19 February 2010

Avoiding Elephants in Sri Lanka …

For today’s blog, I’m really going to switch gears and start documenting stories from my travels instead.

I’ve realised in my conversations that I do have a lot of stories to tell – some lighthearted, others serious, and some, even hard to believe. So I think it’s a great deal of material I have to work with, and it’s not hard to produce something out for the neglected, suffering blog.

My recent trip to Colombo, Sri Lanka is my 2nd ever there. The first time I went to Sri Lanka, it was still at the height of the insurgency – the Tamil Tigers have only acquired DIY planes and actually bombed the Colombo Airport the morning I was first supposed to leave for Colombo.

This time around, the hardest part about going to Sri Lanka was that it happened just prior to the Chinese New Year break, so the flights had to be timed properly unless I had a desire to spend Chinese New Year away from my family !

Anyways … one of Colombo’s main thoroughfare is Galle Road, which runs along the waterfront. Galle Road extends from one end near the Presidential Secretariat, through the main financial and commercial districts in the capital.

Along much of Galle Road is a promenade romantically called Galle Face Green. One day, having a little time to knock off after my speaking engagement was over, I decided to take a walk along Galle Face Green.

I was staying at the Hilton, but I decided to put my bag down at the Galle Face Hotel, the oldest hotel east of the Suez Canal, and start my walk from there. From the Galle Face Hotel, it was a short walk, Galle Face Green practically starts where the Galle Face Hotel ends !

The first 10 minutes of my walk was peaceful, and unobstructed … but halfway through my walk, this man came right up to me, looked at my expensive looking D90, and tried to strike a conversation with me.


“Sir, I know you. You are from the hotel, no?”

Nope, I’m not. But I decided to play along, just to see what’s it all about. “Yup, Galle Face … great hotel”

“I am barman at the hotel, sir … I remember you.”

Wow … must be really drunk last night. I don’t remember drinking, and I don’t remember being inside the Galle Face Hotel until about 20 minutes ago when I put my bag inside one of my colleagues’ room.

He went on telling me about this amazing festival with 40 elephants that is happening just in about 15 minutes’ time, and coincidentally was just around the corner. And then how lucky I would be to be able to photograph the festival, and how fantastically lucky it is for me that he’s on his way there too.

Would I mind sharing a tuk-tuk with him? He can be my guide …

Man … this must be one of the oldest tricks in the books. I was hit with this the first time I went overseas on a work assignment in Bangkok, and got big time scammed then. Whatever made this guy think I’m THAT stupid.

He actually stopped a tuk-tuk, told the driver to go to the Elephant Festival, and really tried to get me in. I made up some story about meeting someone at the Hilton, on the other end of the walk, and saw him off.

I thought … well … that’s the end of that. But seriously, I underestimated the rampancy of the problem.

Within 30 seconds, someone else came, and tried to strike another conversation of the same nature, this time, he even spoke Malay with me when he learnt I’m from Malaysia. Another time? No way …

So, this time, he asked me which hotel I stayed at, and I just made an answer up – The Taj. And, oh, what a coincidence, he was a cook there – I was the guy at the buffet last night, right ?

This is sounding familiar …

Temple Festival, 40 Elephants, once a year, lucky day in Buddhist Calendar …

This time, I decided to get inquisitive – where’s the festival? Which temple? Why 40 elephants? How come my Sri Lankan friends told me the festival is tomorrow? You know, red herrings to throw him off …

It worked … this guys understood that I got the conversation before. And wisely, he just walked away without answering my last question …

I got approached another 2 times by people trying to scam me in a similar fashion … and both times, getting tired of being harassed, I told them both that just moments ago, another two of their friends came and tried to make me part with my money in the same way, and both times, I found out they were lying and that there is no such Elephant Festival, so please stop trying to trick me, and please tell the other scammers in the area to stop bothering me.

If I had been foolish enough to board any of those tuk tuks, apparently, they would drive me to some temple somewhere, where nothing would be happening, and I’d be then promised another place where there would be some great things to photograph and see, and be taken on a merry-go-round around Colombo, while expected to pay the tuk-tuk fare. Sometimes, they would even drive people to gemstone shops or other shops in hope of earning some commission should their victim decide to purchase some overpriced goods.

It happened to me once in Bangkok, in the year 1999, when I was still a naive traveler, on my first overseas trip for work. Once bitten, forever suspicious !

I love Colombo, Sri Lanka. The people who hosted me were absolutely great, gracious hosts who showed us the world famous Sri Lankan hospitality, the spicy, but interesting food. I’ll remember Sri Lanka for that, but remember, if you go to Galle Face Green, remember to avoid the elephants !

24 January 2010

My new camera

Losing things feel sucky. It really feels bad to lose a prized possession, because we all develop attachments to things we like. In some ways, I hate myself for losing my Nikon D80. But in some other ways, I can’t help but to tell myself that it wasn’t my own fault.

Earlier this week, on Monday, I lost my beloved Nikon D80 camera. You wouldn’t believe it if I told you, but I lost it in Kuala Lumpur International Airport, while using the men’s room.

I hung it on the door (inside the cubicle, mind you), turned away from the door for around 30 seconds or so, no more than a minute, and it’s gone. The whole camera and its bag.

Well, I hope the new owner will rot in hell and see some spectacular calamity befall himself (or herself). No point here being nice or diplomatic and hide my true feelings.

The really sucky thing about losing a camera in a airport is that it casts a dark cloud over your entire trip, and since you have a flight to catch, there isn’t too much you can do. I’m sure the person (or persons) responsible for this have been doing this for a very long time, and I’m not the first, nor last person to have this fate befall me. That’s why I hope for some spectacular calamity to befall this person (or persons). That’s probably the only way to stop them from ever striking again.

Anyways, today, I reluctantly bought a new camera. A Nikon D90. I didn’t want to buy a D300s because I didn’t need all the extra features, and I also like the D90 because of its familiarity. In some ways, it’s like getting a straight replacement for my camera.

I hope it’ll be a long, loving relationship, and this time, despite my own reservations about the safety of KLIA, I’m determined to still bring it on trips. The bad guys shouldn’t scare me from traveling with my camera again – if that happens, they win big time. I’ll be more careful, and even in the privacy of my own toilet cubicle, it seems that a camera can never leave my reach !

15 January 2010

Going Places

Travel has been a pretty common fixture in my life for the past few years, until the combo of a collapsing economy and working for a company that didn’t quite have the funds to let me travel around made me slow down a little later last year.

Well, seems like things are picking up again where I am here. Just yesterday, I returned from a good trip to Bangkok. I think I did a decent job there since I’ve been asked to return again, and work on some tough accounts. I think you need to have some measure of confidence gained in you before people let you go to the tough customers.

Next week, I will be in Philippines, hoping to also make that same impression on the team there. I will also take the opportunity to meet some of my colleagues from my previous career stop. It should be a very interesting trip indeed. Only thing missing is not knowing where to get lechons …

And in early February, I am slated to feature in Tech.Ed 2010 in Sri Lanka. This is really exciting. I have only been to one Tech.Ed previously – in Kuala Lumpur, and it’s a massive industry event – basically a gathering of the entire IT world as one knows it. So, this is really interesting, and I look forward to my 2nd trip to Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Later on in March, I’ll be heading out to Seattle, USA once more. This time, I’ll be in Tech Ready 10, the Microsoft’s own internal version of Tech.Ed, and I look forward to renewing my acquaintances with some old friends, and to meet some of my colleagues whom I’ve worked with only virtually previously.

And finally, I will take a break in Hong Kong in April. By then, I”m pretty sure I’ll be needing one. What an eventful year this is turning out to be, well, at least from the outlook point of view.

I hope to be sharing some of my stories from these travels and trips, and post some photos too.

Now that I have finally seemed to work myself into the rhythm of working in my new role here, I think I’ll have a bit more time for photography and flickr. I’ve neglected those passions these past few months due to my new job, but now that I’ve gotten the hang of things, I really look forward to renewing my postings actively.

This year, good or bad, it seems like I’ll be going places !

08 January 2010

2010 … with a real bang

Here’s the first post of 2010 – I hope it won’t be the last. If this week is any indication of how my year is going to be like, then this will herald long periods of silence on this blog between posts.

My work will take me traveling again very shortly. I have 3 days in Bangkok next week, another 5 days in Manila thereafter, and early in February, I will be a speaker at Tech.Ed in Colombo, Sri Lanka. It’s going to be massively exciting !

Today at work, the enormity of the task before me really hit home. This is going to be a very challenging period, and I’m relishing it.

In my previous jobs, I was more the doer, the person getting things done. I executed projects as a Project Manager, written codes as a developer, and presented demos and fancy chart pack as a presales consultant. But this time around … I’m going to take the bull by the horn. I will be running a business like its my own.

In some ways, this is scary – I mean – there are always going to be things that will keep me awake at night. But then again, what’s life if you don’t take on ever bigger challenges.

I think I’ve already got a blueprint in my mind on how I want to have my tasks and goals accomplished. In my own mind, the hard part is the execution, where every little detail will matter.

On a more personal note – I’m suddenly thinking about trying out the MAS Flight Simulator. For 60,000 Enrich Miles, you can get 1 hour of flying time in a Flight Simulator … I’m really tempted. After all, using the Enrich Miles to redeem flight is really silly … you get the flight for free, but not the taxes and the fuel surcharge, yadda yadda, etc etc … like I once got 2 return flights to Bangkok for free, only to be slapped by over RM700 of taxes and surcharges. Perhaps my flight sim redemption will be more worthy !