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How to prioritise your well-being and reimagine your leadership style with solo travel

Ms Agnes Eu, Chief Executive of HomeTeamNS, reflects on her passion for solo travel and how it has shaped her leadership style.

PHOTOS: AGNES EU

TEXT: AGNES EU

“I would describe solo travel as liberating. You make decisions on your own, sometimes spontaneously, and deal with whatever comes next — even if it’s something bad, like a missed train. Being alone gives you the space to reflect and observe. During a trip to Kyoto, Japan, I noticed how softly people spoke on public transport, out of consideration for others. It made me a lot more conscious of my own tone and volume; something that I continue to be mindful of even today.

As a leader, I value these quiet pockets of time for inspiration and introspection. They’re hard to come by, which is what drew me to solo travel in the first place. I embarked on my first trip around five years ago, shortly after I turned 50. I remember thinking that my whole life until then had revolved around others, in my roles as a daughter, wife, mother, and manager. ‘What am I doing for myself?’ I wondered. At that time, solo travel was all the rage on social media and I decided to give it a try. Of course, I still enjoy family vacations, but these solo journeys are now also a must for me.

Solo travel has influenced my leadership style. Not knowing things and making mistakes are a part of life, and travelling on your own can remind you of this. You gain humility.

Picking a destination for my first solo trip was tricky. Friends encouraged me to challenge myself, perhaps by visiting a place where English is not widely spoken. I also wanted to feed my natural curiosity about the world by going off the beaten track, albeit in countries that I had already visited. Eventually, I settled on Japan, which I’ve since repeatedly explored as a solo traveller, discovering new areas and landscapes each time.

AN EXERCISE IN PERSONAL GROWTH

I always challenge myself to try something different, like a driving holiday or not purchasing mobile data. The lack of a Wi-Fi connection can be challenging, especially when you’re so used to posting on social media. I’m a shutterbug, and not being able to share my vacation photos wasn’t easy. But I resisted the temptation and was thus more ‘present’ during the holiday. I’m glad I did it; I took some photos that I’m very proud of and will probably share them with my friends and family soon.

Of course, there can be moments of frustration while travelling solo. Once, I was lost in Japan and getting quite desperate because I couldn’t speak the language or read the street signs. Naturally, hailing a taxi — which was the easy way out — popped into my mind. But I had told myself at the start of the trip that taxis were a no-no. Somehow, I persevered and found my way around. It reminded me of my own resilience. Such experiences also teach you to accept that things will not always pan out the way you want, but that shouldn’t deter you from trying to make the best of the situation.

Planning these trips is a breeze with online resources. But I’ve learnt over the years that you can over plan and miss out on spontaneous experiences. It’s a new concept to me since I’m usually very particular about planning. Gradually, I’ve learnt to let go. I now plan about 80 per cent of a trip and leave the rest to chance. I think that approach is also useful at work, where we deal with curveballs at times. The recent pandemic comes to mind; even our best-laid plans had to change as the situation evolved.

Now that I’ve completed three trips in Japan, I’m looking westward, specifically to parts of Central Europe. I’m still working out my plans but I hope to embark on this adventure later this year. During the next trip, I might engage in a newfound passion. I’ve recently taken up art and might spend some time drawing and painting in another country.”

WHAT THE LUNAR NEW YEAR LOOKS LIKE TO ME

With the Year of the Dragon fast approaching, Ms Agnes Eu shares the traditions and memories that make the festive season extra special for her.

My most memorable Lunar New Year: I think many can relate to this — the first time I had to give ang pao (red packets)!

My most cherished Lunar New Year tradition: Family time. I’m the one who coordinates the gathering among all my immediate and extended family. The Lunar New Year just wouldn’t be the same without that big gathering.

My Lunar New Year wish: It’s the same every year: a happier one for all and peace everywhere. And as always, we hope to widen and deepen our engagement with the HomeTeamNS community.

Like our stories? Subscribe to our Frontline Digital newsletters now! Simply download the HomeTeamNS Mobile App and update your communication preference to ‘Receive Digital Frontline Magazine’, through the App Settings.

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In The Force Technology

Guardians of Our Borders: How ICA Connects Singapore to the World

What does it take to ensure smooth immigration clearance for all travellers departing from and arriving at Changi Airport all year round?

TEXT: MELODY TAN

PHOTOS: IMMIGRATION & CHECKPOINTS AUTHORITY

Last December, 4.6 million travellers passed through Changi Airport – a number that’s likely to increase this year, as international travel continues to pick up post-COVID.

Smoothly clearing a large number of travellers 24/7 is no small feat. Thankfully, technology is helping to ease the workload says Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) Inspector (INSP) Haslam Yau.

“It has also enhanced immigration clearance experience and facilitated the movement of the high volume of travellers passing through Changi Airport,” he says.

ALL IN A DAY’S WORK

INSP Haslam and his team member overseeing the operations of the automated lanes at Terminal 2

INSP Haslam leads a team of 15 ICA officers to ensure the smooth running of ground operations at Changi Airport Terminal 2. On a day-to-day basis, he assesses the travellers who have been referred to him by his officers to determine if they are eligible to enter Singapore. As a Team Leader, INSP Haslam provides guidance to his team members, keeps them updated and trained on the latest Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), as well as ensure that they have adequate breaks, especially on days with heavy flight loads.

When a traveller is referred to INSP Haslam by frontline officers, he will conduct further screening, interviews and baggage checks to establish the intent of the traveller. 

“We may ask questions about their duration of stay and itinerary in Singapore. This helps us assess their eligibility for entry into Singapore,” he explained. “Every case is different, and each case may warrant a different course of action. As a Team Leader, I have to think on my feet and make an informed decision.”

At the checkpoints, ICA continues to innovate its clearance capabilities to better manage the increasing volume of travellers. One such initiative deployed at Changi Airport is the Automated Clearance Initiative (ACI). Under ACI, eligible foreign visitors can use the automated lanes for immigration clearance on arrival, without prior enrolment of their biometrics. Enrolment is done automatically as the traveller clears through immigration using the automated lanes. Once enrolled, they will be able to clear immigration using the automated lanes when they depart and on subsequent visits to Singapore. 

ICA also implemented the Special Assistance Lanes at selected passenger halls at Changi Airport which allows family groups and travellers using wheelchairs to enjoy convenience of immigration self-clearance with their biometrics. Singapore is the first country in the world to introduce an automated lane that allows multiple travellers to perform self-immigration clearance as a group.

FASTER, BETTER, MORE EFFICIENT

There are more tech-powered updates in store. In 2024, majority of travellers will no longer need to present their passport to depart Changi Airport, thanks to the implementation of end-to-end biometric clearance. Travellers would not need to produce their passport and boarding pass multiple times during the boarding process. Their biometrics will serve as the single token of authentication at the various automated touchpoints. However, travellers will still need to produce their passports when arriving at their destinations.

Adding to this convenience is the MyICA Mobile application, a one-stop digital platform to transact with ICA anytime and anywhere. This app allows users to access all ICA e-Services, including SG Arrival Card (SGAC) with health declaration functions.

The SGAC was introduced as part of ICA’s move towards paperless immigration clearance. It replaced the paper-based disembarkation/embarkation card that foreign visitors were required to submit to ICA upon arrival at our checkpoints. During COVID-19, ICA included the electronic health declaration function, which allowed travellers to submit both their arrival details and health declaration online before entering Singapore. Despite the easing of travel restrictions, travellers entering via air and sea are still required to submit SGAC to mitigate the risk of importation of diseases of concern (e.g. Yellow Fever and Ebola) into Singapore.

MyICA Mobile app makes filling in SGAC much easier, explained INSP Haslam. For those who travel in and out of Singapore by air frequently, they can create and store their personal profiles within the app. With the profile created, travellers would only need to update their trip details and health declaration for the subsequent trips, instead of filling in their personal details again. Families can also easily submit the SGAC as a group by having a member create and store the profiles of each family member on the app and submit it on their behalf.

“They won’t have to fill up the arrival card on the spot, which makes immigration clearance faster,” he said. “Travellers can submit the SGAC up to three days prior to arriving in Singapore, including on the day of arrival.” 

INSP Haslam highlighted that the MyICA Mobile app also helps travellers avoid falling prey to scammers. Some commercial entities may mislead travellers into thinking that they need to be paid a fee to fill in and submit the SGAC on their behalf. 

“These agencies are not endorsed by ICA,” he said firmly. “Travellers can submit SGAC either via ICA’s website or the MyICA Mobile app. The submission is free of charge and takes approximately three to ten minutes to complete.”

SERVING TRAVELLERS WITH HEART

Being a team leader at Changi Airport for over two years, INSP Haslam relishes the opportunity to interact with travellers of different backgrounds.

One particularly memorable incident occurred when an elderly Japanese traveller with dementia could not find her passport.

“She couldn’t converse in English and couldn’t recall where she had left her passport,” recounted INSP Haslam. “I asked one of my officers to see if anyone was waiting for her at the arrival hall.”

The officer spotted a younger Japanese woman who turned out to be the elderly lady’s daughter. She described the pouch her mother kept her passport in. INSP Haslam radioed the duty terminal manager to ask the airline’s representatives to search the aircraft. The passport and its pouch were found in her seat pocket and the traveller was cleared through immigration.

“She was really frail and looked terrified,” said INSP Haslam. “When she saw her daughter, she burst into tears.”

For INSP Haslam and his fellow ICA officers, using their wits, training and armed with technology to ensure that travellers begin or end their journeys smoothly is all in a day’s work – and key to their commitment to safeguard Singapore’s borders.

LESS HASSLE, MORE TRAVEL

To keep travel hassle-free during the upcoming year-end holidays, INSP Haslam has a tip or two for Singaporeans embarking on or returning from their holidays abroad at Changi Airport.

“Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months before travelling and remember to submit your SGAC within three days before arriving in Singapore to enjoy a smooth clearance on arrival,” he said.

Interested in serving beyond your obligations? Consider the Volunteer Extension Scheme, which allows PNSMen who have completed their NS liability to continue serving beyond their statutory age. PNSMen (With NS liability) who have passed their statutory age of 40 years (Junior Officers) & 50 years (Senior Officers) may apply.

Like our stories? Subscribe to our Frontline Digital newsletters now! Simply download the HomeTeamNS Mobile App and update your communication preference to ‘Receive Digital Frontline Magazine’, through the app settings.

Categories
Travel

Insider guides to Melbourne, Taipei and Bangkok for families

Tired of overrated tourist traps? Frequent fliers and Singaporeans abroad share their top picks for under-the-radar attractions, food and activities for families visiting cities popular among their compatriots.

TEXT: THERESE TAY

PHOTOS: Hank’s Café and Bagelry; South Melbourne Market; Koy Gozleme; Murmur; Sovereign Hill; Flickr user Ji Soo Song; Flickr user Iwtt93; Flickr user Ken Marshall; Flickr user Streets of Food; Kate’s Place; Asia Herb Association; Klook; Michelle Ang, Elvin Sng; Audrey Ang

It isn’t surprising that Melbourne, Taipei and Bangkok rank among the top 10 destinations that Singaporeans are interested in visiting, according to data recently released by Google. The cities have long captivated us for an array of reasons, from their tantalising foodie spots to hip haunts for urbanites. While many of such draws feature prominently in the endless scroll of social media feeds, it can be tough to distinguish the must-visit gems from the overhyped and underwhelming locations that locals tend to shun.

At times, it takes an insider to help you sidestep the tourist traps and point you to attractions worth your limited vacation time. To that end, we spoke with three Singaporeans — including residents and a frequent visitor — of these popular cities, who share their favourite spots and practical tips for families. After all, who knows our hearts better than our fellow countrymen?

MELBOURNE MARVELS

About the insider: Michelle Ang is a 27-year-old product designer who has been living and working in Melbourne for a year. Though she misses the food and familiarity of home, she enjoys discovering the Australian city’s parks and international foodie offerings.

MELBOURNE MARVELS

About the insider: Michelle Ang is a 27-year-old product designer who has been living and working in Melbourne for a year. Though she misses the food and familiarity of home, she enjoys discovering the Australian city’s parks and international foodie offerings.

ROLLING IN DOUGH

“While Melbourne is known for its cafes — and correspondingly, its coffee culture — it’s also home to a burgeoning baked goods industry. Check out Hank’s Cafe and Bagelry, in the historic and upscale Armadale suburb that was an important commercial area in the 19th century. Taking pride in bringing “a hearty dose of New York to the leafy streets of Armadale”, Hank’s declares on its website that bagels should be “chewy” and “malty”. Savour these qualities in elevated creations such as the beetroot and gin-cured salmon with herbs, red onion and cream cheese; and the lamb and rosemary meatloaf with pistachio pesto, provolone and cream cheese.”

MARKET DAY

“Hit up South Melbourne Market — open since 1867 and a treasured landmark for locals — not only for its ubiquitous fresh oysters but also some of the best toasties I’ve ever had at the French-themed Oui Chef! Toastie Bar. Favourites include the classic Croque Monsieur (ham, bechamel (a rich white sauce), chives, comte (French cheese made from cow’s milk) and gruyere (a hard Swiss cheese)), and Saucicson (French salami, raclette (melted Swiss cheese), usto (traditional French mustard)). For a delicious Halal option, head to the iconic Koy Gozleme — gozleme is a crispy stuffed Turkish flatbread — where Turkish mamas hand roll and cook the savoury treats in four flavours: Cheese & Spinach, Mushroom & Veg, Minced Meat and Herbed Chicken.

SING OR SPIN

“Beyond its vibrant culinary scene, Melbourne has no shortage of interesting venues for a fun night out. These include piano bar Murmur, where resident and visiting artistes belt out mostly old-school hits to a lively audience. Cocktails are priced at A$18 from 5-7pm. If you’re after an arty day-time activity, spin the potter’s wheel at one of 2 Mayfield Street’s workshops. Its studio is situated in the peaceful and eclectic Abbotsford suburb, which lends access to plentiful green spaces and the Yarra River.”

CHRISTMAS IN JULY

“If you’re in town in June or July, you must experience the yearly Winter Wonderlights event at Sovereign Hill in Ballarat. This Christmas-themed festival presents a rare opportunity to bask in the Yuletide spirit in the middle of the year, which happens to be when winter falls in the Southern Hemisphere. Expect lights, faux snow, dressed-up storefronts and costumed merrymakers.”

TIPS FOR FAMILIES

  • Use public transport as it is pretty accessible, and most buses and trains are stroller-friendly. There is also the Free Melbourne City Circle Tram (route No. 35), a “hop on, hop off” service that covers attractions such as St Paul’s Cathedral, SEA Life Melbourne Aquarium and Queen Victoria Market.

  • Score free tickets to an Australian Football League match — a quintessential Aussie experience — under the Kids Go Free programme. The latter grants free access to selected matches for kids aged 14 and under.

  • Go camping with BIG4 Holiday Parks, which offers family-friendly cabin accommodation and camping facilities within easy reach of the city.

TAIPEI TREASURES

About the insider: Elvin Sng, a 42-year-old regional director in the energy industry, has been living in Taipei for five years with his wife and four-year-old son. He relishes the city’s friendly people and the easy access to nature it provides.

TAIPEI TREASURES

About the insider: Elvin Sng, a 42-year-old regional director in the energy industry, has been living in Taipei for five years with his wife and four-year-old son. He relishes the city’s friendly people and the easy access to nature it provides.

WATCH YOUR SNACK

“One of Taipei’s top attractions is its street food. While some of the best can be sampled at the OG of night markets, Shilin Night Market, those seeking a gastronomic adventure might want to head to the slightly smaller Ningxia Night Market. Here, you’ll find Michelin Bib Gourmand-rated Liu Yu Zi, which is famous for its egg yolk taro cake — deep-fried taro paste-filled pastries topped with salted egg yolk and pork floss. Don’t miss Yuan Huan Pien Oyster Egg Omelette, which uses Tainan oysters known for their plumpness and sweetness, and are drizzled in a homemade sweet-spicy sauce.”

WALK THIS WAY

“Speaking of adventures, Yangmingshan National Park is known for its nature trails with lots of manageable options for families and those who want to take it easy. The 2.4km Qingtiangang Circular Trail, for instance, is a particularly scenic and relaxing route. I took a walk there with my wife a week before she gave birth to our son, and we had a really nice time.”

SIGNS OF THE TIMES

“You can glimpse Taiwan’s richly-layered past in Taipei’s historic parts. A 30-minute drive from the city takes you to Heping Island, which is connected by a bridge to the main island, and home to the ruins of a church built in 1626 by Spanish missionaries. The island is also presided over by an ancient fort constructed by the Spanish, who were later driven out by Dutch colonisers, as well as old buildings that can be traced back to the Japanese Occupation. Those keen to discover Taiwan’s pottery heritage should head to the quaint Yingge Old Street, where they’ll find a ceramics museum, pottery workshops and traditional teahouses.”

TIPS FOR FAMILIES

  • Take the MRT, an affordable, reliable and efficient way to get around, even with little ones on hand. Plus, children under the age of six travel for free. The rail operator even provides umbrellas on rainy days!

  • Check out themed cafes, for which Taipei is famous. Apart from those inspired by Alice in Wonderland, Moomin and Gudetama, many kiddos will no doubt be tickled by the Modern Toilet Restaurant, which will bring their toilet humour to another level.

  • Use Google Translate when hailing taxis — which are easy to find and inexpensive — as few cab drivers speak English. You may also want to ensure your destination is saved to your phone, ideally in Traditional Chinese which is commonly used in Taiwan.

  • Download the Halal TW app by Taiwan’s Chinese Muslim Association. It’s available for iOS and Android users and is handy for discovering Halal and Muslim venues in the country, including restaurants, hotels, mosques and prayer rooms.

BANGKOK BOUNTIES

About the insider: Audrey Ang is a HR manager in her late-40s who travels to Bangkok some four times yearly. She loves the affordable and value-added experiences in Thailand, and skilled professionals — including chefs and massage therapists — who are truly passionate about what they do.

BANGKOK BOUNTIES

About the insider: Audrey Ang is a HR manager in her late-40s who travels to Bangkok some four times yearly. She loves the affordable and value-added experiences in Thailand, and skilled professionals — including chefs and massage therapists — who are truly passionate about what they do.

NOODLES FOR DAYS

“Food-wise, there’s more to Bangkok than just the usual Pad Thai and pineapple fried rice. A lesser-known yet delicious street food delicacy is duck noodles in a comforting broth that comes complete with duck blood pudding — try the one from Siah Duck Noodle at Rama IV Road. Another hearty meal can be found at Rung Rueang Pork Noodles at Soi Sukhumvit 26. The noodles here are light, silky and super delicious.”

BLINK AND YOU’LL MISS IT

“Bangkok is home to a plethora of creative contemporary cafes and dining concepts. Prepare to be surprised as you put your tastebuds in the good hands of Pikun “Kate” Wangsantia of Kate’s Place, a supper club hidden behind a bookshelf on the second floor of a shophouse. The latter also hosts a noodle shop. True to its private dining roots, Kate’s Place serves what the boss’ mood dictates. Thankfully, her local-inspired dishes have been described as comforting and uplifting.”

KNEAD TO UNWIND

“For relaxation, Thai spa group Asia Herb Association, which has three conveniently located branches, always hits the spot with great service plus a welcoming and clean atmosphere. It specialises in the traditional Thai “Herbal Ball” massage that uses a warm compress filled with natural herbs. Register as a ‘family member’ and earn points for every visit — these can be redeemed for more massages.”

BUY BY NIGHT

“If you like markets and have already visited the well-known Chatuchak, try Jodd Fairs, which is sprawled between Central Rama 9 shopping mall and the Unilever building at Rama IX Road. This night market offers a slew of interesting things to eat and purchase, including vintage clothing and customisable handbags. I do enjoy the Insta-worthy XL Leng Zapp Volcano Ribs from Diaw Maekhlong Restaurant. The dish’s name is a misnomer as it features stacked pork spinal bones (not ribs) served in a moreish sour-spicy soup. There are also quite a few Halal options, such as fresh barbecued seafood, cute character pancakes and fried snacks among the plethora of stalls.”

TIPS FOR FAMILIES

  • Consider apartment-hotels or serviced apartments, which are generally equipped with facilities such as a kitchenette, and washers and dryers for laundry. HomeTeamNS members enjoy 15 per cent off the best flexible rate at Modena by Fraser Bangkok Hotel Residences. The same discount applies to Fraser Suites Sukhumvit Bangkok, which also offers a complimentary breakfast for one.

  • Don’t relinquish date night. Many top hotels offer guests babysitting services through accredited partners. Enquire about them at reception.

  • Bring a baby carrier if you’re travelling with an infant or toddler, as Bangkok roads aren’t exactly stroller friendly.

EXCLUSIVELY FOR HOMETEAMNS MEMBERS, GET TRAVEL READY!

Like our stories? Subscribe to our Frontline Digital newsletters now! Simply download the HomeTeamNS Mobile App and update your communication preference to ‘Receive Digital Frontline Magazine’, through the app settings.

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