Thursday, February 15, 2007


You know that it’s election season when….
Your local councilor
Hung up a large banner
Greeting everybody,
“Happy Valentines Day”
As early as the first week of January!
If that is the case, why should they stop there?
Why not greet everybody, Happy Easter, or Happy Independence day
Perhaps they should also greet everybody
Merry Christmas 2007 and Happy New Year 2008
And why should they stop at 2008, why not greet everybody
In advance for the next three years!

You know it’s time to elect your officials when ……
Your local congressman sends you
A Christmas card, A post card, and A calendar card
With his face on it along with his son and his wife
Out of the blue in January!
Strange but I never got any card from him the last 2 years
That he is in office!
Maybe I should I ask for one every year
That’s if he still remembers me after
He got elected.

You know election is in the air when……….
Roads are being repaired
Drainages are being cleaned
Potholes are being covered
And street lightings are being installed
All at the same time and
In a hurry
During peak traffic season!
And we all have to suffer
The inconvenience of
The ongoing frenzied repairs
And all those times that they don’t do their job at
Street lightings!
What the heck they’re doing the last two years!

You know it’s election time when …………
Mayors dole out
Relief goods
To the poor
Even if
There is no calamity
But on occasions like
Their birthdays!
And on Valentine’s Day!
And during times of calamities in the last two years of their tenure
Relief goods are hard to come by!

Election is definitely in the air and you could smell it when …….
Politicians started talking like showbiz personality and
Showbiz people began talking like politicians!
They say art imitates life
Was it the other way around?

The foul smell that is politics and election is noticeable when ………
The corrupt politicians speaks out against corruption
And the incorruptible remained mum
On their corrupt party mates!
Or when sleaze balls talks about principles
That they don’t understand
And principled men
Lay aside their principles
In favor of

It is time to vote when
Would be politicians
Started courting your votes
By being charitable
Giving away
500 pesos
And at the same time
Ask you a favor,
Vote for me.

Politics stinks during elections especially when
Best friends became
Bitter foes and
Mortal enemies became
Friends dearer than brothers!
I remembered Disraeli once said,
“Nations have no eternal enemies nor
Permanent friends but
Only interest.”
I guess that also applies to
Politicians as well.
And banks?

It is during elections when you hear
Politicians rarely speak of
Platforms of governance
To the people
To educate them about
What the country needs
You see the politicians
Dance on the platform
Just to woo votes.
And I thought we are
Electing officials
To run our country
To improve our lives
And not
Electing representatives of
The Filipino people
To the
American Idol!
Simon! You’ll be the judge!

Elections is definitely here when……
We ponder on
Our choice of candidates
That best represents
Our interest
That has the best qualifications
To lead our country
Our city
Our community
And we enthusiastically
Tell others about
Our choice
And why it should be their choice
And when they didn’t
Approve of our choice or
Didn’t vote our candidates
We call them

And during election days
We jealously guarded
Our votes
Diligently guarded the
Ballot boxes
And yet,
We never hear
Politicians conceding defeat
But instead hear them
Cried out that they’re being
In the Philippines, there is no loser in the polls
But only being cheated out of their office!

Elections in the Philippines happen every three years.
Which is just right
For if it were to be held
Every year
We might get tired of it.
Bored to death
The same antics
And if it were held
Every six years
We might get anxious of it
And even
Bored to death
Waiting for it
After all
Elections in the Philippines
Is the greatest show in the country!
Er, I mean comedy.

P.S. Remember everybody to go out and vote! By the way, I’m running for President of this country.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Food Critique: Super Efficient Service At Din Tai Fong

One of my favorite restaurants during my short visit to Singapore is the Taiwanese food chain, Din Tai Fong, which New York Times lists as one of the top ten restaurants in the world. And indeed! Din Tai Fong truly deserves that distinction. It service was simply impressive. Nothing in my limited experience comes second to that. Incidentally, Din Tai Fong is literally translated to “the topmost of the Mount Tai Peak”. Mount Tai or Tai Shan is Ancient China’s tallest mountain (nowadays is one of those peaks in the Himalayas in Tibet). The topmost of Mount Tai peak simply signifies the top of the world, the ultimate, the best of the best. And really, the name is no exaggeration for their food is great and their service is even better. What’s more is that their great service is not based on some complex system but rest on very simple concepts.
Din Tai Fong is a mid – priced Chinese fast – casual type of restaurant that serves Dimsums and noodles and offers one or two rice variant in addition to that. It has around 20 items in it’s menu and of which the most popular is the xiaolongpao, or the mini – siopao but is actually more of a siomai like dimsum rather than a siopao. Xiaolongpao is actually a popular delicacy in Shanghai, where it is also originated. According to my sister, Hong Kong’s variant of the xiaolongpao tasted better than Din Tai Fong’s and Shanghai’s xiaolongpao is reputedly taste better than that of Hong Kong’s. In any case, according to wikipedia, Din Tai Fong is the best xiaolongpao you could get in this part of the world and it is without doubt correct. There is actually a “novel way” of eating Din Tai Fong’s xiaolongpao. You first pick up a xiaolongpao with your chopsticks and dip it in the vinegar soy sauce and then placed the xiaolongpao on your soupspoon. You then puncture a hole in the skin and sip the rather delicious soup contained inside the xiaolongpo. Afterwards, you eat the entire xiaolongpao. It is “novel” in the sense that the all the dimsums at Din Tai Fong and not only the xiaolongpao have soup inside it whereas the internationally popular Hong Kong dimsums are “dry”. In my opinion, it is actually this novel way of eating the dimsums that make the food at Din Tai Fong standout and delicious (I don’t know if the Shanghai version have soup in it and I’m regretting that I haven’t taste one during my last trip to Shanghai). The siomai at Din Tai Fong is also different. It is actually shaped like a lotus with the shrimp on top and like the xiaolongpao, contains soup inside. The noodle dishes taste good but nothing exceptional although the noodle strands taste “fine” and not “coarse” indicating that it is made from the finest quality material. The dimsums and noodles are best served hot and it is actually the case in Din Tai Fong (it was so hot that I actually “burned” my tongue). Average prices of any item in the menu is around S$7 – 8 (Php210 – Php240, pricey for a dimsum, which cost only Php50 – 70 in Ongpin) and a person on the average spends S$20 (Php600), which according to wikipedia is the average price of a mid – range food establishments in Singapore.
Better than their food, Din Tai Fong’s service is the stuff of every MBA’s case study of process efficiency and superior service (their service so impressed me that I actually can’t help but study it while I’m having my lunch there and I was able to finished it as soon as I finished my meal). To the untrained eye, there is nothing extraordinary about Din Tai Fong’s service. This is because most people view the end result and one has to have go beyond the surface and see the inner working of their system, the tight coordination between their processes, the clockwork precision of their performances just to fully understand and appreciate the “extraordinariness” of their service. Din Tai Fong is one of those “new” fast – casual type of a restaurant, fast food service married to casual dine – in experience. In fact, in my limited experience, Din Tai Fong is the “only” fast – casual restaurant I knew. Many tried to be one (fast – casual) but never comes close like that of Din Tai Fong. In a classic casual restaurant, a diner would usually start by queuing up for a table in the restaurant especially during peak hours. Once seated, a waiter would be at hand to take their orders. The diner would probably browsed through a “booklet” of a menu just to find what he/she wanted to eat. The waiter would sometime suggest some dishes for the diner to order. This order – taking process usually takes sometime and probably by the time the waiter is done taking orders from the diner, a good ten minutes would likely elapse. After taking in the orders, the waiter would hand over the orders to the kitchen and the cashier for billing. The order triggered the “production” process in the kitchen with the cook preparing the meal as ordered. The production process in a restaurant is actually made up of three steps. The first step is preparation, which is actually preparing the ingredients; marinade the meat, chopping up the meat and vegetables to their intended sizes, preparing the soup base and broth. The second step is actually the cooking itself. The third step is serving the cooked dish. In most cases, the preparation step of the production process is actually done way before the opening of the restaurant for business that day and what is left for production during the business hours are only the cooking and serving part. Once the dishes are served and sometime this alone takes time because of the availability of the waiters, who might be busy attending the customers. In any case, the meal is usually immediately commenced once the dishes are served to the diner. After the meal, the diner would usually ask for the bill from the waiter (others might wanted to relax a little before billing out). The billing process is actually done immediately after the order was turned over to the cashier and handing the bill to the customer is actually a fairly easy task, which requires little time and effort. However, because of the nature of the food service business, most patrons tend to come in roughly at the same time of the day (lunches and dinners) and generally leave at the same moment. This causes a rapid inflation of volume for billing request resulting into a huge queue (although there is no physical line involved). Compounding this is the “temporary” shortage of manpower as the waiter has to take orders, serve the food, and generally entertain the request of the customers like refilling their drinks among others. This causes unnecessary delays and so it is not surprising to see diners getting exasperated over their “long delay” for their bill and their subsequent departure. It is also not an exaggeration that at times, for the wait to take longer than their actual meal. At any rate, after receiving the bills, the customer would then review the bill and then pays it via credit card or cash. Sometimes, the waiter would wait for the payment but it is not uncommon to actually “wait” for a waiter to pick up the payment for the payment processing, which again is a relatively simple task but actually take sometime (as in a good 5 – 10 minutes). Sometimes the wait could be so exasperating that it is even advisable to pay the EXACT amount in cash and no longer wait for the receipt. As can be seen, in a classic casual restaurant, the processes are highly sequential in nature and are also highly dependent on the previous process and given the general inefficiency in the processes to cope with the sheer volume of transactions, a lot of the time of both the customers and the establishment are wasted in idle waits. The sequential nature of the processes cannot actually be avoided in a casual dining business especially the par between the order taking and production process simply because of the sheer volume of offerings. It is common for casual restaurants to offer some 50 more or less dishes in their menu. And since not all of the offerings have high turnovers (frequently ordered), one cannot simply “stock” them beforehand i.e., one cannot simply cook the dishes without a definite order. And this is the fundamental constraint of a classic casual dine – in restaurant. A fast food on the other hand doesn’t have the constraint of a casual restaurant. The production process is largely independent from the order taking process. And this is only made possible because of the limited menu that a fast food offers, which is it’s hallmark. With a limited menu, customers’ choices are limited to only a few select dishes being offered usually numbering around 10. This greatly increases the turnover of each (frequency of order) as against if there are more dishes to choose from. With no worry about the “saleability” of each dishes (since the chances of the dishes being purchased increases with the “limitation”, assuming of course, the dishes offered are palatable in the first place), the kitchen can produce “at will” even without an order. This enables the kitchen to adopt mass production techniques and assembly line set – up, which not only speed up the production process but also greatly reduce cost. Furthermore, they produce each dish by batch, i.e., making a certain quantity per production cycle and monitored visually it’s purchase or depletion until it reaches a reorder point (the critical quantity whence the kitchen started producing another batch). It is this system of batch production and visual monitoring of reorder point that regulates the production process in tune with the ordering process in a fast food restaurant. Another obvious advantage of a streamlined menu is the simplification of the inventory that a restaurant kept. Just imagine the stocks of raw foods in the fridge of a casual dine – in restaurant offering 50 dishes! With the production process largely independent from the ordering process and working parallel with the latter and not in sequence to it, the queuing time is largely in the ordering process. It is here where the long lines can be seen, i.e., the long lines at the counter. It is also at the counter where the “delivery” is made, i.e., where the food is served and as well as the billing process is done. Aside from the multiple tasks being done at the counter that results in the long queue, another significant factor influencing the queuing time is basically due to the delays on the ordering itself. Sometimes, some customers can’t still make up their mind on what to order even after the long queue. Though the service at fast food establishments is efficient and fast, the dining experience is totally different from that of a casual dine – in restaurants. Diners actually received more services than that in a fast food joint but are not necessarily better served than in the latter, i.e., one cannot simply ask for the waiter to refill their drinks and in countries outside the Philippines, the diner is also the one to discard the leftovers of their meal. Furthermore, the atmosphere in a fast food is decidedly “dynamic” while that of the casual dine – in, subdued and relaxed. It is in this observation that fast – casual restaurants came into existence and Din Tai Fong exemplifies such. At Din Tai Fong, the first step, the ordering process starts the moment one lines up for a seat. One has to register first to the hostess for a seat and is given a queue number and an order form with a pen. While waiting to be seated, which is usually about 10 minutes more or less, one looks up at the menu board (which list the dishes being offered complete with their respective pictures and prices) and proceeds to list down their order. The self – ordering tack is actually a neat trick because it distracts the would – be diners from the boringness of wait as well as reducing the time wasted on order taking (that is when one compare it to the classical order taking model of a casual dine – in restaurant). In fact in most cases, by the time people finished choosing what they wanted to eat, their turn just came up. As one is ushered in to their seat, the floor supervisor (who happens to be a lady) would then take the order and punch in the order into the computer, sending the orders to the kitchen and the servers as well as printing out the billing. She then puts the bill of the order on the diner’s table faced down. At first, I was actually flabbergasted by what she (the supervisor) did (sending the bill to you before they even serve the food). I haven’t eaten yet and she already sent me the bill?! “How could they do that?” was all I could think then but then again, I realized that I actually paid first my orders before eating my food in a fast food restaurant and what’s the big fuss then? (It is only then that I got motivated into “studying” their model) Anyway, after sending out the orders, we waited out like a few minutes before the waiter started serving our orders, fulfilling it by piecemeal. They were able to do that because their operations are basically similar to that of a fast food. Din Tai Fong’s menu offerings are largely made up of dimsums, noodles, and two(?) rice topping variants for a total of 15 – 20 offerings. And like the fast food joints, Din Tai Fong’s limited choice of offerings plus the fact that dimsums can “easily” be stocked for “latter” consumption allows it to have a virtually “independent” kitchen operations running in parallel to the other processes. And this is the “fast” part of the fast – casual restaurant model (actually half of it). The casual aspects of the fast – casual restaurant on the other hand relates to the actual dining experience once the food is served. This not only refers to the atmosphere and environment where one is taking their meal but also the prompt services that one receives while enjoying their meals. Unlike in most casual restaurants wherein the overworked waiters “tried” to avoid customers and generally ignore their requests, the waiters at Din Tai Fong are more cheerful and are generally attentive, which is something rarely seen but appreciated. After finishing the meal, we relaxed for awhile before deciding to leave. I literally picked up the bill and walked up to the counter and pay the bill. It is only then that I realized the importance of serving the bill beforehand immediately after the relaying of our orders. It reduces waiting time for the bill. Aside from that, instead for the diner to wait for the waiter to get the bill, serves it, receives the payment for it and then transmit it to the cashier for processing and returning the processed payment to the diner and all the while hogging the dinner table, the very act of picking up the bill and walking to the counters immediately frees the table for the next diner. Simple, practical but effective. All in all, if one takes the entire system at Din tai Fong into consideration, one could see their deliberate effort in reducing waste, that is the waste of time without reducing the patron’s dinning time and therefore compromise the quality of their dinning experience. Amazing feat. Because of the reduced wastage of time in taking orders, cooking, serving, and billing, the turnover of customers is fast leading to a high volume of transactions. This is evidenced by the fact that it took them 10 minutes more or less to seat 20 tables (which I’m included). Again, an amazing feat. The streamlined system furthermore reduces manpower requirement and as well as reduces stress on the waiters. It reduces manpower requirement because Din Tai Fong doesn’t need the service of order taking waiters, which not only have no impact on the value but also waste time and money (which the customer isn’t willing to pay for). The system reduces stress on the waiters because two non – value added tasks are removed from them, namely, order taking and bill serving. This therefore frees them to fully focus on serving the diners’ needs and giving them “extra” attention. It is no wonder then that the waiters at Din Tai Fong are generally cheerful. After seeing this, I wonder if the entire system was a product some deliberate planning. But whether or not such system is a product some ingenious deliberate planning or some intuitive evolution, one thing is for certain, that the entire system is simplistic, practical, and highly effective. One just wish that such (the service at Din Tai Fong) were more common and widespread and not only confined to just one store (or chains of them) and certainly not relegating merely to a case study of a food tripping MBA. No wonder, Din Tai Fong is the world’s top ten restaurant! It service speaks for itself.

P.S. If you can’t understand my techno – babbling, I suggest you eat at Din Tai Fong in Singapore or in Taiwan to better appreciate. “ )

Monday, February 05, 2007


THIRD DAY (January 1,2007)
We woke up early that day since we wanted to start the New Year on a positive note and aside from that, it was also my sister’s lunar birthday. The first thing we did that day was to skip the lousy breakfast at the hotel and went to the neighborhood Kopitiam to try the traditional Singaporean breakfast that wikitravel was raving about. The traditional breakfast actually consist of 2 Kaya toast, 2 soft boiled egg, and a cup of hot milk tea and costs only S$2.50, which my sister ordered (I ordered the more “loaded” one wherein ham and fried eggs sunny side up replaced the soft boiled eggs. It cost S$3.50). The breakfast was good, particularly the Kaya toast, which is tasty. The Kaya toast is actually made up of two loaves of semi – burnt toasted bread with sweet red mongo paste and butter filling. At S$2.50 or roughly Php70, it wasn’t really expensive and is comparable to the cost of a Jollibee breakfast back home except that the latter is much heavier. Anyway, after that rather delightful breakfast, we headed to Jurong side of the island and visited their Botanical Park, which is really just a huge outdoor garden type park. Apparently, the place is quite popular among Singaporeans because we could see a lot of them there with their families picnicking. Aside from that, we could also see some locals who are health buffs jogging around the place. The Botanical Park is not just one garden park but actually made up of several gardens. There is a Japanese garden, a European themed garden, an Orchid garden. It was a place to get some fresh air and a lot of exercise. I was not only drenched wet with my own sweat from simply walking half of the park but was also panting. Geez, I must be in a terrible shape! Luckily, I wore my walking shoes that day, which is why my feet didn’t give up on me then. We didn’t venture to finish traversing the entire park as I got enough exercise for that day. We proceeded to visit the Science Centre nearby after a few minutes rest. The Science Centre is actually a wonderful place to visit if YOU HAVE KIDS! This is because the place is really for kids. It is a place where you open the YOUNG MIND to explore the world of science and not for the dull adult mind like mine. Anyway, I was really there to watch their 3D show, the Mars Rover show but was dismayed to learn that they would be showing it only in the late afternoon as it was a public holiday that day (I had other plans that afternoon). The only saving grace was that the Centre has also some exhibitions for “adults” like the future lifestyle concepts involving information technology. There was a TV where one could see different “part” of the show being aired if you view it from different angles or the toilet bowl where it measure you weight analyze your dung whilst you’re doing your “daily morning rituals” to determine how healthy you are (great! a talking toilet). Also on display at the exhibition is a sleek futuristic concept car from Toyota. The design of the car is simply wow! But the best part of the exhibition was riding the Segway Transport. The Segway Transport (I learned of its existence 5 years ago from watching TV) is actually a two wheel vehicle with a handle and driven by an electrical motor. It has no steering wheel and no paddles or levers for speed control and brakes. The only way to control and operate the Segway was through shifting one’s body weight. There is a microcomputer at the bottom of the Segway beneath the feet that monitors subtle changes in the rider’s center of gravity. If one leans forward, the Segway moves forward. The more you lean forward, the faster the Segway would move forward. If you shift your weight on your right slightly, the Segway would turn right at an angle of which depending on how much the operator lean on his right. If you arch backwards, the Segway stops and further arching backward would back the Segway altogether. The concept of the Segway was to use the natural weight shifting of the body that a person does during walking or running. So therefore, there is no need for a “special” driving school for it. Just don’t froze stiff like what my sister did. Anyway, I was a natural with the Segway mastering it in just 15 seconds on it. I never wanted to relinquish the Segway and was rather disheartened to give it up to somebody else as my turn was up. Someday, I’m going to get one of those Segway for myself. It was already noon when we finished the exhibition tour and we went directly to the Peninsula to greet my mom and brother who had just arrived and had lunch together. After lunch, we took a cab went directly to Sentosa Island, a beach resort island and in which according to wikitravel is Singaporeans favorite weekend getaway. There are 2 main ways to get to Sentosa, via car through a land bridge or via cable car. We took the cable car and boy! What a queue! There are three cable car stations, one in Sentosa, one in Mount Faber, Singapore’s tallest peak, and one midway between the two. We hitched in the midway point. The cable car could carry six people in it and though it was relatively safe, I do have uneasy feeling riding it. From my vantage point inside the cable car, I could see Singapore’s skyline at least in the Harbor Area. Over above Sentosa, I could also see the “murky waters” that hug the shoreline facing Singapore. At Sentosa, the atmosphere was totally different. The air is filled with a party atmosphere so much so that you think you are in another country and not in Singapore. There is not much to see in Sentosa except for the Oceanarium and the Dolphin Lagoon. Transportation within Sentosa is by bus and is totally free but it is always jammed packed especially the line going to the Oceanarium and to the Dolphin Lagoon. For our first stop, we visited the Oceanarium, which according to the Singaporean government is the world’s largest. Like the previous day’s trips, this one is also a highly educational one. Inside the Oceanarium, one could see a vast array of marine life such as fish, coral reefs, sea horses, turtles, crabs (the giant ones and definitely not for consumption), sting rays, manta rays, and sharks! Baby Tiger Sharks to be exact. Lots of them. Pretty interesting visit. In fact, it was so interesting that we stayed too long and wasn’t able to catch the Dolphin Lagoon which closes at 1600. According to wikipedia, once could ride and play with the dolphins at the Lagoon. Anyway, I was also in a hurry at that moment to get off Sentosa and reach the top of Mount Faber in time for the sunset view at the Pillow Case(?), mountain top restaurant. We again took the cable car out of Sentosa and up to Mount Faber just in the nick of time for the sunset view. There was a slight drizzle at that time and a little bit cloudy but the sun is still there and didn’t miss my appointment. Though the sunset was in no way comparable to Manila’s, it was nonetheless great with the view of the harbor and slowly sinking sun. As sun sets at the horizon, we all took the cable car for the last and went to our first starting point. From there, we took a cab to Clarke Quay, another popular food destination in Singapore. Since it was my sister’s lunar birthday, we decided to splurge a little and chose to eat at Jumbo Seafood Restaurant by the Riverside. Wikitravel is recommending that visitors to Singapore should try Jumbo Seafood’s Chili Crab, Singapore’s national dish. Wikitravel also recommends that we ordered a side dish of steam buns, which we fortunately did. The Chili Crab was delicious but somehow disappointing because we were expecting a “bigger and meatier” crab. At the price they are charging, one could get more and meatier crab at Emerald Garden in Manila. The Chili Sauce bathing the crab wasn’t that hot but it was superb especially when used as a dipping sauce for the 2 inch wide and long square steam bun. In fact, I like the steam bun dipped in the Chili Crab sauce more than the Chili Crab itself! And I regretted that I didn’t order more buns because we still have more leftover sauces. At S$0.40 per bun (roughly Php12), the bun might be expensive but worth every bite. We have 2 other side dishes that evening and our total bill reached almost S$50 (Php1700), which is not that expensive when to be objective about it but one could literally have a more sumptuous meal at any seafood restaurant in the Philippines.
FOURTH DAY (January 2)
We got up pretty late that day largely because we overslept. It was somehow regrettable that we did overslept that day because we were leaving Singapore that afternoon and we still have places to go notably, Little India – Bugis, Orchard, and Chinatown. Again, we had our Kaya toast breakfast at Kopitiam (I sure do began to have a liking for Kaya toasts). After which, we went to see my mom and my brother sent them off to the Botanical Garden and the Jurong Bird Park. My sister and I then ventured to Chinatown where my sister went shopping. The Pagoda street in Chinatown is a hawker street filled with bargain vendor stalls and Chinese eateries. It was named Pagoda street because at it’s corner stands an old Hindu temple, the Sri Mariamman Temple, reputedly the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore. A few steps away from the temple is an Islamic mosque. This is a living testament to the ethic and religious plurality and harmony in Singapore. Interesting sight. There is no better proof than this. Anyway, Pagoda Street is really short and is the equivalent of Divisoria in the Philippines except that Divisoria is a hundred times bigger and way, way cheaper and much, much more to offer than at Pagoda’s. According to the local taxi drivers, Pagoda Street is the cheapest place to shop but I was unimpressed not because I hate but the prices are ridiculously high in my point of view (average price range for the “little give away stuffs” is around S$2 – 10 or roughly Php70 – 330, which is cheaper than say in San Francisco where a key chain cost US$2 or Php100 at the least but one could always get a similar item in the Philippines at Php50 or less) and doesn’t commensurate with the value it offered. Shopping at 168 in Divisoria is cheaper and better. But then again, my sister wanted to shop and I did promise her that (as her birthday gift from me). Anyway, by noon, we headed back to Orchard and again ate at Din Tai Fung, one of my favorite restaurants in Singapore for lunch. While waiting to be seated, I manage to scout around the place and came across a Chinese bookstore where I bought a book entitled, the “History of the Chin (dynasty)”. Chin dynasty is China’s first imperial dynasty and the only Chinese dynasty that doesn’t have a history book written about it. Every imperial dynasty in China wrote a history book posthumously about their preceeding dynasty, all except for the Chin. The Han dynasty that succeeded it didn’t wrote anything about it because historiography wasn’t that established yet at that time. The book, “History of the Chin” was written in the early 20th century during the tumultuous Republican – Warlord period of modern China. It was a momentous book because it filled a missing gap in Chinese history. Furthermore, it was a book that tells a very interesting subject matter in Chinese history, the Chin dynasty, the founder of the Chinese imperial system that last for 2000 years. Too bad, the book only contains the fragmentary pages of the original manuscript, which make the book all the more precious. The author, Mr Wang, had as ling life long ambition to write a history book like no other and he embark on this project when he was young and maintained it consistently all throughout his life. He finished the book sometime before the Second World War but the original manuscript was totally destroyed in the holocaust of the subsequent War. Fortunately for him and for all of us, fragments of his secondary copy was still intact as well as his research notes. He then painstakingly rewrote his book only to be destroyed in another holocaust, that of Cultural Revolution. Only fragments of his work and his notes survive the disaster that befell on him but he never quit and again begun piecing together his opus. What finally prevented him from finishing his work was the death of his wife, which devastated him so much. Too bad, the book was well written. It was well research, scientific in it’s approach vs the myth laden story telling of the ancient histories probably this has to do with the “spirit of the age” where he is born into. The book debunks a lot of myths and legends and present history in it’s purest unadulterated form. Furthermore, it was written in the classic Chinese prose that only a few “ancients’ like me would love to read. It was a work of a genius and worth every penny that I paid for (S$15 or Php500). Buying that book completes my day and I was ready to go where my sister wanted to go and I did. We went back to Chinatown for more shopping and I didn’t complain. Later, while waiting for our plane at the airport, I chanced upon the Airport bookstore and “discovered” a new book just hot off the press, “Measuring Marketing, 103 key metrics every marketer needs” by John Davis. It sells for S$53.95 (Php1,782). Not that expensive considering a book of it’s caliber. Fortunately for me, they’re offering a 15% discount and I bought it at S$45.86 or Php1,500 roughly the same as in the Philippines (the book came out of National Bookstore in the Philippines just last week and sells at roughly Php1,500). Not a bad day for me at that time.
Singaporean food are all delicious but expensive by Philippine standard even if the prices are comparable in some cases but one could get more value and the same delicious taste in Manila. However, by American standard, Singaporean food is cheap and way, way more delicious than the average American fare, which sucks by the way. Furthermore, Singapore manages to develop it’s own cuisine; it’s own identity, which they vigorously market as unique in the world. Indeed! Some of their dishes are in fact unique though they are mostly derived from Chinese and Indian cuisine. Dish like Chili Crab, Kaya toast, Roti Pratak(?), Suntay (a barbecue dish with spicy sauces), Bakut Teh soup (spareribs boiled in herbal tea) are some of the prominent examples. Too bad, I wasn’t able to try all of them partly because of their prices and partly because I’m particularly gastronomically adventurous at that time.
Singapore taxis are quite efficient and relatively high tech. They are continuously connected via wifi and are computerized and could communicate via text message. In fact, you could pay with a cash card or a credit card. One can travel to any point in Singapore under 20 minutes on light traffic days and the fare wouldn’t exceed S$15. However, most places in Singapore are within walking distance (10 minutes or less) and it would be expensive to take a cab, which usually runs to S$4 (Php130). However, that is a small price to pay considering if your feet is killing you from all the walking you had while touring. Although Singaporean drivers don’t overcharge their customers, they do intentionally take the longest route to what is otherwise a short distance destination. Care must be exercised though in choosing the cab to ride on. In Singapore, there is such a cab called Limo – taxi. Mercedes Benzes dressed up like a taxi. Don’t make a mistake riding in one because I did in a hurry. The fare in the Limo – taxis are much more expensive than the regular taxis (S$3.50 flogged down rate compared to S$2.50 + mandatory tip of S$2 for the limo, the rate per kilometer is S$0.5 for both if I remember it right) and though it was more luxurious than the regular taxi, it doesn’t really make any difference in terms of comfort unless of course, one is vain (as in you wanted to be seen riding in such a luxury vehicle). Another thing about Singaporean taxis is that their drivers are talkative. I did chat with taxi drivers and jeepney drivers in the Philippines before when I was still commuting but only a couple of times (less than 8 I suppose) and not regularly (by the way, the drivers initiate the conversations and not me). In Singapore however, I manage to have a conversation with the drivers on three separate occasions. It is usually high considering my length of stay. Well, it helps that I’m Chinese and I look approachable. Anyway, we talk a variety of topics like the sights in Singapore, the Philippines, the women in the Philippines (how they are sweeter than Singaporean women according to one driver), Filipino words and phrases, the Singaporean work life. We talk largely in English and occasionally in Mandarin but never in Singlish, which is basically English with Chinese term juxtaposed in them much like Taglish. About the Singaporean subway, I never rode on one. Well, that is because it is hard to find and out of the way. Unlike in Hong Kong, where there is a subway entrance on virtually every corner, Singaporean subway entrance are not that geographically dispersed and are also not that visible and such that only the locals could manage to find one.
Singapore is invariably compared with Hong Kong so much so that it is viewed as a rival. By comparison, Hong Kong is bigger and looks “older” at least in some sections of Hong Kong. Singapore by contrast looks younger but it’s architecture are not in a league with Hong Kong’s much less Shanghai. In fact, Hong Kong has a higher density of sky scrappers than in Singapore and Shanghai would look like the “universe” by comparison. Hong Kong has a better stable of tourist attractions like Disneyland, Ocean Park, Victoria’s Peak (for lovers only according to my uncle who lives in Hong Kong), and Museums (where I had my first visits to such a place). Singapore on the other hand, has more to offer from my point of view like Jurong Bird Park, Singaporean Zoo, Night Safari, Sentosa, etc. Shopping is cheaper in Hong Kong than in Singapore especially for luxury goods according to some “testaments and experience”. Prices in Singapore seemed somewhat higher than Hong Kong but I cannot accurately tell. Personally, if I were to be asked where I would rather be, I would choose Hong Kong without second thought mainly because of familiarity (and to most people I’d talked to). Hong Kong was like a second home to me because I had relatives there but truth to tell Singapore is a better place to stay because it is “greener” than Hong Kong.
Singapore has no great monument to history. It has no wonder of an architectural gem. It doesn’t even have a breathtaking spectacular scenic attraction like the Grand Canyon or the Yang Ming Mountain in Taiwan. It has none of those. So what is the lure of Singapore? It is none other but Singapore itself. The luscious green landscape of Singapore could easily fool anybody into thinking that one is in the suburb and not in the city. It is as if the City is cut out of the forest and not the forest being inserted into the City. Merging that with the Jurong Bird Park, the Zoo, the Night Safari, the Garden, and even Sentosa, what emerges is that Singapore is not just an eco – friendly city but what a city should really be. A lot of people saw that (the various attractions) but few people understood and appreciated the significance. And the significance is that Singapore has proven that Man and Nature could co – exist and that Civilization, Progress, and Ecology could actually work hand in hand. After visiting Singapore, one would invariably ask the question, “why can’t my city be like Singapore?” And this is why Singapore is unique. Now as for me on whether or not I’m returning to Singapore? Well, perhaps I would. Maybe sometime March 27,2007 just in time for the opening of the Singaporean run of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s opus, “The Phantom of the Opera”. “ )