go back the next day, but I advised her to try other things as Beijing got a lot more delicious things to sample. Late afternoon, we went spa with my local friends at 8号公馆, soaping, scrubbing, relaxing and refreshing. Singapore lacks of this type of enjoyment and pampering service to make us feel like a queen.
4. The 5th day I did a brief catch up with Singapore friends over lunch and bumped into many Singapore embassy officials whom I know over the years, an unplanned gathering. Next, we took subway to another happening place in Beijing ie 三里屯. At first I am not so sure whether the subway will bring us there or not but I saw the station name the day before when I was in the taxi, so my guts feel is that if we take to 团结湖 station then 三里屯 should be somewhere near. It turned out to be true and三里屯has been transformed with so many interesting fashion outlets in addition to the forever Ya Xiu Fashion Mall, it now has a range of huge stores of Apple showroom, Uniqlo, Addidas, Mango, Chanel, 3.3, bars, boutique hotel etc. Can u imagine, the most unbelievable thing I bought was a ipod nano @ RMB 100.

5. At the eve of our trip, we decided to visit grand hotel and find a unique place to sit down and have nice lunch to treat ourselves. We went to check out Grand Hyatt, coincidentally met my ex colleague Dayne who I have not seen for moons, then proceeded to lunch at the quiet Zen Restaurant 采蝶轩 at 23 前门 (a good and recommended place to have a quiet and tasty tim sum at Singapore price). Finally we go to the internationally known attraction of the Bird’s Nest. We went there by subway as we reckon that it would cost us a lot of time and money if we go by taxi. It was so sleek and cheap at RMB 2. We took the subway at 前门,go to 建国门 station, change to line 2 to China World 国贸,then change to line 10 for Bird’s Nest,alight at 北土城, then transit to Olympics Park奥林匹克公园, that is, we arrive in Bird’s Nest. We highly recommend friends and bloggers to try it when u next in Beijing. As it was very stunning hot in Beijing in the late afternoon, so guess what, we spent the next 4.5 hours in our favourite Taipan Regency 大班丽晶in the evening for massage and dinner. We both like in the heaven.

6. The morning before we went airport for our SQ home flight at 4pm, we went book store in Wangfujing王府井, have tim sum in Crystal Jade, then took our friendly taxi limousine to airport, and guess what, we bumped into the friend at the custom queue, that we are supposed to go and meet in Tainjin but due to lack of time, we scrapped it. It is all fated, god will always answer our calls to bring the people and things we want before usJ

7. It is a wonderful Beijing trip with our very own and unique programme. For this trip, we purposely took subway to experience Beijing, and we found that it is not only super economical, the subway route is really very convenient and effective as it brings commuters to all the key commercial and attractions at a cheap rate of RMB 2, everywhere u go. This is a very efficient and economical way to better know and understand a city and destination especially Beijing as it is highly congested and people get very frustrated over traffic jams.