Membership Rewards Redemptions = Horrible in Singapore

The Membership Rewards program from American Express is pretty good in the US. In Singapore, it’s been less than stellar. There are far fewer airlines that you can transfer points to, and although you supposedly can redeem online it gave me an error every time i tried, which meant i had to call in to customer service.

The worst part, as i discovered, is that you don’t actually get store vouchers (or gift cards) when you redeem your MR points. What you get are Amex-branded paper certificates. These require the basic card holder to show his/her Amex credit card and IC for identification, plus a signature on each sheet. Depending on the vendor, there are different terms & conditions. It also shocked me that certificates (Issued: 30 Nov 2012) expired within 2 months (Use by: 31 Jan 2013). How ridiculous!

To avoid this problem i went to the vendor and bought store-branded vouchers using the Amex certificates, which are usually valid for 1-year. This did not work at Haagen Dazs though, so just be aware that you can only buy products i.e., ice cream / cakes, and not their “gold” vouchers or other promotional items.

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Buying Organic Farm Boxes Online, with Home Delivery!

Good Farm Box, August 6 - 12

Good Farm Box, August 6 – 12 (Photo credit: Suzies Farm)

Good Farm Box - Week of April 30 - May 6

Good Farm Box – Week of April 30 – May 6 (Photo credit: Suzies Farm)

Community-supported agriculture is an idea i quite fancy, but isn’t really possible in land-scarce Singapore. There are a few farms here (i visited Oh Farms 2 weeks ago to check out their hydroponics), but apparently only 7% of the island’s vegetables are grown locally. Due to the climate it’d also be hard to grow a variety of produce i’m guessing. Anyway, some interesting food initiatives i’ve seen lately include this new vertical farm and the “Edible City Garden Project”.

There are many stores who sell organic products online and deliver with some minimum order. I was however, looking for those who: (1) sold boxes of fruits and veggies based on seasonality/stock, (2) had a clear online ordering system, and (3) was able to deliver at least weekly for a reasonable cost. Here’s a list of what i found…

(1) The Organic Grocer: http://www.theorganicgrocer.com.sg

  • Veggie-only, veggie+fruit, and even baby-weaning boxes in various sizes from $30
  • Produce from Singapore, Australia, and Thailand
  • $80 minimum order
  • Free delivery above $130. $10 charge otherwise.

(2) Murray’s Organics: http://shiyanandkatharine.com/murrays/welcome

  • Subscriptions from $23.99/box with delivery to home or office
  • Produce farmed from 100-hectare plot in Johor Bahru, Malaysia
  • Items arrive at your door on the same day
  • Side note: they have guava and lychee in their fruit boxes at the moment! {yummy}

(3) Green Circle Eco-Farm: http://www.greencircle.com.sg

  • Veggies-only boxes sold in $30 multiples
  • Direct from Singapore farm
  • Items arrive at your door on the same day
  • $30 minimum order
  • Flat delivery fee $5

(4) Zenxin Organic: http://organicdelivery.sg/ZenxinOrganicBox

  • Veggie+fruit boxes in small ($30) or large ($60) size
  • Produce from Malaysian farm
  • $50 minimum
  • Free delivery for orders over $150. $10 charge otherwise.

(5) Super Nature: http://www.supernature.com.sg

  • Asian, Western, Juice, and Baby Farm Boxes (choose veggies-only, or veggie+fruit) from $70
  • Produce from around the world (Thailand, Australia, USA)
  • Free delivery for orders over $70. $20 charge otherwise.
Green Onion

Green Onion (Photo credit: t6mdm)

Maybe i will try Murray’s first, the lychee is a bit too tempting to resist!

Hard-Selling Tactics After Groupon Facial

I’m quite low-maintenance (don’t shun me ladies, my last facial was 8+ years ago), but decided to take better care of myself and purchased a Groupon “deal” recently for $20. While i was there, they offered me a Diamond Peel upgrade for $60. I took it out of curiosity.

In general i’m quite skeptical of beauty claims that state you can instantly even out skin tone, reduce pore sizes, blah blah blah. But to my surprise this treatment did improve my skin – it’s now smoother, brighter, and softer to the touch. My perennial dark eye bags persisted, though the lady claimed they’d be gone too, if only i’d buy a 10-session package ($1440) and continue coming once a month. And there, was my first encounter with the dreaded hard-sell tactics of this sketchy industry.

This problem is well documented, which is why CaseTrust was founded to protect consumers. I even read some forum posts describing experiences tantamount to threats and bullying. I’m not sure why salespeople think it’s normal to spend thousands of dollars on packages that you have to pay in whole on the same day. I’d never spent money like that without premeditation, and was not about to do so.

Anyway, the conversation progressed more or less as follows with multiple iterations:

======================================

Her: The regular package price is $2880 but you can get it for $1440 today. It’d be a waste to stop after only one session. You already have dark aging spots and it will be very difficult to treat them later. You know, there are no ugly women, only lazy ones. You’re not that old yet, but at this age your skin’s self-repairing ability is decreasing.

Me: OK, the treatment seems to work well, but i cannot spend so much money just like that. I need to think about it.

Her: But the price is so cheap! And i can see the results are great on you.

Me: Well, i have to think about my cash flow for the month, so i will just pay you $60 today.

Her: If it’s cash flow, then how about taking 5-sessions for $720? You can leave me a $200 deposit, I will waive the $60 fee for today and give you a balm for your face as well. I have to make a living, so although I can understand your cash limitations I cannot lower the price anymore than this.

Me: I still have to think about it. I haven’t calculated my expenditures this month yet, I don’t know my bank balance, and cannot make a decision without this info.

Her: Oh, but we can just charge your card! If it goes through, we’ll know you have enough money.

Me: Ummm, no. I have other bills I have to pay. I have to consider if this is a good use of my money.

======================================

At this point she resigned herself to writing up a $60 invoice for me and took my credit card. The whole time, we had been sequestered in this closed room away from the reception/payment area, and she had a binder with before and after pics, plus brochures for various packages at their so-called regular prices. Once we got to the reception area though, she offered to “only” take $100 as a deposit today, and re-wrote the invoice before i could object. Her colleague at the counter charged $160 to my card, and asked for my signature.

I was pretty annoyed and refused to sign. I had them cancel the charge and left, after paying the $60 and returning the balm to the receptionist. While i was happy with the results of the facial, the attempt to coerce further business from me was unpleasant. In the end, i spoke to them entirely in English, because it’s always hard for me to be firm and authoritative in Mandarin. Negotiating in a non-native tongue is tough!

If i ever take another deal like this, i’ll just say no straight out from the beginning {defiant}.

Recce: Chye Seng Huat Hardware for Coffee & Brunch

Hubby heard from friends that there was (yet another) cafe joint open, this time in the Jalan Besar area. So, being as that we are routinely deprived of good coffee on the east, we made our way there at 12pm a few Sundays ago, just a tad worried that it’d be packed.

We were relieved to find a table, and although business was brisk – the cafe was lively and loud – it wasn’t absolute, hyped-up mayhem (thank goodness!). These days all the fancy schmancy artisanal coffee places charge around $5 for an espresso-based drink, and CHSS was no different. The light savoury fare was priced decently though (starting from $8 for an omelette), and i got a nice sandwich, kettle chips, and salad plate for around $12. Not too shabby.

It was a great place, and i especially liked the site, which was converted from an old hardware shop, with a cool metal gated entrance (turned to al fresco dining) and all. I heard there’s another (!!!) place that just opened near us in Katong, called Penny University. Must check that out soon.

p.s. i learnt this ‘recce’ word from sis-in-law… apparently it stands for ‘reconnaissance’ in Singapore, or ‘recon’ for all you North Americans. Pronounce it like rec-key.

Transferable Skills After a PhD

I’m on the hunt for a new job again, after resigning from a marketing role with a venture incubator in my first attempt at a “real” job outside academia. I was told by many Singaporeans that Q4 was the worst time to quit, that most people leave after getting their bonuses in the new year / around Chinese New Year, and that quitting without a new job lined up is something you should *never* do. I guess i’m stupid.

But i’m too idealistic really, preferring to search full-time for something new rather than to do something which doesn’t fit my long-term goals. I don’t think many people coming out of PhD programs have a good idea of what’s really out there. I didn’t know that jobs in the so-called “cost-centre” had less room for salary negotiations, or even what basic functions were in a company (i.e. operations, sales, finance, legal, etc.). PhDs also tend to undervalue their skills at a time when it’s critical to blow your own horn.

What i learnt through failed interviews, is that:

  1. You must know what you want and what you can bring to the role. If you cannot fake enthusiasm, at least be curious and ask questions! Once you know more about something, it usually becomes more interesting.
  2. You must be specific about your accomplishments and stories. Give real numbers for timelines, # of people involved, budgets, improvements, deliverables, and whatever else you can think of. Also be clear about responsibilities and the scope of your contributions.
  3. Interviews are a two-way street and you should see if the company is a good fit for you. Having said that, don’t go in too honest, thinking that if they don’t like you the way you are, you wouldn’t want to work there anyway. You are supposed to be professional; you aren’t there to meet like-minded BFFs.
  4. It’s bad to over-complicate questions in your mind. Interviewers usually ask pretty standard sets of questions, and the tricks you are imagining, are not of the smart, intellectual variety. Prepare ahead of time and answer confidently.
  5. People do hire based on who they liked, but only if you have convinced them you can do the job first.

If you’re fresh from leaving academia, you’re probably competing with college grads for entry-level jobs. Being told “you’re overqualified” is just an excuse companies have for not wanting to pay you more based on your educational credentials alone. You probably didn’t convey the value you could bring vs. another candidate. So think about it… aren’t the points below what really differentiate you?

  1. Ability to work independently and contribute original work
  2. Critical thought, analytical ability, problem-solving skills
  3. Ability to work with fuzzy, ill-defined goals; to handle uncertainty and multiple changes in projects
  4. Perseverance, high-tolerance for repeatedly failing but getting back up each time
  5. Experience with committee and peer-review processes
  6. Leadership skills i.e. directing undergraduate research, chairing and managing collaborative projects
  7. Vision, ability to identify trends and solutions that hold tremendous impact
  8. Project management skills from conception (literature search, identifying problems/gaps/opportunities, planning) to finish (interpreting results, validation, communicating learnings via publications and presentations)
  9. Results-oriented mindset, always wanting to be better
  10. Ability to digest large amounts of data, from disparate sources, and to synthesize them into meaningful ideas

I think some of the major challenges to a career switcher from academia, is that people can stereotype you. We are generally perceived as lacking business utility, practical interest/drive, or not having great social skills. It’s your job to dispel these misconceptions! Also in Singapore, you definitely have to network, network, network. The easiest way to not have job applications sucked into a black hole of you-will-never-hear-back-from-us-ever, is to find someone willing to give you a chance. Good luck.

A Visit to Marina Barrage + Gardens by the Bay at Night

My niece and nephew wanted to go on an outing, so i cautiously ventured out with the little monsters & their mum. Marina Barrage is a dam built at the confluence of 5 rivers, and serves as a freshwater reservoir for water-strapped Singapore, as flood control, and as a recreation area popular for flying huge huge kites. There was also a gallery on-site to educate on environmental sustainability through multimedia displays and installations, such as the one done up with plastic bottles below.

The gallery itself wasn’t very big (only 6 exhibits) but i think the kids enjoyed the interactive bits, including the room-sized model showing how the dam would operate under high and low tide scenarios, with fake rain pouring from the ceiling and all.

There was also a small water park just outside, so the kids got into their swimsuits and played for a bit. Luckily, the tourists who were attacked by water sprays from these little monsters were good-natured about it.

Our next destination was Gardens by the Bay, which had looked incredibly crowded to me every time we drove by on the freeway. It was pretty Instagram’ed out too, if my Facebook feed was at all representative. But anyhow, we were there to catch the supertrees after dusk, and to enjoy our chicken rice dinner picnic on the park grounds. We weren’t sure if setting up a picnic was allowed, but a park employee auntie came by to chat up the kids, and didn’t kick us out = all systems go. Since we were there on a super cheapy trip we didn’t pay the fee to go up to the skyway ($5) or to enter the Cloud Forest or Flower Dome buildings ($20 if you’re Singaporean and $28 otherwise). But, why wouldn’t i just go to the treetop walk at MacRitchie, which is in a real rain forest and free? I don’t get it… 

Of course, i was still bitten to death by mosquitoes, because even if we can terraform and plasticize everything into synthetic utopia, we’d still never be able to get rid of pests =P

Lazy Sunday with my Cat

The post title pretty much sums it up. Today i had a 70min phone conversation with a friend going through meltdown, and pretty much just bummed around the house. Pico the Cat continues to make every corner of the house her experimental bed. Next up: swimming, then Vietnamese dinner at Long Phung on Joo Chiat with a friend i met while studying Mandarin at the local community centre =)