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Anything is Possible

It’s barely 7 am and am wide awake. It’s infuriating because I’m on holiday!

Hoi An has been a great first stop so far. It’s still a somewhat sleepier than other Asean holiday destinations, with a small town charm that will be hard to retain as it gets more commercialised. I do hope it manages to hold on a while more – I’d like to come back someday.
We’re staying near the town center somewhere along the river. That’s where you can find all the tailors this town is famous for. The beach is about 4km from here, a 20 minute picturesque but also quite scary bicycle ride.If you’re planning on coming primarily to utilise the many tailors, I’d suggest you stay around here to minimise time on the road.

The Victoria Hoi An beach is nice, and with one of the longest stretches of white beach I’ve ever seen, definitely worth a visit. But the nicer (and more expensive) resorts are self contained, and you probably experience less local culture unless you make your way to the public areas of the beach which on a weekend can be like Bondi Beach on the first day of summer.

Back to the tailors. Come prepared. Bring pictures or samples of items you want. Or be patient to flip through old catalogues and magazines hoping to spot the design of your intended skirt or dress. Turnaround is overnight. You can even get custom shoes made!
I’m picking up my orders today. Am properly excited.

First, off to get some breakfast!

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First night in Hoi An

Hoi An is turning out to be a sea of tranquil in the chaos that is Vietnam.
Ha An hotel is a gem, rooms clean and adequate, beautiful courtyard ideal for idle hours. Staff may have went a bit mad with strewn flower petals though, now there are sad silty petals underfoot.

Singtel Deposit

I’m disappointed that this post will be a negative one after such a long hiatus from my blog, but I feel so strongly about this that I have to write and get it out of my system.

A couple of months back, I decided that it was time for me to join the ranks of those who already on the Mobile Internet and so I started looking for a phone that would allow me to surf on the go. When I started my search, I didn’t even consider looking at the iphone because I have been a loyal Starhub subscriber for the longest time. I had actually already decided on a HTC HD  Touch. Shortly thereafter, I had a few conversations with iphone users, and after fiddling around with the iphone a few times I changed my mind and decided i’d take the plunge and switch to Singtel. After all, the price plans between both providers are now pretty close and the lure of the iphone was quite strong.

So today I got of work and made my way to a Singtel shop. After ‘verifying’ my identity (?!?!), the shop assistant announced that I have have to put down an $800 deposit to purchase the iphone. According to her, there have been too many ‘fraudsters’ who buy an iphone for cheap and run away with it. The result is the new $800 deposit policy. Joy. Rather than waste my time arguing with her further, I said, well, Singtel’s just lost a potential customer and left. I left not because I don’t have the money. It was a matter of principle that i choose not to bear the punishment Singtel is imposing because of the faults of their other customers.

By the time I came home, I was still fuming, which led me to send Singtel a complaint letter. My point to them was that such a policy should be clearly articulated in all their iphone communications so that consumers won’t get a rude shock when the get down to the shop. Had this been written into the website, I would not have bothered to go down in the first place.

After I sent the letter, I did some searching online, and found out that this policy has been in force arbitrarily for a while. Apparently (based on some forum postings I came across), Singtel and their shops practise perfect discrimination in that random individuals get ‘chosen’ to have this deposit rule imposed on them. Employment Pass workers, Work Permit workers are some of them. Was I ‘chosen’ because I am Malaysian? I can’t verify this for real, but it certainly didn’t help my mood. I really do hope someone from Singtel gets back to me with an explanation.  I’d like to find out a bit more about this policy.

I am a good customer. Fiercely loyal (stupidly?) and reliable. I pay my bills on time and don’t leave balances outstanding on my credit card. They should check my credit rating.

Its a shame that my excitement of owning an iphone has been marred by this organisation who claims to be Asia’s Leading Communications Group.

 No thanks Singtel, I’ll stick with Starhub.

The Malaysian High Commission is in itself a little part of Malaysia within Singapore, much like the now dilapidated KTM train station in Tanjong Pagar. Its messy and chaotic, some call it an eyesore and a pain in the a** to deal with, but personally, it really is just a reminder of home for me. Both good and bad.

No matter how ridiculous it is to have to queue an hour to get a queue number, I must commend Malaysia and the High Commission in getting their act together. Renewing a passport now is a much less painful experience than I remember 5 years ago. The biggest plus of which is that you can apply for and receive your renewed passport back in the same day!

There are not many useful sites that tell you how to renew a Malaysian passport in Singapore and given the high level of frustration people experience there, I really do wonder why. Right now, people don’t know what to do, and they feel that they are at the whim and fancy of the staff there. More information can only help. It would make both the staff and the Malaysian citizens lives alot easier if there is a single resource laying out the procedure and supporting documents needed in order to successfully complete the intended transaction upon your first visit.
I hope this will stand in as a proxy in the absence of one such resource.

HOW TO RENEW YOUR MALAYSIAN PASSPORT IN SINGAPORE:

1) Prepare the necessary documents required
a) Fill in Form IM.42
– Obtainable from the guardhouse outside the Malaysian High Commission at 301 Jervois Road, Singapore 249077 (tel: 02-62350111). Supposed to cost $1, but think it has now been reduced to $0.50. (Times must be hard!)
– Alternatively, you can print the form from here. Bear in mind that you have to print both sides on a single sheet of paper. (Strangely, they also seem to accept the crude version of 2 sheets pasted back to back).
– Fill in all necessary including dates and sign the declaration before handing it in. The form is fully in Bahasa Malayu, so if you have ‘forgotten’ how to read Malay, or have lived in Singapore all our life and never learnt, I suggest you enlist the help of someone who does.

b) Identification cards
i) Photocopy and original Malaysian IC 
ii) Photocopy and original Singaporean IC
– Preferably, for both of the above they need to be both front and back and all on the same page. I was asked to re-do mine because the ‘H’ from my name Heather was cut off slightly at the beginning. Go figure, they are really anal about certain things.
– There is a photocopier machine at the back of the room, but you should bring your ready copies at the off chance that the machine is not working (and it could happen).

c) 2 x Malaysian Passport photos
– 3.5 x 5 cm, blue background.
(Note that photo requirements are different for Singaporean passports, so be sure to specify).
– There is a photo booth at the back of the room next to the copier machines, but like the above, best to go prepared in the off chance that the machine is not working.

2) Entering the Malaysian High Commission
– Go to the Malaysian High Commission. You should go early in the morning – They start at 8 am, and submission goes up to 11.30 am but will stop once they hit 300 submissions for the day.
– Note the guard house  to obtain a pass is at the side.  Give them a form of photo ID (must have a photo) that is not your Malaysian or Singaporean IC as you will need those inside. Drivers license will do.

3) Inside, queue to obtain a queue number
– This is the longest part of the process. You have to wait your turn to get your paperwork checked and obtain a queue number.

4) Passport Renewal
– Once your number comes up, the process is really quick. They’ll check your paperwork and passport, scan your thumbprints and request for payment at the cashier counter. You only surrender your documents at the cashier window. The price fluctuates depending on exchange rate, (today it was SG$128 for a 32 page 5 year passport). Collection can be made the same day between 2.30 and 4.30 pm. They send you off with a ‘don’t be late!’

5) Re-entry permit
– If you are a Singaporean PR, don’t forget to transfer your re-entry permit thereafter. This has to be done at the Singapore ICA building at Lavendar, but i understand it is a short procedure, only 5 minutes required.
Update: The day just got better. You can transfer yor re-entry permit online! No visit to the ICA necessary.
Just go to the ICA site to access the e-REP service.

Technically, if you get there for 8 and complete submission by 9.30 you don’t even have to take a day off, if you can afford to take a few hours off here and there for the day. Collection will also only take max 1 hour at 2.30 onwards.

A disclaimer: This is accurate as of January 2009. Given the way things change so quickly, and arbitrarily, I cannot guarantee that the information will still hold in a few weeks or months. I do hope that if you are a Malaysian or have any Malaysian friends who need to renew their passports that you share this with them. Information is power, so I say lets take it back. Good luck!

Southern Stroll

Trying to spend more time outdoors then indoors during this time of leisure, I made my way to the Southern Ridges walk in Singapore, a walk I had been meaning to do for quite some time. I had always been discouraged by reports that the trail was ‘really crowded’ on the weekends, and I had avoided it with the assumption that there would be too many people for me to properly enjoy it. Nonetheless on a Sunday afternoon, in the company of my visiting mother-in-law, I decided to brave it. 

We were blessed by wonderful weather, and perhaps it was the fact that we had set off at 1 pm, when most other people are trying to avoid the heat, but the trail we took was quiet enough and really enjoyable.

Our Route:
We cheated and took a taxi to the top of Mount Faber as our starting point. (You can actually walk up to Mount Faber from Vivocity) From there we made our way to Henderson Waves, connected to Forest Walk, which led onto Alexandra Arch and finished at Hort Park where we walked around a fairly new but amazing plant complex. The path actually continues onto Kent Ridge, but we didn’t have time that day to complete the entire path so Hort Park was our final destination. (A valid excuse – dinner had to be made!)

–> In case you are interested, the entire path is 9 km long, and can take anything between 3.5 – 5 hours to complete in its entirety. At a slow amble and a bit of a run around the Hort Park, we only took 1.5 hours total to cover the parts mentioned above. The walk was actually relatively short, and very easy to do.

I must say that Singapore has done a fantastic job with this walk. The views were stunning, the architecture of the bridges amazing, and I managed to take some really lovely pictures – all of which can be viewed here.  

A few favourites from the day are:

1) The Henderson Wave BridgeHenderson Waves Bridge

Alternate View from Henderson Wave bridge

2) Forest Walk
  Forest Walk  Tree at the end of Forest Walk

 3) Hort Park
Pretty flower at Hort Park

Lost Language

I read an article in today’s Straits Times about how the quality of the English language is deteriorating in Malaysia and how it is getting difficult to even employ basic graduates there that speak good English. Apparently the reluctance to use the language is due in part to nationalistic pride, and a need to uphold Malaysia and everything Malay – thus rejecting ‘someone else’s language’.

This article struck a chord with me as a Chinese Malaysian who lives abroad and speaks for the most part, only one language – English. Language is something you need to learn, and live and breathe. The only way you can truly master one is if you use it in the right way and use it often.

Since moving to Singapore, I have had scant use of my Malay, other than during the odd ordering of Malay food in the hope that I get a better discount. Before I left home the first time, I’d say my proficiency for speaking and writing Malay was at a 7 and 8 respectively. Not bad, enough to get me very decent grades and all through an education system that was entirely in Malay. Now however, its probably closer to a 3 and 4. As it is, I already struggle to find the words for even simple words that I learnt as a child. With new words for technology quickly coming into the mix, it is almost a lost cause. (Laman Utama is Homepage?)

Am I to lose the only other language I speak? (I also don’t speak Chinese or any dialect, but thats a whole other story that should be told another time) Perhaps I should make it a point to consume some amount of a Malay online paper like Berita Harian and keep the dying embers of the Malay language burning in my brain for a bit more. All I know is that speaking the language triggers nostalgia in me, and is perhaps the best way to keep my ties with my birthplace.

Favourite Places

I spent the day at the Singapore Botanic Gardens and I cannot remember enjoying myself so much mid-day and mid-week in the longest time. The weather was wonderful (amazingly windy and dry and not humid!), and it reminded me why the Botanic Gardens is really one of my favourite places in Singapore. For anyone who has spent any amount of time in this tiny city-state and yet has not yet made it there, I highly highly recommend that you do. Go prepared to walk alot, sit and lie around randomly. Bring a book, a magazine, a camera. I assure you you will not be disappointed.

Unfortunately for me, I had left my camera at home today, which was a real shame as was a really beautiful day for photography. I guess I’ll just have to take it as a blessing in disguise as it gives me an excuse to go there again real soon.