Innovation at a Coffeshop

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Having a simple breakfast of coffee, toast and soft-boiled eggs in a small coffee shop in Johor Baru town turned out to be an interesting learning experience.

First, the few young men in polo-tee with shop logo and jeans (like a uniform) were deployed to take orders, serve or clear the tables. Then a lady armed with a tablet comes around to collect payment at the tables when the food was served.

At my table, the lady with a tablet (i think it’s a mobile cashier) came by casually and tells me the price for my food and I paid her and she gave me the change and swiftly whipped out a marker pen and made a squiggle on the table top near my food (evidence in the photo – green markings near the coffee cup on the table.

As soon as I finished my food and drink, the young man came and cleared the table and wiped it clean including the markings made (must be a white board marker).

Such clockwork efficiency and brilliance. We can surely learn a thing or two from this thriving, team based F&B outlet. It doesn’t look pretty, posh or in an air-conditioned place but its service and operations model surpassed some restaurants or cafes I have been.

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Epiphany

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One of my favourite TV crime drama series is The Closer. I do not have cable TV so I get to watch it when I visit my sister. Although the series had ended its run of 7 seasons in 2012, it is still being aired on cable. The main character Brenda Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick) was the leader and pillar of the series. Together with her team of detectives and other supporting staff, it made the whole series come alive. Episode by episode, the storyline and character plays were rivetting and humourous. Hardly any crime series can come close to this unusual effect that The Closer had viewers. Perhaps I will write more about this drama series at another time as the focus is on a particular `pattern’ that Chief Johnson (the main character was called by her co-workers) had in most episodes. My sister referred to it as an epiphany.

Epiphany (according to The Free Dictionary by Farlex) is defined as:

1. an appearance or manifestation, esp. of a deity.
2. (cap.) a Christian festival, observed on Jan. 6, commemorating the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles in the persons of the Magi; Twelfth Day.
3. a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into reality or the essential meaning of something, often initiated by some simple, commonplace occurrence.
4. a literary work or section of a work presenting such a moment of revelation and insight.

In the case of Chief Johnson, it was definition number 3. It is not quite the same as a sudden idea that popped up when you are trying to invent or solve something as that usually happens when you are working on a problem or situation directly. It is more a moment when a situation or conversation provided you a parallel dimension of something you have been thinking about and it helped you fit in some missing pieces in a puzzle. It is the simple, commonplace occurrence that triggered it.

Such occurrences are possible when you use what you have learned and allow it to simmer in your head as you go along your daily routine. I would like to think of it as a reflective practice or a meditative state of mind on matters that you want to deepen your understanding. It is sad that reflection or meditation is often relegated to being in solitary confinement in a cave or on top of a mountain.

Isn’t it wonderful that it does not have to be so since epiphanies do come about through simple and common stuff?

Sleepless in Singapore

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The title was inspired by a movie “Sleepless in Seattle” but it’s not about that story as the focus is on my homeland, Singapore.

Many of us are working the daylights out of our lives and end up with less sleep than needed. It doesn’t help that the lights don’t really go out in Singapore as it can be quite bright throughout the night till day breaks. 24-hour supermarkets, eateries and cafes are in abundance and how can a sleep deprived nation get better in life like this?

6, 7 or 8-hour sleep is a luxury for anyone (babies not included) in Singapore. I bet that most working adults, when asked whether they will `binge sleep’ on their day off will respond, “Of course!”. I also believe the motto of most younger adults would be to work hard and play hard.. so that equates to? Long days and long nights = Sleeplessness!

Many Singaporeans go on tour or travel as far and wide as possible. This may be a common phenomena in all developed or developing countries but it could be a cry to get out of this country, to have some kind of rest or respite from the pressure cooker life they have been living. Of course, many dream or desire to seek a bigger, spacious, more scenic or cheaper place to spend, enjoy and relax before they go back to the grind… and some chose not to come back. So this explains why so many Singaporeans travel frequently, young and old.

I am a light sleeper and don’t get to fall asleep easily. People who fall asleep easily and can sleep anywhere at anytime are considered gifted or blessed when compared to my ability to sleep. Also, when it comes to naps, if I do take one, I will not be able to get the full nights sleep for that day. It’s like a timer for the amount of sleep I am allowed per day, so I don’t take naps. However, it’s not that bad as I still get to sleep and empathise with those who have insomnia and that’s another big struggle altogether.

Dreams are not something I recall vividly and more often than not, they were fleeting things that either take the form or shape of happenings during that period of my life. It’s like what matters or affects you may evolve into some kind of dream or nightmare. You wake up feeling uneasy or blurred by the dream but I would brush it off or pray for it not to bother me as I face another day. When I do pray or meditate on God’s word before sleeping, I find that I have better sleep. So I believe it is good to quieten down and do some reflection before sleeping but please don’t go and worry about stuff as that would probably keep you awake.

Some people who lead a more disciplined, orderly life would have planned their schedule and day and this usually help in getting a good night’s rest as the stuff for the next day has been planned. However, those who are anxious or tend to worry might not get to sleep well whether they are organised or not. So it’s not just about getting enough sleep, but the quality of sleep is equally important.

Hear ye O Singaporeans! The lack of sleep is NOT a good thing as it will take it’s toll on your mind, body and soul. It’s not something you can get back in your later years or something you can pay back by `binge sleeping’ on your day off. The body is not engineered that way so don’t try to beat it. Count your blessings and costs, sleep enough and sleep well. Remove your digital devices from your room, including your TV or game remote. It’s really not worth it.

Hear ye! Hear ye! Hear ye!

[The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “To Sleep, Perchance to Dream.”]

BEWARE! We only have one set of TEETH!

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Of course you know this already. I am not trying to be sarcastic or insulting but merely making a proclamation of enamel enlightenment. Over the years, my visits to the dentist has turned into a steep-upward climb in costs and saving my teeth but I think saving Gaia (the earth) has a far better chance than my teeth.

Why did I choose to write about this? Well, I told the dentist at my last visit when I boldly propped myself up on the reclined chair, raised my hand, pointed upwards and said, “I must tell all parents and parents-to-be about how important it is to inculcate good dental hygiene in their children.” Actually, this also applies to everyone who have teeth (real ones).

I have bragged in several posts about my kampung (village) life but there was one area that I cannot and that was because adults then had little knowledge of dental care and it had caused many kids, including myself to suffer the consequences of this. I was called “Bo geh” (no teeth)

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when I was 4 or 5 years old and it was not uncommon for kids in the kampung to have rotting teeth and pulling them out with their fingers every now and then. Our second set of teeth had to come out prematurely and they looked over-sized on most of the kids. My mouth had no space for the permanent set, so the canines grew above the incisors and premolars (the photo below will help you visualise).

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Then I was given other nick names like “Dracula” or “Vampire”. Well, the growing up years will continue to fill other blog topics but for now, the main focus is on the recent dental saga.

It was the first time that I chose to visit another dentist to seek a second opinion. Over the past 6 years I have been visiting a particular dentist near my neighborhood and it belonged to a dental group (more established and has several clinics). After sometime like several root canals, crowning and a bridge later, I was taken aback when my concerns raised in a routine visit was brushed off. Somehow, I felt that there were cavities or problems that need to be looked into but the dentist only clean the teeth and asked me to come back in 6 months.

Obviously, I was back before the 6-month period as I was having pain. The dentist analysed and took an x-ray and then recommended another root canal and crowning job for the molar or a referral to the specialist as it was near the nerves. It took two dentists and two visits where they `knocked the rockers off’ my poor tooth to figure whether it was cracked or not. I felt that it may have cracked just by their knocking! In the end, the inlay on the tooth was taken out and a temporary filling was made and I was given 3 months to come back for another assessment. I left 250 bucks poorer and none the better :(.

“That was it!”, I said to myself and looked for another dentist’s opinion.

I visited another neighborhood dental clinic near my home which did not have the corporate stylish-look-and-feel of the previous one. It was homely and cosy inside and when I entered the dentist office, a young female dentist attended to me. I related my experience, she patiently listened and never once concurred with my critical slant on the other clinic (without revealing their identity). She started by checking every single tooth asking her assistant to record down what she said as she move from one tooth to another. My heart sank as I heard her uttering coded language for practically every tooth as the assistant frantically wrote down her rather long assessment. It sounded like I was a badly wounded soldier in an ER!

Of course she needed an x-ray to have a better assessment of the whole teeth so it was done with my agreement that it would be a large one rather than focus on the problem tooth only. Then she went through the `war zone’ with me. She stated about 4 more cavities that needed attention and gave me an idea of the urgency of each where the more important ones could be worked on first. This made me feel that the previous clinic was not interested in `small’ jobs and did not highlight any of these problems during the routine check. They wanted the more `lucrative’ ones and I am all the more angry about this but did not say it to this dentist.

The problem molar was the real intense discussion after the overview was done. I had 3 options; root canal with crown, extraction, or implant. Each had its pros and cons and they were not at all rosy. Hope by now you know why I am compelled to write about this as it is really not worth experiencing all these in your adulthood as it affects your general well being as well as burn a rather big hole not only in your teeth but also in your pockets!

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So take care everyone!

The Unseen and Unheard

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Fly on the Wall.”

There were many occasions where I read in the news about a member of the governing body whether opposition or ruling, professing to carry out a cause or trying to change something. Somehow, when it has to do with the opposing party issue, you get the feeling that they were only doing it to nit-pick or find something to cause the other to fall or fail.

It is the same for almost any other country’s news about their elections or issues that one side raise would somehow aim to go against or for another power. What has this got to do with being a fly on the wall anyway?

Yes, specifically, I would like to be a “fly on the wall” at a closed meeting of both sides of the camp to hear and see what actually transpired. This is in the hope of finding out what this all really mean for the general public and how it would impact us in the long run. If both camps were to display only self-serving intentions of gaining power and control over the country without true considerations for the masses, I will come down from the wall and show the people who they really are relying on.

Well, knowing how the world is and how connected the forces of these powers are, I think the fly will face a giant electrically-charged swatter before it could even leave the wall.

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Take care everyone 🙂

Boo you to Sleep!

One distinct difference of my childhood from current times were the absence of mobile devices and cable TV to distract us in our homes. We, the kampung (village) children, after dinner would be found sitting on the patio amongst the older folks who would chat about their day’s experience or happenings. These folks had a captive audience in us and when we seemed restless, they would begin to rattle us with their tales. I would not say they were our favourite storytellers but they did send shivers down our spines.

One of the tale was “Orang Minyak” (means oily man in Malay). This slippery man would prowl in the middle of the night peeping through the open windows of houses to find any women asleep in the room so he can molest her. He was supposedly naked but during that era, having only a pair of shorts on would have the same impact. This Orang Minyak (OM) would be covered with black oil from head to toe so he could not be easily spotted at night.

There were no tall buildings in the kampung and houses were made of wood with zinc roof. Kerosene lamps were used as electricity supply was still progressing and we had a single light bulb for each room in the house. Windows were usually left open as electric fan or air-conditioning was uncommon. So when a woman’s scream was heard in the middle of the night, they would say the OM had struck again. The woman who screamed would recount that someone had touched her while she was asleep and when asked to describe the perpetrator, she would say, “It was a dark shadow that jumped out of the window” or “I could only see his teeth” or “… the white of his eyes”. The next day, the victims would find their clothing, bed sheets and curtains stained with black oil. This tale made many female folks afraid to sleep near the window or to walk alone at night for fear of being pounced upon by the elusive and slippery OM. Ironically, this tale made it to movies and TV series and was popular. I would like to add a photo of the OM but it was too dark to spot him 🙂

Another tale that was scarier was the kampung version of a vampire. She or it or whatever, was known as “Pontianak”. This character or thing is complicated as there were several versions from different countries. However, I will share the kampung storytellers’ version. Pontianak can be described as a female ghost wearing a long, white, flowing gown and has long, unkempt hair that covers most of her face. She also had long fingernails and ugly teeth with fangs. Well, there were plenty of examples on google images so here’s one that fits closely to what was described to us and yes, it made it to the movies and TV too:

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We were told that the Pontianak resides in banana trees which caused us children to steer clear away from any banana trees at night. The way she would appear to humans would be as a very beautiful woman but that would be when she had a nail embedded in her head. This nail is those metal ones you used to hammer pieces of wood together. When that nail is pulled out from her head, she would transform into Pontianak and need to feed on human blood. How would she do that? Same as vampires!

There are stories you cherish in your childhood but these were not the ones. They left an indelible memory of cringe worthy tales that adults `lavished’ on us when they think the children were bored. The adults were good storytellers or tale spinners of the kampung and they enjoyed spooking the life out of women and children. However, my favourite storytellers are Charles Dickens, Roald Dahl, Jeffrey Archer and John Irving to name a few but they were not as spooky as Snoopy.

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When I reflect on the sinister side of those tales, I could come up with a few explanation. For example, the nights can get pretty warm so sleeping near the windows were best. The OM tale was one way of getting the women away from the choice spot. Fruit trees were often pilfered and banana trees were important food source in the kampung. Keeping children away from it by saying it was the residence of Pontianak would go a long way for the owners.  What do you think?

Daily Prompt: Fight or Flight

Singapore’s Singlish and Acronyms

In Singapore, we have a different brand of conversational English referred to as “Singlish”. Generally, it is English mashed with colloquial, dialects and/or Malay words commonly used by the population. It is not exactly a slang but actual words and lots of exclamations imported from its multi-racial society (Check out a short post on this here).

In the late 1960s, the Singapore government built public housing to resettle the population as part of their urbanisation plan to maximise the land use for population and economic growth. My family had to relocate to public housing estates built by the Housing Development Board (HDB – infamous for their legendary stories) or Housing and Urban Development Company (HUDC, now a legend). My kampung (village) was eventually demolished to make way for more housing and the tracks of our inexhaustible train system called the Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (SMRT). Politically, we were exposed to PAP, WP, SDP and some others I cannot recall. We had our utilities looked after by PWD and PUB and public buses by SBS. You would be able to sense by now how our country would become `notorious’ for its acronyms (abbreviations or short forms).

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We used to have fanciful names for our roads and our first highway was named Nichol but it was too short to be regarded a highway in today’s standards. Thence began the onslaught of expressways slashing across the whole country like a game of `Snakes and Ladders’. The genius behind the naming of these highways somehow made it a 3-letter word series that resulted in the following inexhaustible list :

  • PIE – Pan Island Expressway runs from East to West
  • ECP – East Coast Parkway runs along the east coast
  • AYE – Ayer Rajah Expressway runs mostly along the west coast
  • MCE – Marina Coastal Expressway runs undersea, underground and along the marina bay area
  • KPE – Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway runs under and above ground in central to north eastern area
  • KJE – Kranji Expressway cuts away from PIE to across Choa Chu Kang and Kranji area
  • BKE – Bukit Timah Expressway cuts away from PIE to the north
  • TPE – Tampines Expressway will come from PIE and join the SLE
  • SLE – Seletar Expressway continues where TPE ends
  • CTE – Central Expressway cuts in the middle from AYE to PIE and TPE
  • ERP – Electronic Road Pricing – this is not an expressway but the snake that coils around motorists using all the expressways.

Perhaps to outclass the 3-letter acronyms for the roads, the train lines used 2-letter acronyms as shown below:

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Why are we so hung up with acronyms? Is it because we are progressing so rapidly we need to create an index or code? Perhaps it was more efficient or less boring than using number or alphabet sequence such as Highway 1 to 100 or A to Z.

However, with the internet and smartphone  generation joining the fray, the written form has also been pulverised with short forms found in writings of both students and working adults and the way Singapore has progressed in the last 50 years or so as shown earlier, only added coal to the fire.

So we should not be too concerned with:

  • OMG, LOL, LMAO, OTOT, OOTD, BYOD, B2B, F2F, FTW, FMAO and FCOL
  • xoxo, :P, =), (:, (.<_ _>.)
  • and the numerous emoticons

Should we be concerned now that Singapore is number one in Smartphone use? No kidding, check out the report  here.