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OCT 2010


Crown Prince Celebrated Church Jubilee 2010 • ScandAsia.Singapore 1

Coming Events The Annual DABS Ball Location: Hotel Shangri-La Date: FRI 5 November 2010 Time is flying as always in Singapore. Suddenly it will be time again for The Annual DABS Ball which will take place at Hotel Shangri-La. Entertainment and other details will be announced shortly, but do make sure to mark the date in your calendar. Feel free to contact Danish Business Association of Singapore (DABS) at

Your FREE ScandAsia Magazine in Singapore ScandAsia is the only magazine that covers all the Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish residents in Singapore. We also publish a ScandAsia magazine in China, Thailand, and the rest of South East Asia.

Please sign up for your own FREE copy: Publisher: Scandinavian Publishing Co., Ltd. 4/41-2 Ramintra Soi 14, Bangkok 10230, Thailand Tel. +66 2 943 7166-8, Fax: +66 2 943 7169 E-mail: Editor-in-Chief: Gregers A.W. Møller Advertising: Finn Balslev

Danish Christmas Bazaar

SBAS Midwinter Ball 2010

Location: The Danish Seamen’s Church Date: SAT 20 November 2010, 11.00 AM - 05.00 PM

Location: Goodwood Park Hotel Date: SAT 27 November 2010

Come and experience a traditional Danish Christmas atmosphere, set in one of Singapore’s most unique black and white houses. Bring your family and friends to enjoy a delicious Danish Christmas lunch and be inspired by our wonderful festive decorations. Enjoy a variety of traditional open face sandwiches (smørrebrød) and feast on homemade cakes and cookies. Beer, snaps, wine, soft drinks, coffee and tea will also be available. Enquiries please contact dkchurch@

SBAS invites you to Midwinter Ball 2010. It’s the time of the year when all the Swedish associated companies and friends come together, sharing experiences, culture and opportunities. Please come and join us at Goodwood Park Hotel and the night shall be filled with live music, drinks, a four course meal and a late supper. For enquiries, please send email to

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Daily news and features here:

Open House German European School Singapore Location: German European School Singapore – Main Campus, 72 Bukit Tinggi Road, Singapore 289760 Date: THU 28 October 2010, On Thursday 28 October the German European School Singapore (GESS) organises an Open House with a special focus on the European languages the school offers. Besides German and English, the GESS also offers Danish and Dutch on a mother tongue level with Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish in planning. On its two campuses in the Bukit Timah area, the GESS provides international education in both English and German from Preschool to Grade 12. In case you are interested in attending the Open House or would like to get more information, please send an email to marketing@ or call 6469 1131.

“Private Banking makes life easier.” The only Nordic Private Bank in Asia Pacific. Tel: +65 63570895 E-mail: 50 Raffles Place #36-01, Singapore Land Tower, Singapore 048623

German European School Singapore: “Swedish as Mother Tongue Language for Pre-School Children”


n Thursday 2 September 2010 the German European School Singapore (GESS) organized an Info Day for Swedish families in Singapore about the Swedish Midday-Programme for Pre-School that GESS will offer starting October 2010. The families were enthusiastic about the programme with its playbased curriculum, taught by a teacher from the Supplementary School.


SWEA Crayfish Party 2010


wedish Women’s Educational Association (SWEA) organized the Annual Swedish Crayfish Party on the 18th of September 2010 at Blooies Roadhouse & Grill. 74 guests showed up and had a great time with crayfish, Swedish snaps and house wines. 1) (from left) Ulrika Ekman, Jan Johansson, Susanne Johnsson, Helene Cederholm 2) (from left) Ann Hespe, Mette Hartman, Carin Spångberg, Anna-Karin Nilsson 3 - 4) Participants enjoyed the Swedish seasonal crayfish along with nice music.

2 4


6 ScandAsia.Singapore • October 2010

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Scandinavian Women Met at Shangri-La


n the beautiful surroundings of Shangri-La hotel the Scandinavian Women Association (SWA) of Singapore reunited after the summer holiday and enjoyed a lavish lunch and tea. There were a couple of new faces in the crowd of ten Scandinavian women, and their first impression of Singapore was nothing but positive. “I’ve just been here three weeks, but already I’m very happy. It’s so easy here. Almost everybody speak English and it’s nice and clean,” newcomer Torhild Anfinsen said. After the lunch a couple of the Danish women was going to the Danish Seamen’s Church across town to see the Crown Prince.


1) There was a lot of catching up to do after the summer holiday. 2) The Scandinavian Women enjoyed a selection of more than 175 different tea sorts. 3) Torhild Anfinsen, Lene Pedersen and Susanne Holm. 4) Members of the Board Britt Rozario and Ann-Marie Hellström.







outhbridge Jazz @7atenine features an exciting seaside bar concept at the Esplanade, situated in the heart of the new trendy Marina Bay entertainment district in Singapore. This was where the ScandBizBar was held on the 27th of August. 1) Vesa Kalenius, FBC Chairman. 2) Katarina Wahlstedt, Ensign Media and President of Young Professionals and Heidi Siik, Risk Control, SEB. 3) Per Bengtsson, SEB and Maria-Pia Bengtsson.


8 ScandAsia.Singapore • October 2010


October 2010 • ScandAsia.Singapore 9

Crown Prince Joined 25 Year Anniversary On the most beautiful of days Crown Prince Frederik visited the Danish Seamen’s Church in Singapore as it celebrated its 25 years anniversary on Thursday 26 August 2010. More than 300 eager Danes had showed up for the occasion. By Thomas Lykke Pedersen


n top of Mount Faber, one of the only high points in the tiny Asian city state of Singapore, lies “The Golden Bell” beautifully located in an almost filmic way. Surrounded by something that is probably best described as jungle, the 100 year old building stands proudly, and visitors will be taken to an oasis-like state of mind, where the distance to the nearest skyscraper construction immediately feels much longer than it may actually be. Fantastic 15 meters tall bamboo plants and a hundred year old tree was allowed to survive when the bush cutter cleared the area immediately surrounding the building as the Danish Seamen’s Church 25 years ago moved into the address. The huge and fairytale like tree is occupied by numerous symbiotic plants and additionally equipped with up to several lightning conductors, because it is feared that one of Singapore’s sometimes hot-tempered and rich monsoon thunderstorms should do away with the tree and thereby cause consequential damage to the wing of the church, located perilously close to the tree.

Royal visit Pastor’s wife Inge Pedersen shakes one of the brand new, orange cushions before gently placing it in an

equally new, braided garden chair. The dust whirls around in the air and are hit by the rays from the sun, which for a moment are made visible. Today is a big day. In just a few hours the Danish Crown Prince will arrive to take part in the reception to mark the 25th anniversary of the Church, and many benevolent sponsors have made it possible to refurbish the church and at the same time equip it with new furniture both inside and out. A project that was under way long before anyone was aware that the Crown Prince would visit during the course of his stay in Singapore as an IOC representative at the Youth Olympic Games. The church should look its best at its anniversary. And it does look good. No doubt about it. The Seamen’s Church, with its Georgian facade with neoclassical features such as Doric columns, ornate arches and a Greek-inspired frieze, at the time of construction a very popular form of expression in architecture, appears incredibly beautiful with the deep blue sky as a contrasting background. Some 20 meters down the driveway a group of former members of the Danish Royal Guard Regiment rehearse a drill. Luckily for them the big bear skinned hats and thick uniforms are swapped with suits – but they are still sweating.


The Crown Prince won us all over. This has been an absolutely fantastic day and everything worked according to schedule. But now I’m tired!” Ronald Pedersen

10 ScandAsia.Singapore • October 2010

Gradually, more and more people from the Danish community in Singapore make their way up the winding driveway that leads up to the church. Young and old and a whole lot of children. As an exception the doors of the Church are on this day not just open to anyone. It is a safety precaution. 330 invitations were produced and they were immediately snapped up by members of the community. As the time for the arrival of the Crown Prince approaches, the many Danish children gather at the fence screaming and shouting. “It’s that car, I’m sure,” shouts one. “Nooo, he arrives on a scooter,” answers another, making the rest of the group giggle.

Finally At five o’clock in the the afternoon Crown Prince Frederik finally arrives in a car plastered with Youth Olympic bumper stickers. Pastor Ronald Pedersen and current President of the church counsil Tom K. Hansen are ready to greet the important guest. The Crown Prince smiles broadly showing off a newly grown beard as he exits the car with his two bodyguards. “Guardsmen, teeeen-hut!” shouts the superior officer making the group of former soldiers look straight ahead as the Prince passes by on his way up to the church and the more than 300 excited Danes. Hundreds of cameras flash all around the Danish Crown Prince but it is very obvious that this is just a matter of course to him, as he does not seem bothered what so ever. On the contrary Frederik is very enthusiastic and in the best of moods this hot day in late August. After meeting the sponsors of the church the Crown Prince, Pastor Ronald Pedersen and Tom K. Hansen went to the podium for the speeches. Ronald went first talking

about the church’s history and of course stating his appreciation of the Royal visit. Secondly President of the church counsil, Tom K. Hansen thanked the many sponsors as well as the Crown Prince and his mother, Queen Margrethe the 2nd of Denmark, who is the patron of all Danish Seamen’s churches around the world. Finally the Crown Prince was invited to the microphone. After talking about the importance of Danish representation abroad and making several funny comments on the hot weather to much amusement of the crowd, His Royal Highness was given a present. A book telling the story of the Seamen’s church 25 years in Singapore.

No such thing as coincidences The fact that it is Pastor Ronald Pedersen and his wife Inge Pedersen, who, this hot day in late August, should welcome the important guest and the many other Danes, is a paradox of coincidences. They were the very same couple who back in 1984 was sent to Singapore to start a Danish Seamen’s Church

and strengthen the church’s work in Asia. Something that had long been a desire in the Danish Seamen’s Church Board. Then suddenly this spring, 25 years after founding the church, a temporary replacement was needed in Singapore as the application procedure for a new pastor was still ongoing. Ronald and Inge jumped at the opportunity, although Ronald’s title as pastor for six years had been swapped out with one as a pensioner and the couple had retired to their house in the hills of Ebeltoft on the nose of Jutland. For many years it had been a secret desire for the couple to return to their beloved Singapore should they be so lucky again to get the chance. “When we got the letter, presenting us with this opportunity, I began even more to doubt that there’s such a thing as coincidences,” says Inge Pedersen with a smile.

Empathetic Crown Prince Back at the reception a huge and delicious buffet ranging from sushi to small chicken salad sandwiches is revealed, but people seem more

interested in the Crown Prince as he more than willingly has a chit chat and a picture taken with who ever has the nerves to approach the royalty. Making his way to a chilled glass of white vine, Frederik shows his empathetic self, turning towards a group of children. “Do you girls remember to drink lots of water in this heat?” His Royal Highness asked, making it a memorable day for both young and old. A couple of hours later it is all over. The Crown Prince strolls down the driveway waving to the guests. A young girl takes a chance and pursues Frederik asking him for an autograph - immediately met with envy from the other children once again squeezed together against the fence. “She’s cheating, she wasn’t allowed down there,” her little friends keep repeating.

Right Man for the Job After two and a half years based in Geneva, Switzerland, Ole Hamre is back in Singapore meaning to take SEB’s private banking operation to a new level in Asia. By Thomas Lykke Pedersen


t the 36th floor of the Singapore Land Tower the Head of SEB Private Banking in Asia, Mr. Ole Hamre, is sitting in the big conference room. Already in a comfortable leather chair he puts his one leg up and slowly slides back in his seat. Observing Ole Hamre and hearing about his life, one instantly get the feeling that the tall Norwegian has found the perfect balance between being a successful businessman and a laid back family father. And how does he do it? It is all about the commitment.

Asian focus Ole Hamre returning to Singapore is part of a bigger plan to put SEB into a new Asian era and the 41year-old Scandinavian is just the man to do it. “I was asked if I would take on this challenge making the private banking operation evolve into the next level. Of course it’s a big compliment being brought back like that,” he says. And the General Manager is not only proud to be back in Singapore, he is also very happy. Both professionally and personally. “We are so privileged being able to experience the Asian culture and way of life. Singapore is a great place for both business and pleasure. It’s so structured and streamlined and the country is almost run company-like. I tend to call it Disneyland with death

penalty. But it’s a positive place full of opportunities,” says Ole Hamre. The job description is basically the same this time around, but the SEB team is different from when Ole Hamre left two and a half years ago. The boss has great confidence in the new constellation, though. “I really believe in the guys here and the Bank’s regional potential. And at the same time we receive full support from the top management making everybody willing to go that extra mile,” says Ole Hamre with an almost eager voice. As more and more Scandinavian businesses and private investors has put an increasing focus on the fastgrowing Asian market, SEB has done the same. “Our Nordic home market clients have become increasingly international in mindset and behaviour. Therefore we need to adapt our offering, competence and approach on the global and domestic arena,” says the Oslo-born Ole Hamre.

Singapore Agreement After eight years in Singapore, Ole Hamre was in 2008 made head of SEB in Switzerland. Thus the family pulled up their Singapore stakes and moved to the European birthplace of international private banking, Geneva. A change in location that suited everybody. Ole’s wife, Severine, is French so once again Switzerland did what it does best and served as neutral grounds, this time giving easy access

12 ScandAsia.Singapore • October 2010

to the family’s two home countries. “It was a welcomed chance to return to Europe, and had I not accepted back then, there would have been big protests at home,” Ole Hamre laughs out. And he does not make a secret of his surprise when he only two years later was contacted by SEB senior management proposing him to return to the small Asian city state. “At first we were relatively happy about the new Singapore offer, let’s put it that way,” he says with a smile. Ole Hamre and his family were really thriving in Switzerland and that very concern was the biggest of issues. “You see a lot of “corporate gypsies” following their company around staying a few years here and a few years there. They never have a real chance to settle and that’s very tough on the families,” he states. But as an eventual return to Singapore was considered, it became clear that the opportunity was to great not to be accepted, besides their regional network was still strong making the second transition more smooth. “Having an integrated family is paramount and I’m blessed with a wife that has a fantastic ability to quickly adapt. As for my two sixyear-old twins, they just embraced the opportunity to swim all year round,” says Ole Hamre emphasizing that going back to Singapore was a completely joint decision.

The commitment Through a tight collaboration with their branches back in the Nordic home market as well as various new initiatives, setting up asset management operations being one, SEB in Singapore is right now working extremely hard to obviate the increasing client demand for Asian competencies and investments. “The key to our business will always be our origin. So only when working closely together with our colleagues in Scandinavia can we truly match our different concepts to the different client profiles,” says Ole Hamre. “We are not the biggest in the class but we are big enough as an organization to offer a global platform of competencies and investment opportunities. Yet we are small enough to be really close our costumers, which is one of our biggest strengths,” he adds. Right now the duration of Ole Hamre’s contract in Singapore is five years, after which the plan is to return to Switzerland. But nothing is certain in the world of banking as the intentional two-year stay in Singapore some ten years ago became eight instead. “There are no guarantees in life, what you make of it is up to you. The most important thing is to always feel and stay committed. And that’s exactly what I do both personally and professionally,” Ole Hamre says in a tone of voice that leaves no doubt.

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Keeping SBAS Vibrant Ever since SBAS President Jan B. Djerf moved at a young age away from his home town of Motala on the brink of Sweden’s second largest lake, Vättern, most of his life has been lived away from “Du gamla, du fria”. Now he is living in Singapore for the second time working for Svenska Handelsbanken.

By Thomas Lykke Pedersen


any foreigners talk about Singapore as “Asia Light” referring to the fact that almost anything is possible and almost nothing is hard in the small island state just south of Malaysia. The infrastructure is among the best in the world, the English language is widespread and for companies and business men from all around the world, Singapore has in recent years been one of the hottest spots to operate. ”Singapore has an extremely efficient business process - probably one of the best in the world. On top of that you can add sound economic policies, a stable political environment and a well regulated financial market, so it’s the place to be,” explains President of the Swedish Business Association of Singapore (SBAS), Jan B. Djerf sitting in his office with the stunning view of the marina skyline.

Sweden in Singapore As SBAS President the most important tasks for Jan B. Djerf is to make the organization interesting and useful for the Swedish business community in Singapore and to represent Sweden in the board of EuroCham. Of course overseeing all of SBAS’ activities, that today are numerous, is also important. The organisation arranges lectures and seminars with topics relevant to the business community twice a month, primarily covering issues that are of Asian, regional or Swedish importance. Together with the other Nordic business chambers in Singapore SBAS members enjoy ScandBizBar once a month which gives an excellent networking opportunity to all participants. In collaboration with the Swedish embassy, SBAS arranges business delegations to countries in Asia. “So far we have visited Brunei, Vietnam and Indonesia. In fact, the delegation to Indonesia was the big-

14 ScandAsia.Singapore • October 2010

gest Swedish business delegation ever with 26 participating companies,” says Jan B. Djerf. On the social front SBAS hosts a number of events that have become highly popular amongst members

and friends. The annual midwinter ball, the family rounders, the Christmas dinner and the midsummer festival are now all traditional gatherings for the approximately 2000 Swedish nationals in Singapore.

“The SBAS delegation to Indonesia was the biggest Swedish business delegation ever with 26 participating companies,” says Jan B. Djerf.

we have a very active Swedish embassy as well. So we are really thriving,” says Jan B. Djerf with a hint of pride.

South East Asia, India, Australia and New Zealand.

Land of possibilities Six years ago Jan B. Djerf willingly embraced the opportunity once again to make Singapore home for him and his family. Having three sons automatically makes certain demands on the place you choose as your base. Thus education, health care and security are important issues for the Swedish family. And according to Jan B. Djerf all that is of world class in Singapore. The possi-

bilities of practising different sports are also very important when having a family composition with three active boys. Again there are no limitations in Singapore. “They can even play ice hockey here,” Jan B. Djerf says with thrilling excitement. Jan B. Djerf is not alone in his evaluation of Singapore. Approximately 250 Swedish companies are placed in the small, fast-growing Asian state where the GNP is expected to make a 15 % increase during 2010.

“Business globetrotter”

“The Swedish community in Singapore is very, very vibrant. Apart from SBAS and our events, there are a number of organizations with Swedish connections that also do all kinds of initiatives. And then

One of Jan B. Djerf’s first encounters with heavy weight business life was when he was attached as Head of the Treasury Department at Ericsson in Stockholm. This was the first bigger step in a long and exiting carrier. From Ericsson, Jan was headhunted to a company called Alfinad SA in Brussels, Belgium – in fact it was the Treasury Department of multi-international Sweden based company Alfa Laval. At that time Sweden had currency and credit regulations that resulted in a big number of Swedish companies moving their financial activities into a special company structure called Coordination Center in Belgium. Over the years Jan B. Djerf had moved up and was now President of Alfinad, when Tetra Pak in 1991 bought Alfa Laval, bringing him to Lausanne, Switzerland as Director Group Treasury at Tetra Laval. In 1994 Jan B. Djerf joined Swedish bank Handelsbanken. The following ten years the job with one of the biggest banks in Scandinavia would take the Swede across the world – more than once. But no matter how used to life as a “business globetrotter” Jan B. Djerf has become, Sweden still holds something special. “I miss the different seasons, the nature and the open landscapes with its silence and the fresh air. But most of all, I miss the light during the summer-evenings,” he says. With Handelsbanken, Jan B. Djerf started out as Treasurer in Singapore, making it his first encounter with the small Asian city state. In 1998 he moved to London and was responsible for the bank’s currency and interest rate trading. An activity that was later centralized to the head office, thus he moved back to Stockholm. In 2004 it was time for the second period in Singapore. As of now, Jan B. Djerf is responsible for Handelsbanken’s operations in

October 2010 • ScandAsia.Singapore 15

Danes in Singapore Survey News from Denmark When Denmark wakes up, analysts of the Danish company NewsWatch in Singapore have already rated, ranked and served the relevant news to their customers.

Steffen Egelund reads the paper – for pleasure, not work – on his balcony in Singapore.

By Anya Palm


teffen Egelund lays it out there: There used to be just one Danish company, InfoMedia, that performed media surveillance on the country’s media, and they were not doing a good enough job. So he, along with two partners, decided to challenge InfoMedia in their own field and start up media surveillance in Asia, where the time difference allows the work to be done early. The extra time they intended to spend on enhancing the quality of the work being done. Egelund knows what he is talking about – the 35-year-old Dane was the press chief for the Danish Conservative Party, before moving to Singapore in 2005: In that position, knowing the news agenda for the day is crucial, he explains, and news surveillance is one of the best tools for getting up to speed quickly. But as a press chief, he found that often the news was late or messily delivered in his inbox. “Someone needed to step in and do it better. That’s basically why we started up NewsWatch, says Egelund, who today is chief product officer for the company he started with two other Danes”.

Surveillance before dawn NewsWatch launched on January 1, 2010, after having secured agreements with almost all newspapers in Denmark. Nine Danes and six locals receive and rate the news every morning in Singapore, before sending it back to their clients in Denmark. “Our goal is to have 20 percent of the market within five years,”

Egelund says. So far that looks like a realistic plan. “We have been received very well on the Danish market and we are continuing to grow,” he says. Amongst the clients that are already using NewsWatch is the Danish ministry of Taxation, one of the political parties, several state agencies and a couple of businesses. Lately, also firms from the private sector have been showing increasing interest in getting their news sorted before anyone else. “The time difference gives us an enormous advantage. Our competition does not deliver the product as early as we do, so the whole set up is to our advantage,” he says. But the ambition is not just to be fast, it is to be the best. “We are bringing in tools for analyzing the news that is not seen before in the market. We have spent the last year or so working on the analysis that we deliver to ensure a

16 ScandAsia.Singapore • October 2010

quality product and we rate every article with different parameters – where was the news published, can it be considered negative press or positive, is the client mentioned? It has been a major challenge to work out this system, so it is fantastic to see that we are getting there,” says Steffen Egelund. The point is that the rating curve from NewsWatch should directly mirror the sales curve for the client. For instance, negative press, focus and debate are visibly rated and gives the company communication unit an early warning, so they can interact to prevent it from affecting sales or reputation.

Cyber office with expatladies The crew of NewsWatch is a little different – firstly, the company does not have an office. Every morning all the employees meet on Skype from whatever computer, they are near. Through the cyber office,

assignments are handed out and solved and when the news are sorted through, everyone just logs off. “We meet for a Friday beer every now and then, but there is not really any need for an office as such. And people seem to like working from their own homes,” Egelund explains. He has a home office himself in his Singapore apartment. “Most of our employees are intelligent expatriate ladies, who may have come to Asia with their husbands, who have been out posted here. They usually have a higher education, and feel the need to challenge themselves mentally. So the arrangement is everybody’s gain, he says.

Nail biting suspense in 2010 Sitting on his balcony, not even 30 seconds from his office, enjoying a cup of coffee and the mild after rain weather of Singapore, Steffen Egelund is content. It’s afternoon and the work for today has been sent off and sealed hours ago. “This spring and summer, where we have been launching the company and preparing all our analysis tools… I have been nail bitingly nervous the past six months. Would we succeed? But right now, I feel fantastic. Now I am even more motivated for the company,” he says and pauses for a while before he sums up: “We still have a lot of exciting things to do and we will continue to work on improving the product, but the thing is, we decided to start this company and now we have. And it is going well. It just…it feels good,” Steffen Egelund says.

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Small Finnish IT Fish

The search for a new place to live and work, took Finnish IT expert Juha Honkanen and his wife around the world. Singapore became the dream destination where they sat up their own company. By Thomas Lykke Pedersen

18 ScandAsia.Singapore • October 2010


he 43-year-old Finn Juha Honkanen is a trouble shooter. Computer trouble that is. About a year ago the cold Nordic country was swapped with yearround warm Singapore. Here Juha started up his own company, even though the competition in the IT sector is ruthlessly hard. On top of that, the company, called Midnight Sun Software Services, is completely financed by Juha and his wife. Thus a few preliminary contracts were set up in advance in the home country for the family to have a platform to begin their new adventure from.

“I came to Singapore from Finland to work and now I deliver my work to Finland from Singapore. Great, huh?” Juha says with a big smile.

Building networks For Juha one of the single most important things, when starting up a small business like his, is to get involved with other like-minded people. Attempting to approach the big Scandinavian dream clients such as banks or international operators is extremely difficult, being a small company, as big players expect and demand the “whole package”, as Juha puts it.

in a Large Market “I need to find that one little hole I can fit in through and show them what I can provide,” he says. Luckily it has been easy finding other “small businessmen” interested in creating a stronger profile through collaboration, as Juha has found a few partners already. “In the longer run the plan is, if there’s something that I can’t offer to a customer, some of my partners can. That way we are suddenly able to compete with the bigger companies here,” he says, noting thoughtfully: “I built up my credit in Finland and that’s where all my clients know and trust me. Then I moved here where nobody knows me. So I left my credibility back in Finland, you can say.”

Final destination: Singapore Four years ago Juha Honkanen and his wife, Mari, decided that it was time to find a new place to live. A new and warmer place, that was. Juha’s wife suffers from a rare cold allergy, so Finland could hardly be considered the best of locations. At the same time Juha tried to rise up in his career but felt like he had been boxed in and always assigned the same type of jobs. Thus the family made the decision to wrap up life as is was and leave the country of the 1000 lakes behind. “We travelled all over the world making a huge matrix in an Excel sheet putting in pluses and minuses of every country we visited,” Juha explains. The sympathetic Finn had many interviews around Asia, but had more than a hard time convincing companies to hire him because of the very intense competition in the IT sector. “If you don’t get a chance to prove that you are the best, there’s no way Asian companies will hire you, when 50 other guys are lined up ready to do the job for half the money,” Juha notes. Therefore the Finnish couple took matters into their own hands and decided to set up a company on their own. Three years ago the “looking for a new place to live” world tour brought them to Singapore. And it felt just right. This was the place. But they still needed a company name. One night while sitting on the bal-

cony of their hotel looking at the sunset, Juha’s wife started writing different options down. “My wife came up with “Midnight Sun Software Services.” Actually it started as a joke. But it grew on us, so we decided to keep the name. It’s way too long, but everybody remembers it because it reminds them of the Nordic countries,” says Juha.

Work, work, work For a newly started company in a business world like the one in Singapore that will eat you up and spit you out if you are not focused, it takes a whole lot of work being the newcomer. For Juha that means an

average week of 65 working hours. First there is the 40-50 hours at the office. Then there is at least 10 hours of weekly paperwork, and when all that is done, and the coloured lights in Singapore’s various bar districts are turned on, another part of Juha’s job begins, attending the networking events, which are mandatory for a newcomer in need of “selling” himself and meet up with potential new clients. “When you are an entrepreneur you always work too much. That’s just the way it is,” says Juha. “I am not exhausted because I like my job very much – but it’s hard at times, when you don’t see your family, I admit,” he adds.

We don’t miss Finland. It’s a good place to live, no doubt. But there’s an old song “Where you lay your hat”. Basically it means that if you commit to where ever you are, that will be your home

Juha and Mari has a 10-year-old daughter who lives with them in Singapore. Their older children (a boy and a girl) visit Singapore on a regular basis but right now they live in Finland with studies and relationships.

Bright future When talking to Juha Honkanen there is no doubt what so ever. He believes in the company’s future and in his family’s happiness in Singapore. “We don’t miss Finland. It’s a good place to live, no doubt. But there’s an old song - ”Where you lay your hat”. Basically it means that if you commit to where ever you are, that will be your home,” says Juha almost philosophically. As to Midnight Sun Software Services, it will probably be quite a while before the figures on the bottom line show any real profit, but being the optimistic Finn he is, Juha is not worried. “There are so many opportunities here. I cannot miss all of them,” he laughs.

October 2010 • ScandAsia.Singapore 19

Branding Danish Design Is About Listening The Danish company Norbreeze is selling Danish brands to the South East Asian customer – and they are moving forward fast. Having helped several Danish brands set up stores in Singapore, Norbreeze is now opening up their first shop in Takashimaya at the fashionable Orchard Road.

“Working with Danish design is for me a way to make all my priorities come together. I can maintain my Scandinavian roots and at the same time live in Singapore, which is what I prefer.”

By Anya Palm


hen Anne Trads Hansen came to Singapore twelve years ago, she quickly started to marvel about one specific thing: Danish design. While Denmark often boasts of the qualities of Danish design and while design is often mentioned as a flagship for Danish export, what she heard when speaking with her Singaporean colleagues and friends on this subject was something entirely different: “I thought it was strange that a majority of the Danish brands that I know very well from home was thought to be either German or Dutch by many of the Asians,” she says. She and her husband Anders Peter Sauerberg decided to use this knowledge and make sure that people knew when they were looking at a product from Denmark. They started up the marketing company Norbreeze and decided which brands would fit the market. “We quickly decided to start with Skagen Watches and called them

for a meeting to convince them that firstly Norbreeze, which was a small company back then, and secondly Singapore were what they needed. Luckily they agreed,” says Anne Trads Hansen. From then on, Norbreeze have only grown, she says- not without pride. Since the beginning in 2004, Norbreeze have grown to a company of 70 employees and have worked with brands like Anton Berg, B&O, Fritz Hansen and Danzka. “Right now, we are working on opening our first shop in shop store at Takashimaya,” she says. The store will open in October on Singapore´s number one shopping street, Orchard Road. The same month, Norbreeze is also planning an official launch of their biggest concept store with the Danish jewelry company PANDORA.

“Slim watches will not sell in Asia, will they?” and made it a priority to learn from the doubters – what made them have this attitude? “The Danish people are typically very meticulous about the design itself, but the Asian customer is way more interested in the specifications, like the material, the origin and things like that. So we consider that when we brand the Danish products in South East Asia,” she explains. She never had any ambition about exclusiveness – rather the opposite in fact: “Danish design is very well established in some circles, despite the confusion about the nationality. But I feel that Danish design should be available to everyone and it should be known by every “ordinary” customer in Asia too,” she says and laughs: “You gotta have high ambitions!”

A different market

The busy mother of one moved to Asia in 1998. After having studied in the country for three-and-a-half years, she decided not to go back to Denmark, but rather stay and follow

One of the secrets, Anne Trads Hansen says, is knowing the market. She has spent a lot of time answering skeptic questions like:

20 ScandAsia.Singapore • October 2010

I prefer to live here!

her passion in Singapore. “Working with Danish design is for me a way to make all my priorities come together. I can maintain my Scandinavian roots and at the same time live in Singapore, which is what I prefer.” Both her and her husband works in Norbreeze and she appreciate the merge of work and personal life. “The work is quite unpredictable, and often includes travelling in the region, but as a family firm, private and work life becomes more submerged and that has a lot of advantages for us; we spend more time together and we share both challenges and success,” she says. With the new PANDORA launch and our shop opening coming up very soon, there is only one way to go, she feels – forward. “There is so much more to be done in this field in Asia and we have just only gotten started. We have big dreams for the future, she says, but refuses to elaborate on them. “That is my secret. For now,” Anne Trads Hansen says.

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22 ScandAsia.Singapore • October 2010

Singapore’s Poor Singapore is South East Asia’s picture perfect. The high-rise buildings are all state-of-the-art, the streets are clean and everything runs on a tight schedule. But not everyone is so fortunate to be part of the big upturn. Scandinavian Women’s Association is engaged in an impressive work to help those less fortunate. By Thomas Lykke Pedersen


he hallway is dirty and there is a scent of moist coming from the walls. Inside the apartment it no longer looks dirty – it looks empty. The square room has no furniture. Unless the two mattresses lying on the floor in one corner can be considered as such. In a few places walls are decorated but not with family pictures or paintings or posters but simply magazine cuttings. By the look of things, one would not think that we are right in the middle of rich, fast forwarding Singapore. But we are. The apartment belongs to one of the families assisted by the Scandinavian Women’s Association (SWA). “You see the breathtaking architecture and the fancy cars, therefore many are surprised when told about people like the ones we support,” says Lis Heisselberg, the Charwoman of SWA. “Most of these people have no resources others than the money they receive from us. There are so many who desperately need help,” she adds.

A clear request Singapore volunteer organization Breadline contacts SWA telling them about less fortunate families. The social workers of Breadline, which is affiliated to the Singapore Council of Social Services, recommends families for support that have various extraordinary struggles to

overcome in everyday life, poverty often being the predominant one. In a total six families are right now supported by SWA charity. Furthermore Singapore care centre The Tent is supported by SWA giving young girls with no contact to their family a monthly allowance. And every year, two scholarships are handed out by the organization as well. To finance these charity activities, Lis Heisselberg has a clear request. “Actually I believe that all Scandinavian women in Singapore should pay the modest membership fee of S$ 80 whether they intend to use the organisation or not,” she says candidly. “Members are assured that at least S$ 75 will go directly to charity, so they can with a clear conscience say that they contribute, which must be a nice feeling for everyone.”

Heartbreaking One of those families in desperate need of help is a mother with three children. Lucky for her, she is one of the six women that the SWA supports. The father is gone and the middle child at age seven has a bladder disease, forcing her to stay home from school. Thus, the mother is not able to get a job as she has to look after her child. “When we met her, she had an income of S$ 90 a month. It was “milk-money” for the children given by the government. S$ 90 and three

children, that’s just horrific,” Lis Heisselberg says shaking her head. But the sadness in her voice is quickly replaced by joy and admiration. “Oh yes, there’s this other woman I just have to tell you about,” Lis says, and starts telling about a single woman with four girls of whom the two oldest would not accept the money offered to the family by SWA. They were simply to proud! But the money was much needed. Therefore SWA representatives met with the mother in secrecy, giving her the monthly check. “Then one day she suddenly contacted us, saying that she had found an extra job, so she didn’t need our help any more. That’s just damn impressive,” Lis Heisselberg bursts out. As of now the SWA members puts in S$ 8000 as contingent a year. And with the help of sponsors and private donations the Scandinavian women are able to do a lot more good. But it is always hard when you have to turn somebody down. “It’s just heartbreaking sometimes. We want to help as many people as possible, but due to our budget we can’t just keep on bringing in new families. Hopefully we’ll see a lot more passionate members, and we will definitely continue our important work,” ensures Lis Heisselberg.

Wrong perception

“We need more people willing to get involved,” Lis Heisselberg says. But often people have the wrong idea about what SWA is and stands for. “Many have the misconception that we are a coffee club for older women who don’t know what to do with their time. I tell them, ‘please come and see what we are really about’. If they don’t like it they can choose never to come back. We don’t shanghai people into anything,” says Lis Heisselberg. Sometimes the women of SWA actually do drink coffee - and tea because it is not all charity. The social part is also very important as the association brings Scandinavian women together and create friendships. Thus, it is a great place for newcomers to start out and meet new friends. The SWA President emphasizes, though, that their newcomer events are not aimed only at the newly arrived to Singapore. “The other night a woman asked me: SWA, what’s that? She’s lived here for six years. That tells me, that we need to find a way to get our message through more clearly,” says Lis Heisselberg with a hint of frustration in her voice. Go to see the SWA homepage and become a member.

Currently, SWA have around 100 members.

October 2010 • ScandAsia.Singapore 23

Teaching Norway As a Subject At the Norwegian Supplementary School, Norskskolen, in Singapore, head master Britt Mari Solemslie is in charge of the education for 155 Norwegian children. Two hours every Thursday in the late afternoon the school opens its doors to teach about the home country. By Thomas Lykke Pedersen


n 1983 the Norwegian Supplementary School was founded by Marianne Thorstensen, who today is the administrator and coordinator of the school. Since then the number of Norwegian citizens in Singapore has only increased making the need for Norskskolen bigger than ever. Right now, there are around 1500 Norwegians in Singapore, a lot of them being families with children. “Even though it’s only a few hours a week, we feel we’re doing a really important task here,” says Headmaster Brit Mari Solemslie.

Important lessons Every Thursday from 4-6 pm students from first to tenth grade are taught about religion, outlook on life and ethics as well as the Norwegian society. From the Viking era until now. “All of our teaching is from a Norwegian point of view. It’s important that the children get a clear understanding of Norway with its traditions and culture. Simply where they come from,” the Headmaster says. Many of the children have an international background and an everyday life at international schools where the first language is English.

Thus, attending Norskskolen is of big importance. “These children often have a bad sentence construction when they have to write Norwegian. If they at some point should go back to school in Norway it’s extremely important, that we help them now,” Brit Mari Solemslie stresses.

The challenges The teachers at the Norwegian School are often younger people combining the job with a trip around the world or a chance to experience life in another country. Thus, many of them stay no longer than a year, making it just a tat more difficult being the Headmaster. “It’s challenging, no doubt about it. Especially if a teacher all of a sudden leaves in the middle of a school year. Then you are like, ‘okay, what to do’,” Brit Mari Solemslie says. Another challenge is sometimes the motivation. Before the Norwegian children arrive at NSS they have attended a long day of teaching in their regular school. “Once in a while their heads are simply just full of information, then it’s a bit hard. But I always have a clear feeling, that the children really like to be here,” the Headmaster states.

24 ScandAsia.Singapore • October 2010

Holding the Key to Exclusive Living Ina Hammer from Norway and Marida Jacobs from Denmark enjoy helping Scandinavian customers of Citiprop finding their dream home in Singapore. Both of them love living in Singapore which makes their recommendations come from the heart. By Joakim Persson


e are so privileged to live here – we’re so spoilt for choice,” says Ina Hammer. “Life doesn’t get any better than this!” echoes Marida Jacobs. Ina Hammer and Marida Jacobs are truly enthusiastic about Singapore. Not just because they are both “selling the city” to recently arrived families and foreign investors as real estate agents with Citiprop. Both married to British men and both left their home countries, Norway and Denmark, at a young age. Contrary to most so called ‘trailing spouses’ they also have their own careers. “When I grew up in Norway, I always dreamt of living somewhere hot, among palm trees,” says Ina, even though London was the first stop on her life abroad. But in 1999 her husband was offered a position in Singapore and the first thing she saw when they landed – was palm trees. Since then she has been in the tropics, including a stint in the Caribbean. But while there she “missed Singapore every single day”. A recent lifestyle survey from The Urban Development Authority also showed that both Singaporeans and foreigners found Singapore to be a much loved home and with a growing sense of belonging. The level of satisfaction is increasing, indicating that efforts to remake the place into a more vibrant city is succeeding.

Marida could not agree more: “Look at what they’ve accomplished to bring in business; the casinos, the Formula One, biomedical industry, banking, the arts etc. – it’s incredible and a very positive city for business. And the government gives lots of incentives.” Ina thinks Singapore on the whole is a much more vibrant society compared to a decade ago. “The way Singapore is constantly changing is quite something to behold! It’s a thriving, happening place. The days of it being a ‘hardship posting’ are long gone! I hear people are applying in droves to come here.” “The nightlife here is amazing. Clarke Quay is something I’ve never seen anywhere else. Young party people must surely think they’ve died and come to heaven when they first step in there!”

Unique forward planning The Lion City has really gained respect around the world in recent years, she says. “The forward planning of Singapore is very unique; some of the infrastructure here is simply amazing - coupled with the fact that crime is very low in comparison to other countries.” “To me, says Marida, Singapore – and this might sound strange – reminds me very much of Los Angeles where I lived for over 20 years. Because I love the greenery, the cleanliness, Beverly Hills has the

26 ScandAsia.Singapore • October 2010

same thing. And I love the order, everything is easy.” “The cleanliness, ease of living, not polluted like Hong Kong, and with fantastic international schools. To be able to have your kids grow up in a society where it’s so safe is such a relief.”

Brilliant architecture For her the recent improvements within design and architecture are especially striking, given her background as interior architecture. During her years in L.A. she found a niche market in renovating, furnishing and selling properties. Over here in Asia she has also continued building some houses for clients. “Especially in landed properties, I find there’s a development within Singaporean architecture that is just amazing. Really world class!” “I’ve seen such a change in what is going on. And once they get on the bandwagon they do better than anybody else; they want to prove themselves. There is some unbelievable architecture in town.”

No language barrier Ina started working with Citiprop after she returned from the Caribbean. “Citiprop has always catered to the expats, whether they have just moved here or been here for some time. It has built up a strong team of expat agents who understand the needs and requirements of expats.

We have a good, solid reputation among the long-term foreigners here.” She and Marida obviously handle Scandinavians clients. “Not only can we converse in Norwegian and Danish, but we also naturally have a much better understanding of their requirements. We know the importance of a nice, spacious outside seating area. Scandinavians love sitting outside. And here they can do it without a blanket or a heater nearby,” says Ina. Marida agrees: “The feedback I get from my clients is very positive, that we immediately grasp the Westerner’s needs and their lifestyle, because we’re expat ourselves.” Marida, who first took care of her children for some years after moving to Singapore in 1997, joined Citiprop since she simply loves architecture - and socialising. “I love meeting people. I always try to identify what it is that clients want and hence I hone in on what that is within a very short time frame. I’m quite successful at that. Then, because of my design background, I look at properties in a different way than most people. I try to find something a little bit different to the norm. Then of course it depends on the budget and so on…” Extra service Their all-inclusive service extends beyond what the regular agents do. “Citiprop goes the extra mile in

“There’s always something going on here in Singapore – there need not be a dull moment. I feel incredibly lucky for my life here,” says Ina Hammer. Marida Jacobs agrees and adds. “Strangely, Singapore reminds me a lot of L.A. where I lived for 20 years minus the crime.”

settling our clients into their property. Our clients are always able to call upon us for anything that needs doing or fixing in the property at any time after they have moved in. We also set up TV, Internet etc. for them. It’s very reassuring for the clients to know that we will help with any issues that may arise.”

Compared to Scandinavia When asked to compare Singapore to their home countries, Ina says: “Living in Norway and living as an expat in Singapore is a world apart in more than just distance; such different lifestyles in every way. My brother called us ‘a bunch of spoilt brats’ when he was over. I can see his point but I don’t see why life should be a struggle.” “Sometimes I miss the nature

and wilderness of Norway. But since I left so long ago, I rarely think about skiing and the fun of snow anymore – I think I just appreciate so much always being warm!” But she misses certain things like hot dogs, pepper sweets etc.: “Anyone coming to visit me gets a long shopping list – for food stuff. We managed a full-on Norwegian Christmas Dinner this last Christmas! I am also very proud of all my beautiful Norwegian Christmas decorations and have kept up the traditional Christmas celebrations with my family.” Marida went to visit her brother in Denmark for Christmas last year. “How can you have a Christmas without being in Denmark,” she smiles. “I have very strong ties with my

home country. And my family still lives there. But, oh my god, it was so cold, unbearable!”

So is it all rosy? “No,” Marida says and mentions an example of what she doesn’t like about Singapore. “I feel sad when they pull down beautiful old buildings which should be preserved. Rochester Park is an example. It breaks my heart to see what happened to what was an exquisite, historical estate. These black and white houses were built by the British for the services and dated back to the 1920’s.” Ina mentions that Singapore is quite an expensive place to live.” And whilst the ‘green movement’ is gaining foothold, she is still exasperated by all the plastic waste

going on. “The recycling has an awful long way to go. My hope is that Singapore will soon get itself up on par with other developed countries in this respect.” The overall conditions for expatriates also seems to be changing, where companies increasingly no longer offer the extensive packages (housing allowances etc.) that used to be the norm. “Companies don’t have to offer them on the same scale; people want to come anyway. School fees are very expensive however, and placing children into local schools is usually not an option for expats. The international schools are superb – but so are their fees!”

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A Children’s Oasis in S Loewen Gardens in the up-and-coming neighbourhood of Dempsey is a cosy and completely different little pearl in otherwise glass and steal covered Singapore. By Thomas Lykke Pedersen


t first sight it is hard to imagine what to expect. Dempsey being an old military area the buildings at Loewen Gardens are old barracks that have been beautifully modernised. A green fence is surrounding the area and the gate is closed. But not to keep anyone out. On a contrary. It is closed to keep the children in. And once inside a whole little community unfolds itself – a children's community, one could say – with a wealth of nice, small shops and activities. And you are hereby invited.

The Showcase As a centre point in Loewen Gardens lays a little red dotted house. The screen doors are open wide and once you step inside you find that the small, square-shaped room is completely filled up to the vary last inch. From the floor to the top shelves hanging three meters high, children's clothes, toy cars, teddy bears, puzzles, fancy coloured and hard-to-break tableware and much more are squeezed together. The

little hut called The Children's Showcase is also where we meet the two Danes Stine Tvilde and Charlotte Andersen. Together with two Dutch ladies, a German and a Brazilian they own and run this showcase, with each nationality having its own products. “We are so happy to be located in Loewen Gardens. When first timers come here they are always happily surprised. Both regarding to our products as well as the surroundings. The fact that your children can run around freely is a huge plus. You don't really get that anywhere else in Singapore,” says Stine Tvilde. Another thing that you do not really get anywhere else in Singapore is the actual product-line showcased by the Danes. Charlotte Andersen and Stine Tvilde mostly present children’s clothes with a clear focus on keeping the assortment allergy friendly and of the highest quality. Among the many Danish products are brands such as Katvig and Holly’s which are widely known in Scandinavia. “When I first moved here, I al-

28 ScandAsia.Singapore • October 2010

ways felt so happy if I found something familiar from back home. But it wasn’t something that happened very often out here. Therefore we wanted to sell products that the Danes and Scandinavians could relate to. And for everyone else it’s just great quality,” says Charlotte Andersen.

Big transformation The two Danes met through their husband's jobs about five years ago and started up in Loewen Gardens in 2007 when the area was still kind of a no man's land. Today the story is somewhat different as luxurious villas fight over the square meters in the Dempsey area. “A lot has happened out here. A lot. When we first arrived there was nothing, so it’s been funny being here from the beginning and follow the huge development,” says Charlotte Andersen. This development the Danes have applied to The Children’s Showcase as well, constantly taking in new products making it exiting for both newcomers as well as the

regulars. And for big events such as Christmas, Easter or the Backto-School season, the two Danish ladies make sure to have a wide selection in their little hut. Right now Stine and Charlotte are anticipating their ordered Halloween costumes. “Halloween is a very big deal in Singapore, with pumpkins, trick and treating and the whole lot. So we need to have our costumes ready,” says Stine Tvilde.

A world of fun At the Kavanagh Dance Studio the bass is pumping. Five little girls, dressed in cute dancing uniforms, are ready for action. “Okay girls, from the top again. One, two, three, four,” shouts the instructor making the enthusiastic students bend their knees before leaping upwards. Not yet completely synchronised, but having a tremendous amount of fun. Outside the cosy café The Pantry, several mothers are sitting, enjoying a nice coffee and a cupcake, which are a bit of a speciality of the place, while their kids are playing

Singapore on a huge trampoline nearby. Every now and then The Pantry offers a cooking class where parents and their children can learn how to bake the actual cakes. Besides The Children's Showcase, the dance studio and the café with the delicious cakes, Loewen Gardens contains a kinder garden, a hairdresser and spa, a women's gym where tailor made workout programs are designed, and an interior decorating shop.

Popular events Every 1st and 3rd Saturday of the month The Pantry arranges the Farmers Market. One of the most visited events at Loewen Gardens where vendors are selling their organic products such as Spanish cheese and wine, French tapenade or English beer. And just last week another big event under the name of Toy Box, sponsored by Stine, Charlotte and the rest of The Children's Showcase, gathered no less

than 50 children and their respective parents as live music and entertainment made it a memorable day as well as a great success. “We take no charge for an event like that. We just want people to come and have some fun,” says Charlotte Andersen. “At the same time it's great advertisement for us. What better way than to invite people for a great day,” she adds. In October the events at Loewen Gardens continue and Charlotte Andersen and Stine Tvilde encourage all those who are curious to show up.

Stine Tvilde and Charlotte Andersen accompanied by Stine’s daughter Josefine and Charlotte’s son Kristoffer.

October 2010 • ScandAsia.Singapore 29

Pain Relieving Swedish Venture Last year Swedes Maria Norberg and Jessica Staël von Holstein saw an opportunity and ran with it. Now they have set up a business in Singapore selling the world popular phenomenon the spike mat under their own brand – The Swedish Mat.


weden was totally struck by spike mat fever during last year. Everyone talked about the amazing mat, and it was even named “Christmas gift of the Year 2009” by the Swedish Retails institute. A spike mat is a pain relieving mat covered with 6,000 or more small, plastic spikes that when laid upon act as acupressure points. Thus, the mat is often referred to as an acupressure mat. Almost 400,000 Swedes bought their own specimen of the mat including Maria Norberg and Jessica Staël von Holstein. “As we both used the spike mat while living in Sweden we thought, why not bring it to Asia and create our own brand,” says Maria Norberg. And so they did. The goal is to sell one million Swedish Mats within one year, mainly through the company web page but also through retailers and therapists in Asia. Furthermore the two female entrepreneurs would also like to convince Scandinavian companies in Asia to buy The Swedish Mat and give it to clients and staff as this years Christmas gift. As to the Asian market the two Swedes are also very optimistic. “We know that the Asian people are well known to be conscious

about their well being and they often have an open mind-set as to alternative medicine and that is a good reason to target this group of people,” co-founder Maria Norberg states. Maria Norberg and Jessica Staël von Holstein believe the timing for this product launch seems to be perfect in many ways. The interest of alternative medicine and acupressure effects has never been bigger than right now. People’s stressful lives and constant lack of time has created a demand for more modern and timesaving solutions to their stress related problems. The company’s goal is that more than 1,000,000 people in Asia shall own their own acupressure mat - The Swedish Mat - the first year. Contact: Kite Venture Pte. Ltd. +65 8298 9290, +65 9723 9206

“A light foam pad covered with 6000 plastic nails stimulates your body’s acupressure points. As a result, your body relaxes and releases stress, which promotes restful sleep and reduces back and neck pain,” Maria Norberg and Jessica Staël von Holstein explain.

30 ScandAsia.Singapore • October 2010

“The Swedish Mat is ideal for people who work long hours, especially when sitting still in front of a computer all day. It heals you through effective acupressure whenever you want or need it,” says cofounder Jessica Staël von Holstein.

“We know that the Asian people are well known to be conscious about their well being and they often have an open mindset as to alternative medicine and that is a good reason to target this group of people,” co-founder Maria Norberg states.

Day Trip to Johor Bahru T

uesday 21 September, the Tuesday group at Norwegian Seamen’s Church went on a day trip to Johor Bahru, for some in the group the first time they crossed the border.

The first stop was at the Sultan Palace, which is a beautiful building surrounded by a nice park. The palace is full of history and we had a walk around inside.





1) A total of 22 women and 1 man filled up 2 buses early in the morning. 2) Next stop was a Kampong where the owner took the group around and proudly showed his backyard. He had a spice garden, his own coffee and cocoa trees, and gave a demonstration of coconut opening, rubber tapping, batik painting. Finally the participants were invited to try out traditional Malay dancing. 3) It was clear to all that Johor Bahru has a lot more to offer than shopping and all had the chance to make new friends. 4) Learning Malay dancing

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23/09/10 8:32:24

October 2010 • ScandAsia.Singapore 31

Finnish Compassion in Since his first experience with the Red Cross in 1985, Heikki Väätämöinen’s involvement with the organization has turned into a life long passion. 25 years later, he is still amazed at how powerful the Red Cross really is, and knowing he is able to make a difference is what keeps him going. By Katrine Sigvardt


t first glance, Heikki Väätämöinen looks like an ordinary man with an ordinary job, but when a disaster hits anywhere in the South East Asia region and governments find themselves and their capacities overwhelmed, he kicks into super gear and comes to the rescue. Heikki Väätämöinen is the Red Cross’ International Operations Coordinator at the Head Quarters in Malaysia. He coordinates international responses for large scale natural disasters. And he loves it.

Getting involved It all began in 1985, when Heikki attended Red Cross camp in Finland. Shortly after, he was invited to a youth group meeting where pictures from the trip would be shown. Heikki decided to go – unaware that that meeting would change his life forever. That night, he got more than just a slide show. He learned the recovery position and how to perform CPR and, being a boy scout with an interest in such things, he was hooked. “It just escalated from there and I became a Red Cross volunteer,” Heikki says. In 1991-92, during his first Red Cross professional overseas experience in Romania, he started considering working with the organization more permanently. The job there made it clear to him that this would be his future line of work, however, the road from young volunteer to professional International Disaster Response Coordinator was a long

32 ScandAsia.Singapore • October 2010

one and it brought him around the world where natural disasters had struck and left civilizations in ruins and thousands of people without homes. In September 2008, he was hired permanently with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies in Malaysia.

Discipline and tional skills


The Red Cross is known worldwide as a humanitarian organization and to some the fact that many of the people employed there have a military background may come as a surprise. That is however the case and according to Heikki Väätämöinen there is a good reason for that: “We coordinate large scale disaster response operations and define the needs in the affected area in the form of money, relief items, blankets, water containers or a combination of all those things. Our rescue missions have to be carried out in an organized, almost military, manner.” Heikki himself is no exception. In 2004, he graduated from military college in Finland and he is actually a trained officer for armed tank crews, which he believes makes him more qualified for his daily work with the Red Cross.

No need for volunteers Because of the very organized manner in which operations are carried out, Heikki often has to turn down especially expats when they offer to help out at the scene of the emergency. “The expats who volunteer mean well, but I need to explain

to them that coming with us would probably make it more difficult for the trained professionals to do their job.” He uses the cyclone that hit the Philippines in September last year to illustrate his point. The capacity of the local community and the Philippine Red Cross was overwhelmed, which was why Red Cross Asia Pacific had to step in. “The cyclone happened on a Saturday. Nobody was able to move because of the floods and the scale of the destruction, and we could not get access to the thousands of people who had been displaced for days. When we did get in, though, we were able to distribute aid materials within 20 hours. On Monday afternoon at 1 p.m., a plane carrying 100 tons of relief items took off from Malaysia. It landed in the Philippines at 5 p.m. The next afternoon at 3, water, sanitation kits, mosquito nets, blankets and so on were distributed.” It made a huge difference that the crew was trained and professional. According to Heikki, well meaning volunteers might end up slowing down the aid process because they are not familiar with the organized way in which the Red Cross operates. He encourages the people who really want to help out to collect money instead. “We welcome any assistance we can get, and if people want to help out, then collecting money really is the best way to go. The extra funds will make our job easier in the long run and we will be able to distribute it where and when it is needed.”

Red Cross Asia Pacific However, people also have the option of contributing through their own country’s national society. “They welcome people as members and that is probably the easiest way to participate and support. During big disasters, they usually initiate collections for funds. One can participate in that,” he says.

“You can’t save everyone” The biggest strength of the Red Cross is according to Heikki, that it is able to react fast and efficiently, and he still thinks it is amazing that aid to a large number of people can arrive only a few days after the disaster has struck. “The Red Cross is a big organization and because of our size we can respond and come to the rescue in this way. I don’t know of any other organization that can do that,” he says and adds: “That is why I work here,” he says. “When people really need help, we can make the difference.” There is however a downside to disaster relief related work. Seeing the results of disasters on a daily basis can take its toll and therefore it is necessary to keep a professional distance and deal with one victim at a time. “The worst thing is when you know you can’t do anything. That happened to me in Myanmar. I used to work there and in 2004,

“I love what I do and I do it because I care. That’s it,” says Heikki Väätämöinen. I watched from a distance as I knew the tsunami was coming but couldn’t save everyone. The people in areas I once worked were going to die and that was hard,” he says but explains that it is the good experiences where he has made a dif-

ference to an individual that are the most memorable. One little boy in particular has left a big impression on him.

“But I helped that one little boy to a good start in life. I hope he is well.”

The Iranian boy

Heikki Väätämöinen is on call 24 hours a day. When something happens, he has to be ready to leave and get into the field and witness the results of some of the most horrific natural disasters. But he does it without complaining, and he says that the biggest reward is seeing the faces of the families when they receive the aid packets and knowing he has made a difference for them. He concludes: “You could say that this is my passion. My job is not just a profession. I love what I do and I do it because I care. That’s it.”

In 2003, Heikki Väätämöinen was sent to Iran as a Technical Delegate. It was just after Christmas and a massive earthquake had hit the Bam region. Heikki worked with radio transmission, and one day, the office received a radio request for urgent assistance in a delivery room where a little boy had been born prematurely. The boy would die if he was not immediately placed in an incubator, but because of the circumstances, none was available. Heikki and his technical colleague had to improvise – fast. They quickly constructed a plywood box in which they installed heat bulbs. It was a close call but they made it, and a few days later, the boy and his mother were released from the hospital – both in good shape. “Those are the moments to remember,” he says. “It is all about that personal connection. My job normally consists of large numbers and masses of people. I can’t look at them as individuals.”

A passion

October 2010 • ScandAsia.Singapore 33

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