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18 Raffles Quay at 06:59 hrs weekday, Singapore.
Text & Photo © JE Nilsson, CM Cordeiro 2014

Stepping out of the car where I was dropped off, a few steps in through the surrounding pavement and I found myself in old Telok Ayer Market. It being early in the morning, I found it rather like an empty school canteen just after the morning school bell had rung and all students had filed neatly into their classrooms. Not one table filled with anyone at all, except me.

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The old Telok Ayer Market at Raffles Quay.

I was one hour early to the Singapore Exchange, and thought to sit and read the book I religiously carried with me in my bag to all meetings on this trip back to Singapore, determined to cover half of its pages at least, in the quiet hours of the morning – Here on Earth – by Tim Flannery. But the intermittent flow of people from bus-stops and underground trains to offices kept my eyes away from Flannery’s writings. Soon it was that I closed the book altogether and simply waited for the next flow of people to walk past. Some stopped to do just as I did, to order a hot drink, some half boiled eggs with a side of kaya toast, to sit and have their breakfast, while most even that early in the morning, just streamed past where I sat with little time of day to stop and contemplate any breakfast at all.

In the passing crowd, I could not help noticing a surprising number of corporate women tottering around in four inch stilettos.

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A Singapore staple, malted hot chocolate, kopitiam style.

A consistent theme when meeting and speaking with companies in Singapore this time around is the challenge of finding the right talent for the right job in an increasingly knowledge oriented services economy. A variety of reasons were cited, but I couldn’t help but connect that information to a bit of news I had heard from a seminar with East Asian colleagues not too long ago – the automation of services.

As my own small cup of malted hot chocolate cooled, a lady wearing kitten heels had made an about turn too quickly after getting her hot takeaway cup of tea, only to bump into the person behind her in the queue and spill the liquid onto her skirt. An immediate eruption of voices was heard, above and beyond which, the man behind the stall counter started shouting at one of the cleaners to help the lady in distress. In another instance, two women wearing almost the same outfit of pencil skirt and frilled blouse as office wear, rendered their respective outfits into different meanings altogether due to their own paralinguistic gestures and personal behaviour.

In this stream of people coming and going, I noted how very similar yet different the people who bought their breakfasts at this particular kopitiam stall were in general. In this variation of similarities of behaviour, the increasing automation of services discussed in a seminar now seemed an odd and absurd ambition of the engineering sciences altogether. Perhaps overlooked for about a century now, is the mechanistic discourse of organizations filtered down from a Fordist ideology. That organizations are well oiled cogwheeled entities, with targets to be met, transformations to be driven, leaders to be made and where the performance of individuals are measured to the decimal point of production unit output. Much like Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936). And even if economies might be shifting towards the realization of more organic structures of organization, the language used in organization management remains entrenched in mechanistic terms and descriptions, which in turn formulates and trusses the projected reality, perpetuating a mechanistic perspective to what is essentially human behaviour.

– The problem with most education systems today is that they teach us how to be specialists and experts, but they forget to teach us how to be human. And much of human talent today is all about personal relationships and just, how to be human in an organization.
– So you’re saying we’ve lost touch with ourselves then? We’ve forgotten our humanness?
– Yes, it seems so doesn’t it? Otherwise, we wouldn’t have this gap that we’re seeing today, the increasing difficulty in finding the right person for the right job, even if the qualifications fit. Qualifications might look good on paper, sure. But in reality, you’re working with people all the time.

I look at the iPhone because I hardly need to wear a watch these days. 07:38 hours and I should get going. The Singapore Exchange.

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A little bit of Eiffel Tower in the market’s filigreed trusses.

Standing up in the still quiet morning market and gathering my things, I looked up at the canopy of intricate cast iron filigree trusses and found them to be reminescent of patterns found in the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Utterly romantic. I could continue to sit here for a few more hours in contemplation. The structures – Eiffel Tower – Paris – a happy find. And sure, why not. Both structures shared the same design and era of engineering, where they were both built to the fashion of the times in the late 1800s, originating in Europe. Except of course, this market was not quite as fantastically tall. It did however, have a signature clock tower that till today, chimes on the hour, every hour. Music to my ears, chords to my heart. It was not yet eight in the morning, but soon would be.

I had not managed to turn a single page in Flannery’s book. But I didn’t mind that at all.


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Not from Lau Pa Sat or any other pa sat, but a happy find. I thought it was a salami pizza slice till I read the label. Realizing what it was, it looked doubly cheesy to me but nonetheless brought a broad smile to my face. It’s things like these that make me happy, I couldn’t resist taking a picture of this Danish in the form of a Christmas Tree thinking – Christmas came early this year for me.

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Another ‘not from Lau Pa Sat’ but a happy find. The works of art found in these two capuccinos from a corner of Philip Street made me smile. That peacock reminded me so much of the one I met at Sentosa during one of my last trips back to Singapore. A stunning electric blue to its feathers, it looked at me in query as if to ask, and why do you not have feathers on your head?