Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Eve Dinner @ Casablanca


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Christmas is not a holiday here so I was hoping to spend Christmas in a quiet sort of way. On Christmas eve, Xinyi and I didn't do much but lounged in our hotel rooms until it was dinner time. (Check out the things that we did since we got to Casablanca).

Our Christmas eve dinner was Japanese food. Turkey and stuffed meat, foods that are traditionally associated with Christmas, are pretty usual fare in the Maghrebian diet anyway. Moreover, I had a craving for Japanese food.

Kiyotori, one of the two Japanese restaurants in Casablanca, not far from our hotel was our choice. Other than sounding Japanese, Kiyotori does not have any meaning in Japanese. It was also not easy to find the restaurant because it was located in the middle of a inconspicuous and deserted alley. Ridiculous name and location aside, Kiyotori is really a popular restaurant with the hip and up-market crowd because of its pricey exotic fare and lush interior design.

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The menu items @ Kiyotori are the usual culprits on a typical Japanese restaurant menu like teppanyaki, sushi, tenpura, kushiyaki (skewered meat) and sashimi. The missing items are donburi (rice bowls), udon and ramen because perhaps they don't cater to the local tastes. For novelty, the restaurant does have specialty sushi rolls with rather interesting names like dragon roll and anaconda roll.

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To be able to satisfy my craving for sushi while being thousands of miles away from Asia, I think I cannot complain much. Actually, I consider the food @ Kiyotori quite tasty in its own right, especially the dragon roll, which nicely blended the tastes of unagi (eel) and avocado.To compare, I would position the taste of the Kiyotori above Sakae Sushi to somewhere on par with Sushi Tei. Kiyotori gets a small plus over Sushi Tei for the freshness of its seafood, while losing out a little to Sushi Tei for authenticity.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Shadow Divers: The Movie

It seems that I now have to wait for two more years before Shadow Divers will hit the movie theatres. According to IMDB, the show will start production only in 2009 instead 2008 as originally scheduled. Also announced was the change of director from Ridley Scott (Black Hawk Down, Kingdom of Heaven) to Peter Weir (Master and Commander, Dead Poets Society).

There are not many scuba-diving-related literature in popular culture, therefore, I was very thrilled to learn that Shadow Divers will be made into a movie based on a very successful book. The book written by Robert Kurson, is about a real life account of the discovery of an unidentified WW2 U-boat by 2 American technical divers. The book became an instant favorite of mine because the topics are about diving and military history. As Kurson received much collaboration from the 2 divers Chatterton and Kohler themselves, the book was not only rich in the technical aspects and risks in deep wreck diving, but he was also able to accurately portrayed the emotional ups-and-downs and the enormous risks that the protagonists went through during the 7 years that it took to unravel the identity of the sub, during which, some members of their team died and their personal lives were also destroyed.

I'm really eager for the book to be made into a movie. After all, with a captivating story like that, how can the movie not work? Moreover, my expectations of movie adaptation from books were raised after Lord of the Rings. The choice of directors from Ridley Scott to Peter Weir were top-notched. Fox pictures seem ready to throw in a lot of resources to make this movie work.

Personally, I did have some reservations towards Ridley Scott as the director. I felt that he did a average job on Black Hawk Down (the book was so much nicer than the movie). There is a lot more focus on the action than the characters in the movie. So I tend to agree with some reviewers on the net that with Peter Weir coming to the helm of the picture, Shadow Divers will be more emotionally complex in tone similar to the book.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Back To The Future: Vacation in Singapore

Work, it seems, always get busier right before and just after any vacation. I was kept busy after returning from my vacation in Singapore so there was little time for blogging. After almost two months since my last posting, here's an update.

It is true. Going back to Singapore from Algeria was like going back to the future. I dare say that Algeria is 30 years behind Singapore in development. Things I had taken for granted in Singapore, such as the ubiquitous supermarkets and an extensive public transport network, are so uncommon in Algeria that I do have a better appreciation of these things now.

Back in Singapore, I did enjoy a sense of familiarity and "rootedness" to a place, especially after being away. While going out, I can blend in with the crowds and not stuck out like a sore thumb as a foreigner and that certainly made me feel more relaxed. Nobody stared at me like I was an alien from outer space. It was certainly nice to resume a bit of the familiar life in Singapore for a change.

I divided my time while mainly between spending time with Xinyi, my family, shopping and meeting up with friends. Xinyi had recently quit her job in TMAP and to join me in the Middle East by taking up a job in my company. Our time together were spent preparing for her to make the trip over.

There was quite a lot of excitement in my family since my sister had given birth to another son in March. I now have two monkeys as nephews. Of course I am inclined to think that my return has caused some of the excitement as well.

It was definitely fun to be back having chats over dinner with my friends. For some of my honors classmates, it was a bitching good time over desserts @ sixth avenue. Yah, call me "suaku" but that's really my first time there. For the Ewores, we had our reunion @ Henry's place. Henry's a dude who is one step ahead and doesn't waste time. He's ahead of all of us now that he's already a father. There were many other friends that I would like to meet up with but unfortunately timing wasn't great.

Oh, did I mention my shopping? I love shopping, especially for clothes. Surprisingly, I didn't get any clothings on this trip. After months of being a refugee, I learned that there's a lot of things which I don't need, especially clothes. So what were the damages? -->

With this, I won't get bored on any flights that don't have a decent entertainment system anymore. Yes, that includes you, Air France! Also a reason why I haven't blogged for so long! =P

& a new mobile phone, which cost a freaking SGD$500 because I have to buy without contract

The flipside of my vacation in Singapore was of course, the haze! The pollution was getting quite bad during my stay, sometimes going up to 140+ PSI. Thinking that I was well adjusted to adverse environment such as the dusty air in Algeria, I would have no problems with the bad air. I found out that I was wrong. Half the time during my stay, I had to suffer a sinus problem which caused my nose to drip, and a sorethroat. The haze also made the weather really smoggy and unbearably hot and humid. It was also a huge bummer that I lost my camera charger. I realized it during my packing before my trip, which, was the reason why I couldn't take any pictures in Singapore.

The thing about vacations is that time is never on your side. Three weeks just flew on by and before I realized it I was on an Emirates flight back to Casablanca. See you next year!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Returning to Singapore

Yes, my dear non-existent readers, I am finally going back to Singapore for my annual vacation starting from 8 November!

It has been about 11 months since my last return. It is very exciting and interesting for me to see my country again after being away. Shopping and Eating are definitely on the top of my agenda. =)

My poor flight planning is evident again. I am going to spend 17 hours in Dubai before catching the next connecting flight...*duh*

Anyway, I'm glad to be going on vacation!

Saturday, September 30, 2006



毕竟大多数的新生都是刚毕业的年轻人,所以还没有在社会上工作的经验.对他们来讲, 这次培训能够让他们见识到什么是职场的心理准备。因为他们还没经历过工作的磨练,所以很纯,感情非常丰富.有好几位在发言时,可能是回想到培训中的苦与乐,还有将要和新朋友离别的事实,激动到哭了,话也只说了一半就说不下去.有一位来自摩洛哥的表示他曾经上过几家公司的训练,但是没有遇到过这么会照顾新人的培训员.听了这些感激的话,我们都感到很欣慰.

大家离开之后,我却因为行程的关系,在饭店多住了几天.每天下班回到饭店,看到Lobby空荡荡的,和之前以经熟悉看到那里一大群人集合在聊天说笑的情景相比之下,觉得气氛很不一样. 这段时间大家在一起生活的情景不断在脑海浮现,感觉满温馨的.



Friday, September 15, 2006

Casablanca: Freshmen Orientation Camp / Being a Teacher!

I'm way overdue in updating my blog *checks the date* for like more than a month. This period had been very hectic for me because of work. First a little update, although the crisis situation in Beirut has subsided much, I still don't have plans to return to Beirut because of work commitments. From the looks of it, I will not be returning for quite some months.

Freshmen Orientation Camp
It's quite unheard of for a company to run a Freshmen Orientation Camp for its new associates. Actually, this is the second one conducted within our organization and the number of freshmen has increased from 7 to 40+!

The Camp began at the end of August and will run it's course until end of September. During these 5 weeks of Freshmen training, the 40 or so management trainees will receive an education on a variety of topics ranging from the TW foundations, BR Kaizen principles, vehicle, service and parts marketing. This kind of training is rare even in TMC group.

Our "camp" happens to be a very plush compound that calls itself Casablanca Appart Hotel. The place reminds me of the Hollywood-ish apartments in popular soaps starring A-list wannabes suntanning besides the pool. Anyway, it's a great place with great hospitality and great food. I'm definitely missing it after September. My involvement in the camp was to be a trainer and coordinator for the freshmen.

My Worst Nightmare: Being a Teacher!
If I knew that in the course of my job I have to lecture to a big class, I will think twice before accepting the offer. Teachers are not in my good books and I have a deep dread for public speaking.

My involvement in the Camp is to be one of the trainers and coordinator. When I learned about it two months ago, I felt shivers down my spine. Panic buttons couldn't stop ringing. Then the "top" assigned me my topics: Vehicle Marketing, Logistics and TW Sales and Marketing.

Are you kidding me?...I was thinking to myself. I never had a day of marketing lesson in my entire 16 years of education (kindergarten excluded). I didn't even know who is Kotler or what the 4Ps are until last month! And I was expected to stand in front of 40+ people, including a number of marketing graduates, to tell them about marketing and selling vehicles for 3 days!?

And then came the late nights trying to cram what I can glean from borrowed texts and the internet into a presentation, all the while thinking to myself if I have enough content to last an entire lecture. Fortunately, the late nights came in handy as I was too tired to worry on the night before my lecture.

The Lesson?
I didn't give the best of lectures but I didn't ruin it entirely either. The deep fear of speaking in public quickly subsided after a few minutes into the lecture. I was defintely nervous throughout but the fear didn't turn out to be a big ugly monster that I thought it will be. The responsive audience helped alot in easing the tension. Sometimes my mind run blank and no words came but asking the audience questions gave me sometime to think about what to say. And the best trick to avoid public speaking? Throw a couple of questions and break the audience out for discussion groups. Once the ball is in their court, they must now do the talking now. I just need to listen. =P

(...having sweaty palms)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Epitome of Cute

Three years old Cleopatra Stratan is the youngest and cutest singing sensation in the world today. She hails from Romania. Watch her MTV "Ghita" here.

She recent gave a concert! Someone blogged about her concert here.

Can anyone be any cuter?

Thursday, August 10, 2006



刚好新加坡时间七点是我这里的午餐时间. 于是我便上网想看国庆日典礼, 希望能看得到放烟花的项目. 但是不知道为什么收不到Streaming Media, 最后决定放弃, 只从国庆日官方网站下载到今年的NDP Theme Song.

今年的首选是Kaira Gong的My Island Home. 我想应该是新人吧, 名字很独特. 她的Profile上说她像孙燕姿一样在台湾发展. 难道新加坡人都要到外国去发展才会出头吗?

除了去年有Taufik一个男生以外, 近几年的NDP Theme Song好像都用女歌手来主打. 本地男歌手, 好像全部都跑去做幕后了, 还是都退休了?

看My Island Home MV时, 觉得拍的比较商业化. It doesn’t stink so much of nationalism. 我想这样比较好,那种Nationalistic, 为国为民的片段看多了会想吐. 为了制造效果,MV拍的有一点暗. 外国同事看不明白,告诉我: 你们新加坡建筑物太高,遮住太阳了。

妈的! 今年没有烟花看!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Crisis in the Middle East: I Is Refugee

I read today on Channel NewAsia about the story of how student Samantha Kudus and businessman Gerald Anthony were evacuated from war-torn Lebanon. According to the report, Ms Kudus and Mr Anthony were assisted by the Singapore Consulate in Acharafieh to evacuate through Tripoli in the north to arrive to Damascus in Syria.

They probably will never forget the experience of their evacuation from Beirut. If there wasn't a war to escape from, it would have been a pleasant drive up north this time of the year in the beautiful Mediterranean summer. As Lebanon get once again engulf in war, they probably wondered like I did if there is another chance to visit the magnificent ruins of Balbeck or the crusader fort in Sidon. Both Balbeck and Sidon are currently being hit by the Israeli military.

Reading the report, I felt glad that they safely got out of Beirut eventually. For them, the war now may seem to have nothing to do with them, except for Ms Kudus who still has a boyfriend in Lebanon.

It is a different situation for me. Living in Beirut for almost a year, it has become a home for me during of my expatriation. Fortunately, I was already out of Beirut when the crisis broke out. Now the problem is that I can't get back into Beirut. It is anyone's guess as to how long and to what extent the conflict will go on.

With the escalating tension and unabating violence, it is certain that the crisis will be a prolonged one. So now it is certain that there is a war to wait out before I can eventually return to my home in Beirut. At the meantime, I am "surviving" on a small suitcase with 3 change of clothes and 300 US dollars because I originally had the intention to travel only for one week until internation politics spoilt my plans.

Life is pretty comfortable as the subsidiary company is now providing for my basic needs. Hopefully, diplomacy bring about a resolution in months to come. Already things are beginning to look bright, we have accounted for all our twenty-one Lebanese staff, including several living in Hezbollah active areas. They refused evacuation and have chosen to re-open our office and continue working. Perhaps I will be able to return in the near future. Certainly, that is not too much for a "refugee" to hope for right?

Monday, July 17, 2006

Crisis in the Middle East: Private Concerns

When Israel invaded Lebanon few days ago, I was away on a business trip to Morocco fortunately. I am very grateful to those who tried to contact me out of concern for my safety.

During the start of the crisis, most of my expats co-workers were either travelling or on vacation with their families. It has been decided to temporary set up our office at our distributor office in Morocco. For the time being, I am going to be based between Morocco and Algeria.

At present, there are few personal concerns over the situation in Lebanon

The first concern is to the colleagues who are still in Beirut. As the telephone lines and internet are down and the office closed, we have no knowledge of their well-being. At this stage, I think Beirut is still pretty safe but it is very difficult to speculate what will happen next. If the situation worsen, they will be endangered.

The second concern pertains to the relocation of our office. Even if the crisis ends in a few months time, it will be in the best business and employees' interest to relocate to another country. The question is when and where?

The third concern is whether I can ever get back to my apartment in Beirutto retrieve my personal belongings. If I do return in a few month's time after the end of the crisis, I wonder if my landlord will give me a war time discount and not charge me months of unpaid rent? The content in my fridge must be spoilt by then and it will be difficult to clean up.
As each day passes, we follow the news closely to grasp the situation in Lebanon and hope that the situation doesn't worsen.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Culinary Challenge: Spaghetti Alla Carbonara

When I'm not freeloading my colleague's dinner table (95% of the time), I attempt to cook (5% of the time). I'm not an experienced cook so most of my cooking usually ends up OK and in need of a little fine-tuning.

My Plan: Making Spaghetti Alla Carbonara for dinner...

The Ingredients:
1/4 pound (100 g) pancetta or bacon
1/2 cup (25 g) grated Pecorino Romano
4 egg yolks and 2 egg whites
1/4 cup (60 ml) heavy cream (optional)
Olive oil, salt, and pepper
A pound (400 g) of spaghetti

Serves 4
(source -

What I Did?

1. Reduce the measurement of the available ingredients for 4 to 1 by guess-timation...

2. Boil the pasta with salt.

3. In a bowl, mix egg and cheese. I had substituted the grated Pecorino Romano with Kraft's grated Parmesian cheese for the simple reason that Pecorino Romano costs 20 times more. (Yes, I'm not yet ready to invest in myself as a cook!). Into the mixture also add salt and pepper. Heavy cream was not an option to me because it sounds like a lot of fat.

4. Dice and saute bacon in some olive oil (I only use extra virrrrgin) until crispy.

5. When the pasta was done, drain and transfer pasta to a plate. Pour in the egg/cheese mixture, stir and expect the heat of the pasta to do the cooking. Add bacon crisp and serve

Reality Check and The Verdict

The pasta was perfectly al dente. A marked improvement in my history of cooking pasta.

Well, the heat from the pasta didn't cook the eggs or melt the cheese completely as the recipe intended. In my hurry to transfer the pasta to avoid losing heat, I failed to completely drain the pasta. Some residue water evidently went on to the plate. Hence, the pasta was slightly "soupy". Finally, I had to put it into the microwave for several minutes to complete the cooking process.

Result: As Joey Tribianni will say, Eggs good! Cheese good! Bacon Good! Pasta Gooood!!!! What's not to like about it?

While most commercial carbonaras are way too creamy for my taste, my home-made pasta was eggy and cheesy, which was more suited for my taste buds. Since the cheese didn't melt well from the onset and there was a little bit of "gravy" due to incomplete draining, the taste wasn't as rich as I'd like. This was easily resolved by adding more cheese to the pasta.

As for my next attempt, I believe that sauteing the pasta in a pan will greatly enrich the taste because it will bring out the flavour of cheese and egg even more. Now I will need to find a "guinea pig"...

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Algeria: A Former Hell

A Dangerous History
Sometimes it is easy to forget that Algeria used to be the most dangerous place on earth before there was even Iraq or Afghanistan. According to sources, the post WW2 history of Algeria was a bloody one.

According to Wikipedia, the 133 years of French colonialism was brought to an end by one of the bloodiest revolutions in post WW2 era. Although independence was achieved in 1962, conflict continued between the military and the various Islamic rebel groups for control over the country. During the conflict, both sides committed atrocities towards the Algerian people. Entire towns and villages were massacred by the rebel militants and possibly also the military in disguise as rebels. The perpertuators would infiltrate the towns and villages by night and visit house by house executing everyone inside including the young, old and women. While slitting of throats was the method of choice, survivors had reported witnessing the beheading of babies and the burning of womenfolk and aged. Approximately 100,000 lost their lives during the civil war.

Throughout the years, the military was able to gain ground. The Islamic militant groups slowly weakened due to assasinations carried out on the leaders and internal dissent. In 2003, The GSPC (The Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat) with about 300 fighters was the remnant of the rebel faction still willing to carry on the fight.

Restored Peace and Economic Development
General peace and stability was ushered in following the election of Mr. Bouteflika as president. He enacted a policy of clemency to encourage the militants to surrender. Economic development was probably seen as a way to eradicate poverty and unemployment (causes of anti- government sentiments)

Rich with oil and natural gas, Algeria hit the jackpot when the price of oil soared. The national debt was reduced and there was sufficient money to be injected into the economy. A USD60 billion budget was allocated to support an economic development plan for five years. Among it many aims were the plans to build 1 million low cost homes, to construct a nation highway linking the east to west (USD14 Billion) for promotion of commerce between the cities, and to introduce incentives to promote local enterprises.

Foreign direct investments were courted as partnerships were concluded with nations like China, the US, Korea. A Singapore delegation led by SM Goh visited on April '06 to secure economic alliance particularly in port operations, housing and resources management.

...But We're Not Out Of The War Yet
The prevailing climate of peace and economic optimism often makes it easy to neglect the fact that Algeria is still in the midst of a civil war. Politically the civil war never officially ended because hundreds of GSPC fighters are still at large to continue their terrorist tactics.

In 2003 February, the GSPC was responsible for the kidnap of 32 European tourists visiting the Sahara, all but one were later released unharmed in Tunisia? Just last month in April '06, 13 customs officers, including 2 regional directors, were gunned down while enroute to a conference in the south. The military retaliated by hunting down and killing the perpetuators. Two weeks ago, a brother of one of our dealers was picked up and held for ransom while driving a few kilometres from Algers. Last week, a group of colleagues visited our showroom in the south. Even though a police escort was arranged for them, the Landcruisers they were in were travelling at breakneck high speed. When asked, the drivers replied that they were driving so fast to prevent car-jacking by the "terrorists".

Although Algers is now generally immuned to terrorism, it was interesting to learn that preventive measures taken during the period of turmoil are still existing today:

1) All tree trunks had their lower halves painted white to prevent snipers or ambushers hiding behind trees.

2) There are no traffic lights. Cars do not stop because stopping make them vulnerable to terrorist activities.

3) People do not go out at night. Actually, there were no reasons to because there are virtually no forms of popular social entertainment like malls and theaters. Fast food franchises like McDonalds and Burger Kings are virtually unheard of. While restaurants are aplenty, they are costly and out of bounds to the general population.

Despite the occasional acts of terrorism and crime, Algeria is now very safe and peaceful. However, the dearth of popular entertainment venues probably makes Algeria one of the most boring place on earth!

Pelton, Robert; The World's Most Dangerous Places

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Help Needed For Better Flight Schedule Booking

This is a much belated blog entry because I had been on business trips and I didn't find the time to blog.

I had to admit that although I am a frequent flier for years now, I am still very bad at planning my flight schedules.

On 17 April I travelled to Bangkok via Dubai. My flight from Beirut to Dubai has only just landed did I realised that my next flight out of Dubai was at 2245. My flight had landed on 1510. Not once did I realise this when the ticket was issued to me about 2 weeks from departure. So it came to be that due to my "excellent" flight scheduling, I have more than 7 hours to kill in the Dubai International Airport.

Fortunately, the airport is a spacious and well equiped place to kill time. An entire floor was devoted to duty-free shopping and there were plenty of comfortable seating in the transit lounge. It occured to me that I actually enjoyed the sight of Asian faces around me. In addition to the ubiquitous Asian travellers, most of the employees working in the terminal were from the Philippines.

The first thing I did was to visit the bookstore hoping to get a book to read and kill time. The bookstore in the Dubai airport has a good selection of books including many titles on the Middle East. But some inconsiderate idiot has stuck a piece of chewing gum to an Edward Said book that I was browsing and some of the gum stuck to my fingers, making me swore all the way to the washroom.

Actually, the 7 hours transit time was well spent in retrospect. It was very nice to do things leisurely once a while. The bulk of my waiting time was spend reading a paperback I bought at the bookstand over a huge cup of mocha. In fact, I was so engrossed in my reading that I only checked in with barely enough time to catch my dinner before boarding the flight to Bangkok

My poor flight scheduling was evident during my return flight to Beirut on the 24th. My transit time in Dubai was less than an hour. A total farcry from the 7 hours I had on the previous trip. To make thing worse, I had a cold and my head hurts during the entire flight from Bangkok to Dubai. Unfortunately, I couldn't sleep it off because my neighbouring passenger, a tourist from Saudi Arabia kept chatting with me. Actually, he was a very sociable guy and I would have enjoyed chatting with him if not for my cold. I hope that I didn't strike him as being abrupt and curt.

The consequence of giving myself less than an hour's allowance of transit time was that although I made the flight, my luggage didn't. When I arrived they told me that my luggage will be coming on the next day's flight. Fortunately, things work out well the following day. I did receive my luggage on time as well as a small compensation fee from Emirates.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006






店长:印沙阿拉,步库拉 (愿真主应许明天可能会有)




Thursday, March 23, 2006

Lebanese War Victim

"You know I used to own three shops" said the taxi driver as he negotiated the Peugeot 407 round a left turn. "I imported leather jackets from Italy," the driver added as his left hand pulled at the leather sleeve of his right hand which stayed on the wheel.

The taxi driver was driving me back from the airport to my apartment after my Algeria trip. I had recently dropped off my colleague who travelled with me. We started a conversation of small talk and then the topic drifted to this.

"Then the war came and I lost everything" he continued, "They bombed all my shops. I lost about 500,000 dollars..."

I looked at the driver wondering how I should respond. He looked in his 60s, well groomed, mild mannered and spoke decent English. He must have seen better times but now he's driving a taxi.

"When a man falls down, he can get up again. But in a war, when he falls, he can never get up again. Halas! I can never recover what I had." he said with a tinge of hopelessness in his voice.

To a man who had lost his hope and future because of a meaningless civil war that ended 15 years ago , what should I say to him? Finally I managed, "Is your family still with you?"

Bad move. What if someone in his family was killed in the war?

"I have two children, a son and a daughter. My daughther is in the university, my son is in school. My mother stays with me and my wife" He said. I was lucky. I successfully steered the topic from material losses to focus on the intangible wealth that he still possess. "Well at least you have you family with you. That's is more important than money, right?" I offered. He agreed. Perhaps he had already made peace with the past...but would he have brought it up if he had?

The taxi driver has not lost any loved ones but only his fortunes. A victim of war nevertheless.I felt pity for his hopelessness and I hope his family is happy.

The taxi made a turn and ended up at the entrance of my apartment block. I paid him, got his card and promised to call him if I need a ride to the airport the next time.

Can a Singaporean, accustomed to a sheltered and provided life, truly understand the pain and anguish of someone who had lost something precious to heart in a war? How does one deal with a loss that has no meaning to it? In the Lebanese Civil War where there were no victors or losers, a loss of a loved one or one's fortune can never be justified with any causes. As can be seen increasingly in recent wars, civillians are paying the ultimate price no matter which sides are winning. The question remains, can people truly let go of their feelings of loss and move on with their life?

Monday, March 20, 2006

Lunchbox in Algeria

For the past eight days, lunch arrived in a box. Sometimes dinner too if there's no dinner appointments. The lunchbox in our Algerian office is no simple fare. Here quantity means everything, sometimes more than taste. Within the box is a box of salad, a bag of baguettes, a box of main course with sides, a packet drink and a fruit. There used to be another box of starter inside consisting of some meats until it was voted out of the menu to save cost.
I think I'm eating more than the recommended daily servings of vegetables for the past few days at lunch. I tend to keep my expectations low when it comes to lunch boxes and airline food. Tasty food don't seem to come hand in hand with aluminium foil packaging. But I'm somewhat amused by my colleague, who is suffering from eating too many lunchboxes during this trip.

Colleague: *Sighs* Same things everyday!
Sencha: Like in the army. They serve the same food in the army everyday.
Colleague: How is it?
Sencha: Not too bad today...
Colleague ate some chicken croquet
Colleague: Yewww...This is nice?! You must have loved army food.
Sencha: Yeah I can live with army food

SG Election Blog

好奇的我今天想到新加坡’06年大选不知道进展如何所以上网找资料。我Google到一个叫SG Election Blog就点进去看。。。



Saturday, March 18, 2006

(Algeria) Lost In Translation

For the past few days, I'd been feeling what Bill Murray's character felt in the movie "Lost In Translation". Except that I'm in Algeria, not Japan, and everyone was speaking French. It was a meeting to evaluate and enhance our Algerian distributor's organizational efficiency. I'm here as part of an advisory support team. French is the business communication language in Algeria and we doubtlessly have to respect that.

It's funny how the mind play tricks on you. Remember the animated version of Peanuts? When Charlie Brown and gang were in class, the grown-ups spoke to them in incomprehensible tones that goes something wang wang wang wang... Five hours into the meeting, I suddenly woke up from my reverie because I thought I'm hearing that! So I started looking around to see if there's a beagle sitting at a corner with his little feathered friend, Woodstock. But no...I didn't get lucky.

And who says French is a sexy language? It's doesn't sound so sexy especially if you are the poor schmuck staring at the full wrath of the Country General Manager, who gave you a 15 minites lecture for failing to achieve your task. Poor bugger, I mused.

Not that the meeting was very successful anyway, at least from the point of view of efficiency. The famous Algerian lack of sense of time was blatantly obvious throughout the meeting. The 8 hours meeting felt as if like making a French guy watch an entire Taiwanese drama serial with a Chinaman...Excruiciating long story, full cast, lots of drama, all happening in one single set, foreign language and lost in translation.

Sunday, March 12, 2006



上个星期也是我在Beirut第一次剪头发。有一个Filipino同事带我去他常去的一间理发店。在Beirut其实有很多间Barber Shop收费很便宜(新币大楷5,6元左右),但是我都不放心给他们剪,因为他们让我想起了那些本地的Ah neh barber shop,会剪得很难看。我那个同事的发型看起来还不错,所以就听他的介绍。

有客人, 所以需要等才到我。那个理发‘头手’叫Wissam,看起来功夫不错,好像那些法国,意大利著名的发型设计师一样。在旁边剪我头发的时候还很有poise,剪头发的style又很独具一格,而且剪下来的头发还会飞,我还以为我在参加发型设计展。可是Wissam在剪头发时使足了劲,好像要把我的头发都拔下来才甘愿,而且还会有一点痛。到要好的时候他一边帮我吹头发,一边好像喷蟑螂似的帮我喷了大量的发型设定济。发型设定济很刺眼,害我可能因此而瞎掉!在经过洗,剪,吹,喷, 甚至还有烫过之后,最后结果看起来还蛮不错的,弄到有一点J-Pop的style (可是第二天就不见了!)。那些当偶像的原来是要受那么多的苦的啊?


Monday, March 06, 2006

Lunch @ Dora

On Sunday yesterday, I took the bus again. Mrs. Cheek, Judy, Jeff and I were heading for Dora (read: Dowrah). It was the same bus service that took us to ABC Mall the day before. Passing the ABC Mall in Ashrafieh on the route back to Hamra, the bus took a right turn up to the Highway north of Beirut and headed towards the direction of City Mall. We got to Dora about 10 minutes later.

We got off the bus at a large roundabout where the Center for International Technology (CIT) is located. My first impression of Dora was of a down-to-earth part of an Asian city. In fact, the facade of conjoining shop-houses and low-rise buildings looks almost similar to older sections of Bangkok, Manilia, Kualar Lumpur and even Singapore.

Actually, Dora is the Serangoon (Little India) of Lebanon although its not usual to find many Sri Lankans and Filipinos here. It still puzzles me to find so many Indians/ Lankans here as if they suddenly popped out of nowhere. I mean, during my half year stay in Beirut, I have not seen many Indians working here. Filipinos are common, as most of them are employed as domestic helpers or waitresses. And then suddenly, I came and I saw hundreds of Indian/Lankans congregated here in this small town completed with the quinessential "mama" shops and restaurants.

We headed to one of these restaurants located at the second floor of a "mama" shop where we ordered lunch. Our lunch was roti Chennai and Tosai. For those who don't know and I only just found out, roti Chennai IS also known as ROTI PRATA in Singapore!

It is difficult to believe that I can get Prata here in Lebanon! And it's one of the most delicious prata I've tasted! The fish curry was excellent too. The ambience was as authentic as any prata shop in Jalan Kayu or Fong Seng, complete with oily tables and Indian waiters walking around taking orders and dishing out free masala and curry. The restaurant serves only kosong prata, but after some convincing (and some language help from Judy), the cooks were able to come up with 2 delicious telok bawang prata (eggs and onions) for me and Jeff. The price was reasonable too as each prata cost about 1,000 L.L (SGD$ 1).

After lunch we shopped for a while at the "mama" shops, where I bought some green beans for boiling soup. There was also a departmental store that markets the cheapest kitchen ware I've ever seen in Beirut.

We left Dora in the late afternoon. Mrs Cheek and Judy alighted before we did to continue their shopping in Ashrafieh Spinneys supermarket, while we continued on to Jeff's apartment. We hung out for the rest of the evening in his pad watching "Terrorism Week" on National Geographic and the movie "Blade 2".

Riding the Bus in Beirut

Last weekend, I took my first bus rides in Beirut with Jeff. The first time was on Saturday, we rode the bus from near Karakan el Druze to the ABC shopping mall in Ashrafieh to catch "Cheaper By the Dozen 2".

The bus service in Beirut runs on a fleet of Mitsubishi Rosa min-bus. Similar to Hong Kong,
passengers can get up and get off anywhere along the designated route. We both agreed that the bus is another good way to see Beirut because it moves much slower than cars. Also, they usually go through the residential parts of the city so we can observe the scenes of daily social life outside the bus window. It is also an extremely cheap form of travel, costing only 500 Lebananese Liras (about SGD$0.50) regardless of distance.

Bus travel in Beirut should be understood in context with travelling by taxi. Actually taxis are the most convenient and quite inexpensive way to travel in Beirut for obvious reasons. Usually, they charge between 1,000 - 5,000 L.L but in case of foreigners, they sometimes overcharge. All expats I know had been exploited by taxi drivers including non-Lebanese Arabs, even though they speak the same language! Moreover, a lot of time is wasted on the wait for the
willing cab to take me to my destination for the right price. Therefore, travelling by bus is sometimes more convenient, economical and hassle-free - if there is time to kill.

That's right, the buses can be incredibly slow at times! The driver will deliberately slow down the bus at certain parts of the route so that more passengers can be let in to fill up the seats. In addition, the bus service is not widely accessible in Beirut and concentrates mainly in local residential areas. Unfortunately, to my best knowledge, there are no bus service operating near the vicinity of my apartment yet.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Tokyo Trip Afterthoughts...

Like all business trip schedules, this recent trip to Tokyo consisted of the usual routine of movement between hotel, office and restaurant. But this time, six reasons made a great difference to the trip.

Firstly, this visit to Toyota Tokyo Office provided me with the opportunity to meet up with several ex-colleagues when I was in the Asian operations. It was great to see them again, especially Ms. Satake, my Japanese counterpart for several years.

Secondly, I got to eat puffer fish for the first time! That evening I visited my ex-colleagues, Ms. Satake, Ms. Hirai and Ms. Kono invited me for dinner at a nearby restaurant that specializes in puffer fish. The dinner course was served with puffer fish skin appertiser (it tasted better than it sounds), sashimi and the main course,'nabe'(raw meat and vegetables cooked in a pot of boiling soup). We finished the meal with a cup of sake flavoured with grilled fin. The dinner was really good.

Third and surprisingly, I could still carry the entire dinner conversation in Japanese, although not without much help from my hosts. I'm out of practice for months.

Fourth, a colleague fron African operations invited some of us to Karaoke on our last night in Tokyo. We did horrible off-keyed renditions of English pop music but had a great time.

Fifth, we had a few hours of free time before our departure flight back to Lebanon on the last day. We decided to ride the roller coaster in the amusement park of Tokyo Dome City. After which we visited Shinjuku for shopping.

Sixth, I had the chance to shop for stuff for cooking like tsuyu, wasabi, soba noodles, and morinaga chocolates. Now I can prepare some donburi and noodles for my meals.

In Shinjuku, I learnt that the game 'Final Fantasy 12' is due in the stores soon. I stopped playing since Final Fantasy 8. Now, it really started to sound oxy-moronic, just when are they going to release the final 'Final Fantasy'?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

(Tokyo) Displacement Disorientation

After 1 hell of a rush packing @ the last minute, with 2 luggauges,
3 in-flight movies later, going through 4 airports altogether (Beirut, Dubai, Osaka, Kansai) and
17 + hours of flight time later - I've finally arrived in Tokyo.

Travel notes...
Movies watched:
Walk the Line (Great performances from Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix)
Sky High (fell asleep watching it....duh)
Elizabethtown (Kirsten Dunst looks very good in the show but someone tells me the point of the movie???)
Confirmed: House MD is a good series (Kudos to Terence for the recommendations!)
Reading "The Time Traveller's Wife" grabbed from Dubai airport bookstore. Engaging story so far...
Drank: 5 cl of JD on the rocks! Taste great but what's 5 cl anyway?

Travel notes today is proudly brought to you by: ... Morinaga Milk Chocolate ...

Yes, it tastes great...

Friday, February 17, 2006

Controversial Cartoons...(Deux)

Some in the Islamic world have opted for a "freedom of expression" in response to the publication of the controversial cartoons under "freedom of speech"

The headlines of today quotes:
A Pakistani Muslim cleric and his followers have offered rewards amounting to over $ 1 million for killing the Danish cartoonists who drew caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that have enraged the Muslim world.

Cleric Maulana Yousef Qureshi, said in his interview: "If the West can place a bounty on Osama bin Laden and Zawahri, we can also announce reward for killing the man who has caused this sacrilege of the holy Prophet"

Denmark has already shut its missions in Lebanon, Syria, Iran and Indonesia.

Art of Living Abroad

Living abroad requires a sense for adventure and the will to try and err. Important lessons are always learnt (oft times must pay school fees)...

Lately I've learnt that...

...when it gets really cold, I like to wrap myself in the quilt like a "popiah" (Chinese wrap) when I sleep
...even if my bed is super-single sized, I should have gotten a queen-sized quilt
...I'm getting fat
...I should not have bought the ceramic portable heater because it lights up like a Christmas tree at night when I want to sleep!!! feels terrible to crawl out of my nice warm blanket/quilt in cold temperature
...luncheon meat costs triple here is very cheap (SGD 0.80/can)
...I own two knives, two ladles, two pasta scoops because I forgot that I bought them before
...because I don't speak Arabic so when I want to buy a green pepper, I ended up with 1 kilo
...1 kilo of green peppers is very cheap compared to Singapore (less than a dollar)
...I can eat green peppers like I eat apples

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Owen & Mzee

Nope, this isn't Brokeback Animal Planet. It's a tale of a friendship between two animals - a hippo and a tortise. I remembered that I first came across their story from a national geographic magazine onboard an SQ flight in early 2005. It's nice to know that they are still the best of friends today.

Owen, the one year old baby hippo, was separated from his mother during the Tsunami in December 2004. He was rescued and placed together with a 100 + years old tortise, Mzee ("old man") in a wildlife preserve. The wildlife rangers believed that Owen was initially attracted to Mzee because the tortise is of a similar color as that of an adult hippo. But the amazing fact was that Mzee was gradually got used to the presence of Owen. Since then they have became inseparable pals in their daily activities and even developed a unique way of communicating with each other. Owen's keepers are now trying to introduce Cleo, a female hippo, to be his girlfriend.

Owen and Mzee's keeper has a blog

Monday, February 13, 2006

February 14th in Lebanon

To the world, February 14th is Valentine's day. Perhaps everyone is trying to blog about their love experiences so close to V-day, which is why I had so much difficulty logging into blogger today.

In Lebanon, February 14th this year marks a full year since the ex-prime minister, Rafik Hariri was assassinated (just 400 m from my apartment!) Last year's post V-day saw the largest ever demonstration by Lebanese calling for the withdrawal of Syrian control over Lebanon. I expect a repeat demonstration to take place this year as well and I would not be surprised if it takes on a religious overtone. After all, its been less than a month since the prostest sparked by the Danish cartoon controversy here.

Investigations by the UN is still on-going as to who is behind the Hariri assassination. Some evidence pointed to the possible involvement of Syria but the evidence had been dismissed by critics citing ulterior motives. Several months after the Hariri bombing, some prominent anti-Syrian figures had been targetted and assassinated. Some public places had also been bombed but without serious casualties. The mastermind behind these political killings remain unknown today.

Hence, it's everyone guess what will happen tomorrow. Big demonstration? Bombings? Flag burnings? Political rallies? Hopefully the day will pass smoothly without any lives lost.

As for the rest of the world and to my girlfriend: Happy Valentine's Day!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

When Gay Cowboys Got To Pee...

They go to....

Brokeback Toilet Posted by Picasa

Friday, February 10, 2006

Atkins Wouldn't Have Approved Of This

Moroccan Coucous Lunch Posted by Picasa

I had an extremely heavy lunch on Couscous (kous kous). It's a traditional staple diet of the Arabic parts of Africa. Basically, the dish consists of coarse semolina granules steamed with a variety of vegetables such as onion, raisins, carrots, cucumbers, cabbage, potatoes, and meats like veal or beef. This fragrant dish is the Arabic answer to the Spanish pilaf.

The Couscous in the picture served 7 of us although its enough for 20! (Check out its size relative to the plate!) Yes, its a whole lot of bad carbs....

Stiff Immigration Checks @ Airports

Recently I seem to be facing stricter checks when I go through airport immigration checks. I've faced slight inconveniences when I went through immigration checks in Istanbul, Paris, Beirut and yesterday, Casablanca. Then I read this today:

Bush said that in October 2001, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks that year, had set in motion a plot for another attack inside the United States using shoe bombs to hijack an airplane and fly it into the tallest building on the West Coast.

Rather than use Arab hijackers as in the 11 September attack, Mohammed "sought out young men from southeast Asia whom he believed would not arouse as much suspicion", Bush said.
(article from

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Wish List

I was looking @ my Blogger account and found out that I can create a wish list through Froogle (read Frugal: smart shopping through google). It's linked to a list of products on google, from which I can create a shopping list that is linked to my wish list. Sounds complicated?

Put simply, I pick a list of products from google. People who want to buy me gifts just need to click on items on my wish list and get me those gift via online shopping. The google people are damn smart lor!

But then my wish list very simple...

1) BCD
2) A 365D365N LiveAboard Cruise around the world so I can dive, dive, dive, dive, and dive until I look like Kiam Chai ! 

Controversial Cartoons...

The recent controversial cartoon depictions of the Prophet Mohammed had sparked off a furore in the Islamic world.

The caricaturizations first appeared in a Danish newspaper in September. One of the drawing shows Prophet Mohammed wearing a turban shaped as a bomb. Another depicted him holding a sword, his eyes covered by a black rectangle. Islam prohibits any pictoral representations to prevent idolatory. Consequently, Muslims worldwide claimed that Islam has been deeply wounded by such derogatory depiction of their beloved Prophet.

Newpaper editors in question claimed that they published/reprinted the cartoons to support the principle of free speech.

...Which is a load of Crap!

Free speech without sensitivity to and respect for cultural and religious practices of others is a deplorable act. The controversial cartoonist and editors had simply demonstrated their incapability of reflecting on the impact of their actions on others.

Let's suppose if their mothers are depicted in another cartoon in the most deplorable and lewdest way. Let's also assume that they love their mothers as much as Muslims love their Prophet. Are they gonna shrug it off with a laugh because after all, its a practice of free speech. Or perhaps they will consider pressing charges for libel, thereby go against free speech?

In today's world of cultural diversity and religious pluralism, people should to try to respect and accomodate other people's perception or else it will easily lead to conflicts. One cannot claim national sovereignity as techology has made national boundaries porous. Obviously the readership of the Danish newspaper, that published the controversial cartoon, is not limited to within Denmark.

An innocent act has unintended consequences let alone irresponsible acts which cause big unintended repercussions. Action begets karmic reaction. A butterfly flapping its wings in Japan could cause a tornado in California (The Butterfly Effect). Sociologist Merton calls it the Law of Unforseen circumstances. Hence better be prudent and reflect upon the consequences before acting.

On another note, there is obviously an over-reaction on the part of the Muslims. While most Muslim leaders are using diplomacy to resolve the issue, which is highly commendable, others had taken to the streets in protest i.e. in Lebanon and Iraq etc.

One wonders how many of these protestors had actually seen the cartoons? Surely the cartoons are an insult to Islam as a religion but I'm sure that Islam isn't for violence and mob-mentality.

The violence that happened seems to suggest manupilation of the crowd by radical fundamentalist groups that have a deep rooted hatred for the western world. Hopefully, Muslim and Danish leaders can alleviate the situation in a non-violent way as much as possible without extra cost to human life.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Lebanon Excursion: Baalbek

UNESCO description of Baalbek:

This Phoenician city, where a triad of deities was worshipped, was known as Heliopolis during the Hellenistic period. It retained its religious function during Roman times, when the sanctuary of the Heliopolitan Jupiter attracted thousands of pilgrims. Baalbek, with its colossal structures, is one of the finest examples of Imperial Roman architecture at its apogee. (

I recalled a scene from the movie "Gladiator" where the black gladiator said to Maximus: " I cannot believe this is built by humans!" or something to that effect. They were staring at the Roman colosseum which they were about to enter. I probably felt the same when I visited the massive Roman temple complex of Baalbek.
The once proud Roman architecture now stands in ruins, damaged by time, nature and man
A glimpse of its former glory - some parts of architecture are still relatively well preserved
Of the 54 columns that used to hold the Temple of Jupiter, only 6 remained erect. (Suggestion: New idea for Singapore government's logo for Total Defence? =P)
Temple of Bacchus (god of wine) is extremely well-preserved.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Lebanon Excursion: Byblos

Visiting Byblos is like peeling an onion - you get layers upon layers. According to guides, Byblos is one of the oldest continuous inhabited cities in the world. Archaeologists have uncovered relics of Stone Age inhabitants living 7,000 years ago. In the 3rd millennuim BC, the city was a powerful Phoenician port (inventors of the alphabet?). The city was assimilated into the Roman empire. During the crusades, Byblos became one of the Christian coastal strongholds* to stand against the Islamic troops. After the successful expulsion of the crusaders, the Arab conquerers also contributed their share to the history of Byblos. During World War 1, a Turkish detachment was said to be occupying the crusader stronghold (which is still standing today). Today it is one picturesque town to visit and reminisce the past.

A Crusader guard tower still overlooks the dock although the archers are long dead and gone.

The main attraction of Byblos - The castle of the Knights of the Cross. Build in 1103 fundamentally for the pratical purpose of defence, the stronghold doesn't score points in aesthetic value. That it is still standing today after withstanding centuries of warfare and natural calamities proves indeed that it served its purpose.

Roman columns are inserted within the wall base to stregthen the foundation of the castle. Some of the building stone bricks of the walls were recycled from the Roman ruins. Perhaps it was Roman architecture that helped to preserve the castle. Hmmm...

Ruins of Roman street theatre featuring female gladiator! "Gladiator! We salute you!"
The Church of St. John the Baptist build by the Crusaders. It was rebuild several times after the crusades due to damage.

*Crusaders were said to have occupied and fortified the Lebanese coastal regions from Tripoli, Byblos, Beirut, Sidon (North to South) perhaps to form a line of defence from Europe to Jerusalem. They were more successful at holding the coast where they are more easily resupplied by ships from Italy.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Lebanon Excursion: Harissa, Lady of Lebanon

On the heights (more than 600 m) an immense immaculate statue overlooks the bay of Jounieh. Erected at the end of the 19th Century, the statue of the Virgin dominates a sanctuary (a chapel in the pedestal). A panoramic view is guaranteed at the top of the statue.

Lady of Lebanon - Statue of Virgin Mary
At the base of the statue is a curled staircase that leads to a spectacular view of the city of Jounieh.Within the base of the statue houses a chapel

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Lebanon Excursion: Jeita Grotto

The Jeita Grotto is an impressive limestone cavern complex located 18 km North of Beirut. It consists of an upper grotto and a lower grotto. Discovered in 1958, the upper grotto, which functioned as a store for arnament during the civil war, can be explored on foot at length. The lower grotto was discovered in the 19th century by accident. It is crossed by an underground river and a boat ride is necessary to explore the 500 m that is open to the public out of the 6,200 m discovered.

Within these grottoes are the most magnificient shapes of stalacites and stalagmites - splendid limestone formations sculpted by the magical hands of nature and time. Upon entering the grottoes, we were immersed in a Tolkien-ish mystical surreal realm so breath-taking and awesome that we can hardly believe it to be natural. Taking of photos within the grottoes are prohibited for the fear of ruining the natural beauty of the formations. However, thanks to the wonders of internet, there is an abundance of pictures available. Yet the craft of man pales in comparison with the work of nature, only seeing it in person can one really appreciates the true beauty of the grottoes!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Back In Action

I've lapsed in my blogging recently because of high work volume. Today is the first day after coming back from a long business trip in Algeria, I think it's time to get back into some blogging action.

I'll start tomorrow with the accounting of our Lebanon sigh-seeing trips we made when Xinyi came for a visit last December.