Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Safety in Malaysia and the external perception

I am sitting at The Pier, a Cathay Pacific Lounge in the Hong Kong airport. While I still occasionally swing by The Wing, The Bridge, and The Cabin (in that order), this lounge has become my favourite, as you can get a 20-30 minute complimentary massage, which makes the transit a lot more bearable.

Today’s interesting conversation in the massage area (it is usually quiet, but occasionally you get a chatty passenger) happened to be with a gentleman on the same flight I would be on. He was born in Kerala, but grew up in New Delhi, and spent the last four years as an expat in Kuala Lumpur. His masseuse, like all ours at The Pier, are from Nepal.

She had been to Kuala Lumpur when she was about sixteen. And her friends and her were planning on going to Kuala Lumpur in September 2015, but they are rethinking it due to the fact that Kuala Lumpur is not safe.

Hong Kong she says is very safe. She takes a bus at 4am to reach the airport at 5.30am. She thinks that Singapore is safe. But KL lately, is not safe. The expat agrees. Whether true or perception, this is going to affect our tourist arrival numbers!

As a Malaysian, I wonder how many of us are waking up to this reality? What are we going to do to fix it?

Coffee with luxury print purchases

I visited an Assouline bookstore in Seoul, S. Korea. After you make a purchase, you get the opportunity to have a drink at their attached cafe.

Recently we were in London, and Sara & I got to visit the Maison Assouline, nearby Picadilly Circus. It is a very beautiful store, with cafe to boot. Go upstairs, and you’ll end up seeing a professional bookbinder — he does everything by hand. Takes at least a week, average cost starts at £500. Same deal as above — purchase, have a drink.

When my family left London, I walked to the Monocle shop at George St, wanting to buy their new travel guides. I was told to go to their offices as they were going to have an event there. Fair enough, it was just a few blocks away. After making a purchase? They again said, visit their cafe, a few blocks away, to have a coffee or beer. I noticed this was happening at the shop at George St too (they don’t have an attached cafe). This again, is very smart cross-promotion of your retail adventures.

Is print luxury? Do you then expand the experience by ensuring people get to slow down, and consume more with a coffee?

Underground WiFi

I remember when Malaysia first got the LRT back in the mid-90s. There were four stations where you would never get any cellphone coverage – Ampang Park, KLCC, Kampung Baru and Dang Wangi. These were the underground stations. 

Then by ’98 or ’99, Celcom got execlusive rights to implement mobile base stations for the underground. This was great for Celcom customers (which I was back then – before switching to Maxis, and finally landing with DiGi). It was exclusive, and it meant you were sending SMS messages or speaking while others were out of reach. 

By now, everyone has coverage underground I’m sure. 

I’m in London and it wasn’t too long ago that Virgin Media brought WiFi to the underground. You have to pay for it nowadays. It still doesn’t mean your cellphone works for calls, etc (unless this is done over WiFi).

I appreciate that this is the oldest rapid transit system in the world. I just wish we would be better connected. 

Circumstances here make people read books, newspapers, magazines, Kindle or listen to audiobooks. I did notice people also playing games. 

In Singapore, getting your GST back is efficiently electronic

We departed Singapore and got to experience their electronic tourist refund scheme (eTRS), for collecting your GST back. To think, at the cashier’s desk when we made the purchase, we were wondering why we couldn’t just use a Global Blue refund card (useful in most of Europe). 

At the point of purchase, you are given a receipt with a barcode. When you visit the airport, just follow a touch-screen based interface that says you accept the conditions (i.e. this stuff is for export/you’re not Singaporean), swipe your passport (yes, it reads it all very well), say when you entered Singapore (you can get a popup calendar), scan the receipts you’ve received via the barcode (which will display the store you purchased things from, etc.), choose a refund method (we chose to just swipe a credit card), and voila! you get a notification receipt saying all is well. There was no physical inspection required, and with the other 5 people around, none of them had that requirement.

Apparently the monies get refunded back to the credit card within 10 days. This is extremely efficient — compared to even checking out in the UK or Europe. There you still have to get stamps on receipts, usually by lining up in a pretty long queue, then posting stuff back. 

The efficiency definitely leaves a very good aftertaste.

Writing at cruising altitude

I decided to try out Lufthansa’s in-flight internet access at a cost of €17/24 hours. This was good as I got to write emails, do some work, etc while on a pretty long HND-FRA-EZE flight (yes, it works on connections too).

The connectivity isn’t that reliable. Yes, your VPN barely works. Sure they say you shouldn’t make voice calls (but use of the in-flight phone is fine – so it’s not to prevent annoying passengers, it’s to protect a revenue stream). FaceTime (audio & video work). Streaming Netflix doesn’t.

Many times the connectivity would drop, sometimes for hours on end.

But the ability to be able to Whatsapp, iMessage, or FaceTime (with headphones) your loved ones from mid-air? Priceless.

(Written on an iPad, using Lufthansa FlyNet, pretty close to South America as I hit publish)

Time wasted on planes when you can’t use devices

I tend to travel on planes quite often, and I’ve always been annoyed by the fact that you have to turn off your electronic devices during take-off and landing. I thought life would be better when you could keep your tablets on in flight mode (thus not requiring me to carry physical newspapers on-board or even magazines). 

F1 airshowIn the USA and in the UK, this is no longer a problem (it hasn’t been at least since the end of last year), I was always hoping that the Asian carriers I tend to fly (Singapore Airlines & Cathay Pacific in particular) would modernise.

Sometimes I fly to Singapore from KL, and that’s about a 45-minute flight. One day I measured how much time I was wasting without using electronic devices:

  • 26 minutes 45 seconds upon takeoff – announcement, taxi, takeoff (KUL-SIN)
  • 14 minutes upon landing – here during taxi, you can use electronic devices 

41 minutes wasted, is almost as long as the flight ;-)

So it is with great pleasure that since the middle of the year (July 2014), Singapore Airlines allows you to use your devices (not laptops, but thats ok – tablets/phones are good enough for now) in flight-safe mode, and Cathay Pacific just allowed this as of mid-September 2014.

Now, when will Malaysia Airlines, and AirAsia wake up? Presumably this has a lot to do with the Malaysian Department of Civil Aviation.