Friday, April 21, 2017

BABY TALK

As I approach the age where people start getting to THAT stage in life, this topic has come up in more than a few conversations. 

The majority of people are adamant about having kids.

( I am still undecided on reproduction. )

***

When posed the question of why they want kids, common responses are 

“ I want kids because babies are cute “ (My response to that - get a dog.)

“ I want kids so I’ll have something to look forward to. “ (Same as above - or find a hobby)

“ I want kids so I’ll have someone to take care of me when I’m old “ (Annuity - perhaps have a look.)

***

What’s a good reason for having kids then?  

I guess you should have kids simply because you want to, and want to raise them with love - and not with the intention of them serving as gratification to your boredom, nor the motive of them standing in as your retirement plan.

***

When posed the question of when they want kids, common responses are 

" As soon as possible "

" Before the big 3-0 hits "

*** 

When's a good time to have kids then?

In my perspective the answers above are neither right or wrong. However, if I myself weren't in a good place in terms of health, mental state, and finances - I'm not sure it would be a responsible decision to bring another life into the world.


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

MY RIDE SHARING DISASTER : HOW UBER & GRAB RESPONDED

Here is the ordeal in its entirety, the aftermath in the following days, as well as lessons I learned.


Image source: vietnambusiness.tv

*** 

THE INCIDENT

It was a rainy Saturday evening in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. 

UBER 

I opened up the Uber app in my phone and hailed a ride. A driver responded and I confirmed. 

I gave Driver A a call and he informed me he was on his way. I waited more than 30 minutes before he eventually he revealed he didn't know the area / couldn't locate me and asked me to cancel my booking. I replied that if it were the case, he should be the one to cancel. He reverted that if he did so then he would be penalized by Uber ; hence it would be better if the passenger (me) cancelled. I did so and was charged Rm5 because it had been more than 5 minutes since I confirmed the ride. 

After I cancelled the first ride, I hailed another Uber and Driver B responded to my request. I then received a call from him enquiring my destination. When I informed him, the following exchange took place 

Him: Oh.. you want to go there.. but it's not on my way. Can you cancel your ride?
Me: Then why did you respond? In that case, YOU cancel it. 
Him: But I'll get blacklisted by Uber. 
Me: Ugghh, fine.

Following the second failed attempt, I try hailing another Uber - and Driver C responded. However to my frustration, the same scenario repeated itself! 

(In the second and third events, I wasn't charged as I cancelled both in less than 5 minutes. However, the inconvenience of the situation made for an extremely poor customer experience.)

Tired of playing this game with Uber, I then turned to another ride hailing app popular in Southeast Asia.

***

GRAB

I hailed a ride with Grab and a driver responded. I requested to be picked up at the Grab booth at my location - he agreed. 45 minutes later and a flurry of calls and messages, turns out he was circling the area and didn't know where to pick me up from. I informed him to use Waze / Google Maps and provided him the name of the restaurant I was at but he insisted he didn't know and asked me to walk to where he was waiting.

Fed up of waiting and this ridiculous back-and-forth, I reluctantly complied and WALKED IN THE RAIN to find this incompetent driver. Multiple calls and messages more - I managed to locate him! I nearly cried tears of relief and got into the car approximately an hour since I booked the ride. After all the drama, I thought that was the end of this harrowing ordeal and I could finally get going.

However, it was not. I arrived at my destination and was about to get out when he stopped me and presented me with a bill of Rm 15 (on top of the original fare). Turns out he had paused at a reserved parking when he was circling about and was charged - now I had to bear his penalty.

I argued but was exhausted after a night out and just wanted to get this done and over with. I eventually paid up.

***

THE AFTERMATH

In the following week, I shared my experiences with both ride hailing services on social media. This is how the parties involved responded.

UBER

In less than 2 hours, Uber had reached out to me to apologize. That day itself, the following actions were carried out 

- Refund the cost of penalty 
- Refund the cost of the ride
- Extra Uber credits as compensation


GRAB

After the infuriating experience, I rated the driver deservingly and also sent an email to their customer support team. I received an email that stated they 'appreciate bringing to our attention' but nothing further.

This prompted me to take to Facebook - however with still no response in sight I escalated to LinkedIn and also tagged their CEO and Founder. That evening, I received a call from the Grab team apologizing and verbally outlining the following actions. (However, it was only a week later that they were carried out.)

- Refund the cost I was charged for 'VIP Parking'
- Refund the cost of the ride
- Extra Grab credits as compensation 


*** 

LESSONS LEARNT

Speak out

This is also a partial reason as to why I am writing this post - more than a few people are asking me about my experience that evening and how things were resolved. As a consumer, it is our responsibility to deliver feedback in  a clear and coherent manner. This is so companies can take this into consideration to educate their drivers, who can then in turn deliver accordingly to consumers - ultimately providing a positive experience for all.

Rampage rants which go " F&$%!! all ride hailing services you all SOBs never taking a ride again MotherF*#@ers! " are of no help to anyone.

Be graceful 

As with any other regular company, ride hailing service do the best they can to screen and educate their employees. However some parties may still be misaligned at times. What you can do is to deliver feedback and let them take necessary action.  

Being a regular user of ride hailing services, I must say that the majority of drivers I've encountered have a sense of ownership and responsibility to do their job well and deliver a smooth and pleasant experience as possible. There may be a few who are the exception to this, but as a whole I find that ride hailing services provide a valuable service to the public and I will continue to use them.





Monday, March 13, 2017

MARKETEER MUSINGS

Every day, we are bombarded with messages to influence our decision-making process and actions. 

Though they may seem trivially innocuous to the layman on the street, here are some of the things I see from a marketeer's perspective.

***  

Outdoor Advertising


Image from outoftownblog.com

Tuktuks are essentially a cart attached to a motorbike - a common form of cheap and effective transportation in Southeast Asia (no tuk tuks in Kuala Lumpur though).

Over the past few years on my usual jaunts around the region, I've observed it is getting more and more common for brands to advertise on tuktuks.


Image from yp.com 


Image from phnompenhpost.com


Image from yp.com

When I see this as a marketeer, thoughts which immediately resonate are

  • Who do I go through to activate this campaign - is there some sort of tuk tuk union / association whom I can liaise with to roll out on the ground and pass activation materials? 
  • How much does this advertising cost? How much of it goes to the tuk tuk drivers? I'd hope that they benefit in some manner from working with me.
  • Who am I talking to - who is my customer demographic? What is their income range / household income, where they live, what are their lifestyle preferences.
  • What sort of brands would be a good fit for this manner of advertising? I'd think this suits brands who are in the budget to midrange segment ; I can't see Chanel, Panerai, or Maserati jumping on board tuk tuk advertising train.

*** 

Online Advertising

Searching for 'food delivery' on Google brings a plethora of results to the surface.

What a regular person sees 

" Generic result, generic result, etc etc... Hmm, what should I eat? "




What a marketeer sees and thinks :



" Paid ad, paid ad, paid ad, etc " 

  • How much did they bid to get that ranking? 
  • What is their cost per impression? (Impression = number of times the ad is shown when the particular keyword is searched)
  • What is their cost per click? 
  • What is their click through rate? (Click through rate = [number of people who clicked on the ad] VS [number of people who saw the ad] x 100)
  • Is their service / product up to par? 
  • What would be their site / result ranking if they weren't paying for advertising?





" Not ad, not ad, etc "

  • Unpaid 
  • Authentic ranking 
  • Likely to have lots of current traffic on this site
  • Pretty high up on the first page, which means a lot of people are searching for this specific keyword
  • They probably provide quality service / products


*** 

Anyway, these are just some of my daily musings as a marketeer and I merely wanted to pen them down. 


Thursday, February 23, 2017

SOLO TRAVEL: PHUKET ON A BUDGET


The waters are warm and aquamarine blue, the sunsets are gorgeous, diving is amazing, cost of things are cheap, and it's only an hour and a half away.


I'll always go back to Thailand. 

***
Most people turn up their nose at Phuket in distaste, picturing a place ruined by rampant overdevelopment and swarming hordes of tourists.

It is true that the main stretch of and around Bangla road is awfully crass, glaringly loud, disgustingly over-sexed, and in your face (ping-pong show, anyone?)

However, Phuket is a large island and there is so much else to do - diving, trekking, shopping, nightlife, eating, island-hopping, and the list goes on. 

Just a mere 15-20 minute ride away from rowdy, dirty Bangla road will take you to the idyllic beaches of Karon and Kata - or if you really feel like getting away from everyone and everything, Panwa and Surin. 

In the Andaman sea surrounding Phuket, manta rays and whale sharks lazily glide around. The harsh cliffs and dense foliage of hundreds of uninhabited islands with beautiful pristine beaches are perfect for daytripping, sunbathing, and snorkelling. 

Another upside is the cheap, cheap prices (if you know where to look). I recently spent a week in Phuket. Here is a breakdown of how much it cost me

Accommodation for one week: MYR 104 /  USD 23
Expenses for one week (massages, shopping, food, transportation): MYR 600 / USD 135
Flight both ways (Kuala Lumpur): MYR 190 / USD 43

Grand total (flights, expenses, and accommodation): MYR 894 / USD 201

I've not included diving in my cost as this is a subjective activity (not everyone dives).

Here is my one-week itinerary for Phuket on a budget.

***
Day 1 (4 Feb, Saturday)

Afternoon: Arrive in Phuket. Airport minibus to Patong (180 bht one way). Check in to hostel link HERE (Full Stop Hostel Patong)

Review of hostel - I stayed in the 6-bed dorm at 140 baht per night. Good WiFi, strong air-conditioning, clean showers, and each bed has their own charging sockets and reading light. Quite a distance to the main area (approx. 2km to the markets, restaurants, beach, but best value for money in Phuket). It is up north on the quieter side of Patong, so the plus points are crowd-free beaches and a peaceful sleep.


Evening: Window shopping, dinner, and massage (300 bht at That's Siam Massage Parlour) in Jungceylon Shopping Mall 



Street vendors selling mango sticky rice.



Sunset by the beach, just before it started raining.


Bangla road and the famous ladyboys.

***
Day 2 (5 Feb, Sunday)

Morning til afternoon: Diving in Racha Islands (3900 bht per day)

Evening: Dinner at night market, full body Thai oil massage, sightseeing in Bangla Road.



Pre-dive buffet breakfast on the boat.



Racha Noi island.


Racha Noi.



On the dive deck just before getting into the water. There was a manta ray floating around the vicinity - others in our group spotted it but not me! *cries*

***
Day 3 (6 Feb, Monday)

Morning: Breakfast Thai Red Milk Tea (20 bht) and grilled chicken (60 bht for quarter chicken) 

Afternoon: Public bus to Phuket town (30 bht one way). Walking and sight seeing in Phuket town.

Evening: Dinner and window shopping in Patong



Breakfast before heading out to explore town.



Trying to con me into sharing my meal.


Avoid tuk-tuks or taxis because they're expensive and a ripoff starting at 500 baht. Take the public bus at a maximum rate of 30 baht.

Got to Old Phuket Town and walked about wandering.


Old doorways.



Colourful shophouses.



Street murals.


More interesting street murals.

***
Day 4 (7 Feb, Tuesday)

Morning: Breakfast (same as day 3)

Afternoon: Pickup by Tour East Thailand for Phuket walking and sightseeing tour to Karon and Kata viewpoints, Big Buddha, Wat Chalong, Phuket old town, Cashew Nut Factory, Jewellery Factory (Cost of tour = USD 9 link HERE [Phuket Half Day Tour]) 

Review of tour - very good, excellent value for money. You can request your guide to go to Big Buddha with an add on 300 baht as it is not included in the original itinerary.


Evening: Tom yum in local roadside coffeeshop (100 bht)



Karon viewpoint



Kata viewpoint.



Ornate window frames in Wat Cha Long.



Wat Cha Long.



Big Buddha.

***

Day 5 (8 Feb, Wednesday)

Morning: Breakfast (same as day 3 and 4)

Afternoon: Public bus to Kathu waterfall. Bus dropoff on main road, self-guided trek with Google maps. (Cost of bus = 25 bht one way. Admission to waterfall = free)

Evening: Catch beach sunset, Thai full body oil massage, dinner in Chinatown. 



Entrance of waterfall.


First tier.



Second tier.



Ice cold water.


Ending the day with this glorious sunset.

***
Day 6 (9 Feb, Thursday)

Morning til afternoon: Diving in Phi Phi islands (3900 bht per day)

Evening: Dinner and window shopping in Banzaan Night Market



Saw a leopard shark sleeping in the sand, was a good dive.

***


Day 7 (10 Feb, Friday)

Morning: Breakfast (tom yum in local coffeeshop 100 baht, thai milk tea 20 baht)

Afternoon: Minibus to airport (180 bht)

Evening: Back in KL. 




***

Additional notes:


  • Photos all taken with a Huawei Honor 5C by hostel mates, dive buddies, or whichever random strangers who happen to be standing around (such is the life of a solo traveller).
  • Number of massages had during this trip: 3 Thai full body oil massages (average cost per massage = 250 thb)
  • Shopping on this trip: 3 bikinis, one formal evening dress.






Tuesday, February 14, 2017

WIFE WANTED

" 我来自中国 (Wo lai zhi zhong guo).  " 
" I am from China. " he declared as a manner of introduction when I checked in to my hostel (we were in the same dorm).

***
He spoke slowly in a deliberate nasally tone, occasionally pausing to adjust the thickly-rimmed glasses resting on the bridge of his nose. No, he wasn't from Beijing nor Shanghai nor even Shenzhen. He was from a poor rural farming village (of which the name now escapes me).

His clothes were stained yellowish gray with age and grime. Dirt was lodged underneath the crevices of his nails and his hair was matted. He was 35 years old. It was his first time venturing out of China.

When I asked him why he was travelling, he answered

" I hope to find a wife. "

Huh?

The below conversation ensued.

***

" How many siblings do you have? " He enquired.

" Two. " I responded. 

" Hmmm... there are three children in your family. " He murmured.

" Yes. " I affirmed.

" During my time, the one-child policy was enforced in China. In the cities, they were either educated enough to embrace the birth of a daughter or wealthy enough to pay government bribes if they wanted more children. In the villages, it was a different story. Sons were highly valued to help with manual labour and carry on the family name. Daughters were killed at birth. "

" Because of this damned policy, males far outnumber females of marriageable status today. There are no women left in the villages! "

" I came to Thailand because I heard the women here like foreign men. Do you think that is true? "

" Uhmm.. ehmm.. " I uhmmed and ehmmed. 

The all too common theme of old white men with young Thai 'girlfriends' surfaced in my mind's eye - could a farmer from rural China compare? However I kept silent, not wanting to dissuade his dream of happily ever after.

" Well, you can try! " I feigned encouragement.

***

When I left, he had yet to find his bride.



Tuesday, January 10, 2017

NIGHT FERRY FROM KOH TAO TO SURAT THANI

This is a post on how to get from Koh Tao to Surat Thani airport (all land and sea transfers) in the most comfortable and economical manner.

I had to get from Koh Tao to Surat Thani, where I was due to get back to Kuala Lumpur on a 1 pm flight. You have a few ways of going about this

  • Speed boat 
  • VIP Night ferry  
  • Local night ferry 

Let's talk about your options.

Speed boat 
Tickets with the Lomprayah speed boat cost between 1200 - 1500 bht (depending on how hard you bargain / which agent you buy from). There are 2 departure times every day, 6.30 am and 1.30 pm. The journey is supposed to take between 4-5 hours on average, but remember that this is dependent on weather and it is safe to allocate extra time for delays.

VIP Night ferry (what I went with)
I can't remember the name of the company ; tickets range from 800-950bht (again, depending on how hard you bargain / which agent you buy from). Departure times are at 9 pm and you reach Surat Thani airport at 9.30 am the following day. You get a private sleeper bunk of your own, light refreshments, it is fully air-conditioned, you have your own reading light, and so on. I'll talk about it my experience further down in this post.

Local night ferry
I did not go with this (I wasn't even aware of this option til boarding my night ferry) but from what I later learnt, tickets are from 500 - 600bht. Everyone is spread out to sleep on the floor with no air-conditioning and out in the open. It largely carries locals but from what I heard, it is not uncommon to have the more cost-sensitive backpackers on board.


Image from somewhereorbust.com

Despite being the dollar-savvy traveler that I am, I probably would not have gone with this option even if I had known in advance. (Looks really uncomfortable / awkward / unclean / etc)

***

Anyway, here's my recount of the experience with the VIP night ferry.

I had scouted around Koh Tao and weighed my options. Eventually I decided that the morning speedboat would be cutting it too close for timing, so ended up with the night ferry. I bought my tickets for 800 bht from a travel agent directly behind Nat Resort.


Image of Nat Resort Koh Tao from travelfish.org

(Sidetracking a bit, Nat Resort was where I stayed after my free accommodation with my dive school ended upon completing my open water course with Phoenix Divers Koh Tao - review here. For the convenient location in the middle of Sairee beach, it is the most economical accommodation on the island ; for 300 bht you get a private room (fan) with a queen bed and shared bathroom. Air-conditioned rooms with private baths are available for around 600 bht. WiFi is in the main reception area though it gets spotty further away.)

On the day of departure, my agent picked me up at 8.30 pm for the short 5-min ride to the pier. 

I checked in, boarded the ferry and went to see my bunk. 


The sheets, linen, and pillows were relatively clean. We got a bun and a bottle of mineral water. I hung out on the deck with other passengers until they announced it was time to depart. Washrooms are up on the open air deck and cleanliness was decent by Asian standards.

At 9.30 pm, the ferry departed from Koh Tao.

They turned out the lights at around 10.30 pm. No wifi on board, but there are plenty of charging ports for your phone / electronics. Perhaps due to the time of the year (November - December is the monsoon season for Thailand's east coast), the bunks were occupied at only about 50% capacity.

My experience throughout the night was quietly peaceful. The air-conditioning was on the colder side, but I just nicked one of the blankets from the empty bunks and was fine. As the ferry moves slowly and steadily and the sea was calm and glassy (as opposed to the speedboat I took getting in to Koh Tao which was bumpy and nausea-inducing as heck ; people were throwing up left and right), I slept well in the darkness.

The night passed by uneventfully and we reached the mainland in the wee hours of morning, with different passengers stowed off to their respective locations (Bangkok, Railay, Chiang Mai, Koh Lanta, whatever - it's easy to buy a bundled transfer to wherever you want to go). I was directed into a minivan headed to the airport and arrived at Surat Thani airport at 9 am, slightly ahead of schedule.

It was a lot better and more comfortable than the speedboat, with the only possible drawback being time if you are in a hurry. Overall, it was a relatively alright experience and I would have done it again.