Singapore/Malaysia/Hong Kong – summary

I promised to send out my concluding thoughts on the countries as I usually do and then when I got back I consumed by the usual items and never did it.  A reminder not to put things off but rather to just do them immediately.  So here are my concluding thoughts:

Singapore

1. I have never seen a nation of such slim people. The only overweight people you see are clearly foreigners. It must be something to do with what they eat because you don’t see them exercising much. The food they eat is pretty healthy.  Hardly any fried food, very little starch. Even though Bryan made derogatory remarks about my weight, I actually lost 2 kgs while traveling in Asia. As I said, must be the food.

2. The women in particular are very thin. On discussing this with our branch manager in Singapore he said that if any of the female staff start putting on weight, the other female staff make lots of comments about it. Definite stigma attached to being fat it seems and the peer pressure is obviously effective.

3. Everything is clean.  Everything works. Everything is organised. Some people think this makes it sterile. I love it. So no one litters, there is no underage sex or drinking allowed, no pornography, no visible sex workers (I am sure if you really look hard you can find some).  Sterile? No, upright might be a better description.

4. It is hot and humid. You just step outside and you start sweating. You don’t have to even do anything. Just standing there. In comparison, inside is cooled to about 10 degrees C. The only reason you would wear a jersey in Singapore is to fend of the air conditioning.

5. Everyone speaks English.  They took the decision back in the 70s that all schooling will be done in English. You can see how they have benefited from that.

Malaysia

1. You can tell it is an Islamic state straight away. From the Koran next to the bed, to the arrow pointing toward Mecca, to the Shariah police force.  You can just tell it is a different place to Singapore. It felt more oppressive.

2. The people treat each other with disdain.  There is a distinct class system. A few people told me that the Malays govern but the Chinese have the money. And within both the Malays and Chinese they have a system of class as well. It was noticeable and I didn’t like it.  Goes against my view that we are all made equal.

Hong Kong

1. This is the ultimate city of non-stop. It buzzes at whatever time of the day. It is busy, busy, busy. The airport never stops, the shopping never stops, the restaurants never stop. There is always a deal to be done.  To me it is how Asia is.  I love the place.

2. Despite it being a crazy place of activity, everything also works. You think it won’t be clean but it is.  Smog is a problem though – even on a good day you can see the smog. That is the only thing I don’t like about the place.

So there you have it.  You might realise that I really like Asia.  Can’t wait to take the family there someday!

 

Hong Kong

Tuesday was spent in Hong Kong and I simply had no time to write the blog until now. After the last few days of lavish breakfasts it was quite surprising to see how ‘Boutique’ the breakfast was at Hotel Indigo.  Can’t really complain too much though because I still eat the same thing I ate at all the other breakfasts. As I arrived bambooso late the previous evening I only got to see my surroundings in the morning from the hotel room and it was very clear I had no view except of various construction sites. What does amaze me is how they use bamboo for scaffolding and how quickly they put it up. I watched across the road and they did one whole level in about 5 minutes.

I again had a client lunch and presentation. This took place in the Dynasty Club which has fantastic views of thehk harbour harbour and city of HK.  The picture is the view from the room we had lunch in. It was the best day I have ever experienced in HK from a weather perspective.  The presentation again seemed to go well and there were a series of questions both immediately after I finished as well as at the table after lunch. The biggest problem I had was that the one guy I was sitting next to spoke with a thick Chinese accent and when he spoke he hardly moved his lips. I eventually gave up saying “sorry I never got that” and just nodded and smiled and said ‘yes, yes’ until I picked up on something I understood and then answered that.  There were some very senior people at the lunch including the President of China Life which is the biggest life insurer in China and one of the biggest in the world.  It was quite funny because immediately the most senior person of a particular company got up to leave, all the rest of them from that company also did whether they were finished or not.

hk office viewAfter lunch we went to the office and I spent the afternoon working there.  The views from the office are amazing because we are on the 67th floor. You have to take one lift up to 45th floor and then change on the observation level and take another one the remainder of the way because one lift cannot go safely that high. I am just glad there wasn’t a fire drill!  The picture is the view from the office I was working in during the afternoon.

Early evening we met up with my boss (from Germany) who arrived that afternoon.  Our local HK head then insisted we take the number 15 bus up the Peak. The bus cost HK$9.80 which is about R12.00 (roughly $1). It is a double decker bus and takes you right up the windy road to the top of the Peak which overlooks HK & Kowloon.  PeakThe views are fantastic and the advantage of going up in the bus was evident because you could see over the island. We had dinner at a restaurant at the top with a large majority of the office staff from the UK office. They were offering a buffet which was very good value at about R400 per person.  It included sushi and every type of seafood you could want (prawns, oysters, mussels, crab, lobster) – and that was just the cold section. Then there were about 10 different hot dishes and about 20 different deserts.

At 9pm I insisted that I get a taxi to the airport. My flight was at 11:45pm but I knew it would take at least an hour to get there. As it turned out it took even longer because there was an accident on the motorway which resulted in 3 lanes becoming 1 lane.  Fortunately security and passport control did not take long and I managed to get to the lounge with 20 minutes before boarding so that I could have a shower and change out of my suit.  As it turned out, we started boarding 30 minutes late because the crew arrived late (I assume because of the accident) but we did manage to make up the lost time and landed in Jhb (which is where I am now) on time.

I will send one more blog with my summary thoughts of Singapore/Malaysia and Hong Kong.

Kuala Lumpur to Hong Kong

Breakfast this morning at the hotel was quite disappointing after enjoying the Pan Pacific breakfast for the last 4 days.  What made it even worse was that there was no bacon with my eggs. I did find KL a bit of a strange place to visit.  Maybe it was the Koran next to my bed (first time I have stayed in a hotel with that) or the arrow on the bedside table pointing toward Mecca or the prayer mat next to my bed that did it. But it was probably more around how the people treated each other. There is a distinct class or social difference and I could see it easily.  KLI asked Frank (who is from Singapore) about it and he said that there is a class divide in Malaysia. It seems that the Malays get the better jobs.

The climate is as hot and humid as Singapore (the locals told me it is hotter than Singapore generally). Lots of palm trees. But there is also a mixture of glitzy wealth (like modern high rise buildings like the Petronas Twin Towers which used to be the tallest buildings in the world) but then there are unfinished high rise builders with what looks like squatters in them. The photo was from my hotel room and the one building was a modern office block and the other was an unfinished building with people’s washing hanging in the gaps in places.

toliet2I am definitely getting a bit more into toilet humor I think.  After the squatting toilet from yesterday I had the picture on the left on my toilet in my hotel room. It was a ‘Eco washer’ toilet.  Couldn’t bring myself to try it out but it seemed to be a built in bidet on the toilet. Where do people think of these things? Probably while sitting on the loo.

I had a client presentation and lunch to do. The people who attended seemed to quite engaged and while they didn’t ask questions immediately after I was finished, there was a lot of discussion around the presentation at the table over lunch.  In fact, the whole of lunch was a discussion around the presentation and Frank said the same thing happened at the table he was at. So I take that it means it went down well. I did find it kind of strange that at lunch the attendees would just dismiss the waiters and waitresses. For example, they would come and offer tea/coffee and the guy would just ignore them (like he was making a point) and then after a minute or so of them waitng patiently he would just waive his hand as if to say get away.  Very dismissive and again strengthening my view on the class thing.

After lunch it was back to the airport. This time we took a taxi back. Taxi’s in KL also come in different classes (see what I mean about class distinction). You can get a budget taxi (red, beaten up old Corolla) or a luxury taxi (blue, new Toyota MPV) or an executive one (Merc or BMW). Obviously priced appropriately. We took the Blue one. It takes about an hour by car back to the airport and that was without much traffic.  With traffic I was warned it could take 2-3 hours. Fortunately we got the shorter version today. Not sure why there is so much traffic or why they put the airport that far away. There are just over 1m people living in KL and so it isn’t that big a city to warrant the airport being so far away or that much traffic.

Everything went smoothly at the airport and the plane (Cathay Pacific again which is a pity because their air hostesses don’t rival Singapore Airlines) left exactly on time and landed 15 minutes early in Hong Kong. It was a 3 hour 30 minute flight and I managed to watch World War Z, have dinner (yes Bryan eating again) and watch another episode of Luther (the BBC series). They even served Haagen Dazs ice cream again. For once arriving in HK was a breeze (no lines at all at immigration and in past trips I have queued for an hour at least). Our man in HK told me to take the train but I could really not be bothered at 10pm in the evening taking a train and then a taxi so I just took a taxi to the hotel. I am staying in downtown HK in a very modern/new hotel called Hotel Indigo.  It is listed as a Boutique hotel. It has 26 floors. Their idea of boutique is different from mine. It is nice and modern though and it has a Nespresso machine in the room so I am happy! It is also now 11:59pm and I need to go to bed now as I am pretty tired.

 

Singapore to Kuala Lumpur

Today was my last day in Singapore for this trip.  Not to break tradition, I had the same breakfast as the other days except that I found out today that they do freshly squeezed juices at breakfast (took me 4 days to work that out). The choice this morning was carrot or apple. Who drinks a vegetable for breakfast? So obviously I went for apple.  We really do need to get a juicer like that – the apple juice was very good.

My last meeting was frosingapore airportm 8am until 12:30pm today. Normally this meeting starts at 8:30am but due to the length of the agenda it started at 8am. We were warned numerous times that it was an 8am start.  At 8am everyone was present except the President who chairs the meeting.  At 8:15am he breezes in and says “sorry I thought it started at 8:30am” – seriously!?! And he is German – there goes that stereotype.  The meeting went on so long that I eventually had to leave because I had to check out of my room by 1pm and it was still going on at 12:50pm.

My flight to Kuala Lumpur was only at 6:45pm so I had a lot of time to kill and not really anywhere to go.  After considering it for while I eventually settled on going to the airport early because I could at least use the lounge there and get some lunch for free. Singapore Airport is one of the best in the world. It is very organised, well laid out etc etc. The photo is of inside the terminal building. They have a whole orchard garden inside. Quite amazing.

toilet1I just spent the time in the Singapore airlines lounge which had everything I needed – food and Wifi.  The only other thing I did was go to the toilet. What is it about countries toilet habits?! “Please mind your step – squatting pan” … I didn’t dare try that out.

I flew from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur on Singapore Airlines. (Helen you can skip the rest of this paragraph and just go onto the next one.) Where do they find so many good looking air hostesses?! I thought it would be rude to take a photo or two but was tempted to prove my point. This was only the second time that I have flown Singapore Airlines and there service is ridiculously good. The air hostess offered to help me put my suitcase in the overhead compartment. She said “We can do it together”!?! I really didn’t think I was looked that weak! I saw another air hostess stand on a chair to help someone put their suitcase in the overhead. And just in case there is any confusion, this was on economy class for an hour flight. They really do impress me. When you fly an Asian airline you get another whole view of what service should be like.

We left exactly on time and arrived exactly on time. KL airport is a long way out of the centre of KL itself. We (I am with the branch manager from Singapore) got through passport quickly and then we took the train from the airport to KL (takes about 30 minutes without stopping). Then a taxi from the station to the Shangri-La Hotel (http://www.shangri-la.com/kualalumpur/shangrila/) which is a very nice hotel (better than the one in Singapore I would say).

This is my first time to Malaysia and hard to get an impression in the dark but it seems quite well developed and well run. Let’s see what tomorrow brings.  By the way this is country number 38 for me.  If anyone can tell me exactly which the 38 countries are then I will buy you a gift from somewhere during the remainder of my trip.

I usually do my summary of a country when I leave but I will keep it until my last blog and cover all the countries in one summary this time.

 

Singapore Day 4

Today started with an early meeting with the American ‘conqueror the whole world’ counterparts. It was an entertaining and interesting meeting.  Definitely the best meeting I have attended so far since we have been here.  Our President started the meeting with “Let’s get married before we share any secrets” as his opening salvo.  It was hard to keep a straight face.  I think they did get the message though that we aren’t simply going to share and get nothing in return.  Still not positive it will lead anywhere but at least we have made our feelings clear.

The meeting was over breakfast but they didn’t really have much breakfast available in the meeting room so I went afterwards and had a proper breakfast. Unfortunately no new fruits today. #disappointed

I did managed to have another fresh squeezed juice though at least mid-morning when I had an informal meeting with Themba (our President). Their fresh fruit juices are really very good.  I think we must get a good juicer at home. Helen also complains that it is a mission to clean. Not sure that should matter as we have 3 built in washers that can be instructed to clean it.

We had an afternoon ‘Presidents’ meeting from 12:30pm through to 5pm.  It is definitely the best formal meeting of the programme but thsimlimen that isn’t hard to make that standard given how poor some of the other meetings have been.  There were a few good presentations and discussions including one by Themba.  There was also a lengthy discussion on the future of that particular meeting.

At 5:30pm Themba and I agreed to meet to go to Sim Lim City.  We were told it was close by and we could walk which we then did. The problem in Singapore is that you cannot jaywalk at all and at numerous places we could not find a way to cross the road.  You then have to double back and go under the road using sub-ways. What looked like a short walk turned into a 40 minute walk. The closer we got to Sim Lim City the busier it got as well. Sim Lim City is a 6 floor electronic shopping mall.  My sons would call it heaven. Anything you could want electronic is found here. Few items are price marked though which means you end up negotiating on anything you want. And they come up with ridiculous negotiation techniques. I got a good price negotiated on a camera (for Helen) and then when I said ok I want to buy it the price went up by GST and also a credit card fee.  It was still a good price and so I said OK get me one and then suddenly the guy was trying to sell me a lens as well. When I rejected the lenfood courts purchase he suddenly didn’t have stock and he said no one else would as well. We did check with other stores who all said they had stock but they were at least $100 more than him. In the end I could get the camera at the same price or even better from the US rather.

By this stage Themba and I were hungry and so we set out to find a place to eat.  We walked through the local food court (which is ridiculously cheap) but I think Themba was put off by the Pig’s Organ Soup.  So we headed on to find a proper restaurant.  The Actuarial Society pays us for the time we are here (a daily allowance) and so we figured we could afford a nicer restaurant. On route to finding a better place we passed a few juice stalls and bought a freshly squeezed juice for R8 (less than $1).  A tenth of the hotel price and just as nice.

We eventually found a Japanese Yakatori restaurant. Themba was still skeptical but I persuaded him it wouldthemba be fine.  It turned out better than fine.  It turned out to be really good.  Anytime someone arrives or leaves they shouted out and so it was a constant noise of shouting ‘Hello’ or ‘Goodbye’ all with Japanese accents.  They were also quite sophisticated in that you did the ordering yourself onto an iPad. Just select the next dish you want and confirm it and they bring it to your table. You could enter one at a time or multiple at same time. Very clever and worked really well. We expected that it was going to be quite expensive because we ordered quite a lot in the end (13 items) but the whole bill including drinks and tip only came to R480 ($45) for the 2 of us. It was a great experience.

yakatoriWe didn’t make the mistake of trying to walk back to the hotel but rather took a taxi which took us about 4 minutes versus the 40 minute walk to get there (the fare being Singapore$ 7.71 – very accurate cab fare meters!).  We nipped into the mall next to the hotel (it is a big fancy mall with all the brands Michael likes – Hugo Boss, Polo, Armani etc) and found a Danish Ice Cream shop and got our deserts from there.  Now it is 9:30pm and I am feeling quite tired after walking in the heat and humidity and probably will head to bed shortly.

Until tomorrow!

Singapore Day 3

guavaMy love for breakfast and Singapore buffet breakfasts continues to grow. This morning they had green guava which, while I have eaten guava, I have never eaten green guava before.  Now I have. It has a slight guava taste and was like eating ‘green’ guava (i.e. not ripe guava).  Some people apparently call them apple guava’s and that is probably a more fitting name because they are crispy like apples, green like apples and about the size of an apple.  But they are a guava (in case you’re confused).  I can’t wait for tomorrow to see what new fruit I can get to try.

After breakfast I had a meeting on professionalism. In the past this gone relatively well but maybe I am now bored of the content already because it seems the same things stay on the agenda for each meeting. And despite the Frenchman (who I cannot understand) not being present for the meeting (though he is here in Singapore), it still seemed to go on for too long.  I can’t even blame the chairman (who is South African and generally quite a good chairman), I just think it is that everyone wants to say something. I said nothing for the duration of the whole meeting. And those of you who know me will know that for me to do that in a meeting from 8:30am to 12:30pm, it must be exceptional circumstances or I am totally out of my depth.   I don’t think it is the latter though.  After the tea break I watched a guy opposite me (he is from the UK, I know him) nod off to sleep. It kept me entertained.  I also surreptitiously managed to take a photo him.  Even though he is looking slightly up and what looks like at the screen, you will see his eyes are totally closed (he is the guy in the blue jacket). Sorry about the grainy photo but I was taking it with my iPhone and I couldn’t really turn on the flash. The first shot has the bottle of water on my side of the table right asleepin line with him so I had to make a big show of opening and drinking from the bottle so I could move it out of the way. Only slightly confusing thing was that I was already drinking from another open bottle.  People next to me probably thought I had lost it.  But incredibly I don’t think they realized that I took the photo though.

After lunch I managed to get in some work time again and late afternoon I met with Paul (who is also here) for catch up, staff discussion, genera conversation. Paul had ventured into the Gen Re Singapore office today. I doubt he did any work but he just went in to say hi to everyone (not that he knows anyone there – just the branch manager). While we were talking I got in some more fruit intake this time by the way of Watermelon fresh squeezed juice.  It was very good but then at R100 ($10) per glass it ought to be.   I couldn’t stop myself from having a second one it was so good.

There was a conference dinner this evening.  But after having googled the venue on TripAdvisor during the earlier meeting and reading the first 10 reviews, I decided to give it a skip (everyone said ‘service is shocking’). That and the fact that I didn’t sleep that well last night and don’t feel 100% and I know I have 4 busy days ahead without a weekend in between made me decide to stay in and have room service instead.  I went for the Wanton Mee (you’ll have to google that one) and when I called to order it they asked whether I wanted it wet or dry. Now there is a choice I have never had before.  Hard to ask “What do you mean by wet or dry” so I just confidently said ‘dry of course’ like they were an idiot for even asking. Immediately I had done it I was worried that I was going to get dry, uncooked noodles but I resisted the urge to phone back and change the order. It was very good (as most meals are in Asia). It came with a soup (which was obviously the wet bit).

Despite it being Saturday tomorrow, it will be a ‘working day’ here at the conference.  I am SO looking forward to that.

 

Singapore Day 2

I woke this morning and it was still pitch dark outside and the first thought through my mind was ‘Oh no, jet lag’ but then I looked at the clock and it said 5:55am which meant I had slept through from about 11:20pm to 6am.  So hopefully that is the jet lag beaten straightaway.

I had a breakfast meeting at 7:30am. The lifts are so inefficient (or overused not sure which) that it can take 10 minutes to get from my 15th floor room down to the breakfast floor.  This morning it took 7 minutes.  You would have thought that architects would realize that 4 lifts for 22 floors won’t work. Breakfast made up for the frustration of standing at the lifts for 7 minutes.  There are at least 7 different stations starting with fruit juices, then fruit/cereals and then any type of hot breakfast you could ever want including Western (eggs to order), Chinese, Japanese, Indian etc. I reckon I could have tried 100 different things for breakfast this morning if I had wanted to. I didn’t. I did have some fruit (and their fruit is very tasty) and did try a new fruit I had never had before called jackfruit.  As I am a helpful bloke, this is what a jackfruit is:

“It is a species of tree of the mulberry family which is native to part Southeast Asia.  It has the largest tree-borne fruit of any tree in the world reaching up to 36 kgs. The flesh of the jackfruit is starchy and fibrous and is a source of dietary fiber. The flavor is comparable to a combination of apple, pineapple, mango and banana.” All that courtesy of Wikipedia.  I think it is partly right.  It is starchy and fibrous.  It doesn’t take like an apple, pineapple, mango and banana put together. In fact I reckon it didn’t have much taste at all. But at least I got my fiber for the day.

After breakfast and the meeting (which morphed into another post-breakfast meeting) were finished, I had the balance of the morning free to answers all the emails that had come in overnight and to finish my presentation that I had to do tonight. Then another lunch time meeting with the Australian’s (yes I did manage to slip in their rugby prowess – or lack thereosingapore viewf – at the moment).  At lunch all the dishes were marked by the hotel and I particularly liked the one label which said ‘Fish Tamarind’ and then underneath ‘Warning: May contain seafood’.  Really?!

This afternoon was occupied by almost 2 hours on the phone with my UK office (fortunately the room has a speaker phone) and then at 6pm I was picked up to speak at the Gen Re client dinner that had been arranged.  We were back to the Fullerton Hotel again for the dinner – this time in a private room. I spoke and then took questions and then we were served the dinner.  Nothing too exotic in the food (fortunately or unfortunately) but I did get to have crab for a 2nd night running. Crab is the local national food and so it seems appropriate that I should eat it once a day while I am here.

A relatively productive working day. Sorry about the lack of photos but the one I have posted is the view from my room which I thought would be appropriate to send because that is probably where I spent most of my day working! It was threatening to rain and did eventually do that shortly after we arrived at dinner. It is now even more humid than yesterday.