Thursday, March 27, 2008

Singapore 2: 0 Lebanon

In yesterday's 2010 FIFA World Cup Asian Qualifiers, Singapore beat Lebanon and moved to second place in Group 4.

I always have the opinion that the Singapore Lions is a lousy team. Now I know that the Lebanese national team is also lousy. Suddenly, I feel a sense of national pride that we are just slightly better than the Lebanese.

Actually, to be precise, Lebanon has a ultra lousy coach. Here an exerpt from his post-match interview:

Lebanon's coach Emile Rustom, who was missing four first-team players including Cologne midfielder Roda Antar, bemoaned his selection problems.

"It was expected. Lebanon were missing four key players, you can imagine Singapore without four players," he said.

What a LOSER!!! Haaahaaa.....

You mean the rest of your team cannot play?

Mr Rustom, when you cannot do something, seriously reflect on what your management skills and how to improve. Don't blame the circumstances. Who will you blame when your team meets a stronger team? Blame it on Israel?

Soccer-Singapore ease to qualifying win over Lebanon

Reuters - Thursday, March 27
SINGAPORE, March 26 - Singapore
comfortably beat Lebanon 2-0 to pick up the first three points of their Asian
World Cup third round qualifying campaign on Wednesday.

The city-state's 37-year-old striker Aleksander Duric, who scored twice on
his debut in the 3-1 second stage aggregate victory over Tajikistan, opened the
scoring in the seventh minute after capitalising on some poor Lebanese

Midfielder Fazrul Nawaz then doubled the home side's advantage, effectively
sealing the game after 24 minutes.

Singapore coach Radojko Avramovic praised Bosnian-born Duric, who was
called-up to the national squad late last year after becoming a Singapore

"He was running hard in the first half and then in the second half he was
playing more in midfield, I think he has done really well for us," Avramovic
told reporters.

Lebanon's coach Emile Rustom, who was missing four first-team players
including Cologne midfielder Roda Antar, bemoaned his selection

"It was expected. Lebanon were missing four key players, you can imagine
Singapore without four players," he said.

Singapore move to second in Group 4, level on points with Saudi Arabia whom
they lost to in February and three points behind leaders Uzbekistan. Lebanon
remain bottom without a point.

12th Algeria Motorshow & Trade Talk

The 12th Algerian motorshow opened yesterday afternoon. Unfortunately, I could not attend the show because I had to travel to Casablanca. This is probably going to be the first Algerian motorshow that I will miss since I started working in Algeria.

According to feedback, the motorshow in Algeria is improving in terms of the quality of the booth designs and display models compared to 3 years ago. In my opinion, Peugeot and Toyota booths are setting the benchmark.

Also noteworthy was that last year, Mitsubishi brought in a Lancer Evolution as special exhibit. I think it's the ninth version. This year, not to be outdone, Nissan will be showcasing the 2008 GTR. I love the GTR but unfortunately I won't have the chance to touch this new model at the motorshow.

The signature tail-lights of GTR

As for us, I would love to see a special concept car on display during a motorshow in the future.

Friend of mine got a nice hybrid concept car for the motorshow in his country

I think that things are heating up in the Algerian automobile market. The market has been undergoing tremendous growth coupled with the rapid development of consumer financing and economic improvement. This is good news for us.

But a lot of companies are making more efforts to increase their sales in Algeria, so competition is going to get tougher. With the Free-Trade agreement with Europe, the French brands, which had traditionally dominated the market, will be benefiting from lower import duties and are definitely going to get their acts together.

However, as the economy will still take many more years before reaching maturity, Algerians will probably continue to go for lower-priced, entry segment cars. Which is good news for brands that specialize in cheap cars like Tata and Maruti.

To digress, Tata is really making inroads into the global automobile markets with the launch of Nano, a super cheap car with a retail sales price USD$2,000. According to recent news, Tata has bought Landrover and Jaguar to it's sprawling group. It's definitely a force to be reckon with.

Back to the point, I do find the Algerian market a tad uninteresting because it appears that the market is very price driven and customers are mainly attracted by low-priced cars with very basic specifications. I'm really curious to see that with the proliferation of consumer financing options from Societe Generale and Cetelem, will customers begin shifting towards higher end models like 308 or Auris? What do you think?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Dinner @ Thu's

My host for the evening, Mr. Thu

Two evenings ago, I was invited to the guesthouse of my Malaysian colleague, Thu, for dinner. He made me a simple but satisfying meal.

I love his place. It is way better than anywhere I've stayed in Algeria. WAY!!! So I had to take some pictures for my blog.

In my opinion, got European standards lor....

Buddhist Dog

Please sir, may I have some more?

As part of an effort to boost cost-efficiency of the clergy, Buddhism is setting the trend by outsourcing religious ceremonies to canines. All it takes are three vegetarian chows a day for Benji. =P
Buddhist dog prays for worldly desires

NAHA, Japan (AFP) - - Buddhists clasp their palms together to pray for enlightenment, but Conan, a chihuahua, appears to have more worldly motivations.

The dog has become a popular attraction at a Japanese temple after learning to imitate the worshippers around him.

"Conan started to pose in prayer like us whenever he wanted treats," said Joei Yoshikuni, a priest at Jigenin temple on the southern island of Okinawa. "Clasping hands is a basic action of Buddhist prayer to show appreciation. He may be showing his thanks for treats and walks," he said.

Conan, a two-year-old male with long, black hair and a brown collar, sits next to Yoshikuni in front of the altar and looks right up at the statue of a Buddhist deity. When the priest starts chanting and raises his clasped hands, Conan also raises his paws and joins them at the tip of his nose.

Visitors to the temple look on with curiosity.

"It's so funny that he does it," said Kazuko Oshiro, 71, who has frequented the temple for more than 25 years.

"He gets angry when somebody else sits on his favourite spot. He must be thinking that it's his special place," Oshiro said.

Conan, originally a temple pet, has become so popular that people come in to take
pictures almost every week, the priest said.

Yoshikuni estimated that the temple receives 30 percent more visitors, especially young tourists, than it would otherwise.

"I'm glad that people feel more comfortable visiting the temple because of Conan," he said as he jokingly joined his hands and bowed to the dog.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Chick Lit: Review of Undomestic Goddess

(Previously unposted)
I actually found chick lit quite enjoyable sometimes.

They are fun to read, easy on page turning and light on the mind. Plus you get a glimpse of how women think. Albeit a very tiny glimpse...heheh.

Last week, I picked up Sophie Kinsella's "The Undomestic Goddess" last week from Way In bookstore in Beirut. I started reading the novel before my flight from Beirut to Algiers and finished the book soon after landing. That took a little more than 4 hours. Not a feat considering the book is quite easy to read. It's plot is straight-forward when compared to sci-fi, fantasy and thrillers books that I usually read.

However, I did find some of the characterization, perhaps intended for a dramatic comedy effect, not to my liking.

For instance, some characters were badly portrayed. Trish and Edwards, in particular, despite being mentioned as self-made business owners, were uncharacteristically portrayed as dumb and gullible.

It doesn't take long to figure out if someone is lying to be a professional. In the book's case, even with weekend cooking lessons from a good cook, it's not going to do a lot of good in a short span of weeks. Not good enough to do a gala event anyway. This subplot took a lot of suspension of belief on my part.

As a promising young top notch lawyer, the protagonist, Samatha, was gauche in several social situation and often prone to resort to a childish and whimsical behaviour.

Although such extremes in characterization is not quite persuasive in my opinion, anything is permissible in the name of good entertainment, perhaps.

Despite the flaws, the book did have it's moments and a bit of humour. I do recommend the book for someone who wants some lighthearted airplane reading.

Bon Weekend: Singaporeans Meet-Up

I arrived in Algeria safely but 1 hour behind schedule. Nothing new. After the usual hassle of clearing immigration and baggage collection, I found myself in an empty terminal at 3am in the morning.

The driver wasn't not waiting for me. Again nothing new. Scenes from Tom Hanks' "The Terminal" started playing in my head.

After several tries, I managed to get the driver on the phone, who apologized that he had forgotten about picking me up. Still nothing new. Fortunately, he lives near the airport and was there to meet me within 15 minutes.

Algiers was a lot colder than Beirut. I heard it had rained for the past 2 days.

By 4:30am, I was back in the Sidi Fredj guesthouse.

By 9:00am, I was awake. The curtains were unable to hold back the glare of the morning sun from my room. Only 4 hours plus of sleep. How annoying!

I was thinking of going back to bed around noontime when I got a call from the office. Top gun needed my help in the office for some presentation to our principals the day after next. Bummer!

Things picked up towards the evening.

A while ago, a group of 2 Singaporeans and a Malaysian got in touch with me via my blog. We arranged a meet up at Bangkok, a Thai restaurant in Draria.

A little held up at work, the guys were already waiting for me at the restaurant. As I entered the restaurant, to my pleasant surprise, the group of guys appeared to be around my age.

The guys, Pradeep, Jek Suen and Yong are based in Bejaia, about 4 hours of drive to the East. They are working for Porktek, a Singaporean company, contracted to provide management expertise to Bejaia's port. They were in Algiers for holiday.

Pradeep, a fellow NUS FASS alumni, has been here since 2004. Yong, a Johorean working in Singapore for a long time, has been in Algeria since 2005 and will be completing his tour of duty in June. Jek Suen, the newest addition to the group, started working in Bejaia only two months ago.

In my opinion, these guys are big time hard-core! My professional interaction with local Algierians are limited mainly to the graduates of Ecole Polytechnic, the creme de la creme. But these guys are managing the blue collar workers on a daily basis! Pradeep mastered the French language and the group even got the port workers speaking Singlish, Singaporean accented English, now

Yesterday's meeting was after a long time since I last "talked cock". It was nice to hear and speak local accents as we traded stories about life in Algeria. There were so many common grievances or topics but just to name a few:

Unscrupulous cleaning service: My previous cleaning lady once stole my Bak Kua, mom's home-baked pineapple tarts and washing powder. Yong's cleaning lady most probably took some of his perfumes. Pradeep's wife lost some of her cometics when she last visited.

Missing things: We all complained about the missing food from our office drawers and the security guards that feign ignorance even though only they have the keys. Yong had his cassette deck and high-performance speakers stolen from his CDV! Unbelieveable!

Water problems: The water supply in my apartment is miserably low (40 minutes to shower). The guys in Bejaia sometimes don't have water in the summer!!!

Ramadan: Why is there a spike in fighting incidents during Ramadan?!

Food and social entertainment: The lack of variety in food choices and pitifully few social entertainment venues to speak of.

I had the most enjoyable and hilarious evening in Algeria so far.

The inaugural dinner of the Singapore - Malaysia "huay guan" in Algiers

P.S. This pretty much disproved my theory that I am 50% of the Singaporeans based in Algeria. As far as I know, there is also one other Singaporean blogger based in Oran. I am now 25%. =P

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Leaving Beirut / Air Travel Stories

Tomorrow evening, I'm leaving Beirut for Algeria. Colleagues in the office were commenting how "lucky" I am to be travelling during the long weekend holidays. In Algeria, Saturday and Sundays are working days and they don't celebrate Easter holidays there.

In Beirut office, public holiday has been declared from Thursday, Friday and next Monday. That's 5 days off in total. I could have gone to Cyprus for a short getaway.

Tomorrow's flight will, confirmed and guaranteed with a big stamp, be delayed for sure. Based on international standards, the time reading on boarding passes and boarding gates is usually the flight departure time. When it comes to Air Algerie flights, the stated time is usually taken to be boarding time!

However, don't be fooled into thinking that since the flight is usually delayed, one don't have to be right on time. A colleague managed to miss his flight because it departed AHEAD of schedule.

Among colleagues, we sometimes trade 'amusing' stories of our air travels. Amusing, yes, only in hindsight.

My personal 'best' air travel stories were the observations on passenger behaviour while boarding and alighting a plane. Actually, these observations extend to all north african/ middle east flights I've taken (Air Algerie/ Royal Air Maroc / Emirates).

Firstly, I noticed that passengers here usually do not turn off their mobile phones even when the plane has started to move. They continue to text-message or make phone calls on their mobile phones while the plane was taxi-ing to the runway. I don't know what the actual standards were but during air travel in Asia, we were constantly bombarded by overhead announcements to turn off our mobiles once on the plane.

What made it worst here was that the cabin crew usually don't give a damn! They walked down the aisle turning a blind eye.

Once, I even got into an argument with a Moroccan passenger after I pointed out to him that he should stop using his phone during taxi to avoid interfering with pilot communication. He refuted that technically the mobile phone needed only to be switched off AFTER the plane left the ground. I don't know who was correct technically but what's the fucking difference a few minutes between taxi-ing and taking-off make? (Airports in Algeria, Morocco and even Beirut are not busy airports, so it doesn't require more than 10 minutes to takeoff).

My second observation was that IMMEDIATELY after the plane landed on the asphalt of the runway, passengers whip out and turn on their mobile phones. A cacophony of mobile phone activation beeps and incoming message tones started going off in surround effect. As if on cue, everyone with a mobile phone started calling or texting someone. Perhaps I must have been flying with local equivalents George Soros or Warren Buffet who might lose millions of earnings for just one missed call.

I can almost imagine what goes on in Mohamad Soros' frentic mind when he started dialing as soon as the plane wheels scratch the runway. "Gotta stay on top of the stock market! Gotta make this call! It's make or break 50 million durhams!" Yeah OK, next time don't come squeeze with me in the economy class, if you are so rich, take business class.

And finally to my third observation, soon after making the million dollars calls to their brokers, all the Mohamad Soros and Abdulhamid Buffet began clambering over seats for their luggages and getting ready to disembark the plane while the plane was still moving to the terminal. It's as if they get a mystery prize for being the first out of the plane. For goodness sake, the plane was still 2 miles aways from the terminal!

Whenever I saw this on an Emirates flight, my heart really went out to the poor stewards and stewardess who tried in vain to request the passengers to go back to their seats and fasten the seatbelts. How do you restrain a herd instinct?

The most amusing story was one I heard from my Japanese colleague. Once while traveling back to Algiers from Hasi Mesaoud in the south, he and 2 other colleagues boarded a plane only to realize that it was completely full. There were not a single empty seat left on board.

He supposed that he may have boarded the wrong flight but it turned out to be the correct flight. That was only one flight for that day. Few thoughts occured in his mind.

1) Why did the ground crew allow his party to board when the flight was full?

2) If he had to stand throughout the flight, why hasn't the cabin crew showed him the hand-straps?

Just then, a steward came into the cabin, pointed to three passengers at random and told them to get off the plane. My colleague and his companions got their seats promptly.

As they say in Algeria, anything is possible.


Monday, March 17, 2008


Blackouts In Singapore
During my childhood, I enjoyed power blackouts.

Blackouts occur very infrequently in Singapore so whenever they happened, my sisters and I were usually very excited. Whenever the power and lights went off in our 3-room Clementi apartment, I would run to the windows. If our opposite apartment block appeared pitch dark too, I knew for certain that a blackout had occured.

"Blackout! Bring out the torch and candles," I would happily informed my family.

We would light up several candles to cast away the darkness. I believe that the main reason we liked blackouts was because we were allowed to play with candles, outside of mid-autumn festival. My dad would use his torch to check the condition of the fusebox, as if it would help. We would berate our dad because his torch-light was diluting our candle light, making the magic moment less unique.

The blackouts were moments for community building. Residents were suddenly forced to leave their TV sets or whatever they are doing and start socializing with their neighbours. Within minutes from the blackouts, the entire apartment block came alive with lively chatter and lit up like a christmas tree with flickering candle lights and fidgeting torch-light beams.

Usually, a blackout lasted half an hour. As soon as the first flourescent tube started flickering back to life, the banter died down and the candle light extinguished as the evening drifted back to it's mundane normacy.

"Go back to your homework!" My mom would command.

Blackouts in Lebanon
Fast foward 20 years later, daily power failures are a norm in Beirut.

Since the late 2007, Lebanon has been enforcing daily 3 hours power-cuts. Which is an inconvenience when your building doesn't have a backup generator. Fortunately, the current apartment has one.

It's a bigger nuisance to experience the power-cuts in the office, especially when the backup generator often fail as well (Murphy's law!!!). Halfway in a meeting and then *poof* everything went dark. Or the printer will jam halfway during a print job when the power died.

Blackouts in Algeria

The frequency of the blackouts depends on location. I can't speak for most of the areas but for two areas I'm more familiar with - Cheraga and Sidi Fredj.

By far, Cheraga was the worst of the two. During close to a year's stay in Cheraga, there were many blackouts. Though not a lot compared to Beirut standards, it had been pretty inconvenient to our daily routine, especially when there was no backup generator at all.

The most memorable was a 3 day blackout in late August 2007, which affected quite a large region around our guesthouse. There was no lights, no heater and no refridgeration. At that time, we didn't had any inkling how long it was going to last.

After sulking around for an entire evening without being able to shower or cook and much worse, see anything, we invoked company policy and checked into Sheraton Club des Pins.

In my opinion, at about USD200++ a night, Sheraton Club des Pins is the most expensive hotel in the world if you compare service with cost. Simply put, at the hotel, you get tourist class service and attitude while paying 5 star hotel prices.

Anyway, upon checking in, we discovered that the hotel was holding a Mexican Fiesta event for that week. My latino colleagues (Colombian, El Salvadorian) were of course quite excited. Here's some of the pictures we took.

The setting for a night of Mexican music and food.
Latino crooner for the evening aka 'golden voice'.
According to my Colombian colleague, who has some inkling about Mexican food, "this is not Mexican food! They imagined this up!" We checked and the guest chef was indeed Mexican so we attributed the cause to be a lack of proper ingredients. We also didn't appreciate the food being served cold.
After dinner, we enjoyed a live performance by Mariachis in 1001 Nuit, the Sheraton inhouse pub
The next day, a weekend, we spend half a day lounging at the beach. My South American colleagues were watching a beach volley game.Finally, the electricity came back on and we were checking out to move back to Cheraga. While checking out, we caught another performance of the Mariachis at the lobby.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Healthy Eating

Did I mention that I've moved into an apartment in Beirut?

The thing about having an apartment instead of staying in a hotel is the freedom. When it comes to food, I have now the choice of not eating out everyday.

Although on most days while eating out, I opt for green salads. Sometimes, I would like to have hot food. It is becoming a bother because most of the commercially prepared hot food are pastas, burgers and subs, which are greasy and high on carbs and sodium.

So now I can try to do some of my own cooking. And the Kenwood steamer FS360 comes to the rescue. It comes with:

  • Three or two transparent basket layers allow multi food steaming eg fish, poultry, vegetables, fruit, puddings, rice, eggs
  • Oval basket design for optimum capacity

  • Removable easy clean stock tray retains the nutrients for use in stock, gravy etc

  • Inclusive 1.2 litre rice bowl for cooking rice, various marinated food stuffs or deserts within steamer

I like steamed food. It's guilt free eating with all the natural flavours and nutrients preserved and takes less time to prepare.

Steamed chicken breasts with some soy sauce, lettuce and red chili

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Prison Break Singapore

Have you seen him?

My country is now on full alert as the manhunt continues into the fifth day for Mas Selamat Kastari, the leader of terrorist group, Jemaah Islamiah.

Mas Selamat Kastari escaped last Wednesday afternoon from the Whitley Detention Centre where he was detained under the Internal Security Act, which reserves the right to detain anyone without trial.

Meanwhile security agencies were confident that he hasn't left Singapore because he was acting alone and received no aid. However, they also mentioned that, as a trained mechanic, he could jumpstart vehicles to aid his escape.

According to friends in Singapore, telcos are circulating his photos via MMS to all their subscribers in the effort to help identifying him.

On a lighter side, our local humour site, Talking Cock, questioned the effectiveness of circulating his photograph because if he was "smart enough to escape ISD HQ, you think he wen go and find some more powderful disguise, meh?"

As a contribution to our national security, the website also posted an Escaped Terrorist Spotter guide (below) for the public to print out and keep in their wallets to help identify him regardless of what disguise he's in. Oh that's cute...

Translation: If you see him, immediately call the police, don't be a hero okay?

Update: 08 May 2009

After a year in hiding, Mas Selamat Kastari, Singapore’s Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) leader who escaped from Whitley Road Detention Centre last year, has reportedly been arrested in Malaysia. Yes, the little children of Singapore can sleep a little better at night from today onwards. =P