#2148 | meditations on an job-shadowing afternoon

Hey guys,

So a thing I have been thinking about lately is the inseparability of one’s job and identity. I suppose I am thinking about it now, as opposed to sooner, because I delayed my graduation from academia by two years thanks to taking on an MA degree. But be that as it may, the two years have come and gone, and now I am forced to wrestle with what, exactly, I am.

For so long my identity has been personally grounded in the fact that I was a student, and it was something I loved being (I’m straight up, a nerd) and something I derived great meaning and joy from. But come August I will have convocated, and officially phased out of academia, and I guess these things induce a certain hum of low level panic because now I don’t know what to classify myself as beyond the snappy “just a millennial” reply. Ha.

All this is to say that the idea of career vs personal ambitions have been weighing on my mind quite a lot. There are so many schools of thought here – the idea that you should do something you love, the opposite idea that a job can be just a bill-paying-functionary, the intermediary idea that you are not defined by your methods of production. The most popular, obviously, is the idea that your job should fulfil you, and that you should feel meaningfully challenged by it every day. But most people don’t get to do a job they love off the bat because that’s not the way life works. Most people take a job and then the job takes them, ala Fitzgerald. So purely based off the statistics of jobs available vs jobs needed, this didnt seem like a particularly smart way to approach the job-searching-conundrum since it’d produce a disproportionate amount of unhappily employed people who feel like they could have been doing something else, like being an astronaut or something.

It was in March this year that several things happened at once: I held a giveaway on instagram calling for responses re: what made each individual feel proud of themselves that day, analysed the trends and produced a map of accomplishments, and separately, spent a morning job-shadowing a gallery host at the National Gallery who was nominated for the Singapore Tourism Awards last year. The map of accomplishments basically isolated the elements and driving mechanisms for producing these positive feelings which then could be consciously replicated to self-motivate each individual, and I had a lot of younger people (late teens to mid twenties) email me to say that the map helped them a lot in clarifying their sense of direction within the institution they were currently situated in (eg. job, school). And at the same time, spending the day with the gallery host, a Ms Caroline Seah, I couldnt help but notice the same things I picked up in the giveaway responses being echoed both in the way Caroline approached the job, and in the way the job approached her.

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Gallery Hosts being briefed in the morning

Caroline does a job I could never do – mediate the consumer experience for one of Singapore’s most iconic tourist attractions. As a gallery host, her official jobscope is to give visitors a great experience that they have never gotten elsewhere before, basically generating the moments of delight that leads to repeat visitors and, I assume, word of mouth referrals. It’s a pretty broad jobscope, with a pretty broad range of people to meet and help day by day – she’s posted at the National Gallery’s Social Table, which is sandwiched in between the gallery halls and the Violet Oon restaurant, so as you can imagine, the flow of people passing through is pretty intense. I say I could never do this because I am helpless in the face of children (which the gallery is full of) and illogic (which I’m sure she encounters in the form of unreasonable customers). Customer service is tough, and customer service for a national icon is, I imagine, way tougher. Caroline is, by her own admission, not an art-fanatic, nor was she particularly a peoples person before starting as a gallery host. But she clearly loved her job, like, loved in italics and all, and I couldnt help but ask: why?

I love my colleagues, she said, which made sense, but then she went on: and the gallery helped me discover my talent for connecting with people. She thought about this for a moment, then she said: I never knew I was good with people until I worked here.

Her use of the word talent was specifically interesting to me – I dont know how old she was, but she was definitely parent-age-ish. That meant the discovery of her talent came relatively late in her career, and was evidently central to her enjoyment of her job. This echoed something I read recently about job satisfaction, so I prodded more and it turned out she especially treasured the anecdotal experiences where she demonstrated her talent for human relations – returning gallery visitors who evidently enjoy her company, registering the delight on the face of a child who she cheered up with art and muffins (it’s a whole story), and mediating tensions between visitors who clash over the social table, which happens more than you’d think. Manufacturing those moments of delight brought her personal satisfaction, which was then channeled into pride in her work, it seemed to be an everlasting loop. The result? A great employee – but more importantly, a satisfied and fulfilled one. A rarity these days, in a time where people seem increasingly dissatisfied or restless at work.

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The Social Table at the National Gallery

But perhaps she was just a good natured person? I know people who seem happy no matter where life places them, more power to them. Later in the afternoon, however, I headed to Bynd Artisan and saw the same sentiment echoed in Ms Grace Chai, a totally sweet atelier manger who you couldn’t help but love – the overwhelming adoration she had for Bynd and her work shimmered whenever she spoke, which was incredibly endearing. I asked her what made her a good employee, and unfazed by the directness of my question, she shrugged and smiled: I like people, people like me. And it was true – later, as I lingered in Bynd perusing their leather goods, I watched her tend to walk-in customers, and she shone in each interaction. Here was someone, I thought, who knew what she was good at, and enjoyed doing it. And this made total sense – that being allowed to constantly demonstrate one’s talent and refine it while being assured that one’s talent brought value to their place of employment would bring them a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction in their jobs.

If happiness/ fulfillment in one’s employment were the end goal, then perhaps, I thought, instead of landing a job you thought you’d love off the bat, there was a way to grow into the jobs you had with excellence. But this had to be as much the legwork of the employer as it was the employee. I spoke to a communications representative from the National Gallery after that to better understand the way their employee trajectories were planned. Their baseline is ensuring an informational and accurate experience – so everytime a new art collection or exhibition is brought in, all employees undergo training for that collection. But beyond that, the gallery doesn’t clamp down on KPIs and allows the employees to explore their own best way of introducing and managing their section. Both the National Gallery and Bynd Artisan shared this approach, as far as I could tell, of identifying their employees’s existing talents and letting them run with it generally, as long as they fulfilled the objectives of their jobscope: giving visitors a great experience.

And this worked perfectly for them – both Caroline and Grace seemed the most interested in self driven and initiated ways of mediating the customer experience, found a method that worked for them, and proceeded to rinse and repeat it until they were excellent at what they did. Their employers gave them the freedom to do that and it produced a job satisfaction that trickled down to satisfied customers. Perhaps this is a lesson in being a good employer as much as it being a stellar employee, but everyone wins here – both Caroline and Grace must have impressed the people they’d crossed paths with so much that they were both nominated by the public and eventually became Customer Service finalists for last year’s Singapore Tourism Awards. Yet another moment of delight, this time validation from the people and the state.

It seems to stand, then, that the route to happiness – at least in one facet of adulthood – is finding the sweet spot between an understanding and nurturing employer, and figuring out a way of developing your personal talents within your jobscope. This seems generally reflective of life – you put in the practice and work that you can, and the rest is exposed to circumstance. Does this answer my postgraduate mild identity crisis? Not entirely. But it does bring realization that nothing will ever definitively be a solution – I can only do everything I can, and leave the rest to fire, flood, act of God.


With Caroline from the National Gallery and Grace from Bynd Artisan

Nominations for the Singapore Tourism Awards 2018 are now open – nominate the Graces and Carolines in your lives now on singaporetourismawards.com and share your personal experiences with them to hopefully bring them a moment of delight in the coming year.

This post was brought to you in collaboration with the Singapore Tourism Board


#2147 | Seoul damned good – Noona Hol Dak Chicken

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Seoul, South Korea
All photos in this post taken on the Samsung S9

Is it totally excessive if my first post about Korea this year is about fried chicken? Is that terrible? Does it really matter? Here are the questions I preoccupy myself with, these days. Anyway, anyway. I just had to jot this down before time passes and weathers away the intensity of my current emotion, and I start to second guess myself and wonder if I really meant it when i thought one fine evening in myeong dong that it’s true, all that they say about knowing it’s love when you find it, like how after six trips to seoul i have finally found and fallen in love with the best fried chicken i have ever had in korea.

The name is Noona Hol Dak Oven Chicken and Beer, and the game is oven baked crispy chicken. Martin and I were wandering the streets of korea looking for a quick dinner so we could get back to work, it was an unfocused sort of wondering, guided by a general trust in the infallible quality of korean food. We were talking about something idealistic and dreamy, like how this trip was kind of exactly like what our future lives would be like if we moved abroad for work and became housemates – meals together, and then working on our individual projects silently in each other’s company. We were marvelling in the delights of adult friendships that weren’t bound by institutionalised obligations (school, work); the pure joy of comfortable companionship. We looked up and found ourselves in front of Noona Hol Dak.

Noona means older sister in Korean he said, with a sense of epiphany.
I said, Maybe this is like one of those themed maid cafes in Japan and some noona will give us chicken

We giggled like kids, we went in.

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Super bustling place even though it was past prime dinnertime

The place was buzzing, tipsy korean businessmen were shouting happily at noisy sorority girls, office ladies were trying to get the server’s attention, some kid was looking for the ketchup tray. And above all, the crackling of fried chicken skin being bitten into, everywhere. Martin turned to me: this place looks amazing. I nodded, taking credit for the place as if I made the chicken myself: thanks, I know.

We ordered the most basic thing on the menu, a plate of boneless crispy chicken to share. I had a beer, as I do. Martin had a coke after trying to ask for a coke zero and giving up after failing to communicate exactly what a coke zero was. No one in Korea knows what coke zero is, he complained, normal coke is so unhealthy and I stared at him. Martin, I said, we’re in a fried chicken joint.

More ineffectual conversation that I don’t remember, etcetera etcetera. If we had said anything of importance in between ordering our food and it’s arrival, neither of us remember the details: everything was overshadowed by the arrival of the chicken, which was squarely planted on our table by a korean uncle (there goes the noona concept). I took a bite and I think I blanked out for a bit. When I remembered where I was, we were already halfway though the plate. I’m confused, I said, with reverence, by how ridiculously good this is. Martin didn’t reply: he was chowing down.

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national jewel of korea

It’s hard for me to explain why food is so good when it is. I have a million and one ways to complain about bad food, but when it’s good, I’m usually just stunned into silence. I dont know the specifics of food science, I dont know what makes it specifically good. For this dish, it might have been just the fact that something so simple was so damned well done. The chicken was juicy and tender, the skin was crisp and cracklin. The fact that it was baked gave it the illusion of being healthier than straight up fried chicken (though i have my doubts about the truth of this hypothesis), and after we were done with the meal, neither of us felt stuffed nor guilty. We left the restaurant feeling pretty proud of ourselves, in fact, for having a satisfying meal that wasn’t excessively filling.

I’ve had fried chicken in korea before, obviously, but for some reason I have never been rendered this speechless by a plate of chicken. I have spent the past few hours wondering on and off why I was so impressed by this: I think perhaps it is because it hits the sweet spot between incredible food and a good price point (if it were a hundred dollar meal, would I feel the same way? Who knows – but I suspect my own principles won’t allow me to ever pay a hundred bucks for fried chicken). The entire meal – oven fried chicken, a beer, a coke, cost a total of 23,000 won. Writing that down now, I feel an unreasonable sense of pride, I am so pleased with myself for paying essentially twelve singapore dollars for my share of a damned good meal. Am I hyping this up too much? Am I setting everyone else up for disappointment? Doesn’t matter right now – in this current narrative, the best chicken I’ve ever had still blows my mind. Yum, essentially. Yum and yum.

누나홀닭 명동점 Noona Hol Dak Oven Chicken & Beer
Seoul, Jung-gu, Namdaemun-ro, 78 SK 명동 빌딩 1 층


#2145 | Rollin with the Reindeers


Nuuksio National Park, Finalnd
All photos taken with the Nikon D750 on a 85f1.8mm lens

Just showing some love to one of my favorite lenses, the 85mm/f1.8 from Nikon. I borrow it occasionally on my travels because it’s such a gorgeous portrait lens. It’s one of those lenses that you dont get to use often because of how tight the crop is, and it’s heavy too, so for much of the trip I carry it around in my bag like a rock, waiting for the chance to bust it out. Often I go days without seeing an opportunity to use it – but when I do get to pull it out, bam. Totally worth it.

We were in Nuuksio National Park one of the days of our Helsinki trip, where we got to feed the roaming reindeers by hand with hay, but were ultimately separated by a wooden gate. It makes sense – you dont want to let random tourists harass the reindeers, I’ve seen terrible examples of what happens when people are allowed to do whatever they want (imagine: a child hanging off the neck of a poor deer in Nara deer park, the mother cooing how cute! and taking pictures instead of disciplining her child). So I respect the need for a barrier, but I did wish I could get closer to the reindeers, especially when they were full of hay and no longer enticed to come near. That’s when I realised – I couldn’t physcially get closer, but my lens could. Out came the 85.


That shoulder ache i had, carrying the lens around all trip?

Totally worth it.


#2144 | The Broke Student’s sort-of Guide to Christchurch


Amazing sunset along the streets in Christchurch, taken on my Samsung S9 in Pro mode
All photos in this post were either taken with the Samsung S9 or Note8

Hey guys,

I’m just going to preface this with the disclaimer that Christchurch was a solo trip for me that I wanted to do totally on my own – meaning not just a solitary trip, but one without the trappings of (admittedly self imposed) obligations to my web platforms. That’s why I didn’t bring a camera on the trip – I wasnt expecting to take photos for anything other than keepsake so a phone would do (though come to think of it the ones that my phone takes are actually very good) and I also didnt consciously plan to pen any guides or anything like that on the trip. All that is to say that if this seems a little sparse compared to my normal BSGs, forgive me. I didn’t plan for this! Something i also say when my phone runs out of battery when i’m out and about, but nevermind. Think of this, then, more as notes from a broke student rather than a full on guide. Alright? Alright, then we are aligned, and without the pressure of expectations, here I go.

Getting to Christchurch

Most people will see Christchurch as sort of an entry point to the South Island of New Zealand, which is one of the most beautiful regions in the world, I think, if you’re a scenery sort of person. Consequently most people dont stay for more than a couple of days in the city – they’re trying to get to the mountains, the lakes, the gorgeous Milford Sound. I had no car and the purpose of my trip wasnt really to see scenery, so I was happy to stay based in Christchurch. But either way, Christchurch serves as a gateway, and one where you’ll probably want to stay a night or two to stock up on groceries and stuff before moving on.

Flying into Christchurch International Airport is easy enough – Singapore has a few carriers that fly that route, though most of them feature a stopover somewhere. I did my stopover in Brisbane via Qantas. (A mild digression: Qantas has surprisingly good in-flight entertainment options – not a huge movie library, but very curated, very recent. I flew in early March and already The Shape of Water and Red Sparrow on the movie list, both of which had just been released in Singapore cinemas)


movie selection on qantas. super recent releases!

If you book a couple of months in advance it should be easy to get an economy flight for about a thousand singapore dollars, and there’s also the budget carrier Jetstar that goes to NZ. I think its currently the only budget carrier that does that route.

A note if youre flying out of Christchurch as well – if you have an early morning flight, it’s good to know that unlike most major airports, the Chirstchurch airport does not allow sleeping overnight. You’re going to have to get there at 3am in the morning the normal way, like by taxi or shuttle or something. Which brings me to my next point:

Getting to and fro the Christchurch Airport

Christchurch is (I ran a search) the most expensive city in the world for airport taxi transfers. Seriously. The city center is about 20 minutes drive from the airport and that’s a cool 60-70 bucks and beyond. I nearly choked blood when I saw it – I have disposable income now but the broke student in me refuses to pay for that purely based on principle. That was ok going from Christchurch to the city center when I arrived – there are a number of buses that take you to the city, and it’s NZ8.50 cash or NZ2.50 if you’ve got a Metro card.

It’s getting from the city to the airport thats the problem.

If you’ve got a midday or night flight, you dont have anything to worry about since the airport bus will probably still be running. But my flight was 650am, meaning i had to get there at 450am, and no buses are running. Uber is new in CC so there were NO UBERS on the road at that time also – I had a heads up because a few days into my trip, two japanese girls started knocking on my door at 3am in panic because they had assumed they could get an uber to the airport and freaked out when they realised there were none available. I didn’t want to risk waiting on an Uber after that, and I refused to pay for a taxi, so I started looking for other options.

I finally settled on a shared shuttle service. A shuttle (which most major cities have) is a shared minivan or private bus that you pre book, and they come pick you up on the way to the airport. I didnt dare take it before because I’ve heard so many bad things about shuttle services, like how they run late because there are so many people to pick, theyre uncomfortable and stuffy, they dont show up, etc.. so I figured i just had to find a good one. I found a small boutique one called Steve’s Shuttles which was a small company with mainly 5 star reviews on facebook. I felt safer going with a small / boutique company because I felt bigger organizations (like supershuttle) would be prone to inefficiency or messing up, and also cos Steve’s Shuttle had a free phone number I could call up, and I thought the dude on the phone sounded like a decent bloke. Yes I judge people based on their voice tonality!! It’s a side effect of being a choirgirl. Anyway, tt cost me $25 bucks cash, and the shuttle came exactly at 4am to pick me up from my door! Score!! Super happy with this, would definitely recommend. Here’s the link if youre keen: http://www.steveshuttle.co.nz/

Also, plan to get to the airport early. Both the Christchurch and Brisbane airports I passed through were crowded despite the odd hours I kept. The Brisbane airport was also very inefficient in it’s security checks with only one line open both times I phased through, so you might want to make sure your connecting flights arent too close together.

Data/ SIM cards

There are service provider booths just by the airport gates. I went with Spark’s data lover bundle, meaning no calls or texts, but 4.5GB of data with an additional 1GB for purely social data (FB and the like). It was great. NZ40! Connection was super good and never dropped. There was also a 1.5GB option for 20 bucks but .. the math didnt compute. Haha.

If youre travelling solo you probably want to look at getting a Sim card. Otherwise, if youre in a group of 3 and above, a wifi egg might be more worth it, depending on the duration of your trip. Do the sums on your own based on your trip!


basically took a lot of selfies on the trip because i was alone

Accommodation in Christchurch

There are lots of hostels in Christchurch but I think getting an Airbnb is the best option AND ITS NOT BECAUSE I WORK WITH THEM OK.

A bed in a mixed dorm is anywhere from NZ25 to NZ50. Which means you share a bunk bed with like five to eight other strangers, male and female. I’ve done this a lot, and while I’m happy to stay in hostels, the prices of airbnbs in Christchurch give hostels a total run for their money. I paid SGD26.8 per night for a private room in an Airbnb, which is basically the price of the cheapest hostel bed in a shared dorm. NO BRAINER. I didnt take photos because I was living in someone’s house and didnt think it was very nice for privacy reasons, but just run a search on Airbnb if youre coming to Christchurch, it’s a very good alternative to hostels!

If you’re a first time Airbnb user kindly sign up with my link so I get referral credit and can do more budget solo trips and bring you more broke student guides thank you! Airbnb.com/Jemma

Transport in Christchurch

There are no trains in Christchurch. I know, right? Weird. But they do have a very extensive bus system which is not very reliable nor on time, but at least it tries. That’s the theme of the city i think, because it’s still finding its feet after the earthquakes. But anyway, the bus system is called the Metro, and I took it everywhere.

The metro card is a non refundable ten bucks and this is where you need to decide whether it’s worth it for you. If you pay cash on the bus it’s NZ4. If you use the metro card, it’s NZ2.50 valid for 2 hours (So if you get off and do groceries and take a bus back within 2 hours its free), and total limit for one day is NZ5, so max you pay is NZ5 a day anyway. The bus network extends pretty far out though, and I took the bus to neighbouring towns/beaches/ports just to look see, all for NZ2.50 a trip.

This made a lot of sense for me because I was in Christchurch for 10 days, so the number of times I would take the bus (and thus the discounts I would have via the bus card) was enough to justify the 10 bucks spent on the nonrefundable card. If youre only in town for one or two days, it may not be worth it. Do the math on your end. For reference, I spent NZ10 on the card, and topped up a total of NZ30, which I used to the last penny. Then I gave the empty card to my airbnb host so other guests can top it up and use it in the future, because I am a good person. That is all.

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Some seagulls i saw when taking the bus around to the beaches out of the city

Food in Christchurch

I spent a lot of time in Auckland as a kid because my dad’s a pastor and our founding church is Emmanuel Church in New Zealand. In addition to that, in recent years, my family did a trip to NZ again – both north and south island, to visit family friends and the such. So it is from experience that I confess: food is really not New Zealand’s strong point, and it’s expensive to boot.

You’d be much better off cooking, because groceries are decently priced and fresh because they have their own produce. That’s another benefit to staying in an Airbnb – you might have access to cooking pans, oil, spices, etc, that your host lets you use, whereas in a hostel you might need to buy everything. Groceries in New Zealand aren’t cheap either, but at least you get to control the food you make and it’s still way cheaper than eating out. I cooked every single day in Christchurch, and only ate out a couple of times – when I was meeting someone for dinner, and when I felt like having unagi, which I couldnt make. (Samurai Bowl, Christchurch. Cheap for NZ standards and good food. Check it out.)

An example – I bought pork sirloin at the discount section of the grocery store, it was NZ4.50 for 3 slices, and I had it for three days with a fried egg and sautéed kale. GOOD OR WHAT.

Things I cooked:

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I used a lot of kale because it was cheap. Salmon is not cheaper than in SG, but its way fresher, so i was happy to pay for it!

Oh another thing. There are several grocery chains in Christchurch. I went to poke my head in all of them. The cheapest is Pak n Save, followed closely by New World, followed not-so-closely by Fresh Choice.

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Said Pak n Save

Coffee in Christchurch

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Photos of my coffee lol

Coffee anywhere in NZ is very good and I think this is because their milk is so damned fresh. Cows everywhere. This was my one regular indulgence in Christchurch. Fine. One of two regular indulgences. The second was..

Entertainment in Christchurch

I fell in love with independent movie theater Alice cinemas in Christchurch. It’s a DVD rental store that has been remodelled to fit two theaters, and they screen modern and retro curated films. The whole place is themed like Alice in Wonderland, and you can bring wine into the theater!!!!!

I watched three films there: The Square, Ladybird, and A Fantastic Woman. I didnt know what any of them were before going in, and they were all very good. A good parallel to this is those indie bookstores that stock curated reads as opposed to chain bookstores that stock mass titles.

If you have a student card, it’s NZ12. Otherwise its NZ17 per show. More expensive than Singapore but it’s also not like a regular theater so I guess you’re paying in part for the experience.

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Love this place

Alice Cinemas
209 Tuam St, Christchurch Central, Christchurch 8011, New Zealand

Payment Modes in Christchurch

Oh yes, one last point. I only changed NZD100 for my trip and I had money left over. This is because most places in NZ accept card – not just card, but paywave, so it’s incredibly easy to just use your credit card, especially if you have a travel card with miles tied to your overseas dollar spend. I only used cash for a couple of things:

1. One ice cream cone on the beach
2. Second hand books at some random bookstore
3. Airport transfer
4. Some coffee place that didnt accept card

That’s it! Otherwise most places take card, so you can just keep a bit of cash on you for safety. Otherwise it’s all good.

Okay that’s all I have that is relevant to notes for a guide. Hope this was helpful to anyone gathering notes on a New Zealand trip via Christchurch. 🙂 Goodbye, now.