Surprising Horizons

The Joy of Travel. The Realities of New Experiences.

Singapore Ink Show 2017

Having a weird interest in permanently inking one’s body for random reasons, I bought a $36 ticket to visit the Singapore Ink Show 2017. I pondered why tickets were so expensive and would it be worth it. After visiting the show on the Saturday I guess my answer to that would be….yes and no.

Yes, it was very interesting to see the tattoo artists live at work doing a wide range of different tattoo styles on a wide range of bodies (and body parts). No, in that there really wasn’t much else to warrant a $36 ticket cost.

Skull tattoo….can’t imagine the sensation he must be feeling…

One thing that stood out to me was the lengths people will go to to get a specific tattoo by a specific artist. I’m not too keyed in to the famous tattoo artist world so I’m presuming a lot of these artists were reputable and sought after. Which explained why you see half naked people happily getting tattooed while being observed by hundreds of people throughout their ordeal. Call me old fashioned but give me a quiet corner and a curtain to keep the world away from me when I’m going under the needle for a few hours.

There was a cover-up tattoo competition on the main stage when we were there which was interesting but they wouldn’t announce the winner until a number of other competitions had run their course. Felt a tad slowww..

Eats and drinks related there were some small Pilsner Urquells going for $10 and a number of small dishes available. Some leather-clad ladies were ladling out free Monster energy drinks too.

All in all, an interesting enough experience but I would like a ticket price around the $20 range which would feel about right with what was on offer.

 

Artbox Singapore 2017

Artbox Singapore 2017 sucked.

That is all.

One of the small corridors. Sucked.

Actually,well, I have a bit more to say.

This event (which consisted of food, drink, and other stalls) ran over two weekends at the Bayfront Event Space at Bayfront Avenue. The first weekend was followed soon after by a public backlash on the horrendous crowd control and layout of the stalls and corridors. So what would change by the second weekend after the harsh feedback? Not much it seems, although it was reported that “they moved two rows of shops to add room and set up gates for better crowd control.” If they, indeed, did that I would have hated to see the first weekend because when I went there on the Saturday evening of the second week it was aaaatrocious. It was one of those experiences where you’re in the middle of a mass of humanity and you say “just kill me now”. Getting back on to the Marina Promenade was one of the highlights of my life.

So what did they do wrong? Well basically there wasn’t enough thought put into the freedom to just walk through and look at stalls and the actual queuing of human beings. While walking you would suddenly walk into a queue cutting perpendicular to your escape route. Then, suddenly, out of nowhere, a massive garbage bin would appear from the throngs of people with its stench and piles of sun drenched food blocking you like a homeless junkie Jabba the Hutt.

 

Yeah, Artbox Singapore 2017 sucked.

The Art Behind The Game Exhibition, The Ubisoft Experience

There’s a cool little free exhibition going on in the National Design Centre until May 25th documenting the work that the Ubisoft Singapore office has done on the amazing Assassin’s Creed series of games (and in particular Black Flag).

The exhibition shows the unbelievable background work Ubisoft does to produce an Assassin’s Creed game; from preliminary pencil sketches to taking trips to Cuba to gather inspiration for the art direction of Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag.

Seeing all the artwork (and the sea shanty audio area) brought me back to the 67 hours I put into Black Flag. An amazingly engaging game brought to life with fantastic game mechanics and character development. Seeing this exhibition, however, brings into focus the amount of time and dedication that Ubisoft put into how the game looked and felt to the player. It is a beautiful game that you want to submerge yourself in again and again and one of the few games that I wanted to gather all the collectible items just to experience more and more areas of the world.

Head on down to the National Design Centre to get a closer look at an aspect of game development that you may have been just overlooking and taking for granted.

NASA: A Human Adventure Exhibition 2017

A couple of weeks ago I managed to get to see the NASA exhibition at the ArtScience Museum in its final week. I had been meaning to go since it arrived back in November 2016 and was looking forward to seeing some space loot. Tickets were 2-for-1 in the final few days so it was all systems go for….sigh….launch.

We’ve all heard the theories about the moon landings being fake well “fake” is actually the key word I would choose to describe this entire exhibition as a vast majority of the exhibits were replicas and models. What’s the point? I would get a more engaging experience looking up picture of the real space artifacts on the internet rather than staring at plastic effigy that some dude in an office in Cape Canaveral rustled up with some Cornflakes boxes and sticky tape.

So spoiler alert; I didn’t really enjoy it and it was pretty disappointing. As I went around I just ended up reading the information signs and  lowering my head every time I read the ubiquitous “replica” in brackets after the description.

First part was focused on the space race. Above us was a replica of Sputnik satellite. Graphically fine but nothing to write home about. Some old 60’s memorabilia set the scene for the era involved.

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard”

I guess the few authentic highlights were the REAL engine parts..at least I think they were real. Seeing the innards of wires and industrial tape and basic soldering really puts into perspective how innovative yet daring the NASA scientists were. I guess it was rocket science after all.

So after the engines you pretty much went through a model show-room of cockpits, modules, and rockets. It got boring where it should have got awe-inspiring.

Near the end there was a little miniature version of that big G-Force astronaut thingy (you know the one, James Bond was locked in one back in the day) for people to try out and that was pretty much that. I waited around to see if the door opened at the end of a spin and a pool of vomit would just flood out. It didn’t, people came out with faces asking “that’s it?” and just wandered off in a daze to the exit.
Sadly, I followed them too, in a daze, and was not sad to leave.

What was I looking for in a space exhibition? I was looking for real artifacts and an exhibition that left me with more questions than answers and a sense of awe. It failed on both counts…

Food Delivery in Singapore

Like taxi and ride hailing apps in Singapore, a lot has happened in the last 5 years with how you can get food delivered to your door so you don’t have to slide off your Cheeto-incrusted sofa and just lie there. Just lie there. Waiting.

Back in 2012, you were happy to get a Pizza Hut or Dominos pizza delivered. That was a good thing. FoodPanda was the only 3rd party food delivery app that was available and with really not a lot of variety and long hunger pain waiting times.

Fast forward to 2017 and the competition is fierce and most welcome to the paying customer. Foodpanda has had to up its game and actually try to become reliable and more accessible due to the entry of Deliveroo and UberEats into the fray. Let’s see how they stack up against each other in my experiences.

FoodPanda
Launched 2012. 5 million downloads on Google Play Store..
The oldest but the most disappointing. With more years behind them than UberEats or Deliveroo they still somehow get it wrong with customer experience. I remember ordering from them in the early days and getting cold and soggy food. There is no little map to show where your delivery is. If, for some reason, you open their app and stop browsing they pop up a little reminder on your phone as if you had lost your mind and just realised you’re not hungry. Silly. Stop badgering me. I know I’m hungry. At the time of writing they also have this splash ad before I can start even browsing the restaurants that is impossible to click the “x” on!!

They also seem to have less options than the other two main competitors (when they really don’t!), maybe that’s just where I am located in Singapore but this along with the aggravating user experience makes me choose this app last. They do have a deal with Burger King to deliver and they recently tried to start innovating with a couple of 24 hour food delivery options so I suppose there’s that.
It’s just that they remind me of Kodak; they had years to innovate and improve and did nothing. Then they got competition…

UberEats
Launched May 2016. 5 million downloads on Google Play Store.
I’ve had a couple of long waiting times with UberEats that were, after a few days, automatically acknowledged and I was given a $5 voucher. UberEats is my second go-to app due to those long waiting times, it feels to me like they just don’t have enough drivers around my location. It’s confusing too as I can’t rate the drivers like on regular Uber but the drivers seem to have ratings…odd… Even after just under a year on the market they seem to have more variety than FoodPanda and with a more smooth user experience on their app.

Deliveroo
Update April 2017: Looks like Deliveroo is leading the way with innovative offerings. Deliveroo Editions is a concept where small bespoke kitchens with chefs from handpicked popular restaurants open up in usually “hard to deliver” to places. Interesting idea.
Launched November 2015. 1 million downloads on Google Play Store.
Deliveroo rampaged onto the scene with an advertising assault that left no stone un-turned. Everywhere you looked you saw the logo and branding (they’ve since changed their logo). Restaurants and drivers were quick with hopping (ahem) on board and that made for a more pleasant first few orders with them as there were a variety of food options and quick delivery times. They show a map the moment you order and give you a notification each step of the way. They are my go-to app due to the slickness of their app and my history of getting my food quickly and hot. They also give you an option to tip the driver in your final payment which I can feel better about.

Like the ride hailing apps it will be interesting to watch this space. All companies are having money thrown into them by investments so it will be interesting how they will use those $$$$ that will determine who comes out on top. With the addition recently of a couple of alcohol delivery services in Singapore (bottlesXO and vinomofo); the room for natural expansion and evolution into that area has gotten a little bit more competitive. One thing for sure is they will need to come up with something innovative to stand out from the competition.

Hans Zimmer vs John Williams: Live in Singapore 2017

Who wouldn’t pay to see two of the most acclaimed film composers in world history wrestle it out in a vat of duck fat, stripped to the waist, bloodied and bruised? Sadly, that will never happen and this peculiarly gladiatorial titled event would disappoint as it was merely a musical homage to Messrs Zimmer and Williams performed by a live orchestra conducted by Anthony Inglis.

And it was a jolly good show, it has to be said.

Movie scores when done right (and Williams and Zimmer do it right) can elicit more emotional connections to a movie and remain long in the memory. When you remember a scene; you remember the score. When you review a movie; the score plays a major part. Think of a movie, any movie. You now have the score in your head. You’re welcome.

A few empty seats a few minutes before kick-off.

As I sat and listened to the live orchestra in the Mastercard Theatre in Marina Bay Sands I fondly remembered emotive scenes and pivotal moments in each of the movies. E.T theme song? Being scared out of my mind of “sick E.T”. “Time” from Inception? Spinning top totem. Princess Leia’s Theme from Star Wars? “I love you” “I know”. Theme from Close Encounters? The final aliens reveal. Jurassic Park theme? “They’re uh…they’re flocking this way”. Schindler’s List theme? “I could have saved more” Even the instantly recognisable “Hedwig’s Theme” from Harry Potter brought me quickly back to the magic of a movie I don’t really think of as being in my top 10.

As you can tell from the short list above it was a high quality set list of many famous movie tunes. Immaculately performed and backed up by an effective yet nuanced laser show. The show finished off with a couple of Star Wars scores (with a couple of Stormtroopers appearing on the upper gangways) and Superman’s theme song (Niagara Falls rescue!). The conductor, Anthony Inglis, was a motley host with humorous asides and a couple of audience participation bits thrown in for good measure. It was also a treat to focus on different parts of the orchestra throughout to see the professionalism and timing of the various sections.

As a venue, The MasterCard Theatre is a handily located venue for events like this. I was in seat 49 in Row A of the dress circle. Right on the end of a row beside the exit door G. Unfortunately this row suffers from a maddeningly placed safety bar! If you’ve got the common sense to make your way to a live performance, you probably don’t need a safety railing! Not a show stopper but a little annoying.

I now have various movie themes going through my head…bom, bom, bom, bombebom, bombebom.

Taxis and Car Hailing in Singapore

Update April 4th 2017: Both Grab (titled JustGrab it which will choose between taxis and GrabCar..cars) and ComfortDelGro are introducing flat rate trip booking on their apps. Jury is out on how these initiatives will go down with the consumers..

When we arrived in Singapore in 2011 we were beyond excited that we could access our phone and order a taxi from a couple of different apps; ComfortDelGro, Trans-Cab and SMRT Book a Taxi. Jaws dropped as we saw the little taxi on the map heading our way…we were used to Hong Kong where you had to hail the old fashioned way; this was ground-breaking stuff.

Fast forward five years and a lot has changed; apps have appeared and apps have disappeared. Let’s take a look at how the whole scene is in March 2017.

Apps that are dead

There was a time a few years ago when my “Taxis” folder was crammed full of apps. Hailo – dead. Gone.
Lyft – appeared for a short time. Now unavailable. Don’t know if it will be back.
Easy Taxi – dead. Ceases to be.

Apps that exist as of March 2017

Uber
Bulldozing onto the scene in 2013 Uber is now my usual go-to app. At first, getting a lift in a personal car was strange to get used to but now it’s second nature. Constantly battling with Grab for fare deals and competitive pricing lends itself to a cheap option for getting around Singapore. Branching off from their standard UberX private car option, Uber now offers UberPool (sharing the fare with other passengers), UberExec (fancy-pants option), uberXL (up to 6 peeps), ExecLarge (fancy-pants parties of 6), and you can now just order a taxi through their app.

Grab
Launched in 2013 as GrabTaxi (renamed to Grab in January 2016 to encompass all the other options they offer), beating Uber by a couple of months, Grab was a game changer for…grabbing…taxis in Singapore. It gave us more taxis available to us as it pooled all the different companies’ taxis into one bookable engine. More taxis=more chance to get a taxi when we want. Like Uber, it dishes out fare deals and offers every few days in the quest to squash and kill any competition once and for all. Long may it last! And like Uber, it offers more options than it’s standard taxi option. It has it’s own Uber competitor (GrabCar), GrabHitch (like UberPool), GrabCar Premium (UberExec), Electric Taxi (interesting new option where you can fight against the oil giants and choose electric. Not many cars on this yet and still in Beta), a bunch of 6 seater options, and they’ve just started Coach hires. Other trials they are doing are with autonomous cars, and family friendly cars (with booster seat). Seems that Grab is branching out in a few more innovative and different directions than Uber at this stage. Let’s see!

ComfortDelGro
Nostalgia (and desperation) brings me back to this app once in a while but this is mostly long forgotten about with the power houses of marketing that Uber and Grab are. This is basically limited to Comfort’s own taxis.

SMRT Taxi
Again, this app is only limited to the SMRT line of taxis. I never use this as Grab gathers all companies together when booking.

Trans-Cab
Never used it or use it now. It has only 5 thousand downloads on the Google Play Store and a rating of 2.2/5 stars. For Singapore’s second largest taxi fleet this is shocking. Also, they have recently announced they will introduce “dynamic pricing” which mirrors Uber’s Surge pricing and hikes the prices to hire a taxi when demand is high. Another loss for the customer.

Generally speaking, a good time to be looking for a taxi/car in Singapore, ignoring the surge pricing when high demand hits and the magical disappearance of all taxis when a rain storm hits.

But wait, there’s more! We all were quite perplexed that the Singapore government were allowing these private citizens to just take up driving people around for a fee. So it’s not a surprise that the government has recently stated that every driver will have to obtain a vocational license, along with other regulations that will look to curb the exponential growth of Uber and Grab. I guess it’s a case of let’s wait and see…

Eddie Izzard: Live in Singapore 2017

The queen of erstwhile surrealist humour, Eddie Izzard, stopped by Singapore this week to deliver his force majeure stand up show. Starting this particular tour in 2013, one would be led to believe Eddie has this show down to a scientific tee. And he pretty much does.

It was only when I got there I realised that I had been to the University Cultural Center on the grounds of NUS (National University of Singapore) a few years ago to see John Cleese. It’s a fine venue if you don’t want a drink before the event as there’s only one bar with one server in the lobby. I had Vietnam-esque flashbacks to Guns N Roses looking at the snake like queue before the show. And you can’t bring drinks into the actual theatre.

Izzard starts his show off with some historical observations and surreal anecdotes, often warping historical events with his own unique angle on things. I thought he would have went along on that path throughout and I thought it was a good theme for a show; surrealistic historical anecdotes along a solid timeline. He strays off on to several tangents from then on though and the show feels a little all over the place. Which, I guess, suits Izzard’s style and manic, rambling delivery. But funny? Yes, generally funny with some laugh-out-loud moments sprinkled throughout.

It’s also very apparent how his shows would work in French and German which Izzard has performed during this tour. Some clever and witty bits on those languages are tackled here and there.

Izzard takes a 10 or so minute break in the middle which leaves little room for thirsty beer hunting patrons to head down and queue yet again for their refreshments. Boo hoo.

In the second half Izzard continues where he lets off and seems to “try” new off the cuff rambles (which he drily note several times “Singapore says no”) but again it feels like even those are scripted and clinical due to the knowledge we have that he has being doing this show for coming on 4 years now.

Wrapping up, Izzard brings back a few things he mentions at the start of the show to bring a sense of conclusion to proceedings. One thing I felt dragged on for too long was the talking chicken bit. Didn’t work for me.

All in all, a funny show with some stand out (up?) highlights throughout but with a bit of a clinical sheen to it.

Leaving University Cultural Centre is, of course, a nightmare as it’s nowhere near an MRT show. Lines of people…line…the roads faces blazed from their phone screens trying to snag an Uber or Grab but we manage to entice an Uber from 15 minutes away.

Et voila.

Guns N Roses: Live in Singapore 2017

I took my time buying a ticket to this as my experience attending Metallica at the Singapore Exhibition Centre in 2013 was one I wanted to forget. I bought a ticket.

Without doubt, the Singapore Exhibition Centre is the worst venue for a concert in the world. Situated in the middle of nowhere nearly floating adrift into the Singapore Strait it sits with indignation and aloofness. It’s so far away from civilisation you can see stars in the sky and phones lose the will to live and lose any sort of coverage.

I spent over an hour in a taxi slaloming through gridlocked traffic jams getting to the venue and even after that I got out and walked the rest of the way once on the final never-ending stretch of a road (which doubles as a construction route with dumpster trucks careening back and forth).

So, GnR was meant to start at 8pm, I arrived at 8:15pm after leaving my house at 6:50 or so. They started playing at 8:34pm. Many hundreds of people missed the start of the show, without doubt. I knew getting home was going to be terrible so I planned to leave before the encore (just like I did with Metallica in ’13).

Looking at LAMC Productions’ Facebook page comments, I got away lightly. Many people queued hours for food only to find everything was sold out and they had no way to spend the money they had put on their RFID bracelets (LAMC have posted on their page that they are proud of bringing GnR here!! And then mentioned they will work on refunding the credit left on RFID bracelets). Ridiculous! It’s all summed up by this guy’s experience, VIP packages ranged from $1,038 to a staggering $2,063 for a lounge experience!!

Anyway, to the concert itself I guess!

Guns N’ Roses Setlist Changi Exhibition Centre, Singapore, Singapore 2017, Not in This Lifetime

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Guns n Roses were good, it was fantastic to see Axl ,Slash, and Duff do what they do. Highlights for me were “Rocket Queen”, “Estranged”, “Yesterdays”, and “Double Talkin’ Jive” as the latter three brought me back to the “Use your Illusion” days with my brother heading off to Slane to see GnR with Faith No More in support. With me at home, too young to go. To see Slash…slashing away at another classic and instantly remembered solo and to hear (barely) Axl whining his whine is something to experience. I still remember the blank BASF tape we had “Appetite for Destruction” copied on to.  They were the first band I listened to where it felt kind of naughty to listen to their music and lyrics. I also had “Living on a Prayer” on a blank tape back then so the contrast was very stark! I went along the GnR path of enlightenment from then on…
Back to reality…
Sadly I can’t really talk too much about the music without mentioning the organisation of the concert. Pen B suffered from muffled and low vocals from Axl’s mic. When you can’t hear a word that Axl is singing and hear the people around you singing louder then there’s something amiss. The stage was so so far away that we all ended up just watching screens which were out of sync somewhat with reality.
The fact that you have to start planning your escape route early is never good. I should be able to enjoy all of the concert and leave when I want. As I made my way outside and wrapped alllll the way around to the back of Pen B it was then I realised I could have just stood out there and watched the concert for free as it was all open and visible to all.
Thankfully I got on one of the first buses out of there (ticket wasn’t checked, could have got on for free) and, although happy to see GnR finally, it is overshadowed by incompetent organisation and planning starting with venue choice.
 
Some say there are still ghosts of people waiting for transportation home….

James Taylor: Live in Singapore 2017


Not my video. I paid for the cheap seats.

I’m not sure how James Taylor found his way into my maelstrom of heavy metal and hard rock listening habits back in my younger days. But found his way, he did. To be honest it was a James Taylor “Best of” CD and I didn’t venture too far away from his “best ofs”. Funnily and mirroring my experience with his experience, during his concert at the Star Theatre this week James Taylor quipped many times about his new songs and how “they won’t take too long” to play and he would go back to his “best ofs” soon after each one.

I think, perhaps, I was in need of wistful and melodic vocals along with soothing and relaxing music to counter-point roaring electric guitars and ear-splitting drumming that heavy metal produced. I guess I still am as listening to James Taylor still has the same calming effect. The irony is not lost on me that I saw James Taylor in the middle of these concerts I am going to:

Metallica – James Taylor – Guns N Roses – Megadeth.

Mirrors my teenage years perfectly.

On the night, any doubts that Taylor’s voice or guitar playing has weakened with age disappears with his first song “Wandering”. His voice still has the caramel essence that permeates throughout this discography. Backing up Taylor on his current tour is a plethora of esteemed musicians in their own right and it shows with each note; there is musical mastery with every trumpet note and guitar strum.

Each of Taylor’s “best ofs” are present as expected with each one holding its own unique melancholic story at it’s core. “Walking Man” centred on Taylor’s absent father throughout childhood, “Fire and Rain” about his depression and drug addiction, and “Carolina on my Mind” and “Copper Line” expressing Taylor’s longing and pining for his rural home life. “Copper Line” had passed me by and it really stuck with me during the concert and I’ve been hitting it up on Spotify a lot the past few days.

If another voice sung those songs they wouldn’t work nearly as well. Taylor’s voice and song composition adds meaning that many many musicians have tried and failed to muster since we started enjoying the sound that banging stones together made.

So musically the concert was excellent. Taylor has a 20 minute interlude which he seemed to question why light heartedly beforehand. He spent the time signing a never-ending autograph/selfie line from the stage (which over-ran the said 20 minutes and got everyone a little impatient).

The Star Theatre is a fine venue for concerts and I’ve seen quite a few there; sound always seems to be excellent. The never-ending escalator journey up from ground level can be a little vexing though.

Next up on the concert to-do list…Guns N Roses…a little different.

James Taylor Setlist The Star Theatre, Singapore, Singapore 2017, 2017 World Tour

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