Internship experience

Since I guess nobody wanna read it & that it’s my own blog yo, just gonna post it here but all lumped together!

NEA Internship experience @ HCD ~

Day 1&2:

Sadly my internship project was not one I really desired but oh wells, life goes on. My project is to encourage tray return which is like, after much time spent researching previously, impossible. And thus was confirmed in the first day alone oh gosh.

The first two out of four weeks of my internship was spent talking or more like listening to my mentors talking about the project they themselves have been involved with for two years. Was lucky to be able to attend their meeting with 3PND about their outreach efforts, kind of like an introduction and insight to the problems of getting cooperation from stakeholders (cleaners and stall owners) and patrons. There was actually another guy doing the same project as me which was weird since it was supposed to be an individual project and we had to present different perspectives of the tray return initiative. The people there were actually quite friendly and on nice terms with each other. I had always assumed that the atmosphere in offices would be infused with bad blood and all but yeah. Then we tagged along with two of our mentors to two hawker centres in marine parade which were to have the tray return racks installed. For the second day we basically stayed in the office the whole day, came up with some plans and whatnot, and were basically just bored lols.

Anyway talking to the people behind the tray return initiative and going down with them to observe the layout of the centre and how they decided the placement of the racks were a rather insightful and seriously eye-opening experience. Things are never as simple as they seem, especially when one doesn’t usually make the effort to think deeper. I learnt that while this initiative may seem shallow and superficially thought through to the ordinary citizen’s eye – going by all the negative comments about it – it actually carries more depth and thought. Not many are able or willing to think deep into the actual motive behind the tray return initiative, especially in this country where the opposite culture are so entrenched. While many may complain that if they return their tray, cleaners will lose their jobs, did they think that there would even be anyone willing to take up the job in the (near) future? One of the members involved in the initiative explained that people in other countries like US and in Europe clear after themselves because there are no – or few – cleaners to do so. I don’t know if this is true though, but given the complains about labour shortage in these sort of low-paying, unpopular jobs, cultivating the habit early would help people adapt to this likely future.

Besides that, a lot of effort, evaluation and thinking are put in in deciding something as “simple” as where to place the tray return racks. We need to position the racks where:

  • it is easily seen by different angles
  • there is sufficient space for cleaners to manouevre their trolleys
  • will not create congestion when patrons return their trays
  • patrons can return their trays easily without walking too far
  • accomodates cleaners’ work flow
  • has to take into consideration hawkers’ concerns that it will block their fengshui for example

There will always exist many limiting factors and constraints such as cost, time, manpower, differing interests of different groups of people, and so on. Not everyone can be satisfied. We can only just do our best and adopt the most appropriate option, keeping in mind people’s needs.

Additionally, there isn’t always a reason for something. In my words, “Just like how you don’t need a reason to love someone, you don’t need a reason to hate someone” (okay maybe this is totally irrelevant), if patrons refuse to clear their trays just because, then just because. We can’t really persuade them, if at all. Even the strongest arguments can’t convince everyone.

Especially after hearing so many of them explain the complaints and reasons why patrons who refuse to return their trays give, which I myself already know and did not know how to amend those misconceptions, I felt even more defeated and felt like giving up aha. Because seriously, if they, who have had many years of experience dealing with such projects, are at a lost of what to do, what can I, a measly little fellow, do?

Day 3&4:

On day 3, we finally went to Tiong Bahru hawker centre – where it has the highest tray return rates (woo!). It was after peak hours but it was better than staying in the office staring at our fail-of-a-planning-framework.

All I can say is that: the place is so dang cool! Like the design, spacious layout, colours and all…

Well yeah I was distracted but ho-hum.

Anyway I had ahought about improving the atmosphere/ambience of hawker centres so that it could lighten people’s mood and they would be more open and receptive to reminders and cues about returning their trays. In the mrt, I usually feel suffocated and ‘closed’ (sort of) when it gets really crowded and all I think about is wanting to squeeze onto the train and getting off. Similarly, the frazzled and noisy atmosphere in the hawker centres may make patrons feel very constrained and agitated.

The place was not too humid and warm because it has ventilation shafts man. The spacious layout of the centre reduces the frazzledness of public spaces. Tables were not too clustered together. It was also quite clean.

Anyway, we (my buddy maybe(?) and I) talked to a few cleaners and a stallholder. At first I felt that the tray return initiative should really be scrapped, since it does cause some side-problems for everyone. But then I went home and thought through and got some sense of it – but I still felt that the situation was pretty hopeless.

The tray return initiative may be a success or a failure depending on how you look at it. Cleaners in koufu said that when people return the trays to the tray return racks it means that they (the cleaners) have to go two rounds to clear the tables and the rack. But the initiative made it tougher for them mainly because their supervisor disallowed the use of trolleys – so they had to carry the trays by hand to the sorting area. I thought that this suggested that there should be a change in placement of tray return racks to really accommodate the cleaners’ work flow. But given the difficulties as mentioned in the post on day 1-2, I think patrons should be mindful where they return their tray; best if they return it directly to the sorting area.

However after thinking through and speaking to another cleaner in Tiong Bahru again on day 4, the tray return initiative does have some of its pros. When it’s really crowded and tables are limited, people who return their trays can lessen the amount of work cleaners on their rounds to clear the tables have to do. So it kinds of “staggers” or split their work load for a bit. In the hawker centre there are actually cleaners stationed behind the racks, in charge of sorting out the crockery returned there.

So the ideal situation is where everyone returns their tray, so that there would only be need for two cleaners in a ‘zone’ or assigned area — one to man the rack and the other to wipe the tables.

The centralised cleaning system was cool.

{oh man my mind’s getting so messed up and disorganised so nothing actually flows chronologically here}

Anways before I went to Tiong Bahru I discussed my ideas with my mentor. So briefly:

Incentives – 1 Act 2 Goods

Schools, influence

Atmosphere (so lame lols)


But then again, we want this project to be meaningful and actually help NEA right? (as is enlightened by the super intelligent being doing the same project as me)

P.S: Oh and my bread (in my bag) got squashed ):

Day 5:

On day 5, we (my mentor, the other guy doing the same proj and I) met at bedok hawker centre (near the interchange). It’s a new hawker centre managed under ntuc foodfare. The place was spacious and clean maaan. Too spacious in fact – though it was also severely cramped at one area. I found that there could have been more tables to accommodate more ppl. And the racks were weird. Like they made it “part” of the infrastructure, basically by putting it btwn walls. It was so oddly positioned leh, like facing ulu sides de. Got one rack even placed out of view at the narrow area, nobody return one. And then got another area totally no rack- u can’t see closest rack at the narrow area and the other rack would be in view but far. The layout could have been better developed, provided there were tighter cooperation btwn the 5 stakeholders of the “5-headed dragon” — NEA, ntuc foodfare, Hawkers association, town council, and the last I forgot, cleaners maybe.

It’s alr so difficult to decide placement of the racks and all, and yet we have this internal problem of conflicting views to deal with. For example my mentor was suggesting placing an add’l rack at the area where there isn’t any, but the foodfare rep disapproved as nobody would sit at the two nearby tables, but from my mentor’s experience ppl will still sit near the racks especially when it’s crowded, they wouldn’t be affected anw.

A good point abt this place is that the racks were a sort of workstation for the cleaners. There are mini washing areas for them behind the racks. This accommodates the ideal work flow whereby one cleaner stays behind and sort the returned crockery on the racks, and the other goes out to wipe the tables.

Before my mentor and the ntuc people discussed about the narrow area and the no-rack area, me n my fellow intern joined their “mini meeting”. Ntuc foodfare actually provided aprons for the cleaners, to make them look more professional and keep their clothes clean from food spills, crumbs and stains. According to them the aprons received warm response from the Hawkers themselves, so now they’re thinking of providing aprons for all of them, incorporating a design that reminds patrons to return their tray or something like that.

After bedok we 3 went to haig road. Man, nobody returned their trays at all. It was very cramped, stuffy n dirty. The racks were completely disregarded, like they weren’t there. Again, another problem of integration of the racks into the centre. But there wasn’t really any need for the racks actually, since the place was small. The stalls surrounded the tables like an aisle, meaning that cleaners can just return the soiled crockery on the table to the stalls nearby. And each aisle/area was small enough. They only need just drag their bucket of waste around, carry the plates by hand and with a table cloth. There weren’t many patrons either, actually, lols. In these kind of centres where stallholders still serve patrons their food (the pre-self-service culture man), so hard to get ppl to return their trays cuz they take the service for granted. Here i don’t see how i can help in any way.

Then we walked to Geylang Serai, only just a bus stop away. Man, Malays and malay stalls everywhere haha. Anyway the racks are ridiculously clean! And invisible! They’re like placed along the walls of a ‘corridor’, because there wasn’t much space among the tables anyway. Didn’t observe much, but another impossible situation anyhoo.

P.S: maybe there are some people who are actually nice. i mean, i’m the only hypocrite here so bahh. yeah but my mentor was kind of caring though, like he was concerned about my project since i had no freaking idea or direction i want to take.

Day 6:

Fresh new week, fresh new day! But bah man. We did up the survey and what the, lots of trees unjustly got massacred and made into paper for our frivolous use. We printed 60 pieces/sheets/bah of the survey man. Q_____Q” Was inwardly breaking down. And funny that at NEA, they “like to waste paper”. lols dude. Yeah then we (got 5 of us here) went to 127 Toa Payoh but before that we ate at a nearby coffee shop. I think all niang dou fu tastes the same.

When we finished it was already 2++ I think, certainly off-peak hours. But anyway survey it is! Sian the agonyyyyy yo. That inertiaaaaaaaaaa. But anw we finally got 11 down, 49 more to go aha. It’s been only a week yet so long ago from that day that I really can’t remember anything so lets just conclude that social stuffs are daaang.

Day 7:

I met my not-bud at Chong Pang at Yishun ring rd there. Miraculously found my direction there but failed to get into the hawker centre lols. Then serendipitously I found a narrow, blocked path into the final destination.

Anyway there were many old people and residents since it was 9.30 thereabouts. And this is what you call a hawker centre man. It was dirty and stuffy and noisy and damn crowded. And hardly anyone returned their trays, like roughly 9.0909090909090909…% or 1/11 (we used a quite accurate methodology handed down from our masters yeah). Here the racks were largely ignored as well. The cleaners didn’t really have a fixed or efficient work flow. Like if see tables nearby dirty then just clean lor. They didn’t really do any organised rounds, taking a long time to clear the tables. Another hopeless case too haha.

Then I think we camped in the office the whole day afterwards.

Day 8:

Survey at 127 Toa Payoh again. Sighs, the pain… then we also talked to Joyce, the rep from their merchants’ association. And then I really have no idea what we did for that day. Sigh… I must be getting old… …

JAPAN IS SHO CUTE AHAHAAHA. I mean Japan from Hetalia haha. His favourite phrase in Hetaoni man. Sighs…. hetaoni was really amazing… )’:

Day 9:

WE FINALLY COMPLETED OUR SURVEY AHAHAHAHAHAAHA. And yeah I learnt that we only need to start doing that hated-flippamadisgusting task for the first few things and procrastination really flies out the window.  And i also realised that my recount of my experiences here is getting very limbo-ish, but oh wells.

Anyway we did the survey at Tiong Bahru where the return rate is very good. And I don’t think the lor mee was really very fabulous or such. But okay /_/. Then we came back office to analyse the results, and there was hardly any correlation lols. So the survey is actually quite useless man. Cuz I can’t find that niche I need to boost my project. Sad life.

Then we also started the report. Or continued writing my report for me. Man, can’t help but think I never learnt anything at all. Is like looking back, my sense of hopelessness about this project can’t stop but RIIIING through my head that it’s impossible ahahaha what do you even think you can do anything about this. Ugh feel like scrapping the whole dang report man, kill my own darlings or whatever you call that… but laziness got me working right on it instead. Sighs.

Day 10:

I think we just spent the whole day staring into the very depths of our computer screens. And I really have nothing much to write, only ramble on. Cuz I aint got any good ideas at all.

Anyway today (or a few days ago as of today today), I learnt that some people are nice. Like I dragg– attended the NEW share session – some dang social stuff – and they actually gave me that chance man. As in they talked to me, instead of viewing me like a tray return rack in a hawker centre (zomg what’s with that analogy haha). And I found that I really hated my past two years in JC dammit. But anyway the NEW scholarship has many cool benefits man. Like they give you 15K (WOAH!) for your summer exchanges thingy (?) and even sponsors your masters if you like. And the NEW scholars seemed like, really happy with their jobs and all. NEA does this rotating positions thing where no one gets stuck in a particular job/role/area/field for like, forever, so like there’s opportunities to learn new things and all. But then I’m not really interested in like, pests and rats and such?

So anyway they (NEW scholars and wannabe-NEW scholars) are nice people. AND I HAVE NO LIBRARY BOOKS (library cuz i only have lame-o novels at home) TO READ. DAMN.

Day 11:

Continued writing the report lorhz… but today we dropped in a stallholders’ briefing at marine parade. The conference room was so lawyer-ish man! The table shone and gleamed like super polished wood. And is really like those kind of hard, thick, polished, atas wood. And the chairs! So comfy and large and big like it could swallow me whole but too bad I’m too blubbery and squeaky as well. Aiyo, zhong zhi the place is like for big bosses kind, but should be no surprise since hey, guess who’s the TC person.

Anyway, I’m so sorry (!), couldn’t help but nod off in the middle of the briefing (yikes). It was really very dry ah. But then they have given the presentation 57 times I wonder how they could continue. Some hawkers didn’t really care about the briefing, just chatting among themselves. Many just weren’t interested. And some were over-zealous, like this lady, being very concerned about the poor aunties, worried about their jobs and all. But then I think she contradicted herself a bit. But oh wells. And just IMO (please don’t sue), she hardly gave a chance for explanation to address her ‘concerns’. Kept going on and on, but then kept contradicting herself and not making sense. It’s all very confusing.

Day 12:

Stayed in the office the whole day slogging over the report till the nerve in my butt spazzed when I stood up.

P.S: borrowed library books today! Woo! Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane is really cool. And weird. Actually, I think all these great books are weird. Like if a book is not weird, it isn’t great. Like Dianna Wynne Jones’ books are weird. But maybe it’s normal to them. I don’t quite get it, but then I’ve only been in this reading business since I emerged from my ‘cave’.

Day 13:


I need the sun.

Had lunch at 127 TPY to take some photos for my OP/presentation slides. One can never not look and feel weird taking pictures in public of the public.

Day 14:


And then at the end of the day, OMG I HAVE THIS SUDDEN EPIPHANY.

Nah, just a lame-o idea, but now I can complete my project woo.

Day 15:


I think I’ve finished my report already. And my OP slides. What am I going to do next week..?

Oh btw, staring at the computer screen the whole day can really make one c0ck-eye <.>

And today I learned what mee hoon kuay is.

Oh and I hate fish scales.

P.S.: I’m sad. I just finished Neil Gaiman’s Ocean in like, what, three days? It was good. In that weird way of great books and authors. I have this sad and confused moment now. Like when I finished DWJ’s Fire and Hemlock. Nothing made sense but it’s good alright. I feel so meaningless now. ;_; -teardrop- And then around me in the office, everyone’s so happy. Laughing and chatting away. Fridays are noisy here. For some reason.

So now I have finished my report (somewhat) and sent it to my mentor already. But it’s so cui and I can’t help but scratch at my computer screen because I aint got the coward in me to scrap the word doc. Sighs. oh wells life goes on so byeeeeeeeee. one more week to go and then another before finally the presentation. hope i can help.


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