Monday, September 30, 2013

SINGAPORE F1 GP - PRACTICE DAY


Long lines were building up around 2pm in front of one of the main gates at the F1 race track. The gates opened at 3pm and the heat was unbearable. It helped that this was my second time at the race and we were actually picking a different entrance that the one at Singapore's City Hall MRT station, where most people were waiting to be let in.



Practice Day is a relatively easy day. Not that many people show up for it, but a friend had a ticket for Friday only, so I walked him around as much as possible. 

Unfortunately my friend did not follow my advise and bought one of the cheapest tickets available...Friday only and in Zone 4 only. While Zone 4 gives you a lot of entertainment options, and access to the nightly concerts, the views of the race track are very limited with a walk around ticket. You got to have a ticket for the grandstands if you want to see anything, otherwise you will have to squeeze in with many other people at those limited points where you can actually see the race track. Mind you, with a "premier walk around" ticket you get get onto the platforms which are put up, specially along the bridge over the Singapore River, which gives you a great view too. But at the end of the day my friend was disappointed with his buying decision and swore that he will buy a different ticket next year.



While Porsche Carrera Cars practise during day light, the GP2 Practice is happening at twilight and Formula One first and second practice will happen during and after sunset. 



I used my own ticket to sneak off into the other Zones of the race track to "test" out the best positions for me to see both the Qualifying and the Race on the following two days. 

 
There is plenty of food, drinks (and drunks) as well as entertainment options on day one already. The stars get more exciting with the other days (at least for me) but even Practice Day can be pretty exhausting and typically ends at 23:00 for the race activities, while the music goes till after midnight. 



It's a nice day, without the huge masses of people pushing you through the limited walking routes. 


Friday, September 27, 2013

BE MY PRIVATE EYE - FLYING WITH AIR ASIA



ohoooooo....I was invited to be Air Asia's private eye on my last flight from Bangkok to Singapore and back. Well, actually they call it "eye in the sky", but I am sure it is just the little brother of the NSA ;-)

While I have nothing against giving feedback and improving customer service, I suspected in this case that it is more used to critizise certain employees and control them. I am certain that Air Asia's employees don't get paid a lot anyway. 

What did they ask me to do and observe? 

1. If you lined up at the counter, how many people were in front of you in the queue? How long did you wait in the queue? What was the name of the counter staff?
2. Did the staff ask you security questions relating to your baggage?
3. Was an announcement made for your flight at the departure gate?
4. What was the name of the Flight Attendant that served you?
5. Did the Captain make an announcement to welcome you on board?

Well, 1) was a no brainer, because there were no people in front of me flying out. On the way back it was dozens of people and I had to wait almost 30 mins....but what through me off, was that I had to memorize the name of the counter staff...hell do I know...I could not even see the tiny name badge and there was no name sign visible anyway. I also thought that it wasn't the counter staffs fault if the wait was too long, but rather the company's hiring and staffing policy. 

2) no questions asked ;P
3) I did book a "hot seat", so I can board early and get on the plane first. On the way out they made an announcement and I could "board" early....onto a bus!!! followed by all the other passengers and by the time the bus reached the plane, I was actually boarding last, because they were all ahead of me!  On the way back, there was no micro working, so that poor guy just opened the doors and said with a low tone, we can all board now!!  So far for paying premium for early boarding!
4) I actually looked at their name tags several times, but I could not memorize those thai names at all...too small ...too complicated. 
5) yeah he did! but I could not really hear anything...he did not speak loud enough and/or the speakers did not work well

So, there it went...my chance to get someone fired ;-)

What scared my actually the most was a little incident on my return flight (actually a rather big incident, if it had happend in the U.S.A). The staff of the gate did not lock the door of the gate and when the plane arrived, some passengers exited rather late, stood outside of our gate and finally pushed against the door, which opened. So the arriving passengers, 7 of them, walked into our departing gate area. 

Now remember, we were just all checked for security. Laptop out, phones out, buckle off, some shoes off, bags scanned, passengers scanned! And then these 7 people just walk in, looking around and only!!! because they went to the counter and asked for the luggage belt, did someone notice that something went very wrong. Security was called, the 7 had to walk out through the glass door again and their ID's were checked. But what had happened if they brought anything in? If it was 8 and not 7 who walked in, and only 7 walked out? I thought "sh....... here it goes, we will all have to walk out and get scanned again" but nothing happened. We were asked to board the plane a few minutes later. First time I felt a little un-easy on my hot seat!!

SINGAPORE F1 GP - PRE-RACE DAYS

Well, like I promised a year ago, I am back in the city....Singapore F1 GP time. Amazing how time flies!!


Of course the race is finished now, but since I write the blogs with a time lag, I will start with the pre-race days here. 

I actually booked my tickets back in February this year. Amazing to think that you have to reserve your tickets, and pay for it!!! 7 months in advance. Well, early bird tickets were available until April, but the excitement about going back make me book it even earlier than that. 

Andy Grove, once CEO of Intel Corporation and one of my all-time role models, once wrote in his book "high output management" that one of our everyday challenges was that our morning eggs are boiled at the same time as the coffee has flown through the coffee machine and the same time the toast is ready (or something like that). Well, some of my Asian hotels still don't get it right and still serve me cold eggs, bitter coffee and toast which was toasted hours ago! But I wanted to use this example to illustrate that for attending the F1 race, I have three challenges: 

1) getting an early bird ticket
2) getting a cheaper flight than normal from Europe to Singapore
3) getting a hotel room at an acceptable price 

So, which one do you book first? I can get cheap flights when they are offered by the airlines but at the risk of not finding a hotel room.  If I book a cheap room (and pay for it without being able to cancel it) I might end up having to pay a premium for a flight. The ticket has a deadline anyway, but I still have to pay for it, at the risk of not finding a cheap flight or hotel!  I have had all three variations happen to me so far. 



But I got it all done. Even checked out various hotels on previous trips, which all proved to be unacceptable (cheap, but filthy), so I ended up in the same hotel as last year. The price was insane! I ended up paying the same amount for 5 days which buys me one month in Bangkok! But hey, it was close to the race track, relatively clean and at an acceptable room size with a window. 

Picked up my ticket the day before F1 practise day at the Swissotel, The Stamford again. Now that would be the hotel I wish I could afford, or book. Most of those hotels are booked out during race days. 



Unfortunately the race track was all locked off this year. Last year, I was still able to walk the track, without being checked for a ticket or any ID. I was still able to get close to it, but it was all sealed off. Bummer!!  But the excitement was there and seeing all those race fans in the city with all it's branding messages was good enough for me.  

 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

RIHANNA IN SINGAPORE

Back in Singapore for the F1 race, I was actually excited to see and hear Rihanna at the end of the race. Even though it is a real rush to get from the other end of the race track to the Padang stage, I was committed to try it. Last year showed me already that it is almost impossible to make it in time before the concert starts, but I had my "secret" routes through the race track. So, even though I enjoyed Mr. Vettel up to the last moment when he got his prize, I rushed back to the Padang and made it just in time. 



The music was just starting, the huge lawn was full with people. 60.000 they say, though less people than the night before when The Killers were on stage. The crowed was also less cheerful. They were mostly standing and waiting while the night before they where all fired up already (with alcohol and excitement). 

Finally, Rihanna came out and the huge crowd cheered, the flights went flashing and the music started. I will admit that I was about in the middle of the crowd, due to the long way I had to manage back to the Padang, but I could still see her on stage and of course through the huge screens which showed her. 



There was some excitement during the first song, though not as much as I expected. I was thinking that it might just be that song, that people would need some time to get fired up, but that did not happen really. A few people seemed to enjoy the songs, and even I showed some attempts to get moving with the tunes, but the music and the singing was far to inconsistent to build up any momentum. 



One of my friends blogged that he enjoyed it a lot and that Rihanna is known to lip synch and perform with a lot of support from the other singers, but in my mind she did hardly sing or hold the mic to her mouth...you could hear her sing without even having the mic close to her mouth, which I hated. Her movements reminded me of a drunk or someone on drugs, who is incapable to control his or her movements. She looked like a big child in her pyjamas and house shoes, who wanted to come across like a rapper in the living room when nobody is watching. 



I stayed for several songs, taped them too, but I did not get excited at all. A woman in front of me texted to someone "at Rihanna concert now - she really sucks" !   I thought to myself that this might just be the wrong audience. After all this is a F1 audience. Guys in tank tops who are too cool to even put ear plugs in when the cars are roaring down the race track and guys where drunk already when the race started. But there where also others, couples who looked at each other with disbelieve when they heard the singing (if you can call that singing). 



A lot of people started leaving after the third or fourth song. At that time I must have heard Rihanna calling out "SINGAPOOOOOOORE" for the zillionst time, as if she had to remind herself where she actually was. And the crowd had stopped to respond after the second or third time of hearing it.

All in all, it was more my music taste that the days before. The Killers certainly had the crowd all going, but it was just not my music, so I left. Rihanna was a disappointment to me and I decided to get ahead of the 60.000 people at the exit gates and not let her performance waste my great race experience.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

NO "PUN" INTENDED - BANGKOK THAILAND

What a great idea. I would love to do it...in Singapore...in Munich...anywhere. But NOT in Bangkok. 

Back in the City of Angels, I came across these Bike Share Stations, called PunPun Bike Share. A really great idea. Easy, cheap, good for the environment and healthy....well, if you survive a bike ride in Bangkok. 

It's a great idea and it is bitterly needed in a city which drowns in traffic jams every day, except for New Year, when the city of Bangkok is empty.  I would love to do something for the environment, hence I also take public transportation, but riding a bike?

In an environment where the most basic rights of a pedestrian are treated with ignorance
and right-out life threatening maneuvers, it is already a challenge to safely walk on a sidewalk. Food stalls are put up on sidewalks, which force the pedestrian to move onto the street level. Motorcycle taxis are driving on sidewalks. So do other motorcycles. And they drive with or against the traffic in one way streets. Just yesterday I have seen a pedestrian who got nearly run over by a motorcycle on the sidewalk. And you know what happened? The pedestrian apologized to the motorcycle driver!!!

So, even where you have your own dedicated space - the sidewalk - you rights are neglected and the Police are doing nothing against it. Can you imagine having to share the street with cars, motorcycles, buses, trucks, taxis, dogs, trash, people who push their food stalls as a bicycle rider?  Yes, I know there are marked lanes for bicycles, but they are being ignored most of the time. It's not like in Germany where the driver of a car doesn't even dare to cross the solid line of the bike-track. 




 Yes, I see them...rarely, but I see them, the brave ones who ride a bicycle and to me it looks like a risky business. So, unless the Thai society changes and respects the rights of other participants of traffic, I would never dare to join your club. 








Monday, September 2, 2013

HAVE YOU CHECKED YOUR HOTEL RATES LATELY? - SINGAPORE



Is it this time of the year again? F1 season in Singapore! The season when the already high hotel prices of Singapore go through the roof and you have to pay a ridiculous price for an 8 sqm room! 

Don't get me wrong! I love the F1 race and I will of course be there again, but seeing the hotel price hikes makes me mad. Luckily I did go on my own hotel hunt months and months ago...even flew to Singapore on other trips throughout the year and checked out new hotels. Most lower priced rooms turned out to be not my thing. Too small, no window, too far from the race track, mold on the walls, unfriendly staff...a long list to chose from. 

So, I ended up booking the same hotel which I had used last year and I am even getting the room of my preference at an acceptable price. But again...I booked months and months ago. 

If you are in the unfortunate situation to need a room now, or a room in one of the nice hotels close to the race track, you are looking at insane prices. Hotels where I had stayed before, during off race season are charging 285 S$ for a 8 sqm room per night. The IBIS, where I had stayed before, was booked out, as most hotels in Singapore.  One Hotel, which I really would love to stay at during the race is the Swissotel The Stamford, but not at 723 S$ a night (booking.com's quote today). The Ritz-Carlton, where I would probably not even stay during off-race season had two rooms left on booking.com for a stunning 1537 S$ ...per night!!  But at least here you would not even have to buy a ticket for the race but just watch it from your own balcony or window. 

I know I will enjoy the race and my 5 nights in my cozy little room in Singapore, at the same total price which buys me a monthly rate for my room in Bangkok. So, lets just hope that Bangkok will never host a F1 race in the future!