Tuesday, January 23, 2007


I spend my recent New Year holidays in a vacation trip to Singapore (December 30 - January 2). It was really an unplanned trip for I wasn’t really bent on going for another foreign trip late last year (my third time in a year) but I had no choice on the matter. It’s either Singapore or I’d be staying home alone for the New Year as my family was bent on spending their vacation there. I was glad that I did made the trip for it was quite a pleasant one. Furthermore, this is one trip where we did a free tour without any tourist guide. My sister and I were on our own most of the time (my mom and my brother joined us after the New Year). Singapore is a really small place and a friendly one too that it would be such a waste of money if one were to hire the service of a tour guide just to show you around. The “self made” tour actually gave me a lot of time to spend without always being in a hurry. One could leisurely travel without being hassled by the tight regimented schedules. Furthermore, “free traveling” has an added dimension of adventure involve. At any rate, wikitravel, a sub – section of the popular wikipedia online community encyclopedia was of great help and value for “free” traveling tourists like me.
Before the trip, I did researched on a few places to visit in Singapore through wikitravel. And boy! The information are quite useful and the insights and advice very helpful indeed! The site provides interesting facts from where to visit, what to see to the exchange rate to the taxi fare, the bus to take, and most importantly, where to eat, what to eat, and how much would it cost on the average (it helps you plan your budget). At any rate, I followed 80% of wikitravel’s advice on how to go about Singapore. I spend my first day visiting the Jurong Bird Park and The Night Safari. Spend the second day visiting museums and “tried” to join the fireworks display at the Esplanade Marina Bay. Spend the third day visiting the Botanical Garden and the Science Centre and then off to Sentosa Island and on the way home, went up Mount Faber and finally on my last day, accompany my sister to shop at Chinatown (mainly at Pagoda street). After my trip, I still have a few places that I haven’t visit notably Bugis – Little India, the rest of Chinatown (which was supposed to be on the second day but the museum tour took longer than expected), Singapore Zoo (we’re late on the first day), the Dolfin Lagoon at Sentosa (again we’re late), the shopping malls at Orchard (which is really near our place of stay but due to time constraint…), and the Singapore National Library (again, time constraint). Also, I wasn’t able to try the GMAX reverse bungee jumping ride (too bad!!!).
FIRST DAY (December 29)
We arrived at Singapore on board Sing Air at around 1100 and took the “free” airport bus service to our hotel, The City Bay view at Bencoolen. On my way to the hotel, we were shown a “glimpse” of Singapore. I was immediately taken aback by the sight of abundant trees and palms that “littered” the place and not just simply lining up in the street, which transform Singapore into one giant “suburbia” instead of a city. The luscious green landscape was pleasing to the eye and I would readily admit to being impressed by what I saw. The hotel we stayed was quite sloppy and the food taste bad by my standard (had no choice, all hotels are fully booked at that time, my brother on the other hand had a better accommodation at the Peninsula/Excelsior for an extra $20 on his New Year trip). Actually, the service wasn’t bad and the place is clean but it wasn’t exactly what I wished for. Anyway, the only consolation I got from my accommodation is that it is located in the city center and is quite accessible to the various destinations. After checking in, my sister and I first looked for a place to eat and we took a cab, paid S$4 (Php120; S$1 = Php32; $1 = S$1.5) just to get to The Paragon at Orchard, which is about 10 – 15 minutes walk from our place of stay (hey, we’re tourist who had just landed, we still don’t know how to get around yet). We ate at Din Tai Fong, a Taiwanese restaurant serving mostly noodles and dim sums. Incidentally, Din Tai Fong was voted by The New York Times as one of the top ten restaurant in the world. Indeed! It does live up to its reputation because the food was great but I’m more impressed with their service than their food. After that quick lunch, we again took a cab to the Jurong Bird Park. Admission cost like S$20 per person plus another S$4 for the panorail ride, which is an air-conditioned tram that circles around the park for a great view of the birds but one couldn’t stop over at any point of the ride. Furthermore, it is rather difficult if not impossible to take a picture inside the tram because of the speed it was going albeit it was “slow”. Luckily for me, the panorail was jam-packed that day and so my sister and I went for a “walk” around the park. In my view, the best way to really appreciate the park was to tour around it by “foot”. One could see more that way. Though at late in the afternoon, most of the bird shows are over (most of them are scheduled in the morning), but still, it was still a pretty nice tour and an informative one at that. One doesn’t have to be an orthnitologist to appreciate the birds. There are Storks, Chirping Birds, Parrots, Owls, Cranes, Eagles, Penguins, Ostrich, Swans, and especially Pink Flamingoes inside the Jurong Park. I even end up inside a giant birdcage and “feed” the chirping birds with a cup of “spiced” water (water + glucose). Incidentally, tourist actually paid S$2 just to buy the spiced drink and cup for that perfect picture moment but I was wise enough to just “borrowed” from somebody else wanting to get rid of it. Anyway, it took me and sister 3 hours to complete the tour and by that time, I was drenched in my own sweat no thanks to the afternoon sun and my feet are killing me! It is around that moment that my sister lectured me on the virtues of shopping. According to her, one of the virtues of shopping was that a shopper would have developed a set of strong calves that could endure the “long” walk. Damn, I so hate shopping!!! After a few minutes of rest, we ventured next to The Night Safari, which is beside the Singapore Zoo arriving there at around 6pm, just in time for the closing of the Zoo. Upon arriving to the Night Safari, we were immediately greeted by a long queue that stretches out for like a kilometer. After an hour of waiting, we were finally able to get into the tram and tour the Night Safari (ticket cost like S$28 per head). The Night Safari was really quite interesting in the fact that it feels like you’re in the wild as the zoo has no cage whatsoever. Most of the animals are separated from the onlookers by an earth mound or by a deep trench. And a few of those animals especially the harmless deer roams the place freely, some even blocked our tram path during our tour. The place is quick dark with minimal artificial lighting that simulates the bluish moonlight so as not to disturb the nocturnal habits of the animals (flash photography is strictly prohibited). The Night Safari kept animals like deer, water buffalos, tiger, leopards, elephants, antelopes, deer, giraffes, and a host of other mammals. Pretty interesting sight, indeed. All of this tends to give visitors a “natural” feel of the place. In the middle of the tour, we were let off at a junction for a walking tour of the snow leopard trail, which takes us to see leopards, civet cats, the “flying” monkey, the smallest monkey, and fruit bats! In my opinion, a walking tour of the Night Safari would be desirable as the limited light environment coupled with the seeming ferociousness of some of the animals would definitely add to the thrill of the adventure (the Night Safari allows such “walking tour”) but one cannot see all the places in the Night Safari as in the tram guided tour since some of the places are off limits to “pedestrian” tourists. Furthermore, there is also a problem of “cover” when it rains and it did rain a little that evening (Note: bring an umbrella for the walking tour). There is simply no place to hide because the Zoo wanted to make the place to look “natural” and indeed, it would look awkward to see a metallic waiting shed in the midst of the “jungle”. Lastly, another more compelling reason to take the tram guided tour at least for me is because of my sore foot. My foot was simply killing me after that 3 hour walk at the Bird Park and I don’t want it to be punished further by walking again for another 3 hours! At any rate, at the conclusion of the tour, we were led to see the “Creature of the Night” show featuring some of the nocturnal furry creatures performing “stunts”. This is really a show for kids and frankly, it is quite boring for “grown ups” like me. By the time the show ended, it was 10pm, we ate our dinner at the park, which is really expensive and then headed back to the hotel for a good night sleep.
SECOND DAY (December 31)
We woke pretty late that day, somewhere around 9am (one of the virtues of “free tours”, more sleeping time!) and had our breakfast at the hotel. The Breakfast was quite “ordinary” featuring dishes that are palatable to Chinese, Muslims, and Indians (as in no pork and no beef, all meats are chicken, as if you didn’t get enough of those back home at Jollibee’s). At any rate, after that lackluster breakfast, we turned a corner down the street and visited the Singapore Arts Museum. Most of the arts on display are paintings made by prominent 20th century contemporary Singaporean artist with a few artists from ASEAN countries particularly Indonesia and the Philippines. A significant collection of the paintings done by Singaporean artists are the traditional Chinese paintings using Chinese brushes and in varying shades of gray. One such collections and one that is prominently on display that day was the work of Chen Wen Ting, an immigrant from Mainland China. One of his great paintings are about monkeys, tens of them perching on the branches of a pine tree. If I’m not mistaken, the author must have been to Sze Chuan province in China where such monkey scenes are commonplace. The “monkey” paintings in my view seemed to enliven the surroundings by projecting a “playful” atmosphere. However, the majority of the paintings on display made by Singaporean artists are of the abstract nature, specifically, the impressionists style ala Van Gogh. It is a logical progression. I mean, Traditional Chinese paintings are abstract by temperament and the progression towards impressionism is just a matter of time. There was this story about a Jesuit missionary during the Ching dynasty. He was commissioned to paint an apple and painted so realistically in full color that the apple was deliciously inviting. The Mandarin Scholar – Officials on the other hand cried that he “lost” the essence of the painting. I however find difficulty in appreciating impressionist art. You see I found out that the best way to appreciate an art was to see the painting not as a simple drawing but to see it from my perspective and interpret it as such. Then, I would try to understand the painting from the perspective of the creator and reconciliate my view with that of the creator’s perspective. A truly good painting from my point of view is the one that projects the creator’s mental “vision” to the one appreciating it. In this sense, it is easy to appreciate a realist painting (and the museum has actually an exhibit of one such Singaporean painter) than impressionist paintings because one has to delve into the “troubled” mind of an impressionist painter just understand his work. However, it is not that I didn’t appreciate all impressionist paintings. I actually liked one particular Indonesian painter. One of his paintings is about traditional Indonesian dancers in ultra bright outfit. Coupled with a pretty face, I thought she looked liked an ancient goddess. His other work and definitely my favorite is that of the night scene of Mt Meraph in Indonesia. The moonless evening, the dark surrounding and the monolith Meraph, it projects calm and serenity but this betrays what is really going on. For beneath the calm exterior and beyond the naked eye to see (it wasn’t shown in the painting) was the boiling tension that is ready to burst out in the open (Mt Meraph exploded recently). What the author was in fact conveying was that the eyes could be deceiving and that a “cold” person was in fact really all passion. Another Indonesian painter and this time a Chinese – Indonesian, painted endless about roof tops, at least the silhouettes. He is particularly fond of Chinese style roof tops and that of Borobodur in Indonesia. At one look, you would think that this is how it looks like at sunset or after a rain show of sort. Beautiful. By the time we are through with the Arts museum, it is almost noon but then my sister and I decided to continue our museum tour and have lunch later (a serious mistake actually). So with that, we crossed the street and came about the Singapore National Museum. The Singapore National Museum showcases Singapore’s past life, it’s history, a snapshot of Singapore’s society in the past. However, on that day also, it happened that the museum is showcasing an exhibit on Maria Theresa, the Hapsburg Archduchess of Austria, one of the few famous women in European history and the mother of the infamous Marie Antionette. The portrait of her from her early childhood till her adolescents, and till her later adult life showed her that she is a very, very pretty woman. Blonde hair, white skin, beautiful well – proportioned face, nice cheeks. Very beautiful indeed. Even in her late adult life, one could still see her beauty.No wonder Marie Antionette was pretty, she got it from her mother! Aside from the various portraits of Maria Theresa, one could also see a landscape drawing of Venice at around that time, the mid - 18th century. Also, the crown jewels of the Holy Roman Emperor are also at display (the Hapsburgs has been wearing the crown of the Empire since the 1400s except for Maria Theresa, the last of the Hapsburg because she is a woman; Her husband instead gained the crown to continue the line as Hapsburg – Lorraine dynasty; incidentally, Philip II of Spain from which the Philippines was named after is also a Hapsburg). Other objects on display include the dining utensils of the royal family, which are made of gold, the engraved family tree plaque made of gold, the “ancient” piano, and the dresses prevailing at that time. After the Maria Theresa exhibit, we next went to see the Singapore History exhibit also inside the National Museum. At that time, it was already 1pm and since we wanted to finish the museum tour before having our lunch we proceeded to the History exhibit. And boy was that a wrong decision, for the exhibit tour (an audio tour) took us 3 hours to complete! By the time we finished the exhibit tour, it was already 4pm and my knees are wobbly, my stomach was growling in protest and most importantly, my feet is killing me! The history exhibit tour is not actually bad. It is actually informative. However, it is unashamedly and unabashedly biased! The whole thing is pure propaganda! One thing I hate about government is their penchant in “reinterpreting” history for mind control purposes. They have no qualms in twisting and manipulating the truth for propaganda purpose. Why can’t they just simply tell the truth instead of manipulating it? Was the truth so unflattering and “discouraging”? At any rate, tired and hungry, my sister and I walked back to the hotel to cool our heels (actually mine mostly) and on our way back took our lunch at Kopitiam, which is besides our hotel. The food there is cheap (by Singaporean standard) and delicious though not spectacularly delicious. In the late afternoon on the run up to the Explanade New Year countdown, my sister and I visited the Asian Civilization Museum near the Government Buildings. The Museum showcases artifacts belonging to various Asian civilizations like China, Southeast Asia before the advent of Islam, Indo China, India, Persia and Arabia (mainly Islamic culture). Pretty interesting except that the theme is heavily tinted with religion (though nothing wrong with it since religion is a big part of culture in ancient times). The artifacts are mostly religious items like sculpture or works of arts like Buddhas with clear “Indian faces” excavated in Southeast Asia and Buddhas with Chinese features excavated in China and in Indo-China. After that, we concluded our museum tour and proceeded to the Explanade Theater, the new performing arts theater at the Marina Bay to see first hand the New Year fireworks. Boy! The place was already jam packed as early as 5pm. We toured the place a little and then decided to have our dinner there at the Explanade however expensive it maybe but was miffed that most of establishments turned us away because it was full and we don’t have reservations. So without a choice, we walk out of the Explanade and up to Boat Quay, a street famous for it’s restaurants by the river and there we have our “riverside” dinner. The food there was great but the price wasn’t. It was pretty expensive though not as expensive as their American counterpart in the US and the food in Boat Quay Singapore certainly taste so, so much better than in America. After dinner, we leisurely walked back to the Explanade only to discover that we were locked out. The open area was already and we weren’t allowed inside. Having no choice, we just stand in the sidelines on the bridge trying to get a glimpse of the fireworks. Mind you, it wasn’t really a nice place to be in. There was no seat, no entertainment, and best of all, it was packed. We had to stand there for hours like 5 hours. Then by 1030pm, a “short” firework lasting for like a minute went into works on top of one of the corporate buildings facing the bay (quite a disappointing display, my neighborhood fireworks looked better). And then, the rain poured! Everybody including me and my sister scampered for cover but there was none. Actually, it wasn’t really a downpour but it was no drizzle either and I was drenched wet. We scampered home walking from the Bay to our hotel (a good 15 – 20 minutes walk) as the rain kept on falling (there was no taxi in sight since the Bay area was closed to traffic and also most of the cabs are taken by soured holiday watchers). As we got to our room, we tried to witness the New Year Spectacle on TV but to our dismay, there wasn’t any firework displays shown in TV. The only way we came to know that it was the New Year was when the churches began ringing their bells. Definitely not like the Philippines and I do miss the Philippines that New Year’s eve. What a way to spend the New Year, inside a hotel in a foreign land on a vacation and without fireworks to see, I don’t know if I should be happy or not.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Last Friday, January 12 was my first day of work on my first job outside the family business. It was sort of a “teaching” job at my graduate school alma mater, De La Salle Graduate School of Business. It is not really a teaching job even though I am designated as the lead “professor”. My mentor, Professor Elfren Cruz handles the lecture part of the class, which focuses more on Strategic Management and it is under his auspices that I’m working for right now. My part along with that of my two other co – professors on the other hand focuses more on the “motivational” aspect of the subject for this class is no ordinary class to start with. This class is called Special Topics in Business Management and the enrollees are mostly candidates who finished all of their academic subject save for one final test, the Oral Comprehensive Examinations (OCE) where candidates defended their STRAMA (Strategic Management) papers against a panel of 3 distinguished members of the academe. OCE is the final requirement that all MBA students had to go through in order to become a bonafide Master and it is by far the toughest and most nerve-wracking test in GSB. So much so that most students “avoided” OCE like a plague even if they have gone through all the torture of the academic subjects. Hence, the school is saddled with a situation wherein they have a huge backlog of candidates but very handful of graduates. My mentor seeing this decided to offer this so – called “special classes” and I was one of it’s early beneficiaries when it first started in 2004. Now, the special class was in it’s 3rd edition and I’m in charge of it (every edition has a new set of “professors”). The class size last Monday was about 30 people and I was told that there are a few more would be coming in the next week. Most of the enrollees had finished their STRAMA sometime 4 – 6 years ago but I do have 2 – 3 of them who finished their academics way, way back in the 1980s. The challenge here was to get the enrollees to completely update and revise their STRAMA paper and to prep them for OCE but that is easier said than done. One of the lessons learned in the previous editions of the special class was that the academics (the STRAMA review) are only a part of the enrollees’ problems. The other part of the problem was psychological (in my mentor’s term) or motivational. Most of the enrollees possessed the desire to finish their OCE but they somehow never manage to in spite of their desire. Something most be holding them back either it is the lack of confidence, fear resulting into paralysis, or simply work – life balance (in fact, 1/3 of the present enrollees are my classmates in the previous “special class”). At any rate, it is my job and that of my two other colleagues, Carol and Judhes to find out and help the enrollees overcome them. As for me, this job was my first job outside the family business. Until last Friday, I’d never worked outside before not even in OJT during college (I started working for the family business since when I was 10 years old, FYI). It is not due to the lack of job offers. As a matter of fact, I had quite a few of them and a few of those offers are pretty nice and best of all, I didn’t apply for any of them! They are just offered to me and I turned them down (including the one from my mentor) except for 2 and this job is one of the two jobs that I didn’t turn down (the other job that I didn’t turn down was shelve after a reorganization). My motivation in taking this job was simple. I want to repay my mentor for giving me a chance to finish my MBA and this is my way of “paying it forward” i.e., to help others finish theirs. Actually, my mentor has cast his eyes on me for a long time now. Ever since I took up the first “special class”, he was often telling me that I should handle the second one or the later editions. He repeated that offer sometime in 2005 when I was helping him organize the Alumni Association and I said yes. This in spite of the fact that there are according to him many of his former students who wished to volunteer for the job. Well, I was his logical choice not because I’m his favorite but because I possessed a double advantage. First, I got excellent academic qualification (I aced in his STRAMA class) and second, I was a product of the said program (the special class) and therefore understood what the enrollees are going through. And these are the very two things that are needed in handling this special class. The pay for the job was ok actually. I learned from a friend of mine who works in the school administration. According to her, a full time professor possessing excellent academic qualification (a master’s degree or better) stands to earn Php500 per unit per session or in my case, Php1500 per session in a three-hour class (that’s if I am considered “fit” to their standard) or Php21000 in a 14-week term. However, since there are 3 of us handling the class, we will be splitting the pay three ways and thus leaving me with Php500 pay per “appearance”. Not bad but considering the gas and food that I’ll be shelling out for just getting there and the effort that I’ll be expending, my work will be pretty much a pro – bono affair (my mentor on the other hand is doing this absolutely free without charge). Anyway, I’m not here for the money or for the glamour of it (if there is such a thing called glamour in this job) but simply for paying my debt of gratitude to my mentor. And so with this in mind, I started my job last Friday, which turns out to be quite “forgettable” performance for me. My mentor was already there before 6pm at RCBC when I came into the room near 6pm, not exactly a nice way to start with your boss coming in before you. Furthermore, after my mentor’s introduction followed by his Strategic Management lecture, it was my turn to speak and introduce some of the “house” rules (which occurs sometime near the end of the class like 9pm). But as I was doing that, I totally forgot what I’m going to say. Funny but I was rehearsing in my head all day since that morning what I’m going to say and then, I totally forgot. Stage fright perhaps. It’s been a long time since I stand in front and talked to a large group perhaps 5 – 6 years ago (I didn’t get some “speaking” time during my return as I don’t do much reporting in 2004). In addition to that, I was never a good impromptu speaker. Though I managed in the end to communicate what I planned to say that evening, I still left many things out and aside from that, I send my message across like a telegram or a text message without any coherent grammatical structure. Plus, I kept repeating myself and had lots of “um” and “ahs” in between sentences. I sounded more like a goof than an MBA. Pretty forgettable. Moreover, I also found out that my mentor has updated his frameworks 2 terms ago and since my colleagues and I will be checking their papers based on my mentor’s recommended frameworks, I had to “go back to school” and learn those frameworks again because what I knew is now considered obsolete (geez). One other thing about my newfound job was the status accorded to me by my peers. I know a number of the enrollees and frankly, some of them are my classmates, my group mates, my friends, and my buddies. To actually hear them call me Sir sent shivers up to my spine. The appellation of “professor” seemed to be permanently attached to my surname, which I abhor. I always find the title professor attached to “oldies” with white hair and bent back carrying tons of books and wore a thick spectacle. I may look old but I’m not THAT old! Besides, I consider myself more of an intellectual rather than an academician. However, with the choppy communication I made that evening, it seemed that my appeal to simply call me by my first name instead of the “formal” title falls on deaf ear.