Archive | March, 2012

Hotel life – answer

31 Mar

The photo in the previous post is actually a newspaper holder.  In the morning they slide a copy of The Straits Times (Singapore’s major newspaper) inside.  I didn’t realize this until the third morning I was there.  Typically business hotels do give you a newspaper each morning and initially I was a little surprised that this one didn’t.  Did you guess right?  Now you know!

Hotel life

29 Mar

What do you think it is?

I’ve stayed in hotels all over Asia by this point and I’ve stayed in them in the US and Europe as well.  On my recent trip to Singapore it took me a long time figure out what the above is.

Any guesses?  I’ll post the answer in a day or two if no one has gotten it correct.

Success in Singapore

27 Mar

Last week I wrote about my business trip to Singapore and my trepidation/dread of the five hour trip.  I am now happy to report that it was a resounding success – both from a work as well as personal satisfaction standpoint.  All of the positives that I was hoping would happen pretty much came true which I think was partly due to the reframing that I did last week.

Some of my favorite moments on this trip were:

1) Enjoying the warmth of Singapore’s tropical weather and wearing some new clothes I had bought at Christmas time that I hadn’t yet had a chance to wear

2) Finding out that my hotel (on Erskine Road) was in the middle of a wonderful cluster of brightly painted houses with bars and restaurants.  In addition, on my 10 minute walk to the office I went by a Buddhist temple, a hindu temple and a mosque.  It was practically a Singapore commercial in four blocks. I even saw a bride and groom taking photos on my walk back in the evening.

3) The food – I did make it to the hawker’s market and had Indian cuisine, along with a lime soda – but I also had over the course of the week, a chicken sandwich with avocado (which is remarkably difficult to find in Shanghai), a middle-eastern sampler platter with umlimited fresh pita bread, tangine with chicken and green olives, fresh sushi that was picture perfect and a tasting menu on the top of Marina Bay Sands that was over the top – from fresh raw tuna to foie gras and a delicate desert with about 20 different components.

4) Catching up with colleagues and other acquaintances – one evening as I alluded to above, I met a former client at Marina Bay Sands, which is actually most famous for having a huge casino.  We didn’t go to the casino, but instead headed to the roof for first drinks and then dinner.  The view from the top – which looks like a giant boat, puts Singapore in perspective – and you can even look down on the famous Singapore Flyer, the big ferris wheel.

5) Having an empty seat next to me on the flight home – my flight back was delayed, but I was lucky enough to have a window seat with no one sitting beside me.  Also – because it was delayed I was able to find a chili crab magnet at one of the shops in the airport to add to my magnet collection.

My work project, while not quite done – also went as well as possible, considering the circumstances.  If I wanted to complain, I am sure I have enough for another post, but I’m trying to stay positive.  Business trips never result in enough sleep, the food is always too rich, my exercise routine gets off center, and the person next to, in front of or behind me on the plane will be sick.  This is a given.  To enjoy this trip I needed to accept those aspects and focus on the rest of it.  At least this time, I did succeed.

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As it was a work trip, the only camera I had was my blackberry camera, which explains the quality of the pictures above.  I was trying though to capture enough of an essence that if you ever have to go to Singapore for work, that you too can have a good trip.

Any favorite work trips out there?  One other that was a favorite was two years ago I had a conference that I needed to attend in Sydney, Australia.  I added two days of my own free time – one at the beginning and one at the end and managed to cram so much into those days that I still think of it fondly.

Tuning the ivories

25 Mar

My piano is a source of joy and relaxation in the apartment.  Renting it a year and a half ago was a good move hands down.  Last weekend the piano tuner came – along with my rental comes twice yearly tune-ups.  The same gentleman has come before and after Shanghai’s cold winter and the temperature fluctuations over the last six months the piano needed his services as one of the low E flat keys was especially sticky.

I have been inspired by some of the wonderful photos that Li took in Boracay and tried to capture some shots of the inside of piano as the gentleman tuned.  Even this traditional occupation is changing in China  – this time instead of a tuning fork – which I believe he used six months ago – now an app from Apple is changing the piano tuner world as he gently placed an iPad on the keys.

Tuning a piano can serve as a metaphor for many aspects of life.  As time passes we may sag a little and needed to be tightened up – or maybe a sticky key is causing us not to be able to react as we’d like, or something is stuck inside that needs to be brought forward and dealt with or trashed.

Any thoughts on tune ups?

The glamour of business travel

22 Mar

“You’re so lucky!  That sounds like so much fun!”

my friend in the states told me when I said that I have a last minute trip to Singapore.

I am trying to be more positive recently so I just said – “Yes, it’s great!”

But inside I was thinking that I have an overnight flight which leads to an 8:30 am meeting, 4 days of trying to patch up an issue, along with serving as a mediator between two groups, work lunches, dinners, the hotel by the office is booked already, so I don’t know where the new one is, trying to squeeze in a couple of vendor meetings and doing all of the work that I was planning to do next week in China.  Great.

Glamorous?  Maybe from the outside in.

Or maybe it’s a state of mind.  If I retrain my mind I could be thinking that I’ll get to see some colleagues that I haven’t seen in over six months, enjoy the warm weather and relatively pollution free atmosphere in Singapore, add to my frequent flier miles, try a new “boutique hotel,” eat at the Hawker’s market that I wrote about in one of my first blog posts and hopefully create an action plan for a situation that is desperately needed.

Now that is glamorous and maybe a little fun too.

Which type of trip will I have?  I’ll let you know when I get back.

Any other thoughts on business travel?

Profiles – Lei Feng – The Chinese “Good Samaritan”

20 Mar

The traditional picture of this Chinese "Good Samaritan"

Each March 5th in China is a day dedicated to an individual named Lei Feng (pronounced LAY FENG).  Lei Feng was born in 1940 in a small town in Changsha and orphaned when he was young.  He is famous for being featured in a series of campaigns for his acts of ordinary and extraordinary kindness and caring towards others.  There is an official diary that it is said that he kept containing his thoughts and stories of acts of charity and kindness.  Washing his comrades’ clothes, cleaning blackboards at school, giving his seat to the elderly are all included there.   Unfortunately he died in 1962 when a truck he was driving was hit by a telegraph pole.  After his death, Chairman Mao recognized his contributions and ordered all students to “learn from Lei Feng.”

Morality in China is a tricky proposition.  Recently some very scary stories have shocked people into recognizing the low moral standards that plague the general public.  Last year a baby ran into the road and no one bothered to help – video cameras saw over 20 people walked by the injured child before a street cleaner moved her to the side of the road.  There are stories of old people who have tried to extort money from bus drivers – claiming they ran them over.  Fake products – the melamine scandal in infant formula, stories of plastic in the tapioca balls in milk tea, furniture branded as made in Europe with a made in China label.  It seems every day something new.

I think because of that, with the March 5th day of recognition this year corresponding to the National People’s Congress meetings, the newspapers were full of articles and commentary connecting the current state of morality to the story of Lei Feng.  Lei Feng was a real person, but it is pretty obvious that his diary and the photographs were staged and or screenwritten to serve a purpose which then eventually translated into the cult of Mao.  That said – does it matter?

Morality – why do we do the right thing, why do we help others?  In countries with a religious focus there are saints and prophets and holy men and women who serve as examples to us “normal” people.  China doesn’t have that history or those role models – they have Lei Feng instead – a soldier who did good deeds.  One editorial I read said that China shouldn’t need a Lei Feng day – but until the concept of morality becomes the norm, that he will continue to be an important symbol of trying to do better.  Another editorial said China does need Lei Feng and focused on how sad it is that there are not more examples like him.

I feel that Lei Feng is a bit like the Good Samaritan in Christian culture.  He is a representative icon to remind us that we are all human beings and should treat one another with dignity.  Each March 5th, China is reminded – so let’s see what happens through the rest of 2012.

Do you have any personal Lei Feng’s in your life?

Return of the milkman

18 Mar

The Chinese says – “We’ll deliver fresh to your door every day!”

This advertisement was posted in the elevator of my apartment building.  Fresh milk delivered to your door.  Fifty years after individual milk delivery stopped in the states, it reemerges in Shanghai.  What a world.

What else would you like to have delivered to your door?

Spring in Shanghai

15 Mar

We finally have had a few days without rain and the buds are opening.  Temperatures are still downright cold at night, but I now have hope that warmth will come.  The following are from the trees in my apartment complex – I thought they were so beautiful, a touch of white.  These are photos I took myself – with Li’s camera.  Enjoy!

Where’s the peanut butter?

13 Mar

Would you like crunchy or creamy (or creamy with bits of puffed rice)?

I went to the grocery store a few days ago.  My shopping list was pretty normal – yogurt, paper towel, laundry detergent, milk, peanut butter, etc.  One of the reasons I like my apartment is because at the front of the complex is a large EMART supermarket – so grocery shopping is very easy and I don’t have to carry my groceries too far.

Even though it is very convenient, I don’t always go each week.  Sometimes I will go to the foreign supermarket instead and every week I stop at my fruit seller a couple of times.  From the outside I had seen that it was under construction (like most everything else around me), but I hadn’t been in a couple of weeks.  I entered and the entire layout of the supermarket had changed.

The entrance – used to be on the left side – now it’s on the right.  Pots and pans, cleaning equipment are on the 1st floor instead of in the basement.  The check-out counters are now on the lower level, the bulk goods section flipped around.  Amazingly enough though, the store was pretty quiet and I was able to walk without being jostled too much.  Everyone seemed slightly in shock – looking for staples and wandering slowly through the aisles.  The general groupings of items were similar, but the layout and flow was all different.  Luckily I had my list, so I slowly worked through, checking off each item.

I was done with everything on the list (and a couple of extra things too), but I couldn’t find the peanut butter.  I finally resorted to asking a shop assistant.  It was with the salad dressing.  I suppose that makes perfect sense – to a Chinese person.  I think the reorganization is almost done, so we’ll see the next time I go back if that’s still where it is.

Looking back though, I know peanut butter is not a staple in all cultures.  When I lived in Spain the only place you could find peanut butter was the “American store.”  I think here, many chinese people use it to make peanut noodles.  I’m still a traditionalist – peanut butter toast, peanut butter banana sandwiches and peanut butter on ice cream sundaes, though I did have a disastrous experience with a traditional African peanut soup once.

Any stories about not being able to find a staple in a store?  Since I lived in Jackson the Meijers has been reorganized a couple of times and when I go back I perform the same wander that I did in Shanghai.

Banking in China – challenges and rewards

11 Mar

While China’s economy has been slowing lately, it is still expected to grow at over 7% this year from reports that I’ve seen.  Inflation alone for 2011 was over 5% for parts of the year with certain food prices increasing at a much faster pace.  I did a presentation last year where I presented economic statistics to the audience – GDP growth, inflation, salary increases, turnover – and then I dissolve all the statistics into two photos – one of a pig – to represent the increases in the price of pork – and the second is a house – to represent ever increasing home prices.  The central government is fighting inflation and housing prices and at the moment, both appear to be relatively under control – housing prices have even dropped slightly and they are considering dropping some controls in certain areas.

As a foreigner in China, there are certain aspects of the banking system and overall financial system that I participate in and others that I do not.  I have two bank accounts, a debit card, frequent flier card, even a credit card (which was initially facilitated by my employer after six months of trying myself and is not that common for foreigners), but I don’t do trading of stocks, nor am considering purchasing property.  I think it may be possible, but I’m not comfortable with the level of risk or pricing of real estate in Shanghai at this point.

Bank deposit rates for short term CDs are over 4% and recently I found a three and a half month CD with a 5% annualized return.  Luckily to invest in these all you need to have is a bank account with RMB and the ability to not touch your money for that period of time, both of which I can meet for a while.  The other day we spent a morning at the bank, going through the process of filling out the forms and confirming the product type.  The hardest part is that I have to write a sentence in Chinese saying that I understand the risks of the product.  The bank is pretty strict about the fact that I need to write it myself but doesn’t seem to care that my writing makes me look like a third grader – so I had to carefully copy it.

Banking also has other challenges here.  You pay most bills in cash – including my credit card bill, my utility bills, etc.  Checks do not exist.  Things are either direct deposit (like a your monthly salary) or cash.  Once I tried to do online banking – but my Chinese needs to be a whole lot better before that is ever going to happen for real, plus I’m not quite sure I trust the security of the website itself.

An army of bank employees waiting to serve me

The other interesting part of banking is the status that you get from having different cards.  In theory, being a gold member means that you don’t have to wait in the same line as everyone else and can even get you into airport lounges and discounts on all types of products.  Previous to six months ago, I hadn’t been in a bank in a couple of years except to pay my credit card bill which you do in a cash deposit machine.  At that point when I asked some questions about my account they said that I was eligible to become a gold member.  I have yet to experience any of the benefits they promised.  I think there must be a hidden caveat somewhere.

All said and done though, the RMB (Chinese yuan)  is steadily becoming more valuable against the USD – from around $1 = 7RMB when I first came four and a half years ago, to $1 = 6.3 RMB now.  I’m hoping it continues.  I know for those of you who visit me, that means it’s more expensive – but when I go back to the States I’ll treat!

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