Downsides of technology

Much has been lauded about technology and I won’t deny that its development has brought so many benefits to modern life, some that I can’t imagine being without. But we have probably heard and known enough about all the good things that technology has delivered so it’s really meaningless to continue praising it here.

Technology has its downsides as well, which many of us probably also know and acknowledge. By doing so, it doesn’t mean that I’m deploring technology or being unappreciative of the convenience enjoyed as a result of technology. It just means that perhaps we have to be mindful of it, and understand that technology should be a means, something like a slave, rather than master, of our lives.

Too often, I have witnessed and experienced, social situations such as gatherings, dinners or the likes, where instead of engaging the people seated face-to-face with them, people are busily tapping away at their smart phone screens, whether scrolling through Facebook news feeds, Whatsapping their friends, checking their emails, or otherwise. It is absolutely pointless that a group are seated physically together at a table yet their minds and focuses are elsewhere. Kudos to technology for enabling us to communicate with people across geographic locations, obliterating the distances in-between. Yet we can’t fault technology but how human behaviour has evolved to lack the consideration of “face-time”. Sometimes I have been exasperated enough to ask pointedly at my lunch/coffee/dinner partners if the issue is so urgent that their digital conversations have to take precedence over the face-to-face chats. Mostly, they will absentmindedly wave you off while they continue texting their friends.

Mobile phones and tablets should really be banned during such occasions but how many actually have the discipline and courtesy to practise this? I can be very absorbed in my phone too, I won’t deny that. But those are usually times when I have nothing better to do, for example whiling time away when waiting for someone or during the daily commute. I try to make it a point not to keep checking my phone or stow it away when I’m out with someone, unless it gets to the stage where my presence is redundant.

It’s just annoying. And plain rude.

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Affected too easily

As I reflect on my grouses, that tend to be pretty similar if not downright repetitive, I realise that most of the things that rile me up are exogenous. It is all too common that whenever I ride on the local subway or tube or whatever it is termed, i.e. we call it the MRT, an acronym for Mass Rapid Transit, I am bothered by people intruding into my virtual private space, or when they so much as brush against me when there is more than a silver of space separating us, making me wonder in disbelief why they would need to veer so close to me instead of keeping a wide berth, which I would definitely prefer and choose.

Even in the office, something as innocuous as someone making too much noise, as deemed by me, such as slamming stacks of papers on the desk, flipping papers loudly, sighing all the time audibly, throwing down stationery after using them so that they create a loud clacking sound on the table… I just don’t get it. Why can’t people just do things quietly? As they type on the keyboard, is there really a need to hit the keys so hard like they are afraid nobody can hear them typing?

It is all very personal, I suppose. Like how I prefer peace and quietness, and would rather do things gently and quietly, type quietly, flip and handle things with a controlled level of force so that things don’t get smashed around. It’s just that in our world where private space has become somewhat of a luxury, and more often than not we have to share breathing space with people, it is hard to not have to grow accustomed to or tune out from all these noises and distractions. We don’t exist in a vacuum and we certainly don’t live on an island where we are the sole inhabitant, so even if it drives me crazy when people do what they do, intentionally or not, I will have to learn to get over it and put it aside. Life is stressful enough as it is without us adding such unnecessary stress and pressures on our own lives. Yet how can I learn better to adapt, to tune out and to ignore?

Maison Kayser, Wheelock Place… What a shame

I really love the baked goods of Maison Kayser, and I have one particular favourite which I give myself a treat to on-and-off, the Pain aux Noix (walnut bread). I enjoy breads that are not too soft, and that contain nuts or grains because the added texture and chewiness makes eating more fun in a way, not to mention that they also give more dimension to the taste.

This evening, after my class was over, I thought I’d try my luck at the Wheelock Place outlet to check if they are still open, and if so I’d buy a Pain aux Noix, or maybe just something, for breakfast tomorrow. My class is supposed to end at 9:45pm but my teacher usually makes us stay a little longer because there’s just too much to cover. But it was still before 10pm when I got there, and was slightly dismayed that the lights in the display cases were already off, signalling that they were closed for the day. But I saw that there were still loaves being displayed in the darkened cases, and there was a staff milling behind them, so a shimmer of hope raised in me.

I approached the counter and tried with a few “Excuse Me”s that got ignored, until the female staff member looked up from what she was doing and saw me. She was in the midst of emptying the baskets of breads into a large trash bag, so I asked “Are you closed?” to which she responded “Yes” and continued with her action, despite that I was actually interested to buy something. Right in front of my eyes, with Pain aux Noix still available, she took them all and threw all the contents of the trays into the trash bag.

I was really disappointed and angry that they would rather throw away food items that are still edible and good and could be sold to me. I know they have already closed the till for the day, but they could always just make a sale and put it into the next day’s takings, couldn’t they? Or she could have offered a more polite decline instead a curt “Yes” before trashing the loaves. To look at this in a positive way, she was probably sticking to rules and procedures to not sell anything after the cashier has been closed, and that she did not take the chance to sell something and pocket the money since it isn’t recorded (but to these youngsters these days, $3.40 probably isn’t worth their effort to pilfer anyway), but it was just in extremely bad taste and poor customer service.

As much as I really enjoy Maison Kayser’s breads, I have only ever encountered very limited instances of good customer service from their staff manning the takeaway counters. In the service line, or F&B for that matter, it doesn’t matter if it is a $3.40 bun that someone is buying or a $10 sandwich, you still accord them the same service, don’t you? I don’t know if it’s attributable to the lack of proper training or the transient nature of such jobs that are usually staffed by part-timers who do not give a damn about building a good brand image to which customer service is a fundamental building block. But the sad state of customer service in Singapore is something that just never seem to change, although there are some places that do indeed serve up good customer experience, such as for instance, Starbucks.

épuisé

Beautiful scenery almost always seem to take place during the hours when the sun is rising or setting. Perhaps it is due to the fact that the position of the sun at these times, casting long shadows and creating varied dispersions of light lend to the breath-taking charm. Old picture, recycled from the archives.  20130404-090523.jpg

This morning was one of those where the weather was surprisingly good, for this time of the year. Despite that it has now become stuffy and humid, while making the trek to the office, there was a light breeze that coupled with the general cool atmosphere, result of rain the last night, made the walk enjoyable. That is of course, if we disregard the fact that this walk leads to the office, a place that has become synonymous with dread, boredom, unhappiness, dissatisfaction… and the list goes on and grows.

Thursdays should be exalted for simply being the prelude to Friday, the onset of the weekend, yet there is just this heavy mood that is weighing me down. My mind is now a whirlpool of random unhappy thoughts, which nothing seems to be able to alleviate. Why can’t everything be simpler… Why can’t I stop comparing and banish that competitive streak in me… Why can’t I be happier?

Everyone always has a word to say about everything, but I do hope that they know that their opinions don’t always mean it is the right opinion. It is the lack of sensitivity, together with the egoistic “my opinions are always right and must be right” attitudes of some people that make them so hard to around with. It is ok if you choose to think that what you have concocted in your head is the only right way to go, and it is fine to live your life that way, but I, together with many other people I suspect, will just cease to become a part of your life in future.

Life is a tiring journey, long and arduous. When will it be time for me to go home?

cold.

Not physically, but in the heart.

Truth be told, whether it comes across as believable or not, I enjoy buying things for people, as gifts. When I began travelling, or even when I wasn’t travelling, I would like to buy some stuff home, probably starting from the time when I got a job and earned a regular monthly salary. It feels good to be able to afford presents, big or small, for loved ones, friends or family. But over the years, probably experience has made me decide to stop doing it. When I was in Tokyo, since I had so much time and the city was abuzz with the thick festive spirit of Christmas, I was walking around the shops and malls with an intention to get gifts. It can be hard to buy gifts for people, especially if I hope that the gift will be something the recipient will like, can use, or something to that effect. Not everyone likes getting something that will invariably end up as a white elephant because it takes up space at home, and we all know how scarce space can get in our tiny little island state with tiny little apartments.

So far, perhaps only one or two of my friends belong to the category who you can get them almost anything, useful or not, and they will actually appreciate it, or at least I think they do. For others, I really don’t know. Where family is concerned, it is pretty obvious, because we all live under the same roof, most of us anyway, so it is clear whether something ends up being a white elephant or not. So I thought for them, it is always wiser to get edible stuff. We don’t know what each person’s taste is like in terms of fashion and accessories, or toiletry products or the like, which could easily be bought locally though, albeit at a different price perhaps. I’m not that discerning when it comes to buying clothes for other people so I try not to.

So usually when I travel, I would buy locally-made food products. I have chocolates from most of the cities that I visit in the course of my work or vacation, but most of them remain in the fridge, tucked away in a corner where they were kept, because nobody at home enjoys chocolate the way I do. Even I am not such a huge fan, if not they won’t still be there today. Some of these chocolates are actually way past their expiry dates, but I am one for believing that chocolates are ok to be eaten past their “Best Before” dates because they are in the fridge, and “Best Before” doesn’t mean they can’t be consumed after that; besides, I have taken many of those and have not had anything happen to me, yet. Fingers crossed. Perhaps the reason I buy chocolates most of the times is also because they keep better, and longer, as compared to other things, such as biscuits or cake-like confectionery that tend to last at most a couple of months.

So back to the Tokyo trip. I really loved walking around the basement food halls of the large shopping malls, because there is such a wide variety of interesting and delicious-looking confectionery. They actually have a lot of famous European brands of sweets and delicacies on sale, but I thought since I am in Japan I should get Japanese stuff, so I ended up getting a box of red-bean pancakes in a modified look, and some love-letters and biscuits that came with Christmas packaging.

I wasn’t sure if they are famous brands but I do see locals buying from them, and I sampled them too and thought they weren’t too bad, so I decided to get them for the home.

Maybe it was a mistake. Or shall I say it was a big mistake. 20130124-130141.jpg

This box of dorayaki, which came with some big round ones and more small longish ones, I just threw it away yesterday, with perhaps half still intact. I don’t know how much of the box I ate, but my mum commented that they were too sweet. That was her only remark. Nothing else.

And this brand is called Yoku Moku; the loveletters are really thin and crispy and I thought the packaging was so apt and cute. Besides in this package, they are in small quantities, just ten pieces each of the loveletter, and ten pieces of chocolate-coated biscuit, which are also fairly small and thin. 20130124-130210.jpg

I finished almost all of the loveletters, and half of the biscuits are still in the fridge, with the other five in my stomach, or already being digested to somewhere. I don’t know how long the other five will stay in the fridge, perhaps until such time when my mum decides that there are too many things in the fridge and she will start throwing things away, or when I get frustrated about everything and just dump everything down the chute.

I know I can’t expect people at home to say “Thank you” when I buy something home for them (well, my dad never say a word of “Thanks” even when each alternate trip I make, I buy him a bottle of Martell and three cans of stout from Duty Free), especially when in such cases, they don’t even really eat what I get home. But it does tell me to stop trying because nobody appreciates it. I even get chided for buying too much snacks (for myself) that are piled in a corner on the table, which take up space because I don’t consume them fast enough. Sometimes, I really get so tired living with the family. True, it is a blessing to be able to live with family but day by day it just gets so hard. I try my best to be nice, and nobody cares, they only rant, within my earshot, that I am using too much of this and that, that I am taking up too much space with my clothes and bags, and I do try sometimes to do housekeeping to clear things that are probably not needed anymore, but which female doesn’t have a lot of things, clothes, accessories, shoes or otherwise? Do they expect me to live like a guy and survive on five work shirts and only shop during Chinese New Year for new clothes? Even men these days can own more clothes than a female, hello?

Singapore’s climate also isn’t the most conducive for doing housekeeping, especially not in my home where there is no air-conditioning and half the time it just feels like a furnace where I can’t do anything without feeling like I have just been in a sauna of sorts. I am just so tired of everything, so sick and tired of everything that I just feel like quitting this whole game altogether.

Paul Bakery, Ngee Ann City

The famous french bakery, Paul, finally landed on our sunny isle recently, but I didn’t get a chance to check them out because of the daunting queues that form outside the shop, reminiscent of the waiting patrons of the former occupant, Coffee Club, on the third floor of Ngee Ann City.

So when we were deciding on a place to meet up during the National Day weekend, we thought maybe it is time to visit this place that I have heard so much about, although honestly, I don’t know the general review of this place. I first got to know about this bakery while I was in Tokyo, where they had a small counter in a Shinkansen station. Then I saw some of it overseas in Europe, if I remember correctly, London, which also were small bakery/cafes. None of them were on the scale of the outlet that we had at Ngee Ann City.

I was too early to meet my friends, and maybe it was a weekend when most Singaporeans were out of town on a long weekend break, so there was no queue in sight. There was one other person in front of me but she got a table almost the moment I got into line, so I didn’t have to wait either. Besides, most of the patrons already in the shop were probably just about done with their late afternoon tea, so I was in luck, or not.

It turned out that I waited for close to an hour before my friend could make it after work, so in the meantime I tried to make myself busy looking through the rather sparse menu, and ordered a pink guava juice that costs S$7.80. When my friend came, she commented on the look of the menu, how the black and generally dark colours and also the way the pictures of the food were taken, do not lend them to an appetising look. Anyway, I think she ordered a pancake/crepe of sorts, that came with a small serving of lettuce and a large tomato. I ordered La Salade Fermiere (which is actually a chicken salad), and when the food was served we were really amused that the salad portion was so much larger as compared to the other dish. She felt that the food she ordered was just average and that the bakery seemed to be overhyped. My salad, being a really generous portion, with lots of vegetables and chicken, plus walnuts and raisins, etc., was surprisingly tasty and for the price of S$16.90 I thought it was really worth the price. Subsequently, when the third member of our dinner party arrived, we ordered a flan that contained coconut, and they both think that was rather good and you could really taste the coconut in it. So perhaps it’s just the crepe that wasn’t so good, ironically, since crepes are a French thing.

However, we were all none too pleased with the attitude of the service staff. I think that compared to what I have seen before (i.e. the queues), that was considerably a quieter night, and at most times the cafe had at least a couple of empty tables. But the service staff were apparently not too happy that we occupied our table for a rather long time, because first I was waiting for my friend to arrive, then after that we waited for our friend to reach. In fact, a waiter came up to ask if our friend was coming because they wanted to seat a group of four and wanted to take our table to join another adjacent table, when obviously there were empty tables inside that could seat the group. When we told him that our friend is indeed coming, he went on to ask how much longer our friend would take to get there. When our friend turned up and asked for the menu, the waiter commented “Oh so you are finally here.” After my friend ordered the flan and a coffee, the waiter asked if we wanted anything else, but since the two of us already had our mains, we just asked for a top-up of the water. He probably stopped short of rolling his eyes but gave us a look and replied “Sure…”

I don’t know how Paul bakery in Singapore train their service staff but for their supposed up-market direction that they want to take with them occupying such a big and prime location in Ngee Ann City and charging what I feel are relatively premium prices for most things, the service is rather appalling. Maybe that is their way of maintaining exclusivity, by only catering to people who would not stay in the cafe long, or who would order everything off the menu. I was really disappointed by them, and it wasn’t just the waiter serving us who had a lousy attitude. When we left the cafe and went to check out the bakery beside, the lady manning the bread counter was just not interested at all. I know it was probably a long, tiring day for her but hey, that’s what working is about, and especially in the service industry, if you cannot overcome your own fatigue and maybe personal problems and wear a smile for your customers, then maybe the service industry is not really where you should be in.

My overall experience at Paul was just bad, despite the salad being rather good and it being a fairly nice place for a catch-up with friends, the service attitude leaves much to be desired and overshadowed any positive feelings I had.

tinted glasses

It gets frustrating to say the least, or annoying, when the only thing anyone cares about all the time is where I am travelling to next. I know it’s human nature and yes I also have friends who travel for work and I’d ask them too where they are heading and so on, but we talk about other things too.

I know it’s really none of my business if they are going to feel envious but it really is not a bed of roses. The truth is that sometimes it sucks to travel for work. Most times, actually.

Perhaps the impression that most people get about business trips is an image of premium travel and accommodation, a glitzy high life enjoying the best of the most popular cities. That can’t be further from the truth, if you have heard the barrage of complains each time I talk about my job. You’d ask, why then would I want to do it if I really don’t like it that much? Frankly, I don’t have the answer. Or maybe in reality, it’s a job; it’s work that I need to do in order to make a livelihood, and because this was where I’d started out and the (mis)calculated steps that I’d taken after that, I am a little bit stuck if I don’t want to have to make too big changes that won’t throw my other plans out of the window. Don’t we all have issues with our jobs but we still do it anyway?

For the record, I don’t travel on business class, so just go figure how lousy I felt when I had to be on the road for 30 consecutive hours to get to a place so far away that there were no direct flights, and I had to do a stopover followed by a transit before finally arriving when everyone else in the city was fast asleep at 1am. I suffered jetlag and couldn’t work or sleep properly, and when I worked I had to do up to 16-hour days. Travel time usually means burning of whole weekends especially if the cities are further away, meaning that I have to either take a late Saturday night flight or early Sunday flight, and when I return, typically half or the whole of Saturday would be gone. And I don’t stay in fancy hotels. Have you already heard of my experience with a gecko in one of the run-down hotels I stayed at for 2 weeks?

When I got to Makati two Sundays ago, some things screwed up and I was in such a bad mood that I was very rude to the people who were arranging transport. It wasn’t what I did but what I didn’t; I couldn’t even manage a smile at them when they spoke to me but just glared at them all the time for the screw-up that probably wasn’t their fault at all. I felt very bad for that because I’d worked in the service line before and I know how it can make a person’s day to have a nice, polite and friendly customer. But I just couldn’t because when everything seems to go wrong, there are those days I cannot just suck in a deep breath and tell myself that everything is going to be ok.

I have a friend who travels more than I do and I always envy her because she gets to fly business class and stay at good hotels, going to the nice cities that I’d always wanted to go. But we’re always frank with each other so I also know of all the shit that she has to endure in her work, for which I will never wish to be part of. So it is always with a filter that we are seeing someone else’s life and thinking that it is much better than our own. That saying that the grass is always greener on the other side is something that describes a lot of us to the T. We always think that life is better for someone else, but actually we don’t know enough to make a sound judgment.

Maybe this entry comes across as angst-ridden. But it was just something I’d always want to get off my chest somewhat. Fortunately for me, I do have some friends who are interested to know more than “So where are you off to next?”

Thanks guys, love you lots.