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Updated: 2018-01-29T02:12:21.660+08:00

 



Look back at 2016

2017-01-01T00:05:12.574+08:00

The year 2016 started with water. Our hot water tank had burst, and water gushed out. We spent the evening cleaning up the room where the hot water tank was stored. Perhaps that was a sign of what the rest of the year would be like.

A few relatives passed away this year, including my maternal grandfather. We were away at the time of his passing, but fortunately, we were able to attend his wake and cremation service. I don't remember much from my maternal grandmother's funeral, so this one felt more vivid. The extended family had also grown, with many from the third generation shedding tears for the old man.

More recently, we found out that a distant cousin had died suddenly, just before his 50th birthday. Although I didn't know him, it made me think about the mortality of life and how anything can really happen.

2016 would be a year of big-name deaths in the entertainment field: David Bowie, Prince, Anton Yelchin, Gene Wilder, George Michael, and recently, Carrie Fisher, to name a few. In Singapore, former president S.R. Nathan passed away.

Globalism and liberal democracy started to die this year, with the double whammy of Brexit and Trump's presidential win. And the climate continued to degrade, with the warmest year in recorded history. Reading about the melting polar ice caps is very depressing indeed.

Work had its lows too. There were many late nights in the office. Some colleagues whom I enjoyed working with left the company. And as my team grew, my leadership skills were put to the test to deal with personality conflicts and growing workloads.

But all was not doom and gloom. I got married this year! Something that I thought was unachievable just two years ago became a reality to me. We almost "didn't get married" when we found out that our original solemniser's licence had been cancelled. But in the end, I got to say "I do". As I tell those who ask, it was a surreal moment, as if I was observing myself going through the ceremony.

What will 2017 hold for me? I'll try to remain optimistic and continue to do what I can do best.

--



My memories: Milo

2013-12-21T16:54:32.860+08:00

This is actually not my personal memory, but something that had been told to me by my aunt.

When I was around six years old, my aunt's family lived at my house for a while. One morning, my aunt found me sitting at the kitchen table by myself. She asked me if I had wanted something. I replied simply, "Milo."

Now, I had pronounced it as "mai-lo", whereas my aunt's family pronounced it as "mee-lo". Adding to that confusion, in a Chinese dialect, "mai-lo" translates to "nothing".

So my aunt thought I didn't want anything, and she went about her business. She returned to the kitchen later and found me still sitting at the table. This time, I was apparently looking at her expectantly. So she asked me again if I wanted anything, and I replied again, "Milo".

It took my aunt a while to realise that I had requested for the morning beverage! Quickly, she helped me prepare a cup of Milo.

I have no memory of this incident. Perhaps I was too young, or it didn't register as significant enough to be remembered. My aunt has only told me this story once, saying that she had a good laugh over the "loss in translation".

--



My memories: fragrance that reminds me of the U.S.

2013-11-12T22:58:14.179+08:00

At Plaza Singapura, at the corner of Starbucks opposite Tim Ho Wan, there is a fragrance there that always brings back fond memories for me. It's not a sweet smell or something unique. Instead, it is the smell of the wood from the Starbucks' store.

The first time I smelled it, I was immediately reminded of my time in the U.S. The memories weren't of any place in particular, or of any specific event or person. Instead, it was just a reminder of when I had been an undergraduate in the U.S.

Perhaps it is because it smells of a new place, or a new mall. I certainly had been to a number of malls in my four years there, both old and new. Or maybe it was something from my university, though I don't recall having classes or passing through any new building.

In general, it is just a fragrance that brings back positive memories and feelings for me. So much so that whenever I walk past that corner at Plaza Singapura, I consciously take a deep breath so that I can recall my memories.

So it was quite disappointing that, when I inhaled deeply while walking past there today, the fragrance wasn't as strong as before. Soon, I think that wood smell will be lost, and then I'd need to find another trigger to bring back more pleasant memories.

--



My memories: fried chicken and curry vegetables with rice

2013-10-10T23:51:01.861+08:00

(image)
Source: lovesingaporefood.blogspot.com

Every time I smell the scent of Chinese curry vegetables or just see a dish of rice with curry vegetables and fried chicken drumstick, I am transported back immediately to my primary school days.

Normally, in primary school, I wouldn't stay in school for lunch. I'd either eat before school (when I was in the afternoon session) or when I returned home later (when in the morning session). But in Primary 6, every Friday, my class would stay back for remedial lessons. I think it was to cram for the year-end PSLE exams, though I don't remember the actual reason.

What I do remember is that, at lunch time, almost all of us would make a bee-line for the only economic rice stall in the canteen. And it was always for the same dish: white rice with curry vegetables and friend chicken.

The curry vegetables were the best thing I had ever tasted then. Not too spicy that most chilli-mad Singaporeans would crave, but not too mild that it was uninteresting to the tastebuds. And the fried chicken was, well, friend chicken. You can't really go wrong with fried chicken.

But there was one more "trick" to get the ultimate dish. It was to be served by the young girl. No, it wasn't because we young boys had a hormonal crush on her. We would all queue up in one line and hope and pray that when it came to our turn, the young girl would be free, instead of the other older stallholder (whom we thought was her mum).

And if luck was upon us and the young girl served us, then we would be very happy because... she always gave the freshest fried chicken! She'd pick the pieces that had just been freshly fried, so that they would still be crispy and crunchy. If the other stallholder served us, she would pick the pieces of chicken that had been lying out for a while, and these would be softer and somehow, more bland.

To this day, I still remember that dish of economic rice. And I would also smile at the memory of how we preferred being served by the young girl so that the delicious dish was made even more yummy!
--



Why engineers should aim to be leaders

2013-09-22T19:04:56.090+08:00

(This is a personal opinion piece. It does not reflect the views of any organisation that I am affiliated with.)Source: engineerleader.comEngineers should aim to be leaders.Or more generally, the people who produce the widgets that a company derives its revenue should aim to be the leaders of that company.That makes sense, doesn't it? If a company's revenue stream depends on the widgets that it produces, then the leaders of that company should be intimately involved in producing those widgets.Unfortunately, the ones who build the widgets rarely get a table at management. Or if they do, then they are confined to a small corner. Instead, it is common for management to be dominated by sales and marketing people.I don't discount the importance of sales and marketing's functions. But I think that their importance is over-rated.Perhaps my experience of working in marketing has made me jaded to marketing. In an era of puff pieces and scam ads, it is easy to dismiss marketing as just a bunch of "hot air".And as for sales people, well, one only needs to think about car salesmen. They should know how the widgets work and what they can do. But they also think about their own pockets. And what better way to fatten their purse than to promise everything -- and then more!But engineers know about their widgets. They understand how the widgets work. They know the ins-and-outs. They know what can be done and what can't. And if it can't be done, they know why it can never be done, or they know how to make it get done.However, engineers don't think the way leaders do. In a profit-driven company, the widgets must produce revenue. That means, the widgets need to have innate qualities that make consumers want to purchase them. But engineers rarely think about monetising their widgets. Instead, they are more concerned with building the next "cool" widget.That is unlike sales and marketing. Sales have a definite eye to the bottomline, since their pay is usually tied to a commission structure. Marketing are also concerned about revenue, because their performance is based on how they can balance their costs against revenue.At least in the technology world, only one marketer made it to be a great leader. Steve Jobs was never a widget guy. He may have claimed to be a widget guy, but he really was more interested in selling widgets. But he had an advantage: he knew his widgets, or in some cases, he had a hand in making his widgets.Many sales and marketing people aim to be like Steve Jobs. But they all fail. They're only interested in selling the widgets. They don't care how the widgets are made, as long as they can sell them. That's why they sit at management. Their efforts translate directly into revenue.But engineers shouldn't try to be Steve Jobs. That takes a different level of intelligence. I suggest another role model: Bill Gates. Before Microsoft went down its path of self-destruction with "Windows Everywhere", it was a truly remarkable, widget-driven company. And Bill Gates was the engineer who built it. If only he hadn't over-reached by trying to make Windows work everywhere.A role model for companies is Facebook. This is a widget-driven company. It has an army of sales and marketing people, but the product people call the shots of what happens to the widgets. And their leader, Mark Zuckerberg, is an engineer.So engineers should be leaders, but they also need to think like leaders. They need to know how to make their widgets "sell-able". They need to know how to market their widgets. Armed with their knowledge of the widgets *and* revenue, I believe that they can turn their companies into formidable organisations.--If you liked this entry, find more quirky content at Yuhui's Blogger![...]



My memories: September 11, 2001

2013-09-11T23:00:01.376+08:00

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I woke up in my room, washed up, changed, ate breakfast, and dragged myself to a boring Computer Science lecture that I was sure I would sleep through. It was just another normal weekday morning for me as an undergraduate in a US university.

I arrived at a lecture hall that was more empty than usual, but I figured that everyone had already realised what a boring lecture this was. Later, when the professor said that he wouldn't mind if what few attendees didn't stay for the lecture, I didn't bat an eyelid.

It was only later when I crossed over to the students' union to get lunch that I realised something was wrong. People were everywhere, standing and talking excitedly. And there were television sets at every corner. I peeped at one…

… and saw the tragedy that was happening in New York city.

While I had gone about my usual morning routine, two airplanes had crashed into the World Trade Center, while another had collided into the Pentagon. Now I knew why everything seemed more abnormal.

The next lecture was for a mass communication class. The professor suspended his usual lecture and let us talk about the tragic event. He also spoke about some political concepts, one of which I still remember: "rally around the flag". That is, during tragic and uncertain times like this, the people were more likely to support the government, no matter who was in power.

The rest of the day was kind of a blur to me. But that evening, a few of us celebrated a friend's birthday at a deserted restaurant. We hadn't thought twice about calling it off. Even back then, we understood: keep calm and carry on.



That event changed one of my morning habits. From then on, every morning, while eating breakfast, I would pore over the news faithfully to see what had happened or was going on.

--



One night in Pangaea

2013-09-07T16:18:49.934+08:00

Despite living in Singapore, there are still a few places that I never would be able to get to except under extraordinary circumstances. One of these places is the high-end exclusive nightclub, Pangaea, tucked away in the basement of the grandiose Marina Bay Sands.

I'd heard of Pangaea before, but never thought I would be able to get in because of its steep entry fee and rich clientele. But thanks to a colleague, I and a group of colleagues managed to get in. And my colleague turned out to be well connected. We skipped the queue by dropping the name of my colleague's boyfriend. Then, I was momentarily barred from entering because I was dressed too casually in polo T-shirt, jeans and stained sneakers. But again the name-dropping worked.

So there I was, walking through this dark passageway, lit only be neon green lights. After walking one floor up, we entered this misty and dark hall that was the nightclub. The mist was like a fog, but it didn't smell of smoke. Perhaps it was used to add to the allure of mystery there… as if it wasn't dark enough already.

We went to our colleague's boyfriend's table, where a beautiful waitress in a skin-tight red miniskirt dress poured our drinks. Later, I saw her also holding a glass of champagne and toasting other guests, though I noticed that she never drunk from it.

A colleague mentioned that besides the rich clientele, there were also hookers. It was easy to spot them by their cliques and dressing. I saw two of them grinding with two Caucasian men. Another group stood behind our table, perhaps eyeing their next clients. I had no intention of approaching any of them, but even if I did, I doubt that my wallet would satisfy them.

The rest of the night was spent drinking, talking (or what talk we could above the noise) and dancing. There were also some professional dancers in LED costumes, who danced on the tables. That was probably the highlight of the night.
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One thing that was curious to me was to see waitresses walking around with bottles of Dom Perignon. Some of these bottles also had sparklers in their mouths. They stopped at some tables, posing for photos, and pouring drinks. Most of the clients looked happy to be able to just pose with the neon-lighted large bottles. I don't think I'll ever understand this brazen worship to the Greek god, Bacchus.

But then, I guess all of this was just something that I would never normally be able to be exposed to. There were probably as many Singaporeans as there are fingers on both of my hands, in the entire hall of hundreds. The patrons were primarily Caucasians, with some well-heeled Asians too. I didn't see any celebrities, but then I was at one corner of the hall anyway, so I couldn't see very far.

I left with my colleagues at about 2am, about two hours after we had arrived. While walking down the staircase, I wondered why there was even a staircase at a nightclub, where the drinkers could potentially slip and fall and cause the nightclub an insurance nightmare. (Yeah, I was sober enough to contemplate that.) Anyway, I made it out safely, away from the strange Pangaea, probably never to set foot in there again.

--



My memories: ghost in the school

2013-09-05T23:26:00.585+08:00

My whole life, I have never believed in ghosts. I think there is a spiritual world that exists alongside our physical reality, but there are no spirits that appear in ours.

Having said that, I think I saw a ghost once.

This happened when I was in primary school. My school building was in an estate that used to be a cemetery. To house a growing population, that cemetery was removed and replaced with a new housing estate. Some people still believed that the ghosts of the dead still lingered there. But I thought nothing about such superstition.

I was a prefect then. One of my duties was that, at every recess break, I would be stationed at a staircase on the top floor to prevent any one from going back to the classroom. The thinking then was that this would prevent thefts. Being a young boy, I didn't think about whether that was logical or not, I just did as told.

Every day, it was the same routine. I would stand around the staircase, just doing nothing, and waiting for the school bell to ring.

One day, I was just walking up and down the corridor. Then, in the corner of my eye, I saw a shadow dart from the staircase to the opposite corridor! I turned and ran there. But there was no one! I went to the staircase and looked down. There was no one there either.

The bell rang then. I rejoined another prefect who had been stationed at the opposite staircase. I asked him if he had seen anyone. He said no. I didn't say anything further, and thankfully, he didn't pursue my questioning.

So to this day, I still don't believe in ghosts, but I maintain that I had seen one before.

--



My memories: picking a cherry seed from a cliff

2013-10-10T23:51:45.491+08:00

People do dumb things all of the time. But most of the time, you don't realise that you're doing a dumb thing. This was one of those times for me.

I was about seven years old. It was my first holiday to Australia (somewhere in Western Australia). Among the many places that we went to was a mountain. I don't remember too much about that place, except that there was a cliff.

I had been eating cherries that afternoon after lunch. There were a number of cherries in my hand, and as I ate them, I made sure that I kept the seed from each eaten cherry. And so I was happily eating cherries while walking with my family towards a bridge at the cliff.

Just then, a seed fell from my hand! Not wanting to lost any seeds, I calmly walked up to where the seed was. I picked it up, then walked back to rejoin my family.

Little did I know what panic I had caused them! Apparently, the seed had rolled quite near to the edge of the cliff. If I had missed my step, I could have toppled over the edge!

But I didn't realise the danger I had been in. All I had wanted to do was to retrieve my cherry seed.

Years later, my dad recounted the story to some friends, and I was deeply embarrassed. But then he also said that he had purposely made sure that everyone stayed silent while I went to pick up the seed. He had been afraid that if anyone had made any noise, I would be startled and cause an accident.

Fortunately, my guardian angel was watching over me that day, and I am now able to recall that memory here.

--



My memories: running through the school building

2013-08-21T23:39:41.961+08:00

When I was in secondary three, my secondary school moved to a new building. When classes started in January, the campus was still not completed. There was still some bare patches of land awaiting landscaping, and the car park was half finished.

One of the things left unfinished was sealing off inaccessible areas. I know this because during a Scout camp in school, a few of us ventured out at night and discovered a whole new side to this building.

I think this was during the June school holidays. Boys being boys, we were restless about being cooped up in our designated area, when we had the whole school to ourselves. And so when it was around bed time, we went off on our own little adventure. This was before there were security guards in school, so we could run around as long as our teachers-in-charge didn't know what was going on.

It was a tame start, where we simply went from floor to floor to see where all of the different paths and corridors led to. Then, we somehow got into the auditorium. And we went backstage. When we weren't playing a fool around the curtains, we were climbing up and down the rigging.

While climbing through the false roof, we discovered a path to the performing arts centre! And so we had even more time having fun in both of these big halls. We went into the sound rooms, dressing rooms and other rooms. It's too bad that the arts centre's stage floor trapdoor was locked shut, otherwise I can barely imagine what we could have done down there!

The last place we went to that night was the clocktower. There was a staircase that led up to its base, so we walked up to see how far we could go. To our great delight, the door was unlocked! And so we went all the way up the tower, to where the clock's gears were. Of course, we didn't mess with the clock, but we had a great view of the neighbourhood.

That was a night to remember.

A year later, during another camp, I and a few others (not all from the same group) tried to retrace our paths and rediscover the school building. Alas, not only were the doors locked, but there were other barriers to prevent trespassing.

But I still have that night, when I was 15 years old, crawling and climbing through a new school building. That's a thrill that can never be taken from me.

--



My memories: Fear of walking downstairs

2013-08-18T22:15:04.856+08:00

As people grow older, they usually overcome most of their fears. And for those fears that they overcome, they rarely get afraid of them again.

I wasn't so lucky.

This is a memory from my mid-20s. For some reason, I suddenly became afraid of walking downstairs. It could be at a pedestrian bridge or a building staircase, wide staircase or narrow. My footsteps became shaky when I looked down at the stairs. I had to hold to the railing and walk down slowly, step by step.

Of course, being an adult, I had to pretend that nothing was wrong. And I really had to force myself to believe that nothing was wrong.

So it went on for about half a year. It was very frustrating, but I knew that I had to overcome it. After all, it was an irrational fear. Eventually my fear disappeared. I don't know exactly when it went away. But today, I can walk downstairs normally, and when I do, I wonder how I became afraid again then.

--



My memories: Colin's Corner

2013-10-10T23:51:30.474+08:00

This is a memory from my 7-year-old days. I was in primary one then.

Every day at recess, most of my classmates would gather at the far corner of the school's basketball court. The court wasn't in use then, and it was more of an open space for groups of students to gather at. I'd join my classmates in chatting and playing. It was the place to hang out during break.

One day, a classmate said that they were going to "Colin's corner" during recess. I didn't know what he was referring to, but it sounded new to me, so I joined them. We ended up walking to that same corner at the basketball court!

I put it all together. I had a classmate named Colin. He came from a well-to-do family, so I guess the other classmates looked up to him. Somehow, he was like a de-facto leader who had organised everyone to be at that basketball corner during recess. So it became to be known as "Colin's corner".

And I didn't realise it till about half a year later… after I had been going there every day!

--



Dream of love and regret

2013-07-11T19:30:00.811+08:00

This is what I dreamed last night:-- I was a ranking officer in a military camp, maybe captain or slightly higher. With the rank came the privilege of using a private room with a large screen TV for relaxing.One night, I went to use the room. When I arrived there, I heard some sounds. I discovered three recruits in T-shirts and army pants/boots tied up and sitting on the floor. One of them said that they were there as punishment.Then a general appeared at the other door. He asked me what I was doing there. I said I was going to watch a late night movie on the TV. He questioned my presence there and appeared agitated.Later, I learned that the general was corrupt. He wanted to steal a new drug (called "itisim", or something like that) from the medical centre for his own personal use. Apparently, the new drug would enhance his senses and strength.So he kidnapped the visiting medical officer to help him get the drug. (Apparently there was no medical officer stationed at my camp.) And this medical officer turned out to be my old love, who in my dream looked like Wong Li Lin.There was no back story about us, but I knew that we had known each other for a long time. And I had strong feelings for her even now.Of course, no one wanted to cooperate with the general, but somehow, we were all trapped in that private room to do his bidding. In the end, two other soldiers discovered a solution, and I called Li Lin to join us. We were going to pass off a fake drug to the general.In what can be considered the climax of my dream, Li Lin and I had a quiet moment together. I said to her:I have many regrets in my life. One of them is that I had not told you earlier that I loved you.Then, in one of those classic scenes where we're holding hands and our faces are so close to each other that we can almost kiss, I said:But you're married now, and this is as close as we can get.In the end, we managed to disarm the general and win the day. Outside, among the spectators, Li Lin reunited with her husband (who looked like my childhood friend from Sunday school) and her two sons. But as she hugged her husband, she and I exchanged an intimate glance.--There was another part of my dream that I initially thought was related to this earlier part, but then probably wasn't.--A new creature had been discovered at the bottom of the ocean. Called a "mazonette", it looked like a spiny starfish. Li Lin had been assigned to join a team that would dive into the ocean for a closer look.She was packed and ready to leave the medical centre at our military camp. She had a big black bag filled with gear. I had stopped by to bid her goodbye, as if to give ourselves a private moment for a while. Then I simply told her that I will take her bag for her. I picked it up and walked right out to the waiting vehicle. Li Lin was surprised by my gesture but caught up soon.--There was no ending to that second part of my dream. If you liked this entry, find more quirky content at Yuhui's Blogger![...]



Installing RVM, Ruby 2, Rails 3, MySQL on OS X 10.8

2013-05-25T16:16:25.706+08:00

ALERT! For Ruby on Rails developers only.FYI this is more for my reference than anything else. Use at your own risk.My environment:Mac OS X 10.8.3Intel Core i5XCode 4.6.2 with command line toolsAs of this blog, after running all commands, you should end up with:RVM 1.20.12Ruby 2.0.0-p195 + default gemsRails 3.2.13 + associated gemsMySQL 5.6.11 (64-bit) using mysql2 gem (version 0.3.11)First, download and install MySQL.Temporarily allow software installation from anywhere.Open System Preferences --> Security & Privacy.Click the lock icon at bottom-left. When prompted, enter your (administrator) password.Remember your current setting, i.e. "Mac App Store", "Mac App Store and identified developers" or "Anywhere".If it is not already selected, click the "Anywhere" radio button. Press "Allow From Anywhere" in the popup.Download MySQL.In your web browser, go to https://dev.mysql.com/downloads/mysql/Download the latest version of 64-bit MySQL as a DMG (as of this blog, it is "Mac OS X ver. 10.7 (x86, 64-bit), DMG Archive", the rest of the steps will use names based on this version).Install MySQL.Double-click the downloaded disk image, "mysql-5.6.11-osx10.7-x86_64.dmg".Double-click "mysql-5.6.11-osx10.7-x86_64.pkg". Install without any customization.Double-click "MySQL.prefPane". Install for all users on your computer.Double-click "MySQLStartupItem.pkg". Install without any customization.Eject the "mysql-5.6.11-osx10.7-x86_64" disk image.Restart MySQL.Open System Preferences --> MySQL.Press the "Stop MySQL Server" button. Enter your (administrator) password if prompted.If MySQL Server Instance is still running, you need to shut it down in Terminal.Open Terminal.Run this command:$ sudo /usr/local/mysql/bin/mysqladmin shutdownEnter your (administrator) password if prompted.Press "Start MySQL Server" button. Enter your (administrator) password if prompted.Reset software installation permission.Open System Preferences --> Security & Privacy.Click the lock icon at bottom-left, if it is still locked. When prompted, enter your (administrator) password.Under "Allow applications downloaded from", choose your previous setting, i.e. "Mac App Store", "Mac App Store and identified developers" or "Anywhere" radio button.Close System Preferences.Now, run all of the following commands in OS X's Terminal.Start a new Terminal session (start a new tab with Cmd-T). Update permissions. $ sudo chmod o-w /usr/localInstall RVM with stable release of Ruby. $ \curl -L https://get.rvm.io | bash -s stable --rubyStart a new Terminal session (start a new tab with Cmd-T). Update RVM settings. $ source /Users//.rvm/scripts/rvm$ rvm requirementsVerify RVM. $ type rvm | head -n 1rvm is a functionVerify Ruby. $ rvm currentruby-2.0.0-p195$ ruby -vruby 2.0.0p195 (2013-05-14 revision 40734) [x86_64-darwin12.3.0] Verify gem directory. $ rvm gemdir/Users//.rvm/gems/ruby-2.0.0-p195Update Rubygem (to be on the safe side). $ gem update --systemInstall Rails. $ gem install rails Verify Rails. $ rails -vRails 3.2.13Verify GCC. $ gcc -vUsing built-in specs.Target: i686-apple-darwin11Configured with: /private/var/tmp/llvmgcc42/llvmgcc42-2336.11~28/src/configure --disable-checking --enable-werror --prefix=/Applications/Xcode.app/Contents/Developer/usr/llvm-gcc-4.2 --mandir=/share/man --enable-languages=c,objc,c++,obj-c++ --program-prefix=llvm- --program-transform-name=/^[cg][^.-]*$/s/$/-4.2/ --with-slibdir=/usr/lib --build=i686-apple-darwin11 --enable-llvm=/private/var/tmp/llvmgcc42/llvmgcc42-2336.11~28/dst-llvmCore/Developer/usr/local --program-prefix=i686-apple-darwin11- --host=x86_64-apple-darwin11 --target=i686-apple-darwin11 --with-gxx-include-dir=/usr/include/c++/4.2.1Thread model: posixgcc ve[...]



My farewell email at XM

2010-10-02T01:39:08.230+08:00

September 30, 2010 marked my last day at XM Asia Pacific Pte Ltd. As is a sort-of tradition there, I sent this farewell email. Some names have been changed to protect the innocent. Also, some parts have been censored due to company confidentiality issues.Subject: [HR] Yu Hui will be out of office... forever!It's 10pm as I write this email. T's lurking somewhere, but otherwise, I'm spending my last day at XM alone.Usually, when one resigns, you get less and less work towards your final day. But I've had more and more! Such that I thought I wouldn't have time to compose a meaningful final email. So I've written this over the last few days. It sums up my thoughts and feelings of my experience at XM.Please pardon its length.---I've been at XM for 4 1/2 years. 1/2 more year, and I would've got a 5-year award. As M said, "So sad!"I only felt sad when people whom I thought would be at XM forever left for other pastures. It's true what they say: the people make XM the place to work at.I've had 5 bosses, 8 department colleagues, 6 different desks (+1 roaming when the new desk hadn't arrived), working in a department that is at its biggest now with 5 people, but soon shrinking to 3. Some may consider it the passing of an era at XM. I prefer to think more realistically in that demand (for analysts) outstrips supply.When people ask me what account I work on, I say, "All of them!" If any of those sound alien to you, don't worry, you'll collect some of your own if you stay as long too. M and V and S have probably collected many many more.I was pretty much the only reporting monkey for about 2 to 2.5 years. And when I was forced to deliver on my own without any real guidance, it made me grow up professionally very quickly. When everyone depends on you for answers, "I don't know" quickly becomes interpreted as "This person is an idiot".Every report became an experiment in new reporting techniques, new format/structure, new metrics, new ideas.Which probably explains why when someone asked me for a reporting template, I was at a loss to produce one!---Save your files to the network. Attachments kill email and version control.On the other hand, remember not to . True story from .---I still think of the days back at Shaw Towers with fondness.When we were spoiled for choice for lunch.When there were little boys and "Hello" ghosts.When thunderstorms appeared as beautiful curtains of rain.When I could hear the horns of delivery vehicles from Suntec City about every 3 months (IT fair!).When the Xbox was fully utilized during lunch and after work. When I brought my Wii and we played late into the night.When K was tied to her chair, wheeled into the lift, and sent to the first floor. (XM was on the 26th floor.)When we walked down 52 flights of stairs in one day. (26 floors x 2 earthquake tremors = tired legs)When we only had client A and client B. Heck, when client B meant the business unit 1 and the business unit 2, not this business unit 3 that I keep hearing about.Good times.------Client C is scary to work with, but in a good way.---I believe in mobile. Throw away your iPhones and Androids and buy lower-end 3G phones. Then surf the web with the built-in browsers or Opera Mini. It'll blow your mind away.---I hate site revamps.---Sleeping at your desk doesn't mean you're lazy. It means you're overworked and over-tired.And if you're further sleep-deprived, you can't function at your best. And then XM suffers. And clients scream. And take their money away. And XM goes bankrupt. And then you don't get your bonus. And then you're laid off. And then your house mortgage is due.So [...]



Universal Studios Singapore -- fun, imaginative... too American

2010-08-15T16:23:45.458+08:00

About half a year after it opened, I finally had the chance to step through the gates of Universal Studios Singapore and experience this internationally acclaimed theme park first hand. My expectations were set both by the hype around this local version of the Universal theme park franchise, and also my previous experience at the Los Angeles one.Having arrived after the rest of the group, I met up with the others at the "Shrek 4D" attraction. This was where we would join Shrek and Donkey in rescuing Fiona. We donned our glasses to watch the 3D effects and got sprayed with water and bounced around in the seats to get the "4D" effect. (Technically, the fourth dimension is time, but who am I to argue with creative licensing in the name of fun?) Like any motion simulator ride, the "4D" effects were simple and predictable, especially the water spray... though it did feel rather gross to get wet when Shrek sneezed on screen!We wanted to go for the Jurassic Park water ride, but there was a one-hour wait for it, so we went to the "Revenge of the Mummy" ride instead. It had a reportedly shorter wait of 45 minutes, but we were in-and-out within half an hour! This was an indoor roller-coaster where we were supposed to find the Book of... something. Anyway, the story wasn't important, we were there to scream! And as luck would have it, I got into the first row.We got a slow build-up for about a minute and then it was a full-on roller coaster ride! Unfortunately, the whole thing ended in a few minutes. We expected some kind of big climactic final drop, so we were disappointed when we found ourselves heading for the alighting point.This indoor roller-coaster ride felt... safe.We walked a bit further and found ourselves in the "Sci-fi" section. The highlight was the "Battlestar Galactica" twin roller-coaster. This was, of course, closed, and has been closed almost since the park opened. A few of us went to the "Accelerator", which is really like Disneyworld's Mad Hatter's tea cup ride, except that we're supposed to imagine that we're in some kind of high-tech spinning accelerator. It didn't help that the in-car wheel was so stiff to turn! Actually, the speed of our spinning felt to be controlled more by the external system rather than our own turning efforts.We walked through the "New York" section and had a break at "Mel's Diner". I had a chocolate milkshake while some of the others bought burger meals. While sitting and chatting, we saw a performance going on outdoors. It was supposed to be for the filming of a beach song-and-dance for a 1960s/1970s movie.Personally, I thought the story was lost on the Singaporean/Asian spectators. And that performance summed up my thoughts about Universal Studios Singapore. What the planners seemed to have done was to transfer the American model into Singapore, lock, stock and barrel. There was very little "localization" done. That meant American food, American performances, American attractions. Granted, there's little localization that could be done for the attractions, but songs and dances could have been better adapted for the local taste. Perhaps Universal needs to partner with a few Asian filmmakers to inject that local flavour into its Singapore theme park.After our break, we went to watch a Steven Spielberg-hosted attraction about special effects. We were to imagine that we were in old New York City and a hurricane was coming down on us. Again, it felt... safe. We were supposed to feel a hurricane, but I thought our own local monsoon thunderstorms were more dreadful. When a metal beam fell from the roof, it dropped mechanically. When a boat burst into the dock that we spectators were suppo[...]



Overflowing with durians

2010-08-15T14:58:51.628+08:00

The recent spell of hot-and-cold weather had made me feel rather unsettled. To comfort myself (or was it to pamper myself? ha), I decided to treat myself to some durians. So I made my way to my favourite durian seller to buy some durians.Was I astonished to see his stall! There were baskets and baskets of durians everywhere! They were in his shop, on his tables, along the corridor, outside his stall. There were baskets of durians stacked upon other baskets of the fruit. In fact, the whole market was flooded with the thorny fruit -- to the point where even his neighbours' stalls were filled with durians!As to be expected, the odour from the King of Fruits was quite unpleasant and it raised a stink in the neighbourhood. Fortunately, years of consuming the fleshy yellow fruit had made me quite immune to it, so I carefully wade through the baskets of fruit to get to the durian stall.Inside, I could see my durian seller guiding his assistants impatiently. His arms flailed and his voice boomed as he directed them to move the durians here and there. Some of his assistants were already outside, recovering the durians as quickly as they could. Others were inside the stall, where they transferred the baskets of fruit out of sight as quickly as their tired arms could.Just then, my durian seller saw me approach him. He barked another order to a hapless assistant, then walked towards me. He was clearly exasperated and I didn't know what to say to calm him, or if I should even say anything."Look at this mess!" he exclaimed. "How to work like that?""What happened?" I asked gingerly."Over there, lah!" he said, pointing into the distance. "Got traffic jam, so the lorries all cannot carry their durians out. In the end, the durians all kena dump here."I looked into the distance but could not see the lorries that he spoke of nor whatever was blocking the roads. "I've never known the roads to be this badly jammed," I remarked."You don't know," he drawled. "This place always got jams. But my assistants always help to direct vehicles away. My assistants are very good. Tell them to check every six months, they check and clear the jams. That's why always no problem.""I didn't know your assistants have to check the roads for jams.""I am the landlord here, so it's my responsibility. Some more, this is premiere shopping area. If nobody check, and the roads kena jammed, then customers disappear, then we all lose big money. So of course I get my assistants to check. Then confirm got durian to sell and got customers to buy. And everyone is happy."I nodded in understanding. "But that doesn't explain this situation. How does a traffic jam cause this overflow of durians?""You never read the durian forecast in the newspapers? Got flash bumper crop! As if all the durians trees start dropping their durians! This only happen once every 50 years!""A bumper crop should be good for your business," I noted. "You can sell more durians and satisfy your customers' thirst for it.""You say lucky, I say sueh! The durian farmers must move the durians before they all get rotten, right? Their drivers all drive very fast, move the durians quickly, they also very good workers. And then what happened?" He gestured at the distance again."A traffic jam," I replied."The drivers got no choice, dump their durians here, then go back to collect some more." He stared at his shop, and I noticed that he was giving his workers his classic evil eye. "They all, lah! Never check the roads for jams. Now I must make sure they work double hard! Check six months, not enough. Check three months also not enough. I tell them: check the roads every month!"He mellowe[...]



I'm single in Singapore but not by choice

2010-05-25T19:01:39.771+08:00

Hello. My name is Yuhui and I've never been kissed.It's not that I'm averse to kissing nor am I shy about it (as far as I know, given my lack of any real experience). Also, kissing my mother doesn't count.No, it's about the lack of partners to kiss with. Actually, at this point in my life, I'd settle for a partner - singular.In Saturday's Straits Times newspaper (reproduced at SGClub.com), there was a full-page article, "Never been kissed". It described the issues around the growing number of singles, a.k.a "singletons", in Singapore. And yes, this being Singapore, those issues include marrying late and having babies even later or not at all.As I read through the stories, I found that mine did not match any of those. So I thought I'd share my side of Singaporean singlehood. In doing so, I hope that I can show that my experience isn't a quirk or "the exception that proves the rule".I didn't attempt to start dating seriously till I was in university. Before then, the closest I'd got was with a girl from junior college -- who brought a friend along. During my National Service days, I watched my buddies hook up while I was left hanging.But you have to understand. I was young then and believed that I had all the time in the world to find a partner. That was about 15 years ago. Time is no longer a luxury I have. And in the intervening years, I've tried to make up for lost dates.Yet, I found myself continuing to attract only two kinds of girls:those who already had boyfriends (or *gasp* were on the verge of getting married) orfor one reason or another, didn't want to be in a relationship now and "can we just remain as friends?"(As time dragged on, friends suggested that I let go of my principles and pursue those in the first group, i.e. those already attached. After all, these days, even a marriage isn't forever. However, I'm glad to say that I haven't stooped that low.)The ironic thing is that some of those girls in the second group getting married!To find Ms Right, I even joined a dating agency. Yes, I forked over good money for a number of dates (20, I think). I went on two repeat dates (supposedly the measure of success for a dating agency), though things fizzled out after that. And by that, I mean I received no replies when contacting them subsequently.But almost all of the girls were just looking to widen their social circles -- and I somehow never ended up being a part of anyway. This is where marketing met reality. The "dating agency" promised partnership, but its database consisted of people looking for friends. It was a big "what the f--k" realisation -- not to mention seeing good money go down the drain.Some dating articles suggested that I look nearer, like in the workplace. (Though a friend advised: "why eat and shit at the same place?") One day, I plucked up the courage to ask a colleague out (you know who you are!). She gave the "I don't date colleagues" response, which I guess was acceptable. But even now that we're not colleagues, she can't bring herself to date me.Other colleagues are -- you guessed it -- already attached or "not looking for a relationship right now".It was then that I pretty much gave up. After that, if anyone wanted to introduce me to someone, I gave my contact details freely. It's truly a "what's the worst that can happen?" decision. People who know me would probably pair me with someone compatible, right?If so, I wouldn't be writing this now.So that's my story, and I hope I'm not the only Singaporean single male who's "suffering" through this.Oh yes, I'm still open to being matchmade. (Or if you're my previous/current colleague, you [...]



Omniture plug-in: “setCampaignVars” for efficient campaign tracking

2010-05-02T23:10:46.745+08:00

WARNING: this is a very technical entry that details some web programming/development for a specific web analytics tool.(This entry was originally published on the XM Asia Pacific blog. I'm reproducing it here as my publishing and reproduction right as the plug-in's sole developer.)Today, I'm proud to share a plug-in that will help to make campaign tracking more efficient within Omniture's s_code file 1. It's called setCampaignVars. It's free, it's easy to use, and -- best of all -- it's open source.Background: Campaign Tracking with Omniture SiteCatalystAt its simplest level, campaign tracking works this way: the Omniture code reads a value from the URL and saves it as your campaign tracking code. For example, let's say that I have the following URL:http://www.my-wonderful-site.com/index.html?cmp=foobarThe Omniture code can be configured to get the campaign tracking code whenever it sees the "cmp" query parameter in the URL. In this example, it will save foobar as the tracking code.But Omniture recommends that campaign tracking doesn't stop there. It suggests the following:Store the tracking code in an Omniture traffic variable - to report on pageviews, visits, time spent, and similar metricsStore the tracking code with your landing page name and enable pathing on this combination - to track how users navigate your site from the landing pageIn addition, depending on your requirements, you might also need toMake the user's browser retain the tracking code for a period of time 2, regardless of how he subsequently returns to your site.Campaign Tracking introduces New ProblemsTo implement the above, your Omniture technical account manager should have provided you with a set of code that you can just copy-and-paste into your s_code file, or the file may already contain the code when it was first given to you. That's all well and good. BUT (and you knew there would be a "but"), that code normally applies for external campaigns only, for example, to track users who enter your site from a paid search campaign.On the other hand, you may have internal campaigns, e.g. banners within your site, like on your homepage, for certain promotions. You'd want to track these in the same way as external campaigns. (Omniture recommends that you do so too.) But that means you'd have to (a) write the code yourself, or (b) get your account manager (or savvy web developer) to do it for you.New Problems demand a New Solution: setCampaignVarsNow I give you option (c): setCampaignVars. After adding the plug-in to your s_code file, you will be able to:Get the (external or internal) campaign tracking code from your URLStore the tracking code in both traffic and conversion variablesStore the tracking code+landing page combo as a traffic variable for pathing (optional), andRetain the tracking code only once for a certain period of time (optional)Here's how to use setCampaignVars:Get the file, setCampaignVars.txtRefer to setCampaignVars_maximized.txt for the plug-in's details and its "maximized" versionCopy-and-paste the contents of setCampaignVars.txt into your s_code after "PLUGINS SECTION"Make sure your s_code contains Omniture's getQueryParam, getAndPersistValue and getValOnce plug-insUse setCampaignVars within the s_doPlugins blockGetting Started with setCampaignVarsHere are a few example scenarios to get you started with step 4:Save your external campaign tracking code (from the "cmp" URL query) to s.campaign and s.prop1, and expire the tracking code within the same visits.setCampaignVars('cmp','campaign','prop1');Save your external campaign tracking code (from the [...]



Japan trip - day seven - Tokyo

2010-03-17T01:08:50.775+08:00

Woke up at 8:30am to have breakfast at 9am. Then remembered that the hotel served breakfast till 11am, and check-out was at 10am, so decided to sleep in till 9:30am. After checking out, walked opposite to the hotel's annex for breakfast.It was a "continental" breakfast consisting of toast, Japanese soup and coffee or tea, 320 yen with unlimited refills of any item. Surprisingly, waitress spoke English fluently and without a Japanese accent. (Later, I asked her if she was Japanese, to which she said yes, and she chuckled when I complimented her English.)Just when finishing breakfast, saw that a group of office workers were gathering outside the adjacent building. Apparently, there was a fire drill. An old man from the fire department led the drill, issuing instructions and other pointers. Some of the office workers even had a chance to try their hand at using a fire extinguisher, something we certainly don't practise in Singapore. Later, another fire department official led another session, though I couldn't tell what it was.Stayed till 11:30am, then took the train to Shinjuku. Still had about two hours to kill before taking the Narita Express to the airport. So walked around the shops outside to see if anything caught my eye for last minute gifts. Also took the opportunity to take some photos of Shinjuku in the daytime.First, deposited my luggage and some items from my backpack in a locker at the train station, then went out. Weather was warm enough to be without a jacket, but I brought it along just in case. Sky also looked cloudy, but guess I'll be out of Tokyo before it rains.Happened to walk past a Bic Camera and an ad caught my eye: a Sony Ericsson "Bravia" phone. Never having heard of one before, I went in to see what it was. Apparently, it's a phone that lets you watch TV as well, but since the menus are all in Japanese, I couldn't try this out. It also had a five-megapixel camera, but picture quality was soft even under bright light, so that was a disappointment. Also saw a Sharp solar phone, which could be useful for me in Singapore if I weren't indoors almost all the time and since work forces me to hardly see the sun.Then, since I still had some free time, I went to Uniqlo to see if there was anything suitable, but looking at the prices, I think I can get the same items in Singapore for about the same price.Returned to the JR Shinjuku train station at 1:50pm. Collected my luggage, repacked some items, then went to board the Narita Express. Slept on the two-hour ride.Then, at Narita station, I did a stupid thing by tossing my train ticket into the recycling bin before exiting. Luckily, I could reach in and retrieve it!The counter for United Airlines featured its Easy Check-In system. I've often wondered why Changi Airport doesn't have this, and after today, I'm glad it doesn't. Easy Check-In, the automated kiosk system that allows passengers to check-in themselves rather than through the counter assistant, was basically useless. It frustrated passengers who weren't used to dealing with it. And since passengers on international flights almost always luggage to check-in, you still need to have a counter assistance check it in for you. In the end, Easy Check-In wasn't so easy and took as much time to check-in, if not longer.I thought of browsing the airport mall for a while, but it was already about 4:15pm and boarding time was at 5pm. So I went into the immigration area. And then, this moment reminded me of what George Clooney's character had said in the movie, "Up In The Air".First, I waited for a while[...]



Japan trip - day six - Tokyo

2010-04-04T21:10:13.409+08:00

Woke up at 8:45am, fortunately, had set my alarm at 7:30am, so was already roused from sleep then. Had packed most of my things last night, and just needed to pack my toiletries and backpack. Still had some time before 10am check-out, so ate the bun I had bought yesterday (for a snack during the sumo tournament).Already had my shinkansen ticket for 1:30pm, so thought I'd kill time by taking a peek at Osaka Castle. According to the map, it's supposed to be just at the next block. But as Peter MacIntosh had said, Japanese maps aren't drawn to scale. At the next block, still couldn't see any sign of the castle. So took the subway to Shin-Osaka.Thank goodness for the rail pass, I obtained another ticket to Tokyo, this time at 11:13am. It was only 10:50am, so browsed the stores and bought a Japanese snack souvenir. Then went up to train platform to wait for the shinkansen.Random thought while at JR Shin-Osaka: I can see myself living and working in Japan due to the seeming politeness and harmony that I've witnessed so far. Of course, that would also mean that I have to wear a white-and-black suit every working day!After arriving in Tokyo, for a moment, I was disoriented because I thought I needed to exit the station before boarding a JR train for the Tokyo metro. Turns out that I could just go straight on, so I did, and went to Ikebukuro station. From there, I headed straight for Sakura Hotel. There were some other people checking in, so I browsed the available tourist brochures. Found one that mentioned the Akihabara Electric Town, thought that might be the more famous electrical appliance area rather than the one I had wanted to go to at Shinjuku on my first day.But first, I wanted to get a ticket to visit the Ghibli Museum. The last admission for the day was at 4pm, and by the time I had entered my room, it was 3:30pm already. Checked the website and found that the last entry time was 4:30pm. Next challenge was to find a Lawson's store to buy the ticket. Found the nearest one through Google Map and headed there.As I went in search of it, found a lot of "girls bars" and other nightspots. Then I saw some "casual hotels" offering a 3-hour "rest" for 4,000 yen. Wow, I didn't know my hotel was just two blocks away from this nightlife! I swear that I didn't know this when making the booking, my concern then was to get a cheap hotel that was near a Japan Rail station.Found the Lawson's store and proceeded to get my ticket. Alas, all tickets for the day had been sold out. Bought a sushi snack and chocolate milk, since I hadn't eaten since the bun in the morning, then walked around the sort-of red light area while eating, and also because I got lost finding the main road.Since I couldn't enter Ghibli Museum, the least that I could do was take a look at it from outside. I'm not a big fan of Miyazaki, though I've seen some of his films, so this wasn't a big loss. Took the train to Mitaka, about half hour away, then took the local, yellow-coloured bus to the museum. Arrived at 4:45pm, so even if I had bought my ticket, I never would've entered anyway, and then it would be 1,000 yen down the drain.Turns out the museum is just a small building surrounded by a residential area, a school and a huge park. Went around taking pictures of the museum, then went to explore the park. Realised that it's more of a dog park, where locals (residents?) bring their dogs to run and play.Finished walking around the museum building in under 10 minutes. By then, was about 5:30pm already and sun was setting. Not much el[...]



Japan trip - day five - Osaka

2010-03-17T01:08:50.793+08:00

Took it easy today, after all, I'm on holiday. That meant going out in the late morning only to get something to eat… and to buy the ticket for today's sumo wrestling tournament!First thing I did was to check for ticket availability at the sumo website. Unfortunately, it isn't updated in real-time. By 8am though, it had been refreshed to state that all of the 2,000-yen general admission tickets were sold out. That meant I would have to get the more expensive, reserved seating tickets, though those promised a better view.To obtain that ticket, I had to buy online, but that required registering with the ticketing agent with a Japanese address and phone number, both of which I don't have. I could also buy a ticket at the Family Mart or Lawson convenience stores.So I went out to the Family Mart nearby and enquired with the cashier about getting a ticket. For some reason, he didn't understand me, even when I said "sumo". I had assumed that it's sufficiently Japanese-sounding that he should know what I was referring to. But he didn't understand me, and I didn't know how else to describe sumo wrestling.I then went to the Lawson store that was two blocks away. Made the same enquiry with the cashier. This time, a female employee who sort of understood me directed me to a kiosk. She entered the date for the tournament… and it showed that no tickets were available. That wasn't what I'd seen on the website, even from the online ticket purchase site.For a moment, I contemplated skipping this more-or-less once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I went back to my hotel room and tried purchasing online, using the hotel's address and phone number, but no luck.Then I did what I should've done originally: write down the Japanese words for the sumo wrestling tournament, including which seats I wanted. With that in hand, I returned to the Family Mart store and showed the cashier my note. He understood me now, though I think he didn't even know that there was a tournament on.It took a while to find the right screen. Apparently, the tournament also doesn't show up as a prominent selection. Eventually, he managed to select the right ticket. And then it asked for a Japanese phone number. When I said that I didn't have one, the cashier proceeded to enter (I think) his own number. With that done, the purchase was completed, I handed over my money, and got my ticket. Yay!I lounged around till about 2:30pm, then took the subway to Namba station and walked to the Osaka Gymnasium, venue of the tournament. I saw a crowd outside, with a noticeable gap. Apparently, I had arrived just in time to see a sumo wrestler arrive! He was greeted like a Hollywood celebrity at the Oscar ceremony. By the time I got my camera out, though, I only managed to take a picture of his back.I entered the building and asked for the way to my seat, since the signs didn't seem too clear, or maybe they were clear in Japanese. I found myself seated about 25 rows away from the ring. With my naked eye, I could see the wrestling clearly. But with my phone camera and iPod nano, the wrestlers appeared as tiny, one-centimetre-tall figures. At least I could zoom in with my phone camera, but the pictures came out blurry.While waiting for the tournament to begin, two young Japanese men seated next to me started chatting with me. One spoke English and translated on his friend's behalf. When they saw my phone and iPod nano, they asked about it. I guess my phone is like a dinosaur next to theirs.At 3:30pm, an announcer entered the r[...]



Japan trip - day four - Kyoto

2011-09-30T23:13:22.867+08:00

Once again, slept past my alarms and finally woke up at 10:30am. Ate the sandwich and drank the chocolate milk that I'd bought two days ago, while catching up on my Internet stuff.Rushed out of room at 12pm so that I could get the 12:42pm train to Kyoto from Shin-Osaka (I had realised that this station was a better bet than Osaka because there are more trains to Kyoto from here). Got my ticket and asked for the platform, ticket seller said, "Check board." I did and couldn't find my train platform! Anyway, went down to a platform that had trains going to Kyoto. Showed a passenger my ticket and asked if this was the one I was supposed to be at. He shook his head.A train arrived at that moment, bound for Kyoto. It was the Special Rapid Express. Since there were spare seats (this was a non-reserved seating train meant for regular commutes between cities), I got in and took the half hour ride.At Kyoto station, I used another exit and found myself in the Kyoto mall, The Cube. I had seen it from the outside yesterday, but thought nothing of it till now. It's just another up-class mall anyway. Found my way to the subway station. Called Peter McIntosh regarding the geisha walking tour, but a Japanese message came on, ending with a beep. Assumed to be voicemail, so I just left a message.Then took subway train to Imadegawa station and then a 10-minute walk to Nishijin Textile Centre. Arrived at 2pm, just in time for a kimono fashion show. Lots of mainland Chinese tourists already surrounding the small stage with cameras ready. Whipped out my brand spankin' new iPod nano and video-recorded it. (I knew there was a reason I bought the iPod nano!) Show lasted about 15 minutes.Browsed around the store and bought a few gifts, while also viewing the live kimono making demonstrations. Also browsed the selection of teas and desserts. Left at 3pm to walk back to the train station.Along the way, stopped by Shiramine-jingu Shrine. Built by a late emperor, it is now a temple for the ball sports deity. While there, saw some Japanese writing their wishes and praying at the altar.Took the train from Imadegawa station. Stomach growled a bit, hadn't eaten anything since breakfast. But thought it better to first find the Minamiza Kabuki Theater for the geisha tour. So walked from Kawarachi to Shijo-dori, took almost 20 minutes. After finding the theater, went in search of an eating place. But it was already close to 4pm and tour starts at 4:30pm. So stopped by 7-Eleven, planning to get a sausage bun and chocolate milk. Found instead some sushi. Also thought a bottled drink might be easier to carry, so bought milk tea. Finished the sushi at a small resting point nearby.While searching for food, saw a "Love Beach" sign, and outside was a board with pictures of a hotel room. Hmm, was this one of those love hotels? A man in a suit saw me looking and said something about "no reservation". While I was curious, I didn't have time to explore further. I would walk past there later in the evening, saw the same man, but this time he didn't approach me. Oh well.Went back to Minamiza Kabuki Theater to wait for Peter MacIntosh's geisha walking tour. Saw a burly Caucasian in black whom I had seen at 7-Eleven and speaking fluent Japanese, knew it had to be him. Confirmed his identity and made small talk. While waiting, an old Japanese man spoke to me and asked if Peter MacIntosh was my friend. When Peter replied in Japanese, the old man knew better and laughed about it.Rest of[...]



Japan trip - day three - Kyoto

2010-03-17T01:08:50.812+08:00

Question: How many Japan Rail tickets does it take to get from Osaka to Kyoto?Answer: Three -- if you were me today.Heard the alarm ring, but ignored it. Finally struggled out of bed at about 10am, the time I had actually planned to leave. Got out of the hotel at 11am and headed for Umeda station, then went straight to JR Osaka station.Next train to Kyoto was at 11:42am, so I bought it and ran up to the entrance… and couldn't figure out which platform to use. No indication on ticket. Searched frantically but couldn't find any train with the right number of cars.Heard a train leave and figured that was the one. Went back to the ticket counter and bought another ticket for the next train at 12:42pm, this time confirming the platform to use. Then went to look for food since I hadn't eaten anything since last night.Found a few eateries but they were crowded. Then came across the noisiest McDonald's ever. Woman "yodeler" constantly announcing the latest burgers. Decided "what the heck" and proceeded to buy a bacon lettuce burger set. Ate at a small alcove with tables for standing only.Went back to JR Osaka station at 12:30pm, found the train successfully. Fell asleep on the train. Next thing I knew, train had arrived at Kyoto station. I rushed out but doors had shut already… and the train started to move. Resigned to my fate, found an empty seat and cursed myself silently. Ticket inspector came along. I explained in sign language and broken English that I had fallen asleep and missed my stop. He told me to switch trains at the next station, scheduled to arrive at 2:01pm! So there goes my tour of the Kyoto palace.At Tsuruga station, explained to the old male staff at the gate that I was supposed to go to Kyoto. He sort of understood me, but he didn't speak English and I don't understand Japanese. He directed me to the ticket office, where I bought a ticket for the 2:15pm train back to Kyoto. Thank goodness for rail pass, don't need to pay more than needed!Tsuruga station is high enough in the mountains that there was still snow on the ground!A train arrived at the designated platform but I wasn't sure that it was the one I wanted. Saw the train conductor and asked him, gesturing to my ticket. "Next train," he said pleasantly. Whew!Arrived at Kyoto at 3:10pm. Along the way, struggled to stay awake so as not to miss the station again. Drooped off a few times, but always managed to force myself back awake. At Kyoto, headed straight for the subway to Kyoto Imperial Palace. After exiting the Imadegawa station, walked down the wrong road for a moment. Luckily, I consulted my map in time and managed to get to the correct path without straying too far.105 minutes after the appointed tour time, I arrived at Seisho-mon Gate. Of course, tour had already started and walk-ins are not allowed. Walked around the huge park outside for about half hour.Went back outside Imadegawa station, but couldn't really find anything worth seeing/doing. Lots of small, convenience-type stores. Strange, would have expected more cosmopolitan feel since there are several schools and colleges in the area.Consulted map and decided to go to Kawaramachi, the shopping area. Turned out to be pretty much the same as Shinjuku, same mall streets with lots of fashion stores, except this place was less crowded.Craving for a hot chocolate as comfort food after the sucky day. First coffee shop had menu in Japanese. Dreading not to go to Starbucks if it[...]



Japan trip - day two - Osaka

2010-03-17T01:08:50.821+08:00

Alarm was set at 6:30am, but only finally woke up at about 7:40am. Washed up, ate breakfast that I had bought yesterday. Watched TV but didn't understand what was going on, so just looked at the pictures. Packed up and left at just past 9am.Took train to Tokyo station. Followed the signs and through the crowds to the ticket office. Bought my Hikari 467 Shinkansen (bullet train) ticket to Shin-Osaka. Wandered around the station, but couldn't find anything interesting to pass the time. Went to the wrong gate first. At the correct gate, finally figured out that I need to show my rail pass with my ticket to enter.At the platform, the train had just arrived. Saw the cleaning ladies dressed in their pink uniform and with their blue cleaning bags do their work. Seats can be rotated, depending on which direction the train is going.Train left at 10:03am promptly. Slept for most of the three-hour journey. At Shin-Osaka station, went to information counter to figure out how to get to Tanimachi 4-chome station. Turns out I can't use the JR rail pass, need to buy a subway ticket. Decided to have lunch first at the station. Picked a fish dish, but while updating this entry, waitress accidentally gave me someone else's order. Luckily, I was still typing this and hadn't started eating!Bought a one-day unlimited ride subway ticket and went to Tanimachi4-chome station. Checked in at Weekly Mansion Osaka at Otemae. Though check-in time is at 4pm, room was already ready at about 3pm, so managed to move in. A big room with its own kitchenette, but bathroom was just as small as Oak Hotel's. Once again, Internet connection only through Ethernet. Caved in and decided to buy an Ethernet adapter, so went out in search of one.Took the subway to Shinsaibashi station, where it seemed like the shops were. Came out and tried to figure out where the shops were. Followed the mass of people into a shopping street. Lots of clothing and boutique stalls, but nothing that I needed.Along the way, someone banged hard into my left shoulder, even though I thought I had avoided him. Didn't want to think about the reason, just brushed it off and continued walking.Remembered seeing a Bic Camera shop on the map, but couldn't remember where. So stopped by Dotonbori river to rest, get my bearings, and take in the sight. Then went straight for it. First floor was all cameras and handphones, thought I was out of luck. Then saw a floor guide stating "PC" at the fourth floor. So headed up, found the USB section, and browsed the racks. Finally found a USB-Ethernet adapter-cum-USB hub.Browsed the floor and found the Apple section. USB-Ethernet adapter retailing for 3,400 yen, more expensive than the one I'd found, so went to pay for the adapter-cum-hub. Yay, now I have Internet connection!Browsed the rest of Bic Camera before heading out to Namba station. Found the JR Namba station, enquired about how to get to Kyoto. After that, didn't feel too hungry, so went to recce the area before the sumo wrestling competition on Sunday. Walked and walked along the road but couldn't see the gymnasium as expected.By then, it was 6:30pm already, so decided to have an early dinner. Remembered seeing a noodle shop, so went in its direction. No customers, just the two male cooks. Through broken English, I gradually realised that they served Korean food. But rather than leave, I decided to just eat there. Anyway, food and service weren't that bad.[...]