Friday, August 31, 2007

envelope city (& the new morning ritual)


i found myself awake far TOO early by ANY standard. 5am and nothing to do,
i amused myself online - the usual routine of email, facebook, and blogs. the one downside to this role is still being connected workwise to the US. while i sleep, the rest of you fill my inbox with all the welcome FYI's, questions, and info-needed. still unable to get back to sleep, i wandered my apartment, ate some cookies, read the Journal (still rupert free!) and sorted some travel books (should i sort by publisher or geography?). in clear desperation, i made my way to the nice, but sterile gym to run some kilometers. i could not get the machine to show miles so guess i'll just have to go metric from here on out.

back at the apartment, i got ready for day #2 of work. killed a bit more time online
(threadless!), and finally made my way out the door closer to 9. it was a short walk to the MRT station (Newton), but enough time in the morning humidity to feel myself start to sweat. the MRT was easy enough, but with plenty of signage about their strict food/drink policy (verboten!). four mins and one stop later, i was at Novena, in the basement of the office complex where i work. a quick stop at the Spinelli Deli to pick up my now-regular (2 days strong) chicken-ham & cheese sandwich. up to the 19th floor and to the common fridge for the red bull from the previous day's caffeine intake. i'll admit, the red bull (gives me wings!) is a bit extreme for a school-day. but i justified it to keep alert for the morning's meetings, given my body still felt like 9-11am was now 9-11pm.

and YES, i just went all narrative on you, but never again will you hear about how i get to work ...unless of course i see something cool along the way (giraffes? giraffes!). alas, from here, i was off to...


post a quick meet-and-greet with the Downy philippines brand manager (who was in singapore
while we were on her turf), Felicia, Tric and i had working session to punch out out some numbers for a campaign we're working for the region. Tricia & i headed out to catch our cab to the airport, just as it began to drizzle. by the time we got to the airport, a light rain became a heavy drizzle. by the time we got through customs and security, it was a heavy downpour on the tarmac.

Tric & i had some time to kill before our flight, so we sat down to chat some over lunch. Tricia is a local to singapore (ethnically Chinese, just a couple of years younger than me), on loan from her agency (blue) to P&G, where she's been working the past few months on some the projects i've come in to lead. our conversations quickly became pretty open, as she asked me alot about P&G i-marketing in the US, as well as just general western stuff. given the fairly open converstaion, i fired a handful of questions back her way about her observations on the business in singapore, but even the more typical curiosities one might hesitate to ask a local. this level of frank discourse became a highlight of the total business trip. she's pretty much my first and local friend to date (watch out Dale).

the flight was packed, and i found myself toward the rear of the plane, somehow on an aisle of the indian row, filled with some IT guys travelling on a plane for the first time (the main way to the phillipines from india is via singapore). i found that odd, as i feel like i've been in planes my entire life. it kind of made me think of what it must have been like for my dad when he got on a plane for the first time to leave india at 23, with nothing but his suitcase and some architectural drawings.

the flight was a surprisingly long 3 hours, which i managed to pass watching the 3rd pirates of the carribean - which i had boycotted in theatres given the sheer craptastic-ness of the 2nd one (tentacles!). fortunately, it was mildly entertaining. the sort of thing you would only watch on a plane or on TV if you had nothing better to do. the jerry bruckheimer action-cheese factor was in full effect though, and at several points i had myself cringing away in sheer disgust **SPOILER ALERT, highlight to read (i've always wanted to do this)- but who gets married during a fight with evil corporate sailors and fish-pirates? and the ending was a bit a of a bummer, i mean how much would it suck if you could only see keira knightley every 10 years?.** but i digress.

landed around ~6pm, to be greeted by a long customs line. the best part about being in a long line is getting halfway through, and looking behind you to see the line just as long as when you started (progress!) or even longer (conquest!). it's really deflating to find yourself at the front of a line that does not grow behind you (remiss!). a hotel car came to pick us up, and off we went. as soon as i stepped outside of the airport, and the subsequent ride into the city, i caught a feeling that was not quite delhi, but more caracas. it probably has something do with the fact that you know that there is development, but it is has not been allowed to evenly disperse itself. before even pulling into our hotel drive, there were security forces checking our trunk. to even enter the building we had to go through a metal detector, and there was a security gaurd carrying a blue gun-type device that looked like something out of a bad 70s sci-fi show (BSG, or TNG?). the lobby of the hotel was vast and ornate. after a slow inefficient check-in, i ran up to my room to drop my stuff, and look out the 20th floor window at the upper-middle class suburbs below the city from which i was towering.

a quick cab to the OTHER hotel in town where P&G'ers stay, as my main manager in Singapore, (Mark) was also in town, and this would be the first time i'd be seeing him face to face in my new capacity. we grabbed a quick dinner at the hotel, talking more work stuff to get me off to a quick start. by 9pm i was getting exhausted, so we called it a night.

WEDNESDAY 29.AUG - while i'm managing through the jetlag during the days, it's the mornings that are killing me. i regained 1 more hour of sleep, finding myself up and about at 6am. did some work, read the local paper, and called home, all before getting ready for work. amazing how much you can get done if you wake up more than 30 mins before you have to be out the door. Tricia and i met for breakfast at the hotel, at what was very similar to my first few days in Beijing. personally made omellettes, random chinese/indian food, and assorted fruit juices.

we met with Ahbishek, the CMK (consumer market knowledge) guy for downy phillipines, who was running the research we were there for. as soon as we made our way outside of the hotel to walk to the research, it started raining (this would become a regular annoying coincidence), so we caught a cab a few blocks in traffic to the research facility. we had coffee delivered, as other members of the brand team arrived, including some key players from the advertising agency, and even our R&D guy (Niklaus), who was in from Kobe.

for the rest of the day, i found myself sitting in the dark behind the glass, watching women being interviewed about their laundry habits, with a few questions thrown in at the end RE. the interactive/mobile campaigns we were working on. keep in mind that all of this work is being done in what is largely a developing market (segments commonly defined as A/B/C/D/E, with A being upper class, B being middle, and C/D/E being lower-middle to very poor). most of the consumers we were interviewing were C/D, so naturally, the habits and practices of this consumer is MUCH different than what most americans are used to. to sum it up in two words: three buckets.

more interesting though, was hearing her articulate what her aspirations were, and what caring for her family meant to her. in the developing markets, i think i might be able to have a little more respect for what i do, given the products we're selling actually make a more significant difference in her life (compared to that which we take for granted in the developed world). we closed out around 6pm, and a few of us decided to hit up one of the local hypermarts (SM) for a "store check." to get there, we had to cut through a few upscale shopping malls, which i quickly learned to be quite the prevalent and popular staple across the A/B, and even C/D- classes. since most packaged goods are cheaper in the philippines (VS singapore), i stocked up on some of the product i was there to market (ariel & downy), as well as stopping by the haircare aisle (come on! i worked there for 4 years) to see what the local scene was. the kid in me had to stop by the candy aisle, where i found smarties, polo mints, and even some dried mango. naturally, i stocked up on all of the above, being the consumer whore (and british candy lover) that i am.

post our shopping excursion, Ahbishek, Tricia, and i decided we'd hit up one of ahbishek's favorite indian restaraunts in town (for clarity, Ahbishek is a real N.Indian ...unlike me... so his food opinion here was trusted). when i found out our restaraunt was named 'kashmir,' and i quickly asked abhishek if anyone could be really certain if it was really an indian or pakistani owned establishment. what made dinner great wasn't the food (which was delicious), but the conversation. between Tricia the Singapore local, Ahbishek the relocated Indian, and myself the recently arrived expat, we had a pretty revealing conversation about religion, politics, and a few other topics. i guess the only forbidden dinnertime conversations we didn't engage on was our pay :). over dinner, i brought up week-in-review, a group i hope to get kick-started in singapore. both were interested. one of the few things that makes me really appreciate the company is the people. in all of my travels, i am continuously impressed with the sheer good nature, integrity, and intelligence of everyone from the company i encounter (professionally and socially) - whether it's in Cincinnati, Caracas, Geneva, Frankfurt, or London; and regardless of if the people are American, Latin, Indian, Chinese, or Middle-Eastern. it's amazingly refreshing. with a full belly, and intrigued mind, i called it an early night again.

THURSDAY (30.AUG) - today would be the hi- and low-light of my trip. in the morning we met up with our R&D counterpart, Niklaus (from Kobe). from his hotel, we caught a van, and immediately made our way towards the outside of the city and into the much poorer neighborhoods (D/E) for our "in-homes", where we meet our consumers in their environment, learn more about their life, as well as better observe her habits and practices. this would be where most of my pictures are from the trip, so naturally all pics from here on out link to my Philippines photo album.

along the drive to the outskirts of the city it was easy to see how the rest of the country lived. the primary mass transport being miniature bus/wagons, where the people packed in on benches along the inner-sides. there were a handful of motorcycles with large cabins riding alongside, not unlike the auto-rickshas of india and china, but with a twist. the streets were crowded, and workers lined the streets going about their business. young mothers held their children in open street marketplaces.

as we entered our neighborhood, our van started to wind through unmarked streets which began to constrict more and more. we finally parked the van, and turned down a long alley lined with 1-2 story, small cement homes. our first household was at the end of an alley, across from a small stand. every block or so there would be a small window selling things, what we call "hi -frequency stores" (HFS), where a majority of our sales come from in the developing markets. our host greeted us, and Niklaus began the interview. her husband was working on a ship in the panama canal, based in Fort Lauderdale, FL. naturally, he sent most of his money home, a common practice among separated families. this foreign source of income probably explained the relatively higher standard of living our host had. she clearly fit into D, which was a stark contrast from everyone else on the streets (E). her house was filled with worn electronics (newer TV, stereo, and even a PSP hanging by a nail).

since Tricia & i joined at the last minute, there was no translator available, and Niklaus (being a native of the Philippines) conducted the entire interview in Taglog, the local language. i was able to see his guidesheet (in english), and pick up the context and body-language, so was able to follow -along most of the interview, where she told us about her life, her aspirations, and her daily routine. she then took us out front, where she ran water from an outside faucet into a plastic bucket, and she placed the clothes she had already performed 2/3rds of her wash on. niklaus provided her with some product, which she applied in the 3rd and final cycle of her wash. this consumer usually spends 1-2 hours daily on laundry. i asked niklaus about the length of this process - he told me that she feels she has to spend this much time on it otherwise it's not clean enough for her family, as this is how she shows her affection. one of the products we're introducing will help simplify this process, but this sort of thing can only be done in baby steps, lest we alienate our consumer. as we stood outside watching her wash, i pointed my camera to my surroundings, watching the children play, the rooster crow, and the dog stare at me quizically. post-wash we went back inside to ask her a few more questions, and were then off to our next household.

we wound deeper into the streets, through narrow corriders that began to blend together. as we turned a corner, i saw a huge, fenced in catholic school with 60-70 uniformed children taking their lessons and playing outside, mostly crammed around small picnic tables. further into the neighborhood, we entered an alley that opened up into a broad field. it was here that the van dropped us off, and we walked into what can best be described as a literal square-shapped hole in the wall, which was the entrance into our next home, this of an E-class mother of 6. she welcomed us into her home, and sat us down in her nice room, crammed with furniture and sparsely covered walls. a large piece of wood covered a hole in the rear wall (the back door). to our left was a narrow entrance into the kitchen, many eggs stacked on the ground. some of her children peered in curiously as niklaus continued to ask questions. we soon went near the "door" where she filled her bucket with water, and poored in her sachet of downy. as she began washing, one of her sons came running in, playing hide and seek with me & my camera, to which i indulged. we sat back down to talk as she finished rinsing her clothes. another one of her sons came and sat behind her on the couch, looking at us all suspiciously. we finished our interview and made our way back down the alley into the van, snaking our way out of the neighborhoods to the main road.

a quick stop for lunch at one of the museums for some local fusion food, and Tricia & i said goodbye to Niklaus, making our way to one of our downtown offices. the rest of the afternoon was spent in meetings with various people i work with. while some were very welcoming and hospitable, i got a bit of the sense that our in- market counterparts felt we were just getting in the way. clearly something i'm going to have to work through on the local level (charm?).

after work, we walked through some of the malls - many of which are interconnected by a series of skywalks and underground passages. while the range of cultural and work conversations with tricia were great (being on the trip out there made all the difference), the sheer semi- american commercialism was making me ill. we stopped for dinner 1771 - for more philippino- fusion fare (at the recommendation of niklaus) - and we were both disappointed. basically a lot of salted meats with brown rice. we talked about travel - mostly to thailand, as i think tric has a slight bias. post-dinner, tricia wanted to wander the malls to fulfill her national pasttime of shopping. i was left to my own devices for a bit, so wandered about. there was a tech-appliance fare in the central area, which amused me for a few minutes. i found some furniture stores, but continued to walk about aimlessly, nothing capturing my attention. towards the very end of mall hours, i randomly came across a comic store, so paid tribute (and humored myself) by buying a copy of wizard. malls close at 9pm, and i was in bed by 10pm. getting better. take that jetlag.

FRIDAY (31.AUG) - 7am wakeup on the dot. perhaps i'll just stay where i am, off by a few hours, as it allows me to be up early and more productive than i normally find myself. given we only had midday meetings, we started with a late breakfast, i organized my photos from the days before, and we made our way to the office. i wound up busier than i expected, preparing some presentations for my counterparts in media. we took a late lunch, stopping at jolly B's, the homegrown fast food chain. unimpressive, but i can now say i've been there. we took a car to the airport, arriving ~4 hours before our flight. the superficial security that we'd come to expect at every public entrance in the philippines, combined with the human chaos found in any developing country, made for a pretty bad airport experience. it took a solid 1.5 hours to get all the way inside - through the front door, first level security, check in, customs, and finally security. tricia told me that was considerably faster than the last time she was here. what a great way to close out an already mediocre country-experience (to be clear, the developing market consumer work was AMAZING, i just find myself not a fan of the philippines in general).

on the flight back, i finally finished Al Gore's The Assault On Reason, a book i've been slowly working through for a few months. it ended on a high note, and i was overall pleased. while it started out very academically, i was pleased with the direction Gore took his narrative, especially once the more concrete examples and commentary began to surface. it's enough to enrage any rational citizen, moreso for the abuse of power cited, and the lack of reponse that the media and citizenary have put forth. coming to such realizations as an American in a foreign country had me wanting to go back to raise hell. at a minium there will be a few letters written to my public officials. i continued writing this blog entry on the flight, but could not finish before we landed.

after customs i hit up the duty free to stock up my liquor cabinet, given taxes make alcohol almost 2x more expensive in Singapore. IMPORTANT NOTE TO FRIENDS & FAMILY - when coming to visit me, make sure you pick up something for me at duty free :). since there was a 3L limit per person (1L liquor, 1L wine, 1L beer), i found myself purchasing a 3-pack of a german beer, along with the key ingredients for white russians. Tricia was gracious enough to let me use her passport to buy the additional liters needed. given it has been almost a full week and i have hardly settled in, we made a quick stop to the small grocery store in the basement to get cereal and milk for my saturday morning cartoons. we split a cab home, dropping tricia off first, and then an alarmingly aggressive and speedy drive back to my flat at newton circus. opened the door, took my shoes off, and here i am writing.

i plan to spend the better part of the weekend learning my way around the city, and getting some misc shopping done. am meeting a friend of the younger sister of a friend of a friend (see if you can do the math and figure out what i'm talking about...let's just hope she's not crazy) for a comedy show my buddy Karl so graciously purchased for me as a going away present. on sunday i plan to check out Sentosa (think Coney Island for Singaporeans) with some coworkers arriving early (i'm helping w/ some regional i-marketing training all next week). and finally dinner with my Australian counterpart (who is also making a duty-free stop on my behalf :)

so now i'm "home" for a bit. let's see if i can get to the point where i feel comfortable enough to drop the quotation marks.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

"the day destroys the night, night divides the day..."

i've read ALOT (like that ben?) of travel blogs, and the one thing i want to make sure i avoid here is that it becomes TOO narrative-y (ie, "i did this today, then i did this, then i did this. oh, and let's not forget about this!")

i think i'd prefer to keep my remarks RE. what i did to be terse, and focus on the observations, unabashed color commentary, etc, you've come to know and love from me. but that is easier said than done, so you, the readers (all 1 of them...hi mom!), leave a comment and let your thoughts on this CRUCIAL issue be known for all to see (and keep me in check). all that being said, let's talk about my...

FIRST DAY OF WORK (27.Aug.2007):
you saw the last entry. i landed, went to my apartment, and took pics of my sick, sick apartment. it wasn't all fun and games. from there i caught a cab to work (the first, and last time), esp given i live so ridiculously close to work. allow me to illustrate:

if you can see/read the above map (which you probably can't, given this crap-interface, just click to see the larger image), note the green arrow. that's where i live (the Newton MRT stop). the word "Novena" just above it, that's where i work (the Novena MRT stop). it's close. more on that later (see next entry).

the PG offices in Singa are located in Novena Square towers. basically one of many hi-rises in the city. we're on several floors, all of which have great views of, well more hi-rises, but also Malaysia and Indonesia. pretty neat.

the floor - definitely a corporate-cube seating arrangement, similar to Cincinnati, however the walls don't exist, and everyone "hotel-desks" - ie, NO one (including GMs + VPs, but maybe the exception of the admin/secretaries) has a desk. you come in, grab a desk around your coworkers, plug in, and are good to go. i'm a BIG fan so far. what about your stuff? well this keeps people from amassing junk (dad, my 2nd reader, would love this)...but you keep a locker and a pedestal (a small filing cabinet you can store or roll over where/whenever you want).

the people - the office is (surprise!) mostly asian. consists of about 49% indians (the indian kind, not the raman kind), 49% filippinos, and 2% everyone else (me, some random aussies, chinese, thai and vietnamese). quite different from the vanilla environment from whence i came. upon trying to find where one of my managers sits, i approached the nearest cute indian chick, and she directed me in hindi, to which i *pretended* i knew what she said, and sheepishly walked away

the plan - i was just going to just work/push thru the jetlag, staying awake until the sun set. i finally met the manager i was looking for (arvind), as well as the 2 contractors (felicia & tricia, "fish & trish") from one of our agencies that have kick-started this work and kept my seat warm for the past few months until i was hired & could physically arrive. no surprise at P&G, everyone is ridiculously nice and good at what they do.

the work - the better part my the day was spent logistic-sorting (security badge, phone request, etc), impromptu introductions, and informal meetings to get me up to speed. what's amazing that 1 day in the office was FAR more effective than 6 weeks of early morning + late night phone calls with asia. the overwhelming sense i had previously felt quickly washed away. there are definitely some unique challenges out here, but this is the stuff i do best. jump into a situation, wave my hands around, make a bunch of drawings, and out comes something cool. though we shall see (don't believe the hype :)

had lunch at the foodcourt in the mall below the office - sushi & teriyaki, proving my chopstick skills...while good by western standards...woefully amateur when compared to my coworkers. i blamed jetlag and picked up the damn role with my hands, proudly claiming my indian heritage. post lunch i needed a liquid charge, so went to the local "cold storage" convenience mart to pick up a redbull. but this isn't the wussy austrian stuff in the silver can you + i know and love with our vodka. this was the american banned thai bus-driver stuff in the squat golden can). just enough to get me through the afternoon, but that didn't keep that "aches" that come to the bones/joints on the nights i don't get enough sleep. i persevered.

post work - fish (felicia) + i caught a cab back to my place (as i was carrying 1/2 boxes i had shipped via work), then walked over to the local "hawker center" - outside foodstalls, a local staple, where we met her husband, Ali, for dinner. a family styled dinner on a park bench that consisted of spicy stingray, chicken satay, oyster omellette, and of course pepper crab (i will venture for the chile crab upon my next foray, but was letting my hosts do the ordering). all washed down with some watermelon juice. ridiculously cheap, and remarkably good. by this point it was dark, and i was ready to turn in, pass out, and have a weird jetlag-redbull-peppercrab induced dream.

i slept surprisingly well, it's the 5am waking up that is no fun. did some email. read. walked around my empty apartment (cold floor!). i decided to give the gym a try. came back, packed for my week's trip the philippines, prepped some work stuff, was off to the MRT station by 9am.

NEXT UP: manila (or AKA to raman, "the envelope city")

Sunday, August 26, 2007

die Ankunft

...30 mins to atlanta (read al gore)
...4 hours to LA (burned cds)
...6 hour layover in LA ...quickly saw my grandparents (thanks rajiv!)
...18 hour flight (slept, read comics)
...15 mins through immigration/baggage claim/customs (ridiculously short)
...22 min shuttle ride to apartment
...30 mins unpacking

and NOW i'm *officially* in singapore.

apartment pics image above

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Monday, August 13, 2007

leaving on a jet-plane.

raman is moving to Singapore.
leaving for AL on 8/22. leaving for Singa on 8/25.

will be there for 6-12 months, where i'll be leading the i-marketing program in S. + NE. Asia (Japan, India, Phillipines, etc) for P&G fabric care (Tide, Ariel, Downy)

basically i've gone from selling shampoo in the US, to soap in Asia.

more to come.
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