Sunday, October 16, 2011

Free tickets to Japan

In view of the tremendous decline in foreign visitors to Japan following the triple disaster of March 11, 2011, the Japan Tourism Agency, a government agency, announced a 1.1b Yen budget to give out 10,000 FREE airline passages to Japan.  (Announcement here) *

Lucky travellers will be required to apply on the Internet by taking an 'examination' and also to provide a planned travel itinerary for scrutiny. They are also expected to use social media to disseminate stories of their visit while on their stay in Japan, especially on the safety aspects.

However, please note that the plan is still under government consideration and will not be in effect until April 2012. You can watch out for future announcements on the JNTO website.

I expect that many scammers and fraudsters will take advantage of this and will entice gullible people to part with their hard earned money.
So beware of any non-official advertisements about the free tickets.

* the announcement was reported by the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbum but is in Japanese. 
    You can use Google translation if you don't read japanese.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Visiting Punggol after 30 years.

Punggol is a region in the north east of Singapore.
It is slated to be the model for Singapore's 21st century towns.
The masterplan calls for riverside residences, 'ala Sydney Harbour style,  waterfront housing and lifestyle.
A model of sustainable eco friendly suburban living.

I have not been to Punggol (sometimes spelt Ponggol) for more than a generation!
To me, Ponggol recall memories only of the pungent pig farms at Buangkok.
You used to be able to tell you have arrived at Ponggol simply with your nose.

One other thing I remembered was the small roadside shop, near the bus terminal at the end of Punggol Road, that would eventually grow to be the famous Ponggol Seafood Restaurant today.

Punggol was so remote in my days that nobody went there unless you lived there or had a really pressing reason to be there. The last time I was there was at an invitation from Fr John Khoo, a diocesan Catholic priest, to visit his family home and to drop by the St Francis Xavier Major Seminary located there.

On hindsight, I think he probably had a devious reason to take me there.
Who knows, if it wasn't for the smell of the pigs (I really mean the animals, not the seminarians), I might have become a man of the cloth today?
Anyway, that was 30 years ago, and that's how long I have not been to that area since!

Punggol today, of course, has developed along with the tremendous growth all over Singapore.
Pig and poultry farms are no longer found and the area is now a sprawling sub-urban HDB estate.
The biggest thing to happen there recently is the plan to redevelop the entire region into a new waterfront lifestyle town.

Now that there's a direct connection from Bukit Batok to Punggol by MRT train, I thought I'd pay a visit after all these years and and see what the excitement is all about.

These are the pictures I took at Punggol today. There's still a long way to go.
Click the link here.
My Waterway@Punggol

Related links:
Venice of Punggol?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Crowded Tokyo trains worse than Singapore's MRT?

Whenever you see complaints about our crowded MRT trains, some readers will always bring out examples of other city trains, especially Tokyo commuter trains. For example in these videos...

(Youtube video by TheFatFinger)

(Youtube video by d0b33)

I have worked in Tokyo previously and I have been on those rush hour trains and truthfully, they are not as 'bad' as they are made out to be.

Yes, it is very crowded (Tokyo has 12.7m population) and it's true that people are packed like sardines into the trains as in the above video, but that only happens at the peak of the morning rush.

However, there is a cultural difference in Japan.
The overcrowding is accepted as a way of life in Tokyo.
During rush hour, you are packed into the train but everyone understands the situation.
Everyone knows the need for each other to commute to work or to get to school on time.

If you are in a rush hour train, you expect to be squashed cheek by jowl.
You will be shoved from all sides till everyone settles into their own comfort zone.
You know there is no room for any movement except to stand constricted till you get to your destination.

However, Japanese etiquette makes the journey tolerable.
The Japanese typically avoid any action that will make others uncomfortable.
Nobody uses a mobile phone on the train.
Nobody takes out their ipad or newspaper to read.
Nobody chats in the train.
The Japanese are fastidious about cleanliness, so there is absolutely no odor of any sort.
And if you are carrying a briefcase or backpack, you stow it in the overhead rack to make room for others to stand more comfortably.
And, they stand in orderly lines waiting to board the train.

What happens when you reach your destination and you are in the middle of the car?
No worries, just one word 'sumimasen',  and everyone near the door will get out to let you through, automatically!

Whenever, I take my friends on a tour of Tokyo, I make sure that they get this unique experience of taking a morning commuter train. They have all survived and I have yet to loose a friend on the train system. In fact, they are happy to come away with this unique experience.
I only tell them, if you are near the door,  get off!   let people out or you'll be stampeded!

The level of tolerance is vastly different from Singapore.
Although, our MRT system has been running more than 20 years, education on train etiquette was never ever emphasized. Bad habits have taken root and is now very hard to eradicate, so there is no comparison at all.

Grab poles & handles are available even near the door areas.
During rush hour, some seats are folded up to make more space for standing.
Bulky bags are stowed on the overhead racks.

Related links: