My Good Friend’s Birthday

First time having a birthday party at McDonald's

Traditionally, the month of June has been quite a busy month of birthday celebration.  Since the advent of the Internet Era – where social email has decimated snail mail, e-card has decimated postcard – it is a rarity that a birthday party invitation card has arrived at my (real) mailbox that I check infrequently.  Like once a month.  The most amazing thing is – venue aside – this invitation was sent to me like months in advance.  That beats all the wedding invitation cards I have received so far.  I felt honored to be invited.  And I volunteered to be the birthday photographer.  While one friend of mine shared with me – jokingly or seriously I cannot tell – he is taking the taxi exam just in case he loses his job, I could be a birthday photographer.  That is even a more awesome career than a wedding photographer.  Most couple only has one wedding in their lifetime.  But everybody has a birthday to celebrate once a year.  You may laugh at me now.  When I do become one of the most sought after birthday photographer in Singapore, you will see me riding my dream Lamborghini down the beautiful street of Orchard.

Maybe I shall not stop at just that.  Maybe I shall become an anniversary photographer, you-and-your-pet photographer, you-and-your-lover-in-your-intimate-moments photographer.  What a lovely exit from my current nine-to-five.

No, I won’t showcase my work here because in the business of birthday photography, better be discreet.  Unless you – fortunately or unfortunately depending on how you see it – are part of my family (my band included), you could well become a semi-public figure.  One friend once asked: I was in the Hong Kong Airport and guess who I saw?  Who, I asked.  Your sister, she answered.

Some share with me that they find it hard to develop deep friendship with those whom they work with, compare with those whom they studied with.  My response would be: It all depends on you.  I am blessed with some of my great friends whom I met at work.  And to the birthday girl, have a great celebration tomorrow.  The photos should be inside your (read) mailbox any time from now.  Snail mail is an amazing thing, isn’t it?

Featured in My Paper – Behind the Scene

My Paper

This must be the first time I see my Chinese name (黃健暉) printed on a local newspaper.  I think my parents in Hong Kong would be happy if they read that.  The first time I saw my English name printed on newspaper was back in the Project Eyeball era.  How I miss Project Eyeball.  The good old days.  Had it been published free of charge like My Paper and TODAY and let the advertisement funds the operation, I think it would survive.  I still believe that the 80-cent Project Eyeball was ahead of its time.

After numerous long email exchange, MSN exchange, and short message exchange with the friendly My Paper journalist Koh Soo May (who has a lovely Chinese name that unfortunately I don’t know how to type it out here) over the weekend, I didn’t know what to expect when I walked into my favorite Coffee Bean at the Republic Plaza looking at the pile of My Paper at the counter.  You know what it is like when you interact with a journalist.  There is this element of uncertainty on what he or she is ultimately going to write, whether you will be in a positive or a not so positive light.

I tried to keep my cool but couldn’t contain my excitement.  I flipped opened the bilingual paper.  Front page (the Chinese side), I saw my site.  Gosh!  And on the third page as well.  I am much impressed by the level of details on the coverage of the topic: Bloggers – Power to the Commercial World (something like that in English).  Journalist Soo May has managed to interview the Companies, the PR firms, and the bloggers covering the areas of social media, product and service reviews and endorsement, and the trend within and outside Singapore.  Bravo!

Good read it is, I was so excited and delighted that I told one of the staff in Coffee Bean quietly behind the counter that I was on My Paper.  That was, by the way, after she asked me for a career advise if she should study Medical Science or Nursing (I love the staff of Coffee Bean at the Republic Plaza, very friendly people always with a smile).  She too was so excited that she grabbed one of the papers.  And then I realized that she cannot read Chinese, and I realized that quite a number of my good friends cannot either.

Oh well, for those who can read Chinese, click here to view the first page and here to view the subsequent one.

I guess most of us read the paper or any publication without really given much thoughts on what’s behind the scene.  After briefly worked with Soo May observing how much time she put into the articles in the middle of the night and over the weekend while busy reaching out to the network, I think I now read the newspaper with a better appreciation.  I always thought that my few hours spent per blog entry is hard work.  I certainly wouldn’t wish to write for a newspaper agency for now.

And so, this blog entry is dedicated to all the hard working journalists who face all sorts of challenges to deliver us stories, stories that don’t usually have a long lifetime and before they are even published, these journalists need to work on the next topic, and the next.

External Site: MyPaper.sg

PS. There is this one person from TEXT100 I would like to thank for all the wonderful opportunities and you know who you are.  Thank you!

A Guide for You to Win A 60″ Plasma TV This Very Sunday (And You Can Thank Me Later)

I am in a dilemma but I simply love to share.  Though I have been blogging about and talking about this too-good-to-be-true contest (seriously do the maths and if you are a Singapore resident, chances to win this is pretty high), none of my friend seems to to be as excited as I do.  Maybe secretly they do.  I have even done a field visit and yes, it does exist, in very good shape. 

Though I am a big fan of Singaporean blogger EastCoastLife (and have met her in person), this entire contest is kind of complicated coming from someone who has read every post of hers.  But fear not.  Here is your guide to win that 60″ full HD plasma TV.  That’s right.  This baby can be yours.  I’ve spent hours to hunt for all the links.  But if you prefer to play the treasure hunt yourself, feel free to skip step 1.  As always, if you don’t want this TV, you can win it and pass it to me.  Thank you.

Step 1

Read the following blog entries and write down the answers to the questions.  If you are touched by my kindness, please email me with your answers and we can compare notes.  A win-win as some of the questions are kind of … tricky to me.

  1. Which knife is a must-have in a kitchen?
  2. What is the main cause of cervical cancer? (warning: gross pictures!)
  3. How long is the underground tunnel of KPE?
  4. On which date was all Chinese males gathered, screened and later faced the machine-gun firing squad?
  5. Who is the winner of 2008 Formula One SingTel Singapore Grand Prix?
  6. Which organisation launched Hi2P?
  7. Where is Underwater World Singapore located?
  8. Besides the 60″ HD Plasma TV, which other product did LG sent me?
  9. LG’s Home Theater Systems was tuned by which world renowned high end audio expert?
  10. What does LG stand for?

Step 2

You will need to send a snail mail to her.  Follow her instruction here.

Step 3

If you do win and wish to keep it, please invite me over.  I will bring along my DVD collection of Ayumi Hamasaki.  Best of luck!

My Friend Made It to Workers’ Party’s CEC (And Another Friend Made Partner)

What a bizarre week!  First my sister got hitched.  Then my old friend of more than a decade whom I have worked with officially made it to the partner’s rank in a major accounting firm just yesterday.  On the same day, I saw another old friend of mine whom I have also worked with featured in our afternoon newspaper Today.  I guess my “Wanted” movie review ready to be published has to wait, same for a new book review.  As for that not-too-successful v-blog mini-series, that will have to be postponed for another week.

I won’t dwell too much onto my sister’s engagement.  You just need to scroll down to read the previous post.  Except, I finally managed to talk to my ma in Hong Kong on the phone and spent 18 minutes trying to explain what my future brother-in-law does in real life (to my parents, it is important to articulate that to the people around them).  I mean, look, my Cantonese really sucks after decades of neglect and attempt to explain what Portfolio Management means to my ma is really hard.  Try explaining risk hedging, diversification, quarterly results, exchange announcement, technical analysis, financial instruments, equity investment and etc. is close to impossible.  I hope I got the message and reassurance across that my future brother-in-law kicks ass (Benny, you owe me 18 sure work buy tips for that 18 minutes of hard work and I am putting my life savings onto that).

Back to my friend who has made partner.  Well, I always tell people that if you don’t see yourself becoming a partner one day, leave the consulting business once you’ve learned all that you can and want (like me).  This is how the business works: the partners milk their people dry, milk their clients dry, and they become very rich.  As simple as that and I gather one day I can write a book on my old trade skill.  In case if you wonder, the word “milk” actually comes up during account planning in the both the consulting firms I’ve worked at.

But of course, within this business, there are always carrots at the end of the sticks.  If not, why would anyone want to sell their souls to the business putting work as the first priority in life?

My old friend and I have gone a long way.  Back to the days when I was literally living off a suitcase.  In the beginning of my career, my overseas assignments were long and in between, I got nowhere to live.  And he didn’t mind me occupying half of his storeroom when I was out-of-town, staying at his place temporary when I was in town.

OK, I must say he is (or perhaps was?) not that popular at work and that seems to bug him.  I always tried to tell him that even an US President only needs and perhaps only has 51% of the people’s vote.  And I did learn a few things from him.  The word ‘politics’ at work seems to have a negative connotation.  Then again, it is whether you are benefiting from it or not that ultimately makes you a hero or a villain in the organization you are in.  Learn the rule of the game and, oh well, bosses always take priority.  As for my friend, he does it well and I am truly happy for him.

Now, let’s talk about my friend Choong Yong.  The moment I saw his picture on the paper when I was inside HMV, I couldn’t contain my excitement and messaged some of our mutual friends immediately (good things must share, that’s my philosophy in life).  Choong Yong runs his own IT consulting business for years and recently, he is appointed as Workers’ Party’s new Central Executive Committee member!  Part of the ‘renewal process’ so as to speak.  And he looks so young inside the news clipping (far right in the picture above).  One unnamed mutual friend of us does admire Choong Yong’s ‘walk the talk’ attitude and I agree.  I couldn’t help but to crack some jokes of course (about this young pretty girl he was photographed with) and nothing beats Mark’s funny response: Is it the one with the headline titled “Convicted, but now blaming his ex-lawyer”?  I laughed so hard inside HMV.  That headline was right next to Choong Yong’s piece.

When I congratulated him via sms, we exchanged a few words.  “We are still friends right?” he asked.  Of course!  My vote to PAP (the governing party) is purely because of my admiration to our Prime Minister.  And our PM happens to be in my GRC.  Hence, I wouldn’t need to scratch my head to choose between voting for the opposition or that who-is-his-name?  The one who is probably responsible in letting the terrorist in captive walked away from a detention camp, and the recent lapse at the Customs got me bang my head onto the desk.  I also did learn something from that minister though.  Whenever I screw up at home, I always say to Cynthia, “Look baby, that was an Honest Mistake.”

Anyways, I am so proud of the people around me.  I wonder what shocking news I may hear tomorrow.  A friend of mine is landing on the moon?

Last Lecture Of Randy Pausch – How To Live Your Life

Randy Pausch

Hypothetically, if you knew that you were going to die and you had one last lecture, what would you say to your students?  It is an academic tradition of Professor Randy Pausch’s University to give a “last lecture” to the students except it was not just a tradition in his case; he is actually dying from cancer and only has months to live.  My friend from work, SF, has forwarded a YouTube video to me and in this Oprah episode, Randy Pausch talked about our childhood dreams, how to achieve them, and in essence, how to live our lives.  And he gave the lecture for only three persons in this world (the answer is in the video).  If you have 10 minutes to spare, you may wish to follow the link below and be inspired.  Below are the summarized points.

  • It is an easy time to dream when we are young (and happy) and we should never lose that spirit.
  • Experience is what you get if you don’t get what you wanted.
  • When people drive you hard, they care about you.  They want you to be better.  When you are doing a bad job and no one points it out to you, that is when they have given up on you.
  • Brick walls are there for a reason: they let us prove how badly we want things.
  • Good parents are instrumental for us to achieve our childhood dreams.
  • The importance of people versus things (people come first, always!).
  • Never ever underestimate the importance of having fun.  Choose to have fun today, tomorrow, and every day thereafter.
  • Work and play well with others: (1) tell the truth, (2) apologize (properly), (3) wait, and people will show their good sides.
  • Tell the truth – integrity.
  • A good apology has three parts.  (a) I am sorry, (b) it was my fault, (c) how do I make it right.  Most people neglect the third part and fail to demonstrate sincerity.
  • Be patience.  No one is pure evil.
  • Show gratitude.
  • Don’t complain, just work harder.
  • If you lead your life the right way, if you live properly, the dreams will come to you.

The YouTube video can be viewed by clicking here.

My book review: The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch – A Lecture from the Heart to Whom He Loves

Just For Laugh – Handphone Charging Service

Major Hotel in Jakarta

Okay, I actually do like this hotel in Jakarta so I am going to put the logo instead in order to avoid the name being picked up by the search engine spiders. It is also my attempt to write something light and not so wordy. Hope you like it.

Last Monday, when I left Jakarta, I accidentally packed Cynthia’s handphone charger home. Her phone was running out of battery. How to do business without a handphone these days? Panic! At the 15th Floor … Cynthia quickly referred to the hotel service guide and surprise, surprise, there was actually a handphone charging service for major brands.

Delighted, Cynthia called the front desk on the same night and asked for the handphone charging room service.  The front desk politely informed her that she has to bring her phone to the lobby instead.

The next morning at six, Cynthia’s mother brought the phone down to the hotel lobby.  The front desk promptly informed her to visit another desk for such a service.  Upon reaching the desk as directed, she said to the hotel staff, “Good morning, could you please charge this handphone for me?”  And his reply was …

“Yes ma’am.  Have you brought the charger with you?”

Need not to say, Cynthia’s mother was shocked.

PS. In the end, there is such a service. Perhaps that particular staff was not familiar with that rare request?

Reality Can Be Cold At Times

My Family Tree

No one should see his or her savings seized twice – once at prime age and another time at golden age. My poor aunt who is now in Paris was in Vietnam when the war was lost and witnessed all our family’s assets – pharmaceutical factory, tea plantations, shop houses, and etc. – seized by the communist. She was thrown into jail and left with nothing. Having missed the age of marriage taking care of the family business that was vanished together with the Vietnam war, my aunt started a new life in Paris together with our family’s lifelong friend whom I call uncle. I have had the opportunity to meet with them when I was studying in UK and when I was working briefly in Paris. I have not met my aunt in Vietnam (according to what I have heard, all my family’s assets are now converted to my aunt’s husband’s family name) nor am I that close to my uncle and aunt in Canada whom refused to lend me money to study in Oxford. Not only that, they blamed my aunt in Paris for doing so. My mother managed to settle the loan from my aunt in Paris before I got my degree.  Now, take that!  (Thanks mom.)

And it is my uncle and aunt in Canada – who I think they are doing pretty good judging by the fact that my cousins are all doing pretty good – together with one of my cousins (who is now going through a divorce), they continuously suck money out from my aunt and uncle in Paris time over time. The latest figure? Half a million US dollars. The scam was formed for a promise to migrate my half-paralyzed aunt over to Canada. In reality? They just take the money and be merry. My aunt is still bedridden in Paris and my 82 years old uncle is still taking care of her on his own, with the help of the French government’s monthly subsidy.

I learned the news today from my sister and mother and I called my uncle in Paris on the same night. At the end of the conversation, I promise him not to pursue the matter any further out of respect and nothing else (I am still thinking of drafting a letter to my uncle in Canada with my sister’s help … just a friendly reminder that they should take care of my aunt and uncle in Paris should the situation arises). I am deeply disappointed with how greedy some people can be despite the very fact that they are blood related. My mom and dad and my sister together may not be rich but we know what righteousness means. Family matters are complex I know but who in the right mind would go and take money from the elderly with the reason of: rather leave the money to the family than to the government? I said to my uncle in Paris, at least the government takes care of you, no? What has my uncle in Canada done for you for that matter?! Just keep the money yourself and live a comfortable life. Donate the money to a charity if you wish, just keep what is rightfully yours since you both are alone in Paris. My uncle and aunt from Canada even flew to Paris and helped my aunt and uncle in Paris to draft wills.  I am amazed at what people do for money.

Through this episode, I learn to treasure the family values that my parents have inculcated to my sister and I over the years. My sister texted me in the afternoon that my uncle in Paris asked me to have babies soon because life can be very lonely in the old age. I texted my sister back that since I have a sister like her to burden, my life is settled. She reminded me that when I am 84, she will be 80. I know my sister and I have each other. And that is all that matter when the time comes.

Gosh, I could actually write a book with the storyline inspired by this episode.  I said to my uncle in Paris that if by this summer they are still in Paris (as they plan to migrate to Vietnam very soon), Cynthia and I will visit them.  Otherwise, we will head over to Vietnam.

I was in tears when I talked with him over the phone. Reality can be cold at times.

A Ridiculous S$1,000 Claim Against My Friend By Her Ex-Landlady

Previously I wrote about my friend filing a police report against her ex-landlady for harassment. On the same day, her ex-landlady filed a S$1,000 small claim against my friend for something totally ridiculously trivial. Upon receiving the Notice of Consultation from the Small Claims Tribunal, my friend contacted me if I know of anyone in the law business (having friends to think that I am a walking Yellow Pages is a compliment but yet the reason behind is beyond me). In case if you can’t read the words from the picture above (click to enlarge), here are the exact claim from my friend’s ex-landlady.

Outstanding electricity & water & gas bill for the sum of $123.30 inclusive of purchasing of pipe divider and dirty walls & flooring plus light scratches, moving of items without permission. Claiming for S$1,000 (ALL-IN).

Lawyers will probably cost more than S$1,000 just to consult and inside the Small Claims Tribunal in Singapore, there are no lawyers involved. Just the parties in dispute and the mediator behind close doors. If the matter cannot be resolved in the Small Claims Tribunal, the parties may choose to sue each other in a proper way – full frontal assault with blood and gore.

I am a banker wannabe by day and a lawyer wannabe by night. So I offered my free service to my friend only if she wanted it. I believe in the justice system that has evolved all the way back since the days of the Roman empire; I believe that the truth will find the way to reach us; and I believe that people like her ex-landlady who are wasting our taxpayer’s money should be punished. But before we get to that, I must make sure that my friend is not going to lose the case later this week. Then we shall sue her ex-landlady for anything ranging from emotional distress to reputational damage.

I reviewed the documents she has including tenant agreement, letter of termination, police report, and etc. It is not difficult to reconstruct the events in a chronological manner. The agreed monthly rental was S$1,200 for the entire HDB apartment. At first, her ex-landlady didn’t even want to inform HDB for the approval but my friend insisted. Within a month of stay, her ex-landlady raised the rent (possibly because there is another tenant who offered higher). Not comfortable with how the whole thing was handled, my friend terminated the contract giving one month notice. Her ex-landlady subsequently asked her to move out within 2 weeks claiming that since it is her apartment, she can do whatever she wants. My friend wanted to avoid conflict so she agreed to move out within two weeks.

On the day of the returning of keys, the landlady inspected the apartment and returned the full deposit minus S$100 for the anticipated PUB bills (i.e. utility bills) because her ex-landlady had no idea how much it would be. My friend did not object and they parted way.

A month or so ago, the landlady started to call her (and her company) incessantly asking for outstanding PUB balance to be transferred to the landlady’s account. My friend wanted to see the actual bill and have the payment acknowledgement properly signed but the landlady refused to meet or fax her the bills for verification. My friend suggested three time-slots to meet at her workplace (morning, lunch, and evening) but her ex-landlady claimed that she was not able to. Now how can her ex-landlady find time to attend the Small Claims Tribunal at 11am is beyond me.

As suggested by the police and the court, if my friend feels that she is being harassed, she has the right not to meet her ex-landlady alone. Now, to recap from the lawyer wannabe point of view …

  1. The fact that the landlady has returned the deposit upon inspecting the apartment indicates that the landlady is satisfied with the condition of the apartment. According to the contract, there should be a deduction of S$100 per item that is not working or in a not satisfactory condition.
  2. My friend is not obliged to pay the outstanding without seeing the actual bills. Period. In fact, there should be a refund if the S$100 deduction is more than cover the 2 months PUB bills (note that some flats or estates are heavily subsidised by the government).
  3. The claim should be dismissed after my friend verifies the bills and makes necessary payment (if applicable). S$1,000 is ridiculous.

I am planning to accompany my friend to the Tribunal. Stay tuned for the outcome.

These Are The Moments I Am Not Too Proud To Be A Singaporean

Avid readers of my site know that I love my new home here. But, there are moments like tonight that I am not too proud of who I am. My friend shares the same birth town as me and she lived in Australia for a few good years. Just recently she has decided to try out Singapore and as a proud Singaporean, I did not hesitate to show her around. I even got my friend’s wife to try to find her an accommodation (that unfortunately was beyond her budget). And since we work at the same workplace (different building though), I got to hear about how she adapts to the environment here. I have been there, done that, and I know exactly what she is going through.

She found a new place (an entire 2-room HDB flat) to rent on her own a few months back. The rent was reasonable and the location is pretty centralized. After she moved in, her nightmare began. Her landlady kept visiting the apartment with and without her presence. My friend didn’t have a sense of privacy and one day, her landlady suddenly demanded a raise in rental – hardly a month after my friend settled in. Not wanting to bear the extra cost, she has decided to move out.

And then the hassle started to sink in. Her landlady kept calling her in the middle of the night to demand compensation, countless excuses such as the poor condition of the place after my friend settled in. Oh please, I visited her home back then and my friend is definitely not that kind who vandalizes. Her landlady even called our HR, faxed to her office in large font with the claim that my friend owes her money and so on.

My friend couldn’t take it and she filed a report to the police. Guess what? The police couldn’t help either because it is not a domestic violence. There is no blood involved (read: physical harm). So, my friend went to the court (you must understand that she is pretty Westernized and prefers to settle things through the law) and the judge told her: get a lawyer, there is nothing we can do here in Singapore. She was hoping for a refrain order but of course, there are none here.

Then I told her: you should have told me earlier. I would have a face-to-face with her landlady and settle it the Singapore way. Well, coupled with some other unpleasant experience she has here in Singapore (pure bad luck, sigh), my friend has decided to move out of Singapore for good. She is my friend so I support all her decisions. But from now till then, I promise to introduce her to my female network of friends so that she can have someone to do nails with, do facial with … something very fundamental to the female species but yet not everyone has that privilege.

I knew one day the feminine side of me will pay off. Saving one friend one day at a time.

Related blog entry: A Ridiculous S$1,000 Claim Against My Friend By Her Ex-Landlady.

So Cynthia Has A New Hairstyle

Deep inside, I have always wanted Cynthia to have that long straight hair like the 99.99% of the female population found in the CBD area. I often think that majority of the population can’t be wrong. She did have her hair rebonded a couple of times and she never quite likes the damage done to her hair. Being the super understanding dude that I am, it doesn’t matter to me what hairstyle she has. Anything she is comfortable and happy with is fine by me. Today, while I was having a nice glass of beer at a pub, Cynthia went for a haircut and when I saw her new hairstyle …

… my journalistic nature kicked in. I visualized what my website’s front page picture would be like and then the headline. (So evil, eh? Ha ha ha!) At that very moment, I have associated her new hairstyle with one of the characters of my old beloved online game. Apparently, her new hairstylist whom they communicate in Malay (because she doesn’t speak Mandarin) did a temporary setting to her hair in order to give her an idea of what a hair perm will look like for her. What a clever way to do business! Cynthia instantly felt in love with this funky new style and if only she dyes it red …

I will have to look like this … her favorite online character.