The D&O Diary’s swing through the Asia Pacific region continued last week with a short stop in Singapore. The same hot and steaming conditions that prevailed in Hong Kong were also in effect in Singapore, although because Singapore is only about 90 miles from the equator, the conditions were the same but more so. Singapore is a small, wealthy city state. Its geographic size is comparable to that of New York City, although Singapore’s population (about 5.8 million) is less than that of New York (about 8.9 million); Singapore’s population is larger than every U.S. city other than New York.
There are a lot of great reasons to go to Singapore but by far the best is the food. Singapore is a regional cross-road, and it shows in diversity of the faces of the people on the street. The announcements on the subway are given in English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil. The food available in the innumerable food courts is even more diverse. The streets are lined with restaurants in an almost endless array of ethnicities – Chinese, Indonesian, Malay, Thai, Korean, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, as well as various combinations of all of the above. On the night of our arrival, we walked the short distance from our hotel to Chinatown, where we started the evening sitting in a big open courtyard filled with tables. We drank big cold bottles of locally brewed Tiger beer. After a round or two, it was time to get some food. We spent a long time walking around the food gallery looking at the incredibly different choices available. I finally settled on some hot and spicy Chinese chicken. It was great.
The next day, after a breakfast meeting, there was some time to do some exploring, so we started by going to Little India, one of Singapore’s many ethnic enclaves. The neighborhood’s streets are lined with shops selling pungent and aromatic spices and seasonings, silks, and clothes. The main attraction in the area is the Sri Veeramakaliamman temple, dedicated to Kali, the consort of Shiva. The temple was thronged with visitors and worshipers while we were there, drawn by the colorful statuary and music.
We then walked to the Kampong Glam neighborhood, traditionally home to Singapore’s Muslim community. The neighborhood streets have names like Arab Street, Kandahar Street, and Muscat Street. The neighborhood is also home to the Masjid Sultan (Sultan Mosque), an impressive white structure that looms over the neighborhood. Because we arrived between prayer sessions, we were allowed to enter (although not into the inner prayer space). I was wearing shorts, so I was asked to wear a flowing cotton skirt as a covering. Despite the risk of permanent embarrassment, I have included below a picture of myself in the cotton skirt. If you look closely you will see that my shirt is completely soaked through. It was hot.
The primary purpose of my visit was to attend and participate in the PLUS Singapore Symposium. Even though the event was held on the Friday before a three-day weekend, the event was very well attended. Over 120 people attended the all-day event, which was excellent. It was a pleasure and an honor to be a part of this event and to meet so many industry colleagues. Singapore is increasingly a regional insurance center; many of the global insurance companies have based their Asia Pacific operations in Singapore. It was incredibly interesting to talk with the industry professionals from Singapore and to learn more about their dynamic and growing industry presence. I congratulate the local organizing committee for a very successful event and thank them for inviting me to participate. It was a pleasure and an honor to be a part of the symposium.
Here is a picture of the local organizing committee. From left to right in this picture are: Ram Garg of J.B. Boda & Co.; David Ackerman of Allianz; me; Arati Varma of Marsh; Cassandra Lee of Berkley Insurance in Singapore; Ronak Shah of JLT; and Shasi Gangadharan of Berkely.
I had a chance to meet many of the attendees at the reception following the educational sessions. In this picture, I am standing with several colleagues from QBE in Singapore: from left to right, Lynn Leo; Omar Mukhtar; and Priscilla Young.
Here is a picture with Francis Lim of Argo Global in Singapore; Alex Liu of Allied World; and Dingchou Allen Han of Tokio Marine.
My Dinner with Aruno: I thoroughly enjoyed just about everything about my visit to Singapore, but the high point of the stopover was a wonderful evening meal at the home of my good friend Aruno Rajaratnam. Aruno may be familiar to many readers, as Aruno is a well-known industry veteran. I have heard Aruno referred to as the Godmother of D&O in Southeast Asia. (Some readers may recall that at the PLUS International Conference in November 2014, Aruno received the organization’s annual PLUS1 award.) Aruno invited a group of us to her home for dinner the evening before the Singapore Symposium. It was one of the most extraordinary meals I have ever had in my life.
What made the meal so special was not just that the meal was planned, prepared and served with such impressive care. It was, rather, that many of the dishes were prepared with spices gathered from Aruno’s own kitchen garden, which we had toured before enjoying the meal. The evening’s menu was diverse and fascinating. The rice dish consisted of long grain basmati rice cooked with fenugreek leaves, minced nutmeg and ghee. (The fenugreek leaves were from Aruno’s garden.) The seafood dish was a seafood sothy, a variation of a Ceylonese Tamil dish, cooked with coconut milk, fenugreek seeds, fresh turmeric, kaffir lime leaves, calamansi fruit juice, tomato pulp, onions, ginger, and red and green chilies. Many of spices were from the garden. The next dish was lentils with moringa leaves. The moringa leaves came from the garden as well. (We learned that moringa leaves are something of a superfood, as it is known for its many healing properties.) We also had fried Malaysian anchovies with potatoes and onions, served with cukor leaves from the garden. My favorite dish was the spicy boneless chicken; the chicken was cooked with cinnamon, cloves, aniseed, cardamom, mixed spice curry powder, lemon grass, ghee, coconut milk, and curry leaves from Aruno’s garden. We also had a plate of mixed vegetables (cauliflower, peas, broccoli, and young corn) cooked local Chinese style with garlic, black pepper and salt, and garnished with herbs from Thai basil, dill, laksa leaves from the garden. (My thanks to Aruno for helping with this description.)
The dinner was truly memorable and I consider myself very fortunate to have been invited to attend. Aruno was so exceedingly gracious to invite us into her home for the dinner. I admire Aruno so much and consider myself fortunate to have her as a friend. I have learned so much from her over the years, but what I have learned about the most from her is about friendship. Aruno has a rare talent for friendship — she is good at being a friend. The surest sign of her capacity for friendship is the number of friends she has collected over the years. She has been a mentor for so many in the Southeast Asian insurance industry.
So, thanks, Aruno for inviting me to dinner, and for being such a good friend.
More Pictures of Singapore: