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Posts Tagged ‘Singapore’

One of the chief – in fact, THE chief – delights of Singapore was catching up with Good Friend in PR.

The Confucian East has done him the power of good, as has his new partner, and he is now a calmer, happier, more content man – although he has lost none of his energy, humour and wit. He was, as ever, a great help to me across a range of topics, but none more so than on the subject of my long-fermenting book and how to kick-start it. Sound advice was issued over coffee (which was accompanied by what I can only describe as an altar of suspended chocolate truffles), along with an offer of help.

There are a few people whom one can really count on to do as they promise – and these are your real friends. It’s not a question of how long you’ve known each other, or common backgrounds, or anything prosaic: it’s about a genuine desire to see someone else happy, and a desire, then a determination, to do what you can to affect that.

Father used to say “You are lucky if you can count your friends on your fingers, and your good friends on your thumbs.” – I think I may be slightly luckier than that,  but I defer to his wisdom (increasingly so, now: to mis-quote Mark Twain: “When I was fifteen, I thought my father was a fool. By the time I was twenty one, it was amazing how much he had learned.”) in this and all things – but I think I might be right in saying that I would be able to do his dictum service if I had just one more thumb…

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Fuck me: we have got some FREAKS working at our agency.

I was reminded of this when having dinner with Women Employed to Work in London But Moved To Singapore By Travesty Of All Things Gay. She reminded me of the day that we held an Asia-specific workshop with attendees from all our agencies in the region – and it was like the circus was in town, complete with World’s Least Convincing Transvestite (hands like a goalkeeper, voice like Barry White) and a pair of matching midgets, both of whom truly are shorter when they are standing up than when they are sitting down – not to mention the shrieking, highlighted, belt buckle the size of a Rugby ball, tightly costumed horror that is Travesty of All Things Gay.

But it appears that we also have more than enough freaks to go round: because the Sentosa workshop introduced me to a whole new bunch of Godawfuls that I had never clapped eyes on before. These included (but were not limited to) Female Creative Director with Henry V’s Haircut, Indian Planner with Lazy Eye, Indian Account Guy with Comic Book T-Shirts, Indian Planner with Nylon Trousers and Pubey Moustache, and Chinese Lesbian Elvis Planner. What a bunch.

We were there to talk about ways of representing horror and tragedy, but as I looked around the room, I realised that, actually, all I needed to do was say: “Look in a fucking mirror, and we can all go home early”. As it happens, we stuck it out – and to very good effect: Woody Allen in Robert de Niro’s Body Creative Director did us all proud, and we came out of it with some really interesting twists on the current idea. I could have done without the shimmering intellect of Australian Account Woman with Dense Apricot Hair on Forearms, but otherwise, for all their retina-scorching hideousness, they turned out to be a sweet, and talented bunch.

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If you are thinking of a trip to Singapore (business OR pleasure) and you are anxious to find an utter shit-hole in which to stay, may I recommend the Rasa Sentosa as MORE than adequate for all your shit accommodation needs?

As if a second-rate family hotel had been transplanted from Miami in 1986, and placed with an unappealing view of the power station, petrol liners and other heavy shipping, the Rasa Sentosa is a truly unforgettable experience.

From the mould in the showers, to the food that might get looked at askance in a Harvester restaurant; the Mariachi band that played by the Pool Bar, to the large ceramic frogs on pillars that provided bottle green, garishly awful ashtrays every fifteen feet, there really is NOTHING that has been left to chance.

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Trapped in Singapore between two “workshops”, I spent most of the weekend with Good Friend in PR and Thoughtful Financier (as his boyfriend is to be referred to henceforth), and had a great time. I even had a great time when walking around IKEA – a particularly surreal experience in Singapore – and observing the locals going mad for miniature “Daim” bars, pickled rollmops and gherkins in the food market.

But the highlight was probably going to a Hawker Centre, or local food court, where (seemingly) hundreds of individual stalls serve speciality dishes which are brought to your table and paid for piecemeal.

Not only was the food (and the company, needless to say) absolutely outstanding, but it gave me one of only two tastes of genuinely Asian cuisine that I was to have on that trip (the other two were also with my adopted weekend family, and was just as excellent) – and thus a FANTASTIC opportunity to show off to those of my colleagues who had (as had I, until then) been considering such local specialities as Balsamic-flavoured Tenderloin with Wilted Spinach and Parmesan Air (to quote). God, I bored them SENSELESS with fond memories prefaced with “When we went to the Hawker Centre…” It is a mark of my colleagues essential kind-heartedness that they didn’t punch me square in the face.

I would have done.

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Absolutely extraordinary.

I have just come back from Singapore (which is, in itself, quite a green thing), where I had (amongst other things) two remarkable green things: the first was the finest Green Apple Martini in the world (wincingly sour, as it should be – and yours to enjoy in The Cigar Bar at the Grand Hyatt). The other was a Green Tea Kit Kat – an absolutely extraordinary thing: green as a Martian with a massive hangover, but with no discernible taste of Green Tea (in fact it tasted like a Kinder Egg), it was originally from Japan and had been imported along with a number of its siblings in a catering size box to complement the Green Tea drunk by Good Friend in PR and his new, excellent boyfriend. It was all very excitingly novel and has left me with a taste for highly coloured foodstuffs, which may now never leave me.

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I am at the start of what I think is going to be a very long process of writing a book on the above idea. I’m looking at collaborations between partners in diverse fields, hoping to identify a series of common principles or even practices that can be imported into any situation where creativity is necessary, and born of a collaborative, rather than solitary, process.

And so… and so it is more than a little dispiriting to keep coming up against evidence of how old-fashioned advertising agencies (so keen to profess that they are “in the business of creativity”) are in their approach to trying to encourage EITHER collaboration OR creativity.

I am off to Singapore for a week with some of our “best” creative talent from round the world – and yet, trying to get even twenty minutes with Woody Allen in Robert de Niro’s Body Creative Director (who is meant to be partnering with me on this experiment) is proving rather more elusive than Lord Lucan riding Shergar. I am increasingly concerned that the session (which should be a really interesting examination of some classic storytelling structures and narrative archetypes) is going to fall flat on its face, as a result of a simple lack of preparation – on both our parts.

This makes me incredibly nervous – I know from various enterprises (from directing in the theatre, to Planning in advertising) that preparation is essential in getting the trust, and enthusiasm, of the people one is trying to lead. At this rate, they will be nervous and wary – and (what is worse) right to be so.

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It’s a feature of some very good, and some very bad advertising to tell the story backwards. I won’t name the bad ones (they are too numerous – and even I am not that vindictive), but the good ones include “Noitulove” and “Getting Dressed”, for Guinness and Lynx/Axe respectively. On the same principle as “If you’ve got nothing to say, sing it” (amply demonstrated by Halifax’s “Singing Cunts” campaign – oh well, there goes the “vindictive” element), this is a supposed way of creating intrigue.

I wonder how intrigued the casual observer would have been then, to have happened upon the following scene and tried to “work backwards” to the natural starting point: Good Friend in PR and me, in a bar in Singapore, singing (LOUDLY) to “Hey Jude” that is being performed by a local band, surrounded by Asian businessmen in their 50s who were accompanied by prostitutes, at a table next to a German man who appears to have been drinking orange juice (but has somehow got so drunk that he has picked up a bar stool and is waving it over his head, as he pleads for the band to perform “The Final Countdown” by 80s dignityphobes “Europe”) and is dancing like a maniac.

He and I had an epic gad – and a night that began very sedately with Good Friend in PR, and Woman Who Managed to Make Sense of Digital to Me in a very nice hotel – and one that I wish I could experience more often (ideally because we lived on the same street, but that is not to be): but it is not a night I shall forget.

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