Singapore Planning On My Part (updated 2/15)

I was very fortunate to have had an opportunity to travel internationally for Apple in the mid-late 90’s. My role at the time had direct ties to the manufacturing process, specifically the techniques used to download the pre-installed software to the Mac’s heading down the production lines, into boxes and out the doors to their destination countries. The most wonderful aspect of this was that, prior to even starting at Apple, if you to pull me aside and ask me to describe my dream job, i’d have said “Traveling Abroad and working with Macs”. Yet this opportunity was not pursued, it simply manifested itself over time.

These travels all have some fantastic stories that accompany them, each with their own specific situations and memories, each unique, and each to be detailed here at some point, starting today with the one chance I had to visit Singapore. The country itself didn’t leave as long and lasting an impression as did the numerous experiences I had in the span of just one week.

Before going into too much detail about the experiences, it’s essential to explain that my travels were not only tied to the manufacturing process, but to the revolutions, if not evolutions, in that process which were being piloted by a co-worker and friend in Ireland. Colm Murphy. Colm had come to the states at one point and helped to initiate a number of innovations in how Apple got software onto CPUs, which led to a great friendship, several patents, numerous coordinated trips to manufacturing sites around the world, and our own co-created super-secret project that we code named “Phileas Fogg“, being an attempt to go around the world at Apple’s bequest. :-)

It was on the first evening of my first overseas trip to Cork, Ireland that Colm and I sat in one of several dozen pubs downtown, nursing a Murphy’s Irish Stout, and reviewing two very key and essential points regarding company sponsored travel.

  1. Anything within reason can and should be expensed.
  2. Nothing is unreasonable when you’re displaced on behalf of the company.

It didn’t take much to convince me, and another moment or two for me to embrace the concept. Yes, I expensed the beers. And this all plays directly into the first situation that occurred on my arrival at the Shangri-La Hotel.

Nightmare at 20,000 feet
The flight I took to Singapore was my first opportunity to experience International first class travel. This was well before Steve returned, and most company flights were Business Class. Somehow, I got bumped to First Class and I was seated in the top section of a 747, the space directly behind the cockpit. It was luxurious. I believe it was Virgin Atlantic but I might be wrong. The flight was a non-stop from San Francisco to Tokyo, where I’d be catching a connecting flight to Singapore. I believe the entire trip was 15+ hours of flight time if not more.

As is customary, the evening flight included dinner service, and a short time after, because we were still operating on ‘Pacific Time’, the lights were dimmed and people were allowed the opportunity to sleep. The seats in first class reclined completely to become a reasonably sized bed, and I was out like a light, thanks to a full stomach and a glass or two of Cabernet. Very good Cabernet.

At one point in the evening, perhaps early morning, I awoke and looked out the window. All was pitch black. I was clueless as to where we were. But something in the distance caught my eye. It was almost indiscernible, but with a good deal of patience and focused concentration, I could make out the most miniscule flash of light along the horizon. I figured it was nothing and drifted back to sleep.

Perhaps another 30 or 40 minutes later I awoke again and directed my attention out the window, wondering what became of, let alone what the source of the sporadic flashing was. After a brief wait I saw it again. Only much more distinct. And closer.

This was during the time of the Gulf War, and although I know in my waking state that the logistics had us nowhere near there, the sleep state I was in allowed my mind to reel with possibilities. I watch as the flashing gradually grew even closer, and wondered if it might be some actual explosions, on ground or midair. Either way, there was something out there, flashing, and we were flying in it’s general direction.

I resisted my Shatneresque impulses to abscond with the airline deputy’s firearm, buckle myself in, open the emergency door and start shooting at the beast walking along the wing of the plane. Instead, I kept watching, wondering just how close we’d get, when I realized what I was actually seeing. It was a thunder storm. From above. And it was a spectacular sight. As we got closer and closer, I could see the outlines of numerous clouds, and they’d light up in an orange-yellow hue as each flash occurred. We never got so close that it made me imagine we had anything to worry about (does lightening strike upwards?) but we did fly along side it as I was able to really just watch in amazement.

This set the tone for the rest of the week. Confusion. Fear. Amazement. Immersion.

This squating crap is for the birds
Once we landed in Tokyo, I made my way through the airport and found my connecting flight with little time to spare. Just enough to make a much needed run to the mens room. And it was there that one of James Glanville’s warnings echoed in my head. James was a co-worker in our team in Cupertino and had made numerous flights overseas himself. At the time i was surprised that he’d allow me to go instead of himself, but later, after tiring of the routine, I understood. At one point, well in advance of my starting these trips, James was relating the numerous cultural differences that were involved with visiting other countries, warnings about pick-pockets, driving on the opposite side of the road, cab driver scams, police planting false evidence for extortion purposes, and oh yes, that some restrooms in Singapore have ‘squat toilets‘ instead of those you know and love. Yes, there I was, fuzzy minded from a lengthy flight, tired, a bit irritable, and in dire need of a moment or two of quality ‘seated’ time. Faced with the prospects of attending to this pressing need from a half-bent standing position, especially having not done so since, oh, the age of 3, just didn’t seem too appaeling. Mind you, were I given an opportunity to have a practice round or two with towels and a nearby shower, I’d have considered it. But with no recent experience and another flight awaiting, suffice to say, I opted to tough it out.

Shangri-la de da
Upon arrival in Singapore, I took a cab or a shuttle to the hotel to check in. Apple had booked me in the Shangri-la Hotel, a very upscale hotel directly in the heart of the city and in walking distance to the main shopping district. I had scheduled my arrival to be on a Saturday afternoon instead of the typical Sunday. I always did that. I did so because I had learned that it was worth having a day to acclimate to the jet lag, and I also liked having an opportunity to familiarize myself with an area, especially one I’d not been to beforehand. There would be another employee from Sacramento arriving later that day, with Colm and Ken Fitzgerald Smith scheduled to arrive on Sunday. I’d have it all mapped out by then.

The room I was given was quite nice. It was nothing like a suite or anything ultra luxurious, but it was definitely a quality hotel, and it showed in the furnishing and decor, let alone the grounds of the hotel, which were beautiful and expansive. There was a great pool outside and an elaborate garden with koi ponds, paths and bridges. But it was humid. VERY humid, and even the room, with the AC cranked to the maximum, was uncomfortable.

I took a stroll along the main shopping street and explored the region, taking note of a few restaurants and, habitually, noticing a Harley Davidson dealership as well. I’d made a point by then of keeping an eye out for these, and on every international trip, I’d return with a hat for my brother that had the HD logo and the name of the city or country on it.

Upon returning from my brief stroll, I noticed a sign in the hotel lobby relating to an hourly shuttle service they had to their sister hotel, one at another spot across town. What better way to get an easy glimpse of the city then a free, air conditioned shuttle to the other side of town and back? So on I jumped.

I got settled in along side a window seat and as the van worked it’s way across town, I caught glimpses of the downtown area, all pristine and clean, as you’d expect from a culture that canes people for vandalism (something I have no issues with, to be brutally honest). As we travelled out beyond the edge of the larger buildings we started to travel through some of the outer regions on main streets, past open markets, residential towers and vast housing complexes, and further towards the ocean. This was great, as I’d not really expected to be seeing the water’s edge at this point, and the air started be become less humid and cooler as well.

I had no idea, no preconceived notion, of where this sister hotel would be or what it would look like, so you can imagine my surprise as the shuttle van made a right hand turn and started crossing a massive and very long bridge…. onto an island off the coast!

An Island Paradise
Part of me was worried… not understanding why we were leaving the mainland and heading out towards a large island. I started to wonder if, perhaps, I’d gotten on the wrong shuttle. This island had a massive ‘park’ of sorts on it, with people milling about in a vast garden area, and i could see a few casual rides there, like a water ride, right on the park. There was even a ‘sky tram’ suspended over the island and the pier area that visitors would ride across on. This was no hotel. It was some sort of ‘amusement’ park, and I was perplexed as to how this ended up being the destination of the shuttle.

The shuttle wove through an outer section of the park setting and disappeared down a lush, tropical, tree canopied 2 lane road, with no other vehicles. Along side the right window was the water’s edge, and the city of Singapore beyond it. A few left and right and turns, and suddenly, we were making a semi-u-turn in front of the vast opening of a towering hotel, set at the back end of the island, facing out towards a vast ocean way, a few ships scattered about in the green blue waters.

Resorting to deceptive measures
My jaw dropped as I stepped out of the shuttle and into a huge, wide open lobby. there were no doors on either side of the entry, just wide open architecture into the lobby which had steps out of and down to the pool, beaches and water below. The cool ocean breeze all but eliminated any hint of humidity. There was an elaborate restaurant and bar to one side, complete with circulating bamboo fans and cane shutters. The hotel was crescent shaped, facing the ocean and overlooking a large pool lined with chairs, recliners, and an outdoor bar. It was like something out of a Bogart movie.

I took a seat in the lounge area of the open air bar, looking out through the windows, shutters folded out so there was fresh air circulating into the area, and I caught my breath. I had to. I needed a moment to just let the details settle in and start plotting. You see, there was no going back. I was here, and hell or high water, the only trip back to that other hotel better damned be one made just to pickup my bags.

So I started to think. The other Apple employee arriving that afternoon, Fahid, was an engineer from the factory in Sacramento. I’d never met him. Colm and Ken… them, I knew, and knew well that they’d be right in line with me as we moved our bags.

The only hitch, however, was not just about getting rooms, but getting them at the same rate as the hotel in town. By this time I’d managed to learn the in’s and out’s that Colm had introduced me to back in Ireland on my first trip, and I was well versed in the fine are of expense rationalization. But moving a set of business travelers from a hotel downtown to a beach resort, well, that had to be done delicately. And without detection.

A moment or two later I had my plan, and took action, approaching the more congenial looking receptionist at the front desk. I was greeted with a smile, exchanged pleasantries, and the first question i asked was “Are there many rooms available this week?”

“Yes” was the reply.

“Well, I’ve got a bit of a dilemma. Perhaps you can help me out.” I continued. “You see, I’m traveling on business, and I’m actually staying at your other hotel in town, the Shangri-la”.

“Oh, OK” came the response, with a hint of respect/recognition that I was already “A guest” by proxy.

“I’m traveling with Apple Computer. I and three other associates are arriving today and tomorrow. Accommodations were setup for the Shangri-la, but that was a mistake, as we were intended to be staying here.” Ok, i stretched the truth a bit, but in a way, I was being completely honest, because as I stood in that lobby, looking out at the waters, the beach, the ships…. hell, the frickin’ Casablanca bar… we were intended to be staying there. Fate had put me there for a reason. Fate had put me there to change all of our reservations.

The clerk behind the desk looked at their computer screen, clicked a few keys here and there, and smiling, said “We can accommodate you, sir”.

I resisted the urge to grin, let alone do a cart wheel, because there was one hurdle left. The cost. Moving myself and the other’s over would not be achievable if it meant having to explain the financial impact of jumping from an Apple Travel authorized and approved hotel to, uh, a “resort”.

“Great”, I nonchalantly replied to the news that they had space for us. “But just to be sure, it’s important that the same rates are carried over, because all of the arrangements have already been coordinated. If I have to go back to Apple and the rates are higher, it’ll be a paperwork nightmare. I can go back and say we paid the same but I can’t go back and say we had to pay more. Can we move over at the same rate?”

The smile on the clerk faded to an inquisitive and puzzling stare. I started to realize that I might not pull this off. “Let me go talk to the Hotel Manager”. And he walked away.

It seemed like I stood there for hours on end. It was probably only a minute or two, but the clock ticked loudly, voices slowed to low muddled tones and everybody moved as if there were walking in Jello. I remained calm and cool on the outside, but on the inside I was as on pins as needles, as if I were an aroused 19 year old standing outside my dream date’s apartment, waiting on baited breath for the answer to my question “Can I come up for a cup of coffee?”

Just as the trembling in my knees was on the verge of becoming discernible, the clerk I’d spoken to returned, followed by another, more studious looking associate, clearly their manager. That alone signals the ‘stalemate’ point in these situations, as the ball hovers momentarily in the air, right at the net, and it’s 50/50 on which way it’ll fall. I’d either clear this hurdle or bring to down with the next exchange.

“How can I help you?” asked the manager. Questions like that in these kind of circumstances, when a request has been ‘escalated to a manager’ always puzzle me. One would expect there’d have been some discussion between the two prior to their reappearance and they know just how they can help without asking. But seeing that the man was about my age, and feeling like my best opportunity to pull this off required a very delicate yet focused approach, I calmly and kindly relayed in a “You know and I know this is a no-brainer and just a click or two of the keyboard” manner, the “alleged” error in bookings and the need to move my team over without adding to the bill that’s already been coordinated.

He turned to his keyboard, clicked a few times, gazed at the screen, and looked up at me. With a casual smile, almost conveying the return response of “you sly little bastard, I’m onto your game, and I’d do the same in your shoes. Have fun”. he then turned to his associate. “Set him up, it’s fine.” he calmly stated, and walked away.

I’d pulled off the biggest coup in my traveling history. I’d moved myself and 3 associates from a high rise hotel in the heat of the city to an cool, beach front island resort overlooking the ocean without adding a dime to our respective budgets.

Now I had to intercept those yet to arrive.

… new content added 02/15/07…

Trusting A Stranger
Having secured accommodations, I took a casual stroll around the pool, gazed out at the ocean, and reveled in the knowledge that this would be home base for a full week.

I relaxed for a brief period of time in the lobby as I awaited the arrival of the routine shuttle, and then boarded it to return to the Shangri-la back in the heart of town. The journey back across the island was all the more exhilarating, because I was now taking in the various locations and formulating a list of things I’d want to make sure and investigate once I settled in. You look at a place very differently when you’re just passing through vs when you’ll be there for awhile.

Once I arrived back downtown, I went straight to my room, grabbed my bags and returned to the lobby. I explained the “transfer” of my stay to the front desk, and I also left important messages for Colm, Ken and Fahid to not check in, but to board the shuttle instead, and to enjoy the ride to their relocation for the week. It was when I gave Fahid’s name as a recipient of my message that I was advised that he had already arrived and checked in. Probably at the same time I was getting confirmation that we could move to the other hotel.

I called him in his room, introduced myself and invited him to join me in the lobby. Fahid appeared, and I cut right to the chase, explaining the island resort, that I and certainly Colm and Ken would be moving over there, and he should as well. This was Fahid’s first business trip, and he was a tad reticent to twist things around on a moment’s notice. I gave him my word and a modest ‘crash course’ in the principles around travel that I’d learned from my own experience and mentor Colm. This was doable. He gave in easily to my arguments in favor of making the leap to the other hotel. Sight unseen on his behalf, we reversed his ‘check-in’ at the front desk and had him assigned a room of his own at the Rasa Sentosa.

We gahered our luggage, one or two large bags apiece, and hailed a cab in lieu of waiting for the next shuttle. (Cabs, you see, could be expensed.) And off we rode towards the ocean. We wove through town, much along the same route as the shuttle had gone, and gradually approached the island, who’s long spanning bridge became visible in the approaching distance.

The cab made the required right hand turn and began driving straight towards the island, the causeway to which loomed about 100 yards away. And that’s when a police van screeched in front of us, blocking and stopping the cab, as two policemen exited their vehicle and surrounded ours on both sides.

My Midnight Express Checkout
A rather vocal and urgent exchange of words began between the two officers and our driver. The officers were relatively frantic, appearing agitated and angry, and the driver was struggling to make sense of the situation, as were we. At least the driver understood the language. Fahid and I just sat in the back, stunned, confused… and scared shitless. And I remembered James Glanville’s warnings again. The escalated voices of the driver and police faded momentarily as my mind replayed the sounds of James describing international travel, particularly the references to “police planting false evidence for extortion purposes… purposespurposes… purposes… purposes… purposes…. His words echoed in my head as my conscious thoughts returned to the two officers standing beside our cab, the driver motioning towards us during their conversation, and the door to the back seats suddenly being opened on the other side.

We were about to be detained.

We were told, in very harsh and broken english, to get out of the vehicle. We hesitated, trying to formulate and argument, if not just an acceptance that this was really happening. The policeman insisted again, with extreme impatience and frustration, that we exit. NOW. Meanwhile, the driver of our cab was opening the trunk, and extracting our luggage, setting it on the street behind the still running taxi.

Like a life flashing before ones eyes, the next 5 years played out in my mind in a millisecond. I was about to become a statistic, accused of having an illegal substances found in my bag or on my personage, conveniently discovered only a moment or two after being placed there by the accuser himself. We’d be instructed to pay an immediate cash fine, right then and there, directly to the officers, yet we’d not have near enough of the required extortion money to buy ourselves out of being hauled to a detainment center. I’d try in vain to convince a board of officials of my innocence as they’d roll their eyes and shake their heads, muttering indistinctly between themselves, while a clerk at the end of the table would nonchalantly press a stamp upon a pad of ink and slam it down upon a stack of forms, signifying unanimous approval on my internment orders. The sound would echo like a gavel in a hallow cavern. I’d be summarily bound, gagged, blindfolded and shuttled away to a remote, dank, moldy holding facility, shivering naked against the cold stinging spray of high pressured water as I am hosed down, de-liced and provided with musty, ill-fitting burlap clothing and brown, tattered, stained cloth boots that had clearly been worn by numerous others before me. Perhaps until and on their dying day. The rice bowl I’d be given twice a day, slid callously through the small opening in the bottom of the door into my light deprived cell, would be barely visible as I struggled to locate it in the dark without knocking it over. Portions of it’s contents would writhe and slither out as I’d hold it against my chin, cupped in one hand as I’d frantically shovel its contents down my gullet with two grey, boney fingers on the other. Gaunt, pale, bearded, with cane-scars across my back and wincing from the light, I’d occasionally be taken to a small square room and given a brief opportunity to meet with a random US consulate representative. It’d never the same one twice, and they’d avoid eye contact while shuffling papers and bleakly relaying that they’re submitting yet another appeal to the Singapore government. “Hang in there just a little longer” each would say, “while we try to straighten this out.” All the while, their weakly empathetic demeanor would be contradicted by their underlying tension and fear, betrayed by their shaking legs, one of which would never be placed beneath the bare metal table, but instead, would be twisted, angled awkwardly, their foot always pointing towards the closed and heavily guarded door they’d just come in through.

Suddenly, without having time to have even processed what was taking place, one of the officers was inside the cab, quickly driving it in a semi-circle and speeding away with the cab driver as a passenger, leaving myself, Fahid, our bags and the other policeman standing in the middle of the road. The remaining cop then tried, again in very broken english, but far calmer now, to explain that there had been some sort of police related situation, and they had needed to “commandeer” the cab for official reasons. Perhaps a police pursuit in a bulky van leaves much to be desired and would have been a significant hinderance, whereas taking the relatively agile cab became an option the moment we’d been spotted turning towards the island. The remaining officer would drive of the rest of our way, taking us in the police van to the hotel instead of the cab. So there I stood, with trembling knees and a hands-free self-inflicted wedgie, loading my bags into the back of a police van and proceeding onto the island.

Once the shock subsided, the photo opportunity could not be missed, as Fahid and I both agreed that nobody would ever believe this. And therefore, here I am, sitting in the back of the van up against the metal bars separating myself from the driver, as we continue across the bridge and onto the island. (And yes, one might argue that the fanny pack alone was justification for my arrest and any subsequent punishment.)

It’s a tough call, but when it comes to making a lasting impression when arriving at a resort, I’m not sure just what means of transportation are more suitable: a stretch black limo… or a Police van. We made it across the bridge, through the island roads and then circled around to the front of the Rasa Sentosa, where other guests stopped and stared, some clutching their belongings, as the doors to the back of the van swung open, and two occupants with baggage were released.

A Room With One Hell Of A View
Once we checked into our respective rooms, I made my way to the third or fourth floor, set my bags inside the rooms entrance, and went immediately to the window to draw back the curtain. My room at the Shangri-la had no view. None. It was actually a view of another building… a very close and claustrophobic view if anything. When comparing the two, I tend to think this room ended up offering a slightly better vista to greet and conclude each day with. Click the image below, or this link, to see the full size panoramic image taken from my hotel room.

Emerald Isle Arrivals
I’d made a point of leaving word for Colm and Ken back at the hotel the day before, but the following morning, knowing they’d be checking in that AM made me want to be completely certain that they had sufficient warning not to get too comfortable in the downtown hotel. I called again, leaving another message to call me first at the Rasa Sentosa before doing anything else. And later that morning, after enjoying a wonderful breakfast at the hotel restaurant, I was paged to the front desk with a phone call. It was Colm, he and Ken had arrived downtown and had received my messages. I instructed them to take the shuttle (not a cab. definitely not a cab!) to the Rasa Sentosa, and I’d meet them there.

About 40 minutes later, as the shuttle was arriving, and I went to the lobby and greeted my friends. I could see on their faces that, jet lag aside, they were bowled over at this great location. Colm kept muttering “Brilliant” in his distinctly thick Irish accent, and Ken would append a casual “Oh, Yes” each time. They found their rooms, got settled in, and we regrouped to discuss the week’s business agenda and to start focusing on the logistics of the work that lay ahead. Only instead of doing so in a cluster of confining chairs within the lobby of a high rise building complex, we did so pool side. as this clearly staged photo shows.



Written by gsm

02/15/2007 at 8:50 pm

Posted in  Journal 

4 Responses

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  1. Great story – can’t wait for the rest of the story.
    I am also jealous. I have stayed at the Shangri-la in Singapore when I was at Apple – but did not even know about the sister hotel. Oh well, there is alwyas next time.
    And regarding your effort to collect HD hats – I do the same for Hard Rock pins. The rule is that I have to actually been to the Hard Rock resturant. I am currently at 16 – including Singapore, Tokyo, Guadalajara, and London.


    02/09/2007 at 3:38 pm

  2. to be continued????…….Dude you can’t pull the same stuff 24 pulls on us with to be continued. I’m calling you Jack Bauer from now on. I want to know how Jack pulled the rest of this story off and I want to know now. Can’t wait till Monday night damnit….now!!!


    02/14/2007 at 12:54 pm

  3. You have been watching waaaaay too many movies.
    Liked the “trembling knees and a hands-free self-inflected wedgie” quote – laughed out loud at that one.


    02/16/2007 at 10:07 am

  4. Part deux? I’m waiting for the movie.


    02/16/2007 at 12:48 pm

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