Archive for December, 2009

Will your New Year resolution stick? Most resolutions do not work out, according to the self-help experts, because they are too general. It’s always better to be more specific, to have a goal.

That is true. But at the same time, New Year brings with it a unique kind of optimism – an opportunity to start with a clean slate. And the word resolution is a powerful, emotive word that plays a big role in this feeling.

So my thinking is, let’s try something different. Why don’t we call it a resolution-goal with all its implications, instead of just a resolution. So, instead of saying “I want to lose weight in 2010”, we can be more specific. We can spell it out this way: “My resolution-goal is to lose 5 lbs in 2010.” For someone who wants to improve his/her social network, it might be better to think of it this way: “Next year, my resolution-goal is to have lunch with one new acquaintance.”

For me, my resolution-goals are pretty modest this year. One is to complete a long essay by June. The other is to learn to cook one of these two dishes: crème puffs or mee siam which is a Malay noodle dish. I know, some people may see this  ‘either or’ strategy as a cop-out. But as my culinary ambitions are often more aspirational than practical, I think this is a strategy that will work for me.

So, here’s to the success of our resolution-goals as we welcome 2010. Happy New Year.

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A festive mood at the Ngee Ann City complex.

This week, guest writer Nadia, a photography and shopping enthusiast, shares her thoughts and photos on Christmas in Singapore.

December in Singapore is heralded with decorative balls in the trees, reindeer on the lamp posts and the biggest, brightest Christmas trees along Orchard Road. The malls attempt to outdo each other with decorations, and the sidewalks come alive with a different magical theme each year.

If you’ve never been to Singapore, Orchard Road is the place to shop: where malls line both sides of the road and where there is an abundance of high-street, couture and home-grown/ Asian labels everywhere you look. Orchard Road is where you find two Louis Vuitton boutiques separated by just one mall in between them. It’s where you will find a mall  (http://www.ionorchard.com/ ) with Prada and Harry Winston on level 2 and The All Havaianas Store on Basement 2.

This shopper’s paradise is constantly growing and this year spilled beyond its typical boundaries as more malls sprouted further down the road. We have plenty of other shopping districts but this growing tribute to the local (and international) shoppers’ appetite is probably what propelled Singapore to Number One in FutureBrand’s 2009 ranking for shopping  (http://www.futurebrand.com/cbi/rankings/).

Orchard Road at Christmas is an international tourist attraction.

The Christmas spirit in Orchard Road is infectious. I don’t celebrate Christmas but just being towed along in the flow of humanity on the brightly lit sidewalks one night was enough to make me seek out potential, albeit imaginary, presents for my loved ones. Imaginary, that is, until I succumbed and decided to give little presents anyway. Partly because I wanted to share in the Christmas cheer permeating the crowds, and partly because I was motivated to do so by the memory of a little red velvet sock, with soft white feather trimming, filled with colorful chocolates that I woke up to on a Christmas morning in a little blue house on the hill.

Christmas in Orchard Road may be hot or wet depending on the fickle weather; the malls filled with students on vacation; the streets a mass of humanity; and the roads a blockade of vehicles. But it’s the brightest, happiest place to be. Will I see you there next year?

The tree at the Ion Orchard mall is the biggest tree on Orchard Road, standing at 6 storeys tall and 9m wide.

Christmas lights along Orchard Road.

The decorations at Tangs department store, one of Singapore's most famous landmarks.

A trio of trees, including one that looks like it is made of giant Ferrero Rocher chocolates.

Takashimaya's delightful Beary Christmas Tree.

Ngee Ann City's Christmas tree.

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Coyne discussed Western Digital's presence in Malaysia.

A Malaysian delegation was in Southern California to interact with the American business community.

The Malaysian Industrial Development Authority (MIDA) organized a seminar on “Malaysia – U.S. Business Opportunities” held at the Wilshire Grand Hotel Los Angles on December 8. The seminar which was well attended aimed at providing the latest updates on the economy, policies and incentives for business and investment in Malaysia, and a venue to network with Malaysian business leaders.

The panel included Datuk Seri Dr Jamaludin Jarjis,  Malaysia’s Ambassador to the United States and Tan Sri Dr Sulaiman Mahbob, Chairman of MIDA. The seminar was chaired by Marc Mealy, the Acting Vice President of the US-ASEAN Business Council. They pointed out that one of Malaysia’s assets is that Malaysia is a good gateway to trade in the ASEAN region, as well as into China and India.

Malaysia’s imports and exports through Los Angeles have been significant. “Malaysian consumers are eager for American products,” said Mealy. Looking at the present and the near future, Dr Jarjis said that Malaysia has to do a transformation of its economy.

“We’re moving towards a higher technology base and high skilled global talent. We are also excited about the Trans-Pacific Partnership  announced by President Obama,” he added.

MIDA provides information on doing business in Malaysia.

Datuk John F. Coyne, President and CEO of Western Digital Corporation gave the audience another perspective, from the other side of the coin, so to speak. Western Digital has been in Malaysia for 36 years, and is the country’s largest US corporation employer.

“Our facilities are run by Malaysians. The quality of the employees has enabled us to compete. Labor cost in Malaysia is not the cheapest; but the labor management and technical skills have provided value for over 36 years,” Coyne said.

Coyne gave an interesting comparison  of factors considered by Western Digital in deciding to invest in Malaysia in 1973 and in 2009. The main factors considered in 1973 were industrial policy, political stability and tax structure. Labor cost was important at that time.

In 2009, one main factor for the company’s continuing investment and growth in Malaysia is the very consistent industrial policy and political stability over 36 years. Another important factor today is the access to “touch” labor in Thailand and the access to form a manufacturing cluster in the region. ( Touch labor is defined by BusinessDictionary.com as production labor reasonably and consistently assignable to a unit of work.)

One of the participants wanted to know, from Coyne’s experience, what is a mistake that Americans can make in investing in foreign countries. He answered: “We take our own experience from our little world and immediately apply it to another culture, without considering the local context and environment.”

The Malaysian trade delegation also included executives from Malaysian companies and representatives from the state of Pahang, Johor and Penang.

Dr Jamaludin Jarjis, Malaysia's Ambassador to the US (center) with Steve and Winnie Kaplan of the Malaysia California Business Council.

The seminar was well attended.

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Each honey has its own distinctive flavor and bouquet.

I learned to appreciate monofloral honey at a farmer’s market in Los Angeles. I found out that while most commercially available honey is blended from two or more kinds of honey, monofloral honey is made primarily from the nectar of one type of flower. Each monofloral honey has a distinctive flavor and color, and can even differ from year to year.

At the farmer’s market food stand set up by a Californian apiary, we sampled different types of honey. I really liked the orange blossom honey with its fresh taste, and I was hooked.

So imagine my delight when driving along the Ventura freeway, I saw a sign “Bennett’s Honey Farm – Honey Tasting Room”. That definitely called for a detour.

In the retail store/tasting room, there was a table where visitors can sample the varieties of pure honey from Bennett’s Farm. The friendly staff encouraged us to taste as many flavors as we liked as each one has its unique personality and bouquet. Bennett’s offers these honey varieties, from the flowers of: orange, sage, wildflower, avocado, eucalyptus, buckwheat and clover. Orange and sage are among the most popular with the visitors who stopped at the farm.

There is a live working bee hive in the store.

I chose the wildflower honey for its light, delightful taste reminiscent of flowers, as well as the avocado honey. Avocado honey is gathered from California avocado blossoms and the avocado honey I tried had a wonderfully unique, buttery taste and was much darker in color. One of the staff said that this year’s batch was exceptionally good that even folks who said that they don’t normally like avocado fruit enjoyed the avocado honey. In fact, it is so rich that even half a teaspoon of the honey is enough to satisfy as a dessert.

It was a fun experience, learning more about honey, a food source that has been cherished for its nutritional and medicinal qualities since ancient times.

Everything connected to honey.

Visitors can also pick up honey skincare products and candles.

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No laughing matter...it's a security breach. (AP Photo)

Fame, scandals and privacy are the buzzwords this week.

At the top of the news is the saga of Tareq and Michaele Salahi who gatecrashed a State Dinner at the White House, and even got up-close with President Obama.

It used to be that one has to be good at something to be famous. But the Salahis reflect the current trend of chasing or attracting fame at any cost. Some commentators blame reality TV for this. People are voyeurs. If you open up your life to the world, the good as well as the messy parts, you stand a good chance of becoming a famous celebrity.

Another interesting thing that I notice from this gatecrashing story is the initial reactions from the British and American press.

There were several headlines and comments in the British press, applauding the Salahis for staging the ‘gatecrash of the century’. “We need more pranksters like the White House gatecrashers,” said a writer in the United Kingdom daily, The Telegraph. The reception in the American has been more serious – raising worries about the serious breach of security and how an unauthorized guest can get so close to the president.

This difference could be due to the British fondness for pranks. Americans, on the other hand, carry the history of the assassination of two of the country’s great leaders, President John F Kennedy and civil rights leader Martin Luther King. It has been reported that Obama receives 30 death threats a day. Ed Rollins, CNN Senior Political Contributor and a leading Republican wrote a stern piece titled: “Prosecute the White House gate-crashers.” (http://www.cnn.com/2009/OPINION/11/28/rollins.party.crashers.whitehouse/ )

Scandals and privacy also dogged Tiger Woods, one of the world’s most successful and popular golfers. It seems like his picture-perfect marriage wasn’t so perfect after all.

Tiger's plea for privacy will go unheeded. (Getty Images)

Amidst all the blaring news of his affairs with other women, Woods pleaded for privacy for his family. Sorry, Tiger, it doesn’t look like the media will heed your plea. Today, scandals sell. And even some of us who agree that Woods and his family should be given some privacy can be quite hypocritical. We still gobble up the scandalous details and the “breaking news” when we come across them.

The Woods episode also brings up the issue of athletes as “role models”. It’s fine that we consider them role models for their drive, passion and excellence in their sport. But should we also expect them to be role models free of marital complications or “transgressions” as Woods term them in his statement, when such episodes are a recurrent theme in the human experience?

Points to ponder, as these two stories continue to hog the news.

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