Merlion park in times of coronavirus outbreak

As you know, Singapore is in a midst of the Coronavirus or COVID-19 outbreak with over 70 people infected as of today. While the spread of the virus is not as severe or far reaching as that of China, Singapore has imposed travel limitations to anyone coming to Singapore from China. This has terrible consequences to the tourism industry in Singapore.

I was at the Merlion Park one weekend to gauge for myself how severely impacted Singapore is to the effects of the Coronavirus, especially the number of tourists visiting Singapore this part month or so. Because of the travel limitations imposed, there is definitely a significant decrease in tourism arrivals, especially when Chinese tourists make up the bulk of visits to Singapore as a holiday destination.

I took pictures of the Merlion Park with my new X-Pro 3 and noted the drop in the number of visitors in the areas. It was a blessing for me, as I was able to take pictures of the Merlion without much interference. It was overall, a pleasant picture-taking experience. Although I must add, that the Merlion, if it was a real creature, would have been sad to see so few visitors coming to Singapore to take pictures with him in the midst of the Coronavirus outbreak.

Chingay 2020

Chingay is an annual street parade that is celebrated in Singapore and Malaysia. It is in celebration of the various birthdays of the Chinese deities or the procession of the Goddess of Mercy. In recent times, the annual street parade consists of floats and processions from various communities in Singapore and abroad. This year is my first time that I actually attended the parade with a ticket. Previous years, I would usually watch the performance on TV, which is broadcast live.

The Chingay performance was a dazzle of lights, colour and music, with numerous floats representing the various Chinese deities, social groups in Singapore, associations and even foreign delegates from various countries around the world. The performance took place at the F1 pit and I was lucky to be seated relatively close to the action. I brought my camera along to capture some of the action. Despite only owning a 23mm f2.0 lens on my newly acquired Fujifilm X-Pro 3 camera, I still managed to get some great shots of the various floats and performances during the parade.

The parade was better than expected, partly due to the sound and lights that nicely complemented with the performance. Aside from that, there were the occasional fireworks, laser light shows and drone performances. Everything was tightly coordinated. The highlight of the entire parade was the 100 meter long dragon that floated and drifted along the length of the F1 pit. It was truly impressive to see it in person.

Seats filling up just before the parade starts.
The start of the procession. It was truly colourful and lively with great music and light shows that accompanied the entire performance.
They even did some interesting stunt on top of the usual dragon dance routine.
The god of wealth (I think) sitting on a flamingo, distributing wealth.
Lightsaber action!
The various floats on display, this one the famous squirrel of POSB bank.
The float from the People’s Association.
Representatives from Japan even took part in the parade!
Behold the dragon! Making its way along the parade. It’s more than 100 meters in length and the head is supported by a helium balloon and steered by a couple of guys on the ground.
Nodding and starring at us while it makes its away along the parade. It was spectacular!
The dragon blessing everyone with wealth and health before returning to its lair.

Trevor Noah is coming to Singapore!!

Trevor Noah is making a stop to Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan, the only three Asian stop for his Loud and Clear tour. He will be coming to Singapore on the 19th of August and I cannot wait! I never dreamt that he would make a stop in Asia for his stand-up comedy tour. And the best part: I got tickets!

Tickets were sold out in Singapore within 5 minutes, with sporadic seats in odd places were all that was left after that. I somehow knew that it was going to be a sold out performance, so I made sure to get my credit card and website ready the moment when SISTIC ordering page was open. I wasn’t interested in getting front line seats. For attending a stand-up comedy performance, personally I feel that any seats anywhere is fine. You don’t have to be smack at the front to fully enjoy the show. I’m sure there are secondary screens for those at the back, and seeing him from a distance yet right in front of you live on stage is still a surreal experience. I attended the Jeff Dunham stand-up comedy act a few years back, he was best known for his ventriloquist skills of Achmed The Dead Terrorist. That was hilarious!

No doubt I am definitely looking forward to his act in August. He will be performing at the Star Theatre in Buona Vista.

The Apple Store @ Orchard

When Apple announced that they were going to open an official Apple store in Singapore, I was stoked. For years I had been hoping for an official store to make their landing on this tiny island nation. Previously, I visited other Apple store around the world, like those in Hong Kong, and The Netherlands. Those stores were beautiful, airy and just fantastic, with great professional Apple Geniuses all around rendering their assistance to any customers who might need help in their purchase.

The design ethos of what makes an Apple Store anywhere in the world a fantastic place to not just make your purchase but to learn more about its products and services is one of the great hallmarks of retail. The Apple Store @ Orchard is no different. In fact, it has one of the more unique storefront designs as compared to other Apple stores around the world.

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I remember the day (May 26 2017) when Apple opens its doors for the first time in Singapore to customers. I wasn’t there at the opening hour. I was there sometime around 12 noon. The store was crowded, but not overly packed. They did a pretty good job with the crowd control, letting small batches of people in to maintain the crowd in the store at manageable levels. But boy, it was beautiful. I have never seen a more beautiful retail store ever. Imagine long massive panels of glass, three panels layered side by side spanning the entire 2 floors of the store’s facade from top to bottom. The second floor looked almost like it was magically hovering. On the second floor houses this huge LCD panel display, super high resolution and gorgeous to gawk at. Dotted throughout the store are real trees that give the store a very natural and equatorial ambience that much resembles tropical Singapore.

On launch day, I remembered receiving a free T-shirt with three red symbols; an Apple logo, a heart logo and a red dot. Put it together, it says, ‘Apple Loves Singapore’, the red dot referring to our tiny island nation, a small red dot on the world map.

And just like that on day one, I see so many people already making Apple purchases, from iMac, to Macbook Pro, to iPhones. Sales were no doubt brisk just like any other Apple store around the world.

PC Show come and gone

Yesterday I went to the PC show. It was crowded, but not overly so. Surprisingly, it was walkable and I rarely had to squeeze among the throng of crowds. Held in Expo halls 5 and 6, I was impressed by the M1 booth. It was huge. I cannot remember the last time the M1 was that large.

M1, Singtel, My Republic. Aggressive in their broadband marketing. Cutthroat prices. It was really interesting in grilling the sales people on the bundled broadband packages, any hidden costs, if there are any and the freebies thrown in when you sign up with them. A friend of mine got the M1 1Gbps fibre broadband package at just SGD39.90 a month (on a 24-month contract). She topped up another SGD120 for  a better Asus router. In return, the activation and home line port to M1 was free and part of the package. All being equal, the monthly subscription rates were the lowest among the other telcos. I signed up for MyRepublic, which doesn’t really make much of a difference. I have yet to see how MyRepublic fibre broadband connections perform in real world settings. This is my first time signing up with them for my internet broadband needs.

Another friend of mine bought a new computer. The Acer Predator computer. Costing nearly SGD2000, featuring an SSD and HDD, 24Gb Ram (additional 8GB after much haggling, since it was the last day of the show) one year Microsoft office bundled, GTX 970 4GB graphics good. Not too shabby. We went after a distributor that sold the same computer model for more than SGD200 less than was advertised in the brochures. And for SGD200 less, we get additional RAM and a free 1-year Microsoft office. Not bad when it comes to pushing more freebies.

As for me? I didn’t get anything for myself. I really wanted to given the choice. Especially the NAS from Synology and QNAP. Maybe the Samsung T3 Portable SSD. But these are just wants, and not needs. I can still live without. I did get to admire Aftershock Ultracore line of PCs. Equipped with custom liquid cooling with the liquid colour of your choice, throwing  some really high end parts, and the entire set up was quite a sight to behold. They even showcased the new Nvidia GTX 1080 and paired with The Witcher as a demo for smooth 4K gameplay on an Acer Predator curved monitor. Sweet.

Netflix launches in Singapore

netflix-logo

I woke up one morning and as I was having breakfast in the living room and swiping and left and right at my daily newsfeed on Flipboard on my iPhone at the same time, Netflix announced at this year’s CES that they have gone global. I was shocked. Netflix did announce that they are launching their services in Singapore sometime in 2016. But to launch so early at this time of the year and to launch at almost every other country around the globe is unprecedented.

Being the skeptical me, I immediately went to the Apple app store and downloaded the Netflix app. Sure enough, I could immediately sign up for the services using my iTunes account and before I know it, I could immediately browse through the various movie and TV titles on offer from within the app. Priced at $13.98 a month for local customers with  a free month trial, I immediately signed up for it.

So after days of trying out since it launches in Singapore, what do I think of it?

There are basically 3 tiers of monthly payment options you can sign up for at Netflix. There is the Basic tier at $10.98 which gives you access to all their content, but only on SD quality and 1 stream per account, the Standard tier, at $13.98 (which I subscribed to) that allows you to stream content at full HD quality and up to 2 simultaneous streams per account. and of course the top of the line, Premium tier, that gives you access to 4K streams for those with 4K UHD TVs in your living room and up to 4 simultaneous streams per account. (Which technically you would be able to stream 4 simultaneous 4K streams at once. Whether or not your internet bandwidth can sustain that amount of data streaming to your home at any one time is another matter all together.)

Obviously I did not sign up for the Premium tier, because I do not have a 4K TV in the household, so its basically not very useful for me and having just 2 streams is just about right. I could watch in my room, while the rest of my family members can watch their own shows in the living room.

Personally, at that price point set for Singaporean customers, it’s pretty attractive. You get to watch all the content on Netflix all you want, when you want without any limitations. The only limitations however are the amount of content it actually have for the local Singapore market. Right now, there isn’t much. And that is true. My only rant for Netflix is that the movie and TV show offerings are quite limited. And I can understand why, as Netflix just launched in Singapore, things are bound to get rough and it will take time to settle all licensing and distribution rights issues for TV and movies. So I completely understand why their offerings are quite limited at this stage. My only hope is that they will continually improve over the long run, adding more and more content as they go along, maturing their services as time goes by. Netflix, even if their contents are limited, you can still watch quality Netflix Originals, which in my opinion are quite solid which I feel is quite plenty for a start. Sure, certain ’flagship’ titles are not available like House of Cards, but still, its a good all round offering of content for consumers. And they have promised more movies and TV shows in production for 2016 which we can look forward in the near future. And there is nothing wrong with cancelling your subscription for a month or two and coming back into to it to see whats new. And I think that is a distinct advantage over traditional cable tv subscriptions, which you are not only locked up with multi year contracts, but you have to choose what channels you want to watch, which different packages, and price points which makes cable TV content restrictive, inherently expensive, and bloated. But, compared to the amount of content available between cable TV and Netflix, that they have to offer to Singaporeans, cable TV is still king.

But there is another little known advantage for Netflix. If you are a techie like me, owning the latest iPhones, the latest gaming consoles, smart tv and the likes, you know that Netflix as a brand is ubiquitous. What do I mean by that? Netflix is everywhere. You can watch your favourite shows online using your pc. Just visit their official site and log in to your account. You can download the Netflix app on your phone and start watching immediately. If you own a PS4, you can download the Netflix app and watch on your PS4 that is plugged in to your TV. If you have Apple TV, Roku, or Google Chromecast, you can broadcast your content to your tv using the app downloaded in the micrcoconsole and voila. If you have a smart TV, you can download the app in your TV and immediately watch your favourite shows. For my set up, I use my PS4 to watch Netflix and its so simple.

Traditional cable tv set up are a whole different story. You need their own proprietary set top box to watch your shows. You are at the mercy of the respective channel’s tv schedule. You can only watch where the the set top box are connected. And that is basically it. Yes recently they have diversified their content offerings and offered more ways to watch your favourite shows, like web-based, on-demand TV shows, web-based catch-up TV, and Netflix-like subscription packages, allowing a buffet of content for a single price and the ability to watch on your computer, tablet or phone. But consider this; it is still quite restrictive in terms of where, what and when you can watch. It offers cord-cutting services, but services that has yet to rival Netflix. I still cannot ‘stream’ content on my Google Chromecast or to my PS4, because the apps and programs for those two are not developed for. Smart TVs are not truly localised to provide individual telco’s content offering using their own app and still rely on proprietary methods to access to their content. In other words, traditional cable tv has advanced by leaps and bounds in offering customers a diversified way to consuming content, but it cannot be compared to Netflix.

That is why I find Netflix has huge potential. Barring all content distribution restrictions and licensing issues, if Netflix were to offer the same amount of content from their USA counterpart, it is a powerful competitor to have arrived to Singapore’s shores. But alas, the world is not perfect. But I believe that Netflix will eventually get there. We can still enjoy Netflix USA. VPN is the answer. And VPN itself is a glimpse of what our local telcos will faced in the future. Netflix distribution models can completely upset the playing field in Singapore when it comes to TV and movie distribution strategies to individual consumers here.

So what have I watched on Netflix this past few days? I have watched a few episodes of Hemlock Grove, and binged on Jessica Jones. I have always wanted to watch Jessica Jones after the much acclaimed Daredevil series, also created by Netflix. Streaming shows on Netflix was painless. I did not experience any slowdowns, buffering, or visual quality degradations due to any connection problems whatsoever. Even when there were 2 simultaneous full HD streams happening at the same time, my fiber broadband connection showed no hiccups. My house is equipped with a 500mbps fiber connection speed and it was able to handle 2 streams, plus miscellaneous connections from smartphones, tablets and other PCs around the house. So any launch-day related problems were unfounded. Picture quality from full HD streams were stunning. And it was easy to forget that you were not watching from a blu-ray disc, rather that you were constantly streaming content to your TV.

Netflix also has some nifty mechanisms to feed your bingeing habits. Whether that is a good or bad thing is not for me to say. I like that fact that it continues showing the next episode with a countdown timer after the end credits started rolling. You don’t have to do anything. Netflix will automatically start playing the next episode in the series when the countdown ends. So you can simply watch continuously, without reaching for your remote, or phone or controller.  Netflix also does a good job at keeping track of what you have watched and what is currently underway. You can pause and get right back into the action  seamlessly, because Netflix keeps track of your progress all the time. Netflix also has a ‘My List’ section in which you can customise. Came across an interesting movie or TV show? Simply add it to “My List” and you will never lose track of what you intend to watch in the future. This is especially useful when Netflix catalog of movies and TV show expands dramatically over time.

Overall, Netflix is easy to navigate, stream and watch. And that is all there is to it. At the end of the day, Content and ease of use will rule the day. It is about time to let consumers decide how they want to watch, where they want to watch, and when they want to watch. Gone will be the days where your life’s schedule would have to fit according to the TV programming schedule. It is time for the other way around.

 

 

NDP Preview tickets!!!

I can’t remember when was the last time I actually had the tickets to the National Day Parade. In my entire life, I think I had the chance to attend the NDP only once, and that was during my primary school days. Now, after many years later, a friend of mine had a pair of spare tickets and I just couldn’t pass on the opportunity. What makes it even more special is the fact that this year is the country’s 50th anniversary since independence, and the celebrations are going to be extra special. This is truly a once in a lifetime experience.

Although I am watching the NDP preview and not the celebrations on the actual day itself, it is still going to be 99% close to the actual day celebrations. The preview is on the 1st of August, and that marks the final full dress rehearsal for the parade. Even then, I’ll take whatever comes. Beggars can’t be choosers and I am still happy from the fact that I am going to witness history here.