Archive for October, 2010

Zen baseball

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

Today Zen’s team played a “friendly” match against the “Iccies”. Zen was at bat and in the first of the two games he was also a left fielder. He didn’t get a hit, but he did walk around the bases twice. As a fielder he didn’t do so well, but in the second game he was a catcher and he did all right. The game was decided on the pitchers, and in both cases our pitcher was better. But it was good fun nonetheless.

After that we went off to eat at Bar Bar with our Taiwanese friend Peggy. The food was yummy and the company was wonderful. Thanks, Peggy.

Zen at bat

Zen at bat

Zen running home to get a point for his team

Zen running home to get a point for his team

Zen the catcher

Zen the catcher

Back from Amsterdam

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

Just got back from a few days in Amsterdam for a conference.  It was good fun. After a mad weekend of haze and errands and taking care of Zen and work work and then also writing to put most of the finishing touches on my second book, off I went to the airport to hang out with my boss in the first class flight lounge, then to my economy class seat on the 12-hour flight to Amsterdam. In the three-seat middle aisle, but with nobody in the middle seat, it was reasonably comfortable. I tried to sleep, since I was exhausted, but I think I only managed about three hours, so I drank beer and watched a few movies – “Get Him To The Greek” and “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist”, both of which were about music, but neither of which was any good.

Got to Amsterdam ahead of schedule, zoomed through customs, caught up to my boss, we took a shuttle into town, then off to the hotel, then off to the convention centre to get there before 11:00, when I had my first meeting. Whew! The first day was good, I met people I knew, I hung out, I went to a few sessions, I met the CEO of RBS and gave him my magazine, requesting an interview at some point since we’d featured the guy he had been sitting onstage with that same day, the chairman of the largest bank in India. That evening there were three parties – I took the free hotel shuttle to one of them, lugging my bags with me. It was in a great hotel next to a canal, and I met one of the global bank’s big shots, a baby-faced guy not much older than me, but I wasn’t there long. Then I went to a dinner hosted by the people who had flown me over, where I met a few journalists, it was so-so. Finally, after going back to the hotel, I went to another party that was just around the corner that was hosted by a PR agency and some other IT company. They were supposed to play Hallowe’en-themed music, but all I heard was Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” (I guess they were going to play “Thriller” – or, better yet, “Ghostbusters” – at the climax of the evening, when everybody was going to go crazy). No Misfits, no White Zombie, no Rob Zombie, no Cramps, no Ministry, no Skinny Puppy… what kind of Hallowe’en music is that?

Tuesday was a regular day at the conference, I woke up, took the 8:00 shuttle bus to the conference (it was still dark out, the sun rises at around 8:30 in Amsterdam in late October), I hung out, did a ton of interviews, and in the evening headed off to a party where I was a bit of a fish out of water, the only journalist and in an industry I didn’t really cover. But the food was good, they had breakdancers and a sexy magician, then cheese and cigars. The bus driver got lost on the way back and drover around and around the streets of Amsterdam. Ouch. I got to the second part of the evening, but it was winding down so I went to my hotel and slept.

Wednesday was another regular day, but busier than the others. Had a great lunch with cool people, then off to an event that we were hosting, and many interviews. There was a party from 9:00 to 1:00 near my place, so I first went for a stroll around the red light district, checking out the display boothes as well as the “coffee shops” where they don’t sell coffee, then to the party by 9:30 or so. It was not too bad, many people that I knew showed up, but of course the music was terrible. In four nights in Amsterdam I didn’t once hear a shred of rock ‘n’ roll – it was either techno or eighties pop. What I wouldn’t have given for even a little bit of Golden Earring…

Thursday, the last day of the show, things were winding down, I made a few new friends, I did a bunch of interviews, I had another great lunch, I hung around the place waiting for the party to start in the evening. Naturally, it was a disappointment with a squad of techno beats, and a big room full of old people milling about, eating this and that, chatting anonymously. I found a few people I liked and we hung about drinking beer until the early hours. I collected my bags, jumped in the shuttle bus, and headed back to the hotel.

Friday I got up around the same time, packed, ate breakfast, and took a little walk around the neighbourhood, looking at it for the first time in the sunlight. Took a few pictures, then got in my 9:00 shuttle to the airport, checked in, and did some duty free shopping. I had taken E120 with me in cash, along with my cards, but so far I hadn’t spent a single Euro cent since I’d landed since all of my transportation, accommodation, food, beverages and beer had been free. Great! I bought a belt for myself, and some snacks for my colleagues and family. I inquired about changing my Euros to Singapore dollars at the big ABN AMRO booth in the airport, since it’s always better to sell a currency in its country of origin, but I balked at their ripoff rates. Before I left Singapore I bought E100 and paid S$182 for it. Then I found another E20 from a previous trip and took that with me. When I asked the money changers how many Singapore dollars they’d give me for my E120, they told me S$172. I said “No, E120, not E100,” they said “yes, E120 buys you S$172.” That was less than I’d paid for my original E100. What a ripoff. Later, I changed the E120 in Singapore and got S$213. Sheesh.

The flight was okay. I couldn’t sleep, so I drank beer and watched four movies – the first three Twilight movies (I’d already read the awful first book, but was curious to see what the movies were all about – nice to get it over with in one shot) and the preposterous Wolverine movie. I heard it was bad, but I wasn’t prepared for just how awful it was. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that a plot and dialogue is really bad if the characters are at least as sympathetic as the ones in this movie, but I’m sure every single X-Men fan/Wolverine fan was disappointed with the dreck that was produced. What a waste.

The weekend was okay – Saturday I napped a few hours in the morning, then woke up and did regular Saturday stuff. I went swimming with Zen a few times and we played with the Playmobil sub that I bought him. That was very nice. Then I took him downtown to his Japanese lesson, and I went off and bought new shoes for myself and ran a few other errands. Whew. Sunday I did work for my company and also took Zen to the softball game described above. It was a nice weekend, but busy.

My hotel in Amsterdam

My hotel in Amsterdam

Near my hotel in Amsterdam

Near my hotel in Amsterdam

Near my hotel in Amsterdam

Near my hotel in Amsterdam

Near my hotel in Amsterdam

Near my hotel in Amsterdam

Near my hotel in Amsterdam

Near my hotel in Amsterdam

Near my hotel in Amsterdam

Near my hotel in Amsterdam

Near my hotel in Amsterdam

Near my hotel in Amsterdam

Near my hotel in Amsterdam

Near my hotel in Amsterdam

Amsterdam at night

Amsterdam at night

Amsterdam after a few drinks

Amsterdam after a few drinks

The big party at the end of the conference - note the empty dance floor

The big party at the end of the conference - note the empty dance floor

...but it was crowded

...but it was crowded

See you in Toronto

See you in Toronto

Do they know it’s Christmas? Yes… they do!!

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

Christmas is coming!  Christmas is coming!  Let’s slowly enjoy this wonderful feeling for the next two months.  I spotted this on October 30th on Orchard Road in Singapore (where it never snows), but who knows how many weeks or months it’s been up.

Merry Christmas, Singapore, Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, Singapore, Merry Christmas!

I also found a can of Chu-Hi in the local Seven-11.  It was S$6.15, which would mean it was Y382.  A can like this would cost about Y150 in Japan.  It wasn’t very tasty, and only had 4% alcohol, I won’t be  buying any more of these.

Over-priced Chu-Hi

Over-priced Chu-Hi

It’s hazy

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

Yep, it’s really hazy in Singapore.  Even the Wall Street Journal has noticed.

I get a good idea of how hazy it is by looking out the window, just check out the comparison between September, 2009 and October 20th, 2010 (today is 20-10-2010, by the way…) to see the difference.

Bukit Timah without haze - August 30th, 2010

Bukit Timah without haze - August 30th, 2010

Bukit Timah with haze, October 20th, 2010

Bukit Timah with haze - October 20th, 2010

Bukit Timah has nearly disappeared!

Bukit Timah has nearly disappeared!

Update on October 24th – it rained last night and the haze has mostly disappeared!

Where's the haze?

Where's the haze?

RNEL in Singapore, October 2010

Saturday, October 9th, 2010

We had a great week because we had great visitors – my brother Ralph, his wife Nicole, and his two kids Evan and Lauren. Yay!

Last Saturday they showed up and took a taxi here, we had a lot of fun that evening hanging out and talking. Sunday we all relaxed, and in the afternoon we enjoyed Zen’s softball game. In the evening we ate dinner at Binjai Park’s family restaurant, that was fun.

On Monday I went off to work. They had an excursion downtown. On Tuesday they had a long day doing fun things (I forgot what). On Wednesday they did some things around here, then in the evening they went off to the Night Safari. They took Zen with them and had a lot of fun. On Thursday morning they went off to the Science Centre and stayed there all day. On Friday they had a fun time too.

Saturday we woke up early and went off for a hike along Mount Faber, Kent Ridge, and off to the Hort Park. That we good fun because we saw monkeys and had a nice time. We then went off to eat dim sum in Red Star Restaurant, a fun place downtown. Headed back to chill out, then for a quick swim. Naoko and Zen went off to downtown Japanese lessons, Nicole and Lauren went with them. Ralph, Evan and I chilled out here and listened to music, watched Ren and Stimpy and chilled out. We ate satay for dinner and had a nice time, then off to a party at my neighbour’s to meet new people and eat more good food.

Here are some pictures from the past week:

Ralph, Lauren and Evan in front of the Singapore Art Museum

Ralph, Lauren and Evan in front of the Singapore Art Museum

View from the Marina Bay Sands roof

View from the Marina Bay Sands roof

Head swimming in the sky

Head swimming in the sky

Hofliches in the sky with diamond

Hofliches in the sky with diamond

Ralph, Lauren, Evan and Zen found the eye

Ralph, Lauren, Evan and Zen found the eye

Monkey mama and baby

Monkey mama and baby

The Seven Hofliches in Singapore

The Seven Hofliches in Singapore

Feeding the fish

Feeding the fish

Three little Hofliches

Three little Hofliches

Treetop walk in Singapore

Treetop walk in Singapore

Eating Satay!!!

Eating Satay!!!

Peter and Ralph (Zen in background)

Peter and Ralph (Zen in background)

Peter and Ralph

Peter and Ralph

The Hoflich boyyz!

The Hoflich boyyz!

The Hoflich boys

The Hoflich boys

The Hoflich girls

The Hoflich girls

Zen and Evan, hamming it up (Zen is)

Zen and Evan, hamming it up (Zen is)

Evan, Zen and Lauren

Evan, Zen and Lauren

Dim Sum Dollies!

Friday, October 8th, 2010

In Singapore the subway company has launched an excruciating campaign to teach common courtesy on their rides. They’ve been scratching their heads for a long time to figure out how to teach people the most basic of concepts – move to the centre of the bus/train, don’t hover near the doors if you’re not getting off, give up your seat for someone needy, don’t eat in stations and trains, mind the gap, stand clear of the yellow line, etc. Now it looks like they’ve really run out of ideas.

Singaporeans are notoriously self-centered – despite the many public service messages about giving up your seat to pregnant women or the elderly, every day you’ll see some young person who’s planted in the reserved seat and is just sleeping away/faking sleep while some expectant mother or frail grand-dad is right nearby. By coming out with this sort of chirpy, in-your face campaign it just shows how desperate they’ve become in trying to draw attention to this issue. “Must make general populace more ‘gracious’, can’t we all just get along?”

It really makes my commute much more unpleasant to hear this sort of noise pollution, and if I crank the Black Sabbath on my iPod loud enough to block out these awful jingles I’m going to harm my hearing. There’s no winning, because when you’re trapped in a sardine can there’s nowhere else to go.

Just my opinion, man, just my opinion. What’s yours? Watch the videos and let me know.

This commercial is more elegant and gets the message across without the chirpy melodies and icky vamping (even if the shiny happy people at the end are just a bit too pleased with themselves).