A Year As An Ad Man

After spending a bit of time trying to explain it wasn’t my birthday, I thought – heck, it is a birthday after all. But I never thought a decade and a bit of freelancing would lead to a full-time job at an advertising company, and one that I would enjoy tremendously. Jeff obviously thought differently, because, like a persistent suitor, he finally wore me down and got me to say ‘I do’ to the question he’d been asking for seven years: “do you want a job doing something you love”?

Nicely photoshopped (Thank you CK) publicity shot for the hire announcement

So my boss Jeff Cheong thought it’d be funny to repost an article from last year announcing my hire at Tribal Worldwide, captioning it “Happy Birthday”.

After spending a bit of time trying to explain it wasn’t my birthday, I thought – heck, it is a birthday after all. But I never thought a decade and a bit of freelancing would lead to a full-time job at an advertising company, and one that I would enjoy tremendously. Jeff obviously thought differently, because, like a persistent suitor, he finally wore me down and got me to say ‘I do’ to the question he’d been asking for seven years: “do you want a job doing something you love”?

It has been an amazing year of blistering pace and longer hours. And while chasing work has been about the same as I’ve experienced freelancing, the advantage of having the scale of 350 of the brightest, most hardworking people turning your silly, vague ideas into something fabulous is tremendous.

If there are other things to hope for at work, it would be that I never lose the feeling of being a n00b – the excitability at every idea, new and old, and that I will forever vacillate between nagging doubt and infectious confidence.

Thank you clients, for accommodating my nonsense. And thank you colleagues at Tribal and DDB – please continue to let me know when I’m being an asshole.

Never least, I am eternally grateful for my long-suffering family, especially to my guiding star Naomi, who plays the adult in the family, allowing our son to play and learn, and allowing me to play and learn at work – facilitating us in being the best we can be.

Bring on Year Two!

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Limestone Cowboy

Adios, Mr Campbell

When I was in kindergarten, I spoke little English, and communicated mostly in the Hokkien that my nanny and my family used with each other.

Aunty Jackie from Seremban lived with us while she attended secondary school here, and one of the little liberties she had living away from my grandparents was a transistor radio that seemed to be always on.

On it, Radio Singapore played the latest records, including this which became one of my favourites: Glen Campbell’s Rhinestone Cowboy, the words to which I mangled as I sang my six year old lungs out and annoyed everyone at home.

Adios, Mr Campbell.

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Planes I’ve Been On – Part 1

Because of our recent flurry of travel, and the accompanying explaining of trains, planes and other vehicles to our son, I’ve compiled a list of aircraft I’ve been on, and the airlines who flew the flights. Yes, it does show my age.

Because of our recent flurry of travel, and the accompanying explaining of trains, planes and other vehicles to our son, I’ve compiled a list of aircraft I’ve been on, and the airlines who flew the flights. Yes, it does show my age.

Boeing 737

Carriers: Singapore Airlines, Malaysian Airlines System

B737
First Generation Boeing 737-112: I remember this plane as being my first ever flight – to KL from Singapore. I was about four or five, and I tried to run up the stairs and fell backwards and hit my head. I spent the 50 minute flight crying and nursing a giant baluku.

Boeing 707

Carriers: Singapore Airlines

Boeing 707-320B – Singapore Airlines used these for medium-haul flights. I remember being on one to Taipei.

McDonnell-Douglas DC-Super-8

Carriers: Japan Air Lines, Philippine Airlines

McDonnell-Douglas DC-8 in Japan Air Lines livery. I remember the family vacation in 1977 which featured this plane – and distinctly remember the windows having curtains instead of plastic window shades. The Philippine Airlines flight we were on was more memorable for the fact that it had to go around when attempting to land in Manila.

Boeing 747-200

Carriers: Qantas, Singapore Airlines, CP Air

Boeing 747-200: It was 1980 and my parents were taking us to Melbourne for the first time since they left in 1965. Changi Airport was still a year away from completion. So when I saw this plane from the bus that was taking us to it on the tarmac, I nearly peed myself in excitement. It was my first ‘jumbo-jet’ ride.

Boeing 747-SP

Carrier: Pan Am

The Boeing 747-SP was a shortened version of the 747-100, and ‘SP’ stood for ‘Special Performance’, because this plane was supposed to fly further and faster than other 747s. The flight I took from Los Angeles to Singapore however, took on epic proportions, as we stopped in Honolulu, then unscheduled in Okinawa to refuel, then Hong Kong before coming home. I remember that 23 hours on board, in an era where you weren’t asked to leave an aircraft in transit.

Boeing 727

Carriers: Singapore Airlines, Trans-Australia Airlines, Western Airlines

The Boeing 727 is a tri-jet, with a notable feature – a rear stair-door. This allowed a famous incident where an unknown hijacker opened it midair and parachuted off it to escape.

Lockheed L-1011 Tristar

Carrier: Cathay Pacific

Airbus A300

Carriers: Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways

The A300 was the world’s first wide-bodied commercial jet with only two engines. The most memorable flight for me was in 1989, when the SAF chartered three flights to get us to training in Thailand. We landed in an unknown (to us NSFs) airfield somewhere in Thailand, in the middle of the night. We de-planed with our baggage, and the plane powered up and took off into the night.

Airbus A310

Carrier: Singapore Airlines

Airbus A310 – this aircraft became the SIN-KUL shuttle in the years before low-cost carriers appeared. Both MAS and SIA operated this route which at the time was one of the world’s most lucrative sectors. A return flight could cost around S$300 – and this was in the 1990s.
Of course, one of the SIA A310s was famous for an unsavoury incident – the SQ117 hijack.
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SG Buzz: Boston, Chicago, And Pittsburgh

I was honoured to be invited to speak last week to Singaporeans working and studying in three American cities. Organized by the US Liaison of the Overseas Singaporean Unit – the same people who bring Singapore Day to known Singaporean hubs around the world – the talks were held at cozy venues which also featured some Singaporean-ish food…

I was honoured to be invited to speak last week to Singaporeans working and studying in three American cities. Organized by the US Liaison of the Overseas Singaporean Unit – the same people who bring Singapore Day to known Singaporean hubs around the world – the talks were held at cozy venues which also featured some Singaporean-ish food.

Contrary to what some thought, there was no “official messaging” that I had been instructed to deliver, things along the lines of, “don’t forget Singapore, it’s your home, please come back”. Instead, I was asked very broadly to talk about the media landscape in Singapore. That was an easy brief because I could spend hours making fun of Mediacorp. But people were hungry, and the buffet spreads were waiting, so I let everyone off with a presentation that lasted maybe half an hour.

But there are some points I made that I’d like to reiterate:

1. Stop calling ourselves a “little red dot” (HT Calvin Soh). Be confident, be brash;

2. Don’t be in a hurry to come home. It’ll always be here. You’re already abroad, so take on the world while you’re there if it’s more convenient;

3. The OSU is a great networking facilitator. Register yourselves, keep in touch, and don’t be silly – the Gahmen is not trying to track and limit your movement. It’s merely trying to see how it can help you succeed. Honest!

But thank you for hosting me in the limited time I was there. To my old friends in Boston who contacted me, it was great getting in touch again IRL. Didn’t occur to me we hadn’t seen each other in two decades. Thank you Facebook.

To the Singaporeans in Chicago who stayed on and chatted over a couple of rounds of drinks – thank you, that was fun!

And to Pittsburgh. Goodness, what a pretty town. I’m sorry I had preconceived notions of it being a bleak steel town because that’s how ignorant I am. For the kids and the not so young studying at Carnegie Mellon – you guys rock, and thanks to you, we now know that the last Batman movie had an over-representation of Singaporeans.

I hear this series saw a record turnout in each city, so thank you for coming out (including the fella who flew in from Florida) on the most tumultuous weekend in recent US history. And thank you Overseas Singaporean Unit for organising this whirlwind tour.

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Help For Autism

I’ve very little experience in or knowledge of what care is needed or available for children on the autism spectrum. But I had a chance to speak with a friend with an autistic child, who has discovered a lesser known method of care that may be able to help. Please read and help me share with anyone you think will benefit from this.

Coming to terms with my firstborn and only child having autism has been the single hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. When we first became aware he was different, he was about a year old. He didn’t respond to his name, and seemed oblivious to the people around him. Friends and colleagues tried to allay our fears by saying he was too young for a proper diagnosis, but by the time he was 2, we had no doubt. Being a Paediatric doctor did not spare me from the many days and nights of crying, questioning and pleading. I had no answers, either for myself or for my family members who were all looking to me.

Life with a child with autism challenged so many things we took for granted, like going to a shopping centre or a food court. Figuring out his everyday needs consumed us, because he couldn’t tell us what he needed. We lived in a state of crisis aversion, doing whatever was necessary to avoid tantrums and meltdowns which lasted long beyond the terrible twos.
We tried the conventional, evidence-based methods available in Singapore. He went for occupational therapy and speech therapy. We started a home-based therapy programme using Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA). We enrolled him in a special school. After 2 years, he went from being a non-verbal, disconnected but happy child, to a non-verbal, rigid, controlling, stressed out and anxious child who obviously wasn’t happy anymore. We couldn’t blame him. If your whole day involved people telling you to stop doing what you want to and do only what they wanted you to do, it would be completely understandable if you didn’t want to have anything to do with them.

Our son finally told us through an almighty sobbing episode that lasted 16 hours, that he’d had enough. So we stopped all his therapy and started looking for a better way of reaching him. After many more wrong turns, we found a little-known method called the Son-Rise Program®, which approaches autism from an entirely different perspective. Instead of the conventional understanding that autism is a neurobehavioural problem that causes our children to behave inappropriately, the Son-Rise Program actually believes that autism is primarily a weakness in social and relational “muscles”, and the behaviours that the world deems socially unacceptable are actually self-soothing or self-care mechanisms. One method that this program advocates is joining in with these exclusive, repetitive behaviours, in an attitude of love and acceptance. Basically, instead of telling them to stop what they’re doing, joining sends the message that we are interested in doing what they do just because they like to do it, and because we love them. Although it sounded crazy, we decided to try. We felt we had nothing to lose at this point. So off we went to the Autism Treatment Center of America in Massachusetts to learn how to help our child using this program.

From that first day when we started entering his world through joining his behaviours, we’ve seen breakthrough after breakthrough. Instead of what everyone feared, which was that we would end up reinforcing the very behaviours we were seeking to stop, he actually started to look at us more, and smile at us as if saying, “You finally get it! Isn’t this amazing?”. Soon he didn’t need those repetitive behaviours anymore, because he discovered how much more fun playing with someone could be. In the last 1½ years of running a Son-Rise Program for our son, he has started speaking in sentences, asking questions, and recently even commenting on the world around him. His imagination has blossomed so incredibly; he creates poems and songs and loves dancing. He expresses his concern for us with hugs and kisses.

We are finally hopeful and positive about his future, and believe that he can and will become someone truly amazing.

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