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Mr Loh with his wife Min Lee and children Conor and Cassidy.

Mr Choe (middle) with (from left) his wife Evelyn, daughters Rachel and Ruth, and son-in-law Mark.

Chope’s Dinesh Balasingam (sixth from left) partying with his closest friends during Christmas in 2019.

Liling Ong with her three-month-old baby boy Theo.

Hook Coffee’s CEO Wayne Lai (second from right) always makes it a point to be in Singapore on Christmas Day.

Christmas thoughts and wishes

And so this is Christmas. As the holiday gets underway, industry leaders share their festive plans and reflect on this tumultous year.
25/12/2020 - 05:50

Choe Peng Sum
CEO, Pan Pacific Hotels Group

"The year started promisingly. However, come February, things took a turn as Covid-19 hit our shores. As the skies closed and international travels were halted, the immediate concern was how we were to keep cash flow positive and retain our 5,500 staff globally. Looking back, I am very thankful for the teams who came together in one spirit, albeit with some tough decisions, but also with creativity and adaptability to keep business afloat.

Wearing a different lens, we must agree that the pandemic has forced everyone to hit a reset button. We live in a fast-paced world, chasing the rat race relentlessly. These periods of lockdowns and social distancing have given us the space and time to sit back, reflect and look at life differently. We realised the need for human connection. On the work front, I had the opportunity to have more individual contacts. On a personal front, it was precious time spent with family and friends. Perhaps this is a timely awakening for us to realise that it's not all about achievements. It is about building ties that matter.

This Christmas, I am reminded of a verse from the bible, "We love because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19). We appreciate this more as we are stripped of the commercial celebrations and big parties. It gives us time for our closest friends and family. It is also about reaching out. We must remember the less fortunate ones who may have lost loved ones or their jobs during this time. This season of love compels us to bless others, because we have received love.

I look forward to 2021 with hope. The skies will not be closed permanently. The good news extends to the availability of vaccine. Life will resume gradually and thrive again."

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Loh Lik Peng
CEO, Unlisted Collection

"The worst moment for me this year was the dawning realisation earlier this year that the virus had escaped China's borders. I was already aware of the severe consequences when our restaurants in China had to shut but up to Chinese New Year, I was still quite sanguine about it. Once it became clear it couldn't be contained, it was full crisis mode in managing and dealing with all our businesses everywhere. It was maybe three or four weeks of sleepless nights and stress while also trying to internalise what the virus meant for the home and family too. I don't know if there is a best moment yet, but if I had to choose it would be the rollout of the immunisation programme this week. That is definitely a light at the end of the tunnel.

If there was a silver lining to this, it would have to be the time spent with family. Really good quality time for close bonding because I am normally planning some trip or distracted by work or other things. It's permanently broken the work and travel pattern for me and I think even in future I will try to balance work, travel and family time better and lean more towards slowing down. The other thing arising from the enforced lockdown is that I started exercising again after many years of being a total sedentary slob. Since we could not go outside except to exercise I started to go for long walks, eventually ending up running and I seem to be maintaining this routine so far despite the subsequent loosening of restrictions. I hope I can keep it up!

Last Christmas, I was home celebrating with family and friends, like I always do. It's a period when all work slows down for me and so I go into holiday mode and hang out with family, wrap presents, meet friends and generally overeat and drink far too much. This year I am doing the same but on a much smaller scale and with much less intensity. I have only two meet ups planned with friends and they will be small affairs and then on Christmas Eve and Day we have lunch and dinners planned with immediate family. As we can only do groups of five it's all split up between Min's family and mine on separate days. It's strangely same same but different!

As for my wishes for the new year, it can only be continued good health for all loved ones. This pandemic really puts things in perspective! The global suffering has been tremendous and we will be paying the price for the next two generations, so I hope we are able to convert this tragedy into some semblance of a fairer and better, more sustainable and equal world. If things went back to usual after, it would be a huge missed opportunity."

Dinesh Balasingam
Chief Business Officer, Chope

"We have a Christmas tree in the corner of our living room which we never take down, because we love the festive touch it adds to the home all year round. It's not a live tree so it doesn't change, but this year's Christmas does feel different.

2020 has been a challenging year for businesses. And for Chope, which is a restaurant reservations platform, we've had to pivot quickly into food delivery, working with our partner restaurants, and giving opportunities to taxi drivers to make up for the lost income. We've managed to make the best out of the bad situation, before dining out was permitted again in Phase 2.

So this Christmas, I'm thankful to be able to hit the pause button on work, and take the time out to spend it with friends and family. Christmas has always been both a spiritual and social time for our family.

For Christmas lunch, Mum makes the favourite dish of each family member - shepherd's pie for my brother, mutton curry for me, and assorted Chinese dishes for my parents.

For Christmas Eve dinner, we're going to StraitsKitchen at the Grand Hyatt, because the buffet is excellent. The butter chicken is my favourite.

The holiday break is also a time for me to indulge my passions outside of work. So this year, I'll be singing show tunes and Christmas songs at a free concert, together with my musician and theatre practitioner friends Inch Chua, Crenshaw Yeo, Natalie Yeap and Joel Chua. Come hear us, the Lyrebirds, at the Esplanade Outdoor Theatre at 7.30pm and 9pm on Dec 25."

Liling Ong
Founder, Cicheti Group

"Just as how the past year has thrown many plans into upheaval, I found myself in November wondering how I was going to come home in time to celebrate this festive season with my family and the Cicheti team.

While I have been dividing my time between Singapore and Hong Kong right down to the days of the week until the border closures earlier this year, this marks my first Christmas away from home as I know it for the most parts of the last four decades.

My husband and I had originally planned to travel to Singapore in time for the holidays at the start of Hong Kong's travel bubble to introduce our latest addition to the family - Theo, our new three-month-old baby - to the rest of my family, but that is unfortunately another plan that has been pushed back till at least the start of next year with the current outlook.

With large gatherings and opportunities to dine out coming to a halt here in Hong Kong, December seemed like the perfect opportunity to host a series of intimate Christmas themed dinners at my home with the friends I've made here that I now consider family.

It is both our first Christmas in Hong Kong as well our first with Theo in tow, so we wanted to make the most of it.

Christmas this year for my husband, myself and our little three-month-old baby boy started early in December when we kicked off the festivities with several themed dinners with our friends, which will culminate in an all-day Christmas party at our place - the perfect opportunity to pop open our favourite Burgundy wines that we've set aside for a special occasion while we dig into the famous Mandarin Oriental turkey and some home-cooked sides prepared by yours truly.

With the temperature dipping around this time of year, being surrounded by my favourite people in our Noble Fir scented home filled with jazz and Christmas classics, will make this first Christmas both with Theo and in Hong Kong, our home away from home, one to remember.

Christmas is a celebration of family and the people we love, wherever we may be."

Wayne Lai
CEO and Co-founder, Hook Coffee

"I have a huge extended family. First aunties and uncles number around 14, and first cousins around 20. So Christmas is always a big deal for us. This year, the gatherings will be small and carried out in batches. We typically meet at my grandmother's condo in Dover on Christmas, but we now have to spread it out over a few days.

As a rule, I never travel during Christmas. Work takes me all over the region, as Hook Coffee has expanded to Malaysia and Hong Kong, and is looking to expand into possibly Taiwan, Japan and the Middle East. But Christmas is sacred to me, so I always make it a point to be home in Singapore on Christmas day. Even if I have to spend Christmas Eve night on a red-eye flight back to Singapore from wherever I am, I would do it.

For me, Christmas is about seeing the people I love and care about. For some of them, it's the only time of the year I actually get to see them. This year is different because some of my friends and relatives are stuck in other countries, and can't travel to Singapore. So I'll be sure to send them e-cards to let them know I'm thinking of them. I must say, writing Christmas cards feels more poignant this year, because there's an added layer of asking them to stay safe wherever they may be.

This year, Hook Coffee has partnered with Very Special Arts (VSA) Singapore, a charity helping people with disabilities take part in the arts. Our Hook Coffee Christmas Advent Calendar features 24 unique coffees in drip coffee bags, each in a package designed by the students of VSA Singapore. It's our way of showcasing the wonderful talents of people with disabilities, and part of the proceeds also goes to the charity."