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!”

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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):

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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:

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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:

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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!

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The same results on Arab Street. Very clean streets.

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And even the food court in Little India…

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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:

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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

Street Photography: Rules I Learned in New Orleans

I recently visited New Orleans for the first time in my life. When I asked friends who visited the city what to expect, they all said the same thing: great food, lovely streets, plenty of drinking, and homeless people on every corner. The parts that interested me the most, as a photographer and food enthusiast, were the food and streets parts. I’m going to write about the food part in a different blog post. In this blog post I’d like to share some of the street photography rules that I learned during my visit. I’m not a professional photographer, but I do strive to become one as I move forward in this journey. I wrote this post to share with the readers of this blog some of the knowledge I learned. It’s also a good reference for my own personal use to go back to in the future.

Rule Number One: Keep your camera in the bag

The French Quarter offers a unique set of colors and architecture that can easily overwhelm your senses and stimulate your mind. My immediate reaction when I first walked on the famous “Rue Des Royal” was to lift my camera and start taking as many photos as I can. My senses were overwhelmed with the beautiful architecture, the colors of the buildings, the beautiful galleries, the artists on the street, the happy people, and the general European feeling that the street projected. I felt that I was in a different country. No matter how large was my urge to take photos, I kept myself from doing so.

When your mind is stimulated by the beauty you see, you tend to ignore small details that can make the difference between a good and brilliant photo. The rule of thumb for every photographer is to always take your camera with you, true. However, it doesn’t mean that you should take photos of everything you see immediately. Instead of taking my camera out, I started to take notes in my heads of what I want to take photos of. I looked around me and tried to make sense of what I saw. I explored the French Quarter for two days before I started seeing what I was missing the entire time, which leads me to the next rule.

Rule Number Two: Explore the Streets and Look Up for Themes 

The best time for me to explore the city (and this apply to any city you visit) was right before sunrise. There are three reasons why I followed this rule. The first reason, and the most obvious one, is the “golden hour,” the time of the day where the light is soft, balanced, and produces the most amazing photos. The second reason, which I find very important, had to do with the number of people that are on the street. The more crowded it got, the more likely I was going to miss some of the important details that make a good photo. The third and last reason was the level of noise on the street. I’m not sure about you, but personally when I’m exploring sites to photo-shoot I like the place to be quiet. It helps me compose the photo better in my head.

Now that you know the reasons, let’s talk about exploring the streets. Exploring doesn’t mean taking photos, rather, exploring means taking notes of what you’d like to photo-shoot. Sit down and ask yourself these questions: Are you after B&W photos? Do you prefer dramatic images? Are you trying to show poverty, or maybe wealth? Are you after colorful images? Do you want empty streets? Crowded streets? These questions, or themes, are an important part in the process of photo-shooting a moment, and will help you have a clear mind on the day of the photo-shooting.

I gave myself two days to explore the city. I woke up every morning 40 minutes before sunrise, grabbed my camera and notebook, and left the hotel room to explore the streets. I took a lot notes, and had a clear idea of what I want to photo-shoot. By the time I was ready to take photos (third and fourth days), I knew exactly where to go, what angles to take, and what settings to use on my camera.

Rule Number Three: Timing is everything

Do you remember reason number one, the “Golden Hour”? This Golden Hour moment lasts for only about 30 minutes or so, which means staying organized is key to being efficient while out on the street. What do I mean by staying organized: do you have the right lens attached to the camera? Did you check the settings on your camera? (I can’t tell you how many times I forgot to reset the ISO back to 100.) The last part leads me to the last rule.

Rule Number Four: Pick only one lens

I don’t like to carry too many lenses with me when I walk out there. It’s too much weight to carry around, which can easily demoralize you from walking around and exploring the city. When I develop my themes (see “Rule Number Two: Explore the streets and look up for themes”) I keep in mind two important questions: 1) do I want to photo-shoot people? 2) do I want to photo-shoot streets?

For photo-shooting streets I choose the 28mm prime lens and just use that to take photos. For photo-shooting people on the street I choose the 50mm prime lens. Ideally for photo-shooting people I’d use the 70-200 lens, but I don’t own one. I use what I have.

There is another reason why I choose only one lens when I go out on the street: it helps me stay creative. I know I only have one lens, one option, which pushes me to use a variety of creative ways to photo-shoot a moment.

Conclusion

I hope this information helped you get an idea of how to plan your next street photography session. I’d leave you with some of the photos I took in New Orleans below (Click to view this set on my flickr account):

 

A Morning Walk

Rue Des Couleurs

Sunrise on The Mississippi River

Current Events in Egypt Compared to Pakistan

I came across an excellent comparison between Egypt and Pakistan vis-a-vis the current events in Egypt (AKA “the second Egyptian revolution”) that I had to share. It was written by Irm Haleem.

The events in Egypt seem to me very reminiscent of the political history of Pakistan with its pendulous swings between military and civilian governments. Here are some general comparisons:

1. Civilian government, either overtly Islamist or comprised of a coalition of Islamist parties, is declared incompetent.

2. Military takes over.

3. Military, as an institution, is by far the most consolidated, cohesive and organized entity in the country, relatively speaking.

4. Interim government is appointed by the military, as currently in Egypt and the many, many times in the history of Pakistan.

5. Intermin government really plays a ceremonial role, allowing the military to fiddle with the constitution in a way that it’s political significance is maintained or increased without attracting too much unwanted attention.

6. New laws for elections are instituted, under the watchful eye of the military, most likely such that they effectively exclude from the electoral process any entity — such as the most uncompromising Islamists — that the military considers hostile to its political and institutional interests.

7. Enter indirect praetorianism!

8. Despite this, significant public opinion favors the military take-over, in both its direct and indirect manifestations.

9. Some of the most vociferous Islamists are excluded from the electoral process through the institutions of technicalities that ultimately will or do lead to the morphing of these groups into extremist parties. Likely in Egypt and currently in Pakistan.

10. Meanwhile, the opposition to the erstwhile government is frayed, fragmented and desperate to the point of having glaring fracture lines that seem to reduce the likelihood of the formation of any cohesive and viable government.

11. And therefore, again, the military’s political and institutional interests are bolstered.

DISCLAIMER: Of course, any country comparison suffers from some level of generalizations and can thus be criticized on those grounds. My comparison above cannot therefore escape this criticism.

I found this comparison to be very intriguing.

Restaurant Review: Men Tei

I was first introduced to this place 12 years ago by a good friend of mine. I re-visited Men Tei (literally means “noodles hut” in Japanese) last week during the Inbound 2012 conference, and was happy to discover that it hasn’t changed since the last time I was there. I guess it is something you can expect from a family-owned small business. The quality (usually) stays consistent throughout the years.

I visited Men Tei twice during my time in Boston, and on both visits the food was excellent. The kimchi was nice and spicy, and the quantity of the main dishes (see pictures below) was more than I could handle, which says a lot because I do like food and I do normally finish what’s on my plate. :)

The prices are (very) reasonable for a place located two steps off Newbury street, and in fact I’ll go further and say that this place is really inexpensive. I guess I lived in Princeton, NJ for too long that I am used to pay $20 for a bowl of chicken-noodle soup, I’m not sure, but overall prices in this restaurant are cheep.

If you are in Boston and looking for a nice Japanese place, Men Tei is a good option. Keep in mind that this place is geared toward students (I would assume), so expect fast service, casual dressing, and not that many seats. In and out…

Spicy Tofu Over Rice
Spicy Tofu Over Rice
Men Tei- Chicken with Noodles
Men Tei- Chicken with Noodles

This is how to get there:


View Larger Map

E-Book Review: 8 Types of Natural Light That Will Add Drama To Your Photographs

This is a fast read free e-book written by photographer Anne McKinnell. I liked this book very much because it really explains (in a clear way) how to identify various types of light, and how to use these types of light to your advantage as a photographer. She also has a nice Blog I follow that you can find here.

One thing I would have liked to see in this e-book though are more visual examples. The author provides some sample photos for each type of light, but I think more examples would help the reader conceptualize what each type of light does, and how to identify it.

Overall I think it’s a great book every begineer photographer needs to read. It certainly helped me understand light better.

Download your free e-book here.

8 Types Of Natural Light That Will Add Drama To Your Photographs
8 Types Of Natural Light That Will Add Drama To Your Photographs

 

Changing Your Workout Routine. What You Need To Keep in Mind

Working Out
Working Out

As a rule of thumb you should change your workout routine every three to four months. You can choose various methods to go about it, methods such as: changing the number of reps (high versus low), changing exercises (bench press versus dumbbell press), changing days of the week that you work out, and doing HIT instead of steady cardio. All of these methods can, and should, be included when designing a new workout.

I have to admit that the last time I changed my workout was a while ago. So long that I forgot about the outcomes of changing a workout. I don’t talk about results though. Rather, I talk about aching muscles, feeling lethargic and an overall feeling of weakness.  All of these symptoms are normal and should expected.

 

The first thing you need to understand is that these are positive signs. Signs that indicate that the change you made affected your body and forced it to adjust. This adjustment is what makes your muscles grow and fat to incinerate (on a side note, you need to take the term “muscle grow” very loosely. Muscles don’t grow that fast. Especially with a poor diet). With this in mind there are few rules you need to keep in mind:

Always listen to body

  • Changing your workout is great. It makes you feel empowered, but as I mentioned earlier it can also make you feel tired. When this happens your body is signaling stress. Listen to your body and give yourself an extra day or two to recover. Remember that shifting into over-training can only result in negative consequences.

First week is the hardest

  • I cannot stress this enough. Your body is in a transition mode. It’s adjusting to the new weight, exercises, routine and stress. It is important that you keep this in mind before getting demoralized and quitting your new routine. The first 10 days are your “adjusting period”. Make sure to listen to your body during this period.

Don’t over do it

  • The older you are, the longer time it will take for your body to adjust (read: recover). Understand it, and accept it. The tendency of most untrained trainees is to jump head first into the pool without testing the depth of water first. Take it slow, and again listen to your body.

 Not all changes work 100% the first time

  • There is a good chance that the new workout you chose to follow is not the right workout for you. If after 10 days you still feel lethargic (and extra sore), you probably need to rethink your new routine. For example, reducing the number of sets or days you train during the week will be a good (and safe) start.

In sum, changing your workout is important, and by keeping these few rules in mind you can keep your body injury-free and enjoy a safe transition. On a personal note, I really enjoy the new routine I created. I did feel lethargic and sore during the first three days, but by listening to my body and taking a day off on the fourth day I now feel rejuvenated.

 

Movie Review – Free Men

Free Men Movie
Free Men Movie

We watched an excellent movie last night titled “Free Men”. It is hard to describe it extensively without revealing all the twists in the plot so instead,  here is a short quote from a detailed review I found on the web:

“Inspired by true stories,” as the opening credits claim, Free Men follows the travails of a young Algerian immigrant, Younes (Rahim), who at the start of the film tries to make a dime peddling black market goods during the Nazi occupation. When he’s arrested and threatened with torture or worse, Younes accepts to spy on the elite community hidden with the pristine walls of the Mosque of Paris, whose rector, Ben Ghabrit (Lonsdale), is suspected of providing Jews with false identification papers.

I like movies that offer twists in the main story and this movie certainly offers lots of twists. On a personal level, I never knew that North African Muslims helped Jews escape the Nazis. In all the years I was taught about the holocaust stories when living in Israel, this was never mentioned to me. It is a shame, because I am sure most of Israelis Jews don’t even know it happened.

One of the main characters in the film is singer Salim Halali. I am not going to give any spoilers here, but just say that his voice was amazing. Check out the video below to here a sample of his voice:

 

Storyline aside, the movie itself is very pleasant to watch in terms of scenery and videography. The director did a brilliant job with filming some of the Parisians sites.  Some of the scenes made us want to book a ticket and fly to Paris, which we’ll probably will anyway :). Nicely done!

Overall it is a great movie to watch and I highly recommend it. Watch the trailer below:

 

Trip to Edinburgh – A Collection of Food Reviews

Trip to Edinburgh - A collection of Food Reviews
Trip to Edinburgh – A collection of Food Reviews

One of my true joys when I travel abroad is to walk around and experiment the local cuisine. Granted, I won’t try all types of food (for example fried spiders, or a bowl of stir fry worms don’t appeal to me :) ), but I do try to enjoy most dishes that the locals have to offer.

In Edinburgh it was a dish called Haggis-a kind of savory pudding containing sheep’s pluck (heart, liver and lungs) minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach and simmered for approximately three hours. I know it sounds repulsive, but I can assure you it tasted very good.

Haggis
Haggis

On my previous post I mentioned how expensive the food was, and on most occasions not really what you’d expect from such an expensive meal. However, we did come across a restaurant that is definitely worth mentioning. The name of the restaurant is Hanam’s. It offers Kurdish/Turkish dishes for a reasonable price. The portions are generous and satisfying, and the ambiance is absolutely beautiful. It cost about £50-60 for two people to get a full meal (appetizers, main course and a dessert). The meals are absolutely delicious. Highly recommended!

Hanam's Restaurant, Edinburgh Scotland
Hanam’s Restaurant, Edinburgh Scotland
Hanam's Kurdish/Turkish Restaurant. Edinburgh, Scotland
Hanam’s Kurdish/Turkish Restaurant. Edinburgh, Scotland

The desserts are what you’d expect from European style bakeries. Small and to the point, as I like to call it. Especially the mini chocolate croissants, which I have to admit were absolutely addictive! The only odd ingredient, if you can call it odd, is the whip cream they use in cakes. Here in the States we are used to a somewhat sweeter whip cream, which is entirely the opposite in Europe, or at least in the UK. The cream is just cream, with no particular flavor associated with it. They do, however, look very good. Some pictures I took:

Desserts. Edinburgh, Scotland
Desserts. Edinburgh, Scotland
Desserts. Edinburgh, Scotland
Desserts. Edinburgh, Scotland
Desserts. Edinburgh, Scotland
Desserts. Edinburgh, Scotland

 

Of course we had the traditional fish and chips, and some other local snacks, but what was engraved in mind was a little store called: The Fudge House. Have you ever tried a Whiskey fudge, or Raisins and Rum fudge? Or maybe: Pecan and Chocolate Swirl; Butterscotch; Marzipan and Amaretto; Lemon Meringue Pie? The list goes on and on.  If you are in Edinburgh make sure to pay a visit to this small (somewhat hidden) store. It is located on the Royal Mile. Check out their collection of fudge.

The Fudge House, Edinburgh Scotland
The Fudge House, Edinburgh Scotland

In sum, Edinburgh offers a collection of flavors from many regions in Europe and the middle east. Make sure to experiment them all.