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Unexpected Insight in Southeast Asia

By Kelly Farrell | July 10, 2024

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The attending members of the upcoming 2025 Entrepreneurs’ Organization Cleveland Board at the Global Leadership Conference in Singapore. Many of us managed to attend. It’s pretty hard to turn down a trip to Singapore.


It’s amazing what happens when you follow opportunities. In April, I attended EO’s Global Leadership Conference in Singapore, so Matt and I thought, “Let’s make a trip out of it.” We spent three weeks experiencing the culture of Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam. The 12-hour time difference allowed us to travel during the day and work at night, which was tiring—but absolutely worth it.

Singapore

Matt and I toured this beautiful temple and admired architecture and design we don’t often see. Part of the culture in Singapore involves giving back. Our guide considered the tours a way of giving back by teaching others about his country’s history and culture. In temples, guests leave an offering (usually flowers) and light lots of incense.

EO Singapore members Annie and Jacob (front row with blue shirt) opened their home to a group of EO members and cooked an amazing meal of all local cuisine. Their home was beautiful and the food was delicious.

One of Singapore’s claims to fame is bakkwa, a salty-sweet dried meat product, using only natural spices as preservatives. Jerky, basically. Delicious!

Our first experience with street food on this trip. Mini cooking stalls and long lines—but the food was so good.

A view of Marina Bay Sands, a resort that has a bit of everything. Fun fact: the design was inspired by a deck of playing cards. The lotus-shaped building to the right is the Art Science Museum, which has a retractable roof. When opened, it provides a waterfall of collected rainwater.

We were so impressed by the hospitality services we received. Not only do the staff tidy up your room during the day but they provide a nightly turn-down service that was totally unexpected.

Here’s some (totally legal) graffiti I did. A collective called RSCLS (pronounced “rascals”) “embrace the urban arts of Singapore” in part by educating tourists on Singapore’s street art and allowing them to contribute.

I shared this picture on my family group chat and they kept sending it back adding their dogs to it. What’s family for if not to deface your vacation pictures of defacing property?

There’s some beautiful nature preservation in Singapore. This is an orchid at the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

Singapore city skyline from ground level.

And from the top of Marina Bay Sands.

A large part of Singapore involves reclamation of land, a process that uses materials like cement, soil, and sand to expand into the water. Singapore has been practicing land reclamation since the early 19th century to accommodate its rapid industrialization.

The people were so accommodating and kind, and the food was incredible. The noodles, the sauces, the variety of options—-nothing like you can find at home. And so much was underground: public transportation, shopping centers, all kinds of things deep below to avoid the heat and humidity of the outdoors.

In Singapore, technology and automation is integrated into everything. Even entering the country was a state-of-the-art process. Public spaces were so much cleaner than I’m used to. You could live in the airport. It was all marble and glass and clean—it felt like a huge terrarium. On the other hand, although Singapore is a multi-party democracy, one party, the People’s Action Party, dominates over the others, and so the laws are strict and surveillance is everywhere. Despite being a major innovator of technology integrating with society, those improvements come at a cost.

Indonesia

Sunrise in Ubud, at a retreat called Soulshine, where this view was right outside our room.

Indonesia couldn’t be more different than Singapore. You get off the plane into a sea of people. Instead of pristine public transportation, we had a driver who helped us navigate the organized chaos of the streets. There’s just no room for error when driving, but I didn’t see a single accident when I was there. Despite this, Soulshine was totally peaceful and calm. There we were able to decompress, sit in the sun, go to the spa, and reset for the rest of the trip.

Sunrise on the beach in Bali.

Thailand

One of the highlights of the trip was ElephantsWorld, an animal protection organization just outside the town of Kanchanaburi, Thailand. It was a three hour drive each way from our hotel in Bangkok. At this sanctuary we fed the elephants, scrubbed them down, and learned all about their daily living. The oldest at this rescue was 82 and the youngest was only 6 years old.

The number one word for our Thailand experience was HOT. Matt wasn’t feeling too well on this leg of the journey, so we took it easy. We did a lot of work in Bangkok at night, in our very nice hotel room.

Vietnam

More great street food in Vietnam. This machine squeezes the juice from peeled sugarcane to make nước mía, sugarcane juice, a popular beverage in Vietnam and a few other countries. We have it in the U.S. too, technically, except in powdered form as a sweetener. It’s also used to make rum.

We visited the Reunification Conventional Hall (or Independence Palace), the site of the Fall of Saigon in 1975. It formerly housed the South Vietnamese president during the war and has been preserved as an important landmark.

Outside the post office. Imagine if our post offices looked this interesting.

Inside the post office. This group of students interviewed us about our perspectives of Vietnam and the architecture we’d seen.

Our last beach day.

A Vietnamese friend from home connected us with a tour guide, Finn, who helped us navigate the language barrier and showed us the sights. I would like to spend more time there one day, because there’s so much to see. Again, like everywhere else we went, the people were the real highlight. I loved the sense of community.

Throughout our trip, people were kind and accommodating. From the conference to the beach, we took the opportunities that were presented to us, stayed in the present moment, and appreciated being welcomed into new cultures.

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