#2035 | A Private Bubble, A World

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New York, New York

When I first knew I was moving to New York Roz turned to me and said your earphones will be your best friends.
I don’t actually listen to music that much, I said, and she shook her head.
Trust me, she said, you will.

I place more stock in Roz’s opinions than I do the usual person not only because she is wise and smart and funny but also because it was at twenty seven that she, too, moved across seas to chase her dream. Ten years separate us but when we are together we do not feel it except to benefit from the endless comparing of notes from days past and present. Ten years ago Roz packed up and got on a flight to Taiwan where her career as an actress developed; ten years later I rolled my life into a suitcase and stepped on the plane to New York with big dreams and a pen in every bag. Ever since she and I have obsessively texted and skyped and continued exchanging stories in every medium possible. I press my earphones in and listen to her voice messages on my walk to school. I think to myself: she was right – my earphones did become my best friends – but not in the way she had expected. Everytime I slide my earphones on, the voices of my loved ones back home chatter in my ear. So much of my days here, now, are spent with a foot in each country: america, singapore. Just a week ago I watched a friend walk down the aisle and heard the sniffles in my ear while feeling the chilly autumn breeze raise goosebumps up and down my back. I have a body that exists in two states.

As someone who identifies as technologically curious, I made the transition to wireless headphones years ago, and as headphones evolved in more compact and amazing ways I followed suit and have used exclusively true wireless earbuds for the past couple of years. How incredible they are, automatically waking and pairing once you snap the case open, pausing your track if you take them out, giving you the option to take calls or change tracks with a casual tap on your ear. And buds are so subtle. The fact that I affect a slight Luna Lovegood air when muttering observations about new york to whoever is invisibly on the line can only be a plus.

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With the bud-sized world I now carry around of course my appetite for music has increased. After countless earpieces snapped, frayed, and tangled, I was slowly weaned off a perpetual background track years ago… something that slowly started coming back in the last few years after investing in home speakers and wireless earpieces. But True Wireless Earbuds as a category is honestly unparalleled in terms of convenience. After the first pairing, it’s automatic and quick, the minute you take the earbuds out of their case they link up to your phone and are ready to rumba. And not all earbuds are created equal. It surprises literally nobody that my current babies, Sennheiser’s MOMENTUM True Wireless earbuds, are an audiophile’s dream, delivering excellent sound, as per all of Sennheiser’s offerings. Bluetooth technology has been a major debate for audiophiles for a long time, always seen as a trade up between sound fidelity and the hassle of wires, but Sennheiser has handed the reigns of control back to the user – through the companion app you can tweak the bass, the treble, the highs and the lows to your personal preference. And as someone who is absolutely addicted now to orchestral game music (I wrote a whole piece to the soundtrack of Pokemon Red’s Pallet Town theme), I can assure you, simply walking down the street takes on an epic quality.

Because I have no issues talking out loud to the apparently empty air I get a major kick out of telling the linked Google Assistant to change the track or adjust the volume: this is new york, talking to the sky is the least shocking thing you can see a stranger do. If one so wishes, the buds can even feed in some ambient noise from the outside world (the transparent hearing option toggled in the app) the result being that I never miss MTA announcements while waiting for the train.

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And there is no talking about the MOMENTUMs without at least a brief mention of the case, which is a tactile luxury, solidly built and encased in grey fabric. Perhaps bite sized luxury is the best way to think about the MOMENTUMs, which are small and excellent, compact and comforting, which have followed me across the seas to my new life here where they will stay for the foreseeable future.

X
Jem

This post is brought to you in collaboration with SITEX Singapore. All views expressed are my own. Visit SITEX for more details of the Travel Tech Experiential Zone, and click here to read more about the Sennheiser MOMENTUMs – straight from the horse’s mouth, as they say.

#2029 | weehee, wifi!

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One of the last things I did in the weeks leading up to my departure was fix the wifi situation for Shane’s family and my own. I’d heard about wifi network extenders for a couple of years now – coincidentally around the same time my home wifi started deteriorating. Or perhaps it coincided with the meteoric rise with which my reliance on the internet at home grew, what with new ventures into freelance work and such, making me newly aware of existing dead wifi zones in the house? In any case, it was getting to be intolerable, but like most minor pains in life, we tolerated it anyway, silently, hoping it would get better by fire, flood, or act of God.

Of course the thing that would finally cause me to spring into action would be my departure. For as tech-illiterate as I am, believe it or not, I am possibly the most tech-savvy in my family, and if I didn’t sort it out before I moved, my family might very well be stuck staring at the loading bar in the study forever. Fixing the wifi was on one of my very long list of things to-do prior to my move, but thankfully part of being engaged is having access to my fiance’s very tech savvy brother, a privilege which I abused liberally…

Anyway.

Shane and I lead very different (read: gamer and non-gamer) lives and so the extenders we got differed as well. I got the Orbi Voice for my place and the ASUS AX6100 network for his, and while they essentially do the same thing – extend the range of one singular network coverage – they differ slightly in execution.

In an ideal world, your original router should be sufficient, but for many people (us included), there are many odd spots in the house where the beams of wifi don’t touch. Shane, for example, lives in a railroad style apartment, meaning the rooms furthest from the living room have patchy, nonexistent wifi connection. Previously they had to use two separate routers, but that meant connecting to Network A in the living room, disconnecting and then connecting to Network B as you moved through the house – very unwieldy!

And while many temporary fixes include getting a second router and such, that creates two networks in your house, as was the case in Shane’s place previously. This is opposed to using an extender, which simply extends your original network connection. And having one singular network coverage matters because it would make it possible to do more things with more convenience. For example, if you wanted to send something to the printer, if you wanted to access the television or living room sound system from your room, or if you wanted to move through the house without the network on your phone dropping and accidentally using up your 4G instead of connecting to the next nearest Wifi router.. The reasons go on, and they were good reasons, so onwards to steady wifi we went!

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Setting up the Asus – black and gold, which I was seriously loving!

We set up the Asus at Shane’s place first. I have to say that I straight up loved this from the start because of how sleek it looked, and how easy it was to set up. You basically plug it into your (windows) laptop with a LAN cable and set it up the same way you set up any router, by entering your details into a localised page in your web browser as per the little instruction booklet that comes in the box. Once that’s done, you set up your satellite, and get that to beam wifi out to the far corners of your house.

How extenders work is, the modems need to see each other to ‘talk’ to one another. Ideally, there shouldn’t be obstruction between the two satellites, and the prevailing wisdom is to find a spot that’s high up and central in the house. We stuck it on top of the fridge, which was surprisingly the true center of the house. Voila! Extremely, extremely fast wifi in the back two rooms.

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Another option was setting the Asus up in a room where they wanted to set up a gaming point, for example, in Shane or Shaun’s room. The Asus uses both a wired and wireless connection because it has internet and LAN ports, meaning you can plug your TV, Xbox, Playstations, Nintendo switches, and anything else to the ASUS, giving your consoles an extremely stable wired connection, and extremely strong wireless connection for remote devices like phones or laptops!

And then at my place, we set up the Orbi network, including the Orbi Voice.

The Orbi was designed to be an easier set up because it’s an app based installation. You essentially download the Orbi app and follow the steps, and voila. Alas, a delayed voila for me – I encountered a couple of speed bumps setting it up because the app wouldnt recognize my network. This may just be a one off thing, mind, because when I ran a troubleshooting search on the web, there were tons of reviews praising the seamless setup, which eluded me endlessly. Eventually, it took a couple of modem restarts for this to get going, but once it did, the experience was smooth sailing henceforth.

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Setting it up on the TV console so it’s a higher, unobstructed point from the floor or under the table. The matte white look really blends it into any modern home quite easily, something I appreciate!

Once you’ve set it up, the Orbi is pretty much the perfect system for families and macbook users. The sleek matte white is very reminiscent of early Apple days, and literally everything is controlled via the app – you can turn on and off wifi access for a certain device (if you want be irritating and prank your sister), change the network name and password, create a guest wifi, run speed tests, and use their Disney Circle on Netgear function to implement parental controls. It also ‘talks’ to you in a very straightforward way – the top of the router lights up in different colors to indicate potential issues. Purple if your internet is down. Green when first powered on. White pulses when firmware is updating. Blue if the connection between the Orbi an Orbi satellite is good. So on and so forth. You can use the Orbi router with regular Orbi satellites or the Orbi Voice satellite, and we went for the latter in my bedroom.

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Lulled to sleep by the Lo-Fi playlist on Spotify, hehe

As you can see it’s not meant to be an inconspicuous object at all; it’s meant to be proudly displayed as an integrated part of your furniture. The Orbi voice is also a smart wifi speaker, which allows you to connect your Spotify account and activate on voice command. It runs on Alexa, which isn’t available in the SG app store, so any purchase of the Orbi comes with a workaround guide which is really easy to sort out. Besides radiating wifi, it is also, importantly, a good speaker – Harman Kardon – which is possibly the best speaker we’ve had at home, though all of us are casual music listeners, not people with home cinema aspirations.

Once we had the Orbi set up, I actually grew to seriously love it. Having everything on an app actually made it super easy to understand what was going on and why – for example, if there was a slow connection on one device, I could look at the overview on the app and figure out what was going wrong (usually it had to do with the triband receptors in the receiving device), and just reset it for that device alone. One thing to note though, is that the Orbi only has an internet port, and no LAN ports on the device body. What this means is that you can use the Orbi for wireless connections, but not connect anything wired (like extra gaming consoles) to the Orbi, which is fine for casual internet users like my family and I.

Bottom line: Both of these devices are great for covering wide areas in the house, and ridding your place of dead zones, but:

The Orbi is better for families or mac users (it’s hard to plug a LAN wire into a macbook for setup, so the app setup is best for people who don’t want to deal with the hassle of multiple dongles and wires), as it’s an all rounded product that’s incredibly straightforward to use as long as you know your way around a phone. It will appeal to people who like a clean, minimalistic aesthetic – not just because of its beautiful product design, but also because the wireless set up makes for a less messy house overall, without multiple wires lying around! I also think that it’s especially suitable for families who may want to monitor what their kids access online, or have numbers to how much time their kids spend online – not necessarily to restrict their access, but because it’s important to have mature discussions about responsible internet usage, which the Orbi facilitates 🙂 Plus, it’s a wifi speaker!

On the other hand, the ASUS is better for people who don’t mind wires and are more invested in having good, stable connections for their internet enabled consoles. It’s especially suited for gamers, for example, whether hard core or casual, because it allows you to wire multiple consoles up to different points in your house wherever your satellite is. With the ASUS you could have your PS/Xbox consoles (which run on wired, not wireless connections) in your living room, bedroom, or study, and they would all be super fast and super stable since the wire is a dedicated route that channels your signal bytes across.

Overall: A happier, more stable, more worry free wifi experience at home.

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Many happy internet users in my house – whether using their phones or watching Netflix on my internet wired TV hehe

It was amazing how simple it was, like walking through a door. Flaky wifi, good wifi. How could we have lived before this, holding our phones up to the sky as if begging for a connection? I don’t know. Of course, there will be those who see that as a metaphorical parallel to the state of our modern worship-reliance of the cloud and such (it is, quite literally, called the cloud), and those are all fair comments, which I will continue to acknowledge from my point, under the covers, far from the living room router, scrolling and scrolling on a seamless connection before bed.

This post was written and researched in July 2019, and brought to you in collaboration with SITEX Singapore, but all views expressed are my own. Visit SITEX for more details in relevance to the Smart Home and Living Experiential Zone!

x
Jem

#2151 | Ten stories from Korea – and Bringing back more with American Tourister

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Seoul, Korea

I was in Seoul in March for a work trip, and it was to be my sixth time in the country. I’ve been through phases of love and disenchantment with Seoul, which is what happens when you visit a city for the first time at 20 and keep going back in stages. Currently I am in a phase where I have newly fallen in love with the city, and so everything to me seems fresh and beautiful. I recognize this: it is this sense of wonder that I associate so heavily with travel, that attributes a sense of individual significance to what is ultimately just a set of geographical coordinates. But yes, I cannot help but feel like Seoul has seen me through much of my formative years, and this attachment I feel to the city has formed, for me, an affection for what I see as its quirks. I feel like I can say things like this is my favorite coffee place in Seoul or you must get this hair oil from Olive Young or If you dont run into at least one crying drunk on your trip, were you really in korea? without feeling like a hack. Fun times, fun times.

All that is to say that in some ways, I feel like as one gets older, travel is less about checking landmarks off a bucket list and more about imprinting yourself on a city and letting it do the same to you. When you return from any trip you bring back memories of excitement, joy, disaster, disappointment, the works, and all that catalyses the way you grow through each trip. It is by a long shot not the only way to develop as a person, but it is surely one of the ways. And I dont think I’m exaggerating by saying that I think this is the way it is for many travellers as well, and a big contributing factor to what people mean when they say they’ve been bitten by the travel bug.

When American Tourister approached me some time back to collaborate on their new Curio collection, which is accompanied by the tagline: bring back more, the first thing I thought of was how many ways this rung true. A luggage’s primary function is obviously to be a vessel for your travel essentials and lets face it – shopping, but it’s also a sturdy companion that’s pretty much a silent witness accompanying you through the world. I don’t know about you guys, but I travel so often that my luggage is very personal to me – I keep an entire set of skincare, a separate hair curler, and my preferred toiletries as well as back up essntials in a compartment of my suitcase that I never take out. I only swap out the clothes portion of my suitcase when I travel – everything else has become an invariable staple. I had been using my old cloth luggage for about two years before American Tourister launched the Curio, and my old luggage was by this point insanely banged up by being perpetually tossed around by baggage handlers. Not that I mind that – I like that every tear and scuff is a map of my personal travel history, but it had reached such an extreme point that I was in a market for a new one.

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My Curio and I totally poppin on the streets of Seoul

My Seoul trip was in the works when the Curio was launched, so I thought I’d take the chance to literally bring back more with this new luggage by mapping out personal memories through my forthcoming trip and bringing back little tokens through the trip that I could then pack into the Curio and pass on to someone else. When I told them about the idea, American Tourister very kindly agreed to contribute an cabin sized Curio for a giveaway, and so everything you see from here on has had some part in forming my relationship with Korea in the last five years, including the new Curio I brought along on the trip. And of course, the sweet spot – everything here, including a cabin sized Curio in Golden Yellow, is up for grabs by one lucky winner!

TEN STORIES FROM KOREA

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1. Banana Milk Keychain and Lipbalm

I was quite a late adopter to the Banana milk craze, only trying it for the first time during my third or forth trip to Seoul. I didn’t understand why I would want to have banana in my milk – which is silly in retrospect because I actually have the habit of cutting up bananas to put into my breakfast cereal, which obviously, I have with milk. But anyway. I had the famous banana milk which you can apparently only get in Korea, and it was like drinking my cereal. Now I have it all the time whenever I visit Korea, and sipping at it makes me feel, ridiculously, like I’m a character in a korean drama. I can’t buy back an actual banana milk packet because I dont know how long it keeps and i dont want the giveaway winner getting sick, but I got a banana milk keychain instead after seeing a whole line of banana milk inspired products in a store. How cute is this?!

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2. Mise en scene Hair Oil

I was in Seoul in 2013 at the same time my girlfriend Elissa was doing a summer school programme there. She was training to be a pharmacist then, and being an idiot, I asked her if that meant she would be doling out drugs at Watsons. In my defence, I was 20 and knew nothing. She smacked me over the head and introduced me to what is now one of my favorite hair oils to prove a point, the point being that Watsons is awesome. The said hair oil was from mise en scene, which stocks all over the country’s drugstores, including Watsons. Now we are fast approaching twenty six and Elissa is saving lives everyday in a hospital, and here I am, still raving about the wonders of how I can feel my hair literally drinking up the hair oil upon application. So much has changed but two things remain the same: the sarcastic sturdiness of our 13 year friendship, and the wonders of this hair oil.

3. Skinfood Brown Sugar Scrub

My boyfriend went to Korea a couple of years back and bought this for me, and I fell in love with it instantly. It’s a sugar scrub that leaves your face feeling baby smooth, it smells amazing, and the best part? It’s half the price in Korea as compared to Singapore. This product for me signifies not only my love for good skincare, it also represents the thrill I get whenever I land a bargain. Score!

4. Set of 10 face masks

Of course I had to get face masks. It’s not even that I use sheet masks that often, what with all the new fangled masking styles, but sheet masks are such an essential part of shopping in Korea that it felt sacrilgeous not to include it. The first time I was in Korea I was stunned by how affordable the masks were compared to their retail prices in Singapore, and went a bit crazy buying masks. I have since then learnt to mediate my mask-buying habits, but I made an exception for this trip. Here you have an Acai Berry flavored mask, because I love acai bowls, and a bamboo mask.

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5. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Jumping from skincare to culture, I’m just going to say that this giveaway covers pretty broad ground. I’m a value-added kinda girl, y’all. Anyway. I read Pachinko last year and could not stop recommending it to everyone I knew. It’s easily one of the best books I read last year, and that’s saying a lot given how many books I read. The story is an intergenerational epic, and beyond being an emotional narrative following the thread and repercussions of foolish young love set against traditional Asian values, it serves as a humanizing snapshot of post-war Korea, commenting on the second generation korean community living in Japan. I dont know how to classify the book – it is an epic, a family story, a romance, a historical novel, a slice of culture, a lesson in empathy. But under all that, it is just damned good. I did not pick this up in Korea, I actually got it from a bookstore in Bali, but I think it is a great read that brings new dimension to the country and culture, a dimension you may not necessarily get from simply visiting Korea. I got a new copy of this for the giveaway because everyone should read it, and because it now has been indeliably inked into my relationship with the place.

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6. Krave Beauty skincare duo – the Kale-lu-yAHA and Matcha Hemp cleanser.

I met Liah in New York a couple of years ago, and honestly thought I would never see her again because our meeting was so random and we had met in a continent neither of us lived in while being based in two completely separate continents ourselves. But as it happens, I had a 24 hour stopover in Seoul on the way back, and Liah materialised at the foot of my airbnb to bring me around, triggering my personal shift from being bored of the city to loving it anew. The rest, as they say, is history. Liah is one of the most hardworking and dedicated people I know, so insanely passionate about skincare, and when she launched her own skincare brand last year after years of research, I knew off the bat that it was going to be amazing. Krave beauty doesn’t ship to Singapore, only to America and Korea, so I bought it when i was in LA last year, and loved it immediately. I purchased another set this time when in Korea, and am putting it in the Curio for a new person to love!

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7. Honey Butter Chips

There’s not much story to this, only that it’s one of the guilty pleasures that I indulge in when I’m in Seoul. It’s got the savory crisp of chips blended with the sweetness of honey, and the result is a confusing yet pleasurable mix of emotions packed into each chip. Try it and let me know what you think.

8. O’sulloc Matcha and Roasted Tea Spread

I used to hate green tea, and O’sulloc changed that for me. The second time I was in Korea with a girlfriend of mine, we got caught in a heavy rain and ended up seeking refuge in an O’sulloc tea house which was apparently famous. We couldn’t stay there without buying anything, and anyway, o’sulloc was supposed to be a famous teashop, so we each got a matcha tea and a green tea roll to share. AMAZING. I suddenly realised that my life thus far had been a hack, and I’d been consuming overly sugared versions of green tea that were but a shadow of what it was meant to be. Since that trip so many years ago, O’sulloc has expanded itself and now there are chains in most major neighborhoods in Seoul. I can’t bring back the green tea rolls that I love, but their matcha spreads are an unreasonably yummy form of portable magic. They just launched their roasted tea spreads, so I got both the classic matcha and the new roasted tea spreads from the outlet at the Myeong Dong Lotte dutyfree store for this giveaway.

9. Korean seaweed multipack

Everyone knows that airport prices are at least double city prices when it comes to souvenirs and the such, but I learnt this lesson the hard way. My first trip to Korea, friend had asked me to get her korean seaweed and I promised. I saw it many times during the trip but put off buying it, thinking that it couldnt be that much more expensive in the airport. WRONG. It was at least thrice the price. I still got it anyway because a promise is a promise, but boy, I kicked myself real hard over that one. Now I get it in the city center like everyone else, and I got this one from an e-mart in Seoul. Think of that when you’re crunching away on the seaweed, dear winner. It travelled miles and came with a built-in lesson too!

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10. Socks

I cannot go to Seoul without obsessively buying socks. You must understand: I live in a house of women, I share a sock cupboard with two sisters. Irritatingly, the three of us have the same shoe size, which means that often I have shoes and socks go missing, and the socks somehow never reappear again. I needed a way to procure socks by the masses, and at a cheap price, and Seoul is essentially SOCK HEAVEN. You can find stores selling these novelty socks everywhere along the streets, and they normally go for 1,000won each with some kind of discount if you get more than ten. I got ten designs from a street vendor in Myeong Dong for the giveaway, and I think they’re all pretty damned cute! Maybe no one sees them but you, but still, pulling a Princess Bubblegum sock over your feet in the morning is bound to put a smile on your face.

And there you have it, ten anecdotes from my relationship with Korea, manifested in physical goods and packed away and sent off in a Curio for someone’s brand new adventures. Everything mentioned above I personally purchased throughout my trip, and American Tourister and I are giving it away along with a cabin sized Curio in the super pretty Golden Yellow. The luggages aren’t just functional (TSA approved lock, amazing wheel-spinning action), they’re gorgeous too. I love the fact that all the colors in the range are so unique and pretty, because I feel it makes them stand out in a sea of dark colored luggages without being too oestantateous! I got the blue one for myself because I already have another luggage (a super past-season American tourister actually, haha) in yellow, but I do really like the cheery sunshine-y vibe that yellow luggages have, and I’m sure the winner will too 🙂

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All you have to do to be in the running is leave a comment in this post listing an item you associate with a city, and what your story is. Look – I even gave you ten examples above. I’ll have American Tourister pick a winner by Monday 16th April, so happy reminiscing and I look forward to reading all your entries!

Go make new memories, y’all. Till next time.

X
Jem

UPDATE

Giveaway closed – winner has been contacted by American Tourister! Thanks for entering everyone xx

#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.

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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

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jem

#2142 | A Weekend at Sea / Genting Dream from Dream Cruises

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On board the Genting Dream

A weekend at sea thawing out after a month of cold. I have to say, my first time on a cruise in what, ten years? was pretty unexpected, and mega fulfilling. I’m not going to say that I nailed the whole how to do a cruise thing best, but I think given the fun we had, I did it pretty damned well. See below for: our recipe for a superb weekend..

– a group that has the capacity to be totally ridiculous
– a willingness to make new friends
– 2-3 day cruise
– ability to source out GOOD DEALZ aka unlimited fine wine, thank you very much!

Lemme elaborate. You see, after my weekend on the Genting Dream, I realised that a cruise holiday is totally different from a normal holiday. When you fly to Phuket for the weekend, for example, you’re looking for a break, yes, but also to see somewhere new, to explore, etcetera. More likely than not you already have an itinerary or something vaguely resembling that. So yes, there is a sense of relaxation, but also a sense of adventure and agenda. Whereas on a cruise, you’re 100% there to relax. The only exploring you’re going to be doing happens within the confines of the (admittedly very large) ship, and there’s really very little that can go off plan when the plan is just to relax. It’s for this same reason that I suggest taking a 2-3 day cruise which can be easily slotted into a weekend – over the 3d2n cruise-to-nowhere we had (literally, the ship sailed out to open waters, then turned around and went back to Singapore), all I did was live my best life at a mega leisurely pace, to the tune of crashing waves and lime-fizzled corona. It was just the right amount of time too, for us to relax and yet disembark at the end of the weekend feeling as though we had not yet exhausted all the permutations of relaxation methods on the ship yet.

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Amanda, our coronas, and meeee

We were invited on a girlfriends weekend aboard the Genting Dream from Dream Cruises, so full disclosure, we didn’t have to pay for our trip (except for expenses, which i’ll talk more about later). I know people who have done full on stag parties on cruise trips, and my last cruise experience (>10 years ago?) was a family vacation, so I think as a vessel for holidaying cruises are pretty versatile. See what I did there? Ha, ha. Anyway, I checked the prices and the two night cruise that we did starts at about 400 bucks per person, although we got a nicer room that had a sea view so that goes up to 600/pp. This price doesn’t seem to be super fixed though, because there’s also a bunch of credit card promos I’ve seen for the ship online prior to my trip, and right now if you sail during your birthday month you get 30% off as well as free wifi for the duration of the cruise. I got all my information from the website, so if you want to double confirm the prices for your dates, check here: dreamcruiseline.com/

Anyway! We boarded, checked in to our room, and did a quick ship tour. After which we were free to explore the place and basically relax. Melissa and James were on the ship too, which was a nice surprise, because that totally played into my theory that group cruise trips are the ideal permutation because you can PLAY PING PONG AND GIANT CHESS TOGETHER! Okay, if you laugh at that, then you obviously havent lounged around in your swimsuit with a beer in hand all afternoon while meditating upon whether to move your Queen or Bishop, okay??

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Checking in to our room

A quick aside regarding our room: I was pretty impressed by how similar it was to a hotel room. It was super spacious, which I guess makes sense given that Dream Cruises brands itself as a luxury cruise. The cruise itself is only about a year old, so everything in our room was very new. I was particularly impressed by the fact that there were two USB charging ports next to each side of the bed, because I am practical about what I need and what I need is power!

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Didn’t need to use the main powerpoint at all – all I needed were the USB ports

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Also, cant believe there was a bath tub in our room?!?!?!

Note: The bathroom’s tap water is drinkable, and there’s a sign telling you so as well. The cruise provides bottled water per day/room, and anything above that is chargeable, so just refill your bottle at the tap if you need.

Okay, so. On to the rest of the ship!

Amanda and I are particularly proud of how we spotted this great deal. Fine, we didn’t spot it, it was pointed out to us by a bartender on one of the decks when we tried to buy a beer. But whatever. Basically, there was a two day drinks pass available which meant that you could have unlimited selected drinks at any of the ship’s many bars, like coffees, teas, juices, soft drinks, any beer, and the super yummy house red and white wines. I mean, score!! There are several tiers of this drink package, but we got the cheapest because all the higher tiers included like whiskey and gin and all that.. and we’re happy with coffee, beer, and wine. Hoho. That’s 70 bucks each for two days of unlimited drinks, and I say with some sense of pride and amusement that we broke even within the first two hours. Everything after that? We counted as profit.

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Cheers!

We were so amused at our own bargain that we started wondering if the ship would raise prices after we disembarked, citing two azn girls who helped them realise how they might be making a loss on drinks.. But at the same time, we were also impressed by how the bartender happily pointed out this deal when he overheard us discussing what drinks to get. It kind of fit in to our later realisation that all the staff on this ship are mega friendly – at least the ones we ran into. Amanda and I made friends with some of the pool staff (who then delayed closing the particular hot tub we were in, hoho) and she even made plans to play ping pong with one of the other deckhands after he knocked off at ten. And speaking of staff – the ship is full of them. There’s literally personnel at every corner, which I suppose is mainly to enforce safety measures and facilitate check in and out processes, since we didn’t have to queue for a single thing the entire weekend. The Singaporeans in us didn’t know what to do with ourselves!

We spent a majority of the first day roaming the ship and watching the live deck band from the hot tub. This is mainly because the ship only started boarding at 4pm, so when we got on there was just over an hour of sunlight left. After checking in and having dinner, we basically went straight to the pool and didn’t move for 2 hours. It was hilarious, actually, because at some point the ship was leaning heavily on the right, and all the water in the pool swished to that side, leaving me sitting on the shallow end of the pool wondering where all the water had gone. The pool staff actually convinced me that they’d been pranking me by pressing some control system, but halfway through I figured out that it was the ship’s movement. NICE TRY!

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Hot tub! Plus there’s a main stage on the deck where a band performs at night, so if you time it right, you could watch them play while in the tub.

Oh – a note on safety. For safety reasons you cant bring alcohol into the pools. And also, the floors around the pool are made of this totally awesome weird material which felt slightly absorbent and bouncy. I couldnt figure out what it was, but amanda and I bounced on it a lot, trying to figure it out. It’s also super anti slip, but the staff are always on hand to wipe up any water so that puddles dont form and lead to accidents. There are seriously a lot of staff, we timed it and if you bring a beer into the tub, you have about two seconds before someone blows a whistle at you. Oh well. At least we know we’re being watched over, safety wise!

After that we headed to the outdoor movie night, which was quite nice – all these day beds in front of a huge screen. However, they were playing Annabel Creation, so after about fifteen minutes we gave up watching and went back to our rooms to turn in. The in-room TV is pretty awesome I think, because unlike in a hotel, it has free movies. The selection isnt huge but I liked the movies that they had on show – the entire harry potter series, some of the star wars films, and I cant really remember what else because I was freaking out over the harry potter and star wars series!! I tried to watch Star Wars Rogue One, but unforch I was too tired from the day of, yknw, relaxing, so I fell asleep. Hoho.

I dont know what to tell you – the next day was spent in a way that can only be described as frolicking in the sun. Perhaps pictures will explain what can only be interpreted one way. See:

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Here i am, just after waking up, enjoying my unlimited white wine on the private pool deck

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Here i am, confidently challenging JamesBabsChen to an hour long game of chess because he said he hadnt played since primary school which led me to be stupidly cocky, when that was actually a MIND GAME and he was actually A PRO! Aka he won, okay, end of story, i dont wanna talk about it anymore

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Here I am, corona in hand, watching Mel and James play ping pong because I have no sense of coordination and so did not deign to try my hand at ping pong. This was pretty funny also because sometimes the ship tilted and the ball rolled off the table, and I did not get up to help, and just sat there and laughed. The life!

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Here is a rock climbing wall, which i did not try because i did not want to go back to my room and put on proper shoes. Anyway, it’s there if you want to try it.

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Here is the ziplining area, which I also did not try, because of above reasons. You need to wear proper shoes for this, and have proper clothes too, the ship personnel are super serious about safety and dont want you to get roper burns or anything. Anyway, this is the first zipline at sea AND part of the 35m zipline goes out of the ship and over the sea so that’s pretty hard core!

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This is Amanda being weird on the sundeck, apparently it gives you a better tan? Who knows.

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Here are the butts of Amanda, Melissa, and I, also known as the super basic I’m on a ship! pose.

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Here I am, being totally extra under the water slides. Again on safety: no jewellery or handphones or go pros or whatever on the water slide, they dont want you to bump it and hurt yourself, and when you get on the slide you will understand why.

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Here is the top view of the ship, which I took from the viewing deck on the 19th floor.

Sorry I just need to also point out that the water slides are intense!! I thought they were for kids because all these children were just flinging themselves down like it was no big deal, but now I realise that is because kids are crazy. There are two types of slides, the longer kind (stripes, on the right) and the shorter ones (solid colours, on the left), and the longer ones actually have a transparent portion that goes out of the ship and over the sea because, yolo, I guess???? And the shorter slides are EXTREMELY STEEP. Look at that purple slide!!! I sat down, looked in, and wanted to chicken out, but couldnt because I did not want to be embarrassed. And then i was like yeah okay, here goes nothing, and pushed off, and gave out a slight oh! squeal, and basically had all the air robbed from me. GOODNESS. THEY SHOULD PUT A WARNING SIGN ON THOSE THINGS: EXTREME THRILL OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT.

Okay, moment over.

Onwards.

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Here I am with a sign that warns you not to eat the fruits on display. Hur Hur.

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Here is a mini performance area, where they have performances and screen movies. The performances are pretty good, mainly western hits. And then there’s another performance area at the Bar 360 that’s mainly chinese hits. And there was also a pool party during our cruise that was all Bollywood hits. So I’d say they got their audiences pretty thoroughly covered?

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Late night menu! Just had to put this here because I made a mental note of it (i love soya bean milk) and wanted to come.. however I showed up at 230am when the special menu was over :(( So this photo is in memory of my non-soya-bean-moment. Melissa had the $2 porridge though, and said it was GREAT.

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Here’s one of the shows we caught on our second night. It’s called The Voyage of a Lover’s Dream. It’s basically an acrobatics show loosely tied together with a storyline, although I’d call it more a thematic show than anything else. The idea is that an astronaut and mermaid fall in love, aka the sky meets the sea, aka the Genting Dream. Get it??? Haha. I think it’s their origin story but basically the entire show is fancy acrobatics that are extremely intense. This show is free to watch, just make sure you reserve a seat first.

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Here we are posing for a photo. After this we had to scramble out of the tub to actually drink the wine, due to aforementioned pool rules.

Fun times. So that was day two, basically, and we stayed up till 3am – Amanda just could not stop playing ping pong with every single person she met, stranger or not, and I went swimming then headed off to look for a sauna. Then we reconvened for drinks and chit chatted for awhile before falling asleep. The next morning we woke up for breakfast then had to disembark in Singapore already! So it was literally a weekend trip – which I can imagine works pretty well for corporate adults/ families, since this place is also a wonderland for children.

Final points to note:

– I dont think I would pay for wifi because no ship in the world is going to have strong wifi in the middle of the ocean. At least, not to my knowledge. So if your cruise package includes free wifi (like the birthday one), then good for you. Otherwise, I’d say just take the chance to disconnect and unwind! If you really need to contact your other friends on the ship, the Dream Cruises app (which I suggest you download before getting on the ship) has an in-app chatting function so you can contact other people on the ship. You can use the app for other things too, like keeping track of your bookings and the day’s schedule on the ship

– When in doubt, always choose the chinese restaurant! It’s included in the list of free restaurants. Maybe I’m biased because I think Chinese food is the bomb, but it’s really quite a good one. It’s not buffet style, it’s more like a set meal you get, and the dim sum breakfast we had was pretty yum. Really nice setting too.

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Chinese restaurant breakfast is included in your stay

– If you like having a drink with your meal and the option of having it anytime from morning till, well, 3am, get the select drinks package. 70SGD for 2 days is super worth it for unlimited drinks, and if you frequent restaurants and bars in Singapore, you’ll agree! The house wines they serve are pretty good too, and light enough for easy drinking, so its not like they serve bad stuff on the cheap packages. Overall I think this is fab and would super recommend this haha.

– Electronics like travel irons, multiplugs, etcetera, are not allowed on the ship. I think its because they’re all subject to Marine safety standards. My hair curler was fine though.. Anyway, just be safe, and dont bring it unless you absolutely need it. All staterooms have a kettle and hairdryer anyway!

– There are extra activities you can pay for, like bowling, karaoke, arcade games, and a spa. But I do think that for a 3D2N cruise, there are more than enough free activities to occupy your time. Perhaps if we’d stayed longer we might have tried it out, but as it was, I think we didn’t even have enough time to finish the free activities!

– In the middle of the afternoon they hold free dance classes on the pool deck. This is actually pretty cute, they teach latin dance and all that, and a lot of the older folk on the ship join this enthusiastically, which is nice.

– Another thing you can do is head to Zouk – they actually have a Zouk nightclub on board. But I only just peeked in. Tts really not my scene, and I think its funny to dance with people youre going to share a ship with for the next couple of days. So ping pong and giant chess it is!

– The ship is huge, 19 decks in total, and it was running at full capacity when we were on it. Despite this, it never felt over crowded, so that’s nice. There’s definitely a healthy number of people everywhere you go, but it’s not overwhelming, probably because the ship has so many spread out things to do.

– I really think the best things to do on a cruise is be on a cruise, so if I were to do it again, I’d probably still pick the weekend cruise to nowhere. I basically like being at sea, and I think if I wanted to get to a destination I would just fly there – when a ship docks, they’re bound to the laws of the land, which means that many things on the ship probably would close while the ship was docked. So my preference is still purely spending time at sea, in a group.

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Lastly: the ship is mega grammable.

Haha! What a weekend. Thanks for having us, Genting Dream! Till next time.

Dream Cruises:
www.dreamcruiseline.com/en-sg
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Jem