Category Archives: Serious Stuff

Dreaming of Clear Skies

When the sunshine of his life was born, Huang Ming wanted the best for her. Then, he realized that by the time her daughter grows up, there may not be any clear skies left for her to enjoy. So, he vowed to make his dream of clear skies for her come true.

While still working as a research engineer in the petroleum industry, he secretly built his first solar panel in a small, dimly-lit store room, funded by his salary and surviving on small loans. He even gave away his initial products. In 1995, he was ready to set up Himin Corporation and within ten years, he became the “Solar King” – the Father of Solar Energy in China. With innovative ideas and the adoption of cutting-edge technology, Himin became the one of the world’s largest solar water heater manufacturers.

One only needs to step foot into Solar Valley, in Dezhou, China’s Shandong province, to witness this solar revolution. A complete town in itself, the valley runs fully on solar energy.  It represents the realization of a vision. Sun Moon Mansion, which houses Himin’s headquarters catches one’s eye immediately. The flagship building semi-circle in shape, covered by solar panels, resembles a giant sun-dial. Covering an area of over 333.5 hectares in total, the valley boasts the world’s first low-carbon conference cum exhibition centre, several micro-emission hotels, a theme park, a spa, a university, a vocational institute, solar buildings, a testing center and a solar thermal manufacturing plant.

The plant is the world’s first automated production line for vacuum tubes. Solar architecture is on full display in the Seven Stars villas, a series of clean energy buildings built on the principle of “humanity, ecology, energy saving, beauty and harmony.”

Further on the outskirts, a green housing project, Utopia Gardens, based on the same renewable energy concept, completes the model for the future.

His ultimate dream is to replicate this model all over the world. China’s solar energy industry has certainly come a long way since the 1990’s when it was virtually unknown. Today, many roof tops are dotted with solar panels and Himin sells 300 square metres of solar heaters annually, which is equivalent to the total amount produced by the European Union and twice that of North America. From its initial stages where it was found mainly in residential areas, today’s solar energy usage has expanded to hotels, schools, public buildings and shopping malls. So Huang Ming’s dream may well come true one day.

But it was not always sunny days when Himin started off. They first had to battle ignorance and convince the everyday man of the advantage of solar energy. After business poured in, they were faced with many teething problems. Among which, complaints of dated products made them sit up. Firmly sticking to their belief in product quality, they swiftly discarded many new products in the blueprint and started to build a new generation of products from scratch. It made them realized the importance of research. Himin quickly reorganized itself and invested heavily in R & D. A solar energy technology research institute was established. They have never looked back since. Today, Himin owns more than 300 patents.

A solar testing centre was also set up in October 1997. With 18 laboratories, it ranked as the most advanced and professional centre in the world. Its rigorous testing standards mean that its tests are 24 times above the national test requirements and 7.5 times that of international requirements. All the company’s products including its solar water heaters, Winpin energy-saving glass, solar panels , lamps and many more are tested here to ensure top-quality.

They next focus on branding. Although in the early days, there were not many players in the market, Himin knew it was crucial to build its name.  Despite their limited budget, they took a huge risk and bought costly commercial slots on national TV. They also went on a nation-wide road show campaign to educate the public on solar energy. Product demonstrations on town squares were held, bringing them closer to the masses. Cost is definitely a major factor in any purchasing decision. Himin’s sales staff took pains to explain that the cost of solar heater is merely one-fourth that of a conventional water heater. They would also get their return on investment in two to three years’ time. Their efforts paid off and Himin became the market leader.

Its proven track record enticed Goldman Sachs and CDH Investment to invest US$100Mil in Himin in 2008.

While Huang Ming may seem like a dreamer, he is actually an astute businessman with a practical edge. The model on sustainable renewable energy is based on a viable business model that can be reproduced in other countries worldwide, with some tweaking to suit local conditions. An advocate of the market economy, he urged companies to be self-reliant and not dependent on government subsidies. He believes commercialization is the only sustainable way to go.

In May 2005, Huang Ming was invited as a guest speaker by the 14th UN Conference on Sustainable Development. He shared with the world this model based on the principles of commercialization and the “Butterfly Effect”. This works on the twin engines of the enterprise investing first in the public to build up the market, eventually expanding it and the enterprise beefing up the industry as a whole. This in turn creates employment opportunities generating a positive cycle of renewable energy and in turn reducing the use of conventional energy sources.

In 2010, Himin hosted the Fourth International Solar Cities Congress (ISCC). The low-carbon conference centre in Solar Valley was the natural site for this conference.  As the Vice Chairman of the International Solar Energy Society and Chairman of Himin Solar Energy, Huang Ming shared with over 3,000 government representatives and entrepreneurs from more than 200 cities around the world, his vision of the “Micro-Emission Earth”. He urged every country to cooperate to utilize clean energy technology, such as solar energy, to build a green and sustainable ‘Micro-Emission Earth”. This would lead to a reduction in the emission of waste gas such as carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide and other harmful gases, waste water and solid waste.

A crusader for the cause of renewable energy, Huang Ming pushed for having a law on renewable energy in China, when he served on the 10th and 11th People’s Congress (China’s Parliament). He drafted the Law on Renewable Energy and lobbied for its support. The Renewable Energy Law was finally passed in 2005 and took effect in 2006 in China.

Recognizing his efforts in promoting renewable energy, Huang Ming was awarded the Right Livelihood Award in 2011. Also known as the ‘alternative’ Nobel Prize, the Swedish-based foundation recognizes work being ignored by the Nobel Foundation.

In June 2012, Himin launched the campaign, “My Climate, My Change – Changing Climate Action” at the Rio +20 conference in Rio de Janeiro.  He set a target to build 50,000 Climate Mart worldwide in five years’ time. These one-stop stores would sell every type of solar energy products from solar water heaters to energy-efficient windows and doors as well as other environmentally friendly products. Climate Mart would be run on a franchise basis. Not unlike electronics and computer stores, Huang Ming feels that this is the most commercially viable and effective way to promote and execute renewable energy.  He appealed to global environmentalists and renewable energy advocates alike to work together to achieve this goal.  

This significant act changes China’s renewable energy initiative from passive to proactive. It also provides a practical solution for the global energy crisis.

After almost a decade of sunny days, Himin has been battling cheaper, substandard products that flood the market in recent years. While Himin used to own the lion’s share of the market, that has been taken over by its rival. With the industry at the price-competitive stage, this seems to be an inevitable development. Himin has been clamouring for mandatory regulation and standard in the industry. With the present recommended standards, many manufacturers cut corners and hurt the industry in the long run. How would Himin rise to this latest challenge? Looks like he needs some help from the Sun Goddess!

This down-to-earth, “mad professor” look alike, who is an inventor, developer, visionary, missionary, manufacturer and entrepreneur, all roll into one; may just be the person to come up with another innovative solution that would take many by surprise!

Whatever turn Himin’s story takes, it shows us that dreams do come true! It is also everyone’s responsibility to do our part to find a solution for the global energy crisis. We should all work to find effective ways to harness the energy of Mother Earth. Who knows, sun-grilled food may well be available at each and every household in future and not just at Solar Valley!


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The importance of closure

In life, everything comes to an inevitable end. When it does, it is healthy and important that there is proper closure.

How? Let go

The first step to closure is letting go. What does it mean to let go? Letting go does not mean forgetting someone or something. Nor does it mean no longer caring for someone. It means caring in another way and on another level. It just means being at peace with the parting or a particular outcome or decision.

Why is it difficult to let go?

Truly letting go is one of the hardest things to do in the world. Often sadness, fear of separation and especially changes, discomfort in venturing outside of one’s comfort zone, anxiety and guilt (especially when it makes one feel that one is forgetting that particular episode or person); all make it tough to truly let go. Bizarre as it may sound, but sometimes holding on to something or reliving one’s suffering may seem easier than letting go. This is because letting go requires courage – the courage to cease control.

What happens when one let go?

When one lets go, it means that one has overcome that particular life episode. In the process, one has drawn lessons from it and grew as a result. Contrary to what others think, when one can truly let go, it means that one has cherished the experience. Only then can one be at peace with the outcome; accepting change, especially when it is inevitable. With this, you set yourself free at last!

Why? Allows one to move on

Only when one lets go of the past can one move on to the next chapter in life. Closure allows one to clear the path and open the next door. When one cycle ends, another begins. To cling on to something old is to deny the new cycle from beginning and to deny oneself from receiving the gifts of this new cycle. Life is a constant flux and one needs to learn to find the strength to keep moving on.

What happens during closure?

Closure is a time set aside for grieving. The loss or end of anything deserves enough grieving in order for a fitting closure to take place. When there is proper closure, one feels satisfied even though there is a sense of loss. This is when acceptance finally sets in.

How? Have a ‘closing ceremony’

So how does one achieve closure? Performing a ritual of some kind is the easiest way to do so. Basically, it is a symbolic gesture that marks the end of something. This could include burning old letters or photos from a past relationship or simply keeping them shut in a box; taking a picture of an object before parting with it; writing a poem/story/play/song on something/someone that one separates with; painting/drawing a picture of the departed object/person; toasting the end of a particular cycle. For some kind of relationship, e.g., mentoring or group programs, pre-planning the closure allows one to be better prepared for the final departure. All these let one bid farewell in a proper manner, providing a fitting ‘closing ceremony’.

When one can’t find an answer, how to close?

Sometimes one finds it hard to achieve closure when one remains puzzled or can’t find a reasonable answer to a sudden end of any kind of relations. Often, this happens in a relationship, especially when a partner leaves abruptly without any particular reason. It can happen when a friend ends a friendship out of the blue too. In life, occasionally there are no easy answers and one has to learn to find a way to rationalize these occurrences which are out of our control. In short, find closure in one’s own way.

This is arguably one of those things that are ‘easier said than done’. Perhaps one way to rationalize it is to take a philosophical approach, like getting ourselves to think that everyone appears and disappears in our lives for a reason even if we may not know why. Tough as it may be, you just need to let go and let God; instead of going in circles, trying to find an answer.

Don’t bleed to death, close it!

When there is no closure, it is like having a gaping wound where one could bleed to death eventually. Hence, it is imperative to close a ‘case’ well. We need to recognize that everything comes to an inevitable end in life. There is a Chinese proverb that illustrates this well – “There is no feast that does not come to an end.” So when the end comes, close it with a ‘Bang!”


Note: This article first appeared in under “Expert Advice” at:



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Swallow cloud at Cloud 9

He has a vision to revolutionalize the Chinese fast-food scene.

At Cloud 9, it is fast-food with service – making it a hybrid of casual eatery and fast-food chain.

Serving Taiwanese fare and its signature ‘wonton’, Cloud 9’s Chinese name, “吞云小莳”, plays on the word for this well-known snack loved by many around the globe. “Swallowing cloud” (吞云), alludes to the white, translucent dumpling that looks like white fluffy clouds in the sky while the last word of the name, “shi” (莳), puns on the sound for food (食). The word lends it a poetic touch, conjuring images of leisurely plant cultivation. It is this clever dash of sophistication that makes the brand appeal to China’s growing class of white collar workers.

Well, they seemed to have lapped up Cloud 9’s formula. Within 2 months of its opening, 6 of its 12 stores had reaped a profit. So looks like Cloud 9 is on track to meet its target of opening 42 outlets this year. It currently has 12 outlets inShanghaiand plans to expand to Beijing too.

So who is behind this dynamic chain? Helmed by Singaporean Chris Tay and financed by global venture capital firms such as Qiming Ventures, Hotung Investment and Mitsui Global Investment, as well as renowned entrepreneurs such as former DBS Bank and Singapore Airlines chairman Koh Boon Hwee, and NASDAQ-listed founders, Mr Norman Lui and Mr Michael Feng Yunlei; Cloud 9 has a strong management team with 80 years of combined experience in the F & B industry.

Starting a new brand in the cut-throat food industry in China doesn’t faze Chris at all.  He has honed his entrepreneurial skills since the age of 21 from food to IT industry. The intuition that he has developed for the food industry started way back inSingaporewhere he once operated the Billy Bombers restaurant. Backed by experience at Yoshinoya inBeijingandChina’s fried chicken chain, Dico; he is an old hand in the China market.

Perhaps what sets Chris apart from other F & B owners is his quest to find that elusive, formula for Chinese fast-food. As the nature of Chinese cuisine does not translate that well into fast-food, relentless research and development (R & D) is required to perfect that transition. Cloud 9 has been committed to its R & D efforts since its inception, working to perfect its menu from time to time.

Besides the menu, Cloud 9 has also managed to simplify the food preparation process to less than five steps. With an outsourced central kitchen supplying the food as either end product or half-finished product, staff at the outlets needs only reheat or prepare the food in a few simple steps before they are ready to be served. Only simple tasks like cooking rice and making soup are done at the outlets.

Chris has no qualms paying top dollar to rope in talent as he believes getting the right person is the key to rapid expansion. Its ability to adjust to changing market conditions with lightning speed attests to this nimbleness. Changing its menu 3 times within a month is something a lesser team would not be able to achieve. Having assembled an A-team also enabled it to open 8 outlets at an incredible speed within a space of 7 months.

Believing that a swift set up rate of outlets and staff training is instrumental in lowering operating cost by as much as 40%, Cloud 9 hopes to increase its turnover from S$32.1 million to S$42 million when all its planned 42 outlets are up and running by this year. In fact, it hopes to multiply to 220 outlets by 2015. This would significantly bring down the current set up cost of S$200,000 per outlet.

Cloud 9 aims to be able to list in either Taiwan or New York in 2015. Cloud 9 is the group’s first brand. Its parent company, YPX Cayman Holdings, aspires to build a multi-brand, multi-concept group of casual F & B chains in China. If their Midas touch continues, this would no doubt become a reality.

The lament that there is a dearth of home-grown entrepreneur can take some comfort in the likes of Chris Tay. Perhaps their success stories would be an inspiration to budding business owners out there and fuel a wave of entrepreneurship. Seeing Chris’s tenacity, one can’t help but makes you root for a fellow Singaporean. I look forward to “swallowing” more “clouds” in China in the near future.

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What’s Wrong With Being Sensitive?

Have you often been told, “Why are you so sensitive?” as if there is something bad about being sensitive?

Somehow, there is a negative connotation to being sensitive. It is implied that one is being ‘emotional’ or ‘over-reacting’. Most cultures do not seem to support sensitive people, possibly because it is viewed as ‘being weak’ or ‘feminine’.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Being sensitive is essentially being more attuned to one’s sensory perceptions and being more “aware” in the process. This can make one naturally more intuitive, perceptive, creative, empathic, spiritual and passionate. 


When one’s senses can absorb far more information and process them more deeply than the majority, one can attain a higher level of understanding.  Sensitive people have an innate tendency to pick up subtle information in all areas of life; such as non-verbal cues, making them grasps nuances in meaning better than most. Processing experiences, situations, and possibilities in a deeper and fuller manner hones one’s acuteness. With such keen observation, comes the power of perception.


Having gained penetrating insights, often leads to great intuition. Sensitive people have the uncanny ability to acquire knowledge without inference or the use of reason. They can somehow ‘sense the truth without explanation’. In reality, all the necessary information has already been captured and processed at a deeper level. Thus, allowing them to be discerning.


Sensitive people are also more emphatic as they are able to get under the skin of others and see from their point of view. All thanks to being able to feel the emotions of others, sometimes as if it’s their own. Being able to put one self in others’ shoes, allow them to understand others’ needs and what it would feel like when needs are not fulfilled or to be misunderstood. Thus, they can better provide for others and tend to be gentler in their communication. Such people usually form deep and caring friendships as well as other relationships. They evidently make good carers and are the typical friend in need.


Creativity is a trait that is often associated with sensitive people. Being discerning and highly attuned to sensing abilities, encourages creativity to thrive. The gift to connect seemingly unrelated things and put them into original concepts makes sensitive people the ‘high priest’ of creativity and innovation.

Passionate and ‘intense’

When one feel deeply, one experiences life and all its emotions intensely. Thus, sensitive people are often passionate and intense, which can be a double-edged sword. They tend to be intent on issues and focus on either solving a problem or sharing an issue that compels them greatly. Hence they experience all of life’s emotions at a level far beyond what others usually experience.


Sensitive people are often blessed with spiritual consciousness, though not necessarily religious. Being in touch with their spiritual selves, sensitive people can easily discover their paths in life as well as for others. They also have this curiosity to ponder on and unearth the meaning of life and other life mysteries.

The selected few

About 20% of the total population are endowed with this misunderstood notion call sensitivity. Apparently, it is also found in 20% of other species from fruit flies to primates. This is certainly no accident of evolution when it selects for instead of against such a trait. These selected few are chosen to observe the world, to reflect and to consider consequences before action. Understandably, sensitive people make excellent strategists, planners, advisers, counsellors, teachers, coaches, managers, historians, scientists, law interpreters, therapists, artists, musicians, writers, visionaries, healers, psychics and many more.

All great nations need to reflect enough and deliberate on the long-term consequences of their actions. Sensitive people are perfect for jobs that fill such roles. In fact, having non sensitive people in such jobs could be detrimental as long-term goals may be sacrificed for short-term gains or one-dimensional decisions that could be made. Sensitive people, on the other hand, can be in jobs that are not typically regarded as being ‘suitable’ for them. For instance, they can make excellent police officers. Their acute perception and intuition enables them to sense trouble before anyone else. Blessed with exceptional emotional sensors, they are also more likely to suss out the actual criminal from a number of suspects.

How to turn challenges into blessings

As with all gifts, come its challenges. It is important to first be aware of the various challenges of being a sensitive person and then learn how to navigate through a society that is not very receptive towards such unique individuals. Finally, to strategically carve out a niche for oneself using one’s gift.


One of the challenges is being overly stimulated by one’s senses, which may result in sensory overwhelm. Should you feel overwhelmed, monitor the stimulation level and take steps to adjust the level to a comfortable one. Walk away from an overstimulation situation to give yourself a break.  Getting to the rest room for a brief respite is a useful method. Taking action to slow down and de-clutter one’s schedule helps to avoid overstimulation. Going for short breaks in the middle of a stressful or busy period alleviate any sense of overload.

Doing something completely different like housework or writing an email to one’s favourite cousin can be strangely therapeutic. Taking deep breaths helps tremendously too. Soothing music, meditation, exercise and calming essential oils like lavender and lemongrass can be part of this ‘survival kit’. Do prepare one’s ‘survival kit’ in advance so that it would come in handy when one needs it. Essentially, remember to nurture one’s own soul to avoid feeling drained. Only by taking good care of yourself can you then use your gift to help others.

Affected by the emotions of others

Pinpoint the cause of one’s negative emotion. Is it one’s own or someone else’s? You could have absorbed the negative energy of the people around you. Try to distance yourself physically from this negative source as energy fields do overlap at close proximity.

Centre oneself with deep breathing and exhale negativity, inhaling positive energy. This helps to purify negative emotions. Visualize negative energy as a gray fog lifting from one’s body and positive energy as golden light entering. Strengthen one’s emotional centre by sending positive energy to the solar plexus with one’s palm. This flushes out negativity at the same time. Imagine a protective shield around oneself that blocks out negative energy but allows positive ones to go through. This is a powerful tool that many people, including healers use to safeguard themselves. Do associate with people who have a positive outlook as hope is contagious.

Observe the energy fields around one self rather than absorb them. This way, one would not be affected by the negative energy or the perpetual rushing that goes on around us.

Planning a Career Suitable for Sensitive People

As the traditional work culture may not be conducive for sensitive people, it is crucial to create suitable work. Adapt one’s current job to make it a better fit or create one’s own position, work in less mainstream companies and positions or simply start one’s own business.

Sensitive people need work that resonates with their soul as well as nourishes their mind and heart.  Only work that stems from their passion and is their true calling would work for them. Work that offers intangible rewards and is meaningful, intellectually stimulating and creatively satisfying fits sensitive people best. Sensitive people also require a nurturing environment that allows them to work independently with privacy.

As finding the right job could be challenging, sensitive people not only need to tap into their inner consciousness to let their intuition guide them towards their true nature but also to seek support in their journey of self-discovery. Life coach, therapist, counsellor and friends should be called upon. One could also self-facilitate with journaling and personality discovery work. Once you have found the best job fit, don’t be afraid to bring your sensitivity to work. Make it work for you. Make use of one’s insights and creativity; let your naturally caring and thoughtful nature enhance interpersonal relations with co-workers.

Being ‘intense’

Sensitive people are often very emotionally intense individuals. ‘Intense’ personalities have often been told to “lighten up” and not to “take things too seriously” or that they “think too much.” But that’s the way an “intense” person is. Such personalities feel deeply and strongly.

These individuals are often seen at best as being compulsive or aloof, or at worst having a personality disorder. Being able to articulate why they feel such way and sharing their feelings help others to understand them better. Journaling, art and music or even physical exercise are ways to allow ‘intense’ personalities to express themselves in a constructive manner.

Another effective method to cope with this intensity is to be conscious of one’s emotions and let it pass through one self without judging them. In this way, you would be mindful of your emotions but not be affected by it.

Don’t apologize for being sensitive

As we can see, sensitive people are often misunderstood individuals. One does not need to apologize for being sensitive, for we are who we are. Sensitive people are put onto this earth to fulfil their special role. Learning to love one self and knowing that one deserves the best awakens the power to heal and inspire others, allowing one to turn a perceived limitation into a blessing.

So the next time when someone says, “Why are you so sensitive?” Reply unapologetically that because you’ve been endowed with this unique gift.


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Uniquely Singapore Service

“Stop, that’s not how it should be done. Let me show you.”

 He stood up and arranged the bowls close to each other around the huge bowl of sharks fin soup. Then, he proceeded to scoop the soup and distributed them equally into each of the individual bowls, like a professional; except he is not.

 Banquet guest serving at the table? Unheard of? But true!

 The waitress at this wedding banquet held at the 5-star Pan-Pacific Hotel was obviously untrained. She held up the bowl gingerly, trying desperately to fill it up without scalding herself. Amusing way of serving indeed!

 Gone are the days where the waiter could serve sharks fin soup without spilling a drop or dividing them without having to ‘back-track’ and scoop out from another bowl to make up the difference.

 Slicing up a whole fish with the precision of a surgeon and re-arranging the bone back into the fish as if it was untouched seems to be a lost art too. These days one would be lucky to be served an equal portion of the dish.

When friends meet up inevitably the topic of bad service crops up. This is really sad, considering that we pride ourselves as the world-class leader in many fields. And yet, we allow bad service to blemish our good name.

How did we end up in this state? Was it that bad before? In any case, it has reached crisis level. Service horror stories abound. Waiters who strategically avoid eye contact when you are trying to get their attention, ingredient change in a dish without first informing the customer, deficiency of product knowledge and a general lack of understanding of what constitutes unacceptable behaviour.

Why is Singapore languishing in the 9th position in a recent customer service survey, conducted by the Institute of Service Excellence at the Singapore Management University; trailing behind South Korea and Hong Kong? Is our DNA really wired in such a way that renders us “service-challenged”?

No pride at all

What is clear is the existence of an attitude problem which pervades all levels of bad service. Service staff is just not bothered to do the job at hand well. Perhaps it stems from an absence of pride in the work they do. Culturally, in Asian countries, serving denotes being a “servant” and hence being “servile”. So it comes as no surprise that no self-respecting parent would want their child to grow up to be a waiter. Unlike in the West where there is more respect for vocational jobs such as chef, plumber or waiter as they are seen as an art form of various multitudes. Over in Asia, waiting on tables is often seen as a “low-level” or even a “temporary” job where one moved on to when one could secure a “better” job. And if there is no respect for the service provider, it would certainly be hard put for the service provider to have pride in his/her job.

Common sense is uncommon 

Besides being plagued by poor attitude, it appears that common sense is a scarce commodity among service staff here too. Or is it a matter of not thinking through something thoroughly? Swensen’s for one would serve you salad with the giant fork meant for tossing salad sans the usual cutlery and expect you to eat using the giant fork and some patrons actually do!

Why is there no training?

While service staff is under scrutiny, the onus is also on the employers to provide proper and adequate training. The banquet staff member highlighted in the beginning was obviously not well trained and unfortunately this can be said of many banquet staff members as well. Apparently it seems that even 5-star hotels employ part-timers or those on vacation to fill such jobs. While it does not matter whom they employ as long as adequate training is provided and most importantly, the job can be well executed at the end of the day. Alas, this is not true. In short, when staff is well-trained, it shows.

Service recovery that leaves a sour aftertaste

Service recovery is just as important as the service itself. A good service recovery can turn angry customers into loyal ones. Needless to say, a service recovery that appears more of an afterthought would only leave a sour aftertaste in the already incensed customer.

A banquet staff at the 5-star Fullerton Hotel once spilled drinks onto the evening gown of a guest. While the hotel offered to send the soiled dress for dry cleaning, she was made to collect the laundry at a time convenient to the hotel staff instead of at her convenience. It made her felt that the hotel was not sincere in its service recovery at all. There goes a customer! 

Are we good customers?

Having said all that, to be fair one should also look at the other end of the equation. As in any relationship, it takes two hands to clap. Are Singaporeans good customers to begin with? Customers should also be trained to appreciate good service and have basic courtesy. Many do not even say, “Thank you” when served. Perhaps this could be attributed to their misplaced “superiority” complex, embedded deep in the Asian sub-conscious mind. To most, the relationship between the server and the person being served is not an equal but a submissive one. Hence saying “Thank you” to a waiter is akin to thanking a servant, which is deemed unnecessary. (This is definitely flwaed.) Understandably, mindset change would take years, but if Singaporeans wish for better service soon, as consumers we should also change our attitude fast to encourage good service. 

Customer expectation

Granted that customers should be respectful towards service staff, a look at Hong Kong however, seems to tell a uniquely different story. Hong Kong’s customers are not exactly polite to begin with nor are they the most patient ones on earth. Yet miraculously, Hong Kong managed to improve their service standard almost overnight; post financial crisis & SARS; from its legendary notoriously bad and sometimes even hostile service. Survival aside, customer’s expectation could be a key factor here.  Hong Kongers are shrewd enough to adjust to today’s customers’ higher expectations in service standard. Hence, in raising the bar, the level of standard could be improved. Maybe it is high time Singaporeans make known our service expectations so service staff would not be in the dark of what is unacceptable behaviour. 

Highlight good service

If we expect good service, then we should also be prepared to feature good service. While Singaporeans are quick to complain, we are slow to compliment good service. Giving the brickbats without the bouquets is a sure way to put a damper on good service. Some service staff members treat Caucasian customers better partly because most would take the effort to write in to their employer to compliment good service. (No doubt, the other half may possibly be due to an ingrained Pinkerton Syndrome in some members of the Asian society.) I believe turning highlighting good service into a practice can bring about an improvement in service standards, especially if it is coupled with incentives from the employer. 

Good Service

Having heard all the horror stories, we would be heartened to know that good service does exist in Singapore. The ‘ban mian’ (hand-made noodle) stall at the coffee shop opposite my home has good CRM (Customer Relationship Manager) without knowing what the term means or even heard of it. The stall owner remembers all her customers’ preferences well and does her job with pride. She takes pain to look into the little things like ensuring that a plastic bowl of noodle filled with soup is properly placed in the plastic bag for takeaway so that there would not be spillage. Yes, it is the little things that count! 

Making the effort works wonders too! On the first day of Chinese New Year, when I went into Swensen’s at Changi Airport ravenous, the service staff promptly suggested that she quickly send in my order for cooked food to reduce the waiting time while I ponder what ice-cream to order to satiate my hunger pangs temporarily. I must say she warms my heart instantly, to know that someone actually thinks through the matter at hand thoroughly to come up with a solution.

And when someone serves with passion, it shines! Walk into the intimate café, Food for Thought and the passion is infectious. Staff there doesn’t look like they are working at all but truly enjoying what they are doing. It goes without saying that their service was attentive, friendly and professional. (This is one place that I would like to write a full piece on its own but that’s another story for another day.) In fact, the afternoon tea experience at the 6–star St Regis Hotel on the same day pales in comparison. While service there wasn’t bad, it could only be deemed passable with some lapses in between. Well, so much for a 6-star establishment! 

Surprise ourselves, Singapore

If some folks can get it right, there is certainly hope for Singapore. Let’s surprise ourselves with a 180-degree turn for the better!


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Give Yourself Time to Grieve

Give yourself sufficient time to grief over the loss of any kind if you wish to heal in a healthy manner.

How many times have we heard well-meaning friends urging us to “get over it quickly” when we experience the loss of someone or something?

The truth is we need time to grieve and heal. In fact, it is imperative that we do so. We can’t get over something quickly, we can only move on progressively.

Any kind of loss – be it disappointment, setback, the ending of something, any kind of parting, break-up with a partner and death of someone close – all these warrant proper grieving.

Grieving not only allows us to heal but gives proper closure. Closure enables us to move on. Create a little ritual to symbolically close the chapter – be it the burning, burying/sealing or setting free of certain objects of significance. It could also be a reaffirmation of one’s stand by simply writing down a statement in one’s diary/blog or notebook. Rituals play a therapeutic role besides providing closure.

Attempting to numb one’s feelings through drinks, drugs or work would not work either. That only serves to temporarily suppress one’s feelings. Suppressing one’s feelings would only backfire. Any suppression only serves to intensify the relapse – feelings would return a lot stronger, violent and unpredictable.

Pent-up emotions build-up into unresolved emotions – they are unhealthy for one’s psychological health and may even lead to psychological problems like depression or anxiety, later on. Rushing through the grieving process aggravates the problem as a relapse may hit you in a sudden and uncharacteristic manner, like an over-reaction to something minor.

So how should one deal with such losses? Be aware of one’s feelings but do not resist them. Allow emotions to run their course. If feelings are allowed to run their course naturally; most of the time, they tend to end their run earlier too. In short – just let it be, let it pass.

However, this does not mean that one does so in a passive manner. It is not the same as letting one’s feelings take control over oneself. Being actively aware of one’s feelings and not reacting to them is the key to a successful recovery.

Positive ways to help work through one’s feelings include journal writing, talking and sharing with close friends/family members/or someone whom you feel close to, physical exercise, joining a support group and therapy.

Give oneself time to heal but do not dwell on it forever. Most importantly, do not wallow in self-pity or misery nor adopt a ‘victim mentality’. Once you’ve grieve enough, move on.

The million-dollar-question obviously is,”How long is long enough?”  

Well, unfortunately, there is no magic answer.

It depends on the severity of the loss. It also differs from one person to the other. Each one of us is a unique individual. Hence, everyone has a different time frame for moving through grief. There is no hard and fast rule.

You may even jump through different stages of grief instead of moving in a linear progression. Revisiting a stage just when you taught you had gotten over it is normal. Do not panic. They come in wavers; there is an ebb and flow to it.

Follow your heart, for only your spirit knows when it has healed. Give yourself permission to grieve at your own pace. Friends and relatives mean well when they want us to “get over it quickly” because they care about us. However, only we ourselves or rather our hearts; know the best time to stop grieving.

Resisting or burying one’s emotions would only move it somewhere else – ignoring them would not make them disappear. Cutting-off one’s feelings prematurely and abruptly only serve to bring them on later in an often more severe manner.

Allow yourself to feel the loss fully; then you would feel ready to embrace life again.

Let your grief unfold naturally if you wish to heal in a healthy manner.

Note: First published on on 29 July 2008



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What do you think Success is?

What does “success” mean to you? More importantly, is that your definition of success or is that society’s or someone else’s? Be successful in your own terms and be proud of it.

What is “success”? Everyone wants to be successful but do they know what success really is?

 When you mention the word, “success”; does having a successful career and family together with mandatory possessions like a big house and a fancy car; come to mind? If so, why? Is that society’s definition of success that we’ve been conditioned to believe in?

 More importantly, is that our definition of success? Is that what we want? Or is that what our parents or society wants? It is really up to you to fix your own definition of success. In fact, it is imperative that you do so to give yourself the right direction in life.

 Once you have decided what it is that you really want in life, you would not be bothered by what others think of you. It is a liberating experience — you become free from others’ yardstick.

 You focus on your goals. If scaling Mount Everest is what you deem as success, then who cares about that promotion at work. Of course having a successful career could also be one of your ideas of success. You have to prioritize and decide what is at the top of your list. Only then can you work out how much effort and time you would like to devote to each of your endeavour.

 When you do what you truly enjoy, you would naturally be happy. Yes, being happy is one of success’s criteria, albeit the most underrated one. And for some people, just living a happy life is success itself.

 So what exactly is “success”? To me, being able to do what one has set out to do; no matter how small or supposedly insignificant, in the eyes of others; is success in its essence.

 Nevertheless, it is never easy to shake off society’s version of success. How many times have you been made to feel like a failure just because you earn less than your over-achieving brother or cousin? There are some who feel that only ‘losers’ think that being happy in life is of prime importance. They think it is an excuse for not making the cut.

 In truth, we don’t need to prove anything to anyone but ourselves. Success means having the courage to stick to one’s conviction in the face of opposition or even ridicule. In fact, the hardest of all is to constantly reaffirm oneself of one’s belief – that our definition of success is the one that matters.

 Success is triumphing over countless “failures” (I prefer to call them setbacks.) and not giving up.

Perseverance + Hardwork = Success

 What is your take on success? We can all be successful if we follow our heart and do our best. It is also crucial that we believe firmly in our definition of success.

 Define your own success — success should be in your own terms, not anyone else’s. Do not let mainstream society or anyone else for that matter, intimidate you into thinking otherwise. Remember, it is your life after all!

 Create your own success and be proud of it. No doubt, there would always be pressure to have your parents or someone who matters, feel proud of you. In actuality, you don’t need anyone’s approval but your own. If you are proud and confident enough of your own success, others would eventually come round and recognize it.

 So if haven’t thought about what success really means to you, start today and work towards it. Remember, anyone can be successful.

Note: First published on on 27 August 2008


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7 Easy Tips to Be an Effective Speaker

Proven Tips for Public-speaking and effective presentation skills

 What do people fear most? Nope, it’s not ghosts or the dark. It’s public-speaking. Some people would rather jump out of a building than to speak in front of a crowd. They just freeze at the lectern.

 Public-speaking need not be the death knell you imagine it to be. I would like to share some tips on effective public-speaking that I’ve gathered from my Toastmasters days. They would not turn you into a charismatic orator overnight but they would make you a more confident and effective communicator.

 1. Make eye contact

Look at someone in the front, left, right, centre and back of the room. Do a sweeping glance at the whole audience from time to time too. And I mean really look them in the eye. Yes, making eye contact with your audience sitting in different parts of the room is crucial. You could really connect with your listeners, this way.

2. P.E.P

How do you make your audience register what you say better? Always state your point first followed by elaboration before re-iterating your point for emphasis – P.E.P.

 3. Appeal to the Heart, not the mind

Yes, this applies even to fact-based presentations. Don’t just dish out the numbers, the statistics and the facts. The truth is; compelling case studies, persuasive storytelling and stories with a human angle; speaks to the audience and unlocks the key to their heart. In short, arouse their emotions.

 Show how it relates to them. If your audience can identify with what you are saying, chances are they would more likely be convinced.

 4.         Conviction

Honest emotions shows – if you don’t believe in what you are saying, chances are your audience won’t either. You need to put in emotional investment before you can convince your audience.

 Be sincere and earnest – speak about something that you feel strongly about.

 5. Vocal Variety

You don’t want to put your audience to sleep, don’t you? Do not drone on in a monotone. Vary your vocal variety – change the tone, volume, speed and pitch of your voice.

 Specifically, this is how to make it work for you:

  •  Tone – As we know, the same sentence expressed in different tones could convey vastly different meanings. Do you wish to show anger, disappointment, sarcasm, happiness or excitement?
  • Volume – Speak louder when you wish to emphasize something or for dramatic effect. Drop your voice to a whisper when you wish to sound secretive.
  • Speed – Speak faster to convey different emotions like excitement; speak slower to build up climax. Don’t forget the power of dramatic pauses. Silence is a powerful tool.  Stressing on different words conveys different shades of meanings.
  • Pitch – High pitch generally denotes excitement or anger while a lower pitch indicates sadness or poignancy.

 These are magical keys that unlock the door to an impactful speech.

 6. Body Language

Use gestures to help your audience understand you better but careful not to let them distract from your speech. Be natural, do not exaggerate. Make your gesture just large enough to be seen by everyone in your audience but not draw attention to itself.

 So when do you use gestures?

  •  To express size, weight, shape, direction, location – These physical characteristics call for the shaping of hands or pointing.
  • To emphasize importance or urgency – Punch your fist into open air to punctuate your point. You could also pounce on the lectern (but done with care so as not to seem affected)
  • To show comparison and contrast – Move both your hands in unison to show similarities, move them in opposition to show differences.

 7. Mind Your Language

Use simple words, bombastic words put people off. Leave out jargons – they only serve to alienate your audience. Run through your speech to ensure that it is free from grammatical errors – they are not only jarring on the ears but distract from your message.

Keep these few tips in mind and see the difference it makes, the next time you’re called upon to speak. Be sure to nail that presentation in front of your boss too!

Note: First published on on : 19 July 2008.



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Roaring Away Mosqui

As we usher in the Year of the Tiger, one is reminded of the humble, traditional rub, Tiger Balm. Yes, I know it sounds like something that your parents or grandparents uses and I hate the smell of it but I swear it relieves the itch of mosquito bites like magic. Other creams or ointments that I’ve tried don’t work as well.

 Some of you may remember the old, Haw Par Villa in Pasir Panjang Road we used to visit as kids. An old mansion of the founders of Tiger Balm, it became a free park open to the public. Memories of the park’s illustration of Chinese mythology come to mind, especially for its graphic depiction of the 18 Levels of Hell in Buddhist belief. Come to think of it one wonders why parents allow their children to be subjected to such gore and violence. Obviously for the internet savvy kids of this generation, long jaded by the violence found in numerous video games, this is nothing to bat an eyelid at all. But for the more innocent kids from a much tamer generation, portrayals of people being fried in oil or having their eyes gouged out or body sawed into half or having their intestines dismembered or of being skinned alive were pretty potent stuff. These were supposed punishments meted out by the different chambers of court in the 18 Levels of Hell for crimes committed in one’s life. The park later underwent many transformations, morphing into a theme park with water rides among them but could not appeal to today’s sophisticated consumers.

 A Tale of Two Brothers

 So how did it all begin?  Its story can be traced all the way back to the ancient imperial court of China and the exotic Rangoon in Myanmar.

 Aw Chu Kin, descended from an imperial court herbalist, dreamt of seeking his fortune in a faraway land and set sail for Myanmar from his native Fujian province, China. He set up a medical shop, Eng Aun Tong or Hall of Everlasting Peace, in 1870 and started developing an ancient formula from the imperial court of China for relieving aches and pains. It never occurred to him that this little remedy would outlive him and his sons for generations to come.

 Aw had two sons, the aggressive ‘tiger’ and the quiet ‘leopard’ – Boon Haw and Boon Par. Ironically both their names have the character which means “civil” or “gentle” but only the younger ‘leopard’ seems to take on that characteristic. The second characters in their names mean “tiger” and “leopard” respectively.

 Tiger was a hyperactive boy who seemed to have channelled all his energy into street fights. The last straw came when he beat up his teacher. Aw had had enough of his son’s errant ways by then and sent him back to his hometown in China. Little would the old man know that Tiger would turn out to be a superb salesman and astute businessman.

 On his deathbed, Aw asked that his age-old formula for aches be perfected and passed the medical shop practice to Leopard. Leopard soon found the running of the business a strain and invited his elder brother, Tiger, back.

 Their English education served them in good stead in business, Leopard envisioned a East meets West medical practice where they could capture both markets. He implored, “ I will learn all I can about Western medicine, and you can prescribe Chinese medicine. Together we won’t lose a single patient. He can choose between East and West and the money will remain in our territory. ” 

 It proved to be a perfect partnership; with the more reserved Leopard experimenting in the kitchen, perfecting the formula passed down by their father and the outgoing Tiger running the business side of it. They name the final product, “Ban Kim Ewe”, literally “Ten Thousand Golden Oil”. A bold and unforgettable trademark was chosen – the Tiger. Apparently way before branding became a buzzword, this shrewd entrepreneur knew how to create a strong brand name.

 They made sure that no customer ever leaves the medical shop without this little jar of ‘magic potion’ – touted as the cure-all for ailments. Tiger worked on all the Chinese shops in Rangoon and convinced them to carry his balm.

 Tiger soon became the richest man in Rangoon – all these before he hit 40.

 The Next Chapter: Singapore and beyond

 The bustling port of Singapore and the potential he saw in the Malayan towns beckoned the keen alertness of Tiger’s.  Legend has it that when he saw the image of a tiger in the watermark of then Singapore’s currency, he was certain that Singapore was the place to be.

 Tiger moved his base to Singapore in 1926 and built a huge factory at Neil Road, with 10 times the production capacity of Rangoon’s. He had a custom-made car fitted with a tiger’s head and plied the small towns of Malaya, giving out samples of Tiger Balm. Now isn’t that the hallmark of a born marketer and a branding guru?

 He did a roaring trade, establishing factories and distributorship around the region from Malaya, Batavia, Thailand to Hong Kong and China.

 What’s in that yellow paste?

 Have you ever wondered what is in that yellow paste? A topical herbal rub developed from the finest blend of essential oils; it contains mainly camphor, menthol, cajuput oil, mint oil and clove oil. The rest of it is made up of petroleum jelly and paraffin base. Contrary to misconception, the rub does not contain any tiger parts. In fact, the earlier version of Tiger Balm contains 25% of camphor. A new product, Tiger Balm White HR, uses Eucalyptus oil instead of cajuput oil.

What can it do?

 Although I have used it only for mosquito bites, it is known to be able to relieve arthritis, rheumatism, muscular and joint pains, neck and back pain, muscular aches caused by stress, sprains and even tired feet.

 Other products

 Over the years the company had diversified its range and developed many other products. Among which are pain-relieving patch and even a refresher that comes in a snazzy little bottle with a spray. Its latest product, the Tiger Balm Joint Rub is supposedly greaseless and contains no alcohol. Admittedly, if not for the purpose of researching this article, I would not have known about the other products or the extensive nature of them. I may have chanced upon some of them at the pharmacy but may not have registered in my over-loaded mind :p

 The end of an era

 So how did this modern day fairy tale end? After Tiger made his mark in the healthcare industry, he ventured into banking and publishing establishing Chung Khiaw Bank and the Sin Chew Jit Poh.

 Even during the Japanese Occupation, Tiger continued with business operations from Hong Kong while younger Leopard closed the factory in Singapore and returned to Myanmar where he passed away in 1944. When the war ended, Tiger returned to Singapore and rejuvenated his businesses here. He reopened the factory and started his newspaper again. He also repaired his home and gardens. The mighty Tiger eventually fell victim to a heart attack and departed in 1954. He was on his way to Hong Kong then following a major operation in Boston.

 His nephew, Aw Cheng Chye, took over control of the family business and became Chairman of Haw Par Brothers (Private) Limited and Sin Poh (Star News) Amalgameted (Private) Limited. He also assumed the leadership of Chung Khiaw Bank, taking over from his brother-in-law, Lee Chee Shan. The family business was consolidated into a company that was listed on the stock exchanges of Singapore and Malaya as Haw Par Brothers International Limited (later renamed Haw Par Corporation Limited.)

 Keen to expand his business empire, Cheng Chye got British investment group Slater Walker Securities Limited to take a stake in Haw Par. Sadly, that proved to be the downfall of the company. Unknown to Cheng Chye, Slater had been conducting secret negotiations and eventually wrested control of Haw Par from him. What followed was five years of whirlwind expansion with a frenzy of corporate takeovers that made Haw Par the fifth largest company on the local stock exchange.

 Unfortunately, all these were achieved through underhanded means. Irregularities were soon uncovered bringing down the empire in one fell swoop. The former chairman, Richard Tarling was imprisoned. Witnessing the shattered shape the company was in, the government decided to bring in Michael Fam to get the company back on its feet.

 During the Slater years, Tiger Balm was franchised to Jack Chia Limited for 20 years for the main Asian territories. The company had also acquired Scott and English, Drug Houses of Australia and Kwan Loong but divested itself of major operating businesses like the Chinese newspaper, Sin Chew Jit Poh and Chung Khiaw Bank.

 Next came a tussle for control among the three corporate giants. Hong Leong group had a 7% stake while Jack Chia had 16% and United Overseas Bank (UOB) held 17%. Amidst rumours of a pact between Hong Leong and Jack Chia for a joint control, UOB eventually trumped them all with a total of 30% stake in 1981. Their stake has since grown to 43% over the years.

 The company today

Haw Par is today a company with two core operating businesses – healthcare and leisure – as well as strategic investments with property among one of them.

 With a healthy balance sheet, the company has gone on to take the lead in manufacturing and supplying generic drugs in Singapore. Haw Par Healthcare Limited was privatized in 2003 after years of robust growth since its listing in the stock market.


 With its unique branding, Tiger Balm won the Heritage Brand Award in 2005. It was jointly organized by Association of Small and Medium Enterprise (ASME) and Lianhe Zaobao. Among the other accolades was the Singapore Brand Award in 2002, organized by International Enterprise Singapore (IE Singapore). It goes to show that Tiger Balm’s branding has withstood the test of time.

 My wish list

 Now if only Tiger Balm could come up with a non-sticky, non smelly version that would be perfect! I’m waiting…is anyone listening out there?

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