Saturday, 16 May 2009

Cheap Cheap

All Together Now - Bangkok

Singaporeans enjoy travelling to Thailand. It is not simply the close proximity of this country that attracts them. Mainly it is the shopping, ease of travel and cheap accommodation.

On this business visit I once again stayed at the Pathumwan Princess hotel. In terms of overall value, cleanliness and service this hotel has few peers and I thoroughly recommend it.

It has another big advantage in that it is attached to the MBK Shopping Centre which has several floors and more than 2,000 shops.

Not that I was looking to buy anything but I did note that men's shoes were about 50% cheaper and even supermarket basics were 20%+ cheaper than Singapore. Many products are produced in Thailand so this is to be expected.

When I first visit Bangkok the trip from the airport to the central district used to up to two hours through traffic snarl ups and choking pollution. On the Sunday I arrived we breezed down the expressway at 150 kilometres per hour and arrived at the hotel in under half an hour.

What impressed me most when I first visited Thailand in the early 1980's and what impresses me still is the courtesy of the people.

Unfortunately the Thai hotel and tourism industry has been badly hit by the triple whammy of the economic recession, H1N1 flu and the political unrest in the country. The local press was reporting that many of the top flight hotels have been put up for sale by their owners.

My business trip did not start well with a traffic accident blocking access to Changi airport as I sped towards departure.

Then there was the ignominy of having one's carry-on case emptied and personal shaving gel and mouthwash removed - even though I has carried these same items on two previous trips with no problems. The presence of a large Pakistani tour group returning to their home country could possibly explain this heightened vigilance.

The next little drama was a mildly poisoned finger which I managed to deal with - such are the joys of business travel that no plastic airline food can placate.

Next week I am spending several days in Jakarta so it will be interesting to note the comparison with Bangkok.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Storm Over Bangkok

Yesterday afternoon there was a tremendous thunder storm over the city. I am staying on the 28th floor of the Pathumwan Princess Hotel and used my mobile phone camera and photoshop to capture the the mood of the scene.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Old Friends At The Point Of Departure

I have just caught up with an old friend in the departure lounge of Changi airport. This was not a planned arrangement but both of us naturally gravitated towards the free internet access and we met again.

It reminded me just how pleasurable catching up with friends can be. In this case we had shared and survived the meltdown of UNSW Asia in Singapore.

He has now been reincarnated as a Regional Director for DELL, based in China and I am working for the British Council, also with regional responsibilities in Asia.

A shared coffee and a 'catch up', albeit for half an hour, has been most enjoyable. Mutual acquaintances were discussed and the prospects looking ahead in the economic gloom of 2009 also dominated our thoughts.

He has since departed for Shanghai and I am about to board a flight to Bangkok. It feels like only yesterday when we worked together and I was delighted to see how successful his life has become.

Like many Singaporeans he has had to leave his family behind in Singapore while he plies his trade. While this is far from ideal for the family unit he makes a point of having quality time when the family reunites.

Old friends are to be treasured. Even the heavy deluge of a tropical rainstorm outside cannot dampen my spirits.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Homily Heaven

Willow - Roger Smith

There's nothing like a good slogan to motivate the troops. In Singapore this is adopted with an almost Confucian fervour.

Most buses are equipped with television and when Channel News Asia is not the active channel, there is a subtext of sayings and pearls of wisdom that play across the bottom of the screen. I think these are contributed by viewers but I cannot be sure?

There are similar motivational moments enshrined in public campaigns to fight off complacency and I noted during my tenure at NUS that they were also quite prevalent in the university world.

It is something that simply would not work as well in the West I would suggest. There is a residual cynicism that has crept into the minds of the electorate in these countries that would rebel against the practice.

Personally I do not have a problem with these homespun homilies but I wonder just how effective these rallying calls really are?

When Singaporeans really get motivated as has happened in recent weeks with the AWARE saga, they are a force to be reckoned with. I was hugely heartened to see the womenfolk of this country rise up and eject a small religious clique who had engineered themselves into the upper echelons of the organisation.

Secularism is one of the mainstays of this country and long may it remain so.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Matters Porcine

Saturday, 25 April 2009

The Chicken's Revenge

"Don't finish all of the gravy"

These where the instructions I received last Saturday as we sat in SUNTEC's food court finishing a meal of Vietnamese chicken curry.

As the shard of bone embedded itself in my throat my wife's instruction was still ringing in my ears. There are few words to describe the feeling when you instantly know that you have ignored sensible advice and are about to suffer the consequences.

So began my week. For the first couple of days I was of the opinion that the offending shard would make its own timely exit. By Tuesday I was not so sure and on Wednesday I took myself off to the company-designated doctor.

Waiting in a Singaporean doctor's is an interesting experience - very efficient and if you have three hours to spare you could try for a walk-in appointment (which isn't an appointment at all).

My first visit resulted in a the classic probing by spatula and a packet of strong medicinal lozenges. I have been anticipating that the medico might assault my larynx with a length of flexible tubing but this was not to be. An X-ray was suggested but I declined.

The next day I returned saw another doctor at the same clinic and took the X-ray. No bone fragments were in evidence but just to be sure you recommended I visit an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist at Mt Elizabeth hospital.

As this second consultation had taken most of the morning I decided to press on with the specialist appointment mid afternoon. At least I would have piece of mind.

Punctually at three o'clock I arrived at the E&T clinic. One can always spot the difference between a doctor's and a specialist clinic.

The doctor usually has one online machine to extract payment from your credit card, whereas the specialist will often have up to four at reception to make sure that they can extract their fee from what ever card you choose to use.

The other thing about specialists' clinics is that they are often small and have their walls festooned with graphic charts and diagrams of the body parts that are about to examine. My specialist had these illustrations in 3D extruded plastic.

The half hour examination was nowhere near as unpleasant as a colleagues had predicted it would be. The laryngoscope is a miniature camera attached to a very fine cable which was fed down my nose.

As the patient in the chair you are able to watch this 'Journey to the Bottom Of My Throat" on a large screen at the same time as the specialist soothingly describes the procedure. I have to say that normally the last thing I want to see on any screen is an operation. I prefer to channels but this was not going to happen.

No chicken bone was in evidence so we can assume that what I was feeling was the after effects of the bone - a phantom effect which is not uncommon.

Having carefully extracted the wafer thin tube the good doctor then proceeded to burn me a disk of the investigation for my personal record. Thus far I have resisted the temptation to share it with others on YouTube.

$300 poorer I made my way to the surgery door. Full of assurance he said that it would appear the offending object had departed, but he couldn't be totally sure as sometimes small bones get covered by skin very quickly.

I could always come back and see him if need be........