Monday, August 29, 2005

Life is what we make it....

Victor told me today that blogging serves nothing more than an outlet for one to vent and gripe about the frustrations in life. I've no idea why he said so. If you were to take a peek at his blog, you'd find Victor waxing lyrical about:

1. "Taking up the Challenge" to prove that "an old dog could still do a good blog";
2. Sharing his "Unusual Discovery At The Science Centre";
3. The Clark Quay of yore, reminiscing and remembering with fondness the nearby coffeeshop that served fabulous Teochew minced pork noodles in the 80s.
4. His hobby in photography, his "first camera" and some of his brilliant" shots on Singapore city skyline;
5. His delight and joy in learning to blog in Chinese;
6. How much more computer savy he has become following his DIY diagnostic trouble-shooting of his computer, and yes, his newly-acquired knowledge in Photoshop;
7. His adventures in Pulau Ubin with his wife and kids.

If this is not a dog, I mean a man who "celebrates life", I don't know what is.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Adventures at Green Brew.....

We brought Jennifer and Lester to Green Brew, a "swanky" little restaurant at Normanton Park today to celebrate their birthday. And what an "interesting" lunch we all had! What was supposed to be a happy and joyous occasion was turned into a trying and frustrating time for members of the Bagus team. It was quite an "adventure".

We were quite impressed with the peranakan decor upon arrival at the restaurant. VT has his eyes on the partition at the entrance of the kitchen; Jennifer loved the peranakan cloth that was being used as an ornament of sort on the walls. And I found that piece of ethnic fabric framed and hung on the wall particularly "interesting".

The ambience at the restaurant was warm and cosy. It looked set that we would have a nice time. However, a storm of epic proportion was brewing and we weren't quite prepared for the surprises that awaited us. You can say that while the cooks were cooking our dishes, we the Bagus team were cooking up a storm:

1. When we arrived at the restaurant, it was only 1/4 full. One hour later with the room 3/4 filled, we were still waiting for our food. How strange, too, that others who had arrived after us were seen munching away their food. VT rationalised that maybe they have called up to reserve the table and pre-order their food. I don't think so. How many people do you know do that? Personally I don't pre-order food even if I make reservation. But you must understand VT. He is a man not given to confrontation; very positive, law-abiding, God-fearing and peace-loving. But that day, he was about to lose his cool........

2. When the food finally arrived, the egg omelette and the chicken we ordered came in the wrong size.

3. While waiting for the dishes to be exchanged, the plain rice on our table turned cold. So were the dishes that arrived on our table subsequently. And we wondered had the food been cooked earlier, and instead of serving to use immediately, was left in the kitchen to be "cooled" down??

4. The egg omelette was just too salty; and the kangkong that we ordered could do with more "belacan". But we slurped them up anyway. :))

5. We have to ask for the bill TWICE.

VT was so irked (I told you so) that he actually walked to the kitchen to talk to the manager while the rest of us waited impatiently for our food. I'm not sure if that helped. But we began to wonder why the egg omelette was so salty... Anyway, while most of us were unhappy at the turn of event, VT was particularly vexed that day and I think I know why. See, usually when we have our lunch at the many ubiquitous coffee shops along my workplace, even if the food was served late, VT could just reached into his pocket for his "cancer sticks" while waiting for the food. Over at Green Brew which is air-con, he couldn't. And that makes him quite mad, I guess. Deny a smoker food for one day, and he'll survive. Deny him his cigarettes for a day or two, and he goes cold-turkey.

Before we moved to leave at about 1.40 pm, the waiter asked politely (what nerves) if we would like to order some drinks, to which Victor quipped, "We don't have all day". I like it when Victor is "rude" at the right time and at the right place. Unfortunately, he did that to the wrong person this time.

Granted, the service staff at the restaurant was NOT rude. In fact, to be very honest, they did serve us with a SMILE (what was lacking were the Greetings and Thank-you unfortunately). It was just that the service was pretty slow - the cooks took ages to cook up the dishes, the refilling of iced water, and even the bill. I suppose Green Brew can do with more waiters (and cooks and stoves and utensils, etc). We saw only about 3 waiters on that day in question. The food is also not very tasty. Even Victor, a critic on most things but food, commented negatively about the dishes. That would be the first and last time we ever visited the restaurant.

Before we took our leave, we were greeted with one more surprise. When the bill came, it was only $57! It transpired that there was no service charge. No wonder the service left much too be desired!

World-class service standard by Sep 2006? Mr Raymond Lim can dream on .....

Thursday, August 25, 2005

一 条 好 狗

Despite being Chinese, I'm not very good in the Chinese language. Victor is better at the language as you can see how he tried to show off HERE.

Being Chinese and not being able to communicate effectively in the language is a point of embarrassment, to say the least. Many moons ago, I swore to master this language after having seen Caucasians engaging in a debate programme on national TV in what must have been an alien language to their fore-fathers. I sat and watched in disbelief as these Americans and Europeans battered away in fluent and impeccable Chinese, taking on native Chinese from Singapore and Hong Kong. These guys should be eating french fries! But they got me eating humble pie instead. And put me to shame.

That being said, I've always wondered how to blog in Chinese. But never really found time to go look up the internet for tips. When Senior Junior was asked to put up a blog in Chinese as a school project, he was stumped. And so was I when he approached me. Then I asked Victor. Victor wasted no time to "show-off" an entry in the Chinese language. He didn't explain how he did it in the blog. But told me later that he's used the "cut and paste" method to input the text in his Blog. That is soooo primitive. And I told him that from what little I learned from the Internet, there's a feature called Input Method Editor (IME) in XP that converts the keyboard into a Chinese keyboard that enables inputting of Chinese Characters.

I would have found the solution earlier had I not installed Chinese (Singapore) "text services and input languages". The right one to choose is the Chinese (PRC). A series of trials and errors later, I was able to finally input the Chinese text. I texted Victor to tell him about my discovery.

Then he has to SHOW OFF again and to add insult to injury, blog the whole episode of his "new discovery" of how to input Chinese characters (all thanks to me actually cos I was the one who sparked his interest, ok??)and then went on to tell me that "It was quite easy leh". What nerves.

Nonetheless, I'm glad that Victor finally figured it out (though I did it first). It proves yet again that old dogs can certainly learn new tricks! 他低低却却是一条好狗。And I don't mean it in a derogatory sort of way. It's a 称赞 that came strait from my heart.

What rotten Apple

I know this may draw some flaks from die-hard fans of Apple. But the IPOD is really full of hype and nothing else. It doesn't even come a close second to creative's range of MP3 players from my experience.

Since my purchase on Dec 04, I've sent my IPOD for service twice. Apple has a unique way of "servicing" its product in Singapore. Because it does not have a service dept in Singapore, the IPOD is sent to the US for service. In the meantime, I get a replacement. Cool, huh? What Apple didn't tell me earlier was that the IPOD replacement was actually one that have been sent to the US for servicing before and actually was the original IPOD that belonged to someone else. My original IPOD that has been sent to the US will end up in the hands of another unfortunate customers. Apple only changed the casing of the IPOD to make it look new but it's really all used IPODs. Weird and strange system that Apple has. I guess it's probably to cut down turnover time. Or else, we probably have to wait months for the IPOD to be returned from the US.

While the IPOD looks cool and chic, it's really a piece of junk. Victor said IPOD really stands for "1 PIECE OF DUNG". And that makes lot of sense. Yet, everywhere I go I couldn't help hearing people ranting and raving about IPOD, in the papers, internet, magazines, etc. I've nothing but trouble with mine. It got hung while I was out jogging with it. Then it acted peculiar, choosing to jump tracks and playing songs that it chose. I could even hear the harddisk churning when I held it in my hand.

The young man at the Apple Care Centre also told me something that made me sit up. He said I should not subject my IPOD to heavy vibration or shaking like when go jogging for the fact that the "needle" used to run the harddisk may harm the harddisk. In order words, he was saying that I should not subject the IPOD to shock. And I thought all MP3 players are shock-proof?

He also advised me to take up an Apple Extended Warranty at $110 to cover another 12 months. He said once the current 12-month warranty is up, it's not worth servicing the IPOD again cos the price of the service is good enough to get a new IPOD. I'm not sure if I want to extend the warranty. If it conks again after 12 months, I don't think I'll shell out any money to have the IPOD service. A product that breaks down thrice within 12 months is just beyond hope! 无药可救。 APPLE should seriously look into improving the quality of its products. Maybe having it assembled in China is the problem.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The day I got my driver's license.

My friend Alex sent me a sms today, happily announcing that he's obtained his Class 2B license. That's a license you need if you want to ride a motorbike in Singapore. Alex already has Class 3B license for driving a car. I don't know what he'll try next - learn to drive a lorry perhaps? Or maybe a plane? Some people simply love driving.

Unlike Alex, I don't have a Class 2B. If I'm younger, I'd go get a motorbike license like Alex, too. But I figure at 40, my reflexes and level of alertness is no where near a young man of 20 or 30. I'm afraid time is too little and too late for me to ever learn how to ride a motorbike.

But like Alex, I do have a Class 3, and it was obtained not without much sweat. The first time I took up driving, I was barely in my mid 20s. Young and inexperienced, I flunked the driving test, not once, but twice. The driving examiners who failed me all had stories to tell. One of them commented that I drove like a snake; the other said he couldn't pass me because he has a moral obligation to protect pedestrians from a menace like me! My oh my... That was so many years ago. And I was so affected by the remark of the last examiner that it put me off learning to drive all together.

As the saying goes, "time heals all wounds" and time flies too. Eleven years later, married and with two kids, I was still without a driver's license. When I decided to pick up driving again, I was past my mid 30s and the "new millennium" was approaching. I reckoned if I don’t get my license then, I never will.

So, I signed up for driving lessons again in Comfort Driving Centre and, much to my delight, passed with flying colours within a span of 4 months and at the first attempt at that! I got a demerit points of 8. A demerit points of 20 would have meant a failure. So, I think I did pretty well.

I can still remember vividly the day I took my driving test. Sitting in the waiting area awaiting my turn, my eyes studied the many driving examiners going in and out of the room. Some were with testees who had just taken their test and you know they have flunked by their crest-fallen faces. Other looked like as if they have struck lottery! You looked at these examiners, most of whom are "retired" traffic policemen, and you tried to figure out the handful that looked "friendly" or appeared benevolent. You went on to hope that one of the the friendly looking ones be your examiner, and most of the time, the odd was against you. You ended up with one that got the “Tua Pai Kia” look and you knew you were doomed!!

On the day in question, July 8 2002 to be very precise, I think God must be smiling on me. I was fortunate enough to be tested by an examiner, who is not only friendly, but who tried to make me feel at ease by making mindless conversation like "wah, the weather is very hot today hor?" I still remember his name - Insp See Thian Lye. He even gave me advice as I drove along, telling me not to run over the curb or he would have to fail me.

And failed me he almost did because I drove into the wrong lane as I made a right turn. Fortunately, Insp See was obviously in a good mood. He told me what I did was wrong and dangerous and said that I must be extremely careful when I went on the road. When I heard this, I sort of guess I must have passed; but part of me was still not quite sure. Then he scribbled sometime on the Class 3 Driving Test Assessment Checklist and told me to go collect my license. That was one of the happiest moments of my life!

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Another "Koo Koo Bird"

The Slim Lady got a text message from her sister who is five-month pregnant that reads: Another Koo Koo Bird (no relation to Victor Koo, of course). She has a boy, Izaac, who's already four. Now she hopes for a girl.

I couldn't help smiling when the Slim Lady showed me the text as I recalled the time Slim Lady was pregnant many moons ago....

You see, though we are blessed with two boys, like her sister, the Slim Lady has always wanted to have a daughter. To her, a daughter is all sugar and spice. She is a mum's best friend and confidant. She is someone with whom mum can share girly secrets. And yes, you get to dress her up like cute little angels and there are so many ways you can do up her hair....

Needless to say, the Slim Lady was disappointed when our first-born was a boy. It took us six years to consider having a second child, in the hope that the next one would be a girl.

We Chinese have a few "myths" when it comes to telling the sex of the baby:

1. The more "pointed" the abdomen of the expectant mother is, the more likelihood the baby will be a boy. The rounder, the more likelihood of a girl.
2. The smoother the facial complexion is, the likelihood of a girl and vice versa.

The Slim Lady had sworn she had all the symptoms indicating that it would be a girl the 2nd time round.

Alas, she was again disappointed when the ultra-sound indicated that the baby was another "koo koo bird". I can still recall the day she broke the news too me. She sounded a little down and said that her hands were going to be "full" caring for a boy again. I told her that the foetus could actually feel how the mummy was feeling and how sad it was that even before the baby was born, it already felt the rejection by the mummy. Boy or girl, I added, it's okay as long as the baby was healthy.

I have come to realise that the younger women of our time have very different views to those of my mother's generation when it comes to the gender of our offspring. The older folks tend to favour the boys, especially the Chinese. Perhaps the thinking then was that boys are important because only boys could continue the legacy and name of the family. I remember asking my mum if she loved to have a grandson or a granddaughter. Even though she said she had no preference as long as the baby was healthy, she said something after the birth of Senior Junior that told me she still preferred grandson.

You see, Slim Lady's first pregnancy wasn't at all easy and she ended up having a caesarian. The bill came up to about 4 grands. When my mum learned this, she commented that luckily it was a boy! It's like saying if it's going to be a baby girl, then it's not worth spending that kind of money to have her.

Anyway, girl or boy, there's really nothing parents-to-be can do about it. Though of course there are books telling us the food we eat actually can help to determine the gender of the baby. There're even clinics around that promise to give you the gender you want for your baby with a 99.9% accuracy, at a price of course. Some gahmen, like those in Singapore, has deemed this unethical and has refused to allow such clinics to be set up here. They probably thinking if everyone chooses to have daughters, who's going to serve NS to protect Singapore in time to come??

That being said, we're glad to have both our boys, even though they do give us headaches and worries every now and then. But which kid, boy or girl, hasn't? Besides, how can anyone not love a boy with such an adorable face? Some of our friends said he's a chip off the "old" block. Hehehe..

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The buck stops here.

This is getting exasperating. As expected, Courts didn't call me about my sofa, despite reassuring me that it would get its service dept to call me about exchanging the cushion covers with the rightful colour.

It took me five calls, each time speaking to a different girl today and yesterday before being told that they would exchange the cushion covers next Thur. The time has yet to be confirmed, though. The girl told me that she could only confirm the time with me two days before the appointment date. Unbelievable .

It's interesting how the staff at the sales dept and the service dept tried to blame each other for the mistake. The girl at the sales dept told me that the display-set colour has been discontinued. The girl at the service dept said that the salesgirl has given her the wrong code. It's quite clear that Courts has an internal problem with its staff and management. It's NOT my problem. But unfortunately, whoever is at fault, we consumers always end up being victimized by the inefficiency of the merchants. As it is now, the cushions and the backrest are all thoughtfully wrapped up in plastic bags and sitting pretty in the storeroom for fear that the children might dirty them inadvertently. Perhaps Victor is right. I should just use them like my own and without the fear of putting my personal odour, stain and what have you in them. After all, if Courts chose not to honour my instructions, why should I honour theirs?

Come to think of it, I never really had any problem with other megastores such as Best Denki or those individual stores in the shopping centres. Doing business with these establishments has always been hassle-free. But with Courts, things just get topsy turvy for me. Aaarrgghh!

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Can I bring COURTS to court?

I have to take back what I said about not being disappointed with the service rendered by Courts in my last entry. I'm not only disappointed, but angry as well.

Well, when the sofa arrived at my house yesterday, it looked all fine and dandy. But the colour of the cushions and the backrest looked fishy and something told me court must have made a mistake. The existing shade of yellow-brown looks deceivingly similar to the earth-brown colour that I've wanted. Though feeling slightly suspicious, I chose to push it out of my mind. Part of me hate confrontation, and another part of me also wanted to believe that service standard of Courts really must have improved over the years. Alas, it was not meant to be....

My suspicion was confirmed when the Slim Lady and I made a trip to Courts at Tampines today, with the intention to buy another set of cushion covers. We have ordered exactly the same colour scheme as the display set. The mistake was obvious when we viewed the sample of the fabric available at the store.

I spoke to one of the sales girl, and upon checking, she said that the display set colour has already being discontinued and has been for a while. It seems that Courts has taken the liberty to choose the yellow-brown colour on my behalf. How nice and considerate! Why don't they pay for my sofa as well?

Frankly, I wouldn't have minded the colour if only Courts has taken the initiative to call me and tell me that the colour that I've wanted was no longer available. This is what service is all about. After all, I'm the one paying for the sofa, and the one who will be "living" with the sofa for many years to come. It irks me that the retail industry could take things for granted, assuming that consumers are blind and that they can make decisions for the customers at their every whimp and fancy. Well, with this customer, they don't! Why should I put up with their inefficiency?

As it turned out, I insisted that I want the colour of the cushions changed, and have chosen another shade of brown since the one that I wanted is no longer available. Courts said the factory would call me to make arrangement. Let's see how bad the service will continue...

In the meantime, I've been told not to "dirty" the cushions. Or else, the factory will reject the exchange. So, I've told Junior and Senior Junior not to lean on the sofa (my pal Victor would think it's not just me, but my whole family has gone insane now, sitting without leaning..). This must be a joke, having paid for something and not being able to use it the way we want to. Slim Lady took one step even further - she has wrapped up the cushions in plastic bags and kept in the storeroom.

Customer service in Singapore? Don't make me laugh....

Monday, August 08, 2005

Out with the OLD and in with the NEW

The new sofa I ordered from Courts arrived today. It's one of those L-sharp modular sofa that I've been eyeing for quite sometime. The time is ripe to discard the old and acquire the new.

The previous cowhide leather sofa, though durable, was stained, worn-out and downright dirty. The photo on the right was how the sofa looked like when I first shifted to my house 5 years ago.

Back to the new sofa.. As you can see, Junior wasted no time in making himself comfortable on the new sofa. It's spacious enough to be used as a bed. Unfortunately, the sofa is not meant for me. Being bare-chested most of the time at home, I can sit on the sofa but have been banned from leaning on the sofa by the Slim Lady. Otherwise, the sofa will begin to smell like me in no time. I can't argue with that. Which sensible male in "pig paradise" Singapore will put on a shirt at home. The weather can kill you.

While waiting for the sofa to be delivered, I couldn't help recollecting my past experiences with Courts, mostly bad ones. I once ordered a dinning table and it arrived with wobbly legs. The deliverymen had the audacity to suggest that maybe my HDB floor was uneven. Then there was the time when a sales woman sold me a grill oven when I specifically asked for a convectional oven. These happened many moons ago and I sworn never to patronise Courts again. This time, I went back to Courts for the sole reason that it offered the modular sofa at a price more resonable then the other retail stores. The delivery of my sofa today has restored my confidence in the retail industry somewhat, my pal Victor's recent bad experiences notwithstanding.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Service standard in Uniquely Singapore ....

My pal Victor Koo is feeling extremely vexed of late. It started when his computer began to act quirky, taking a life of its own and refusing to log on the Internet when commanded to do so. An extremely determined man who conducts diagnostic tests to get to the root of a problem, Victor soon found out that the problem to his computer lies very likely in his residential telephone line which emits noise and static in the wee hours of the morning. The problem is so bad, that it even left the Singnet technicians clueless.

At his wit end, Victor took up a flexi broadband plan with Starhub. Starhub is kinda like his second wife. He can't just abandon Singnet for he's got another 4 months to the 2-year contract that he had signed up. Unless Victor doesn't mind paying a 4-month alimony to Singnet for breaking the contract. For reason only known to the sales staff of Starhub, Victor was not told of an on-going promotional plan that allows new flexi surfers to surf the net free for 6 months when they pay for the $99 modem. They also get a free gift in the form of a Disney haversack.

Victor was irked when he learned of the promotion from the Internet. Never ever under-estimate the fury of a man "conned". Victor demanded that Starhub return him is money for the time that he's surfed the net and be given the freebies advertised in the promotion.

I can empathise with Victor. Time and again, I've been disappointed by the service standard in our Uniquely Singapore. The sales staff are either ignorant of their products, or they simply couldn't be bother to serve you. Even at the hawker centres, there are food sellers who provide services so shabbily that it makes you wonder if they are really in the business of making money. In the now-defunct Seletar Hill Market, I've had at least three hawkers whom I've sworn never to patronise again; all because they chose to pick quarrel with me. Nope, I'm NOT the problem lest you're wondering.

The chicken rice uncle told me to "go and report lah" when he said he would not deliver my plate of chicken rice to my table. This happened even though I was quietly waiting for my chicken rice in the queue and fully understood that it was 'self-service".

Then there was the ice kachang seller who very politely asked me where I was sitting when I ordered a bowl of "cheng tng". When I said I would carry the dessert myself, he retorted that he was not going to serve me my dessert to my table but merely wanted to know where to collect his utensils later!

The last straw was the "Char Kway Teow" stall who took ages to return my change of $10 when I ordered a plate of the "char kway teow", even after I've devoured the food. When I approached her for my change and asked if she's forgotten about my money, she quipped that I should have paid up first when I ordered the food.

Thankfully, I'm more fortunate then Victor. If I don't like the service of the "Char Kway Teow" stall at Seletar Hill, I can always choose to eat at Ghim Moh Market. Hawker centres abound in Singapore and I'm really spoilt for choice. But Victor may not have much choice over the Internet Service Providers in Singapore. He is through with Singnet, I'm sure. If he's not happy with the service by Starhub, there's only one last ISP to go. Pacnet. But PACNET is sooooooo yesterday.... I'm not even sure if it can measure up to the high service standard of Victor.

Poor Victor.