Travel, Technology and Time Machines – My Foot!

I’ve always maintained that travelling is educational and recently my visit to Singapore for the first time taught me many new things. It also stimulated thoughts that would never have been exposed whilst in London.

You see, when at home in London, it is extremely easy to embrace routine and continue to base life around that routine. I personally dislike prolonged routines. It’s okay to maintain a routine, but that routine must also evolve with the times, I believe. Sometimes that is easier said than done. That’s why travelling expands the mind and provides the stimulation to change. It is education as I say.

As a technologist, I once tried to embrace video conferencing in a bid to lower travel costs and of course to be greener, but with that comes a hidden trade off. It is the ability to touch and feel other cultures. There really is no substitution for that face to face experience.

On my recent trip to Singapore I experienced what I can only describe as a Geo-Fusion. Many cities claim they are multicultural and cosmopolitan and most are, but Singapore has a visible harmony to their mix of cultures. The fusion provides a friendly carefree environment that I do believe is an example to the rest of the world.

During my MBA studies I exchanged many discussions with students across the globe based around a topic and I learnt a great deal. It was an excellent transfer of knowledge, but it wasn’t quite the same as experiencing the same topic through the eyes of the students around the world. I took this opportunity to do just that.

A stark difference I noticed was their attitude to technology. Whist Singapore is awash with technology, their consumer habits are not the same as say the US and the UK. E-Commerce is not there yet and yet still they are thriving without it. I say this with little research but simply on the face of my visit.

There is no comparable returns policy in the shops and very little evidence of online shopping and I believe there is a reason for that. There is a rich market environment in Chinatown, Little India and throughout the HBD (council estates) areas. Where the people spend the day socialising over a meal/snack or simply a cup of coffee (as we do in the our cities).

Walking through the HDB areas (which are not visibly segregated in any way they simply blend into the landscape), it was evident how trade continues to thrive with very little change. Singapore historically was a trading port and to this day that culture is stronger than ever. From the Samsui women making a living the only way they know how, to the affluent professionals also making a living the only way they know how, through trading they live side by side in what I can only describe as harmony.

If you ever wanted to experience time travel, Singapore provides the machine. I witnessed supplier, wholesale and retail in one glance at the side of the street as one man cycled up to a weighing station with his wares, exchange his goods for money and another exchanging money for goods to sell to the consumer through the wholesaler. It was simple, effective and fast; golden rules for anyone in business.

Another inspiring sight I witnessed was the business of reflexology. A very successful chain called My Foot provides employment for many local people with disabilities in particular visually impaired individuals that are skillfully trained. These talented therapists provide the most relaxing environment and effective reflexology in the country. My Foot provides an opportunity to an otherwise limited community to earn a good living by developing the skills that are in demand. Having experienced reflexology, it can be quite addictive, particularly if it has cured an otherwise tired pair of feet as it did in my case! I need to find an equivalent in London.


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Welcome to Singapore

My first visit to Singapore was met with a welcome I did not expect. First of all a 12 hour 40 minute flight from Heathrow on the faultless (until they flew me) Singapore Airlines felt more like 7 or 8 hours. This was the longest flight I had taken but it certainly didn’t feel that way. The service, the food, the entertainment, the seats and the time I chose were perfect!

Singapore and therefore Singaporeans pride themselves in being somewhat faultless and set an example to the rest of the world from their pioneering ERP traffic system to their chewing gum law (some say crazy, but it works!), and clearly were ashamed when I landed and had to eventually report to the Lost and Found office to report my missing luggage…along with another 20 or so passengers. Mutterings could be heard from a few locals around the baggage claim that this must have been a fault at Heathrow, it could not be a fault of Singapore Airlines. However, no sooner had I arrived in the lost and found office about to fill out the form, when we were informed that our luggage had just arrived on the carousel! The extended wait was not impressive, and the fault was with the container lifts, it broke down just before unloading the last set of cases off… mine!

Of course if there’s is a remote chance that Singapore airline staff are reading this, “You bozos, this is the first time I’ve flow with you to your home country and THIS is the welcome I get? An extended chance to stare at your conveyor belt? Feel free to comment here to apologise and I will let you know my KrisFlyer number for you to apologise in miles.”;-)

Having left the Airport I headed to my sister’s pad just off Grange Road. An impressive tree lined street with modern high rises appearing through the tree tops. Looking out of her apartment there are certain angles that appear as if you are looking down on a mini rain forest. Very impressive.

A quick shower and change and it was off to the Funan DigitalLife Mall. Now, this is an interesting place. Immediately and obviously, it is 7 levels of technology, geek’s paradise filled with everything IT hardware/software and gadgets galore. If you know what you want then this is the place, there’s plenty of options and competitive pricing too. If you are browsing, then after two floors your vision becomes blurred and you will hallucinate and begin to simply see mice everywhere, of the computer kind of course!

A few gems came out of that visit:

Curry Puffs – A mouth watering smell that was torture for my nephew Sebastian.

Kaya Toast – Thanks to my nephew Julian for warning me that the filling is green.

– Fresh Sugar Cane Drink

Coffee-O or Kopi-O – It’s instant, but really delicious with a drop of condensed milk and certainly a caffine boost.

$10 – 10 minute haircut! Not something I’ve tried yet but intrigued nonetheless. Obviously a Japanese idea for the busy individual who needs coiffure housekeeping but with very little time. A quick tidy up followed by a vacuum (of your head) and your comb as a souvenir, I hear to ensure hygiene, is a must try. Can’t see that model working in the UK; 10 minutes for £10 is not much of bargain, let alone a haircut, and translated; 3 minutes for £3, I hate to think. I will try it out later in the week.

Yes, the things that I was impressed with were the sidelines in the technology mall.

To conclude, dinner at my sister’s place was better than any oriental restaurant I’ve ever visited and to top it off, as I write this, my taste buds are screaming for more, but I can’t remember seeing what happened to it. 😦 Arrgg! Begs the question, what is the standard of the restaurants? I’m sure I’ll find out, but credit to Elisa and Juve for cooking up such a taste sensation! Let me know where the left overs are next time :-P.

Anyway, I must try and get some sleep, I’ve got to be up in less than 4 hours to continue my cultural learnings.

Farewell 2007

It’s New Years Eve and this year for the first time in a long time, I’ve chosen to trade the pandemonium for tranquility. Is that a sign of the times (my times)? I feel that maybe I’m heading for that quiet time in life that some might even call retirement! Well rest assured, I am not in that space, although the past few months I’ve managed to grab a slice of what I perceive it will be and I have mixed feeling about that, but let’s not discuss that right now.

I made a decision in the summer that I would look to change the way I work, change the way I live and change the way I look at life.

I left my job at the bank, not to hop into another similar position, but to take a look from the outside-in and try to understand why, in this rapidly moving information age, I was experiencing that feeling of deja vu far too often, more often than ever before. I guess it’s what you might also call routine and some people are made for that, but I know that I’ve stuck around too long knowing that would happen, it’s called the comfort zone and I hate that.

I was part of an organisation that did well throughout the good times and the bad, even now in the current credit crisis we (they) have survived this year, of course there were losses, not huge in comparison, and not enough to hit the headlines resulting in casualties from the top down, for the time being anyway.

Each year, we focussed on the rising cost base and aim to reduce it through cuts only to reverse the process sometime through the year and inevitably practice the same cost cutting exercises at the same time of the following year. It begins to get boring year after year, and clearly no ability to stick to a strategy if there ever was one. Maybe this is a trend, but I see other organisations in the same competitive space making progress, where my peers are working towards a plan in a community that collaborates to reach the same goal, the same culture and ultimately successful results.

So, I’ve taken the decision to move on, as they say, and seek that opportunity that begs to evolve or move at the pace of change not by repeating the same rules, but by progressing and learning from those bad decisions and mistakes.

Here’s a prediction for 2008, now I’m no analyst (professionally) but I’m going to forecast that my previous employer is heading for an acquisition. They will be acquired. I see that in H2 2008. How can I say that? Well, whilst reviewing my employment history, I see that every organisation I’ve worked for has been acquired! Maybe they will change this tread that seems to follow me, but I doubt it, many analysts reports and articles I’ve read recently see that the latter half of 2008 will be an acquisition fair throughout, not just in the financial sector. Additionally prior to the sub-prime crisis in August, there were due diligence exercises being performed across the city, headliners such as ABN and Barclays, but some under the radar that luckily did not proceed.

There is a thought that I should stick around for this? It could be lucrative after all. Then again, I’ve been through a few and whilst they do bring a lucrative reward to some, what follows is pure frustration if you stick around. Ask the people at Bankers Trust who are still around in Deutsche Bank or those from Chase Manhattan who are still around at JP Morgan Chase, if they consider themselves part of the new merged organisation or still in a culture of the old, operating under an new name?

Of course this is a hot topic in my head right now, as I seek to find the next big thing. Considerations are to land myself in a new organisation, but one that aims to be acquired such as an innovative start-up firm or a large multi-national that will survive the years to come through their ability to evolve.

On another subject, as I’ve mentioned before, I’ve reverted to religion not in a preaching sense, but like many people to simply practice my faith. Not something new for me being raised as a catholic, but I’ve found that going back to church has created a new avenue in my life that has called for me to believe in something and to have faith, it helps me to look at my life in a different perspective. It astounds me that I got this point just simply by going with the flow and following the routine, I call it a rut, but to me, I haven’t travelled very far in the last two years, I didn’t really have faith and I didn’t believe in myself because I think I felt defeated to some degree, but more often than not I felt I was simply in the wrong place, around the wrong people trying to achieve what I felt was right without the support and collaboration that is needed in a large organisation, if that makes sense. Of course I had achievements, but for me, these took too long and looking back (as you do), there really is no need. I’ve talked about pacing myself, but when no progress is made during lengthy periods, I cannot accept that and get paid for it.

I’ve come to the end of 2007 and suddenly I know so much more about myself. I am relaxed and I find that when I am relaxed I can think much more clearly and the thoughts are beginning to make sense. My weakness right now is my lack of concentration, but I’ve identified that and will work on that. I know my strength is my creativity (possibly not in my writings) and motivation is my ability to work with innovative people in a team that will make a difference.

Earlier today I played a gruelling game and a half of golf. During the game I thought to myself, golf is not supposed to be gruelling, why am I in this frame of mind? The gruelling part was indeed simply my perspective of the game. I began to relax, and enjoy the game as it should be played and surely enough in my positive frame of mind my shots were on target as I intended them to be. Later on in the game, I injured my foot (yes it can happen when you’re just walking!), and I although I was enjoying the game my thoughts switched to the pain and went downhill again, but I kept talking myself though it and learnt to work with the pain and surely enough my game came back and I began to enjoy it.

At home after golf today, my attention was drawn to one of my fish in the tank. It had been drifting on its side for a while, not constantly, but it was becoming more frequent. I’ve had this particular fish for about 4 years now, and, well, I can’t see it making it to 2008, but what I did notice, was that a younger much smaller fish, would occasionally swim into the drifter and they would swim around together for while until the smaller fish was diverted and the drifter would go back to drifting on it’s side. What I saw there I translated into me, sometimes I am can be the drifter, but also the smaller (notice I didn’t state younger) fish. I hate to see people fail and will push them to get the best out of themselves, and on the other side of the coin, I like to be pushed to. I saw emotions in a fish tank!

Maybe I have too much time on my hands 🙂

Well actually I have and I’ve decided to use it well. I’m going to work harder, I’m going to study further and to kick that off, I’m off to Singapore to visit my sister who has been in the region for nearly eighteen years and always visits me each year and I’m ashamed to say I’ve never been there. This time, I have no excuse. Besides, I really enjoy their company and I love the team spirit we exhibit when we get together and the intellectual motivation I get when we mix. Not something we can do right now on a social network, but I’m sure this will come in time. So that’s what I call enjoying hard work 😉

Time to conclude. To all my reader (not a typo) Have a great time tonight and I wish you a very successful 2008, farewell 2007.

Funny thing happened on the way.

It’s a critical time on the project, last minute details need to be addressed and unexpected issues arise that require re-prioritising. Resource is tight, but there’s no option, the deadline is approaching and each task along the way needs to be addressed somehow. So far, I’m very confident the project will be delivered. Friday was a milestone and one that had to be completed. I made it into the office early, ensured that any outstanding and prerequisite work needed to be done on the development platform was completed. Feeling confident and ready to go.

I received a call from my wife in distress from home. She was in a bad way, feeling terrible and with kids in the house she needed me to rush home and help. The conversation ended by her saying she couldn’t talk and for me to hurry up. Needless to say my thoughts went into overdrive of what could be the problem. I hung up the phone and sprinted out of the office.

Two trains later, I was on the last leg home. An ten minute walk or a 5 minute wait for a bus, close call, but I noticed that the bus stop was quite full and therefore due a bus soon. Waiting for the bus I began to look-up potential causes for my wife’s illness on my blackberry. Then a man came across the road towards me, saying that I was a lucky lucky man. He was a well dressed Indian man with a notebook in his hand. He was a friendly enough chap, but I kept one eye on him and one eye on the road in the distance impatient for the bus to arrive.

He then began to reel off a few things about me, extremely accurate assessments of me, my career, my personal life and my goals!He introduced himself as Mr Singh the Indian Fortune teller, <pause for lack of originality>, and asked me if I had 5 minutes to spare, he felt he had information I needed to know. Unfortunately, I didn’t, I could see the bus heading my way, but I wanted to continue the conversation with Mr Singh. What to do? my family in trouble or a couple of minutes to listen to a fortune teller? If I missed the bus, I would be another 15 minutes getting home. No brainer really – sorry Mr Singh, I have to go, but if you give me your number I would really like to continue our talks. Unfortunately he had no number to give me, that was it, I would walk away with some unfinished statements about my life, he had me, with the level of accuracy he spoke, it needed to be finished. I left him, taking my priorities in hand and headed home.

At home, I called out the doctor for my wife, fed the kids (two of whom were not mine) and waited, wondering how I could contact Mr Singh. Being so connected and being used to everyone else being connected this was a little bit of a culture shock for me. A search engine is of no use to me, he has no mobile phone or email address. As far as technology is concerned, he does not exist, he is disconnected. Somehow though he was totally connected whilst talking to me at the bus stop.

A few hours later, my wife was feeling better and the kids has gone home apart from mine and I had to run an errand to the pharmacy to pick up her prescription. The pharmacist told me that it would be around a 30 minute wait for the drugs or I could go elsewhere for a quicker response. I agreed to wait, but said I would be back in 30 minutes. I had something to do for 30 minutes… search for Mr Singh.

I remember asking Mr Singh why he crossed the road to the bus stop if he didn’t want the bus. He said to me that he was heading the other way, but i caught his attention and he felt he need to speak to me. So I headed in the direction he said he was walking. driving around looking at the people instead of the road and the cars around is not a talent I posses, a few near misses I have to say, but no incidents. I spent the next 30 minutes back and forth looking for Mr Singh, but without success.

I’m intrigued now and am keen to find out more, but completely cut off from my source of wisdom. I do remember that the last thing he did say was to pray. So I pray I find him again.

That was deep!

ok, ok you’re right!

For many years I have argued the american view that it always rains in England. I live in England and have enjoyed many dry spells year after year, so I felt it only natural to correct those americans who sneer at the weather in England.

Having just returned home from my east coast tour where the weather was glorious sunshine throughout, I am presented with an August that has casued me to enter into my winter wardrobe far too early.

It’s cold, wet and my daily commutes to work are still crowded (and smelly), even though it is still the holidays when commuter traffic is supposed to be lighter and the weather is supposed to be warmer and dryer.  What is going on? The effects of global warming… pah!  the americans were correct all the time.  I was just to stubborn to realise it.

Added to that, I read in the press that record number of brits are leaving the country for sunnier shores, with Austrailia, Spain and the USA top choices. How about that to add to my post holiday blues?

Is the grass greener on the other side?  Time to research me thinks.

Myrtlewood Golf Club

As part of the east cost trip we are on, spending time at my aunt’s beautiful house in Myrtle beach has certainly been a comfortable experience. Both Alex and myself packed our golf clubs and have been determined to play as much as we could.

My aunt’s house is situated around Myrtlewood Golf Club. Myrtle Beach claims to be the golfing capital of the world in some circles and any golfer heading to the area is spoilt for choice.

Being next door to Myrtlewood it is an obvious choice. Myrtlewood Golf Course contains two impressive and well maintained, 18 hole golf courses. Palmetto and Pine Hills. Including a couple of practive putting greens and a driving range. The shop and restaurtant are also impressive, but above all the staff are helpful and courteous. Throughout our time there, with the weather in the late 90 degrees there were constant watering holes and staff on hand serving snacks and drinks.

Spending a couple of weeks in the area I felt we should stick to the courses and learn it with the belief that our handicaps will drop.

Children under 16 years old are free with a full paying adult!

As planned we’ve been playing around 4 times a week and surely enough we’ve both improved. Alex came in 14 over with an impressive 86! Yesterday I managed an impressive birdie from off the green. I’m not going to mention my best score so far, until I reach my target, so assume I am not as good as Alex for now! 😐

On the road again…

It’s that time of year again, when the kids break up from school and the airlines hike up the prices and the threat of airport and airline strikes add to the joy stress of seeking out that anticipated annual search for fun, rest and of course a little education.

We are not unique.  A few million will be heading off to far and wide destinations in search of much the same.

One thing we will all have in common of course is that fact that we will all be connected in some way or another.  The ability to have mobile access to voice and data is great and extremely seamless.  The only downside is of course the cost of roaming outside your home territory. My wife has suggested that we buy local SIM cards whilst abroad.  Can anyone suggest the best and most economical way of doing this in the US?

We have IP devices that offer the attraction of cost effective VoIP, but there will still be a need to call each other across a cell network.