15 Minute Update

15 minutes. That is what I have today.

The last post, so long ago, was on Healthcare in Singapore and the use of the Marilyn Monroe pose to educate the women of Singapore on the importance of annual check-ups. Since then, things have been so increasingly, and annoyingly,  busy that finding time to sit and write has been near impossible. Yet for many months, I have wanted to provide the updates, the new photos, the experiences near and afar. In this brief summary, let me give you some of the highlights I hope to add over the next few weeks.

When we first moved to Singapore, I was the Tai Tai for a few months until I was asked to contract for one of my old employers. That worked out well for a year then last August, about when I stopped the updates, I took a job with a local healthcare software company running presales teams around the world. Still a very small company but having teams in Singapore, India, and the US for all those regions has meant some very interesting travel. In a period of 6 months, I have been to Tokyo, Manila (2x), Jakarta (2x), India (6x and a lot of places!), Riyadh KSA, Kuala Lumpur (2x)  all for work. Why do I think I am missing a spot or two? For fun, its been US for Christmas, Krabi, a few staycations. Wow – all the fun trips have now become work trips. THAT is not as much fun! Good news – I made KrisFlyer gold which means lounges and boarding early enough that I never worry about fitting my carryon in the small overhead bins!

Add in completeing my second Master’s in Healthcare Administration (had to finish the Thesis once we moved) and continuing to teach part time for a CA University, life has been hectic. Both of these are done now, hence I am here writing.

We are coming up on two years here this July and it has been an amazing time. We have had a lot of ups and downs, pretty much all related to our careers (let’s ne honest – ALL related to our careers), but the experience has been fantastic. As of today, we honestly don’t know if we are staying or going home, since some of the renewal of our assignment is up in the air, but I expect we will stay here. My wife has a great future here assuming politics and mosquitoes don’t get in the way.

For me, I enjoy being back in Healthcare and IT as both of these are the focus of my background. The healthcare market will be huge here in Southeast Asia. I use this statistic a lot – in the US, the average profit margin for a hospital is 1-3%. Not as big as everyone thinks, especially those who know the healthcare cost is high (so why isn’t the profit margin? 🙂 ).

Over here, many healthcare systems are privately owned and some earn as high as 15% profit annually. This is with above average healthcare outcomes, some better than the US, and lower overall cost to the patient. Hospitals are growing like weeds! One group in Indonesia is looking at another 5-10 hospitals over the next 5-10 years! How do you staff them?? Crazy!

I’ve toured hospitals in every country I have visited for work. There is a big mix between them but coming from a hospital in Newport Beach, California, each one is still an incredible thing to see, both good and bad. Some are brand new and even have used Lean methods to build the layout. Others are old and very crowded with a cleanliness level that makes me honestly cringe. But I really enjoy learning how each of their systems work. Recently, the Harvard Business Review has been publishing discussions on why India’s cost is so low compared to the US yet India’s outcomes are better in some cases. Why can’t the US follow that model, they say. This is the trend.

It is really interesting how highly regarded the US healthcare system is. I often am the only Ang Mo in the room and especially the only one from the US healthcare side. I get asked a lot of questions!

I’ve met with Doctors who perform surgeries for the outlying India communities in tents with no air conditioning and no high-cost, highly-complex filtration systems that are seen in the US. Yet, they do great. Mortality is low, outcome is high.

I’ll add more about my experiences in all the countries we have visited, both for work and fun, soon. I have lots of photos and a lot of interesting notes to parlay into full sentences!

What city has no addresses for their building?
Where do cops urinate on the side of the road?
Where does it take you 3.5 hours in a taxi to go what normally would be 45 minutes anywhere else?
Where can I still see snow in March? Actually, where can I se snow period?

All these questions and more will be answered soon. Thanks for listening and I am glad to be back!

KW

Singapore Healthcare and Marilyn Monroe

Let me start by saying this is not actually an explanation of the Singapore healthcare system. You can find tons of information online at the Ministry of Health (MOH) (http://www.moh.gov.sg/content/moh_web/home/our_healthcare_system.html)  or a number of other locations. This is a few of my thoughts and observations that I find interesting about Singapore healthcare in general.

It’s important and cost less here than in the U.S. If you do not know, healthcare in the US is almost 19% of the country’s GDP therefore it is a huge burden and it is not changing soon. Singapore healthcare costs significantly less and is about 4% of the GDP here. We use an expatriate physician from the U.S. East Coast but he has been here for well over a decade (maybe two) and is settled in.  There is a difference between Western and Eastern medicine and how you can talk to your doctor, therefore we (me!) chose Western.

It is much easier to see a physician here. I have made new consult appointments in as little as 2 days prior without a problem. Many work Saturday mornings, since the work week here is M-F and ½ Saturday (44 worked hours until overtime!). Our Cigna expat insurance covers the majority of fees.

Prescriptions are an interesting thing here. To date, any medicine prescribed by the doctor has been handed out in the office during the same appointment. It seems they keep on-hand the frequent medicines they prescribe. The fees are low – about $25 most times – and this has to be one of the best parts of the physician visit. There is no trip to the local pharmacy for the majority of your prescription needs.  No laziness to delay you getting your medicine from a local Watson’s (cool huh? I own a chain of drugstores in Asia apparently).

Lift Your Skirt 1Lift Your Skirt 2Public health. Singapore is not shy when it comes to voicing public health concerns and putting them out for the public to be made aware. When walking to the nearby MRT station, I was passing a billboard of three Asian women dressed like Marilyn Monroe in the white dress with their skirts being lifted up by a breeze. “That is an interesting ad”, I thought. On closer inspection, it is healthcare message aimed at women to remind them to schedule Pap smears for the early detection of Cervical Cancer.

Although not a government-sponsored advertisement, another one that caught my eye was the recent pamphlet in one of the local women’s magazines my wife is fond of. The cover of the pamphlet mentions “The convenient and discreet treatment of vaginal yeast infection a.k.a. Thrush” Interesting. It must be a serious concern over here. Or because the pamphlet is sponsored by Bayer drugs for their Canesten drug, maybe it is just a new level of marketing evolved from the old one page ad seen only in a few magazines.

One thing I do know is we do not see drug commercials on TV here. That is a relief.

Hospitals are interesting or maybe I am just spoiled having worked for a Newport Beach California hospital for four years before moving here. In Newport Beach, none of the rooms were shared, all had a TV and, the hospital is air-conditioned. Of course, we were in a climate that changed and temperature regulation was more difficult. Here in Singapore, the climate is pretty much 85 degrees with 80%+ humidity on average, all day, every day, all year long.  This does allow for some creative architecture in Singapore. In California, we used to talk about things such as open lobby designs we knew would be somewhat difficult given the actual winter weather in Southern California. No, I know it does not snow like the East Coast but you still could not have this open lobby design where air conditioning and heat are needed at different times during the year.

hospitaloutdoorlobby2

Some of the newer designs here in Singapore are very much like a resort in Bali or Hawaii. Recently a friend from the old hospital was in town and wanted to see one of the newest Singapore hospitals.  Through some friends, we arranged for an insiders tour. Since we had both worked with the construction teams, our interest was the design and the patient flow.

The first thing I noticed when we arrived was the lobby. It was outdoors! The main reception area and information booth was like walking into a Hawaiian or Balinese resort. The area was covered to protect from the rain but the seating and desks were outside. Luckily there is a breeze most times.

Take the Stairs

As you wander through the lobby, you may notice some life-sized yet flat people plastered on the wall next to the stairs. I like the posters telling people to take the stairs versus the elevator when at all possible. It is a light-hearted poster instead of the ones you see reminding you to always wash your hands or die of infection!  Of course it is important to wash or gel but I like the take the stairs reminder.

Lean Project Summary Card

There were a number of interesting things during the tour. One was the education area for the nursing and hospital staff that was full of Toyota Lean training and examples. My previous three years in the States were all focused on Lean in my hospital and I thought it was great to see it. This local hospital was so much ahead of what we had ever done as far as training and the posting of projects. They had a wall that had holders containing large sheets of all the past projects you could pull out and review. If I were still trying to implement Lean, it would have been something I ‘copied’ to use at home!

The next thing interesting was the ‘wards’. In the US we typical call them units or floors but the idea is the same. A certain area may focus on cardiac care while another looks after cancer patients, etc. There are two types of wards/rooms here. One is the “I have good insurance, therefore I’d like privacy and air-con please“(air-conditioning for those of you not using the local dialect). The second type is really just the opposite. If your insurance or your funds from your mandatory health-savings account (one nice thing about government policies here) are not enough, you will be in the shared room with about 7 other beds and patients. Several ceiling fans overhead circulate the air from the nearby no-glass windows. Yes, these rooms are open to the air, shared by a number of other sick people, and there is never any air-con. It is all a breeze. I am sure there are many thoughts around this but I do know the amount of clean, fresh air circulating here is likely better than the re-circulated air-con air you usually get indoors even when it runs through the huge filters hospitals use as part of their HVAC system. Think of the cost savings for these buildings that have no constant air conditioning! No filter changes! Lower electricity cost!

Hospital Suite 2

The final thing I’ll mention seen during the multi-stop tour was the Chairman’s suite. This was a patient room with state-of-the-art controls accessed from a screen next to the patient’s bed. There was a full sitting room with a big screen TV and small table. It was larger than most hotel rooms I have stayed in and bigger than any private hospital room I had seen previously. I believe this modern Singaporean hospital has two such rooms. I understand as new hospitals are built there are at least a few of these in each now to attract those wealthy families who want the best treatment and privacy available.

Hospital Suite Patient Controls

 

Singapore healthcare is quote good and I have been pleased with the physicians we have worked with in the 11 months we have been living here. Statistics will show it is better, and less expensive, for almost all treatments when compared to the United States. I don’t know that it will last. Just like the U.S., I am starting to see more and more news items about the aging population and the lack of sufficient retirement funds or healthcare savings to get them through the golden years.  For Singaporeans, the majority of their wealth is tied up in their home. Many have retirement funds of approximately $100,000. This does not bode well when the expected number of years left to live after retirement is at least 20. Time will tell but both Singapore, the U.S., and most major nations are now starting to see this burden of elderly healthcare hitting their systems. Add in the growing obesity problem, I am sure the 24/7 McDonalds delivery doesn’t help, and the next 5-10 years will be very, very interesting.

Best of luck Singapore. I am rooting for you!

Just in case – here was my previous ocean view……  tower-and-pavilion

More photos from our tours…

Singapore Taxis – Rented or Owned?

I am far behind where I should be on my updates. There is so much to do and I hate when work gets in the way. I am pretty sure I have not yet covered the trips to Sydney, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, and Phuket! Yes, I have some stories to tell. No, I will never divulge them all here. On an anonymous site maybe but not this one! I can tell you Phuket is crazy land. I thought Las Vegas in its heyday was obnoxious but it comes nowhere close to some of the bars and clubs on the Thai island of Phuket. Plus, I have to tell you how the one weekend we go to meet some friends in Bangkok, it is the night before an election which means no alcohol is allowed to be served after 6 PM Saturday night! Yes, of course there are workarounds…

I’ve also had some very short visits from friends in the US (Thank you!) and currently am in the middle of a week with the in-laws – this includes 2 parents, 1 sister, and 1 niece on my wife’s side. Quite a full house!  With them all here, we have finally done a few Singapore tourist things but it mainly involves picking the best buffet, Satay night at La Pau Sat, a great Chicken & Rice place, and so on.  So much food, so little time.

But today I want to talk a bit about Taxis here. I have posted in the past a few of my run-ins, such as the blind taxi driver, and may have mentioned getting a taxi at shift change seems to be easier for us than other because of where we live. While the in-laws are in town, we’ve had discussions about the cheap price of taxis and if they were owned or rented by the driver. I did not know – until today.

On the ride home from on of my long-distance customers, which means a 25 minute taxi ride from the east end of the country/island/city-state, I had a longer talk with the driver. He lived in San Diego for a number of years and that helped kick-start the discussions. Therefore I had a few questions that I now have answers too.

Comfort Cab is one of the largest taxi companies here in Singapore. The interesting thing is the total numbers of cabs varies depending on which driver you ask. Today, he said Comfort alone has a fleet of 25,000. I have heard overall there are up to 70,000 cabs here. I think that is an exaggeration by any count because I cannot find even one cab when it is really raining, which is of course quite often.

A teacher’s favorite source of accurate information, Wikipedia, says the total of all cab companies is about 25,000 with Comfort having 11,000 of these. They are by far the largest fleet no matter who you ask or which site you peruse. You will see their blue Hyundai’s everywhere. Some of my questions have always been around the owner/renter policy and here is my summation for Comfort Cab.

The cab rental is $108 Singapore Dollars per day (24 hours). This means if the driver is busy, anything over the $108 is profit. For a majority of drivers, they share their cab – one day shift and one night shift. This means the cost each is only $54 for the day person, which of course increases his profit margin. Most of my 25-30 minute rides are $20 to $25 and our short rides, less than 10 minutes, are $5-$10. In theory, this means an 8-hour day, assuming mostly busy, is close to $400. However, busy time is really in the morning, lunch, and as people leave work at night. I have seen a lot of empty cabs at non-peak times. Most cabs, by the way, have a green colored sign on the roof if they are available!

Therefore I figure it could be about $300 per day after rental and gas. My driver said even between the two-sharing system, he only fills the tank once per day. A benefit of a small island with a lot of small hops. I am not sure this math is accurate, however, since that would equate to about $90,000 per year.  Taxi drivers must be Singaporean citizens. Considering the 2012 median gross monthly income from full-time employed residents is $3,000, or $36,000 per year (according to MOM – Ministry of Manpower), this is where I debate the actual math for the taxis.

I think the topic of renting cabs and the profit margins is an interesting bit of trivia. When I asked similar questions a few days ago, I also learned the drivers take their cabs home at the end of the shift. Therefore, you want to share with someone who lives very close by for when you have to pick up your cab in the morning. By sharing, it reduces the parking lot fees (car park is the term here). These are typically by the hour. I am sure there is a big difference between hourly rates for 12 hours of parking versus 6!

No matter the sharing concept, you can easily tell who takes pride in their cabs. Some are much cleaner than others but overall have no fear, most are still very clean compared to a number of other Southeast Asian countries.

Kelvin and the Elevators

It has now been seven months since our move to Singapore. I’d say we have finally settled in. I judge this by the fact the majority of restaurants where we eat are within a 5-minute walk of our apartment. Thousands upon thousands of good restaurants are spread across this city-state. We hear about them from new friends (mainly coworkers here), the Time-Out magazine, and many of the travel magazines we pick up when we venture out to the huge newsstand at Holland Village. All the restaurants reviewed or suggested look good but we seem to stay within our perimeter. Maybe it is age (not), maybe it is workload, and maybe it is California lazy. However, I am not complaining because we have quite a few favorites nearby. I have mentioned on numerous occasions how much we love The Cut (The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands).  We also get salads at the local salad shops and seemingly complete a weekly trip to Din Tai Fung in the basement mall next to our building (Marina Bay Link Mall). I actually think by now the Din Tai staff would greet us as locals at least but nope, we are still just another couple with the Ang Mo husband.

Speaking of me, since we moved here I have wondered if I really know my name. As you can see when I post anything, it is Kevin. That is K   E   V   I   N. However I have discovered my name is not very common here, duh, or it is harder to pronounce. I know when I was learning Japanese, I was Kebin because they do not use the ‘v’.

What is common is Kelvin. Add the L and that is what 90% of people will say back to me the first time I introduce myself. By now I joke you can call me either name and I will respond. At the gym, one instructor did it so often that when we had the marathon Christmas fund-raiser workout, I decorated my t-shirt with the phrase “Kevin, not Kelvin”. After I explained it to the rest of the staff and of course took a picture with the instructor who made the mistake, it did wonders. (She is great by the way – all in jest!) The gym not only remembers me as the goofy guy (is that good?) but now they correctly say Kevin with a smile.

To add injury to insult, or vice versa, I was working with someone recently who asked for my middle name. When I asked why, they said a bad past experience with someone named Kevin now provided negative connotations to any new business relationship with said name. Okay – you can call me Art, I said. I have one close friend who does it therefore I will likely respond to that too. I did not ask for details as to why Kevin was such a negative experience for them. I figure everyone has something in their past they try to avoid. It is just weird for me to type Art instead of Kevin when I sign the emails for this one peer. It really is amazing how often this continues – the Kelvin vs. Kevin war. Hopefully I’ll still respond when my wife calls me by my correct name. If not, at least I’ll have an excuse as to why I did not listen this time!

Have I mentioned we live in a high-rise? Not a good segue but I’ve got nothing. If you move to Singapore, you will most likely live in a high-rise apartment. This is especially true for Western expats unless you are the ones who get the $15,000 monthly housing allowance which means you’ll live in a colonial with your 1-16 helpers and 2 cars. We are not in that bracket but we do live in one of the most modern high-rises in the Central Business District. Our apartment is on the market for $4+ million. I know I have mentioned it before and for that much money, I’d expect the interior construction to be a bit sounder! I also expect that being on the 31st floor of a 62-story building, it will not be very often that I have to walk up the stairs to get to my apartment. After all, there are 4 high-speed lifts (elevators but lifts is 3 less syllables) that whisk me away to my floor in 25 seconds if no. Before it sounds like I am way lazy, it is not true but you do get used to the convenience.  It is such a difference to be on the 31st floor and then occasionally have the discussions with my wife about buying a 1-story house when we go home to the States so that we won’t have stairs as we plan ahead, way ahead, for retirement. “Where’s my cane?”

This week, like most weeks (after week after week), it was raining fairly hard in the afternoon. I came back from some type of errand this week to find the lift lobby was flooded with about 1” of water. The maintenance crew was busily using the wet-vacs but whatever caused this flood had already had its way with the elevator system too. All 4 lifts were out of service. So that’s why the main lobby had so many people sitting around! Unlike me, apparently they did not relish the adventure of hiking up the stairs to their respective floors. More lazy Californians I would think (and if you are Californian, please realize that is said in jest!).  There are no mountains around here therefore this is good training for that dream trip to Everest base-camp.

I had no such qualms about the stairs but I have to admit, it might have helped that I was in shorts, sneakers, and a t-shirt. I was not dressed for a customer meeting nor was I carrying my 14-pound brick.  Thus I headed smartly up the stairs. I counted 20 steps per floor. After my 31st floor summit, I had done 620 steps! I was a little winded and my back was sweaty which is typical for exerting any tiny bit in Singapore, but overall it felt good. I was glad we’ve been going to the gym and taking the class with 10 of the 60 minutes devoted to squats and lunges. I am not glad during the actual class but it did help with this adventure.

That is my update for this week. It went by very fast since we came back from Sydney on Tuesday, spent time with U.S. friends staying with us Wednesday and Thursday, met another friend from my old job (Newport Beach) on Saturday for breakfast, and yet another friend from Texas for breakfast today and tonight for dinner. This is the most social we have been since we moved. The benefit, besides getting to share a bunch of stories in person, is we now have a nice wine collection consisting of some good California and Australia varieties. All in all, this was a good week. I hope you have enjoyed yours as well.

 

Casino Night at Marina Bay Sands and Refueling 2600 Calories

While The Wife is away, the husband will play…slots. I’ll get to that in a minute. YAW is home for a week spending mandatory time with her folks and not so mandatory time at South Coast Plaza and her favorite eateries. I get pictures. I can’t complain about my wife getting to buy things at U.S. prices. It is much cheaper than here on the little red dot. Of course I had my own items that I purchased and shipped to her parents. I don’t think my new Crazy Shirts are too hard to bring back. This also includes the new 7lb carry-on suitcase she’ll need to bring stuff back in and that we will use for the upcoming trip I have previewed.

Today our gym, Pure Fitness where they provide the all-black uniforms, had a fundraiser for a children’s organization. Two teams, of 22 people each, paid a small fee to have the pleasure of attending five 30-minute fitness classes with a 15-minute break in between each.  At total of 3.5 hours of fitness fun (pain, sweat, swearing, trying to find a corner to crawl into). It was the male instructors against the female instructors. You can continue to wonder which team I was on. Spinning, Weights, Spinning, Suspension fitness (TRX), and Kickboxing. I won’t regale you with the gory details of how often I changed my t-shirts (remember they provide free t-shirts in the gym!) or how much pain I may be in on Sunday morning.  It was fun although I was acutely aware I could have ended up on a stretcher at any time.

I did wear my handy Timex Ironman heart monitor. According to it, I burned 2590 calories today and hit a high of 102% of my suggested maximum heart rate. If you know I am slender to begin with, this meant I had to replenish said calories. While The Wife is away, I’ll have steak! Yes, I went to our local haunt The Cut at the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands. When you know the bartenders by name, it is easier to enjoy a solo meal. This one included tempura appetizer (free!), salad, steak, creamed spinach, baked Alaska, pretzel bread, and 2 dark beers (they are really good for men’s heart health).  I think I have done the appropriate calorie load. Funny that the price was almost the same as when there are 2 of us. Hmm.

Before heading over to The Cut in the torrential downpour, I remembered I had yet to walk into the Casino at Marina Bay Sands Hotel during our 5 months of living here. Therefore I actually put on pants, versus shorts, figuring I might as well take a stroll inside. First of all it’s not Vegas. It is one giant 4-story atrium room with slots, card games, some electronic tables, no one yelling “yeah” and…smokers. A lot of smokers. There are a number of places you can no longer smoke in Singapore but the casino is not one of them.  There is no designated smoking area. The entire casino is open for your smoking pleasure. It was Saturday night around 8 PM and there were a lot of people. Many walking with cigarettes dangling in their hands; ashes dropping to the ground while they looked for their next big ‘win’. I was right about the pants requirement but turns out I could have worn an old t-shirt.

I spent about 10-15 minutes walking around and people watching. I could count the number of Caucasians on one foot. It is a majority of Asians, which makes perfect sense, and then a huge contingent of Indians. I personally don’t gamble or at least I should say my limit is about $300…total. Yet by the looks of these people, and the sheer numbers, I’d wager (okay that is gambling) there are a lot of people with the typical day job here, the ones in the $30K-40K range per year, hitting up the tables that have $30 minimum bets. It just seems fiscally unsound to me but if it gives them something to do on a rainy Saturday night, then have at it.

Of course I had to play something but I did not feel like hands of Blackjack for $30.  I usually break even but there was no excitement in this casino. It was surprisingly quiet. There might have been a cheaper table but it was not obvious. I did see the nickel slots and that is where I headed. If you have played slots in the past decade or so, you’ll realize a nickel slot machine is misleading. You’ll never win big with $0.05 per spin. You have to put 10 credits on each line and there are 5 lines. Do the math and suddenly every spin is $2.50 or even higher! I could not do the math fast enough but when I pressed the ‘max’ button, my credits dropped by ½ and my starting wager of $50.00 now was $25.00.

After I lowered my wager to less per line and fewer lines across, or something like that, I was only going through $0.25 to $0.50 per spin. Cool. Now I could play for 4 more minutes. When I was down to what I think was $0.40, I put in another $50. Why not? Now I can say I gambled with the rest of Singapore.

On about my 5th spin, I won some type of 10 free game spin where any win in those 10 games paid out 33 times. On the 8th of the 10, I won some number that converted to some other credit number that eventually equaled $200. I got my slip and walked away. I found the cashier, got my dough, found the checked bag place to pick up my umbrella, and scooted out! My gambling experience was 10 minutes in front of one slot machine but it was enough. I can use that extra $100 above my starting wager to buy about 6-7 beers here in Singapore. Yes, they are that expensive.

In one Saturday I managed to donate to charity, sweat out the last 10 years of toxin buildup, enjoy a US steak, and win a wee tad bit o’ money. The latter while inhaling some of that 2nd hand smoke I miss from the 1980s in the US. Have I ever mentioned the cigarette packets here have those pictures of people with very bad lung, throat, and mouth damage? It is on every packet and I think the price is $10-$11 per pack.  The purchase rate, even with those photos, has not decreased. I believe this summer the US Supreme Court shot down a possible rule that would allow the same type of warning picture on US cigarette packs. But at least there is no smoke smell on my clothes in the US casinos. That’s a plus!

If you venture at some point to the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Casino, I wish you luck. I’ll guarantee you’ll walk out with something.

Blind Singapore Taxi Drivers

Taxis in Singapore are usually easy, sometimes friendly, and even inexpensive compared to many other large cities.  Tonight, the guy was a jerk and it was the first time I have experienced this in the 5 months we have lived here.  He was blind and deaf which are interesting physical traits for a taxi driver.  Let me tell a story…

The majority of the time once you hop in the cab, taxi drivers acknowledge where you are going and that’s it. There is not any idle chitchat in most cabs. When the meter starts, an automated voice reminds you to wear your seatbelt. When the ride ends, the same female voice tells you the fare and to have a nice day. With over 70,000 taxis in this City-State, which is one-third the size of Orange County in California or 3x the size of Washington D.C., that is quite a few mute taxi drivers.

But with over 2,000,000 people going to work each day, some days getting a cab can be a real challenge. This is true during rush hour and also depending on where you are, i.e. the suburbs, at the time. Luckly most take the MRT (subway) but now that we are in rainy season…

It is very hard to get a cab in the rain, like today. There are some tricks but I am not going to use this rant to explain them. I’ll write another post for that topic. I have had a half-dozen cab rides when the driver is very talkative, not mute. During the longer rides, I often ask a lot of questions about how to get a cab easier on the outskirts of town and how the taxi system works.

Usually when a cab is available, they have to take you wherever you want to go. Where this gets tricky is during shift change. In this case, they are actually not allowed to take fares but they do if the fare is going the same direction as they are at the end of the shift. They’ll ask you before they let you get in.

Tonight I was shopping for a specialized item at Sim Lim Square, near the Bugis MRT and about a 10-14 minute taxi ride from home (I was going to write ‘drive’ but I don’t want you to think we actually spent $160,000 getting a VW Jetta here, as one example). Sim Lim Square is the lower end techno-mall compared to Funan but the only one that sells the 2000-watt up-converter I need for my US Vitamix 5200 blender. After 5 months, I can finally make my own shakes and have the banana actually get mixed-in instead of the clumps I get from the locally purchased $60 blender. Since a new Vitamix is $1,000 Singapore dollars or higher, I figure the $220 for the power converter was worth the purchase.  Of course being an Ang Mo, they first told me it was $260 but I asked for the cash discount and got them down to $220. Still seems expensive but not that much more than the US prices after the conversion.

 

The Vitamix next to the power converter the size of a small toaster!

The Vitamix next to the power converter the size of a small toaster!

But the point of my rant was going outside to get a cab. The power converter weighs over 20 pounds and walking 4 blocks to the MRT and carrying it home did not seem like a fun option. I like working my biceps as much as the next guy but not for 30 minutes straight. As one taxi pulled up, showing available, I hopped in. The very elderly driver listened to me say my apartment location (we only have to say the name because we found out everyone in Singapore knows our building!) and then asked me to speak up. “I can’t hear,” he said. I spoke much louder and he said the same thing. This happened one more time. By now I figured he actually did not want to take me where I needed to go! This was a first. Most drivers are more than happy to go into the Central Business District (CBD) because there are always fares waiting to go from here to there or there to here. But instead of just telling me he did not want to go there, he was “deaf”.

Maybe he really was deaf but how can you pick up fares if you can’t hear? How do you know where to go? How do you know to move over for the rare police or fire engine siren? Seriously. But what sealed the deal was when I pulled out my house key (actually a proximity card) that has our building logo and name on it. “I can’t see,” he said. “I am old”.  If he had said I can’t read, that would be one thing. But he said I can’t see. Therefore I now have a blind and deaf taxi driver running around Singapore! Scary thought. By now I did not want to be in his taxi anyway – I value life.

I know Singapore needs a lot of taxis but I did not know blind drivers could take to the road. I guess Singapore is progressive when it comes to the physically challenged driver. Of course I mentioned I would report him, took a photo of the cab, and exited the vehicle.

The next cab took me without incident. Of course he was the majority that never spoke and was listening to American pop music. We notice that is a huge trend in most taxis. He did say thank you when I lef him keep more change than usual.

Now it is late and I don’t know that I’ll report the blind man tonight but I do know whom to call! And I have his plate.

 

Don't use this guy, he's blind!!

Don’t use this guy, he’s blind!!

 

 

The Buffet at the Fullerton Hotel – Thanksgiving it was not

We should have pictures of the Thanksgiving that wasn’t. After all, our friends aren’t holding back posting pictures on Facebook of the food they gorged on last week! What is amazing is the lack of photos showing the combination of Twinkies and cranberry sauce. After all, if the Twinkie ever goes away, why not enjoy it with a favorite Thanksgiving pairing, i.e. cranberries! It is healthier than the deep-fried version of the Twinkie at the Orange County Fair. I am going to miss the Fair in 2013. Too bad, so sad.

My wife was hoping for some traditional Thanksgiving fare but we knew it would not happen on the 4th Thursday in November. Her work schedule is just too chaotic. Some nights she can make the 6 PM workout class but others she gets home as I start to fall asleep. This makes planning meals during the week, especially a holiday not recognized anywhere other than the United States, a challenge. Luckily, she found a buffet-style Thanksgiving dinner at the famous Fullerton Hotel. Not only did we anticipate the hotel would have a great selection, but it is a 5-7 minute walk from our apartment. This means YAW could lay me on my side and roll me home! That’s the best! You can’t beat a buffet meal that concludes with a barrel roll home.

Recently one of YAW’s peers moved here from Kentucky for 6 months to help on her project. He brought his wife and 2 boys, 11 and 8. And another American from the tiny, small State of Texas was here for a few weeks. Therefore we thought it would be fun to go out as a group. We booked a table for all of the Americans. Please don’t be offended but I looked forward to similar accents at the dinner table! It is a homesick thing.

We arrived promptly at 7ish for the 7PM reservation. We saw the buffet but the items didn’t look very Thanksgiving-ish.  I was walking slowly by all of the food stations. I’m hungry. Although I saw a large table fully stocked with my favorite part of any meal – dessert – I did not see any pumpkin pie. I did not see any mashed potatoes, yams or even green beans. I can’t stand the latter; it really wasn’t a loss.

Once we sat down, my wife inquired about the lack of seemingly Thanksgiving type morsels. Well…they of course had a Thanksgiving buffet on Thursday! Not Saturday. What? First of all, dinnertime in Singapore is barely the same 4th Thursday in the US (well, it actually is just 13 hours ahead from EST) therefore why can’t they do it another day too? Really? “Oh, we have turkey,” said the waitress but I asked about Pumpkin Pie and there was none. I really, really like Pumpkin Pie. I would forgo all the other stuff and just eat at the Pumpkin Pie table if 1) it had been Thursday and 2) it existed.  There must be a pie store in Singapore that makes it. A new goal!

My poor wife. She was sure the website said the date for Saturday and I know she would not have booked the typical Saturday night buffet had she known. However, we had a group of 7 Americans talking about stuff, just general stuff, and it was good. When they started to talk about work, I ended that thread! I have attended enough work-related meals that I have met everyone on my wife’s project. I could even step in today, in any meeting, and talk intelligently about the ongoing project so that anyone would think I am just another US consultant! I have thought about it. “Yes, this is the scan factory and we feel it will be fully utilized within 2 weeks, processing 1,000 credit card applications per day.”

The Fullerton Hotel buffet did have quite a selection. It actually included really good turkey with cranberry sauce. Just a taste of Thanksgiving but it really was some of the tenderest turkey I have had. You can choose the $68 option that includes everything except the outside BBQ and Satay station. Or there is the $88 option that includes the BBQ and Satay (not really worth it) and all-you-can-drink Tiger beer or Singapore Slings. Which do you think I chose? Did you guess the endless Tiger beer? You betcha! (I had two – so stuffed).

There was a very good sushi station, a seafood station with crab legs and prawns, and a lot of different meats in local and regional styles. There was an Italian station and outside a satay grill and a BBQ grill with chicken, meat, lamb, etc. It wasn’t really that great for the BBQ items. The indoor items were all fairly good.

Of course there was the obligatory ice cream station with 4 different flavors and a dessert table with all kinds of goodies! I tried 80% of that table and was happy with most of it. We were stuffed. We were already on the dessert selections when the waitress came out and said the lobster would be out in a few minutes. What? Well it comes with a lobster half-tail for each of us! What? I just ate three chocolate brownies, tiramisu, some lemon cookies, chocolate-raspberry cake, vanilla ice cream, some type of berry cobbler, and you want me to eat lobster? That’s gross. I ate it. It was not very good actually – a little tough and not too flavorful. But that was independent of my dessert foray pre-lobster.

Now we were double-stuffed. We were like those double-stuffed baked potatoes they might have provided had this been Thanksgiving! Ha!

Two+ hours later, we split the bill and hobbled out. The really nice thing was when the manager heard about the mistiming of Thanksgiving and the website, we were only charged $68 each versus the $88. That was a very generous gesture. The Fullerton Hotel is a decent deal for the price and the selection is very good. Even if you just eat a couple of forkfuls of each item, you may not cover it all.

Although I have not tried it yet, and YAW has, supposedly the Hyatt buffet for about $130 with free-flowing champagne is much, much better. Hmm – when is that?

P.S. The funniest part of the evening was when the 8-year old mentioned he would do something “Gangnam style.” If you don’t know what that is, crawl out from under your rock and Google it. Watch the YouTube video! As we left the hotel, he even did the dance for us out front. It was so funny! When people walked by, they stopped and started laughing because even they knew what dance the little 8-year American kid was performing.

 

 

The end of the Ding Dong – The mental link between cake and the U.S. class-divide

Normally I like to write about the adventures in Singapore like maybe today’s venture to Funan, which was temporarily paused by the torrential 20-minute downpour that seems to occur every afternoon. Yes, we are in rainy season for the next 3-4 months. I have a really nice umbrella therefore I don’t mind! Plus, seeing lightning strikes occur near the top of the Marina Bay Sands hotel reminds me how cool our view is during a major storm.

But what was most interesting to me this weekend was the demise of Hostess Brands. They make my favorite snack not sold here in Singapore: Ding Dongs.  Don’t start to snicker – I do mean the foil-wrapped chocolate cakes that parents all over the U.S. used to sneak in their kid’s lunch bags back before words like saturated fat, cholesterol, and obesity made everyone run for the hills or ban the 7-11 Big Gulp cup. They also make those really good small chocolate covered doughnuts that last forever not to mention the iconic Twinkie. The doughnuts got me through many a long work night.

Today I was checking out CNN and read the reader comments that followed the Hostess story. Over 8,600 comments so far.

(http://money.cnn.com/2012/11/16/news/companies/hostess-closing/index.html?hpt=us_c1)

A few made me laugh and a few reminded me of some conversations over here after the Presidential election last week. First, the fact that people actually spent time writing about the improper use of grammar or calling each other “asshats” made me laugh. At the same time, it made me cringe. Is this what our communication has come to? Do we use social media to come up with Zingers while wasting time writing about things not even related to the article? I wonder how many saw that of the 13,500 employees being laid off because of a union strike, the union in question represents only 5,000 of the overall employee base. I won’t venture a guess at how many scratched cars and egged homes are occurring in that part of the U.S.

What makes me sad though were the large number of comments back and forth blaming President Obama or Romney, or the vice-versa. I won’t get into a political discussion because frankly, I think we’re at that tipping point and someone else will write about it in some history book of the U.S. after its demise or takeover by zombies. No, its not that bad but when you read some of the comments, you’d think the U.S. is optimally set to soon follow the Roman Empire into the sunset.

If you have read this far, what is interesting and what this reminded me of was the reaction here in Singapore after the election. “Good, there will be little change in foreign policy” is pretty much what most would say. “Another election done” might be some others. Very basic and seemingly ambivalent. These are NOT the comments I would see on friend’s Facebook postings. No one here was going back and forth about the death of the US because the democrats are staying in power. Granted, they have their own politics to worry about and that makes sense.

But you know what else they ask? They want to know why the U.S. has such a class warfare system. I had to think or a bit. There are other countries where class warfare exists maybe in a caste system or maybe the urban versus rural populace. When I am asked that about my own country, I don’t have an answer. When did politics become so decisive that friends turn on each other while writing on a social media site that has become the way we now communicate! Yes, I use it too but sometimes I just feel it has even made us more disconnected. Will it change? Will the next generation realize they can’t move forward unless there is a way to really work together to move the entire country forward? Will they even be able to balance a checkbook or has interest in math, chemistry, and science gone down the test tubes.

Or will they still spend weeks being angry at something that is done, over, tallied. Will every four years be like this? I hope when we come back in a few years, things have gotten better.  I am just throwing my thoughts out there since that is what I like to do!

 

 

Working through our Insomnia at end of four months

A few days ago, we were officially here now for 4 months. Only 20 more months to go! Things continue to settle down and we continue to run around and find new locations (to shop, to eat, etc.).

A little over a week ago, I spent the day at a writers/publishers seminar. It was part of the weeklong Writer’s Festival here in Singapore. I think this was the third or maybe the fourth year. The day I attended, there were a number of different seminars covering writing a novel, working on biographies, legal rights in this self-publishing age, and quite a few discussions around publishing via the Internet on your own (Amazon, Kobo Writing Life) versus the traditional way of finding a publisher and putting your book out in print. The online publishers of course see bookstores going the way of Blockbuster or the other video rental stores you used to know but can no longer find. With the large amounts of iPads, Kindles, and the like, reading books electronically has picked up steam.

One of the authors at the seminar was Neil Humphreys who I have mentioned before. (http://www.neilhumphreys.net/books.html). Neil has written a number of books about life here in Singapore –from the ex-UK, ex-Aussie point of view. I was able to spend 10 minutes talking to him before his lecture and he really is an interesting guy. You figured he was more laid back that the rest when you saw him seated on the panel. The others wore slacks and button downs or even a sports coat. Neil was in older jeans and a t-shirt. The debate between him, preferring to work with a publisher and brick-and-mortar bookstores vs. a female author who has published exclusively online, was really heated. I won’t spend hours on this topic but if you are interested in writing and publishing online, even short stories, Kobo Writing Life is worth a look (http://www.kobobooks.com/kobowritinglife).

It was a fun day actually. I thought I would be fairly bored but the afternoon arguments…discussions around self-publishing were worth the day.

I won’t spend too much time here about work either. Not sure anyone is really that interested. However, I now not only do technical pre-sales, project management, and partner enablement, but now am I suddenly the lead salesperson for Southeast Asia. Not sure how it happened but I hope the Selling for Dummies book now sitting on my desk will help! I get leads through an internal system and then I have to call them to figure out there interest. I have one good one right now I am working with but this is all new to me. Likely the biggest challenge since trying to implement Lean in the hospital where nobody really cared! Always fun that one.

I am not even sure what else is new. It just seems to be a normal existence these last few weeks. We found another cool restaurant, Medz, which I will write about separately. We’ve been going out at night to the clubs on the weekends – well maybe not your idea of clubs but the places we go are free, have good cover bands, and offer really interesting people watching! Last week we tried Chijmes’ Insomnia which had a not-so-good cover band, a few working ladies, but was really small and boring. Yet we had heard Insomnia was the place to go. Not sure why!! We still are on our quest to find clubs with good music and no cover charge! Maybe I’ll add another blog entry about that. We are going to ZoukOut in another 2 weeks. It is the 2-day all-night rave party at the resort beach island here. No, we won’t last two-nights, being in our 40s, but we will last at least 1 night! I don’t think I have even been to a beach rave! I wonder what the dress code for that event is. We won’t have insomnia after that.

YAW’s work is still tough but I think it will work itself out soon. Next week is Thanksgiving, not a holiday here of course, but we found out the Fullerton Hotel, an 8-10 minute walk, has a Thanksgiving buffet on Saturday. There are some other Americans here working with YAW and we are going to go as a small group. That will be fun and I not only looking forward to all-you-can-eat pumpkin pie, but the ability to waddle home in a few minutes will be nice.

We are also addicted to the classes now at Pure Fitness at Asia Square, the one with the all black outfits provided. The classes are the same, many of them, as the ones offered by 24-hour Fitness or Bally’s in the US – i.e. Body Pump, but the class sizes are usually smaller. I was in one the other day with 12 women and me. That is the benefit of course of working at home and going mid-afternoon. I am not sure I stand out because I am the only guy or the only Ang Mo! Maybe both. On the weekends, we go together and that way when we both can’t walk after, no one wants to go to the crowded malls and we don’t feel guilty about being lazy at home.

Well it is Sunday at noon and we have to venture out today to one of the geek malls, either Funan or Sim Lim, to find some computer equipment. And yes, the equipment is for work! Strange I get to go shopping or work-related stuff. What happened to the guy tai days of lounging by the pool….

No longer a ‘Guy Tai’: Working once again as Week 16 Ends.

Here we are close to the end of 16 weeks. Yes, 16 weeks. It seems to have gone by very fast. It seems we have been here much longer. It seems we have a long way to go. I think sometimes our “seems” are coming apart! Yes, things have been hectic these last few weeks and I have not had time for my weekly rants. Therefore, now that my workday is done (yes, I’ll cover the fact I work now), it is time for a little reflection. What the heck has been going on?

YAW is still struggling with work. Maybe juggling is the more appropriate term actually. I don’t think either of us thought a 40-hour workweek would become such a distant memory, like the thread of a happier time tugging away at the back of your mind. Aaaah, remember a 9-hour day? Those were nice too! I don’t really write about my wife’s work but its crazy!! She is like a pet storeowner coming in after the monkey has opened the cages and the mice and cats are running around! You know those cats… Just think about your team and coworkers. If, within 2 days total, one tells you they are writing a resignation letter, another walks out and comes back a few days later and a 3rd does all they can so that the customer doesn’t like them and kicks them out, well how do you think that is working out?

The good news or at least my version of it? It is all coming to a head. It will either be a big awesome blowout or someone will finally come to their senses and support the wife’s plan to slow things down, smooth them out, and get it done! I am keeping a close eye. I could write several pages about the work issue. I have plenty of Kevin thoughts on this but I will refrain. She knows what she is doing. Let’s just say if I knew what this would be like and how it would impact my wife, I might be still driving a car down PCH.

Since we don’t have cars here, and I have to sometimes go to work now, I have been trying out the bus system. Once you learn how to read one of their maps, which looks like the pipe system in the basement of a hospital, it is very convenient. I actually took the bus today a whole 1.5 kilometers! I went to my first customer visit now that I am back working. It was pouring rain, as it tends to do starting this time of year, therefore a taxi to the customer and a bus back seemed the drier thing to do.

Three weeks ago I started as a contractor working for a previous US employer. They are continuing to expand in this region and knew I am living here. This means my three months of leisure (pool, gym, pool, mall, subway, food, mall, food, etc.) has come to an end. A few days after I started, I spent a week in Boston with the International team for their kick-off. This was great because I had to wear a jacket! It was cold out. I even went shopping at Costco. Oh that brought back memories.  I also had to pack and wear pants. Hello! Do they not know I didn’t wear pants for three months! Don’t forget the tie; I hadn’t worn one for 7 months! (I was very proud to do my last four months at the hospital with no tie). You should have seen the beard! I even had YAW help pick the twigs out of my hair before hopping on the plane. All that cleaning up was exhausting.

Ah Boston was fun. I met some great people, many in the regions near me, and it was worth the 4 airports, 3 plane rides, 30+ hours each way (as long as once a year, no more!). I also got to see my cousin who I had not visited with for a long time. I think 10-12 years! Not so good at remembering those past events (sorry sis).

But here we are, fully back and awake in the Singapore time zone. We joined the gym I mentioned in a previous post and spend several hours a week in our black outfits. I still think there is a secret room for Ninja school. I know some of the classes feel like their testing my tolerance for pain. It is a great gym though. We can go at 6:30 PM and the classes don’t feel crowded. I highly recommend a visit to Pure Fitness if you are in the neighborhood.

Things are progressing. I spend my time working at home, getting caught up with software and systems I have not played with for a few years, while YAW gets up and goes to the Octagon for a bit of business warfare. We are settling in. Now we have to get off our duffs and start calling the people we have met since arriving here. Well, that and go see James Bond this Sunday. Yes!! Bond, James Bond.