Hotel Review: Mondrian Suites – Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin

I realised that when you get to travel to the same city in high frequency over the course of one year, it helps to have a place that makes you feel comfortable. Comfort, to me, is defined not only by the quality of the mattress, but also by the service, location, staff, and room-amenities. As I began to travel so frequently since I started working for Impact Hub Co., I realised that I needed more than just a bed; I needed a place that can somehow mimic a home-like environment.

Normally when I travel it is usually for a period of two-three weeks, so for me it is crucial that the place offers more than just a bed and a desk. It needs to provide a little living room, a kitchenette, a comfortable shower, and of course a good mattress. Most hotels don’t offer this entire list, but the Mondrian Suites in Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin did, and then some. I promised myself to write a bit about my experience with them, so here we are : )

Mondrian Suites - Entrance
Mondrian Suites – Entrance

Service

As I mentioned above, I get to travel a lot during the course of the year, and if there is one thing that gets to me every single time I check-in to hotels is the hour. Always at 3pm, and always with no exceptions. It can make you life hell if, for instance, your 22-hour flight lands at 6am and your first meeting starts at 11am. This same exact scenario happened to me on my last visit, and to my surprise when I arrived to the Mondrian Suites reception area at 7:30am, I was able to check-in immediately! I wasn’t sure if I wanted to hug the receptionist at this point, or just stand on the table to scream “YES!”

In any case, this was a welcome change from all the other hotels I stayed in Berlin in the past. I actually managed to take a long hot shower, unpacked my suitcase, and get a set of fresh cloths on me.

Mondrian Suites - Reception area
Mondrian Suites – Reception area

Room

The room was everything I expected it to be (from the website’s description). It had a nice kitchenette with a small fridge, a microwave, a small electric stove, a sink, plates, utensils, pots, and a small dining table. It also offered a nice small living-room where you can use to sit down to read the newspaper, check your emails, or simply get your feet up after a long day and relax. Most rooms (if not all) come with a nice small balcony. I personally didn’t use it, but if you are a smoker (I’m not), this will be your place of sanctuary. The showroom was spacious, and nice. The shower-head had great water pressure, and the towels felt soft and fluffy. The bed (oh the bed) was very comfortable. I suffer from back problems ever since my military days, so I’m very sensitive to bad mattresses. I must admit that I actually slept like a baby on their mattress, which can also be the fact I was dead tired from all the long meetings : ).

 

Mondrian Suites - Livingroom
Mondrian Suites – Livingroom
Mondrian Suites - Balcony
Mondrian Suites – Balcony

 

Location

I’m not a big fan of big tourist locations. What I liked about the Mondrian Suites location is the fact that it was not in the heart of tourist-traffic, but close enough that you can walk to it (if needed). In addition, if you walk two blocks up Markgrafenstrasse, you will find excellent (semi hidden) restaurants. One in particular, entrecôte, left a good memory in my taste buds. Lastly, there is a big supermarket located right across the hotel, which is great because you get to stock up your fridge with healthy food (for long stays).

Staff

The staff was very helpful, and polite. Very young, and always willing to help with anything. I like it when the person helping you doesn’t try to be pretentious.

Overall, I think I found the hotel I’ll stay in on my next business trips to Berlin. It simply offers everything I need.

Business Trip to Berlin And Expending the MARCOM Team 

Visting Berlin had a different flavour to it this time. It involved not only closing Q1 and planning our next quarter, but also welcoming two new team members to the MARCOM team—Whitney and Anja— and introducing our new Finance and Operations Lead (CFO).

The first part of the trip was quite intense. We’ve gone through the numbers of our first quarter— all were positive, and shown great growth— and we also planned our next quarter, and had a chance to interact with our Board members—mainly about our Unlikely Allies event in Seattle that will take place at the beginning of Q3 2016. The meetings at this level are quite intense, and require a lot of focus. I can honestly say that by the time we reached day three, my energy levels plummeted to pretty much zombie level. Somehow I made it through, so I am happy. :).

What I enjoy most about these meetings are the people. It is very different than my last position, when meetings were dominated by one dogmatic view, and ideas were not floating in a positive way. I find this type of approach to be poisoning not only on a productivity level, but also on a personal level; it simply shuts you down. In any case, this post is not about ranting :).

Impact Hub Team
A good dinner after a long day

After a week or so in Berlin, I managed to take a few days off to go see my family and friends in Israel. The flight from Berlin to TLV is quite short, so it made sense to me to catch an overnight flight (literally :-/) to go spend a few days with them. Seeing my family is always great, no matter how short the trip is. I managed to see all of my siblings, and some of my cousins and uncles too (we’re very much a middle eastern family when it comes to family; we stay very close).

The highlight of my trip, however, was meeting with my 9th grade teacher, Orly. This person has changed my life back when I was 15 year old by helping me believe in my abilities, and in myself. I had quite a tough time in Grade and Junior schools, and I was very much close to being “kicked out” of the school-system because the teachers thought I wasn’t good enough to learn anything. This teacher, Orly, saw my potential and managed to guide me—in a very socratic way, I must say—until I was able to find the true me. It took me 22 years to realise this, and I’ve been searching for this teacher’s address for the past three years so I can thank her personally. This year I managed to get a hold of her phone number, and planned a meeting with her in a nice cafe in Rehovot. It was an emotional meeting for both of us. She was very touched by what I had to say, and for me it marked the end of a long journey.

I also managed to meet some good old friends from my childhood (Boaz, Tal, Maya, Uri), so that was nice as well. It is always nice to catch up, and witness the changes that time brings on all of us.

The last stretch of the three-week-business-trip also involved welcoming two new members to the MARCOM team. I know I promised to write a post about “how to build your marketing team,” but I honestly did not have time yet. The good news, however, is that I already started the first draft.

Back to the new team members. Yes, the last stretch of the trip was quite intense as well. Making sure to go over every piece of the MARCOM funnel is not an easy task, and involved a lot of meetings and talking. Having said that, it does make things simpler when you do it with smart people, and these two new members certainly fit this category.

Impact Hub Team
The MARCOM team is growing

Overall I had a good time, but I must say that three weeks is a long time to be traveling. I can take a week, or maybe 10 days, so I’m hoping that next trip will be much shorter.

The Dark Side of Street Photography If You Are an Introvert 

Not too long ago—when I first started my photography journey in 2012—I needed to decide what areas of photography I’ll enjoy exploring the most. Is it landscaping? Is it portraits? Or maybe architecture? After experimenting with various photography fields, my search led me to street photography, and people (not necessary portraits, but more like taking photos of people at their natural environment).

Street Queen - New York City
Street Queen – New York City

For an introvert person such as myself, doing street photography can be quite challenging. Unlike other photographers who ask permission to take photos of random people on the street, I find myself paralysed by the thought of asking strangers to take their photo. Two main reasons: 1) I’m quite shy and I don’t like to talk to people that I don’t know that easily (hence an Introvert), and 2) I find that doing so makes the subject conscious about the camera, which takes away the “story” of the photo.

Street Lords - New York City
Street Lords – New York City

During a business trip to Berlin last month, I found some time to explore the city in search for a “subject” that can summarise the vibes I felt in this multicultural German town. I walked for miles across different streets and neighbourhoods to try to capture the ‘magic’ of this city. To me Berlin represents freedom and some sort of cultural euphoria, and I wanted to capture these exact feelings in my lens. As I was walking down Friedrichstrasse, I came across a photographer who was taking photos of a model in the middle of the road. It was such a surreal moment, and I knew that I found my photo. To me the model represented Berlin, and the photographer represented freedom. It was a moment where you simply grab your camera and click what you see. One shot. One photo.

Berlin - Germany
Berlin – Germany

It was a perfect introvert-moment. Nobody knew I was there, and I could simply capture the moment the way I saw it with no interruptions. Little did I know that my worst nightmare as a photographer has just began.

After I took the photo, I kept walking on the street when suddenly I heard someone “talking on the phone” in German a few steps behind me. I ignored it for a while until I actually started to suspect that the person is actually talking to me. I turned my head to the right and to my surprise, the person was not only talking to me, but he was also holding his phone up and taking a video of me!

A bit confused, I smiled and kept walking, hoping for the person to vanish. He did not. In fact, he stepped in front of me—while still videoing the whole thing— and started raising his voice (still in German) and acting aggressively toward me with his body language. I was alarmed, and my surviving-animalistic-instincts were on the highest level. I didn’t understand a word that this bully was saying, which made the scenario even more confusing. I tried to cross the street, but he kept following me. I acted calmed and politely asked him to simply leave me alone; he did not. A group of tourists showed up, and I simply mingled with them until he cursed me and left the area. I kept walking calmly for another mile until I stopped. My heart was beating fast from the rush of adrenaline (I thought I was about to get into a fight), and I was very confused because I tried to understand what in god’s name just happened.

Later in the day it all “made sense” to me. This bully thought I was sneaking up on people to take photos, and he wanted to “teach me” a lesson by taking a video of me and adding to it some aggressiveness. As an introvert, there is nothing worse than someone confronting you this way to ruin your day. I didn’t take a single photo after this incident, and I simply turned around and walked back to the hotel. My photography zen moment was gone.

As a certified Krav Maga martial art fighter, I could have easily taken this person down and break every possible bone in his body, but since I don’t like conflicts I simply chose to walk away, very disturbed from the entire incident. This led me to think about the dark side of street photography: confronting people (bullies) who simply don’t understand that what we photographers do is art. We are not taking a photo of you, rather, we are capturing a moment in time. This moment can be the vibes of a city, an emotion, a state of being, or anything else we find inspiring. We are storytellers, and we use visual to express our words.

Sliding Doors - New York City
Sliding Doors – New York City

I’m hoping this will be the last time I come across this type of an undesirable scenario, but something tells me it won’t.

 

Running: Barefoot vs. Shoes on

I read a lot of articles and books about barefoot running, and how anatomically speaking it is the right thing to do if your goal is to develop a good running technique, as well as keeping your body healthy (i.e., not leaning forward, less stress on the spine, etc). I have been running minimalist for quite some time now—using the New Balance Minimus Zero running shoes—so naturally I thought I was doing it right all these years, until, that is, I came across an article that talked about how running barefoot (or using the Vibram Five Fingers to protect your skin) can improve running performance, especially speed.

The running shoes I’m currently using are so minimalist, that I didn’t think taking them off will do any difference; I was wrong! The experiment I conducted was quite simple: run 1.70’ish mile with and without shoes and measure what happens. The photo below compares the results. I was shocked to see the difference between the two runs! I felt the most natural (i.e., less tired, more loose) running barefoot, and the only reason I had to stop is because I was starting to get blisters on my toes.

Running: Barefoot Vs. Shoes on
Running: Barefoot Vs. Shoes on

The experience of running barefoot was a bit strange in the beginning. Feeling (literally) the ground under my feet forced me to adjust the way I hit the surface, and with it my running posture. I was “bouncing” more and I felt the running-power was coming from my feet. I also felt ‘lighter’ and faster, which was strange because it was opposite to what I felt five minute prior to it when I was running with the minimalist shoes. I also felt less tired muscles wise. I literally felt I could just keep running all day long, but as I mentioned above the only thing that stopped me were the blisters that started to develop. Overall I felt like a “runner” in the true sense of the word.

In conclusion, if in the past I scoffed at the Vibram Five Fingers shoes (not sure I can call them shoes), now I’m convinced that they are the solution to help improve my running performance. I heard many professional runners raving about these shoes, and now I understand why.

Thoughts From My Last Trip

September was a busy month for me. It started with #INBOUND15 in Boston, followed with meeting my new team in Berlin, followed with a short trip to Zurich to attend the launch party of the new Impact Hub Zurich, and continued with visiting my family in Israel. Three weeks altogether of traveling across three continents.

Since this is my first post in many months, I will get you up to speed with the latest developments. For those of you who missed the news, I am no longer the Impact Hub Singapore’s CMO. I accepted a new position with the global brand, Impact Hub Global, as their new Global Marketing Lead. I still hold a small role with Impact Hub Singapore that involves training the team on hubspot and Inbound Marketing best practices, and, most importantly, to finish the two projects I started when I first joined their team: The Hubbington Post, and the new Website. These two projects are something I initiated and worked on since day one at Impact Hub Singapore, and I’m happy to see it launching soon. Many thanks go out to Alissa Ohl, my colleague, who put so many hours in helping me with these projects. More on this topic in a later post.

My trip started in Boston. I attended the #INBOUND15 conference, and as always it was a well organised event by Hubspot. Over 14,000 people attended the conference, making it one of the most attended marketing conferences in the world. I managed to meet so many great friends there (hello Adelina, Heather, Clara, and Yoav), and also attended some very useful workshops. I particularly enjoyed the “Executive” sessions. I thought they provided the most value to me. All in all, it is a great conference to attend if you’re in the Inbound Marketing field. Definitely worth the price.

#INBOUND15
#INBOUND15
#INBOUND15
#INBOUND15

#INBOUND15 was exciting, no doubt, but the most exciting part of the trip was meeting the Impact Hub Global Team in Berlin. It was my first time in Berlin (and in Germany for that matter), so in addition to meeting new faces, I was — as a food enthusiast and a photographer — excited to explore the German cuisine and to take some photos.

Meeting the team in Berlin exceeded all of my expectations. They are extremely smart, extremely passionate, respectful, easy going, group of people with great attitude toward work, life, and anything Impact.

The meetings were intense. Planning a roadmap and strategising take a lot of brain-power. Our days lasted for about 12+ hours of thinking and rethinking every piece of our strategy. As intense as it was, I actually enjoyed it. I was pleased we managed to go over the entire marketing plan in such a short time, and generally had a smooth onboarding process.

Impact Hub Global
The MARCOM Team
Impact Hub Berlin + Impact Hub Global teams
Impact Hub Berlin + Impact Hub Global teams

Berlin itself is a beautiful city. It hosts plenty of restaurants, nice cafes, old buildings that captured great historical stories over the years (great for photography), and it is very affordable in comparison to other cities in Europe (hello Zurich!). I particularly enjoyed walking at the famous Mauerpark on Sundays. It gathered so many interesting people. The most epic moment at Mauerpark, if I were to choose one, was when I listened to Frank Sinatra’s I Did It My Way song sang by a drunk old German man at the park’s stone amphitheatre Karaoke event (see photo below). He sang it in German! He actually did a good job, despite his struggle to keep himself standing straight.

Mauerpark
Mauerpark – The Stone Amphitheater Karaoke event

After a week or so of intense work (and fun), it was time to head out to Zurich to attend the launch of the new (third space!) Impact Hub Zurich (and of course some more strategic meetings). The new space looked well thought of. It is very specious, has plenty of light, and looks very conducive to do some deep thinking. If you live in Zurich and are looking to join a community of seriously smart people, you ought to check them out. The launch party was very impressive. Close to 1000(!) people showed up to be part of the event. The Impact Hub Zurich team organised a live DJ, live singing/dancing performance, food trucks, drag queens (yes, drag queens!), and lots of beers (it is Europe after all). I had a great time (and laugh) hanging out with these people.

Impact Hub Zurich
Impact Hub Zurich New Space
Impact Hub Zurich Launch Party
Some funny costumes at the party
Impact Hub Zurich Launch Party
And some Drag Queens
Impact Hub Zurich Launch Party
~1000 people showed up!

We returned to Berlin after the short visit to Zurich to continue with our strategic meetings for a few more days before I headed to Israel to visit my family.

My stay in Israel was very short, but I managed to get a lot of things done. One of the events I didn’t expect was to go to a live UEFA Champions League football game. My nephew surprised me with two tickets literally 10 hours before my flight back to Singapore, and I simply couldn’t say no. The most fulfilling event, however, was seeing my parents. It breaks my heart each time I say goodbye to them, and I hope I can make more visits in 2016.

UEFA Champions League game: Maccabi Tel Aviv vs. Dinamo Kiev
UEFA Champions League game: Maccabi Tel Aviv vs. Dinamo Kiev

Overall it was a great trip. I have another round of meetings at the end of October, and this time the trip will last five+ weeks. I’ll be in Berlin, Vienna, Princeton NJ (for Thanksgiving), Atlanta GA, and Cambridge MA.

Until then….

 

The One Rule to Keep In Mind When Photographing Fireworks

Yesterday I attempted to photograph the New Year’s fireworks in Singapore. I did my homework, found a good spot on the bridge, and had my finger ready to trigger the shutter. The technical rules are quite straight forward:

  1. Get a DSLR
  2. Must have a (good) tripod
  3. Aperture at f 11-16
  4. Mode = “B” (bulb)
  5. ISO = 100
  6. Shutter speed around 10 seconds (you’ll need to test it yourself)
  7. Get a good location

These are the technical rules, which are quite easy to follow. Now here is the one rule to keep in mind when photographing fireworks: you only have one shot to get a good photo, and it must be at the first round of fireworks. Why? Because when the smoke from the fireworks covers the skyline (skyscrapers, sky, bridges, etc), it will ruin the composition of the photo. After all, fireworks by themselves are just fireworks with no context. However, if you add some familiar landmarks in the background (and sometimes in the foreground as well), you’ll end up with a beautiful photo.

Here are two examples that illustrate what I mean:

First Set of Fireworks

Fireworks Singapore
First set of fireworks without the smoke

In this photo you can clearly see the Marina Bay Sands hotel in the background. This gives context to the photo, and allow the viewer to recognize the area.

Third Set Fireworks

Fireworks Singapore
Third set of fireworks – lots of smoke

This photo was taken from the same spot, however, due to the massive amount of smoke from the previous round of fireworks the sky is now full of smoke, which makes the area look like a war zone. The Marina Bay Sands hotel is nowhere to be seen, which takes away the context in the photo.

I hope you keep it in mind next time you photograph fireworks.

Buy nuts in Singapore in Bulk

I’ve been looking for a place to buy nuts and fruits (raisins and dates) in Singapore for some time, and finally I came across a place named Garden Picks that offered great prices, and a vast selection of nuts and fruits. This is all nice and well, but one thing about Singapore that I haven’t gotten used to yet is how behind the country is when it comes to e-commerece. It’s actually quite surprising, to be honest, to see a country that is so advanced in tech, architecture, retail, etc, but still lacks up-to-date e-commerce regulations. This is why I am still a bit skeptical whenever I purchase something on a .sg website. Anyway, I decided to take my risk, and give this website a chance.

Garden Picks
Garden Picks

The process was smooth with no real blockers to slow it down. The package has been delivered by one of the employees that work for the company, which I thought was quite awesome. He actually called me on my cell just to confirm the hour that suits me best to receive the package. How cool is that?!

All the nuts and dates I bought were fresh, and stored in vacuumed bags. I definitely recommend this place if you live in Singapore and are looking to buy nuts in a reasonable price. Check out their website here.

First Two Weeks Working at The @Hubsg (Reflecting)

The Hub Singapore Team
The Hub Singapore Team

Exhilarating. This is how I describe the feeling of working for The Hub Singapore. Frankly speaking, it’s beyond anything I had ever imagined. From the moment you step into the ‘office’ – which, by the way, is a big co-working space in a cafe –  to the moment you leave; from the place, the team, the Hubbers and the community, all exudes energy. And for a good reason too: The Hub Singapore is home to some of the most exciting Startups, people, and community of working individuals in Singapore! We are 500 strong, to be exact, and with plans to grow to a 1,000 by next year.

Prior to joining The Hub Singapore, I was looking for something that would give my hard work a meaning. I was tired of working in closed-minded environments (corporations) and needed a change. Most importantly, though, I needed a challenge! Not surprisingly, Startups was my first choice, but not just any Startup. I didn’t want to work for a tech Startup (unless its aim was to make the world a better place), which tends to focus on making money, since that wasn’t my intention, much less my motivation.

I’d applied to five Startups in Singapore before joining The Hub Singapore, was interviewed by all, and subsequently offered a position by all. Now here is the funny part: The Hub Singapore’s offer was the least appealing in monetary terms, but it was the only offer that gave me goose bumps! After a short conversation with our CEO, Grace Sai, I knew that this is what I wanted to do. When she offered me the position of CMO, I knew that it was time to embark on this challenge and that I was ready to navigate the ship.

What does it mean to be the CMO for a place that has no marketing strategy, per se, and no actual metrics or a marketing structure? Hmm, in one word: Challenging. And it is the challenging part that I liked most about this position. On the one hand, it makes my job much easier because I get to build everything from the ground up. But, on the other hand, it can be overwhelming as f**k because, well, building an entire Inbound marketing funnel is not an easy task when you are low on the most important asset: people. I work with the smartest people in Singapore, but I need more of them! I guess this is where creativity comes in place. And in this case, I’ll need plenty of it.

Honestly, if it weren’t for the concept of closed loop marketing, I don’t know what I would have done. A lot of you have asked me what needs to be done to make it a success story, and my answer is simple: Green is what we have, and red is what we don’t have.  My job is to turn red to green, the kind of challenge that keeps a smile on my face. Only after I have all the balls in place, so to say, I can start thinking about demand generation, lead generation…blah, blah, blah…and ultimately growth.

 

Closed Loop Marketing
Closed Loop Marketing

 

I’m going to conclude this post with a video that gives me goose bumps every time I watch it. I think it summarizes why I wake up with a smile every morning, why I’m happy to do what I do, and why I’m lucky to work with the most amazing team in Singapore.

Here is where I work, and this is what we do:

 

Where Are All the New Photos?

Here is the simple answer to those of you who keep asking me about new photos from Singapore, and if I quit photography: I didn’t quit photography. In fact, I have a nice collection of photos I took in Singapore that I simply can’t wait to migrate to Lightroom. The reason I haven’t done it thus far is not because I’m lazy (you know me better than this), but rather, it’s because my Mac is (almost) on its deathbed. It slows down significantly when I use Lightroom, and I simply don’t have the patience to spend 10 minutes on each photo I edit. In the interim I just keep taking photos to edit later.

What is later?

Later is when I get my new Mac. Hopefully on our next visit to the States (probably around January) I can pick a new modified Mac in one of the Apple stores. Until then I keep it simple, focusing mainly on lightweight applications such as Microsoft Office suite.

So, there you have it, the answer to the photos question.

If you get bored at work and need something to make you smile, visit my new 500px.com page. It’s growing quite fast :).

PS: Shana Tova to all my Jewish friends and family around the globe! :)

Swimming with the Big Sharks

In his book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell talks about the 10,000 hours rule, where he claims that the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours. I don’t have 10,000 hours of practice in photography yet, but I certainly feel that I’m getting closer to my goal of translating a moment into a photo.

I had heard about 500px.com from other photographers in the field, and how the site is geared toward more professional photos. Unlike Flickr, which is a mix between professional photos and your recent family album, 500px.com, it seems, is only for professional photos.This probably explains the option to sell your photography work to anyone on the site, which I think is pretty cool. (This didn’t come as a surprise to me, though, because most of the photography work is absolutely beautiful.)

So, what does it all have to do with me? Continue reading…

I developed my photography skills quite a bit over the past two years or so, and although I don’t get to take as many photos as I would have liked (you know, I also have a ‘real’ job), I certainly feel that I’m starting to set my photography direction, which seems to point toward street photography (mainly people and moments), portraits (when I’m really pushed into it), some Landscapes, and a lot of Black and White style photos. Colors are great, but I always felt that in order to capture a story in a photo, B&W is the only format. I also feel, and this is a topic for an entirely new post, that since the introduction of filters (hello Instagram!) most people have less appreciation to authentic color photos. It seems to me, and I have seen it in some of my work, that if a photo of a sunset doesn’t have a purple sun, pink sky, and green clouds, then the photo is not good.

I joined 500px.com because I felt that I elevated my work high enough to contribute to the community of photographers who share their work on the site, and also, of course, because I wanted to learn from other photographers. My photo-posting strategy is simple: pick the best photos I have, and post one photo per day. I was happy to see that most of the photos I posted received great feedback, such as likes and faves, from members of the community, and also comments that showed a lot of support for my work. Here are two photos that received great feedback:

I think that what I’m mainly happy about the most is after all this time of taking photos, I actually learned a new skill, although I think I’m quite far from completing 10,000 hours of photo shooting, or, which is how I like to call it, 10,000 hours of having fun.

Restaurant Review: Gusto (Singapore)

Gusto is a restaurant located in the heart of Orchard Road, right outside the ion mall, that offers diners modern Italian cuisine with a touch of innovation. The atmosphere in this restaurant is very vibrant, and diners have the option to sit indoors or outdoors and enjoy music as well international soccer on TV screens. What makes the outside sitting area even more pleasant is that it is decorated with lots of trees and flowers, creating a nice ambiance for the diners.

Gusto Alfresco Restaurant (Singapore)

For appetizers we ordered a dish called the‘bread board’ which comprised of warm, crispy char-grilled bread accompanied by olive oil butter and a kind of crushed raspberry balsamic jam. This combination of dips was delicious and it created a symphony of sweet-and-sour jam with a punchy creamy sweetness of the olive oil butter in our taste buds. It was a great choice!

Bread Board - Gusto Alfresco Restaurant (Singapore)
Bread Board – Gusto Alfresco Restaurant (Singapore)

For our main meal we ordered two dishes: Chicken Milanese and the Pair of Mini Burgers. The Chicken Milanese was a boneless chicken thigh dipped in herb and garlic crumb, which was fried and then topped with tomato and mozzarella. It reminded me of a schnitzel, the kind my mom used to cook when I was a child. The little piece I tried left a positive impression in my taste buds, although I thought the amount of cheese was a bit too much.

Chicken Milanese  - Gusto Alfresco Restaurant (Singapore)
Chicken Milanese – Gusto Alfresco Restaurant (Singapore)

The Pair of Mini Burgers was an interesting combination of small, tender burger patties topped with scarmorza, fresh tomato, crispy lettuce, and a truffle relish. The burger petties were neatly placed on mini brioche buns and were accommodated by a nice portion of freshly fried french fries, which were very tasty. All these flavors combined very well to create an interesting eating experience. The only two complaints I have is that the petties were a bit on the raw side and the buns were a bit dry. However, this didn’t take away from the overall enjoyment of the dish.

Pair of Mini Burgers - Gusto Alfresco Restaurant (Singapore)
Pair of Mini Burgers – Gusto Alfresco Restaurant (Singapore)

I also ordered, for the first time ever, the infamous Singapore Sling: a Southeast Asian cocktail made with gin, grenadine syrup, angostura bitters, cherry brandy, cointreau and benedictine. It’s considered to be Singapore’s national drink and, as such, it was on my list of cocktails to try for a long time. For a person, like me, who doesn’t drink alcohol, this cocktail can give you an immediate ‘knockout’ feeling, to use a boxing terminology. As refreshing as the drink was – it was fruity and zesty – I could not go beyond a few sips.

Singapore Sling - Gusto Alfresco Restaurant (Singapore)
Singapore Sling – Gusto Alfresco Restaurant (Singapore)

 

Gusto restaurant was a fair culinary experience. Although it offered some unique menu options, most of the dishes were quite basic and the prices were on the high end.

 (3 stars)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Restaurant Review: Koh Grill & Sushi Bar (Singapore)

Last night, we decided to revive our Friday Night Sushi tradition. I had recently come across a name of a Sushi restaurant in Singapore called Koh Grill & Sushi Bar, so we decided to go and explore their menu. They had two main dishes that I wanted to try: Shioki Maki and Shioki Maki ‘second generation’; these came highly recommended as signature dishes.

We arrived at the place (located on Orchard Road, not too far from the MRT station) around 9pm and found the place to be packed (see photo below). I thought that this must be a good sign! After about 20-25 minutes of waiting, we finally got our table. It’s very common to share tables in Singapore, so we weren’t surprised when we were seated next to other sharing the same table. In a way, this was interesting, as we got a chance to see what the couples sitting next to us were ordering.

Koh Grill & Sushi Bar
Long lines = good food?

The restaurant had a visual menu, which meant there were more pictures and less explanatory text. Since I knew what I wanted, we took a few more minutes to explore the menu to find what Irm would like. Our waitress was very helpful in guiding us through the menu to find out which dish contained MSG and which didn’t. I say this because most places in Singapore seem to get a bit defensive when we ask the MSG question. Some locals seem not to know what we were talking about, while others seem to copt an unfriendly attitude, so getting someone to help us with this issue (with a smile) was a refreshing change.

Our food arrived on our table after about 10 minutes. The first thing I noticed about my dish was that it was covered with some white sauce, which at first looked like melted cheese. However, it was a hefty amount of a mayonnaise sauce instead. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like creativity in food but in this case I thought the chef went overboard with the sauce. Sushi, in my humble opinion, is about contrasts in flavors: the fish, the rice, the herbs. If the chef decides to load the roll with mayo, s/he de facto cancels all the flavors of the sushi itself. All I could taste while digging through the sauce was mayo. No fish, no rice, just mayo. It’s a shame because the dish in itself was an interesting combination of fish that I would have liked to have tasted in a roll without the sauce. Irm’s dish offered the same disappointing experience.

Irm's Dish
Irm’s Dish
Shioki Maki. Way too much mayo!
Shioki Maki. Way too much mayo!
Shioki Maki second generation
Shioki Maki second generation. Way too much mayo!

Overall, our culinary experience at Koh Grill & Sushi Bar did not impress us. I can’t rank the place since we haven’t explored the rest of the dishes on the menu, but as far as the two signature dishes that we tried, I can’t see what all the fuss is about!

The big highlight of the night, however, was the discovery of a new Cafe: Paris Baguette Cafe. We enjoyed a wonderful slice of cake there, paired with a good cup of Earl Gray tea, which was much needed to calm our stomach after the mayo attack we experienced. It was too late at night to try their vast selection of croissants, but I’m sure we’ll get back there again soon.

Paris Baguette Cafe.
Paris Baguette Cafe. Delicious cake

 

Ginger Tea – Pakistani Style

Today we had the RSIS driver, Karim, take us to the Ministry of Manpower Office (MMO) to get our Employment Cards issued. It was an exciting day because it will open up a lot of doors for us in Singapore, including the privilege to open a bank account and finally set up our mobile phones in Singapore.

We headed out to the MMO around 9:20am, sitting in the back of Karim’s white Hyundai minivan, getting used to the not-so-specious interior compared to minivans in the States. I still get amused at how small everything is compared to what we’re used to in the United States but, for some reason, it doesn’t bother me a bit! In fact, I actually like it. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the Middle Eastern where everything is also pretty much the same size.

The visit to the MMO took less than 10 minutes, which was a refreshing change from the many weeks it took to get my employment authorization card from the U.S immigration office a few years back. The friendly staff at the MMO took our photos, scanned fingerprints, had us sign a form and, before we knew it, we were in Karim’s white minivan again heading back to NTU campus.

On our way back, Karim looked at us in the rearview mirror and asked if we would like some ginger tea. Well, I thought to myself, I’ve had ginger tea in the States many times and I seem to remember it was good. I smiled back at Karim and told him that I would very much like to try ginger tea here. He smiled at me and, in his heavy Malay accent, turned around and told me that he knows a place that makes the best ginger tea in Singapore! Ah, I thought to myself, I see a culinary adventure coming on.

Before I could complete my thought, Karim stopped the white minivan next to a local hawker. He stepped out of the minivan and left us wondering where we were. I could see Karim talking to one of the merchants, while holding three plastic bags in his right hand. I imagined that the tea would be in a cup, so I thought that maybe he’s just ordering some food to go. He walked back to the car, turned around and said: “Here, the best ginger tea in Singapore!”

IMG_2391

The tea was boiling hot in the bag, but I was eager to try it. It didn’t look like anything I’ve ever tried before, and the thought of drinking a tea with a straw made me a bit hesitant.

Before I could explore my tea in the plastic bag, Karim made it a point to tell us that this tea is a homemade tea, Pakistani style, with all of the ingredients imported from Pakistan. The mere aroma of the spices in the tea made me salivate. My senses were on fire! My mind was trying to keep track of all the different flavors that were running through my tastebuds, failing to categorize them over and over again. It was sweet and milky, with a strong taste of ginger and a dozen of other spices I couldn’t recognize. Every sip brought a different experience to my tastebuds, leaving me baffled and entertained.

At the end of the trip, I realized that I’d never had a real ginger tea in my life and, in fact, judging by this experience, I’ve never really had a real tea before!

 

 

 

Hectic Times

As our U.S chapter closes – marking the beginning of a new exciting chapter – I’m only now starting to realize how hectic the past two weeks have been for us. Between traveling to Atlanta, Boston, packing the content of the house, moving everything out, filling up a mountain of international-shipping paperwork,  thinking about 100 things I need to do and forgetting another 100 that will probably come to my mind after we leave, AND traveling to Canada for 5 days, I think it’s okay to say that I’m past being overwhelmed. The good news is: it’s almost over. Yesterday’s one day trip to Boston/Cambridge was very emotional for us. We always considered MA to be our home, and yesterday’s visit only showed us how much we actually missed this place. We took an 8am JetBlue flight from Newark airport that lasted only 32 minutes (the only way to travel to Boston from NYC, IMHO), and got to spend a few hours in some of the places we love the most. Here are some photos:   We returned home around midnight, only to wake up at 5am to make sure everything is ready for the ‘packers.’ I’m actually not sure how I managed to survive the last few weeks with so much lack of sleep, and so many things to do. I’m glad we picked the Allied service to pack our house; I don’t think I had the mental space to deal with this at this stage in my life. It took the team (of 3) about 5-6 hours to pack the entire house, which is impressive. Today they are coming to take everything away to the storage facility, and then ship everything to Singapore once we get our permanent address over there. Here are some photos: Untitled   What is next? A 5 day trip to Canada, which frankly I look forward to only so I can rest a bit, and forget the fact that in one week we’ll be moving our lives half way across the globe! While in Canada, I’ll finally get to do something I wasn’t able to do for a while: take photos! :). Working out, by the way, hasn’t been the same for the past month or so. I just couldn’t do it for more than twice a week. I’m hoping to get back on schedule after we land in our new home. More thoughts to come when I’m back from Canada….

Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM | Art: Took the Plunge

I sold two lenses, two camera bags, and various camera accessories today for $700, which brought me closer to buying the highly acclaimed Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM | Art lens. This lens, along with the highly acclaimed Sigma 50mm F1.4 DG HSM | Art lens, has been on my radar for quite some time. I was eager to get it before I leave to Singapore so I can actually test it here in Princeton. I feel that my photography has reached a level where I can actually benefit from such a high quality lens, and quite frankly I’m very happy that I finally took the “plunge.”

I’m looking at these two lenses as an investment for the future; especially when I’ll finally get my hands on a full frame DSLR, which will come soon. I’m planning on doing a lot of traveling while we’re in Singapore, and with it a lot of photography as well, so spending this kind of money was a no-brainer for me. Expect more photos coming soon :).

Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM | A
Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM | A

Last Day at AKC.org and WOOFipedia.com

Today is my last day at the American Kennel Club as a full time employee; I  can’t believe how fast 6 months have passed. I’ll still work for AKC as a consultant while in Singapore, but on a much smaller scale in terms of hours. The project I started there is dear to me, and I want to make sure I keep developing what I started, and also focus on training new staff about our inbound marketing roadmap.

AKC is an organization where I had the opportunity to implement every aspect of my inbound marketing knowledge. I feel very grateful to have our VP of Marketing Chris Walker trusting me to do what I do best: solving problems, and leading the digital marketing project for the organization. Beside being a great guy to talk to, I found Chris to be one of the smartest and sharpest people I’ve ever met. I’ll truly miss our conversations together.

Commute
This is me, EVERY morning for the past three years!

Drama aside, today is also the last day I commute to NYC and I can’t say I’m sad about it. Four hours of commute per day is way too much time to spend on moving metal objects, and I’m glad to see it ending. I’ll, however, miss the ‘gang’; also known as fellow commuters. Over the past years I developed great friendships with some of them (Isabelle, Doris, Marilyn, Bob and few others), and the stories we shared with each other every morning on the short 4 minute Dinky train ride from Princeton to Princeton Junction are stories that will forever put a smile on my face. Some of the highlights: “the Pineapple,” “Monday Mornings,” Stinky people on the train,” “the local train,” and many more. I’ll miss it.

Overall, I end this era with a big smile. I’m ready to start a new chapter in our life, a chapter I have no idea how it begins, nor ends.

 

 

 

 

Moving to Singapore

Singapore It is official, we’re moving to Singapore July 27. It’s so surreal, come to think of it, but very exciting nonetheless. Before we move, however, there were a lot of corners we needed to seal; corners like bank accounts, taxes, packing, moving, shipping overseas, and a ton more. This is the one time that I was happy to have years of experience in project management. :).

The moving company will come to our house on June 23 and 24. First day will be devoted  to packing (yes, they pack the house for us, which is really cool), and the second day will be devoted to loading everything to the container and taking it to the NJ Port for overseas shipping. The shipping will take between 50 to 70 days to arrive to Singapore, which is why we decided to ship everything earlier in June.

Maybe this is a good opportunity to give some tips about moving overseas:

  • Keep the junk out. It’s very easy to accumulate junk, so my philosophy from the onset was simple: if you didn’t see, or use, it for more than a year it is categorized as a junk! Trash it and don’t look back. We had a lot of junk :).
  • Choose a good moving company. There are a lot of good moving-companies out there, but shipping overseas is quite different than shipping domestically; there are a lot of variables you need to keep in mind — custom, port fees, import laws in the other country, mold during shipping, etc. —  which is why this is not the place you want to cut corners to try to save money. We ended up choosing Allied International.
  • Spend some more money and have the movers pack for you. With international shipping you need the moving company certify every box for international shipping before you can seal it (this is to let the custom know we’re not smuggling anything illegal), so it is best that you let them do the entire job.

I gave my employer a 30 day notice, and they decided to extend my position by three months by offering me a consulting position while I’m in Singapore, which I thought showed their appreciation for the work I’ve done in the past five months. I’m not worrying too much about finding a job in Singapore; the Singaporean economy is very stable, and in fact saturated with plenty of jobs.

All in all we are very excited about the move. I really think that life is too short to stay in one place for too long. The globe is a big place, and if you get an exciting opportunity to explore other places internationally…grab it!! Or, like an old friend of mine once said: you don’t want to regret it when you’re 90.

Cheers,

IB

 

 

 

 

 

Streets of NYC Photography Project

A lot has happened since we got back from Singapore back in November 2013. I left NCLD to focus more on digital marketing (and less on social media), found a new job at AKC, AND started taking my photography a bit more serious. It’s the latter that I wanted to share with you. Specifically, I wanted to share a special project I’ve been working on for the past two months entitled “Streets of NYC.” The project is now taking a turn into “faces of NYC,” which is something I enjoy doing. In each photo I try to tell a story as oppose to just taking photos. I know some of you saw some of the photos on Facebook, but I thought of sharing it with the rest of you who are not on my FB. Make sure to click the slideshow option for best viewing experience. Enjoy.


Created with flickr slideshow.

Trip To Singapore – Review (photos included)

I’m jet lagged, which is weird because I never get a jet lag when I travel. I was fine traveling to Singapore, but coming back really knocked me out. Maybe it’s because the trip lasted almost 36 hours (including the time to get home from the airport), which is a long time to travel when you go through eight, or more, time zones. Anyway, I’m not here to complain about my jet lag, as bad as it is. I’m here to share my experience with you.

I plan to divide my posts into two parts: food and photography. I took a lot of photos of the food we ate, and the places we visited, so hopefully I can share a large portion of them with you. I haven’t really conceptualized how I plan to do it (individual or aggregate posts), but I will definitely do my best to share it with you.

My first impression of Singapore: “WOW!” This country, or city-state to be more accurate, is really jazzy! There is an incredible emphasis on architecture, which is by far the most amazing manifestation of modern that I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s not just about the structure itself (as you’ll see in the photos that I will publish in the upcoming posts), but also the type of lights that accompany it; it’s about the location of the sun and shadows; it’s about the curves, the heights and so much more. It is, to put it simply, quite amazing! I was really taken aback the first time I visited downtown, talk about a jaw-dropping moment!

Getting Around Singapore

Getting around Singapore is really easy, which speaks to the well-planned and well-organized city-state. The main train and bus stations are massive, and are usually connected to major colossal malls (some of the mall are the size of little towns). This is another bonus, because you never have to leave the station, a bonus you can really appreciate given the humidity and heat that is so characteristic of this modern city-state. Most of the massive malls we visited are built underground, sometimes up to 4 levels deep! Here is a photo that illustrates how deep you get to go down (this is only one level down):

Untitled

The subway and bus systems are profoundly efficient! Something you can really appreciate if you’ve ever had experience with New Jersey Transit. Missed your train? Not a problem! The next train is only 4 minutes away! I think that’s why people don’t push each other, even during rush hour. Here’s another interesting part, which I found to be really useful, especially during rush hours: the train stations have passengers lanes directing the inflow and outflow. It made our life easier during rush hour, when thousands of people were walking in the tunnels trying to change trains or just trying to exit the station. What also amazed me is how clean the stations were; I guess a $5,000 fine for littering does work like magic. It’s not just the train stations, but the entire city-state that is impeccably clean (perhaps with the exception of Chinatown and Little India).

The train and bus system is the best way to get around in Singapore. If you’re only staying for a few days, I suggest that you purchase the Tourist Pass. It costs $10 a day, with a $10 refund when you return the ticket to the ticket office, so basically you get to pay $0.00! We bought the ticket for three days (the longest duration you can purchase), which cost us $20+$10 deposit, which we received back when we returned the ticket. It’s a great deal because it allows you to move freely using both SRT and LRT train and bus services. You can only get the ticket in specific locations.

Here is a typical train station in Singapore. Efficiency is a key here:

Untitled

Food Courts’ Experience

The food courts are amazingly rich with diversity in Singapore. Indonesian, Malaysian, Indian, Moroccan, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Afghani, Pakistani, Japanese, and many more cuisines are there to explore. It is easy to get overwhelmed with all the options that are available, especially since each option is a freshly cooked meal that is very inexpensive. My advice: resist the temptation to make your decision on the first food counter! My strategy was to focus on famous Singaporean dishes (such as chicken rice, Laksa, and others), and only after I was done exploring these dishes I made ‘room’ for other dishes. The part of all, these small kitchens are regulated in terms of hygiene and then graded, from “A” (excellent) to “D” (run away).

Food Courts Grading System in Singapore

Everything we ate was absolutely delicious and was cooked on the spot! You tell the cook what you want, and come back after 10 or so minutes. The system is very efficient, and the service is always with a smile. The owners take pride is what they cook, and for them it’s more about feeding you the best food they can offer than it is to make money. The philosophy is simple: if you liked what you ate, you’ll come back. With hundreds of options to choose from there is simply no room for mediocrity.

Don’t be surprised if you share a table with strangers in the food court. Everyone is polite and everyone is there to do the same thing: socialize and eat delicious food. So, enjoy it! There are a few unwritten rules you need to keep in mind, however, when entering any food court in Singapore. For example, if you want to reserve a table before you purchase your meal, you need only to leave a napkin (or a book, or a bag) on that table.  Needless to say that this rule goes both ways, and if you don’t honor it, you’ll get dirty looks!

Below are few pictures of different food courts we visited:

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

 

Spotless Streets

Check out the streets below. Notice how clean these streets are?

This is part of Chinatown (the slightly dirtier part of town). Spotless!

Untitled

The same results on Arab Street. Very clean streets.

Untitled

And even the food court in Little India…

Untitled

Everything is spotless! Why you asked?

Singapore Is a ‘Fine City’

“Singapore is a fine city,” said our taxi driver from our ride from the airport to the hotel, adding a laugh before explaining what he meant. It has a double meaning, he noted: “fine” in the sense of a great country, and also in the sense of a country that “fines” you for almost every violation of rules of conduct. I can see why so many people I spoke to (mainly Americans) were a bit put off by the harsh penalties for chewing gum in public, littering, spitting in the street, excessive hugs in public, hacking internet hotspots, not flushing public toilets, and many others. Some may refer to this as a lack of freedom, but after being in Singapore for two weeks, I came to appreciate it as necessary, at least if you wish your environment to be pleasant. Can you imagine if NYC enforced such rules?

Here’s an example of another penality:

Untitled

 

Attractions in Singapore

There is a lot to do and see in Singapore, and you need to plan in advance if you want to see a large part of it, thought it is impossible to see it all in just a few days. The hot weather limits you from walking outside during the day, and taking the train from one spot to another does take time. Your best option is to plan your sightseeing according to the train lines, this way you can move from one attraction to another without repeating your steps. For example, traveling from Marina Bay stop up the red line can cover the following attractions:

  • Gardens by the Bay
  • Singapore Flyer
  • Marina Bay Sands
  • Science Museum
  • Little India
  • Arab Street
  • Downtown
  • Orchard Rd

This is only a short list. Each line will take you to more attractions. Look out for my forthcoming review of some of the attractions we visited in Singapore!

Here’s an image I found on Flickr of the MRT & LRT system (photo credit: Pete):

Singapore MRT map

 

Overall, we had a great time!

More to come…

 

 

 

 

 

Upcoming Trip to Singapore

Those of you who know me know that I love three things in life: photography, food, and exploring new cultures (and their cuisines). With this in mind, my ideal job would be traveling around the world taking photos, exploring different cuisines, and interacting with different people (hmm, I’m looking at you Samantha Brown, Andrew Zimmern, and Anthony Bourdain). Luckily for me I get to do all of these things tomorrow, flying  all the way to Singapore.

I’ve been preparing for this trip for over six weeks, and by preparing I mean searching for photography locations, restaurants, local dishes, familiarizing myself with the main and side streets, and understanding the public transportation system, which by the way is considered to be one of the most efficient public transportation system in the world (I’m sure that Singapore being a small country, or a City State as they call it, helps).

Don’t let the words City-State fool you. Singapore is small (it takes 45 minutes to drive from east to west), but it has one of the most diverse population (and cuisines) you’ll ever find. This is good news because one of the main reasons I am flying there is to explore these cuisines. In my notebook (I have a special notebook for this trip) I listed 25 different dishes that I must try. Most of these dishes are Seafood dishes, such as Laksa and Curry Fish Head, but many are not. It will be interesting, that’s for sure. You can read about some of the dishes here.

The other important reason I’m going is to do photography. The one challenge I faced when preparing for this is what type of photography should I go with? Is it street-photography? Landscape photography? Food photography? All of these types require different approaches (both your mindset and choice of equipment), and staying ‘married’ to only one type is critical. I decided to go with landscape photography. Due to the short duration of this trip (three nights), I’m afraid I won’t be able to squeeze it all in. This also makes my choice of equipment a bit easy:

  • A mini Tripod (night photography, and long exposure photography for clouds and water)
  • two prime lenses
  • light bag

I have no desire to carry heavy equipment in a 90F degrees weather. :)

Needless to say I’m super excited. I’m hoping to the take a lot notes so I can then write all about it (both for my own memory, and for sharing with the readers of this blog). I’ll leave you with a few pictures of Singapore:

singapore

singapore

Singapore

singapore

singapore

Singapore

singapore