Kuala Lumpur & Singapore Social Media Workshop & Trip Debrief

Now that I’ve finally begun to adjust back to Ottawa time from the 13hr difference, I thought I’d share a few highlights from my recent trip to the other side of the planet. First of all, I’d like to start off by giving a big thanks to everyone at FIK International for inviting me down and being such gracious hosts. The venue, transportation, logistics, and of course the food, were all flawless.

Kuala Lumpur

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After a solid 1.5 days in transit (Ottawa-Vancouver-Hong Kong-Kuala Lumpur), I arrived at KL airport and was greeted by my driver who took me to the wonderful Park Royal Hotel in downtown KL. I immediately unpacked, put on my shorts and sandals, and hit the streets to find something to eat and do some people watching. First impressions were quite powerful, some words that come to mind:

  • Exciting, humid, lights, people everywhere, noise , traffic, food, food, food, crowds, music, monorail, Petronas Towers, exotic smells, Chinese business men singing karaoke, dark alleys, mysterious allure,  massage, reflexology, fish therapy, fortune tellers, electronics stores, food, more food, even more food.

One of the things I had done while waiting for my Hong Kong flight in Vancouver was search for local KL twitter users (using Advanced Twitter Search). This is how I stumbled upon Carolyn Chan (@thechannelc) and Rachel Foong (@redsheep), two KL residents that happened to also be social media junkies. Why did I do this? As a general rule, when I travel I like to avoid tourist traps and get myself immersed in the culture instead; especially when I’m somewhere on business and have very little personal time in the first place. Both Carolyn and Rachel, whom I never met before, offered to take me around KL to some local hot spots and give me advice for the few days that I was to stay there. I am immensely grateful to them for this. By the time the first day of my 3-day KL workshop rolled around I had a basic high-level grasp of not just the city from walking around myself and being toured around by them, but of the Malay culture and various internal political and cultural issues present in Malaysia.

Workshop Impressions:

  • The participants were fantastic. Quiet at first, but very quick to open up once rapport was built.
  • They ranged from staff of the Prime Minsters Office to higher education and health service providers. I learned a great deal from all of them myself.
  • I was quite surprised to see the Prime Minister’s Office and their 1Malaysia initiative very active on social channels. The Prime Minister, Najib Razak (@najibrazak) even has a Twitter Page, although I am yet to get a response to one of my tweets (hmmm…).
  • Big controversy going on right now over rapper Namewee’s YouTube comments about Malaysia’s power supplier TNB
  • The adoption barriers they face are quite similar to the ones we have here (privacy, security, 1-way mindsets,  etc…)
  • They were quick to see the immense immediate opportunities that social media held for them and their government organizations, especially from the “insight” angle.
  • They were quite surprised to see me show them just how active the Malaysian population was on these channels (special thanks to Louise Clements over at Facebook and Geordie Hyland at Google for sending last minute data)
  • The lunch served on each day of the workshop was nothing short of spectacular. Conference organizers, hotels and caterers back here could learn a thing or two.
  • You may have noticed by now that I have an obsession with Asian food. I do not deny this. What I love the most thought is how people bond and build social ties over food thanks to it being such a focal point. This is where I had some of my best conversations.

During the eveinings and nights I would try to visit and experience KL as much as I could. Some additional highlights include:

  • Watching Chinese businessmen sing drunk karaoke
  • Going up KL Tower
  • Watching a monkey bite a tourist’s finger (thinking of YouTube’ing this one up)
  • Getting a foot massage (reflexology) from one of the hundreds of street clinics
  • Eating a stingray
  • Blending into local watering holes
  • Getting lost on purpose in various side alleys and streets
  • Listening to local bands in a flea market at 4am while eating some street meat
  • Planning out an eating strategy for each day

Singapore

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After 3 straight full days of speaking and mentoring in KL, I packed my stuff and was driven to the airport by the workshop organizers (and now my friends), Saravanan and Vijay Thangaraja. Once I arrived in Singapore, I took a cab to the wonderful Swissotel Merchant Court conveniently located in the always active Clark Quay district. By the time I got to my hotel it was already midnight and I had to be at my workshop for 7am so I resisted the temptation to go out the first night, especially since I had planned to stay for the weekend before heading home. The first night that I did go out, my impressions were as follows:

  • Clean, hot, sunny, orderly, efficient, crowds, people, tourists, events, lights, water, boats, river, tall skinny buildings, architecture, massive construction, music, polite vendors, clubs, food, food, food, dancing, busy, noise, food, it’s own little world.

Workshop Impressions

  • Was greeted by Nadie, an extremely polite, and superbly organized representative from FIK, who was responsible for the Singapore event.
  • Extremely polite participants. Many already very active on certain social media channels, others were complete newbies.
  • Very eager to learn more about other governments and how they are dealing with various barriers to adoption
  • Had some wonderful lunch conversations once again over a royal feast of goodness.
  • All participants very eager to get the ball rolling inside their organizations
  • One of my participants (and great new friend) Benedict Chia (@bhchia), decided to put what he learned to practice right away by creating a Google Doc itinerary for me for the rest of my trip!

After my final day presenting, it suddenly dawned on me that I had been up and at it speaking, facilitating and traveling for nearly a month straight. I should have probably collapsed but my second wind kicked in and I was off to take in Singapore with my custom itinerary.

Some highlights:

  • Boat ride down the Singapore River
  • Experiencing the Night Safari, Singapore Zoo and Bird Park
  • Checking out the 24/7 packed crowds at Mustafa’s
  • Hitting the clubs in Clark Quay
  • Visiting Orchard Street
  • Hitting up Sentosa Island with 28,000 people for Zouk Out 2009
  • Getting the most painful foot massage of my life (my feet are still swollen)
  • Eating a kangaroo and a whole bunch of things I can’t pronounce that can be found here.
  • Breakfast with Nadie, chatting about future opportunities, life, and the importance she places on people and relationship building

On my last day, Benedict offered to take me out for the true local experience. Among other things, he:

  • Showed me how most people live and commute (including himself)
  • Told me why there are no old cars on the street (it often costs more to get a license to own a car than the car itself)
  • Took me to a Confucian Temple, a massive electronics store, 4 local eating hot-spots (yes, I ate each time), and a really shady part of town (which even the cops avoid)
  • Introduced me to tourist-free public eateries offering the same great food for 1/10th the price
  • Took me through massive flea markets and introduced me to the real ice-cream street sandwich
  • Perhaps most importantly, he kept me company and launched a new friendship

Overall, I had an absolute blast and am thrilled to see so many of my workshop participants already finding their respective communities on various social media channels. I always try to heavily emphasize the fact that behind these channels are REGULAR PEOPLE with common interests, not just geeks. I’m looking forward to staying in touch with everyone and helping to connect people whenever possible. I’ll leave you with some pics of my wonderful participants (KL on top, Singapore at the bottom).

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