Friday, October 17, 2008

Final Post: Thank You For The Fishes

It's been roughly a month since my return from Lebanon and I think it is time to end this blog.

I will not be updating this blog anymore. However, I may be returning to this blog from time to time to respond to comments, if any.

I shall be starting a new blog soon ... so stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


We had our homecoming celebration on 20th September at Xiyan, a private dinning restaurant.

Started by a celebrity chef from Hong Kong, Xiyan, which means feast of happiness, specializes in Chinese cuisine with other Asian culinary inspiration.

The evening's 12 course dinner (+ 1 on the house) was an absolute delightful dining experience for me. Every dish on the course was unique so I found myself looking forward to the next dish. Moreover, portions were just right, leaving enough for second servings.

Second row (L-R): Jacky Yu (celebrity chef and owner of Xiyan), me, Xinyi, Lindsay (Xinyi's sister), Jackson (budding actor and Xinyi's brother; First row (L-R): Parents of Lisa (Xiyan's partner), Xinyi's parents.


Another belated post from Singapore.

Before we left Beirut, we got together with some colleagues to say farewells.

Restaurant Pinocchio @ Monot, Beirut (12 September)

Us with Cho family: Cho san, Agnes and Yun chan; Yeoh san & Houari

Hickies @ Gemayze, Beirut (12 September)

Hickies before the crowd came in

Us with Pablo & Houari

Second drinks: Vodka Redbull

Us with Pablo (holding on to his Mojito)

Red-faced me having a tequila pop and Houari looking on. Speaking of looking, what is Pablo looking at....or rather who?

Happy Houari! =)

We discovered a new drink that night. Liquid coccaine. 3 of this is enough to get you high.

Liquid Coccaine recipe:
1/2 oz Bacardi® 151 rum
1/2 oz Goldschlager® cinnamon schnapps
1/2 oz Jagermeister® herbal liqueur

Tequila Pop recipe:
1 oz tequila
1 oz 7-Up® soda

Vodka Redbull recipe:
2 oz Absolut Vodka
I can Red Bull

Mojito recipe:
3 fresh mint sprigs
2 tsp sugar
3 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 1/2 oz Sagatiba Pura club soda

Casper & Gambini @ Verdun, Beirut (13 September)

Iftar in Beirut

Houari breaking fast...

A belated post from Singapore.

We accompanied our friend Houari to Iftar on September 9 at Cafe Al Kahwa along Bliss Street in Beirut.

Cafe Al Kahwa on Bliss Street crowded with customers breaking their fast

Besides Hommos and Moutabal on the left side, I forgot what to call the others. Anyone care to venture?

Soup. Although I would much prefer Algerian chorba frik.

Main course of minced chicken (again I forgot its name)


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Return To Singapore

I've returned to Singapore safely on 18 September via an Emirates flight.

It was an enjoyable flight. We upgraded ourselves to business class. Much to our delighted surprise, we were upgraded again to first class this time for the second leg of the journey from Dubai to Singapore. It was a Boeing 777 with fully reclinable seats.

My stint in Middle-east (Lebanon) and North Africa (Algeria & Morocco) has officially ended.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Belated Posts From August

Here are some of entries that were previously left out...
Live in Europe, Work in Asia: My Visit To Istanbul (6 - 10 Aug)

As part of an upcoming big corporate meeting I was helping to organize for my company, I visited our distributor in Turkey to support some materials preparation.

My hotel was located at a very tourist friendly Taksim square in the European part of Istanbul. The distributor's office was situated on the part of Istanbul on the Asian continent. Every morning during my trip, I had to leave Europe, where I'm sleeping, by car to go to work in Asia.

During my visit, I was recommended to visit Odakoy, where I took this impressive picture above. In the foreground is the Odakoy mosque. In the background, one of the three bridges connecting Europe on this side to Asia on the far side is showing.

A lot of restaurants and pubs can be found around Odakoy mosque. Because of the nice seafront view the place offers, the restaurants and pubs were frequented by tourists and local alike. A row of bazaar is also located between the pubs and seafront marketing all sorts of souvenirs, arts and crafts and even second hand books.

Odakoy was definitely a cool discovery for me during the trip, except that I was alone and it got kind of boring.

A Farewell Party

It seems kind of strange that after being based in Lebanon for over 3 years, this was the first time I was invited to the house of a Lebanese and it was for Xinyi and my farewell.

But when we arrived to his beautiful home, we discovered to our delight that our host had spared no efforts in making sure that we were comfortable and well fed. The fare was a sumptuous spread of cold cuts, cheese and wine. Besides, his wife made us the much-touted-in-the-office "monkey bread" and an American cheesecake to top up the dinner also attended by several colleagues.

Yummy Cheesecake courtesy of Mdm. Derkaloustian

Nice and Monte Carlo: 17th - 22nd Aug

About the big corporate meeting I mentioned in the Istanbul section above? It was held in Nice.

For me it was a nice gesture from the company (no pun intended) because I've visited Algeria on the south side of the Mediterranean sea and resided in Lebanon on the east coast, so visiting Nice allowed me to see the north side of the sea.

Actually, it was torturing to go to Nice for work. While the alluring pristine Mediterranean beckons, I had to force myself to think about the smooth execution of the corporate meeting (I was one of the organizers. We had a great team of organizers by the way...)

Nevertheless, I was able to explore the Cote d'Azur using non working hours such as evenings or during my morning run. Here are some of my photos:

Le Meridien, where we resided and its surroundings
A night shot of the corniche along Cote d'Azur.
Deck chairs enjoying the coolness of evening.
A lovely beach side restaurant was the place for our first dinner since arrival. Prices were a tad steep.Official welcome dinner was organized at this place, La Petite Maison. I was told it is a famous restaurant.
The beach is crowded with people! I cannot understand why? The beach is that great, they have pebble instead of fine sand. However, the scenery's great!
Two outdoor cafes somewhere in the old town Nice, called the Vieux. I cannot pronounce the name accurately in French without someone laughing.
On the last day of our meeting, our Monaco distributor hosted a dinner for us in Monte Carlo. Some of us got so high that everything was a blur.

Final Working Day

Yesterday was my last day of work in Beirut head office.

I'm now officially unemployed!

My final day in Beirut is 17th August. (Opps another's supposed to be 17th September)

Meanwhile, what shall I do in Beirut? I still have 6 prepaid gym visits to spend.

Me and new Algerian transfer employee to our team in Beirut on my last working day

Friday, September 05, 2008

Singapore F1

According to Yahoo news today (article replicated below), Toyota's Jano Trulli commented recently that the F1 drivers are a little bit concerned about the safety of Singapore's untested F1 track.

Singapore is set to host an F1 race this month. Due to land scarcity, the F1 track is actually a make shift track from normal road and the race will be held at night. Probably, this is to minimize traffic flow problems caused by road diversion for F1?

Anyway, either Trulli don't know what he is talking about or it is true. If it is true, then my country is doing slipshot work at this upcoming F1 race. The race is going to be held soon and no one had bothered to test the condition of the F1 circuit? *Throw up both arms in disgust*

However, I would urge Mr. Truli not to worry. I counting on it that another news article will appear soon along the lines: "Minister says F1 track is safe". As our ministers are paid to know everything, there is nothing to worry about....NOT! =P

Motor racing-Trulli says Singapore still a worry for F1 drivers
Reuters - Friday, September 5
By Alan Baldwin
SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium, Sept 4 - Formula One drivers are still fretting about the sport's first night race less than a month before Singapore's new street circuit makes its debut.

"It's a new circuit, we don't know much about it, the schedule, the times of running. we all are a little bit concerned about the night race and the poor weather which might occur there," Toyota's Jarno Trulli told reporters at the Belgian Grand Prix on Thursday.

"It's a big question mark for everyone, we mustn't underestimate the situation."
Singapore will become the second new venue this season after last month's Valencia street race when the southeast Asian island state hosts the 15th round of the championship on Sept. 28 at the tail end of the monsoon season.

Unlike Valencia, which staged a couple of junior formula races on the street circuit a month before the grand prix to iron out any problems, Singapore remains untested.
"In Valencia they did a good job, so I am confident they can do a good job for Singapore," said Trulli. "But the location is different and the climate conditions are different.

"We are all a little bit uncertain because we probably don't have enough data. I haven't seen the circuit layout but that's not the problem. The problem is we don't know if the circuit is good enough, if the surface is good enough, if we have enough run-off areas, if the safety is good enough for a night race in wet conditions.

"There are several question marks and several concerns. I'm not saying that I don't want to race there, but that we might encounter some more problems than in Valencia."

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

September Update

Wake Me Up When September's Here...

September's here finally.

The month of August saw me doing a lot of travelling and no blogging...
August 6 ~ 10, I was in Istanbul.
August 17 ~ 22, I visited Nice in France and Monte Carlo in Monaco.
August 23 ~ 31, I returned to Singapore for vacation (a week!)

September is going to be my last month of expatriation. I am repatriating to Singapore in the middle of this month.

But more about this later.

I went to Singapore and all I got was a lousy....

...Portable Hard Disk!

I bought it when I visited COMEX 2008.

Is COMEX an abbreviation for Computer Exhibition or Communication Exhibition? I never can tell but it is the largest IT exhibition organized in Singapore annually.

COMEX is therefore a much anticipated affair as Singaporeans are flocking there to look for the latest bargain price on digital cameras, notebooks, printers, mobile equipments and other electronic products.

I hate crowds. If I hadn't wanted portable hard disk, I wouldn't have gone. After going around some of the booths, I shortlisted my choice to 3 brands:

Western Digital

Their prices were about the same: around SGD125 (USD90) for 250GB. The difference was in the bundling. For instance, Imation comes with a free protective sticker and a pouch.

Long story short, I went for this Western Digital one:

I got it because I thought it was the best looking among the 3. I am such a sucker for product design when it comes to shopping. I bought 2 additionally for Xinyi and her friend KK. I hope they don't regret my decision.

Ramadan and Mid-Autumn Festival

When I returned to Beirut, it is the beginning of Ramadan, the Islamic fasting month. For the Chinese, we are anticipating the Mid-Autumn Festival that falls on the full moon of August in the Lunar year.

The difference from our Muslim brethens is that, we eat.

We eat mooncakes. A lot of them!

It is a sweet cake-like pastry with a very sweet lotus seed paste and salted egg yolk filling.

The mooncakes I bought looks something like those in this picture. The round egg yolk filling resembles the moon.

To be exact, Muslims also eat a lot of during the breaking of fast during Ramadan. Especially the sweet stuff. Come to think of it, we're not so different after all. Everybody eats a lot of sweet things and gain a lot of weight. Only difference is that their practice is just a bit more restrictive in that they have to fast a little during the day.

So I bought some mooncakes to be brought back to Beirut. Somehow I got a discount buying mooncakes from Marriot hotel Singapore, which is rather known for their mooncakes.

Anyway, my intention was to bring some mooncakes to my Asian colleagues working in Algeria. Somehow, the moon in Algeria is especially big and them being far away from home during this occasion, so I thought it might be a nice touch.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Playing Tennis in Algiers

I began playing tennis in Algiers at Unite Golf Club at Cheraga.

It was a weekend Friday so there was no work.

I haven't played tennis for years. The last time I picked up a real tennis racket, it was during a physical education during junior college years. Although, I "practiced" some tennis moves on a Wii in my colleague's Beirut apartment occasionally.

In reality, I have no inkling about tennis, other than Sharapova is really eye candy. In the words of one team-mate, Pablo, we pretend to play.

It is an understatement because Pablo is one of the best players among us. Or perhaps the rest of us really sucked?

After several games, I do realize that I'm have a consistent form when it comes to hitting the net, hitting the ball out of court or failing to hit the ball at all.

My failure rate to hit the ball was more pronounced when I was on the receiving end of service from Mike, our number 2 player, who incidently is an excellent badminton player who had done some coaching in Japan, and therefore, doubtlessly, packs a powerful serve.

Then there are our two Japanese team-mates, Terada and Tsuchiya. Terada is reportedly an excellent baseball player, which explained his donning of baseball attire even when he was playing tennis.

Terada also has a real talent for humour. Once, he mimicked the throwing style of famous Japanese players. Unfortunately, I'm clueless when it comes to baseball or the game's famous personalities. But he looked really funny so the humour was not lost.

Tsuchiya san is really a nice team-mate to have. Among the team, he and I had been in Algeria the longest. Super nice guy with a good sense of humour. The Algerians also never forget his name once they were introduce to him, because his family name is similarly sounding to an Algerian traditional musical instrument.

Encouragingly, my gym sessions in Beirut were beginning to pay off. After running after balls that I failed to hit (it happened a lot!), I was able to maintain some level of fitness. Yey, me and gym membership!

Interestingly, the tennis courts at the golf course don't come with electric lighting. As evening approaches, we found that we could not see the ball very well anymore and have to stop the game. No offense but is this really a golf club?!

After tennis, it was a spicy Thai dinner at the newly opened Bangkok Thai branch near Deli Ibrahim.

The following are some pictures:

I was invited by Mike (Thu san) to his guesthouse for lunch. It was curry chicken and fried eggs, nicely concluded with a delicious melon and Hagen Daaz! I simply right the watermelons in Algeria. The sweetest!

Unite Golf Club @ Cheraga, Algiers

Front entrance
Part of the club house and restaurant

Doing our warmups
Pablo (left) and Terada (right) in his baseball attire
Mike (left) is our badminton expert and Tsuchiya (right) is named after a musical instrument.

*This entry is post-dated to 3 Aug '08, as I didn't have internet access to upload. Incidentally, this is my last visit to Algeria.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Movies: The Forbidden Kingdom & Kung Fu Panda

I'm still in Beirut.

One of the perks for being in Beirut is that I can go to the movies.

Singaporeans are avid movie goers. We have the highest movie-going rate in the world. According to a 2006 source, on average, we watch 8 movies a year.* The national average might be more now. If that is true, then after arriving to the MENA region, my annual movie-going rate had fallen below the 2006 national average at about 6 movies/year. When I was traveling in North Africa, I missed out on a lot of movie releases.

In North Africa, I did not have the opportunities to visit the movie theatres out of reasons of personal choice and time.

In Algiers, I passed by a movie theatre in downtown several times although I had never watched a movie there. The movie played there are probably voiced-over in French so I cannot understand. Also, the movie theatre did not look inviting to me.

I did try watching a movie once in Morocco and it was a big turn-off. I watched the Da Vinci Code in Megarama, a cineplex in Casablanca. As expected, it was entirely in French. Plus the theatre didn't have AC that day and the air got very stuffy.

Anyway, I always go to the movies as often as I can whenever I'm back in Beirut.

During the past 2 weeks, I saw two movies in Beirut: The Forbidden Kingdom and Kung Fu Panda. Incidently, both were about kung-fu.

The Fobidden Kingdom

What can I say about a movie that casted Asia's titanic martial arts actors - Jet Li and Jackie Chan?

Suffice to say, I went into the movie with pretty low expectations.

Without a doubt Jackie Chan movies are always awesome in the fight scenes and martial arts choreography but terribly weak in plot. In Chan’s movies, the plot is just an excuse to link all the spectacular fight scenes together.

If you grew up watching his movies like I did, then a time will come when you could not expect anything new.

His roles are always similar (90% of the time, a police hero). Reluctant hero forced to fight by circumstances. There are new death defying stunts every time but his acting never improved. Arguably, his recent stunt scenes had gotten less spectacular when compared to some of the incredible stuff he had done in the '80s.

As for Jet Li, I still think that his best movie role ever was his debut in "Shaolin Temple". He was great in "Once Upon A Time In China" for his portrayal of Wong Fei Hong. It reignited popular interest in the legendary Chinese folk hero and several movie sequels. Then he was again great in his portrayal of another folk hero, Huo Yuan Jia, in "Fearless". In this role, he managed to show another sensitive depth to his acting.

I found his latest role as "Monk/ Monkey god" trite. He looks uninspired, overweight and overage to be monkey god. Forgive me for being bland but his bad complexion showed prominently throughout the movie. If he wants to continue to make it in Hollywood as a leading man, I think he should consider using some of that Hollywood magic, no?

Perhaps now you can understand why I went to the movie without any expectations. And yet I was disappointed even further by the movie.

The story was weak. Basically a coming of age story about an American kung-fu aficionado who got teleported? to ancient China (presumably) on a quest to save the stone encasted monkey god by returning his staff to his statue. During the quest, he found travelling companions in the likes of Drunken Immortal (Jackie Chan), Monk (Jet Li), who taught him Kung-fu 101 and Swallow (Liu Yifei), a potential love interest or to add a feminine aspect. The main antagonist, the Jade Warlord, whose treachery was the reason behind monkey god's imprisonment, is pulling all stops to impede the protagonists.

Beyond the special effects, modern English dialogue, the plot reeks of the stereotypical coming of age and revenge plot elements as popularized in the 70s & 80s kung-fu movies. I get more complex and moving plots when playing Final Fantasy on Playstation!

The names of characters like Drunken Immortal, Golden Swallow and White-hair Assassin are not new. Their characterizations were but pale shadows/ diluted amalgams of iconic heroes/villains in popular Asian movies and novels. In fact, a lot of these characters had so much more depth and backstory that were left undeveloped in the course of the movie due to lack of screen time. It is like putting the Hulk, Spiderman and Batman in a same movie so that you get all the action and nothing of the backstory. Perhaps, spin-offs are in the making? (Think The Mummy Returns and The Scorpion King).

Of course, it can be said that kung-fu movies are all about the action and not the plot. If so, the highlight of the movie would be the extended fight scene between Jet Li's Monk and Jackie Chan's Drunken Immortal. For me, that fight scene didn't work so well. The figh scene between Uma Thurman's character and the Crazy 88s in Kill Bill was more memorable than this one. I was actually waiting for it to be over and get on with the story.

Although the film was not a hit for me, online ratings gave it moderate review ratings.

Kung Fu Panda

I had a better time watching this animated movie than the previous movie.

What do I like about this movie?

Firstly, the production quality was great and it showed. According to the wikipedia write-up, the production design, animation and even the music were created after extensive research on Chinese art and culture. Yet, the end result was not a rip-off but a very original movie that pays tribute to its Asian roots.

Secondly, the voice acting was good. Big names like Angelina Jolie and Dustin Hoffman were attached to the voice of the characters. This is hardly new news in the movie industry. What I think worked for the movie was that the voice-actors had a lot of self respect by not spoofing the Asian accent in speaking English.

Thirdly, it was funny. The movie came from the same studio that delivered the Shrek franchise, so I would be sorely disappointed if there were no punch lines in the movie. Granted, it wasn’t hilarious funny but there were some funny moments that helped advancing the plot well. I thought the funniest scene in the movie was the acupuncture scene between panda, tigress and mantis.

I read that sequels are in the pipeline. Yey! =D

* This source, quoting a 2003 Unesco study, put Singapore in 6th place in movie attendance per capita, behind Iceland, US, N. Zealand, Georgia, Australia. Lebanon comes in at 10th place. Morocco in 49th and Algeria in 76th.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Toyota Man Died Of Overwork

Photo credit: Luxomedia

Saw this piece of news on Yahoo Singapore this morning. An engineer working on Camry hybrid has died of "karoshi", which in Japanese means literally, death from fatigue due to overwork.

The victim, whose name, had been witheld by Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) was said to have clocked 80 hours of overtime per month in the two months leading to his death.

TMC has stated officially that it will improve it's monitoring of it's employees health.

Japanese society which place a lot of emphasis on values like working hard and placing team before self, karoshi has been a growing trend in the official records for the past few decades since early 90s.

I remembered a chat several years ago with a TMC employee from product development. I was told that the company has started then to limit overtime work by monitoring individual employees' working hours.

Employees were required to clock in and out on a daily basis so that their bosses, and sometime corporate HR, could monitor the number of hours worked. Employees who wished to perform overtime work has to get approval from his/her superior!

Being the worker bees that they are, TMC employees were known to circumvent the system. For instance, an employee starting work at 10:30 am under the flexi-hour scheme, would report to work earlier at 8:00am but clock-in at 10:30am. So on paper, it looked as if he/she reported to work on time whereas in fact, this employee has already performed 2.5hrs overtime.

Similarly, employees were also known to clock-off on time but stayed behind to work. As there was simply too much work to do, the bosses tend to be more lenient when it comes to enforcing the overtime limit.

Letting the employees bring the work home to limit overtime work was not a viable option because of the sensitive and confidential work information that the employees were handling.

It blew my mind when I heard this. Throughout my work life, it is usual to know of colleagues who were late but got their colleagues to clock-in on time for them to aviod a pay deduction penalty. In Algeria, truancy was so rampant that the company had to install a fingerprint scanning system for employee clock-in & out!

It is extremely rare to learn of employees who perform more overtime than they should and let it go unreported, considering that working harder is good for performance evaluation. Only in Japan!

The Japanese worker is an epitome of the selfless, dedicated samurai who places his/her team above all else. Stubborn and anal retentive, yes, but nevertheless responsible and dependable. Of course, I do personally know of exceptional cases but it's a valid generalization.

During business trips in Japan, I could experienced several very brief stints of the nerve-wrecking, high pressurizing work culture there. I really hope that major Japanese companies could really review the work environment and work curcumstances in the interest of their employees' health, social and family life.


By JAY ALABASTER, Associated Press WriterWed Jul 9, 4:08

A Japanese labor bureau has ruled that one of Toyota's top car
engineers died from working too many hours, the latest in a string of such
findings in a nation where extraordinarily long hours for some employees has
long been the norm.

The man who died was aged 45 and had been under severe
pressure as the lead engineer in developing a hybrid version of Toyota's
blockbuster Camry line, said Mikio Mizuno, the lawyer representing his wife. The
man's identity is being withheld at the request of his family, who continue to
live in Toyota City where the company is based.

In the two months up to his death, the man averaged more than
80 hours of overtime per month, according to Mizuno.

He regularly worked nights and weekends, was frequently sent
abroad and was grappling with shipping a model for the pivotal North American
International Auto Show in Detroit when he died of ischemic heart disease in
January 2006. The man's daughter found his body at their home the day before he
was to leave for the United States.

The ruling was handed down June 30 and will allow his family
to collect benefits from his work insurance, Mizuno said.

An officer at the Aichi Labor Bureau on Wednesday confirmed
the ruling, but declined to comment on the record.

In a statement, Toyota Motor Corp. offered its condolences and
said it would work to improve monitoring of the health of its

There is an effort in Japan to cut down on deaths from
overwork, known as "karoshi." Such deaths have steadily increased since the
Health Ministry first recognized the phenomenon in 1987.

Last year, a court in central Japan ordered the government to
pay compensation to Hiroko Uchino, the wife of a Toyota employee who collapsed
at work and died at age 30 in 2002. She took the case to court after her
application to the local labor bureau for compensation was

Monday, July 07, 2008

Office Humor

If you use MS Excel to generate graphs at work like I do, you may appreciate the creative graphs on this awesome site: Graph Jam: Pop Culture for People in Cubicles

Here's a few personal favourites...=)