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.

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.

What about Singapore these days ?

A website called `Where on Earth’ that focussed on travel, natural wonders, culture, arts etc worldwide had posted an article about Singapore so as to prepare first time travellers about some `shocking’ habits, traits or culture that they may encounter. You can check out the article claiming “10 things you should know about Singapore”.

I have also discovered that Singapore has increased in size (literally) from 581 to 761 square km, this was due to reclamation efforts that started way, way back in the 70s. To help visualise the land space we have per person currently, it is 1/50 of a football field per person. So anyone can understand why our infrastructure is so vertically inclined upwards and downwards.

Our population has risen steadily to 5.47m in mid 2014 and a local news article stated it was the slowest population growth in a decade.. but in 2004 the population was 4.17m which means a rise of 1.3m in 10 years (article link here).

So when people share stuff about traits or culture of another country, it is good to know a little deeper about the situation, history and stuff that shaped the nation or people and perhaps, it would not be as `shocking’ as it seems.

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What a way to end the year!

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Before I begin, I would like to send my greetings to all… here’s wishing everyone a blessed Christmas and a marvellous 2015 ahead! After being cut off from social media for about a week for being at the other side of the great `fire’ wall, I am finally able to get down to catching up here. It was great to be able to read the many posts; interesting stories and photos you all have been posting during this lovely season.

On this trip, I have been enthralled by the many rich experiences and it was overwhelming and humbling. It would not be possible to share in one post so I will take time to share different facets of it in the days to come. There is so much reflection to do and hopefully, it would be on time to start the new year with refreshed vision and vigour.

Here’s one of my favourite pics of the trip, enjoy!

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Gut Feeling – Fishing

When’s the last time you followed your instinct despite not being sure it was the right thing to do? Did it end up being the right call?

“It’s time to try another spot. We have waited long enough here but no bite.” my god-brother Andy said to me when we have been at a spot for over an hour. I agreed and we packed our rod and baits and moved to another spot to try again. This could go on till the tide went out and we knew there was no point in staying on so we packed up and left without any fish for that day. These were some of our experiences when fishing near our shores in Singapore.

There were times when we went to nearby islans off Malaysia to fish on what we called “Kelong” (a malay word for houses on stilts in the open sea). These kelongs were commercially operated and anglers like Andy and I with a few other like-minded friends would pay a small fee of about a USD100 to stay 3 days and 2 nights. All meals, basic baits, bunk beds, toilet and washroom facilities were provided. The boat would pick us from the jetty to bring us to this kelong out at sea where we can fish day and night to our hearts content. We looked forward to such short and quick getaways to spend time together out at sea doing our favourite hobby without worrying about getting sea sick or need to stay on a boat.

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One time at the kelong, late into the night, the winds were blowing and the waves were quite strong. Many have retired to their bunk beds but Andy was keenly fishing at one end of the kelong. I decided to join him and when I stood beside him and asked how was the catch, he said nothing much so far. So I asked him why not rest and wake up early to try again. He said the waters seemed to be right for some types of fishes so he wanted to try a bit longer. He seemed to have a gut feel about it so I asked what type of fish was he expecting. He replied, “Big eye.” Then I thought to myself that this would also mean there may be wolf herrings around. So my gut feel was to change my bait to metal jigs that will attract such fishes and cast as far as possible against the current and start reeling in using a quick tug and pull method.

After a few casts with my shiny metal jig out in the dark and reeling in, suddenly there was a sharp pull. The jig was taken and my reel began to screech as the line was taken out. My rod bent hard downwards at an angle and the fish was running fast outwards to the right. I held up my rod firmly and when the fish stopped, I reeled in and pumped the rod to take in more line. It was a tug of war for a few minutes before the fish finally gave in.True enough it was a wolf herring, a 3.5kg prize catch for me on that trip. Andy also got a couple of the Big Eye he wanted although they were smaller species, less than 500gm each but he preferred them for their feisty fights when using a light rod.

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Wolf Herring or Sai Toh

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Big Eye or Tua Bak

We both had a great time catching our favourite kind of fishes and reitred later than the others but definitely happier for sticking to our gut feel that night for we had a good tale to share with our comrades the next morning.

Gut Feeling – DP

An Extreme Tale – GT gang

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” — Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.

When was the last time that sentence accurately described your life?

It was over 2 decades ago when a group of 12 of us ventured to climb the highest peak in peninsular Malaysia. It was known as Gunung Tahan (Mount Tahan in english), at 2187m. It is located within the Taman Negara national forest, in the state of Pahang. The mountain is part of the Tahan Range and is popular with climbers around the region. At that time, there was not much development and the terrain was referred to as off the beaten track which would require between 5 and 7 days to reach the summit and back.

Since the group was large and we were assigned only one young guide to lead us, we had to form two groups with the 1st leading ahead with the guide and the 2nd was with me leading the slower paced members. I have shared the ordeal we faced near the summit in an earlier post so bear with me for those who found this rather familiar.

When we neared the summit camp, somehow the 1st group went too far ahead for the 2nd group to be able to visibly follow them. Soon, it was getting darker and one of the chaps, lets call him Ben, was more adventurous than he should be and said he wanted to check out a track that may be shorter. Before I or anyone else who heard him could say anything, he was gone!

Our torchlights were becoming dim as our batteries were worn out and no more spares left. The rest of us stuck together trying to search for Ben and it was perhaps another hour or longer when he suddenly popped up out of nowhere. We all stared at him and he said, “What are your all doing here?” looking puzzled. We were all exhausted and too angry to respond and all walked together in a route where we were not sure where we were heading. Hungry and tired with one kerosene lamp left to show us the path ahead which was not much, we were quietly worried about making it through the night. The terrain was uneven with rocks and roots as it was near the summit so not much growth on rocky grounds. There were lots of bushes and short trees scattered around us and it was cold. I think we, the 2nd group members were at the lowest point of our lives then and it could be considered the worst times as we felt that our friends (1st group) and guide had deserted us and there were no sign of help in sight.

As the night wore on and our kerosene lamp went off, we were almost groping in the dark and wondering how to move on from where we were. Somehow, we looked up and saw the moon and then saw the light shone on one path not far from where we were. It was a very strange feeling I felt inside and I wondered whether the rest felt the same way. As I looked at the moonlit path and the way ahead, I could see some kind of lights at a far distance which looked like those you would see on a boat passing some island village in the night. We all knew it was the summit base camp and felt God had helped us and answered our silent prayers and cries. Even though we were extremely exhausted, our spirits were lifted to quicken our pace to go on that moonlit path that led us finally to the camp to join the 1st group.

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Summit of Gunung Tahan – the 12 of us

Why would this be the best of times? The experiences we shared for that trip which involved 12 novices who were clueless about such treks and with an inexperienced guide to boot, made us realise God’s hand over each one of us and how we were guided and protected through the 8 whole days we took to complete the impossible journey. We learned not to take things for granted and to do more homework before going for such adventures, such as the fitness level required and learning from other experienced climbers. Of course in today’s digital world, the access to such information is no longer an issue.

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On the train journey to Taman Negara

Both these best and worst of times have made a permanent mark in our lives that the members till today still refer to the group as GT (Gunung Tahan) gang when talking about each other whenever we get to meet up.

An Extreme Tale – DP

Second-Hand Stories

I was told a story about 5 blind men in a room with an elephant. It was the first time they were introduced to the majestic creature. Each of them began to touch and feel it and was asked to describe what the elephant was to them.

The first chap said, “Ah, the elephant is like a wall.”

The second said, “It can’t be, it is like the trunk of a small tree.”

The third retorted, “It is but a large leaf, round and soft.”

The fourth proclaimed, “You are all wrong. The elephant is a flexible pipe.”

Finally, the fifth remarked, “No. The elephant is a rope. When you pull it, the heavens open up with rain!”

I wonder how our imagination went about with each of the blind men, in particular which part of the elephant they were touching. Here’s a sample of the majestic creature:

Elephant Park in Chiangmai

     Elephant Sanctuary in Chiangmai

It may help us understand better how the five perspectives were derived such as a wall, the small trunk of a tree, a large round leaf, a flexible pipe and a rope. We can see that the elephant was not just either of their specific description but each gave a close description of a part of an elephant. It also depends on where each of them was standing or rather touching, to come to that perspective. This story helped me to reflect more on how people have varying views on a particular issue or concern. There will be times when there are no perfect answers but somehow, if we pool the answers or perspectives from different people, we get a collective view that may give the `big’ picture of what an elephant really look like. We can learn a lot from each other.

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Elephant ride in Chiangmai

In parting, I can share that the rope does not necessarily result in rain. More often, it would be a thunder storm 🙂

Second-Hand Stories –  DP – What’s the best story someone else has recently told you (in person, preferably)? Share it with us, and feel free to embellish — that’s how good stories become great, after all.

NB: I was told that the 5 blind men story had a source – Bertrand & Hughes, 2005.