Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Walk In The Park

Feeling stressed lately? School exams are coming up in a few days? Haven't had time to get an exercise because of work? Why not visit the nearest park?

A walk in the park can be more than just an easy undertaking, in reference to the popular idiom. It can be a revitalizing experience -- connecting with nature, quieting the mind, reexamining the soul, recharging the spirit, traveling back in time, looking forward to the future, or simply celebrating the present. Of course, it also means getting some leisurely exercise.

In my case, the walk to the Pasir Ris Park takes about 10 minutes, while jogging would cut that time into half. It starts with an upward trek where the view on my left is a dense collection of trees and on my right, a grassy hillside. Where the short climb ends, the sight of lovely residential houses lined up on both sides of the road begins. The trip to the park gets easier from there.

The usual suspects are there of course: joggers, rollerbladers, skateboarders, bicyclists, yoginis, tai chi practitioners and other fitness buffs. Men and women, young and old, parent and child, lovers and friends, they make their regular visits from surrounding residential areas. Nearby schools would sometimes take their students for a leisurely stroll. It is not uncommon to see people pitch tents during weekends and holidays, and the aroma of meat from their barbecuing can be tempting enough to forget the idea of getting some exercise. Speaking of which, the tent and the barbecue is a thought my friends and I have yet to realize.

On sunny weekends, canoeing, kayaking and dinghy sailing are some popular water activities in Pasir Ris Park. Sometimes, kayak clubs would hold their training here. Swimming has been discouraged lately because the water is said to contain an abnormal level of a type of bacteria. Swimming too far away from the shore has always been advised against, as there have been cases of drowning over the years.

When children are not wading in the water, they can usually be found in the playground at the western end of the park. They're either surfing the slide, riding the swings, bouncing at the basketball court, crossing a bridge, scaling a wall, climbing a rope, going through a maze, spinning on a dizzying wheel, untangling through a giant net, or simply being kids -- synonymous to having fun.

Adults do their own thing too aside from the usual jogging, running or cycling. Hobby fishermen, fishing rods in hand, would patiently wait for their catch over the bridge. Sweethearts, hands intertwined, or shoulders pressed tightly together, would sit on the benches facing the sea, talking about forever while waiting for the sunset. Others prefer to lie on the grass, listening to the chirping of the birds, or playing cards or board games, or trading stories about everything and nothing, or simply whiling away their time in dreamland or oblivion.

Some would rather watch birds than listen them. A 3-story high tower somewhere in the middle of the park was built for that purpose.

For those wanting to explore the mangrove forest within the park, they need only to follow the boardwalks leading into them. Mud crabs and mudskippers are a common sight. Informative and even attractive signages offering what can be found in the Pasir Ris Mangrove exist for anyone who cares to read them.
Happy Eppy

"Hi, my name is Episesarma singaporense, call me Eppy for short. I am a resident in this beautiful mangrove. Do allow me to introduce you to my friends and our home."

There are three species of Episesarma crabs found in the Pasir Ris Mangrove and they can be differentiated by the colour of their claws. Commonly known as tree-climbing crabs, they will climb up tree trunks to avoid the high tide.

These crabs are also called vinegar crabs. The Teochews pickle these crabs with black sauce and vinegar and eat them with porridge, while the Thais prefer them salted.

Singapore vinegar crab
(Episesarma singaprense)

These tree-climbing crabs climp up trees during high tide. They do this to avoid the predatory species of fish and crabs that hunt with the incoming tide.

At night, these crabs climb to heights over 6m to look for food. Stick around and observe these amazing crabs!

In one of my gallivanting trips to the park, I notice a sign that could only mean "no feeding the monkeys". To this date, I have yet to see a monkey. I do remember however, that a crocodile was once sighted here in this very same park.

For those with no pets at home but feel the impulsive need to feed an animal and a visit to the Pasir Ris Park is more convenient than the zoo, perhaps feeding a crocodile pony can be an alternative? The Gallop Stable, a horse stable in the middle of the Pasir Risk park, allows for that possibility. Of course, their main business is offering pony riding lessons.

The Pasir Ris Park is connected to the Pasir Ris Town Park via a bridge. On days I feel more adventurous, I follow the shoreline all the way across that bridge, huffing and panting until I get to the part where docked ships signify that I could go no further and have to turn back.

If I am hungry enough and feel that I have lost a lot of calories anyway, I simply head to the Fisher's Tavern and indulge myself to a treat of salted fish fried rice and barbecue chicken wings.

If you're as lucky enough as I am to be within walking distance from the park and luckier still that the park happens to be beside the sea, I suggest you take advantage of your good fortune and go visit.

Some good reasons to venture to the great outdoors and take that walk in the park:
  • The natural high without the risk of losing your limbs or getting a heart attack

  • A great (and inexpensive) way of spending time together with your special someone

  • Taking off the pressure when you need to make an important decision

  • Reflecting on yesterday, cherishing today and planning tomorrow

  • Simply having a good time

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Friday, September 19, 2008

A Tale of Torture, Rest Days And Kristin's Story

It was in the news the other day.
"Siblings jailed for abusing maid."
-- Straits Times

"Maid's horror months. Two siblings jailed six weeks and 26 months respectively."
-- Today
It was both sad and shocking. Sad for two reasons: 1) the maid suffered terribly and 2) the siblings were merely in their teenage years. Shocking because the allegations could be described as that, at the very least:
  • two of the maid's front teeth were extracted using a pair of pliers
  • boiling wax was poured over her head
  • boiling water was poured on her private parts
  • she was caned and punched
The siblings admitted guilt to some of these allegations, which resulted to the jail sentences they received.

According to Today, the Indonesian maid escaped by jumping out the kitchen window, the flat being two stories high.


A few months ago, a poll conducted —also by a local newspaper— revealed that 19 out of 50 employers (38%) don’t give their maids a day off. Out of the 31 employers that do give their maids a regular rest day, 35% allow a day for every month of work while 39% allow a day each week. Although the numbers are not particularly impressive, they are better than last year’s.


These articles remind me of a story I heard in one of my interactions in church, one Sunday morning. A maid by the name of Kristin narrated, between sobs, the story of how she was once under employers who did not allow her to step out of the house she worked in. The door was constantly padlocked, the keys were always kept out of her sight, and many times she had to endure being all alone. The TV that spoke not a single word of her native language kept her company and preserved her sanity.

After several months of being under house arrest for her only crime of working far away from her family, she found herself feeling a sense of sadness and loneliness that wouldn’t go away. She wept frequently but never openly. In silent prayer she found comfort and strength. Soon, communicating with God became a regular habit.

When even prayer became a forbidden act, she found solace and safety in the privacy of the bathroom. But even the concrete walls of the toilet were not enough to protect her from the cruelty of the people whom she faithfully served. When again they noticed her unusual behavior, they turned her new found sanctuary into an isolation cell —a prison within a prison— by locking her in for an entire night, exclaiming, “You want to stay there? Then stay there!”

Since then, she no longer kept her tears to herself and continually expressed her desire to leave her job. She no longer cared if she wasn’t paid in full; her freedom was priceless.

More than once she had contemplated on ending her life by jumping out the window. But she realized there was a huge chance she’d survive the fall and end up being paralyzed — a prospect more terrifying for her than being dead. She decided to take a leap of faith and instead made the firm resolve to find a way out of her terrible plight.

When an old lady came to the house one day, looking like she was going to stay for some time with the amount of luggage she brought, Kristin felt her prayers were about to be answered. The old lady turned out to be the mother of her female employer and by the end of the third day, it appeared she was indeed a long-term guest. How that fit into the scheme of things she didn’t know but she had already put her trust in the Lord.

It was more than a week before the opportunity presented itself. But that was more than enough for her to muster the courage she needed. It was the first time they left her alone with the old lady. She knew the keys to door had to be somewhere inside the house, a possibility that never before existed. And right she was. She found the keys in the same room where the old lady was taking her afternoon nap.

Despite being traumatized by this experience, Kristin chose to continue working as a domestic helper. She has been fortunate enough to find a good family that treats her well. Sharing her story still makes Kristin cry but it was apparent that she was shedding tears of joy as she concluded her tale. She feels like a human being again.

Certainly there are worse stories than Kristin’s, but this was the first time I heard one firsthand.


Everywhere in the world is injustice. If stopping one or two forms of injustice is not within our circle of influence, maybe we can avoid being part of the problem? Granting domestic helpers a regular rest day they so rightly deserve appears to be a logical and feasible first step towards protecting them from abuse.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

On Increasing The Value Of A Consultant

My boss's question, "How can we increase the value of our consultants?" prompted me to write this. She knew the answer of course, but you know how bosses are -- they throw around questions designed to make you think, hopefully solicit your suggestions and make you contribute something new and meaningful.

Why have the desire to increase the value of consultants? Because the total value of its consultants has a direct relationship to the value of the company.

V = P + R

In my constant attempt to simplify things, I came up with the above equation,

  • V - Consultant's Total Value
  • P - Consultant's Perceived Value
  • R - Consultant's Real Value.
A definition from Merriam-Webster Online:

- relative worth, utility, or importance
- something (as a principle or quality) intrinsically valuable or desirable

Next, my definition of Perceived Value and Real Value in relation to a consultant's role.

Perceived Value is the type of value that is subjective and is not easily tangible or measured. It is derived from things that make a client feel good, things that do not necessarily have a direct contribution to the required output. From a client's perspective, this can be a set of traits that distinguishes a consultant of one company from another (given that both can satisfy the client's requirements).

Real Value, on the other hand, is the type of value that is objective, tangible and most times, easily measured. It is derived from things that can satisfy the client's original requirements. From a client's point of view, anything a consultant possesses, does or produces that has a direct impact on solving their problems or meeting their needs forms part of his or her real value.

Going back to the question as to how to increase the value of a consultant, my short answer is, as the equation above tries to convey, that it can be achieved through increasing the consultant's perceived and/or real value.

Can the value of a consultant be increased merely by focusing on the factors that affect Perceived Value? The answer is of course, yes. But this isn't a sustainable strategy. Dealing with things on the superficial level is not a substitute for those things that provide Real Value and give lasting results.

What are the things that contribute to Perceived Value?
  • Appearance (Grooming, Clothing, etc.) - Image is everything? Nope. But almost.

    Whether one likes it or not, people are judged by how they dress look. Unless your good reputation or that of your company's precedes you, it's not easy to get away from this. This is especially true during the first few meetings. Over time, once you have proven yourself as a worthy consultant, you can be a bit more relaxed (or rebellious, if you prefer that term) in your manner of dressing. Unfortunately for some companies (referring to both the vendor and the client), they require the consultants to be stiffly dressed at all times so dressing down may not be an option.

    Getting discriminated because of (young) age is a different topic altogether, but dressing up is one way to disguise the age up a bit. I remember a former boss's advice.

    "Looking young can sometimes be to your disadvantage, so I suggest you guys dress up a bit when you face our clients."

    Bottom line, it's not a matter of wearing expensive clothes but wearing the appropriate ones. Do take note that appropriate varies from one client to another. It all boils down to the culture of the company.

    Grooming is simply being neat and as attractive as possible; doesn't everyone try enough of this considering love of one's self is natural? So here are just a few reminders: tidy hair, clean finger nails, good smell, ironed clothes, shined shoes.

  • Speech/Accent - Being a good speaker is not only advantageous to politicians but also to consultants (and managers, teachers, other leaders, etc.). Good speakers are usually thought of as intelligent people, being able to express themselves well. If you're new to a country and your accent is not easily understandable to the people you are talking to, it would be a good idea to slow down and enunciate the syllables. If you have a tendency to stutter or eat your words (not in the other figurative sense), slowing down or taking a slight pause before each sentence would also help.

    For meeting and presentations, nothing beats being well prepared. I guess the same could be said of just about anything.

    The good news is, speaking is a skill. It can be practiced and improved.

  • Confidence - This is about how one carries herself. Of course, confidence stems out from several factors, and not to preempt the other points way down below, but working on those factors affecting Real Value will have a significant effect on this.

    Taking the time to learn your stuff really well is one way to boost confidence. When answering questions, being able to admit what you don't know is not a sign of lack of confidence but of the opposite. Being able to BS your way may sometimes work but is not guaranteed to work every time. As a proactive consultant, you can always exercise the option of saying "I don't know but I'm going to find out" or "I don't know but I know someone who does".

    Confidence starts by knowing what you know and what you need to know. Focus on your area of specialization and talents and be aware of the strengths of your team members.

  • Attitude - Much has been said about how attitude towards life and things in general affect what actually happens. The same things could be said about dealing with clients.

    A positive attitude helps one get through difficult situations, allows one to see things from a better perspective and enables one to learn from mistakes. There's the attitude of constantly showing the willingness to help and make things happen, the attitude of taking criticisms positively and making adjustments when necessary, and the attitude of showing the willingness to make every penny count.

    I once worked with a group of consultants from another company. To the customer's questions or requests, their default answer was, "That's not in our SOW (scope of work)". They said this even when everyone else was just looking for a possible solution to a difficult problem. It's not wrong to tell the client that something is not part of what was agreed upon, but the manner of telling is important, and it's not wise to shut the doors just because something is not part of the original scope as it may show unwillingness to be open to further negotiations.

    That said, having a positive attitude doesn't mean becoming overly optimistic or being a pushover.
What about the factors that affect Real Value?
  • Knowledge - Acquired through education, books, interactions with other people and experience, knowledge, especially specialized knowledge, is among the key reasons why the services of consultants are acquired in the first place.

    Taking time to reading books or articles, or to interact with the bests in your company are some ways to increase knowledge. Trainings, seminars and certifications are worth spending for.

  • Skills - Are you really good at the tools you are using or the products your company is selling? Does your team have the skills necessary to implement the project? Specialized skills are also among the top reasons why consultants are engaged to begin with.

    While it is true that skills improvement happens mostly while on the job, a bit of regular practice outside office hours will also help. For IT consultants, unless you have a special reason for preferring to remain average, having a set up at home of your tools of the trade to play with is not a bad idea.

    This is where passion for what you do comes in; when you love what you do, you will always have the desire to improve yourself and do what it is you ought to do.

  • Intelligence - And I am not only referring to I.Q. Having the ability to deal with new situations is part of intelligence and so is applying knowledge. As defined by Merriam-Webster Online:

    - the ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations; reason; the skilled use of reason
    - the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one's environment or to think abstractly as measured by objective criteria

    Intelligence doesn't have to be an individual kind of thing. It can be collective. It can be collaborative. In a team, knowing who is good with what is valuable knowledge. Think in terms of intelligence in CIA.

  • Talent - People tend to do a great job if their work involves the use of their talents. Marcus Buckingham in his book First, Break All the Rules (What The World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently), does a good job of explaining what talents are and why it's important for companies to make sure every role has talent to match.

    Some examples of talents that don't include singing or dancing:
    - being able to explain complicated technical stuff using plain ol' English
    - learning a new language in lightning speed
    - dealing with difficult people and making them agree to what is reasonable
    - finding out why a thing that's supposed to be working is not

    If you are not making the best use of your talents at work, it might be a good idea to switch to another role or, in extreme cases, find a new job.

  • Output - Accomplishing the objective of a project or an engagement is the most important thing. At the end of the day, being able to deliver gives the highest value.
What Else Can Be Done?

According to Marcus Buckingham, a company cannot expect its employees to give stellar performance without satisfying their basic needs first. The basic needs are more than just a matter of money. They include, also according to the best-selling author, letting the employees know what is expected of them at work, giving them the equipment and support to do their work right, and answering basic questions of self-worth and self-esteem by giving praise for good work and caring about their development as people.

When consultants do their best at work and yield excellent output, Real Value is produced.

While a lot of people still give too much credit on appearance, the world is learning that the tag price cut of one's clothing has little to do with what in the person's head and heart. Appearance can be deceiving. I made early mistakes of judging people based on their appearance. In high school, I mistook the Assistant Principal On Discipline to be a messenger. In college, I mistook a doctor for her assistant. Thank goodness, I've learned my lesson since then.

You have to believe before you doubt that most companies are reasonable with their requirements when it comes to dress codes. There's little reason to be overly formal in the manner of dressing when the client themselves are a bit casual in their style. Smart casual Fridays is a good practice as it allows employees to be a little rebellious relaxed once a week while giving them room to express themselves and reveal a bit of more of their personalities. It is expected that companies who require their consultants to dress well, in compliance to their own definition thereof, ensure that they pay their employees at par with industry standards at the very least. With that, there's little for consultants to complain about, unless of course the opposite is true.

Equipment provided to employees, such as laptops for IT consultants, can reveal a little something about the company to its clients. For example, it can send any of the following messages:
  • A company cares about its consultants enough to give them exactly what they need

  • A company is doing well enough to be able provide its consultants better-than-average equipment

  • A company has a culture of being the best in everything including providing the best equipment to its best employees
Paul's story on how he got his company to replace his malfunctioning laptop comes to mind. He was asked to do a presentation to a potential client. He got to the meeting place on time and started his presentation without problems. But at the middle of it all, his laptop conked out and he had to reboot. He apologized to his lone audience and said it will probably take about five minutes to reboot his battered laptop.

"I'm sorry Paul. But can I just ask you to come back when you have your laptop fixed? I'm having second thoughts about hiring consultants from companies who can't even provide their employees with decent laptops."

Paul told his boss and was naturally given a new laptop.

It is not unusual for companies looking for consultants to work with to ask for their CVs during the proposal stage. The Pre-sales/Sales team who provides them should take care that the CVs are not only updated but are also in the best possible condition, content and format-wise. I once had the unfortunate experience of finding out that the CVs of our consultants were circulated when they were not in their best possible state. I was expecting that of all people, the sales people were aware that they were selling not only their products but their consultants as well and knew the importance of the CVs in the overall scheme of things.

For some companies, they care too much about their image that they don't allow their consultants who are assigned overseas to stay in hotels which are not in their list of acceptable accommodations.

When a culture of excellence permeates in a company, the tendency is for consultants to absorb this via osmosis and exhibit this same standard when they're out in the field. In the same way, companies who know how to keep their promise can expect their consultants to keep their end of the deal, producing excellent output that gives Real Value that benefits not only the consultant and the client but also the company.

Some steps that can be taken to steadily increase the Real Value of consultants while progressing towards building a culture of excellence:
  • Hiring an HR Manager that has experience in the specific industry or one that has both the aptitude and open mind to learn as well as to make a meaningful contribution

  • Providing regular trainings, workshops and certifications

  • Requiring periodic readings

  • Building a knowledge base within the company. Having something like a knowledge bank where lessons learned from previous projects and new discoveries in the field are stored and made accessible to everyone. This can be implemented at a negligible cost.

  • Regular sessions with in-house experts and bests in their areas to discuss best practices, both company-wide and industry-wide

  • Setting KPIs, and giving regular (once a year is not enough according to Buckingham) performance appraisals

  • Ensuring that shadowing and mentoring happens between junior and senior consultants

  • Avoiding the Peter Principle, or promoting employees to their level of incompetence or promoting employees for the wrong reasons

Consider this a work in progress. I would love to hear your reactions and/or contributions.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Shimmering Eyes

There are even stories and there are odd stories.
Here's an odd one.
The rhythm and rhyme, even.

There was a special shimmer in her eyes.
It was the kind that brightened up the skies.
That cold, rainy morning in December,
The start of day I'd die to remember.
I couldn't figure out what I had missed,
Before we said 'goodbye' and hugged and kissed.

It was in bed that night that I would learn,
A time of reckoning, my crash and burn.
I caught the glimmer of the knife she held,
Before it struck -- and then the flow of red!
There was that shimmer in her eyes that day,
The kind that took my very breath away.

The odd or even scheme.
Walking along Cecil Street, I saw a sign that directed people to use the elevators on the right if they were getting off at odd-numbered floors, and those on the left for even-numbered ones.
Then it hit me.

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Of World Domination

You don't have to live your life the way other people expect you to.

This is the central message that Chris Guillebeau espouses in his report entitled A Brief Guide To World Domination, How to Live a Remarkable Life in a Conventional World. It is also the central theme of the social movement he's started, The Art of Noncomformity. Upon reading the title, I am instantly reminded of a book a friend named Rad lent me a few years back, Rules for Revolutionaries by Guy Kawasaki. But after reading a few paragraphs in Chris' manifesto, I confirmed my earlier hunch that his report wasn't about marketing.

I instantly like the guy. I've gone through a few of the most popular entries in his site where he chronicles his ideas on "how to change the world by achieving remarkable personal goals while helping others at the same time". Even his writing is impressive -- it's simple enough to be understood yet powerful enough to convey the intended message. If that isn't remarkable enough for you, what about going around the world, visiting every known country? Chris plans to achieve this by April 7, 2013. As of this writing, his site reflects that he has visited 94 so far. He's on his way to Cairo right now.

I think the world needs more people like Chris. As small children, haven't we all been taught to become not only productive citizens of this world but also agents of social change? I believe we can conform to this not in an unremarkably average sort of way, not that it's even easy to conform to both to begin with. A lot of us would readily say "yes" to being a "productive" citizen, but an agent of change? Chris implies both can be done: change the world, achieving remarkable personal goals, helping others. Not only does Chris have a good vision that is worth taking part of, he also has the courage to act on it. He certainly has a good grasp of reality based on what he's put on paper, what he's accomplished so far and the goals he's set for himself. Inspiring or rather, influencing individuals, no matter how few, to live a remarkable lives is indeed noble. But I'm betting it won't be just a handful.

Here's a toast to Chris, his continuing adventures on his way to world domination, and our very own contribution to this pursuit! Cheers!

The images here are cropped from his manifesto. If you haven't already done so, you can download the manifesto here.

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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Of The Good Singlish Campaign And Wayan's Story

Recent Comments

I read three comments from three different people in the Straits Times that prompted me to write this post. The gist of each:
  • Singlish is not bad English
  • Retaining Singlish means preserving culture
  • Having a neutral accent is important.
Whether or not Singlish equates to broken English at this point in time is a question I dare not ask nor try to answer. The second point is difficult to dispute, but what kind of culture is being referred to must be related to the first point. I mean, does anyone want to promote a culture of broken English? The third point is undeniably important if clarity with non-Singaporean English speakers is desired, but like many other things in this world, there is a huge gap between theory and practice.

The Good English Movement

Perhaps everyone is better off focusing on reaping lasting benefits from the Good English Movement. What if ten years from now Singlish is seen as an example of excellent English for the rest of Asia to follow? What if there was no doubt as to whether or not Singlish was equivalent to bad English? These questions presuppose that the definition of Singlish can be dynamic, that it evolves over time and does not necessarily always have to be what it used to during the launch of the campaign in the year 2000. Who knows if this can be a by-product of the movement? Anyway, I believe that Singaporeans have more to win than lose with the success of the campaign.

I also believe that adopting a neutral accent should be a major focus of the campaign. I found out much later, when I had almost completed this post, that this sentiment is somehow stated differently as part of the movement's main aims:
The central message of the movement is to get Singaporeans to:

1. Speak in Standard English so as to be understood by all English speakers in this globalised and highly-interconnected world.

2. Pay attention to accurate pronunciation. However, this is not about acquiring a new foreign accent.
I have been staying in Singapore for almost two years now and I have been able to adjust to the accent, but every so often I'd wish the person I was talking to would slow down and enunciate all the syllables. I will admit I had a bit of difficult time understanding what people were saying (in English) during my first few weeks here in the Merlion City.

Wayan's Story

Take the case of Wayan, a Balinese I have yet to meet face to face. Now this isn't Pak Wayan, the artist who sold me a Balinese painting. I only know about him through his brother, Suwaste, who I met in my trip to Bali. He called me on my mobile yesterday, introduced himself and expressed his desire to meet up with me. The guy’s English was far from perfect but I perfectly understood what he was saying. Despite obvious grammatical errors and his apparent shortage of vocabulary, he pronounced each syllable clearly using a neutral accent.

"Sorry, my English not very good," Wayan admits.

Wayan shared with me a few of his misadventures. On that first conversation, he told me his superior was constantly angry with him and he’d have his daily ration of the F word from him. It was so bad he said that he’d often had to excuse himself so he could cry in the toilet.

Now let me digress a little by saying that anyone who’s been in Bali knows how kind and friendly the Balinese people are. Someone pouring his heart out to a stranger may seem a little odd. But a week in the little paradise of an island is enough for one to have a bit of understanding about their culture and not only observe but also experience firsthand their trusting nature. Here, it seemed like the prompt assessment and the even quicker endorsement of an older brother was sufficient for Wayan to open up to a stranger. Or maybe he was just a bit desperate and needed another human being to talk to?

His superior’s tongue-lashing, insults and curses were not just a case of bad mood, waking up at the wrong side of the bed or a quarrel with the girlfriend though. Often times, it was due to customer complaints about Wayan not being able to understand what they were saying.

"The English here, very difficult to understand," Wayan complains.

"That's because you're not yet used to the accent," I countered. "Give it a little more time."

During the course of the conversation, I often had to say "Sorry?" or "Pardon?" so Wayan would repeat what he just said. But it wasn’t because his English or his manner of speaking was so incomprehensible; the connection was just bad.

Because of the communication gap, the clear message of the daily dose of F word he received, and one other incident to form a strikeout, Wayan has already come up with a conclusion about Singaporeans.

"One day I talk to someone I meet and so we talk and talk that day," Wayan says. "The next day we meet again and I try to talk with him but he don't talk, like we never talk before."

"The people here not very friendly," Wayan concludes.

Final Encounters

"Thanks to all these people who use grammatically incorrect English, I have a job," quips the highly animated Mr. X, who gives lectures to local companies to promote good English.

"But having worked here all these years, I can't help but be influenced by Singlish," he narrates. "I was riding a cab in the U.S. once when the driver asked me if he could drop me off in front of a building. My reply was 'Can, can!' To which the driver, obviously irritated, replied, 'What? What can? What do you mean can?'"

I must confess that I myself have been influenced. It can be endearing actually -- Singlish, as long as we don't end up speaking ungrammatical or incomprehensible English. Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong at the launch of the Speak Good English Movement in 2000 says:
If Singlish were only "a smattering of Chinese and Malay words", there would be no problem. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Singlish uses Chinese syntax and Singlish speakers often use literal translations of Chinese phrases. This means that the sentences are not only ungrammatical and truncated but often incomprehensible, especially to foreigners. Classic examples would be: "You got money, sure can buy one." Or, "This is my one" derived from "zhe shi wo de".
I am reminded of an early blunder I made.

"Please stop dumping files to the server so we can isolate the problem," I requested.

"Yah lah! We stop." came the reply.

The trouble was I took that to mean they were going to stop. When I called a few minutes later to confirm if their team had already stopped dumping files, I was in for a surprise.

"Yah lah. Spoke to you a while ago ah. Stop already, I told you mah."

Already aware we were having problems at our end, they were in fact being proactive and had already stopped dumping files prior to my call. I should have taken the cue from the enthusiastic "Yah lah!" that I was greeted with earlier.

My conversation woes at work have constantly diminished over the months as I've learned to listen better and have become more adept at interpreting what is being said based on key words. I still make occasional mistakes but have learned to clarify before jumping to conclusions.

A quote from Robin Sharma keeps echoing in my head every now and then: "Clarity precedes success".

I guess the same could be said as to why the movement makes perfect sense.

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