Dec 11, 2014

Golden Handcuffs

It was a 5-star hotel.

In terms of curb appeal it is nondescript on the outside, but once you step into its hallowed halls, resplendence lay all around. You marvel at the stately Peacock Lounge, with its columns rising up into an expanse of ceiling, its grandeur only surpassed by the magnificent chandelier - the undisputed centre-piece of the hall. Its warm lights cast shadows onto those plush sofas, inviting the weary traveler to rest his legs, while sipping on a freshly blended glass of tropical fruit juice. The walls, clad with the finest marble, keeps the interiors cool. You learn that the renovation was done by Serrano, a highly regarded interior fit-out company. After hours navigating the roads choked with gridlock, here is finally a place for rest and comfort.

You enter the cafe. It is called a cafe, but in truth it is more like the dining halls of old - a cavernous space carved out of the building. The floors are lined with strips of hardwood, hewn from the mighty forests of the country. The counters are laid with the most delicious ingredients, painstakingly gathered from around the world and prepared by the best chefs. The menu? Mediterranean. Location? Indo-china country. You know now that the long arms of globalisation has reached this corner of the world. It's an international buffet, the waiters and waitresses tell you. You can eat as much as you want, they say. You take their word for it and begin the process of stuffing yourself silly. It's not without help though. The staff are omnipresent, they clear your plates after each round. They serve you tea to wash down the food. And you begin the next round. And the next round.. Crabs, clams, tiger prawns, grilled asparagus, French onion soup, German sausages, cheeses, slices of baked back bacon, crochets. Have you had your fill yet? No, how could you miss out on that chocolate fondue fountain! Wait, let's grab some of that delectable looking muffins and macarons. And there's always space for dessert. Oh they're serving your favourite rum and raisin ice cream. Your stomach cannot take even a morsel more. Finally, it is bursting at its seams. You beat a retreat to the privacy of your room, not before it occurs to you that you haven't paid for all these food. Just sign here sir, don't worry, everything is covered by your client. You feel flattered, but you can't shake off that nagging suspicion that you're still missing something.

You step into the hotel room. Lo and behold. Carpeted floors and walls covered with gold and brown patterns of the most intricate wallpaper. A king size bed is planted in the middle, guarded by a fortress of fluffy pillows and lined with plush blankets. Richly-grained rosewood furniture gives the room a mid-century feel. Your eyes are drawn to the spacious bathroom, with the luxuriant wash basin fitted out with a generous slab of marble, criss-crossed with the weaving typical of the cooling of metamorphic rock. Sinking into the middle of the bed, you feel restful and secure. You feel relaxed, but you can't shake off that nagging feeling that you're still missing something.

And then it dawns onto you. The thing you're missing is interaction. Without someone to speak with, to engage on a deeper and more intimate level, it all becomes meaningless. The silence becomes deafening. The four walls become a prison cell, trapping you within. It's a gilded cage, lined with precious stones, and you're the bird inside. You want to get out. To escape. But escape to what? You do not trust your wings. These wings, used to the comfortable confines of the cage, cannot bring you far and wide outside. You do not know how to navigate the treacherous world outside, yet you loathe to retreat back to the golden cage. You are stuck. Without interaction, it's like you looking into a mirror, and nothing looks back. It's empty.

Now you learn. Now you know. Spread your wings my young one. You are the sum of your experiences. Let not that which glitters coyly chain and bind you to a sad fate, one unexplored and unexamined, for the unexamined life is not worth living.

Oct 26, 2014

The Sunday Times (26 October 2014) - Feature on Michael Lien

Favourite part of the article

His former JC classmate, Mr Olivier Lim, 50, until recently deputy CEO of property group CapitaLand, says Mr Lien was always a "considered contrarian, not willing to accept status quo and conventional wisdom blindly, but also not contrarian for the sake of it". "Among my friends, he was the most well-read. He drove the cheapest and oldest car for years, not succumbing to the automobile arms race. He preferred to save his money travelling to places like rural Nepal. Yet, at the same time, he led a 'double life' as a successful investment banker."

Today, with a six-year-old son, Mr Lien no longer drives a "bombed-out car". But he still enjoys the simple things in life, like a prata and teh tarik. He continues to "like to move off the grid", trekking the Inca Trail in Peru or the Simien Mountains in Ethiopia. "In these remote places, you are grateful for a bowl of hot vegetable soup," he says, tight-lipped about other aspects of how he lives.

As to why he juggles this "duality", the free-thinker says simply: "It could have been us."

The Sunday Times (12 October 2014) - Feature on Ray Dalio

Section I particularly liked

Mr Dalio is equally complimentary about Singapore, saying there is "no country in the world that is so admirable as to be able to particularly raise its income levels, without losing its financial responsibility".

However he sounded a warning on countries that are no longer rich but profligate. The cycles mirror those of families, with a Chinese saying that the wealth of families lasts only three generations.

Countries start off being poor and think of themselves as poor, Mr Dalio notes. They then become rich after working hard and saving but still think of themselves as poor. That's when growth is good. The next stage is when countries are rich and think of themselves as rich and want to enjoy themselves more and spend more. The fourth stage is when countries are poorer but still think of themselves as rich.

Singapore continues to have a strong work and savings ethic, Mr Dalio says, but he holds up the US as a cautionary example of countries that have reached the stage where they borrow as they have spent beyond their means.


The Chinese saying for this is 家宝不传三代. 

Oct 14, 2014

Myanmar, October 2014

I was sent on a business trip to Myanmar. It was a trip of many firsts. First business trip. First time to Myanmar. First time flying SQ.

As a young adult exploring the world, it's great to be able to travel and see how business is conducted in other countries. There is still so much to see and experience and learn. Previously I was the pleasure traveler, the one who checked the 'for holiday' box in the 'purpose of travel' section in immigration cards. It is a strange feeling to be checking the 'for business' box this time.

I was anticipating the famed service on the Singapore Airlines flight. Coming from a humble background, I never had the chance to fly on the national carrier before. It was always budget airlines where-ever I went. It was the only way I knew how to fly. When I sat in the SQ cabin and the lovely air-stewardess offered me a warm towel, I knew that things have changed.

It was quite an eye-opening experience. It certainly did help me to clear many misconceptions about the country. Before I left, I consciously downgraded my wardrobe, opting for a simple $16 Casio watch. I didn't want to attract attention, especially since I knew I'll be in the villages, where the most of the people live below the poverty line and earn US$100-200 a month. I even joked to some friends that I was trying to learn Burmese for "Please don't kidnap me, I've got no money". As it turns out, I couldn't be more mistaken.

May 13, 2014

#day in the life of a 'professional'*

You are sleeping in on a public holiday when that familiar beep beep of an incoming sms calls you from the dream world. Like an attention seeking prat, it wants your time at the moment you least want to give it. No way. You flop over, maneuvering into that cool corner of the bed unspoiled by body heat. Not today.

Today is the day you ignore the overbearing summons of the phone. You don't get my attention just because you demand it! You settle back into the cot of warmth, security and familiarity, letting out a contented sigh. A smirk escapes your visage. Ahhh.. Today is the day you show them who's boss. Back at home, you are the king of your castle, and no marauding barbarians can scale the high walls you've erected around your sanity.