Sunday, June 6, 2010

Be Gracious, Singaporeans... and learn to enjoy.

Today, I was in the church service, and pastor shared about what causes discouragements. And interestingly he mentioned about Singaporean lifestyle.. we seem to work so much, then when we go for vacation, we never really rested.. but our minds are still working. And before we realise, we are back home to work again.

I pondered for a while about our lifestyle as Singaporeans, and compared to my experience with my recent trips in Seychelles. Singaporeans are definitely hardworking, driven and often too demanding.. yes, we can be perfectionists. Our environment, and the way we are brought up in this island has made us to be this way. We are always striving for excellence, and tolerated little for any standards lower than that. But the long term result is : we become kiasu (behaviour that expresses fear of losing), impatient and often we become less gracious... which I have begun to see more and more as I worked in this industry.

I was just comparing the clients I have served these past 7 years. We have a good pool of expatriates, foreigners, as well as Singaporean clients. And among all, the weddings that guests really enjoyed and are spontaneous tend to be the former i.e. expat and foreigners' weddings, or when one of the couple is a non-Singaporean. In the past I often wondered why those weddings are generally more fun to be in, and more interesting to plan.. and today I concluded some observations :

1) Singaporeans have failed to see that wedding is a celebration, not a showcase. It is not all about how well the wedding looks, but rather how great the wedding is felt. When the host learns to let go and enjoy, the guests' emotions are influenced as well. We often hear parents say I want the guests to feel good.. but often I wish to remind them feeling good is a community effort, when you choose to feel good, the people around you will somehow be rubbed on to feel likewise)

2) Singaporeans, pls do not be so conscious. I always love the sight of guests jumping onto the dance floor and dance, party and have fun. But it is hard to see that from a traditional Singaporean wedding esp it is held in Singapore. I could still remember I did a Bali wedding for a group of Singaporeans aunties and uncles.. and my bride was surprised that her relatives danced so much in Bali, something she has never seen when she was with them in Singapore. Why is this so? We care too much what people say about us, and allow that subtle voices to prevent us from being true to ourselves.
Breakaway self-consciousness.. and you will start to enjoy the freedom to being true, being yourself. It's ok to laugh over yourself, you are what you think you are. So stop becoming what people think you are, but learn to accept yourself, and be true.

3) A perfect wedding doesn't mean a perfect rating score. What makes a perfect wedding? I often asked. Is it all about 100 points for good service, good food, 100 points for a beautiful gown, beautiful bride, it is all about 10o points for impressive aesthetic setup etc etc..??? NO NO NO.. it's not abt scoring 100 points. We are not taking exams, we are creating and capturing moments.
Every moment is personal, sacred and subjective. What one envisions a perfect wedding is not the same from another. So instead of worrying whether you can score the perfect score for your wedding from all your guests, learn to be live in that perfect moment you have desired of.. when you are happily married, when you enjoy every minute with your loved ones, when you dance your heart out and have a good time..

I have so much stories to share with many couples.. and esp to Singaporean couples. I am proud to be a Singaporean, don't get me wrong, and I am a true breed Singaporean as well.. but having worked in this industry for long, and having travelled so much, I have come to a conclusion : learn to enjoy every moment you live in, learn to let go, and learn to experience the pleasant surprises God has created for each of us.
And for Singaporeans esp, let's learn to be gracious, when there is grace, there is true beauty..something can be planned, something is God's given. And life is perceived all together differently when you see thru the eyes of graciousness.



Tuesday, June 1, 2010

One unforgettable week experience in Seychelles...

Just touched ground in Singapore, and so much to share with all my friends about my week experience in Seychelles. It was filled with drama, anxiety, excitement, cries and laughter.. the first wild ride that I have ever had in my entire 7 years of wedding planning, but it's worth it all. I know this project is a launch pad from God to prepare us for the international projects we would have in future.

Seychelles is an island with many islands contained around it, with a population of only 80,000 people, out of which 20,000 are in working community, and only 10% of the population are really well to do. The community is so small that everyone knows everybody, and the way to do business is really through relationships and network. Family ties are very importantly regarded in Seychelles, and everyone is careful to give due respect to one another, when working or coming together. In other words, if there's a quality matter in someone's works, one has to address the concerns in a friendly and respectful manner hoping the best the instructions could be carried out as discussed.

The wedding venue is Le Bourgeois restaurant at Le Meridien Fishermen's Cove. I could still remember how the venue was chosen. When we did our first site visit, the couple had already chosen another new venue they loved. But to me, that venue was nothing spectacular, yet since my couple loved it, we had no problem on the first venue, and had worked a concept based on the first venue overall. Then on the last day of our site visit, I asked the bride whether I could have lunch at Le Meridien Fishermen's Cove, since I heard so much about it. The moment I entered the hotel, I fell in love with the coastline and the viewing deck, and without thinking, I asked her : Why didn't you consider this venue. I could still hear the very words of bride saying : Hannah this place is too small for our wedding size, it can only take about 80 pax. So me being Hannah, asked : are you sure, I would love to discuss with the GM about it. So Mr Olivier Francais met us with us. And we made him walk through the viewing deck and started discussing how many tables can we put on the deck, so from the initial 80 pax, he compromised to house 150, to 180, to eventually 230 pax.. can anyone imagine what has happened. A venue that is meant for only 80 pax, we are now extending it to house 230 pax guests. The hotel has never done a sit down dinner for such size. Yes, Hannah is crazy.. but I could see the guests seated at the crescent shape of the viewing deck in front of the coastline, and looking at the waves, and the scenery, the fireworks.. what a sight. I love it.

26 May
We touched ground in Seychelles airport about 11pm, and Hari brought an extra small box of orchids intending to serve as additional flowers we want to bring for the couple. The rest of the flowers have already been packed into the air cargo. And never did we expect the customs officer refused to allow us to pass the 1 hand carry item through customs, and intended to destroy it since we did not have the documents he was looking for to justify the entry, and created a scene which was unnecessary. In the end, we had to have some other means to retrieve the box. Lesson learnt : When planning for events in remote islands, assume the worst restriction in customs, and never take any single chance.
2 am in the morning, my lightings experts, Sue came back troubled, sharing with me what had been going on in the past 2 days of setup prior our arrival. I was disturbed, it seemed like the local contractors given to us has issues over our leadership and much challenges are envisioned to follow. Eventually I just prayed: Lord, grant us the favor of men, so whatever we have envisioned for this event would come to pass.

27 May
We woke up early, prepared the team for the wedding rehearsal. And we were then told that there was a power testing in the timing we had, so there will be no power running in this part of the island. The event is regarded so important that the authority had to test the powers in this part of the island, to ensure the event has sufficient power to run the event on the actual day. We went through the rehearsal without any sound system, we were well prepared for this last minute change. Rehearsal went well, and I was ready to go on site for the actual constructions.I can't wait to see the outlook of the trellis which we have conceptualised and designed for the local contractors to build. Because of the extended size we have created to house 230 guests, we needed to build a shelter to house all the guests in view of the weather. When it rains in Seychelles, it is as bad as in Bali or Singapore or maybe worse, the rain comes in all directions in huge drops. Initially we explore the use of tentages, but the odd shaped of the crescent coastline and terrain is not feasible and it would look ugly. I still remember in one of those nights I was reviewing the concept, and I saw the existing Gazebo with some trellis within the hotel, and suddenly the inspiration came, why don't we build trellis along the coastline all the way from the walkway to the end of the restaurant instead of using tentage. I shared my thoughts with my in house architect, Irene, and we started working on the drawings. When the drawings was finally out, we love it, and we know it would be a beautiful sight. But we also knew this is going to be a very intensive and extensive setup. Imagine local contractors building a trellis area of 400sqm meter on the viewing deck of a coastline.. the amount of wood we need to use, the amount of labour we need to deploy, the limited time we have, yes it is insane.

So what you see now, is the process of building the trellis on 27 May 10. I have to say, it looked incomplete then, and my heart was beating fast.. can we finish on time, O Lord.
The trellis supposed to be completed on 27 May afternoon, so that the lightings crew could start their work which is another extensive job required, and then my floral team from Hari's end can begin his work.. clearly we could see what has been delayed.. The roof has not been even covered. O Lord, I know for sure we can't afford any rain, do another miracle for me again Lord.

28 May
One more day to the actual wedding, and everyone started to panic in the final deliverable. I worked up at 6.30am, went to site by 8am, and could still see many parts of the trellis undone. The father of bride was giving orders since the contractors are all related to him. Eventually I have to calm him down to assure him all would be well. Deep within, I was stretched. My team went around checking the installation of the roof, the painted trellis, the lightings, the canopy for the hanging flowers. The culture in Seychelles is pretty amazing, unlike in Bali, people do work all the way to midnight to get the job done. But here, because the working community is so small, and family ties are so important, we have had experiences when workers leaving site early because they want to spend time with their family, or they are tired, they couldn't work anymore.. so in that 3 days of building, we went through emotional pacifying and begging to make people stay. I found it hilarious.. but somehow we completed the trellis the evening on 28 May. God thank you.

Even the leaves for the canopy, we have to keep reminding the local supplier to ensure they brought in enough leaves for my florists to get the work done. We need to build approx 100sqm canopy for the bridal area. You must realise Seychelles is unlike Singapore, nor even Bali, it is so remote, equipment here is really really limited. We did not have proper ladders, materials etc, everything had to be either purchased from overseas, or we needed to get it from natural resources. When the local supplier told me he would get the leaves from me, I was expecting him to order the leaves from somewhere, only the day before, I realised he and his team were chopping leaves from the jungles, I was speechless. So on and off, we have to instruct him to cut more leaves. It was quite a teasing sight. I could see Hari and team rushing to put the canopy up with whatever little resources we have. But Hari never fails us always, we did the canopy within 3/4 a day, despite we only have 1 pretty poor conditioned scaffold to use. Eventually the 400sqm was completed in 3 days.

Our next challenge was the lightings and sound installation. We never seem to have a consistent pool of workings working for us. Often you see me & team calling up the lightings contractors to ask when was the team coming. and there were many explanations which up to a certain time, we really think it has become excuses. But like I say, because everyone knows everyone, no one dare to put force onto any. But I have to admit, me & Sue did not go easy with these guys.. there were trashing, and humbling persuasion. I concluded, they have not seen what we can do, and they naturally questioned our leadership and vision. For a good case, we are only required to bring the lanterns, and the installation of bulbs and lanterns were to be handled by the local contractors, but so much delay was experienced, we decided to do the hanging of lanterns ourselves with the bulbs that already installed by the contractors. We just could not risk waiting for the contractors to do it later than we required. Our photographer, Eng Hong ended up hanging the lanterns with 3 of us gals supporting his ladder and assisting him at 9pm to 1130pm, while we are still waiting for the contractors. Who can ever imagine that!!. But thankfully I am also glad we did it, at least we could control how the final look is liked. Despite we have given drawings and measurments and positions of the lanterns to the contractors, still I could see problems could go wrong with not precised installation. Yes, Eng Hong was God sent, I was grateful and at the same time sad, this is not his role afterall, but somehow when we are alone in the island, every member of the Singapore team becomes important.

29 May
Finally, the day has come. we slept only 3 hours, and last night, I spent some moments in the night just crying and praying to the Lord. I was overwhelmed by the project, not so much of the scope of work, but the local challenges and emotions arose in this event. I wish we didn't have to prove what we can do, but rather are giving time to perfect what we have envisioned. But it's alright for us, it was a project that definitely sharpens us.
No one in Seychelles has seen such wedding created in this extent, no wonder they called it the wedding of the year. For us, we know what we can do, but for the locals, it is their first, so it is pardonable. My team learnt to work within the local restrictions and found joy to laugh about it. So in few hours, the wedding began, and I got dressed up, ready for the party.
Hari did his final touches, and I must say, I always love his final moments, somehow he would get it through beautifully. Even though for this project, Hari was only engaged for the flowers and canopy, but it was not as easy for him because of local availability and resources. Everyone worked so long hours, and had so little sleep. I could tell we were all tired, and often when you are tired, you become less patient. But in the end, we had our memories.

Now, there is one thing I want to make mention particularly for this event to be successful. It was the hotel and team we have chosen and worked with. Le Meridien has a great GM - Olivier, without him and his team, none of this can happen smoothly.
Just imagine, for a hotel to allow us to expand the size of the dining area with extensive structure, which is a first for them, the amount of compromise and flexibility they have given us and the couple is beyond imaginations. Imagine the loss of business and guests stay for those days. Imagine the mess of construction processes they tolerated. I just have to say I love this man and his guts.. he has faith or rather he has extended his grace to us. Beyond the permission, he added initiatives for the settings, they brought in new table linens (from Heaven's Gift), new customised seat covers, new furniture for the buffet lines etc.
And I remembered on the last night after we had all the lanterns hanged up, Olivier invited us for a drink around 12midnight.. we ended up laughing at all the silly things we have done together.. and it was a great time of encouragement.

So you must be wondering, how did the wedding go? Everyone partied till 3am. The father of bride called me up the next 2 day, and say, Hannah, thank you thank you, send all my thanks to all in your team. Everyone in town is talking abt the wedding. I teased him : So any regret... No of course no, despite we have our rough wild journey in the beginning, but all was worth it. And I can't help but reminded him : even God is on our side, 3 days of no rain during the setup, and after the wedding is done, showers came only after we took out the paper lanterns.. what a timing... what can you say, God is so gracious, He is in this wedding from the beginning to the end. And my heart is reminded : Our Father in Heaven never leaves us in any situations where He will not be with us. Despite all the back pains, sleepless nites, scars and emotional challenges we have to carry.. but God is in it, and I am so thankful.

30 May
We slept a bit longer, and repacked everything, ready to go home. But again due to waiting time for contractors, we only managed to get all settled by evening. We celebrated Sue's birthday at Hilton Hotel, and it was another beautiful resort, I would love to do one wedding there.

31 May
Me & Irene woke up early, sent Sue to airport. And have a early breakfast, no hurry.. just enjoying ourselves. Today, the team except Hari (as always he has to rush back, poor thing), went for a tour in the island for the first time. We drove along the coast, took lots of pix, and visited Four Seasons. And I thought life now seems back to normal, no more drama.. before I knew, I sprained my ankle had a swollen one, I next hit a rock, and the car tyre was flattered on this rocky road coming out of Four Seasons. And Sam was my saviour, he replaced the tyre... and all was safe. haha,.. yes this is an unforgettable trip really for me.. I laughed at every moments of the preparations and the stay in Seychelles.

So what are my final thoughts?
This is a beautiful island.. God's craftsmanship is observed for sure.
This is an interesting island, an island that reminded me that the world is so small, yet the world is so different.
Finally it also reminded me, the journey to a wedding is always stressful, filled with anxiety, doubts, fear and excitement... but the only way to make it through beautifully, it is to come to realisation : God is in control, and He loves us too much to tarnish our dreams. In fact, He always make things beautiful in His time.

I believe more great projects to come.. and we are definitely sharpen for the future and ready for the journey ahead of us.
Lord, I just want to say : Above all that has happened, I love You.