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Sunday, December 31, 2006

I Am @ Youth.SG

I am @ Youth.SG
So, my blog has apparently caught the attention of some powers-that-be at Youth.SG. From their e-mail:
We have identified your blog as one of the popular youth blog around and we seek your help in making this event a success in the blogosphere.
Heh, really? Aw, geez, thanks! Considering that the daily traffic to this site is atrociously low and I don't tYpE lIkE tHiS (or is that "tYpE lIk DiS"?) nor post pretty pictures of myself, I'm actually kinda surprised that my blog is "one of the popular" ones.

But hey, if there's one thing I've learned, it's that one never bites the hand that feeds you... nor chastises the mouth that compliments you.

On with the show!

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I Am @ Youth.SG because I fall within the required age bracket of 15-35 years old for this contest.

I read "I Am @ Youth.SG" and find nothing grammatically wrong with it when used in its proper context (but will drive lots of English teachers crazy!)

I see the "@" in a sentence and don't think twice about how overused it's become. The same goes for dot-anything.

I can't keep a secret. But that's why we blog, right? Even this contest's organisers have to share theirs. In their e-mail, they talked about a "Mystery Grand Prize". But on their website, they announce that it's an Apple MacBook!

I don't give two hoots about copyright violations nor stealing other people/organisations/entities' designs.
Stealing designs? Me?
Hmm, this design looks similar to that of a certain Google-owned website...

I love consumer-generated media, like the photos at Flickr and videos at YouTube. And Stomp. Wow, what a swell idea! If I only I was as smart as the folks at SPH. Not only would I be able to use other people's media -- and copyrights -- for my commercial offerings (because, you know, they gave up their media willingly), I could also sue them under the Copyright Law for using my media and my copyright on their websites. It's win-win, I tell you!

But though the mainstream media doesn't care about my writings, that's just fine by me because I blog for an audience of one -- me! (Well, actually an audience of two... or five... maybe 10... and a couple of curious voyeurs...)

I Am @ Youth.SG... and plan to be back with another entry in two weeks' time because I want that iPod shuffle!

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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Holiday in Kuala Lumpur day 3

We had nothing planned for today except the journey home, so we slept in and had a late breakfast later. We then walked to Suria KLCC to buy some snacks, before returning to the hotel for a siesta.

We checked out at 1pm and waited for the coach to arrive, scheduled for 1:30pm. But due to a delay at the immigration, it was delayed till 3pm. Fortunately, the journey home was smooth and we arrived at our Singapore destination at 9pm.

Thus was my short holiday to Kuala Lumpur.

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Holiday in Kuala Lumpur day 2

After breakfast in the hotel, we went to the Petronas Towers to meet Terina, who was already in the queue for tickets to the observatory deck. The line was long, snaking four times in the small concourse. I took over the place from her so that she could resume her breakfast. Some time later, I saw that, after about 50 people behind me, there was a sign indicating that there were no more tickets for the day.

I stood in line for about an hour before reaching the counter. We were given the 3:45pm timeslot. With some time to kill before lunch, we went to the Aquaria, a newly opened aquarium at KLCC. When buying the tickets, the guy behind the counter asked if I was her boyfriend or fiance! We corrected him and laughed it off.

While there were lots of exhibits of sea creatures, there were also a few for land animals, e.g. snakes, spiders, a monkey, and more. We also stayed for a mermaid show, which was just a female employee taking occasional underwater dips in a small tank -- while dressed in a bikini top and tail-fin bottom.

Next stop was Chinatown, which we went to by LRT. I thought it strange that the automated ticketing machine dispensed only single-trip tickets, whereas for round-trip tickets, one had to buy them from a ticketing booth. The trip across five stations took about 10-15 minutes in the air-conditioned two-carriage trains.

We walked to Petaling Street and browsed the few stores. We also had lunch there. I had prawn noodles, which came in a spicy soup that left my tongue tingling. We then shopped for the next two hours or so. Our final loot: two soccer jerseys for Terina, a leather belt and a pair of Timberland shoes for me.

We then took the LRT back to KLCC for the Petronas Towers observatory deck visit. We waited about 10 minutes in a small theater, watching how the towers were built, before being ushered to a large elevator, where we were whisked up 42 floors in under a minute.

The view from up there was rather spectacular, though I was disappointed that there were a few skyscrapers directly in the line of sight. We were given only about 10 minutes up there, so we took a few photos and admired the view.

Terina had to leave then, so we went back to the hotel to relax. At 7pm, we walked to Bukit Bintang for dinner. Terina had recommended the restaurants at Starhill, but we found them a bit too pricey. We walked around for a while and were amused that, after crossing a road, the shopping malls and hotels were replaced by shophouses with dodgy stores. So I suggested that we turn back and eat at Kenny Roger's Roasted Chicken. It was a roadside outlet but not as noisy as I had expected.

After dinner, we stopped by a night market, but found that the things on sale there were similar to what we had found in Chinatown. So we walked back to the hotel for an early night.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Holiday in Kuala Lumpur day 1

Despite living so close to Malaysia, this would be my first time in Kuala Lumpur in about 10 years. The excuse this time was to visit a friend who had returned home from the U.S. for a holiday.

We arrived at our hotel, Impiana KLCC Hotel & Spa, on Thursday at about 4pm. After checking in, we then took a stroll across KLCC park to Suria KLCC, the shopping mall under the Petronas Towers. We didn't expect the walk to be so short, so we two non-shopaholics ended up with abour two hours to wander around the five-storey mall, ending with a cup of overpriced tea.

We met my friend, Terina, and her parents outside Burger King, then made our way up to a Chinese restaurant. It was my first time meeting her dad and third time meeting her mum. Dinner consisted of sweet-and-sour spicy soup, roast duck, bittergourd, prawns in thick cream, and dessert.

Over dinner, I caught up with Terina on her life. All of us also talked about our countries, weather, things to do in KL, etc. It also took me about half an hour to figure out how to send an SMS to her through mobile roaming.

We finished dinner at about 9pm. After arranging with Terina for the next day's activities, we went our separate ways.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Self-regulation of bloggers? part 2

Update: Malaysian bloggers have formed their own association.

Sometime back, I wrote my two cents (though I'll probably have to up that to five cents since one-cent coins are not in circulation in Singapore) on self-regulation of bloggers. Since then, I've come across two third-party blog entries that reference my entry, by Gerald Giam (are you my ex-classmate/school mate?) and Bernard Leong.

Gerald supports the idea of a Code of Ethics (yay!). Bernard has one question that I'd like to answer:

Do we need to form a bloggers association as suggested by Yadav?
Ideally, yes, it's probably a good idea -- in Singapore. Because our government likes structure. Forming an organisation doesn't mean painting a bull's eye target on itself. It means that members of this organisation agree to adhere to the Code of Ethics. It's like saying: "I hereby agree to adhere to the Code of Ethics. If I flout it, please shoot me (figuratively speaking)." So being a member of the organisation holds the blogger to a higher standard because it confirms his adherence to the Code.

This is similar to the Creative Commons, which I based the above idea on. A person who adheres to Creative Commons says, "I agree to use the Commons to allow my copyrighted work to be used by others under the specified restrictions. If I impose additional restrictions not mentioned in the specified licence, please shoot me (figuratively speaking)."

If a person doesn't follow Creative Commons, that doesn't meant he can't share his copyrighted work. It just means it's harder for a third party to figure out under what circumstances it can use that copyrighted work, if the person has allowed it to be shared.

Similarly, a blogger who doesn't follow the Code of Ethics does not necessarily exclude himself from adhering to the ethics. It just makes it more difficult for third parties -- including the authorities -- to figure out where he's coming from when he blogs.

To increase the chances of the Code of Ethics being acceptable in Singapore, especially in the courts, it's necessary, as I had suggested previously, to include the government, probably through a (ranking) minister or two, in its formulation and enactment.

Legally speaking, I've only heard of one case that came before a U.S. court over a third party who flouted someone's chosen Creative Commons licence. I'm not sure if the trial is over, and I forgot where I had read of it. It would be interesting to see the outcome of the case, because it would be a precedence to whether Creative Commons -- and possibly other community-created codes of conduct -- actually has any weight in the eyes of the law.

Similarly, it would be interesting to see how a breach of the Code of Ethics would play out in our Singapore courts. Which is why I advocate including the government in it. A community-created Code with government backing would, I believe, have more legal weight and moral standing when tested in a court of law.

So that's another of my two (or five, depending on what's in circulation) cents.

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

"Christmas with Corrinne May"

Update: I've noticed lots of referrals from Corrinne May's forum. If you're one of them,... hello! *waves hand*

Christmas with Corrinne May
I've just returned from the concert, "Christmas with Corrinne May", held at the Esplanade. As to be expected, it was a spectacular evening filled with heartwarming songs presented in a soulful, meaningful manner.

Each song was rendered in the same lush manner by Corrinne May, who was dressed in a dark blue evening gown, backed up by an incredible band and string orchestra that was totally in sync with her piano playing. There were few hiccups, no major boo-boos except for a minor audio issue that was laughed away casually. The only complaint I have is that, at times, her voice was drowned out by the loud background music, particularly the drums and guitars.

The song selection consisted mostly of tracks from her newest album, "The Gift". She also included a few songs from her previous albums, some unreleased songs, and a few bonus Christmas songs. Whereas most of her older songs had a more mainstream message, her selection this evening had an overt Christian tone. Perhaps she believed her audience has become more receptive to such music, especially at Christmas time.

And as is her signature style, she opened each song with a short, poignant story. This being a Christmas concert, all of her stories had a Christmas theme. Most of them were about her views about Christmas, from receiving presents in stockings to her first encounter with "snow" in a Singaporean shopping centre. She also reflected on the original Christmas story and wondered aloud how the people involved -- Joseph, Mary, the shepherds and the wise men -- must have felt that special night. All of this was done in a very childlike, innocent manner, which made the audience even more emotionally involved.

In the second half of the concert, the Singapore Youth Choir ensemble singers joined her on stage. It provided backup vocals that made her songs sound even more majestic. Together with the light display that shone all over the hall, the concert suddenly became more lively. So while it had started out on an intimate moment between Corrinne May and her audience, it ended as a full-on grand concert that made for a powerful, spectacular display.

But Corrinne May wisely ended the night with an encore that had a very personal touch. Accompanied only by her band, she sang "Have Yourself a Merry Christmas" with a touch of jazz. It was a quiet way to end a wonderful night of beautiful music.

Run-down of concert

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

I come bearing gifts...

Remember my wishlist for $20? Today was the day we received our gifts from our secret Santas. My secret Santa got me:
  • a donation ticket stub for a children's charity, which comes with a voucher for four movie vouchers from Eng Wah Cinemas (unfortunately, some would say)
  • a Coke bottle containing about $6.50 in one-cent coins, and
  • two two-dollar bills, or $4 in cash
Assuming I did not miscount the coins (yes, I really poured all of the coins out and counted 'em!), then that puts the donation at $9.50, for a total gift cost of $20. I had thought that the secret Santa only needed to buy one item from the wishlist. Little did I know that I would be saddled with a bottle full of copper coins.

I don't know who managed to scrounge up so many coins, especially considering that they are out of circulation. But I think it was a female employee. Why? Because not only was the bottle nicely wrapped in pink and green paper, but there was also a card saying that Santa and his friends from Hundred-Acre Wood, i.e. Winnie the Pooh and friends, had got me the gift. I can't imagine a guy doing all of that, even if he was gay.

Initially, I thought that I would deposit the coins, but now I think I'll leave them as they are. Besides, with one-cent coins out of circulation, I figure they would make a great treasure when I'm old and grey.

Later in the evening, we had our office year-end party at Table 108 at CHIJmes. In the lucky draw, I won... an iPod 30GB! Black! And it plays video! Wow! The Apple gods must be smiling on me. This is the second of two iPods that I've received absolutely free! On the other hand, I hardly listen to my older iPod and I don't have many iPod-ready videos. Anyway, if it becomes a white elephant, at least it's a free white elephant.

The top prize was a Sony PlayStation 3. I would've liked to have won it... so that I can sell it and use the money to buy a Nintendo Wii.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

UW-Madison stuff: McDonald's

McDonald'sWow, another landmark is closing in Madison. Looks like McDonald's closes on Christmas Eve. It's the small outlet along Lake Street, just before State Street, right next to a multi-storey car park (Google Map).

Actually, it took me almost a minute to remember this place. I guess that's a testament to its low profile, yet high importance. Because it was next to Madison Central that is State Street, where the bohemian shoppers and diners hang out all day, but also beside UW-Madison Central that is Library Mall, where students hang out in the summer.

I thought I had a "fond memory" of this outlet, but confused it with the Burger King branch further up the road (which I think has closed already). I suppose this memory will do: on the night my parents came to Madison for my graduation, we had dinner at this place because it was convenient, familiar and cheap, and we didn't want to think of where or what to eat.

Another memory would be when I had dinner there with a Singaporean and went too far into talking about quantum theory (because that had been my craze then). Yeah, she probably thought I was weird too.

All of these memories are making me overly nostalgic. Once, I had remarked to a Singaporean that we could return to Madison in 10 years, maybe even 20, and we would still be able to recognise the places. I'm starting to rethink that claim, especially with the planned redevelopment of the southeast area of campus.

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

UW-Madison stuff: commercial, student travel center

I finally decided to read the UW-Madison Alumni newsletters that I get in the e-mail, and discovered these two gems:
  1. A 30-second commercial (requires Quicktime) touting the achievements of the alumni (also on YouTube, which will probably be removed one day)
  2. Wisconsin Union Travel Center to close
The commercial looks kinda amateur-ish. I think it's due to the soft colours. And it sounds snarky. Then again, as the saying goes, "if you've got it, flaunt it!"

The travel center closure hit a soft spot for me. Not because I booked an alcohol-and-sex-party-filled spring break package through them. (Actually, I never booked an alcohol-and-sex-party-filled spring break package from anyone.) Nor did I go to them for overseas study advice, since I was already studying overseas.

Rather, it was the one place to buy discounted Van Galder (later, Greyhound) coach tickets from Madison to Chicago. Lots of fun trips were had from those coach trips, especially before I got the car. Most of the time, the trips were to-and-from the airport. Some were for Chi-town getaways.

I'm sure there'll be a new venue for current and future students to continue buying these discounted tickets. As for me and thousands of people around the world, those trips to the office in Memorial Union will just be another memory.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Self-regulation of bloggers?

Most Controversial Post
Update 1: continued in part 2
Update 2: I've noticed lots of referrals from Google and Yahoo Malaysia searches for "blog regulation singapore" or similar. If you are one of them,... hello! *waves hand*
Update 3: Malaysian bloggers have formed their own association.
Update 4: This entry has been nominated for the Most Controversial Post in Ping.SG's 1st Anniversary Blog Awards! Vote for me!


So, it looks like I'm late to the "party", but between work and sleep, I've had little time to mull over this... Which isn't entirely true because, in a way, this has been at the back of my mind for a long time.

But before I begin, here's some background reading for what I'm talking about:I'm not trained in the legal profession, so what follows is based on my layman's observation. Also, because of time, I'm not going to write out a full-fledged editorial.

The primary reason for self-regulation is to pre-empt the government before it enacts laws targeting blogging specifically. It seems to me that the fear of such an action by the government is due to the proposed amendment to the Penal Code, which will have explicit laws against illegal computer and online activity. And also because the government has explicitly regulated other media, like newspapers and TV (if one considers a blog to be a similar form of medium).

In other words, it's like bloggers telling the government, "Look, we're gonna police ourselves, so you don't have to do it for us, and as long as we (bloggers) play nice, would you be so kind as to focus on other matters at hand?" (Of course, not in such a frank and curt manner.)

On the other side are bloggers who say that blogging is all about free expression and "why should we subject ourselves to any form of regulation, whether self-imposed or not?" Also, enforcing such regulation on a group as diverse as bloggers is like telling bacteria not to reproduce.

Not to mention that there is the implicit requirement of forming an association to enforce the regulation on wayward bloggers. Which leads to the issue of why a blogger, especially one who values his anonymity, would want to register himself with an association. (And on a logistics side, how would a group blog be registered and regulated?)

And one more thing: the government has already taken action against bloggers using the Sedition Act. So what's the point of using up time and resources to enact regulation?

All kinds of cans of worms here...

Here's what I know:
  1. There are all kinds of bloggers. There are serious bloggers, like those mentioned above. There are teenage bloggers wHo wRiTe LiKe tHiS and use a lot of SMS-style language. There are satirical blogs. There are group blogs. There are even blogs written by politicians.
  2. Blogging, in general, is by nature a personal affair.
  3. The government used the Sedition Act to punish racist writers. However, the government can, at its discretion, use the Sedition Act to punish anyone who abuses a race or religion, which is the point of the Act. The Act does not target bloggers specifically.
  4. The Penal Code review is, to me, an exercise in updating it for 21st century realities, like consensual oral sex between husband and wife (yes, it's illegal as of this writing). One of these realities is the impact of the online world. I believe that the government does not see any distinction between online and offline speech. So, the Penal Code review brings it in line with existing laws, including the Misuse of Computers Act (I think that is its official name).
  5. Singapore does not have the First Amendment found in the Constitution of the United States. Bloggers here like to think that it does, but seriously, look it up in the Constitution and our laws, and you'll come up empty-handed. While the Singapore Constitution does guarantee free speech, there are a couple of caveats, including speech about race or religion, and anything that will "excite the people" about the government (use your own interpretation).
My thinking is that it's still possible to self-regulate local bloggers. It requires three parts to work successfully:

1. Follow the Creative Commons "opt-in" model.
(This is key. Everything else that I propose follows from this.)

Creative Commons is an "opt-in" system, that is, the publisher chooses whether to use Creative Commons or not. Creative Commons cannot force anything on him. Likewise, any regulation on blogs can be on an "opt-in" system. Opting in is like declaring publicly to follow the set of rules. It also means that the blogger has agreed to set himself to a certain standard which he will not deviate from.

There is no negative impact on not opting in. Just as publishers who don't explicitly use a Creative Commons license can still share their work if they choose to, likewise, bloggers who don't opt in can choose to blog according to the limits of the regulations. The difference is that the public will perceive them to be in a grey, "are they or aren't they?" area. There's nothing wrong with that. Opting into the regulation simply clarifies the blogger's position.

2. Form an association to enforce the regulation.
First, you opt in. Next, you put it down in writing. This goes against the Creative Commons model. However (and Singapore Angle will say, "Unfortunately"), we live in Singapore and are bound by its quirks. There is a better chance of closing an integrated resort than the government letting a bunch of bloggers run free with some so-called regulation.

The association could be like the Law Society, which enforces its rules and takes action against wayward members. When the government recognises that there is a proper method to the madness, I believe that it is more likely to trust the individuals involved and let them operate on their own.

3. Bring in a minister or two.
Yes, I'm serious about this. Without government backing, any self-regulation will just be hot air. The government can play a role similar to an adult chaperone for children on a field trip., i.e. it provides guidance and safety.

Of course, this will require the government to recognise that it can't be heavy-handed. Maybe something similar to how IDA manages the telcos. Or something like "As long as you don't cause trouble, I'll stay out of your way."

All of the above is really just an idea in my head. Maybe someone agrees it, but I think most bloggers won't. We'd prefer to just be left to our own devices. Why bother with self-regulation? That's just another headache.

Well, I think the alternative -- that of the government setting laws and/or policies targeting bloggers specifically -- is one that will agitate bloggers even more. Indeed, it sounds like choosing the lesser of two evils, doesn't it?

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Wishlist for $20 gift

Who would've thought that it'd be so difficult to come up with three items for a $20 gift? It's all part of the gift exchange for the company's year-end party.

In the end, my list was:
  1. Copy of a receipt for a donation to a tax-deductible charity, dated 6 December 2006 or later.
  2. 2,000 one-cent coins in Singapore currency.
  3. Contribution to my Nintendo Wii fund.
Of the three items, I'm secretly hoping for #3, ha.

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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Fire drill

Lesson on fire extinguishers
The office building had a fire drill today. Now, normally, I assume that while there would be some advance warning about such a drill, I didn't expect something as, erm, un-drill-like to happen.

Yesterday, we received an e-mail about the drill. That was to be expected, so that we could work around it, for instance, conducting meetings or meeting clients. The e-mail stated that the drill would be between 9:30am and 10:30am.

I arrived in the office just before 9am. At around 9, there was an announcement through the building-wide public address system that the drill would start in about five minutes.

Wha...?

I thought the point of a drill is that it happens unexpectedly. You know, like in the event of a real fire!

Anyway, I didn't relish the thought of walking down 26 floors, so I took the elevator down with a few colleagues. We hung around in the lift lobby and, when the alarm rang, took a slow stroll across the road to the designated assembly area. Slowly, more people from the building congregated there.

Fire drill assembly area
(Apparently, capturing panoramic views with Keta-i introduces a colour tinge to the final photo. Nuts.)

We were there for about an hour when someone started a lesson on using the fire extinguisher. He was speaking through a megaphone, so it was difficult to hear what he was saying. Anyway, it started to drizzle, so my colleagues and I started to leave. Someone remarked that we may have appeared rude because we were leaving in the middle of a demonstration that was attended by everyone else.

And that was my first fire drill at this place. Previously, at Fullmark, we would hold fire drills every quarter, and we were timed! I should know because I was designated as a fire warden, ha. We aimed to constantly reduce the time needed to evacuate the building. While everyone took it lightly too, I felt that there was more urgency there than here. Maybe it's because Fullmark is located in an industrial area, where the chances for an emergency are higher.

In the event of an emergency at my current workplace, we will all die!

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

View from the restroom

Skyline on a clear day
Skyline on a clear day

This is what I see every day from the office restroom. From the 26th floor, I have a great view up to the north of Singapore, unblocked by any skyscraper, except for the National Library on the left.

A few more views:

Skyline on a rainy day
Skyline on a rainy day
Incidentally, the view looks similar to this when Singapore is terrorised by the haze from Indonesia, except that we also suffer from the choking smell and smoke.

Skyline after the rain
Skyline after the rain

Skyline at night
Skyline at night
This was taken on one of the few times when I actually worked late enough for it to become this dark. Usually, there's still some sunlight even at 7pm.

Finally, a panoramic view:
Skyline panoramic view
(Click to identify some buildings.)
(The colour tinge is due to the sunlight-reducing cellophane pasted onto this part of the window.)

Oh, and of course, all these are just to show off what Keta-i can do, ha.

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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Sexpo 2006

Sexpo 2006
For the second consecutive year, I went to Sexpo after attending a wedding in the morning/afternoon. And this is the second year of Sexpo.

This year's adult-themed exhibition was held in the more central and sane location of Suntec City, instead of the Expo at the other end of the island. Floor area-wise, though, it was smaller. Even then, there was a lot of empty space, just like last year's. And I noticed that about one-third of the booths were operated by the organiser itself.

Also, the entire area was for adults only, so right at the door, I had to pay $10 for the entrance fee. With my yellow identification tag around my wrist, I entered the exhibition area.

The booths in front were more conservative, e.g. Mary Chia salon, herbal tea, National University Hospital, etc. And a big prominent booth for Zestra, a medicated oil that is supposedly the female version of Viagra. I didn't spend much time there since I'm of the wrong target market and don't have a significant other to splurge on.

But from the second row of booths onwards, adult stores were everywhere. There were at least five sex shops with the same range of goods: vibrators, sexy clothing, toys, etc. I was particularly intrigued by a vibrator that puts a new spin to the name "rubber duckie". The organiser's booths were selling tamer stuff, like calendars, T-shirts and little trinkets.

I also found the booth for Love Airways, Singapore's first adult-themed magazine. I didn't buy it, though the promotional subscription of $10 for 3 issues was tempting. Later, I overheard the sales lady, who had tried to sell it to me, telling her friend on the phone that she hadn't made a sale the entire day, heh.

To the side were two "side shows": one was a dress up area, where for a fee, anyone could dress up in their fantasy costumes and get their pictures taken. The other side show was an exotic dance behind closed curtains. However, the curtains hadn't been drawn shut very well, so from the outside, I could see fully clothed women doing pole dancers. Yeesh, I wasn't going to pay good money nor stand in the long queue to see that!

Right at the rear was a large booth for Axquisite, which is a pageant/agency for foreign award-winning models. I'd never heard of them. "Miss Bikini World Australia"? "Miss Hawaiian Tropic Australia"? But then, I guess no one outside of Singapore has heard of "Miss Chinatown". Anyway, these girls looked like they were models of the more exotic kind, especially judging by their attire. For $15 (I think), anyone could get their picture taken with a model and also walk away with a free poster. While I was there, I saw a "dirty old man" posing with a model, ha.

Along one side of the hall was a small gallery. One part was of nude photographs taken by a member of the Photography Society of Singapore. The other was hand-drawn art of nude models from Chateau d'Arts (I think that's the name). Pictures were selling for between $500 and a few thousand dollars.

The main area in the hall was taken up by the performance area. While I was there, I heard the tail end of a lecture on traditional Chinese medicine, and the opening portion of a lecture on sexual dysfunctions. Unfortunately, I didn't stay long enough to see any of the song/dance/comedy-type performances.

There were scantily-clad women on stilts promoting something. It could've been Halloween costumes, judging by the skull mask that one of them was wearing. (Interestingly, the girls were of one particular race, which I shall not reveal.)

And no, I didn't see any women "dressed" in body paint either.

I ended my stay at the bookstore booth. Almost all of the books were of sex and/or sexual positions. One book that I flipped through was on how to behave correctly for a date, but I didn't buy it. Instead, I bought another, "Jakarta Undercover", which supposedly reveals the seedy underbelly in Jakarta.

After an hour at Sexpo, I decided I'd had enough and left. I think last year's exhibition was better. There seemed to have been a wider range of booths then and more pro-active sales promoters.

However, I might still go for the next Sexpo, if there's one. Wonder if there'll be another wedding too...

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Friday, November 24, 2006

Away Day

Group pic
Today was XM's Away Day, a day when we take off from the office for a time of team bonding. This year's event was held at Bintan Lagoon Resorts, with activities organised by Focus Adventure.

I shared a cab with a colleague to Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal. From there, all of us took the 8am ferry to Bintan, followed by buses to the training ground within Bintan Lagoon Resort. In what they call the "dialogue room" (but is just like any other meeting room), we were given the usual spiel about "learning through experiencing" and "we want winners, not losers". After a brief tea break, our training began.

One half of the company went for the outdoor activities, while my half stayed behind for the indoors one. We were then split further into two teams for the three indoor activities:

1. "Keypunch"
Behind a closed door is a set of numbers, 1-25. Each member in the group must touch a number in sequential order, and everyone must touch a number at least once. However, surrounding the numbers is a rope/"magnetic field". Whenever someone is inside the circle, no one else can enter it nor point inside the circle. Each group is given three tries (later four), with the objective being to get the lowest time from when it enters the room to when the last person exits. If any rule is broken, then the team has to press the numbers again from 1, and 10 seconds is added to the time.

My team's strategy was that each one was assigned a number to press. That worked somewhat well for the first round, though we fumbled several times. Though the facilitator was surprised, we took our time to familiarise ourselves with the game. First round: over two minutes. But we halved that in the second round.

In the third round, we found that not only had the rope been removed, but some numbers were missing as well. The missing numbers stumped us, but we recovered quickly. (Someone attributed it to me for making us move on to the next number.) And though we stumbled once, we still made it out under a minute. By the fourth round, our time was 35 seconds!

Moral: Situations change, and we have to adapt to these changes. Also, if both teams had worked together to exchange strategies, then everyone would have benefitted.

2. Diamond frame
We had to balance a diamond frame using a small pail as the base. Then team members had to cross through the frame to earn points, with different paths earning between one and three points. The objective was to score as many points as possible. Altogether, we were given 20 minutes.

We predictably started with trying to score the three points, which meant carrying someone through the upper portion of the frame. When that proved difficult, we switched to scoring as many points as possible, no matter how little they are. In the end, four people got across, scoring 6 points for the team.

Moral: When a strategy proves untenable, we must be able to relook at our priorities in order to "win".

3. Minefield
Each team is now split into three groups. We have to collect Lego bricks from across a room to construct a little object per group. However, if anyone touches a black brick, we lose whatever pieces we have collected. Also, we have to collect the bricks while blindfolded.

Predictably, we chose to locate the bricks we needed, and then try to bring them back. Of course, with 3 groups in an enclosed room, the loud shouting drowned out our instructions. I suggested strongly that we should just collect bricks without caring about what they were, but that was shot down.

Towards the end of our 20 minutes, the other two groups had formed their objects. And what happened then was that we collaborated so that they would help us collect bricks for our object. Which turned out to be exactly the desired outcome because we were supposed to work as a team to construct the three objects.

Moral: Though we come from different departments, we need to work together as one unit to "win".

So those were our indoor activities. After lunch, we proceeded for the outdoor one, which involved climbing a 25-metre tall tower. As we looked on, many girls and a few guys said that they would never make it. Those who had already completed it (from the other half of the company) said that it was challenging, which just made it seem more daunting.

After wearing our harnesses and helmets and listening to a short safety training session, we proceeded with our climb in groups of five. My group was the fourth one up, with me as the middle member. As we went up, we had to cross certain obstacles. The first one was a bridge comprised of narrow planks. That was easy compared to the next one: crossing a wooden log about five metres across. We made our way slowly, sliding our feet across the log.

From there, we had to go across a rope net. We had to wait here for the earlier teams to move further. It turns out that the next obstacle was to cross a wooden bridge that had a half-metre gap in the middle. One member of the team before us had trouble crossing it. His legs were shaking so wildly that the facilitator joked, "Before climbing, please remember to turn off your vibrator." That got all of us laughing, though I doubt that relaxed that particular person.

My team made our way across that bridge pretty quickly, then rested in a metal cage. We were about halfway up already. But we had to wait a long time here. The first team was at the last obstacle, which was to climb a rope net to the top. Unfortunately, they had a particularly heavier person, who was unable to climb further. So his teammates and a few facilitators had to help to pull him up. Once he was up, everyone applauded.

The next obstacle for us was a rock wall. We had to wait there for an earlier team to clear their obstacle, which involved jumping over a metre-long gap in a metal bridge. For my team, we overcame that obstacle by taking really big steps. I thought that it would be like jumping across a drain, but at more than 20 metres, that would've been a very deep drain!

Finally, we climbed up the rope net to the summit. From there, we took turns on the flying fox down. I wanted to shout something corny while coming down, like "I'm the king of the world!" or something along the lines. But in the end, I didn't... Ah, okay, I chickened out. Just before pushing off, I looked out at the distance and realised that I was very, very, very high up. My mind was blank the moment I pushed off. I finally did manage to let out a loud "whoo!", but on hindsight, that was thoroughly unsatisfying.

BTW a measure of geekness is when you want to say "flying fox" but end up saying "Firefox"!

Altogether, the climb too nearly three hours, though we estimated that we spent nearly half that time waiting. Someone remarked that it was badly planned, because the Indonesian facilitators kept moving us on even when the earlier groups were delayed. Also, the Singaporean facilitators spent the entire day conducting the indoor trainings, though I thought that was fine because of language.

To round up the day, we watched some video clips of our time, then sang "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" (which I thought was absolutely cheesy!), then collected our certificates of participation.

We then proceeded to Bintan Lagoon Resort. Since I wasn't staying overnight, I didn't have a room. I waited with a few others till 7pm, when we then took a bus back to the ferry terminal to catch the 8:15pm ferry. After the hour-long ride and losing an hour, we arrived in Singapore at 10:15pm. I promptly made my way home to rest.

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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Mac Meetup

Mac Meetup
I attended my first Mac Meetup this evening. There had been previous Meetups before, like last year or earlier, but I never attended them because of some schedule conflicts. And then when Meetup became a paid service, the local Mac Meetup basically just died.

But recently, it was restarted again, after a paid member revived the group. So there we were, on a Thursday night at McDonald's at Suntec City. I was the third to arrive and was drawn by the prominent Mac Meetup sign on the table.

All in all, there were about 10 people there that evening, with Catherine as the host/organiser. The only familiar face to me was Preetam Rai, whom I know only because he knows my sister. Some of them brought their laptops, which ranged from Powerbooks to the black MacBooks.

There was no fixed agenda, so we just chatted about different things. We got to know one another a bit better, how we use our Macs, provided some troubleshooting assistance, and, among other things, discussed the pros and cons of a .Mac subscription, ha. Charlie, the oldest in the group with some strong -- and loud -- opinions about Apple and Macintosh, also blasted some hits from the past.

At one point, I had a feeling that there was a growing desire to form something like a Macintosh User Group. There's actually already one in Singapore, which is fee-based. But it's apparently quite dead, and Apple doesn't support it anyway because of the small local market. I feel a Meetup is fine for now, since there doesn't seem to be a need for some sort of proper organisation.

I stayed for two hours, then had to leave. When I left, the others were still exchanging troubleshooting tips and other chit-chat. I might consider attending again, though being with a Mac in front of me to show off what I have/know really sucks. Perhaps this is an incentive to get my Powerbook working again.

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"Take it offline"

Another addition to workplace catchphrases.

Here's another phrase used very often. It means to hold a discussion away from the ongoing meeting, which may or may not be online. I find it very irritating when the meeting itself isn't actually online in the conventional sense of the word.

(Originally posted through mobile blogging.)

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Thursday, November 09, 2006

"Think about it"

Yesterday, I had lunch with female colleagues. Today, I had lunch with male colleagues. And somehow, the conversation steered towards a person's "gay quotient". The "test" a colleague came up with was whether you could sing songs by S Club 7 and Clymie Fisher.

Anyway...

He remarked that there's a saying that goes around in gay circles: "Think about it." It's actually directed at heterosexual people. The idea is to make the hetero think about whether he/she really is heterosexual.

The argument for such an idea, at least in Singapore, is that we (men and women) are "trained" from young to follow the heterosexual path, i.e. grow up to be men/women, get married to a member of the opposite sex, have kids, live together happily ever after as man, wife and children.

The problem, if there is one, is that some people who follow that path realise too late in life that maybe they aren't heterosexual. And if only they had thought about it earlier...

Thus, "think about it."

BTW if anyone remembers a beer promotion with that tagline, yeah, it came from my colleague. In bars/pubs, a sign showed a full beer bottle in front with the words "Think about it", and from behind, it's the same bottle but empty, and the words are "Thought about it" (to suggest that the beer has been drunk). Apparently, he was praised for sneaking it into a mainstream commercial campaign.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Stripper for hen party

I happened to have lunch with two female colleagues today. And towards the end, the conversation revolved around a hen party that one of them had attended. Where they had a male stripper.

Who did the full monty.

Okay, maybe I'm totally out of the hen party entertainment scene, but I really did not know that male strippers who bared all would be allowed in staid Singapore. (Then again, surely I shouldn't be that naïvve?)

The costs are:
  • strip to briefs - $250 (or thereabout)
  • full monty - $400
  • full monty with "extra service" - $800
(These rates would be lower if the stripper performs at the agency's location.)

The stripper was found through an advertisement at a local sex shop. Fortunately, I am aware of the existence of these outlets, so I'm not all that out of it.

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Learning Drupal

Drupal
Wow, I spent the whole day in front of my computer!

I had been reading up on Drupal (a Web-based content management system) for a while now. I had been giving some serious thought to moving ECO Singapore's website to it, because it's pointless to develop a custom-built CMS when there's already a good one for free. For a long time, I hadn't thought much about it, until I realised that The Onion website is based on it! And that website looks fantastic!

Today, I installed it on my website and gave it a spin. I had to learn a lot of new things, particularly how the menu system worked (it's not just about making aliases to Web page content) and how to use categories/taxonomies (among other things, to build a home page for a section). And then I had to learn about and install plug-ins/modules to make an event calendar, customise the view of a page, enable rich text editing (instead of dealing with HTML), etc.

The most time-consuming part was the menu system. I had to read three tutorials and watch a video demo before I figured out how it worked! Categories/taxonomies also left me scratching my head, until I hit upon a eureka moment.

Now, I just need to learn how to design a custom theme so that the new site looks like the old site.

All in all, it looks like Drupal makes it relatively painless to maintain a website, after the steep initial learning curve. Even then, the curve doesn't plateau, it just eases off gradually. Once I have everything figured out and working the way I want it to, I'll move it over to ECO's site. Hopefully, that'll make updating the website easier for everyone involved. Because, in the end, it's all about whether the end users know how to use a system that determines how useful it is.

And that's how I spent my company off day today.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Elevator oddities

What a weird day today was! I should've bought the 4D lottery, except I don't know how to play it.

I work on the 26th floor. The elevator that serves my floor goes up to the 28th floor. When I stepped into the elevator to go for lunch today, there were already two men inside. After that, the elevator stopped at each and every floor until the 19th floor!

At first, I didn't think much about it. By the fourth ding to indicate the 22nd floor, I couldn't help chuckling to myself. After all, what were the chances of this happening? And then I kept listening for the next ding.

I pity the two men who were inside. Assuming that they were from different floors, then that means one of them had to endure stops for nine consecutive floors!

So that was my lunchtime adventure. When I left the office, there was an Indian man standing next to the lift buttons. And he had his finger permanently on the "door close" button until he alighted! My only thought was, "Wow, he must be in a heckuva hurry!"

The weirdness even happened during my lunch. I went to a food court and ordered wan tan mee from this guy. I kept thinking that he must have been high on something! His speech was slightly slurred, he had this dazed look in his eyes. And when he confirmed my order twice, he got it wrong -- twice!

I swear I'm not making any of this up!

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Saturday, October 14, 2006

Vivocity

I'm at Vivocity and it's packed like crazy! As if half the nation is here.

More later.

(1st post through mobile blogging.)

Update: 11:28pm
Back at home now with a few photos to share.
Opening weekend crowd
Opening weekend crowd Opening weekend crowd Opening weekend crowd Art sculpture

And California Fitness had the audacity to stage a live workout session along a busy corridor! Stupid idiots.

It seems that Vivocity is targeted at the upper and upper-middle classes, judging by the retailers. Lots of brand names and jewellery stores. No McDonald's, no KFC. I suspect that there'll be quite a high turnover of retailers there.

It was opening weekend at Singapore's biggest mall, so naturally, Singaporeans were curious about what was going on there. It took half an hour to get through the jam on Telok Blangah Road between Keppel Road and the Vivocity car park entrance, a journey that usually takes less than five minutes, even with the traffic light junction. There were so many people at the mall, even though half the shops aren't open, that I was reminded of this saying:

"Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

I suppose that since I was there, then that makes me an owner of a little mind too.

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Friday, October 06, 2006

Myanmar, day 5 -- orphanage

Orphans young and old
We left the hotel at 9:30am for an orphanage. My uncle and aunt have been contributing to it for a long time already, and every year, they pay a visit to see how it's doing and bring some donated stuff.

For this visit, we met the orphanage's leader, Tui Hing, at the hotel. Annie also joined us to see what goes on there. During the journey, the leader, who was also an orphan, related how he had been born again as a Christian and went on to help other orphans. He also mentioned that the government has begun requiring all orphanages to be registered, which means that they also cannot function overtly as places of religious worship.

Along the way, we stopped by a fruit stall to buy bananas. The Myanmarese apparently believe that bananas help to prevent diseases, like indigestion and other stomach-related ailments.

Next to the fruit seller were a couple of men hanging around and playing chess.

The orphanage houses about 40 children ranging from three-year-olds to teenagers. They greeted us with a Christian song sung in Myanmarese. We returned the favour by teaching them "Jesus loves me". It took about 15 minutes to get through the song.

After that, the kids sat in a circle and Annie led a game. It went like this: a person pats his/her thighs twice while saying his/her name twice, then claps two times saying his/her name once followed by another person's name. The idea was to get to know everyone's names, though, of course, I couldn't remember five of them by the time we were done.

And then it was time for lunch. A quick prayer, and then everyone dug into packets of nasi bryani, which my aunt and uncle had arranged to buy and paid for. Everyone ate hungrily, as this is apparently their annual treat, i.e. when my auntie and uncle visit. It was also amazing to see the small kids finish their huge packets of food. Another observation that warmed my heart was when the older kids helped the younger ones tear apart the chicken for easier consumption.

Some of them didn't finish their food. Apparently, the treat will last for a few more meals.

For dessert, they ate the bananas that we had bought earlier. Of course, kids being kids, some of them even compared the sizes of their bananas first!

My aunt then began to distribute the donated items. I decided to walk around the compound. At the rear of the house, I found the dark and bare kitchen. Its rudimentary stove resembled something out of the 1950s. In an adjacent room, I saw an orphan sleeping snugly under a blanket. Perhaps she was sick?

Then I had to answer nature's call. (Later, I was to learn that there's a better toilet elsewhere.)

I returned to find that the clothes distribution was still ongoing. Meanwhile, some kids already had their goodies, like snacks and toys. Everyone seemed pleased with their gifts.

At about 1:30pm, we walked about five minutes to reach another building that's part of the orphanage. The plan had been to turn it into a teahouse, but it was rejected by the village leadere for fear that it would become a place of Christian worship. So it's now another hostel for the older orphans, though there are plans to make it a grocery store to sell some of the orphanage's produce.

Tree-covered rear of the second hostel.

Outside, I heard a constant chirping. It sounded like something from a mechanical toy. Only this sound came from real live chicks. Haha, like a city slicker, I felt compelled to photograph the hen and her brood.

Along the way back, we passed by a few village houses. I wonder if I could stay for a long time at such a run-down house. We also met a family that was cooking a pot of rice outside. Maybe their house didn't have a proper kitchen.

It was time to say goodbye to the orphanage. We went to visit one of my uncle's friends, then stopped by J's Irrawaddy Dream, a high-class souvenir shop and cafe owned by Singaporeans Jennifer Teo and Helen Yeo (wife of former Transport Minister, Yeo Cheow Tong) with signs warning against touching the plants. Escape from Paradise, anyone?

Dinner was at Over Sea Chinese Restaurant again, where we also had mooncake brought by my aunt. After that, we walked back to Park Royal. Along the way, we passed by several cinemas showing Hollywood and Bollywood movies. What caught my attention was that these cinemas had the old-school design with the winding staircase, manual box office and snacks seller, all of which are no longer found in Singapore. Too bad I didn't bring my camera along.

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Myanmar, day 4 -- Yangon

Food sellers
Today was a slow day for us. The plan was to wander around Chinatown in the morning. Unfortunately, it was raining quite heavily and we didn't bring any umbrellas. (The rainy season apparently ends towards the middle of October.)

So we drove directly to a particular shop in Chinatown, Tun Family (I forgot the full name). To get there, we drove through 18th Street, which is wide enough for two vehicles. But with the various food sellers and their customers occupying both sides, we were reduced to driving at first gear and carefully avoiding hitting anyone. Kudos to our driver! He couldn't use the horn, because there's a 1,500 kyat fine per horn.

Tun Family sells cashew nuts, peanuts, dried shredded prawn, bird's nest, shark's fin, and lots more. The owner is also Chinese Myanmarese, so we conversed with her in Mandarin. We didn't go anywhere else because of the rain. When I peeped outside, there were still lots of pedestrians thronging the streets, some with umbrellas, some without. Life went on in spite of the weather.

Our loss was Tun's gain. We carted off with bags of nuts and more.

While my aunt, uncle and a companion went for a head massage-cum-hair wash, my mum, our other companion and I headed for a tailor shop, Forever Tailor. It's actually a house, with the garage converted into a small clothing store. The owner made and sold her own clothes there. Of course, most of it was female clothing, so I took the opportunity to have a short nap. I also met her daughter, whom I had emailed before.

The six of us reunited for lunch at Sabai Sabai, a Thai restaurant. My uncle recommended the fried fish salad, which was really good.

With nothing to do after lunch, a few of us returned to Bogyoke Market for more shopping. This time, I bought a gift for a friend. The place closes at 6pm and I thought that there would be a "last sale" discount. No such luck.

Dinner was at Over Sea Chinese Restaurant, which had a distinctively sourish smell in the air-con hall. For a while, I was taken in by the tank of king prawns. I'd never seen live prawns swim before, let alone prawns of those size!

And then it was back to the hotel for the night.

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Myanmar, day 3 -- Yangon

Food sellers
The first order of the day today was to move from Yazuna Garden Hotel (with its super-heigh ceiling) to Park Royal Hotel, which was just across the street. Traffic doesn't stop in Yangon, so we had to dash across at the first sign of a gap. And we had to breathe the noxious exhaust fumes too. Fumes are so powerful that they could be smelled even in the lobby of Park Royal.

Some pictures from the morning walk: public bus, nationalistic sign, a run-down building, a view down a street that was blocked by a truck!

We spent the rest of the morning shopping at Bogyoke Aung San Market. ("Bogyoke" means "general", the army rank.) It's a one-storey squarish non-air-conditioned shopping centre. Many small stores fill the area, which is about half the size of a football field. And it's a clothing paradise. More than half of the stores sell clothes, including the popular "longi" (not sure of the correct spelling), or sarong. In the central corridor (another pic), government-registered jewellery shops sell gold and precious stones. And they are the only stores that are allowed to trade with U.S. currency.

Along the narrow street, food sellers prepared their menus for the day. Most of them sold a noodle/bee hoon-type dish, which the seller mixed with several spices and curry -- with her bare hands! I didn't dare try it for fear of falling ill. Apparently, this dish is a typical lunch for the locals.

One thing my aunt told us is that the first customers at any store get good discounts, sometimes by as much as half the price! Another thing I noticed: after my mum paid for a blouse (she was the first customer there), the attendant used the money to hit the other clothes and racks. Perhaps it's a sign of good luck?

I bought a green T-shirt that says: "Have you been to Myanmar?" and the word "Myanmar" in Myanmarese behind. Nope, I wasn't the first customer. But I got a 500 kyat discount, ha.

Also present at the market were groups of monks. They wandered the corridors, chanting and soliciting donations from the store owners.

Another constant presence, especially near the jewellery shops: men approaching tourists asking, "Change U.S. dollar?"

Talking about tourists, one thing I observed was that no one, whether men or women, exposed their legs. Therefore, no shorts, no knee-high (or higher) skirts. Everyone either wore sarongs or, for the men, trousers. The only ones who had exposed legs were tourists and small children. Perhaps it's a cultural thing.

I was also constantly amused by the yellow powder/cream on their faces. Apparently, it's a sunblock. And everyone uses it.

We had dim sum lunch at Trader's Hotel, which is supposedly where Singaporeans congregate. Only this time, we didn't run into any, perhaps due to the shift of the country's capitol.

After lunch, we still had some time before the next item in our itinerary, so we took a drive around the city. We passed the Buddhist temple in the heart of the city and City Hall (or what used to be City Hall before the capitol was shifted). Yangon retained some of its British architecture, like the building for the maritime authority. Also, road signs have two languages. Truly bilingual!

We also stopped by Strand Hotel, supposedly the first hotel in Myanmar. It's also a five-star restaurant where dishes at its restaurant go for double-digit U.S. dollars a pop! But it is a very classy hotel.

We then paid a visit to the Singapore ambassador. My uncle knows him and he had invited us for tea. Like a country bumpkin, I was fascinated by the dishes with the Singapore crest.

An amusing story from him and his wife: no one is allowed to fish at Inya Lake. But some people do, and no one stops them. Because they're soldiers, who are bored from their duty of guarding someone under house arrest.

Dinner was at Green Elephant Restaurant, a place that serves Myanmarese dishes. Someone whom my uncle knew treated us to dinner there. We had an assortment of dishes, including beef rendang, curry chicken, fresh water prawns, fish. And rice served in a cute porcelain bowl. Personally, the food tasted similar to Thai food. But that shouldn't be surprising since the people are neighbours, and therefore would have a history of shared culture.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Myanmar, day 2 -- Marubin, Inya Lake

One of Annie's fish ponds
At 9:30am, we set off for Marubin in our minibus. The town is about three hours away from Yangon, but for one-third of the journey, we travelled on second gear (at most) due to the many potholes in the country road. We also passed several run-down buildings, small roadside shops and public transport vehicles packed to the brim with passengers.

(Potholes are repaired by placing small rocks into the hole, then covering up with a layer of tar -- by hand. Inevitably, new potholes will form.)

Scenes from the drive: open land, another open area, a house, the same house, roadside food seller

We passed a toll booth that had security personnel there. I figured that they were there just to keep the peace. But at another security post, we were ordered to provide our passports so that they could record our particulars. It was quite a frightening moment because I'd never encountered such heavy-handedness before. I decided to take a photo to record this moment for posterity. But a guard saw my camera and waved "no". When he turned away, I snapped my pic!

Marubin looks like a typical Third World village. The town centre has one main road with vehicles and pedestrians streaming up and down. Trishaw riders waited patiently for their next fares. And I was amused by the trucks with their exposed engines.

Annie, a friend of my aunt and uncle's, wasn't at her house, so we went straight to her fish farm. She rushed out to welcome us. Apparently, having guests at one's house is a joyous and honourable occasion. She served us a sumptous lunch with five different kinds of fish cooked in several ways.

Although it threatened to rain, fortunately it didn't. In addition to the good weather, we also enjoyed the fresh air and peace away from the city. But times are tough. Annie earns 1,400 kyat per vis (about 1.6kg), a slight increase of 100 kyat from last year. However, she has five ponds and is working to buy another two to expand her offerings.

Pics from Annie's fish farm: a pond, another pond, her cat, her cat again, the farmhouse entrance (from the second floor), a bed, the same bed, her mum's garden, farmhouse entrance, hall

Interestingly about all of the villages, beside every road are narrow rivers on both sides. I noticed this while in the plane and thought that I was seeing things wrongly. The villagers use these to ride their sampans, bathe and swim. Such simplicity! Not a care for hygiene! Also, it's rude to cross a bridge while a boat is going under. Myanmarese don't like to have people "over" them, especially if they're women.

We stayed at the farmhouse for about three hours, then returned to Yangon. By 6:30pm, it would be dark out. We passed another toll booth. Drivers simply stick the kyat bill out the window and the toll collector collects it. Very easy and painless.

Scenes from our return journey: Buddhist pagoda, public bus, Yangon suburb from a bridge

Scenes from Yangon: passengers hanging from a public bus, roadside fruit seller, traffic jam!

Our uncle took us to Inya Lake, which is situated within Yangon. I'm not sure of the exact geography of the lake, but from what I could tell, it's fed by at least one river/tributary. We arrived in time for the sunset, which made for some great photos. There was no one else there, though a hotel is right next to it, so it was a peaceful evening for us.

Dinner was at Grand Royal Restaurant, where we had Chinese food such as beef kway teow, fried rice, sambal kangkong, sweet and sour pork. Total cost: 39,000 kyat (plus tips).

Over dinner, we "interrogated" our driver (all in good fun, of course), and got a few insights:
  • he's a Chinese Myanmarese, his grandparents were from Fujian, and he can speak Mandarin
  • he holds a degree in geology (my uncle later revealed that almost everyone has a degree for family pride, and degrees like geology and zoology rank at the bottom (i.e. for the sake of having a degree) while engineering and medicine are at the top)
  • government civil servants earn 60,000 kyat a month, private employees earn 30,000
  • therefore, it's more worthwhile to work for yourself, like as a driver
  • vehicles appreciate in price!
One thing I started to notice, initially from the waiters: things like money are exchanged with the right hand, while the left arm is bent across the chest at elbow level. By contrast, in Western societies (and in Singapore), it's polite to use two hands to hand over items.

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Monday, October 02, 2006

Myanmar, day 1 -- Arrive in Yangon

Yangon International Airport
I, my mum and our two fellow travellers landed at Yangon International Airport early in the afternoon. A shuttle bus took us from the plane to the terminal -- a less-than-one-minute ride. Clearing customs was a breeze. I was amused to see that it takes two officials to clear each traveller. Picking up our luggage was also easy-peasy.

Getting out of the airport was relatively painless since our travel agency had arranged for transport. The only thing that caught us by surprise was when several porters came forward to help us with our luggage. So we had to dig up a small tip. Fortunately, we had some spare kyat (Myanmar currency, pronounced "chet").

The half-hour journey to Yuzana Garden Hotel gave me my first taste of culture shock. Vehicles, which are right-hand-drive, are driven on the right side of the road. And everone just swerves and drifts without indication -- without crashing into anyone else. It's like all of the drivers have a shared telepathy.

Traffic also rarely stopped, usually only at the occasional red light junction. And then street peddler would appear to hawk their wares.

A typical building in the city.
The locals at a roadside eatery.

At the hotel, we were treated to coconut juice while the staffers arranged for our room. Our room, on the third storey (or second floor, as this former British colony calls it) had a ceiling that was waaay up there. But the floor was strangely dusty...

My aunt and uncle arrived soon after with the other two ladies. First thing to do was to convert currency. US$1 = 1,345 kyat (about S$1 = 850 kyat).

Dinner was at Western Park Restaurant (I think that's the name) -- which has a small bin at every table! -- with my uncle's ex-colleagues. It's a Chinese restaurant that serves pretty decent Chinese food. We had suckling pig, roasted duck, crab, fish (cooked in two styles) and more for slightly over 100,000 kyat. Six female singers provided live entertainment that night, crooning Myanmarese and English songs.

That night, I tuned in to Channel NewsAsia. Which was intriguing to me; I had a choice of BBC or CNN, and still chose CNA.

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

New toy - Keta i

In addition to a new phone line (which means I lost my treasured 8-number), I've also got a new toy. It's a Sony Ericsson K800i, which I've christened "Keta i". Besides buying it at a discounted price, I got it also because of its 3.2-megapixel camera. From the reviews I had read, it's apparently one of the best camera phones around.

Comparison of pictures from my old and new phone:
SEZKeta i
SEZKeta i

Haha, no fight there.

However, what I've found is that the image quality of highly dependent on lighting and/or distance of subject. I was surprised to find grainy pictures under slightly less than optimal lighting. On the other hand, close-up pictures look good with and without the flash.
With flashWithout flash
My beerMy beer (without flash)

As I had remarked to Jeffrey, in the end, it's not about the number of megapixels, but the lens (among other things) that separate camera phones from standalone digital cameras.

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